Chapter 34 - I Don't Do Wise

Debbie arrived safely in Sydney around the same time as Kevin had to give up on doing any sort of damage control. 24 hours was all it took for the story to go viral. Jack was disappointed to learn that Rick, who had always been above printing anything unconfirmed (but really good at getting people to confirm), had actually let go of all moral scruples and told the story, despite Jack telling him not to. But he had been in the business for too long not to know that something like that would happen. There was no point in being angry or feeling sorry for himself, though it stung. Losing Debbie stung more.

Once more Jack could barely leave the apartment for reporters, and this time it was much worse than right when he got back from the hospital, so everyone had to come to his place instead. Again. And once again he was confined to his prison cell, and though he tried to put a positive spin on it, it nagged him. A lot. He had to do something about it, and soon, or he would go out of his mind. Again.

.

"Is there any chance my back can stand a flight to Sydney?" Jack asked during one of his massages. He couldn't see the expression on Liam's face, but the personal trainer stopped massaging for a split second before he continued.

"That's a very long trip," he replied. "I would advise you not to do it in one take."

"But if I took shorter flights?"

"I guess, if you took one short flight at a time and then spent, maybe, a day waiting for the next flight, it'd be possible."

Jack thought about it for a moment. Would she even want him to come? He didn't really have anything keeping him in London at the moment, and it would be a long time until they would go back on tour. Okay, so maybe he did have a few people here, but still...

"Are you thinking about visiting your ex?" Liam asked after a while. "Or are you just trying to run away from something?"

Yeah. Liam knew about Debbie just as he knew about the story in the press.

"Both, I guess," Jack mumbled and brushed off the thought. Since when had he become such a coward who ran away when things got a little messy? He had overdosed. It was his own mess. He ought to just own up to it.

But going to be with Debbie wasn't running away, was it?

"You want a piece of advice from someone who has never been in your position?" Liam asked after a while and made Jack chuckle.

"Yeah, give it to me."

"At least wait until the hype in the media has died down a little. It's crazy right now, but in a while everyone's forgotten about it."

He was right. That's how it always went. When the press found out that Theo had made a stranger pregnant it was all over the news, but only for a few days. Then the vultures had moved on to someone new. Sure, both he and Clara had been approached by reporters both at home and when they were out in the public for a while, but nothing they couldn't handle. And if anyone could handle attention, Jack was the one. Except this was sort of a touchy subject.

"You're right," he told Liam after a while. "How did a young kid like you become so wise?"

"Shut up, or I'll take it out on your back!"

#

Jack stayed off social media as much as possible, and he blocked all calls and text messages from unknown sources. He wrote Debbie a message letting her know that she would either have to keep her phone number or text him through Messenger with a new number if she wanted to stay in contact. She did, of course, and she was sorry to hear how things had escalated since she left. Otherwise, she was doing okay, though it was very hot in Sydney right now, and they were about to start filming. Her messages felt a little impersonal, but she was probably just busy. Or maybe Jack just thought so, because she was so far away.

.

Elyse still came over almost every day, and at some point, when they had just had lunch and were playing a game of chess, Theo texted Jack.

My studio in an hour? I've got some new material to show you.

Elyse usually stayed a couple of hours, and Jack didn't want to ask her to leave, so he texted Theo back with another suggestion.

Two hours. I've got company.

Theo was quick to respond.

Who is she?

Jack rolled his eyes at it, but he didn't correct his mistake.

Someone you know.

I need to hear all about that when you get here. Scooter's gonna pick you up.

He could drive himself, but he didn't mind the company, so he just replied with a thumbs up.

#

"So, who was your company?" Scooter asked once they had managed to pass the paparazzi outside. "Elyse?"

He was driving his Renault, and Jack was actually grateful for it. No one noticed them, even though they did nothing else to hide. Maybe he should get a second car of his own just for a case like this? Nah. There wasn't gonna be a case like this in the future, and he loved his Maserati too much to cheat on it, anyway.

"Yeah," Jack admitted. "No story there."

"I thought so. But it has been a while, hasn't it? I mean, for someone like you..."

"Someone like me?" Jack asked knowing all too well what Scooter meant. He just wanted to hear him say it.

"Yeah, I mean, a babe magnet like you wouldn't normally go weeks without getting laid, would you?"

Jack gave a snort. It wasn't exactly what he had expected the quiet introvert to say, but it was close enough.

"Try months."

"Really? It's been months? But I thought you and Debbie..."

"Yeah, my back's only just beginning to cooperate again. And we broke up before New Year, so..."

"And there's been no one else?"

"No, I haven't been going out. And I don't really feel like it, either."

"Going out or getting laid?"

Jack gave another snort.

"Getting laid. By a stranger, anyway."

