Craving Oblivion by Alexa Padgett



Eleven Months Later


Iheaded back into the house my band had rented for the weekend in San Francisco, the latest stop on our tour. Restless energy sizzled over me, as it always did, leaving me unsettled. I hated crowds and hated parties as they reminded me of Lindsay, the drugs, losing Aya.

Dammit. I had to let that go. I had to because Aya had ghosted.

I still couldn’t believe she’d left me.

Our album had taken longer to write and record than I’d originally planned, in large part because I was such a fucking mess when I’d arrived in Seattle last summer.

But Asher Smith had remained patient, and in time the album took shape—with a more melancholy tone for the final three songs, the last ones I’d written. We’d kicked off our tour in Seattle two months ago—just after our album’s launch in February. It was an early birthday present to me. Since then, we’d worked our way through the Pacific Northwest before circling back to end our tour here. Already we were in discussions to add more dates. Asher wanted another album. Fans clamored for our songs, our merch, us. Everyone said we were the hottest new band, and we had platinum sales to back that up.

I should’ve been happy. Ecstatic. I’d achieved more than Brad ever had. I had complete creative control over my next EP, and we could add a month or a year or whatever we wanted to our tour—we sat right at the top of the music world.

This was where I’d wanted to be.

I just never thought it would feel so fucking hollow.

The first song I’d written for myself—the one I wrote for Aya after dropping her off in Boston while touring with Cam—remained our most popular hit, and I sang it every night. And every time, I hated what it represented. There’d been so much hope in that song, but Aya had ditched me, unwilling to hear the truth—both in the song and in my actions.

I mean, the lawyers had finally managed to get that video of Lindsay and me down, along with the many others that popped up, but they weren’t able to get all the shares removed, and Holyoke students had commented on my breakup with Aya for weeks afterward.

The whole time I was in Seattle last summer, trying to get my shit together and record an album, I kept expecting Aya to return to Austin—at least to start at UT. But she didn’t. And her housekeeper finally told me she’d left her cell phone at her mom’s house. She deleted all her social media accounts and seemed to slide off the Earth.

Like Hugh had said: Aya was gone.

“Nash,” Jax, my rhythm guitarist, called as I made it to the French doors.

“What?” I asked as I looked over my shoulder, pleased to see Steve wasn’t following me.

Finally, in the last few weeks he seemed to have gotten the message that I wasn’t going to talk to him or forgive him. I wouldn’t even have kept him around, but that was part of the deal I’d made with Asher—that Steve would keep an eye on me.

Steve could do that, but it didn’t mean I’d listen to a word he said. In fact, since losing Aya, fighting with Steve had given me a purpose—a person to hate. And I did hate him. I blamed him for letting Brad treat me so terribly, and I blamed him for sleeping with my mother. I blamed him for letting Aya walk away, too, even though that made no sense. She’d left because she wanted to.

Except…she’d left because she was hurt and humiliated. I’d just never expected Aya to believe Lindsay—fuckingLindsay—over me.

But Chuck had told me again and again that the photos had been damning. The social media responses from people we’d gone to school with, who’d known Aya, were merciless—many of them saying she never should have been with me in the first place, either because she was smart, or worse, because of her heritage. Both pissed me off because both were so damn wrong. Problem was, I’d never been able to get in touch with Aya to tell her that.

Her lack of trust slashed through me again, as it always did. But it also fueled my anger. She, of all people, should have known how I felt about her. So what if I couldn’t use the precise words she wanted? I should have, but she knew me. She’d known me for years.

That’s why I’d stopped trying to reach out. I finally figured maybe I didn’t know her. I’d certainly been wrong about lots of other things in my life.

“Take a look at the email Hugh sent you,” Jax called. “Then come back outside. I have a surprise for you.”

I grunted. But I did look at the email. I nearly cracked my phone case as rage settled over me. Hugh had sent me a photo. Aya. With a guy. She stared straight ahead, but he had his hands on her. He was leaning down, whispering in her ear.

