Just as he reaches the van, Alex glances back over his shoulder just in time to see Willie turn away. His heart does a flip in his chest as he thinks about the fact that Willie waited to leave until Alex got back to the van, but he's quickly snapped out of his thoughts when Luke pokes his head out of the back of the van.
"So…?" he asks pointedly. Alex tries to ignore the knowing smirk on Luke's face but before he can even say a word his face turns traitorously red. "I knew it!"
"I didn't even say anything!" Alex argues as Luke hops out of the van.
"Yeah, but your face," Luke says as he gestures to his own face with a wry chuckle. "It said a lot."
"No, it didn't," Alex grumbles as he gives Luke a light shove. Reggie and Bobby come over after saying goodbye to the other band who stuck around, and Alex groans as he sees similar looks on their faces.
"So…?" Reggie says.
"Not you, too!" Alex huffs.
"Dude," Bobby says plainly as Reggie's face turns like someone's just kicked a puppy in front of him. "Did you really think we weren't gonna ask?"
"Luke and Reggie have been spending too much time together," Alex grumbles as Luke pops up behind him and tosses his arm over Alex's shoulders.
"No such thing," Luke says. "You're just mad because you can't keep a secret to save your life."
"I don't have a secret!"
"Exactly," Luke says. "Because we already know you've got a thing for Willie."
"I… I don't…" Alex stumbles over his words as his face turns an even brighter red.
"You totally do," Reggie says with a snort. "I thought you were gonna kill me when I gave him the shirt!"
Alex winces a little. "Sorry. I just--"
"Already territorial," Bobby teases.
"Can we not--"
"It's cute," Luke says as he pinches Alex's cheek and Alex quickly slaps his hand away.
"Don't even start, Patterson."
"So…" Bobby says pointedly. "Did you tell him about the tour?"
"Maybe," Alex mumbles as he stares down at the ground.
"And??" Reggie asks. "What did he say?"
"He said he's gonna come," Alex says, hardly finishing his sentence before the other three burst into a chorus of cheering.
"I told you!" Luke says as he ruffles Alex's hair while Reggie and Bobby share a high-five. Alex is starting to feel like his face is never going to return to its normal color, but he also can't help but feel a small hopeful thrum in his chest.
He really hopes that Willie does come to the first show in Santa Barbara. It's only like an hour away so it doesn't feel like too much to ask. Then again, he's only just met Willie so maybe it was a little crazy.
Still, it's comforting to have his best friends so excited for him. They wouldn't be acting like this if they hadn't felt like there was something between Alex and Willie already. They're embarrassing at the best of times but when it comes to something like this Alex knows they've got his back.
"Alright, c'mon," Bobby says as he twirls the keys to the van around his finger. "I gotta get home before my mom flips out."
"I'll drive!" Luke says as he reaches for the keys, but Bobby quickly pulls them out of his reach.
"Absolutely fucking not."
Usually when their set ends, Alex's veins are pumping with adrenaline and he feels nothing but pure joy. He can ride that high for hours afterwards, along with the other three, and he looks forward to it every time they play a gig.
But tonight, that feeling isn't there. The adrenaline definitely is, which staves off the exhaustion from playing drums for half an hour, but there's a certain emptiness that seems to take over Alex's whole being. As much as he tried to not get his hopes up about seeing Willie again, it happened anyway.
Willie wasn't there. He didn't come to Santa Barbara like he said he would. Even though it wasn't technically a promise, it sure felt like it.
Reggie's the first to bring it up. He bumps his shoulder into Alex's as soon as they're offstage and the moment Alex looks at him, he knows Reggie's smile is one of sympathy.
"You okay?" he asks as Luke and Bobby take off in front of them, racing each other out to the back of the venue.
"Yeah," Alex says, trying to brush off this conversation. He doesn't really want to have it in the first place, even though he knows Reggie's just trying to be a good friend. He appreciates it but in all honesty he'd rather just forget about it. "I'm good."
"Are you sure?" Reggie frowns a little. "I know you were excited about--"
"Reg," Alex says with a sigh. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Right." Reggie nods. "Sorry."
