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Looks Like A Solo Tonight

Guest Jen

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Story Title: Looks Like A Solo Tonight

Type of story: Short/Medium fiction

Main Characters: Ruby/Liam

BTTB rating: T

Genre: Romance

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Sexual content.

Summary: Every step of the way Liam is there with a confident smile or steadying hand – like he was meant to do this.


Looks Like A Solo Tonight

Part One

It all happens in a blur.

Too many things happening too fast and sometimes Ruby doesn’t feel like her feet are even touching the ground.

They record the song in a dingy studio out the back of Reefton Lakes, organised as a favour to Liam by one of his industry mates. Because, despite the fact that Liam Murphy - singer, songwriter, recording artist, (heartthrob,) - hasn’t been in the spotlight for quite some time, he apparently still has some pull. Or at least, enough pull that equates to recording in a run-down studio at two in the morning when both of them have to be at school in seven hours.

Soon (too soon) after, there are managers and publicists and agents, asking too many questions and making too many plans for Ruby to be able to keep up. Charlie hovers to the side and looks equal parts proud and lost as they discuss contracts and tutoring on the road (but if it happens over the summer then this won’t be necessary) and there’s already talk of a tour, which Ruby can’t get her head around. All the while, Liam charms the executives with his easy banter, playing up the elusive musician who adores his craft (which is true).

He shoots Ruby a wide smile, all teeth and high cheeks, from the opposite side of a long glass-topped table and Ruby finds herself returning it. Allowing herself for the first time, to be excited by the fact that she has a chart-topping single.

There are tearful goodbyes before they get on the bus. Irene pulls Ruby in tight, wishing her luck and already saying that she misses her. Xavier playfully elbows her side, asking for an autograph. Ruby rolls her eyes.

“It’s not for me!” Xavier argues. “I’m going to sell it on eBay. It’s how I’m going to make my millions.”

Then Charlie steps forward, eyes already watering and Ruby is having trouble blinking back her own tears.

“I’m so proud of you,” Charlie says, pulling Ruby close, and Ruby almost misses the “love you” that follows because she’s crying so hard.

From then on it’s a whirlwind of interviews and performances and Ruby allows herself to get swept up in the hype, in the excitement – which surprisingly, isn’t that hard to do when there are fans (they have actual fans) waiting for them in the lobby of the hotel as soon as they hop off the bus.

And every step of the way Liam is there with a confident smile or steadying hand – like he was meant to do this.


It’s not as hard as Ruby thought it would be. She’s been there and done that with crushing hard on her music teacher and song writing partner.

At first Ruby was worried things might be awkward; spending every waking moment with the guy you were hopelessly in love with (and him knowing it). But things have just been non-stop (crazy) busy, that Ruby hasn’t had time to dwell on any residual feelings that still might be lodged in between her ribcage and her heart. And maybe it is also useful that some guys who turn up to their gigs are also pretty cute. So Ruby is able to spend her time catching their eyes as she sings songs about undying love and inevitable heartbreak (rather than to the musician sitting beside her).

But sometimes she succumbs.

When the day is long and draining, and the night is oddly silent, Ruby sometimes catches herself staring at the ceiling of her hotel room (in some place she hasn’t bothered to learn the name of) and wondering whether Liam is already asleep, and how he’d react if she just slipped into his room (because she’s always slept better with another person in the bed).

But then as soon as she realises she’s daydreaming the wall is erected, cracks plastered and Ruby vows it is the last time.

(She’s lying.)

Besides, Liam is very very out of bounds.


It’s an interview, like the many many they’ve already done today.

Ruby is sitting beside Liam (separate chairs of course), while the interviewer sits opposite them. A large, blown-up version of the album cover art acts as a backdrop. The interviewer is nice, with kind brown eyes, and doesn’t really ask anything they haven’t been asked before.

Ruby can tell Liam is getting restless. He’s tapping his foot while he folds and unfolds his hands and it’s like Ruby knows he’s itching to get his hands on his guitar.

“So, this is the big comeback of Liam Murphy. Is it much different this time around?” the interviewer asks.

Ruby initially thinks Liam hasn’t even been listening, but then he’s flicking his eyes to Ruby, the corner of his lips turning up.

“It’s not so much about the comeback. We recorded the song because it’s something we both wanted to do. We certainly didn’t expect anything to come of it.”

Someone off camera calls time, and the interviewer stands, extending her hand to Liam then Ruby. “Thanks, both of you.”

As she leaves Liam stands up, stretching his arms high above his head, and Ruby has to avert her eyes so she doesn’t openly stare at the small sliver of taught stomach.

The next journalist is ushered into the room and doesn’t even bother with pleasantries. He’s older, Ruby notices, his face all hard lines and edges, with a very prominent jaw. She doesn’t generally judge people on first impressions, but Ruby has a hard time believing that this man listens to their music. Nevertheless, Ruby sits up straight and Liam adjusts his sitting position and they both wait for the questions.