Her eyes called to me. But they were different. A shiver ran up my spine as I realized they were cold. Empty. Just like they’d been the last time I saw her, when I’d watched them drain of love and hope.

“You see it?” Jax called again after a moment. “Hugh said for me to tell you, and I quote, ‘She’s moved on, man.’” He appeared in the doorway, wearing swim trunks and no shirt. He was happy to show off his tanned, toned chest and abs. The girls here loved him. “I have to agree with your buddy,” he continued. “You need to, too. It’s been months of you dragging your ass. You never partied with us in Seattle, and you hardly ever go out with us now. We head back to Austin tomorrow, and—”

I clenched my jaw and groaned. “I’m not going back.” No way in fuck I was going to live in the house where Lev had died, where I’d lost Aya, where I’d found out what giant liars my parents were.

“Do you love me, Nash?”I gripped my hand into a fist, gnashing my teeth. Aya had fucking dropped me like a chipped guitar pick.

“What?” I asked, turning to the sink to get a glass of water.

Jax frowned, aware I’d zoned out.

I did that often these days—fell into my own world. It had gotten me through the first month or so of the tour. But that numbness had begun to wear thin. I needed something else. No way I was ready to deal with all the emotions bubbling up.

Jax took a little step back before he held up his hands in supplication. “I just said I get that Austin’s hard for you. Still, you should let loose.” He smiled. “That surprise?” He turned and looked over his shoulder toward the pool. “Nadia,” he called.

A lithe, buxom redhead sidled around Jax, into the kitchen, and toward me. She wore the micro-est of bikinis, barely covering her nipples, and the thong so tiny, it left nothing to the imagination.

“Nadia wanted to get to know you.” Jax smirked. “Why don’t you go in the living room or upstairs where she can kiss your hurts all better?”

I set my glass of water on the counter and studied the beautiful woman in front of me. There were always beautiful women around. For the most part, they left me alone. Jax said I gave off an unapproachable vibe. I didn’t care what it was as long as no one touched me.

Nadia strode forward with well-oiled hips that told me she’d walked a few runways in her life.

“How old are you?” I asked.

She fluttered her lashes as she reached forward to trace my pec through my shirt. “Old enough to know how to make you feel good,” she purred.

“Not interested.” I was never interested—I’d seen sex used as a weapon. Plus, the only woman I wanted was Aya.

“Let me change your mind.” She tossed her hair, and I counted five freckles on her shoulder, bunched together in a cluster.

Those freckles caused me to waver toward want. And the wavering pissed me off. But Aya had moved on—I’d seen the picture with my own eyes.

Maybe I’d gone about this the wrong way. Maybe this was the only way for me to move on, too. My mother had a new boyfriend every couple of months and said she was happier now than she’d ever been.

This wasn’t about using sex as a weapon; it was about pleasure, about letting go. Having fun. I was a rock star. I was supposed to let loose. To party. Jax was always telling me. Hugh, too.

They were happy. Gratified. Relaxed. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt good.

Yes, I could. The last time I was with Aya.

She’d moved on. So should I.

I slipped my arm around Nadia’s waist, but every fiber of my being revolted, remembering the perfection of my time with Aya.

I stiffened as my gaze roved around the room and took in the number of semi or completely nude women. The place reeked of sex.

My stomach turned at the smell—a smell I associated with Brad. I booked it down the hall to the bathroom, where I wretched and wretched.

This attempt to move on had left me…dark. Stained. Broken.

Nadia slipped in behind me.

“Oh. I didn’t realize you weren’t well.” She nibbled her lip. She lifted a miniscule bag at her side. “Want something to take the pain away?”

That sounded like Lindsay. I edged back, fearful of what was in there. Fear and guilt rioted inside me, and I wanted to crash my fists against my temples—anything to make the feelings stop. I needed all the feelings to disappear.

I grabbed the pill she offered and slammed it back.