Alex comes to a stop and lets out another sigh before he turns to Reggie and pulls him into a hug. Reggie hesitates for a second before he wraps his arms around Alex and squeezes him hard.
"Thanks," Alex murmurs.
"Any time," Reggie replies as he pats Alex's back, still holding him tightly.
As they pull away, Alex brushes his hair out of his face and scuffs his shoe against the floor lightly. "It was dumb anyway," he mumbles.
"It's not dumb," Reggie replies as he puts his hand against Alex's shoulder, rubbing it comfortingly as they make their way towards the door where Luke and Bobby disappeared a minute ago. "Maybe something came up."
"Yeah," Alex says softly, misery bleeding through his voice.
"If he could've been here, he would've," Reggie goes on.
"You don't know that," Alex says with a hollow laugh.
"You don't know either," Reggie replies. "Maybe he'll be in Santa Cruz."
"You think he'd skip Santa Barbara but drive an extra four hours up to Santa Cruz?" Alex asks with a snort of laughter.
"You never know!" Reggie says as he jostles Alex a little. "Stay positive, dude!"
"Okay, okay," Alex says, his laughter getting a little warmer. He sort of hates to admit it but Reggie's already managed to make him feel better about this whole thing.
If Alex had just gone to the van and stewed in his own disappointment, he probably would've stayed utterly miserable all night.
"Thanks," he says again.
"I told you," Reggie answers with a smile. "Any time."
Alex laughs and puts his arm around Reggie's shoulders, bringing him a little closer as the two of them exit the venue through the back door.
Alex is minding his own business when he feels a sharp tap on his shoulder. He turns around to see Willie's friend Carrie standing behind him with a smile on her face that makes Alex nervous.
"Hi?" he says as he darts his eyes around for any sign of Willie. Hell, he'd feel a little less nervous if Julie or Flynn were nearby. But Carrie on her own makes Alex feel sort of like he's being sent to the principal's office or something.
"Hi. You need to come with me."
"You need to come with me," Carrie repeats slowly, sort of like she's speaking to someone who's hard of hearing.
"I heard you, I just don't understand--" Alex starts, but Carrie grows impatient with him and ends up grabbing his wrist. "Hey!"
"You'll thank me for this later," she says as she drags Alex away from the van.
"But! I have to! Hey!" Alex shouts as he tries to pull his wrist out of her grip, but he finds that Carrie is deceptively strong. He's not getting away from her unless she lets him go.
"It'll only take an hour." Carrie glances over her shoulder at him and then hums. "Maybe a little longer."
"What will take an hour?" Alex asks as Carrie drags him over to her car. She finally lets go of his wrist as she opens the passenger side door and gestures for him to get inside.
"I'm not getting in the car unless you tell me what's going on."
Carrie sighs in frustration. "Do you really have no idea what this is about? Seriously?"
"I…" Alex's face tinges with pink. Sure, he has an idea but he doesn't want to assume. And despite the fact that this is literally his chance to get away, to run back to the van and hide so Carrie can't kidnap him, his curiosity is starting to get the best of him.
After maybe thirty seconds of silence in which Carrie just stares at him with an expectant look, Alex gives in. He slides into the passenger seat of Carrie's car and she huffs as she slams the door shut.
"Finally," she grumbles as she stalks over to the other side and climbs into the driver's seat.
"You get your way a lot, don't you?" Alex asks as she starts the ignition.
"I'm usually right," Carrie replies as she pulls into the road. "You'll learn eventually."
Alex snickers softly. "You think?"
Carrie glances at him and this time when she smiles, it's less sharp. The sight of it gives Alex some comfort and he relaxes against the seat, glancing in the side mirror as the venue disappears behind them.
"How long were you waiting for me?" Alex asks curiously after a few minutes of silence.
"Too long," Carrie admits with a huff. She turns her head towards Alex and smirks. "Are you musicians always late?" she teases, making Alex laugh a little.
"Only when Reggie is driving," Alex replies, and Carrie laughs in return.