“You met each other in Summer Bay, where you were working as Ruby’s music teacher, is that correct?” the journalist asks Liam.

“Yes,” Liam answers. “I taught Ruby and noticed she had quite a talent.”

“You didn’t think it was above and beyond your call of duty as a teacher, to spend so much time with Ruby outside of school? In a project that may not have lead to anything significant for either of you?”

“No,” Liam replies, eyebrows furrowing together as he eyes the gentleman. “Like I’ve said before, the success of the single wasn’t my concern. It was Ruby’s persistence and voice that made me want to record again.”

“So, you would say that you two are close, then?”

“Of course.”

Ruby is darting her eyes between Liam and the journalist trying to keep up with his rapid-fire questions and Liam’s clipped answers. He seems to change tact suddenly, moving his attention from Liam to Ruby asking, “Did you develop any feelings for Mr Murphy?”

“No,” Ruby replies automatically, and she hates the way she can feel her face flush red.

“Are you sure? Because it wouldn’t surprise me. You wouldn’t be the first, nor the last, student to get a bit of a crush on a teacher. Particularly one as good looking as Liam over there.”

Ruby shoots Liam a glance. He’s got his jaw set and he’s refusing to look at her. Ruby knows she can’t say anything. “No, I – Liam was my teacher but nothing ever happened between us,” Ruby replies, trying to hide her shaking hands by clasping them together on her knee.

“Excuse me,” someone in their management team interrupts, “Can we stick to questions about the record?”

The journalist appears to check his notes before continuing.

“So, Liam. Did rehab change the song-writing process?”

“Excuse me?” Liam questions, and Ruby stiffens in her seat.

“I’m sorry, what I meant was, did you get any inspiration while you were in there?”

There’s some shuffling off-camera and Ruby doesn’t quite know what is going on, but the journalist presses on.

“Is it true you had a relationship with a girl while you were in rehab?”

“I don’t think that’s really any of your business,” Liam replies icily.

“What about your ex-wife? Have you heard from her since you’ve been out?”

Liam is biting his lip, probably stopping himself from just hurling insults at this guy whose intent is clearly to get some sort of major scandal out of the promotion. Ruby had been warned about this sort of thing prior to them starting on their press junket. Some journalists would be determined to just see if they could get any dirt that would make a story. The key was to remain calm and civil in the face of all that they might try to throw in their faces.

“Your son?” the journalist finally asks, tone sickly sweet before their publicist is demanding that all cameras are to be turned off and security is escorting the journalist from the room.

It’s a scurry as the journalist gathers his notes and still manages to shoot both of them a wry smile before he is unceremoniously shoved out the door.

It takes a while for Ruby to comprehend what she’s just experienced – to actually contemplate that someone’s sole aim would be to humiliate someone else, drag up everything from their past just for their own gain – and then she finally looks over at Liam.

He’s head down, hands balled into fists and mumbles, “I need a break,” before standing and rushing out. Management calls a five minute break, so the spotlights are switched off and Ruby stands up. She smiles to her publicist on the way towards the door.


Liam hasn’t gone far, just to the end of the corridor. He’s leaning back against the pale walls, arms resting over his head, eyes closed, and Ruby sees him heaving deep breaths as she approaches.

“Are you okay?” Ruby asks and Liam’s eyes open slowly, blinking back at her.

“Peachy,” Liam replies, all sarcasm and fake smiles.

Ruby nods, “I’m sure.” She sidles up next to him, leaning on the wall. “If it was me I’d be pretty angry.”

Liam stares at the ceiling, heaves a breath. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise to me. It’s that stupid reporter that should be doing the apologising.”

“No, not for that. I don’t care what anyone says about me. It’s you,” Liam says, still looking at the ceiling rather than Ruby. “I knew this would happen. I shouldn’t have dragged you into it with me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s only going to get worse,” Liam says, finally glancing at Ruby. “The questions about our ... relationship.”

They lock eyes and Ruby wants to reach out and run her finger down his cheek. They’ve only been doing this for a week and Ruby can already see that Liam is tired, his eyes bloodshot. She tells herself every night that she’s over it (over him) and knows in her head that nothing is ever going to happen between them – especially now (when they have a purely platonic working relationship), but when he’s looking at her like he is now, Ruby’s mind clouds and the only thing she can focus on is her heart and how it speeds up when he’s close. She hopes he can’t tell.

“So, let them say whatever they want. We know the truth,” Ruby replies.

“And what’s the truth?” Liam asks, voice suddenly quiet and low.

Ruby swallows. “That we’re friends. Nothing more.”

Liam nods.