"God, you're smitten!" Scooter said with a laugh and made Jack smile to himself. Yeah, he was.

"So, what's Theo up to?" he changed topics. "Is this you springing me from prison?"

"Something like that. But I do believe he has new material. We can compose even though you can't drum."

"We can." And maybe he could also drum. Just a little.

#

Theo wasn't at the door when Jack and Scooter arrived, so they just walked in. He could unlock the door from his phone anywhere in the house, and probably also from anywhere not in the house. Jack's system wasn't that fancy. He could only control the peephole camera, but it had been enough so far, although it would've been nice to not have to get up to go open for visitors right when he had come back from the hospital.

"You think he's in the basement?" Scooter asked and didn't wait for Jack's reply before he walked down the stairs.

"If he's making music, then yes."

A moment later Jack's phone rang. It was Theo, but the phone died before Jack had a chance to answer it. It didn't really matter, though, as Theo was in the basement.

"Didn't know if you could find me," he said as he popped his head out from his home studio. "You didn't see Mick?"

"Nope," Scooter said with a small shake of his head, "and your house is not that big."

"No family today?" Jack asked. They didn't live together, but he usually spent all his spare time with them, anyway.

"It's Wednesday. Clara's at work and Lena will be picking up Lily later." Oh. Wednesday. Right. The days sort of blended together when Jack didn't have any place to go to. "Were you able to sneak out without anyone noticing?"

"We were, actually. Thanks to Scooter's lovely, little car."

"Why do you have to mock my car?" Scooter complained. "It just saved you at least 30 minutes of fending off the press."

"Isn't that what I just said?"

"No, you were being condescending." Scooter obviously pretended to be offended, though he wasn't, so Jack just gave him his best puppy dog eyes and otherwise ignored it.

"Is it still just as bad?" Theo changed the topic back to the paparazzi.

"I don't know," Jack replied seriously. "I stay off social media as much as I can."

"Have you thought about giving an interview? I mean, have Kevin find someone who would tell your side of the story instead of what makes the best headline?"

"Yeah, but I'm not ready yet," Jack said and focused on Theo's set of drums in the next room. Just one minute. His back could manage that. "And not while it's this crazy."

"Yeah..." Theo opened his MacBook, obviously wanting to show them something. "You're probably right. Even Rick hasn't been able to change the focus."

"What do you mean?" Jack asked with a frown. "Rick was the one who started this. I talked to him in the airport and said there was no story, but he posted it anyway."

"No, he didn't. Kevin checked up on it. But he did post the photos of you and Debbie. I'm pretty sure he tried to shift the focus, even though the other story is selling much more."

"What? Those photos are out there?"

"I take it you haven't seen the celebrity couples sections on Popsugar or Hello!?"

"No, I always stay away from the gossip sections." He looked at Theo with an amused smile, but the latter didn't see it.

"Yeah, and you should. But you and Debbie are all over those two. Pretty sure the photos are Rick's."

"How do you even know?" Jack asked still a little amused. "I thought you stayed away from those yourself."

"Yeah, well," Theo said and looked away with a snort and a small smile, "I have a very curious girlfriend."

"She still googles herself?" Scooter asked with a chuckle.

"She denies it, but she always forgets to delete her search history."

"And you go through her search history?" Jack asked with a snort.

"On my own computer? Uh, yes!" Theo said and looked at his phone. "Mick's here."

.

"Hey, what's up?" Mick said as he joined them. "Did I interrupt something?"

"We were just talking about Jack's relationship to the press," Theo said with a shrug.

"And Theo's relationship to his blonde girlfriend," Jack added.

"Hey!" Theo exclaimed and pushed Jack through the doorway and into the next room.

"What? She does have blonde hair, doesn't she?" Jack complained and pushed Theo back. "It's a really nice colour, if I may say so myself."

"Okay, kids!" Mick said and put on his dad voice. "Why are we here?"

"I've got an idea," Theo said and grew somewhat serious again. "We've never done our own Christmas tune before..."

"And we're not going to," Jack said and resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"But I've already written it."

"But we've never been that kind of band!"

"Theo, I'm with Jack on this one," Mick said and looked just as horrified as Jack felt. Scooter didn't say anything. He would let the rest of them argue about it, until, suddenly, he'd say something clever and close the conversation.

"But you haven't even heard it yet!" Theo said enthusiastically and found the song on his computer.

"There's no need to," Jack said with a snort. If nothing else, it was fun watching Theo not getting his way. "We're not gonna degrade ourselves to that."

"Yeah, I agree," Mick supported Jack. "I don't wanna be a sell-out."

"It wouldn't make us sell-outs!" Theo argued with a sigh.

"Yeah, it would," Jack stated.

