DEAR FUTURE Husband,
Maybe it’s silly that I’ve been writing and drawing pictures for you since I was twelve years old. I know currently you don’t exist in my world, but you’re never far from my thoughts. I’m convinced you’re somewhere out there waiting for me. At night I catch myself looking at the stars, wondering if you’re seeing the same sky… making the same wishes I make.
I wonder if you’ll love me as much as I know I’ll love you.
God, this is dumb. I should stop, but I’m lonely, and I can share things with you I can’t tell anyone else.
Sometimes I fantasize about what you’ll look like. I don’t really have a type, but I do appreciate—
Jordon’s cell vibrated with a notification.
Following the alert, he checked the in-box on his laptop. A new Made in China clip. Yes!
He sprawled out on the red leather couch outside the Dark Angels’ practice room. His brother would be in there for at least another hour, so he might as well enjoy his beloved band. He cast a gaze toward the closed door. Make that his second-favorite band.
He followed the link to Youku, the Asian version of YouTube. Humming a few bars of a Made in China song, he waited for the video to buffer, then hit Play.
His laptop screen filled with the bass player chasing the keyboard player while the drummer and lead guitarist made music accenting the silliness. The twenty-second clip ended with a brief flash of the singer chuckling and holding a mic. He asked in English, “Now are you ready?”
Fuck, yeah! Jordon was more than ready as that deep voice reached inside him and soothed empty spaces. He pulled at the front of his suddenly too-tight jeans because he couldn’t pretend Tian Di’s androgynous sex appeal didn’t flip all his switches.
God, what was wrong with him? Crushing on the singer in a band. Was there anything more clichéd?
He grabbed his sketch pad and pencils from his bag, then started to draw. He was on his fifth sketch before he realized he’d done one study after another of the singer.
Damn, he needed to stop or check into a groupie recovery program. He went back to his laptop, but instead of returning to the letter he’d been writing, he allowed the sirens to call him to the other videos of Made in China.
Jordon had seen each video and snippet about a hundred times, but he rewatched the trailer clips of the South Korean game show Knock Your Socks Off. Made in China would compete against the reigning champs from Korea. Of course, Made in China had no shot at winning the rigged game show, but the exposure for the band would be great, and watching them play Rip Tear or Suck and Blow would be… stimulating. He couldn’t wait for someone to post the episode.
Clicking through the videos, he came to his favorite trailer of the band. Goddamn, Youku limped along, taking forever to load. When the clip finally finished buffering, Made in China’s driving sound blared out of his computer and slo-mo images of the band posing for pictures morphed into individual head shots of each member.
Then the picture twirled into a still of the drummer and the lead guitar player. They hugged and blushed in a way that almost made Jordon gag with its sweetness—or was that just him choking on jealousy? Their foreheads touched while they stared at the space between them as if they were going to share their first kiss. The tabloid blog rumors painting them as lovers must be true.
The screen image morphed into the bass player holding the keyboard player by the hair. Far from struggling to get away, the keyboardist wore a demonic smile of lustful joy.
Jordon’s breath caught. Those two were totally hooking up.
The band’s singer, Tian Di Zhao, reappeared on the screen in a long red jacket with an embroidered white rose pattern running along each side, tight black pants, and knee-high boots. His raven hair cascaded in gentle waves over his shoulders and down to the middle of his back. His eyes were closed, and he held a white rose like a microphone. Some might label his high cheekbones, delicate mannerisms, and lean body more feminine than masculine, but Jordon’s fingers itched to draw the perfection of him.
Biting back a moan, Jordon wet his lips and tried not to be envious of the petals that caressed the singer’s full red-lipsticked lips. Tian Di’s long lashes fluttered, and he opened his mesmerizing brown eyes. He stared into the camera with such longing that Jordon’s heart ached.
The screen flashed to a group shot of the band and then panned in for close-ups on their mouths. Jin, the guitar player, gripped and tore a piece of paper that Styx, the drummer, held between his lips.
Jordon’s stupid heart triple-timed its beat when Tian Di’s glossed lips came into focus. He clamped his straight white teeth down on the paper before tearing a piece away from the drummer. He turned to Li Zhehao, the bass player, whose mouth grazed his chin before severing the paper close to Tian Di’s mouth.