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Part Two

They have a photoshoot in a warehouse on the opposite side of the city. They’ve finished the individual shots with Liam sporting his guitar and outfits of varying formality. His last frame is Liam rocking Chucks and a black suit, crisp white shirt and thin black tie, quirking his eyebrow up, exuding mystery and mischief.

Ruby is off to the side, still in her last outfit – a red ruffle dress and high heels – watching as the photographer (who had introduced himself as Max) snaps the final shots before calling for a change of wardrobe and set up.

Liam wonders over to Ruby, with a sly smile.

“You look good,” Ruby says before she can stop herself.

“You say that like you’re surprised,” Liam replies with an obnoxiously wide smile.

“Hey, I’ve seen you when you walk off that tour bus first thing in the morning. It’s not a pretty sight,” Ruby says with an equally cheeky smile.

“Guys!” Max calls, “Can we get into wardrobe?”

“Time to go play dress up again,” Liam comments, snagging a bottle of water off the craft services table before heading towards the rack of clothes.

The first set up is a fake porch, attached to the front of a one-dimensional beach shack, which goes perfectly with Ruby’s denim shorts and singlet. Her hair is in easy curls and they bounce slightly as she takes the steps onto the set. Liam appears moments later in a pair of scuffed jeans and unbuttoned plaid shirt, revealing a white v-neck underneath.

Max instructs Ruby to take a seat on the steps of the porch and, “pretend like you’re admiring the view. Ruby, shuffle to the left a bit so Liam can sit beside you.”

Ruby feels the denim of Liam’s jeans brush against her bare leg and hates the way she needs to brace herself.

“Just imagine you’re back home,” Liam whispers to her.

Ruby nods, propping her arm up on her knee and resting her chin in her hand. She thinks of the Summer Bay ocean and the endless sand dunes, and she swears she can actually smell the salt on Liam’s skin as he breathes steadily beside her.

Max keeps snapping shots as Ruby tries to focus on looking wistful and into the distance, rather than noticing that Liam is leaning into her, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“That’s great!” Max calls. “Ruby, don’t be afraid to lean into Liam. It looks great.”

“Are you okay?” Liam murmurs into Ruby’s ear.

“Fine,” Ruby replies, slowly leaning back, finding herself fitting easily into Liam’s side. Her cheeks flare and Ruby is intent on blaming the harsh stage lighting for her blush, definitely not the way Liam begins to absent-mindedly rub circles into her shoulder with his thumb. He’s humming a tune Ruby’s not familiar with (probably something he’s making up on the spot), and there is no way anyone else on the set can hear him. Just Ruby.

“Okay, that’s awesome, guys!” Max says before Liam is pulling away and standing up. “Let’s get some more powder on Ruby before we go for more shots.”

Makeup swarms in, bundling Ruby off to the side and touching up her face, trying to cover the pink that has spread from just her cheeks to the tips of her ears.

Professional, Ruby reminds herself. She can totally do this.

Max is examining some of the shots on the laptop they’ve got set up, running through frame after frame. “Right,” he says to them both. “We want Ruby up in the porch, leaning on the railing. Liam, you can stay on the step for now. Can we bring in the guitar?”

Ruby watches as Liam is handed his guitar and almost unconsciously he begins to pick out chords and notes, and Ruby notices that it matches the tune he was humming before.

“Ruby, look to me,” Max says, and Ruby glances up at the camera, giving a small smile. “Good, now back to watching Liam.”

Ruby feels herself beginning to blush. Was she really that transparent? Liam turns and gives her lopsided smile.

“You just can’t keep your eyes off me,” he says.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Ruby replies with a roll of her eyes.

“Nice and fun, flirty, good,” Max coaches from behind his lens.

“I’m offended,” Liam says, placing a dramatic hand to his heart. “I thought we were friends.”

“Oh, we are. That’s why I can tell you that you currently look like a beach bum. I’m worried you’re going to break the camera.”


Ruby laughs and rolls her eyes, as Max tells them, “Liam, join Ruby up on the deck. Get nice and cozy. We’re going for lazy afternoon, little seaside town.”

“That sounds vaguely familiar,” Liam jokes. “You think we can handle it, Rubes?”

“Might be a bit of an artistic stretch, but I’m sure we’ll manage.”

Liam sidles up next to Ruby, bumping her slightly with his hip. She smiles up at him.

Max starts snapping away. “Nice, guys. Ruby, just keep smiling at him like that.”

“Are you okay with this?” Liam asks.

Ruby can’t do much but nod. “I have to be.”

“This isn’t too weird. I know that there was that thing ...” he trails off, not wanting to elaborate. He doesn’t need to.

“No. No! It’s not weird at all. I’m completely over that. This is just work, right?”

“Work. Absolutely.”