"You could at least listen to it," Theo's voice had been reduced to a mumble, and he looked sort of hurt. Jack did his best not to laugh, but when Mick couldn't keep it up anymore, neither could he.

"Okay, guys, Theo is right," Scooter said. Yup. There it was. "There's no harm in listening to it."

"I'm not sure I want you to hear it, now," Theo mumbled, but he failed to look sulky.

"Just put it on!" Jack said and leaned against the door frame. He ought to sit down soon, but there was only one chair in the room, and Scooter was already sitting in it.

Theo pushed a couple of buttons on the sound system and clicked play on his computer. He hadn't done much of the music, yet, as they would be doing it together, if they should choose to do the song, but Jack had to admit that it did have potential. That was until he started listening to the lyrics.

When the song stopped, everyone was silent. Scooter and Mick didn't look at anyone in particular, but Theo was looking at Jack with an expectant smile. Could he, seriously, not see anything wrong with those lyrics?

"Why?" Jack asked and stood up straight.

"Why what?" Theo asked with a puzzled frown. "It's just a Christmas song."

"No, it's not just a Christmas song. It's about me."

"No, it's about family and friendships, and how you're supposed to be with the people you love at Christmas. Lyrics-wise, it's not that different from all the other ones out there."

"That's bullshit, and you know it," Jack said and backed out of the room. He really needed to sit down, and the only other place was by the drums.

"So what if it's about you?" Theo said and followed. "Would that be so wrong?"

"Yeah, 'cause every time we'd do this song, everyone would be thinking about last Christmas." He sighed at his own mistake. "And I'm not talking about Wham's Last Christmas."

"We don't have to do it," Theo said with a small, amused smile, probably because Jack mentioned Wham, "but you look like someone who needs a set of drumsticks."

Jack hadn't even noticed, but he had sat down on the stool behind the drums, and he was already drumming with his hands on his legs.

"Yes, please!" he said and took the drumsticks from Theo when he handed them to him. The latter took out his phone, but Jack was already too caught up in a drum solo to notice that he left him alone.

Finally. The adrenaline rushed through him, and he felt free for the first time in ages. All the anger and pent up frustrations sort of just vanished with a few drum beats. No one could stop him now.

.

"Jack, stop!" Mick exclaimed, and Jack nearly hit him with a drumstick when he tried to take them from him.

"What?" he said and looked up at Mick with a huge smile.

"We can't hear our own thoughts!" the blond guitarist said with a small snort. "Besides, you should take it easy."

"I think I can manage one minute," Jack replied, but he did give the drumsticks to Mick when he reached out for them again.

"Yes, one. But you've been drumming for a lot longer than that!"

"No, I haven't," Jack said with a chuckle. Of course, he hadn't.

"Yes, you have," Scooter added with his hands over his ears, "and I'm going deaf. If only you would drum a slow and quiet beat, but no, you just have to go all psycho and do ridiculously loud and fast solos!"

Yeah, they were exaggerating. They had to be.

"So, are we gonna do the Christmas song?"

All three of them looked at him - Theo through the window from his place by the mixer.

"I'm in," Scooter said with a smile and removed his hands from his ears.

"Yeah, me too," Mick added. Jack hadn't expected him to be. They looked at Theo who was focusing on his phone. He had that smile on his face, so it could only be Clara.

"Is it Clara?" Jack asked louder than necessary. The door was open, and he would probably also have the sound from the recording room turned on. "You've got that stupid smile on your face again. Looks good on you!"

Scooter and Mick gave a laugh, but Theo just looked up with a smile. Yeah. He was still so much in love with Clara that no matter how much they tried to tease him about it, he would still just love the fact that they were talking about her.

"Remind me to give you a hard time when you find the right one," Theo said smugly. Yeah, no matter what he said, he loved it.

"That might be difficult, 'cause I'll be in Australia, then."

All three of them looked at him again.

"You're not serious?" Scooter was the first one to speak.

"I'm thinking about it," Jack said with a shrug.

"But how would that help?" Theo said. Jack couldn't quite read the expression on his face. Was he hurt by the fact that Jack might leave? Or did he think it was ridiculous?

"You told me to take her back," Jack replied, his heart beating a little faster. He needed their support if he was going to do it.

"Yes, but I didn't mean for you to leave the rest of us behind."

"You can do without me."

"And even after all this time, you still don't get it," Theo said with a sigh and got up. Jack didn't know how to reply to that, so he didn't. Somehow Theo seemed happier than he was supposed to, and it was rather confusing.

They heard footsteps in the hallway, and Jack got up to go greet Clara. Except, like all of a sudden, he couldn't move. It wasn't Clara coming through the door. It was Debbie.

.

It took him a moment to regain the ability to speak.