"He's probably still better than Luke."
When Alex leaves Willie’s side later that evening to head around to the back of the venue, he probably couldn’t stop smiling if he tried. As soon as he’s within sight of the van, the guys all come barreling out of it and accost him with a dozen questions.
They’re well within their rights to be worried, given that Alex just up and disappeared for a few hours without telling any of them. He’s never done anything like that before and if he’d stayed gone any longer they might’ve gone so far as to call the police.
"What happened??" Luke demands.
"Yeah, dude, you like vanished into thin air," Bobby adds.
"I didn’t mean to!" Alex replies as they all stare at him, but Reggie’s studying him the closest of the three.
"Were you with Willie?" Reggie asks. Bobby and Luke’s faces switch from anger to delight in absolutely nothing flat, and Alex’s cheeks flush at once.
"Well…" he says with a low chuckle, and his non-answer is enough to get all three of them cheering.
"Finally!" Bobby says with a deep sigh of relief. "At least now you’ll stop whining about him."
"Yeah," Reggie adds, "now he’ll just drive us crazy talking about how perfect Willie is."
"At least it means you’ll stop smoking so much," Luke says in a low voice as he elbows Bobby’s side, getting a shove in return.
Alex rolls his eyes and turns to Reggie as the other two devolve into another slap fight and the two of them give them a wide berth.
"Were they like that when I was gone?" Alex asks.
"Yeah," Reggie says with a heavy sigh. "Thank god you came back, I’m pretty sure they’d kill each other if the band was just us three."
Alex snorts as he looks at them and shakes his head. Reggie nudges him, bringing Alex’s attention back to him and when Reggie grins at him Alex blushes a little more.
"I’m happy for you, dude," he answers. "I told you it’d all work out."
"Yeah," Alex says with a laugh, "I guess you did."
"Where’s Willie? I wanna congratulate him too."
"In line with the others," Alex replies.
"Oh. Makes sense." Reggie nods before Bobby and Luke’s slap fight gets a little more physical. "We should break them up, right?"
"Yeah," Alex says, sighing heavily. "Probably."
Alex ends up pulling Bobby away, corralling him towards the back door to the venue while Reggie and Luke stay near the van, deciding that it’s probably best for the sake of the band and their friendship for Bobby and Luke to not be together right now.
"Sorry to kill the mood," Bobby says as he runs his hand through his hair. "Luke just…"
"I know," Alex says.
"He’s just under my skin lately," Bobby sighs. "I don’t know why."
"I know," Alex repeats as he claps Bobby’s shoulder. "But you’re gonna have to get used to it if we start touring more."
Bobby sighs heavily. "Yeah, I know." He snorts a little as he glances at Alex. "Maybe we should bring Willie on our next one so he can act as another buffer."
Alex blushes as he laughs. "Yeah, I’m sure he’d love that."
"Hey," Bobby says as he surprises Alex with pulling him into a headlock and starts ruffling his hair, "it would keep you happy, at least."
"Shut up!" Alex shoves Bobby away as he pulls himself free, his face still red as Bobby laughs uproariously.
"Like you weren’t already thinking about it," he teases, making Alex blush even harder.
"Even if I was," Alex says as he avoids looking Bobby in the eye, "five guys crammed into one van? No thanks."
"What, that’s not a fantasy of yours?" Bobby says, wiggling his eyes in a lewd way when Alex glances his way.
"I hate you."
"Sure you do," Bobby replies as he hooks his arm around Alex’s shoulders. "Keep telling yourself that."
Alex rolls his eyes. "You know what, next time I’m letting Luke knock you out."
Bobby snorts. "I’d like to see him try."
Alex shakes his head and rolls his eyes even harder. Truth be told, he’s not entirely sure who would win in an actual fight between the two of them but he’s pretty sure that he won’t have to find out. This is just how they are.
He and Bobby end up hanging out with one of the other bands on the bill until it’s time for them to play their set, but the whole time Alex is just thinking about how he can’t wait to see Willie in the crowd.