Indigo Young spun Li, playfully subdued his struggles by wrapping him in an embrace, and then kissed him full on the mouth. After a long lip-lock, Indigo pulled back and blew the slip of paper out of his mouth.
Ah, Asian bands understood fan service.
The clip ended with the two couples hugging on either side of the singer. Tian Di glanced to his right and then to his left. Finally he stared directly into the camera and gave an empty look that gutted Jordon. Tian Di grabbed for a microphone as if it was the only thing consistently there for him.
A silly need to be there for Tian Di slashed through Jordon’s soul. Yeah, like an international star like Tian Di Zhao wanted Jordon Davis to rescue him from the loneliness of falling into bed with his worshippers. Jordon dismissed his feelings as a crush.
Who wouldn’t have a wicked case of heat over the guy? Tian Di had the voice of an angel and looks to match. He wasn’t just a pretty face. Jordon had listened to Tian Di’s interviews—okay, quite possibly Jordon heard or read every interview the guy had ever given—and Tian Di presented himself as quiet, intelligent, and driven, with a tease of irresistible hidden depths.
His deep speaking voice held more confidence than Tian Di showed onstage. Knowing the music industry, the Tian Di Zhao Jordon thought he knew could all be branding. Made in China didn’t have the benefit of a record label or management behind them dictating an image.
Indigo was no stranger to the music scene; his father was well connected in LA. According to Dusty, Jordon’s oldest brother, who knew just about everyone and everything, the guy’s father was a guru who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, setting the direction of many pop icons. Maybe Tian Di’s persona was a creation—so Jordon might be crushing on someone who didn’t exist.
Why did Jordon always overthink things?
Tian Di was hot and provided Jordon with jerkoff fodder. Wasn’t that enough? Why did he have to take his fantasies further? Why couldn’t he revel in some mindless sex? Everything in him rebelled against that idea. Maybe that would explain his lack of experience and his silly need to write to a nonexistent husband.
He clicked on the link to Tian Di’s website. No new pictures since the last time Jordon checked… yesterday.
There were cute pictures of Tian Di as a kid of five or six. One or two of them showed him as an awkward teen—maybe he hadn’t grown into his height—but everything else was still in the range of delicious. Jordon scrolled through the numerous head shots. And the rest were posed pictures of Tian Di around Hong Kong and Shanghai.
God, what would it be like to be curled up in his arms? Maybe reading or watching a movie. He’d love to kiss those lips and maybe even stroke his cock.
Right. The way Jordon’s brothers kept him sequestered ensured that type of encounter would never happen even though Made in China was going to be the opening act on the Dark Angels tour. His brothers were the biggest cockblocks in the world. Not only were they overprotective, but seeing their successful relationships set the standards pretty high for what Jordon expected in a partner.
He couldn’t dwell on the fact that Made in China had been signed for the entire Asia leg of the Life’s a Drag tour, because it was like letting the artist Pollock loose inside Jordon. His mind melted into all spatters of happiness and vivid colors. He’d get to meet the man who had haunted his dreams for well over a year.
Maybe he and Tian Di would hit it off. Ha! What a freaking imagination. He should stick to art. Tian Di Zhao probably wasn’t even gay, or if he was, he wouldn’t be into Jordon. Whatever. It was a great daydream.
The practice room door banged open, but no one appeared.
Jordon put his computer aside and grabbed his sketch pad. Maybe sitting outside while his brother and the Dark Angels practiced wasn’t the best time to contemplate all the things Tian Di’s glistening lips invited Jordon to do.
No, definitely not the best time.
He looked around, and his gaze landed on one of his abstract pieces that hung outside the practice space. Over the last several years, Jordon’s canvases had replaced and now dominated the area. Some were earlier abstracts he’d given the band and original sketches from the first Dark Angels manga he’d penned backstage at one of their shows.
He opened his work sketch pad and paged past the character sketches of the various designs he’d yet to draw into his Manga Studio program. His characters were born on paper with pen, an essential step for Jordon to connect with his subjects. Only fully realized images found their way into his computer.