"Could you, please, leave?" he finally said. He had a lump in his throat, and Scooter and Mick disappeared much too slowly. Debbie looked confused or maybe hurt, as she was standing there in her grey, woollen coat. He couldn't quite tell if the blue thing under it was a dress or a skirt, but it was also irrelevant. "No, I don't mean you. Them."

He took a step towards her, but he wasn't sure what to do, so he didn't do anything. He just waited for the others to get lost. Eventually they did, but they forgot to close the door behind them.

"I'm sorry," Debbie finally broke the silence, and Jack wanted to go hug her, but he still couldn't move. She looked tired, but she had probably also spent 24 hours on a plane very recently.

"What for?"

"For leaving you in the middle of this mess. I should've been here."

"But it's my mess. Not yours."

"Yeah, I tried to look at it that way, but I just..." She swallowed, but there were no tears in her eyes. "It should be mine, too."

Jack felt his chest aching a little with every breath, and his heart beat much faster than usual. What exactly was she saying?

"Have you actually seen the mess?"

"Yeah, it was..." She cleared her throat and looked away for a moment. "It was all over the news down under, too."

"And the rumours about you and me?"

"Those, too." She looked up at him again. "Jack, I can't be in Sydney when you need me here." She move a little closer, and if he reached out for her, he would almost be able to touch her. Instead he closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. It was so tempting to just let go.

"I don't want you to miss out on the chance of your life just because I need you," he whispered as he opened his eyes again. She took another step towards him and put her hands on his bare arms. They felt...electric!

"I would miss out on the chance of my life if I stayed in Sydney."

Jack still didn't really get it. The part in that TV show might be the one that would give her the breakthrough that she so desperately needed.

"What're you even talking about?" he asked and looked away. Could she be talking about...?

"Okay, cowboy, you're not that stupid!" she said with a teasing smile and put her hands behind his neck. "I need you, okay? I'm just not very good at saying it out loud."

Jack put his arms around her and still wasn't sure if she was teasing him or if he was just dreaming.

"Say that again?" he said, and a smile crept onto his face when she moved even closer.

"I'm crazily in love with you," she whispered and placed a soft kiss on his lips. "You keep me up at night, even when I'm halfway round the world, and..." She hesitated and let her eyes down for a moment. Then she looked up at him again. "I wanna have your kids someday. That's how much I need you."

"So, what you're saying is that you just need my..."

"Oh, shut up!" she said and kissed him again, and this time he kissed her back, a warm, fuzzy feeling spreading throughout his body. It made him go completely liquid in her arms. It felt so right, and he was finally allowed to think so.

"Wait a sec," he said and pulled a little away from her. Then he took her hand and pulled her with him towards the door. "I'd rather not have anyone listening in on our conversation." He closed the door from the inside and pulled her close again.

"Conversation?" she asked in between kisses. "Is that what we're calling it now?"

"It's a step up from company, isn't it?"

Jack sat down on the office chair in front of the mixer and pulled her down to sit in his lap. He put his lips on her neck and began unbuttoning her coat. She helped him, and a moment later it dropped to the floor. She was wearing a white blouse and a blue skirt underneath her coat, and Jack's hands quickly found their way underneath the top. He felt the familiar shiver of her body when his hands touched her skin, and she turned around to sit astride him on the chair. She had to pull up her skirt a little to be able to sit like that, but he did not complain.

"Is this wise?" she whispered and kissed the spot right beneath his ear. She knew exactly how to turn him on. "I mean, we're in Theo's basement. The others are probably still upstairs."

"I don't do wise," Jack breathed and let his hand wander up to her bra. She moaned when he squeezed her nipple between his fingers, though a layer of lace was still between them.

He felt her hands on the hem of his jeans just as the door flung open and Theo walked in on them. Good gracious, did the man have no brains?

"Yeah, so, I thought you'd like to know that you've somehow managed to turn on the microphone and the upstairs speakers," he said and shot Jack a quick glance before he looked away.

"Uh," Jack cleared his throat and removed his hands from Debbie as she got off his lap and adjusted her skirt again. "I think I'm gonna have to pass on the songwriting today." He got up and picked up Debbie's coat from the floor and then looked at Theo, trying to hide a smile. "But just go ahead with the Christmas song. It's very cute."

He felt Debbie's hand find his, when they passed Theo in the doorway. The latter just shook his head at him with a smile. Yeah. No comeback he could come up with would really matter, anyway. Jack had one thing on his mind, and arguing with Theo was not it.

THE END


A/N: If you've read this far, please leave a review and let me know what you think. Thank you. :)
In a not too distant future I'll start uploading a new story. It's a stand-alone romance/suspense novel very different from this one, with no ties to the High Maintenance series. It's much lighter/less depressing, so if that put you off in this one, please give the new one a try, and remember to subscribe to get a notification e-mail, when I start posting.
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