Angel strutted out, followed by Darius and Dusty. Angel pointed to Jordon’s computer. “You perving on our opening act again?”
Jordon was compelled to cut Angel down. He had known his brother’s best friend forever, and Angel had always been good to him. Maybe the overcompensation was to ensure Angel never discovered that at twelve Jordon had crushed on him for an entire year, or that he had wished to be more confident like Angel. Eh, or maybe God put Jordon on earth to keep Angel Luv’s ego from overwhelming the band.
“Nah, listening to your replacements.” Direct hit, if Jordon could go by Angel’s injured expression. “You do know Made in China’s singer has a larger range than yours?”
Dare rushed over and hip-bumped Angel. “Hey, in terms of size, I’ve got no complaints. Besides, their singer’s good, but he’s not Angel Luv.”
Angel shrugged and gave his boyfriend a sparkly smile for a moment. “The guy’s amazing, which is why Made in China will be opening our show. And I wish them every success.”
“Don’t forget about the drummer.” Jordon winced at Dusty’s frown. Why did he still play the role of the bratty kid brother? Damn, but every interaction forced him to slip into the familiar role and into saying words scripted years before.
Dusty admitted, “The kid’s impressive. No doubt.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t have your experience.” Jordon tried to find something Made in China’s drummer didn’t have over his brother.
“Ha-ha. Yeah, I’m close to another birthday. Thanks for reminding me.” Dusty waved him off.
Damn it, Jordon needed a tongue transplant. “No, that’s not what I meant. You know how to drive the crowd with the drums. It’s because you can read them, and you got that from years of experience in front of an audience.”
Dusty twirled his drumsticks. “He’ll learn. Made in China is still relatively new.”
God, Dusty’s easy agreement, which helped Jordon’s careless words cut him, made Jordon sick.
Robin came into the room, fixing his hair, with a smirking Josh. Robin’s gaze zeroed in on Jordon. “Who needs a cuddle?”
Ever since the night Jordon’s mother had thrown him out at age sixteen, Robin, the keyboard player for the Dark Angels, seemed determined to give him some much-needed mothering. He loved that Robin didn’t just accept him, he celebrated who Jordon was and, best of all, who Jordon was trying to become. Robin even knew two of Jordon’s deepest secrets, and he didn’t tell anyone, not even Josh.
Josh growled, which forced Jordon into an automatic response. He raised his hand like he desperately needed a pass to the bathroom. True, there used to be pleasure in making Josh jealous, but baiting him stopped being fun a while ago.
Just another thing Jordon did out of habit. Maybe he needed to figure out a way to break these patterns.
Robin settled onto the sofa next to him and murmured low enough so no one else could hear, “I loved your—I mean, Sakura Rose’s latest volume of Tricks and Treats.”
“Thanks. I mean, yeah. It’s good work. But Sakura’s having trouble with the next story.” That was a damn understatement. Jordon sighed, shut his sketchbook, and set the pad aside.
Robin eased Jordon’s head down into his lap and played with Jordon’s hair. “I’m sure Sakura Rose will figure it out. Sakura is extremely talented.”
Jordon drank in Robin’s kind words. “Sakura Rose has hit a major creative blockage… I’ve heard.”
Why couldn’t Jordon admit to his brothers he’d been drawing for a Japanese yaoi publishing house since he was sixteen? It wasn’t like Dusty or Zack could ground him. For fuck’s sake, he was twenty years old. But the confession would be delivered with an admission he’d lied by omission, or at least wasn’t honest with them. They’d be disappointed in him and hurt. Avoidance was easier.
“I’m sure SR will find a way.” Robin patted Jordon’s cheek with a little frown and a glint of determination in his eyes, like he’d fight the dragons of artistic constipation for Jordon.
Josh crushed in next to Robin and threw a territorial arm over Robin’s shoulder. “Who are you talking about?”
“A yaoi artist I really enjoy.” Robin didn’t exactly lie, but his inventive use of the truth made Jordon feel shitty nonetheless.
He inhaled Robin’s vanilla-lavender calming scent—which was always mixed with Josh’s—and found comfort. Even though Jordon’s brothers kept him like a sequestered nun, he’d always enjoyed Robin’s platonic touch.
What did Tian Di smell like? He probably smelled edible. Now was not the time to think about the deliciousness that was Tian Di.
Jordon jumped off the sofa and knocked over his sketch pad in the process. It landed on his latest storyboard for Tricks and Treats.
Josh grabbed the sketch pad from the floor and stared at the scenes of Tricks on his knees providing a treat for one of the main characters. “This isn’t for a Dark Angels manga, is it?”
“No. It’s for something else I’m working on.” He snatched the pad back and clutched his secrets to his chest.
Josh was way too perceptive to have missed the “SR” scrawled at the bottom of the sketch; his look of understanding was clear in his gaze.
Some silent communication went back and forth between Robin and Josh until Robin caressed Josh’s hand, then turned his attention back to Jordon. “Any new Made in China videos?”
“Yeah, actually, there’s a couple. One is a trailer for a game show they’ll be on, and a few others are just silly.” Jordon loved when someone shared his… interest.
Josh shifted and patted the place between him and Robin. “Well, let’s see it.”
Jordon eased back down and clicked on the Rip Tear trailer with the speed of a skilled stalker.
By the time the clip ended, Dare, Dusty, and Angel had all squeezed in around him and his laptop, watching the trailer.
“Hey, wait. Let’s see this one again. It’s my favorite.” Angel reached over Dare and Robin and tapped the curser on a music video.
The video opened. Made in China took to the darkened stage in traditional Chinese opera costumes, each band member standing in a spotlight, holding traditional instruments. The bottom left identified the song as “Evolution.”
“Evolution” was the first video Jordon had showed the Dark Angels. Angel credited the band’s viewing of “Evolution” as the moment that convinced them to consider Made in China for an opening act for their upcoming tour. Jordon should be content knowing he helped draw attention to Made in China’s talent, and if his involvement impacted his crush in a positive way, all the better.
The video started with flutes and plucking strings on a ruan, or Chinese guitar, accompanying Tian Di as he glided toward center stage, trailing the hem of a light pink embroidered robe across the floor. Colorfully stitched birds perched on cherry blossom branches covered the expanse of silk. As he reached the spotlight, he thrust his arms up, and white waterfall sleeves shot out of the jacket and into the air before the silk gracefully fell in ripples at his sides.
Flowers dangled from the ornamental sticks holding his ebony hair in a knot at the back of his head. His makeup blurred the line between Goth and Chinese opera, heavy black eyeliner making his eyes appear huge.
How many times had Jordon caught himself sketching Tian Di Zhao?
He couldn’t deny he was drawn to gender ambiguity, Goth, and tradition. Maybe he tried to capture Tian Di’s essence so he might be able to understand why a man half a world away enchanted him.
“Geez, if I didn’t know he was a guy…,” Dare said to no one in particular. “The singer’s movements are graceful, and the way he wears that kimono—”
“In China it’s robes,” Captain Know-It-All Dusty corrected.
Angel pulled Dare against him. “He’s got a voice, no doubt about it.”
Dusty shook his head during an unexpected drum solo that cut into and around the traditional flute and ruan. “I can’t imagine doing that in those heavy robes.”
As if the statement was a decree, the traditional Chinese clothing vanished with a bit of choppy editing. The band appeared, wearing black T-shirts and jeans, playing their usual instruments. The beat increased in intensity and speed.
“I love how they keep the same melody while rockafying it.” Robin’s label of the style was accurate.
The guitar, bass, and keyboard gave the song a driving, almost heavy metal sound.
“The evolution is really good. Get it? ‘Evolution’ is the name of the song.” Josh apparently got Dare’s meaning, because they fist-bumped.
At the simultaneous announcement of a text message, Angel and Dusty pulled their cell phones out of their pockets.
“Fuck!” Angel glared at his phone.
“She’ll fix it,” Dusty said.
Jordon’s stomach dropped. “What?”
“One of Made in China’s band members is having trouble getting a visa for travel outside of China because his mother wasn’t married to his father when he was born. Apparently certain paperwork and identification cards are necessary to get a passport.”
Josh scoffed. “What kind of backward shit is that?”
Robin petted his hand. “It’s how they do things in their country.”