Ruby glances away, but Liam just keeps on looking down at Ruby and she can’t help but smile. Slowly, and almost without Ruby noticing Liam is sliding a hand around Ruby’s waist. She doesn’t notice because their eyes are locked and Ruby can see her own reflection in his eyes. And even with the caked on makeup and different clothes she still feels the same. She feels stupid and naive and so so young compared to him.

He’s no longer her teacher, but Liam is a friend, and song writing partner, and one hundred percent not interested in Ruby like that. She’s a girl, a child; while Liam is experienced and mature, and completely comfortable to just wrap his arm around her frame to pull her closer like it’s nothing.

But it’s not nothing.

Ruby can feel her heart pounding and Liam is that close that there is no way that he can’t hear it. She’s embarrassed and thrilled by it all at the same time. She can almost forget that they are on a set in some warehouse and people are taking their pictures and imagine that she’s at home, on the porch of the beach house and no one else is around. That she could lean in and kiss Liam if she wanted to.

She finds herself licking her bottom lip, staring up at Liam as he moves his other hand to her hip so she’s completely facing him.

She’s snapped out of her daydream by Max calling, “Brilliant!” from behind his camera. She has to blink and instantly pulls herself out of Liam’s grasp.

“Okay, last set up everyone,” Max says and Ruby gets as far away from Liam as possible.

“Where are you going?” she hears Liam call after her.

“Uh, got to check my levels,” Ruby lies as she rushes out.


If the direction of the shoot wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now.

Ruby is dressed in a short plaid skirt, (and she has to be careful not to bend over too far for fear of showing off her underwear) coupled with a simple white button up shirt. She hasn’t even seen Liam yet, but has to blink a few times to actually take in the scene.

The final set up is a classroom mock-up. There is one large table close to the front, with a wooden chair behind it and Ruby is instructed to sit on one end of the desk while they adjust lighting and wait for Liam. Liam appears in a button down cardigan and plain grey pants.

“Seems like they are really playing up the teacher-student thing, aren’t they?” Liam says with a gesture at her outfit.

“Yeah,” Ruby replies, hating the way her voice slips into a higher octave just from having to stand so close to Liam again.

“Hey, are you okay?” Liam asks, placing a gentle hand on Ruby’s arm. The crew are still adjusting the lighting and lens.

Ruby nods. “Of course,” she says, because like she is actually going to admit that that little crush she had on Liam is rearing its head again and she’s trying her very best to ignore it, but that is proving extremely difficult when Liam is being coached so that he’s encroaching on every single piece of her personal space.

“You know, we don’t have to do this,” Liam says.

Max is still consulting the laptop and Ruby sees the wardrobe department arranging some of the clothes from earlier on in the day on the wire racks.

“They have enough images already. We can stop, if you want,” Liam adds.

Ruby wants to back away. She wants to curl up in her bunk on the bus and just pretend that Liam isn’t there, because she knows how she feels about him, and he just ... can’t see it. Or can see it, and is deliberately ignoring it. But right now, he’s giving her an out. However, if Ruby backs out, then it just shows that all the concerns Charlie expressed before she left for this tour were true. That Ruby wasn’t old enough and wasn’t mature enough to handle the pressure.

There was a lot of buzz about the single. An unsigned singer duetting with Liam Murphy caused quite the stir. But for every ten positive reviews, there was a negative one. One saying that she wasn’t cut out for the spotlight, that is was just ‘beginners luck’ to have the success that they have. That Ruby was just ‘some girl’ riding on Liam Murphy’s coattails.

Ruby can’t give them that satisfaction.

“No, it’s fine,” Ruby says. “It’s just acting, right?”

“Acting. Absolutely,” Liam replies with a smile, and then Max is ready.

“Okay, Liam, I want you to stand next to Ruby. Keep it flirty, not too serious. That’s it, you can laugh.”

Ruby giggles as Liam shoots her these looks that are supposed to be serious faces, but the corners of his mouth twitch up.

“Good. Now, move in a bit closer. Ruby, can you reach out and put your hands on him.”

Ruby hesitates, wondering if this is somehow overstepping their professional relationship that she has laid out in her head. But Liam just grabs her wrists and puts them on his hips with a great amount of deliberation.

“It’s going to look like you’re encouraging me,” Ruby says, trying to keep her breathing even.

“Maybe I am,” Liam replies, and he actually has the audacity to smirk at her.

“You are going to be in so much trouble, Mr Murphy.”

“Wonderful,” Max says brightly. “Lean in, keep your hands there, but don’t shift away from the light.”

Liam is standing practically between Ruby’s legs and Ruby is angling her body towards his, hands holding on tight to his sides, all the while Max keeps shooting. Occasionally calling out suggestions like, “tilt your head forward, Liam. Ruby, keep the intensity in your eyes. Focus on each other.”

Suddenly, wardrobe scurries on to set and they are loosening Liam’s tie and unbuttoning the top of Ruby’s shirt to reveal her black bra.

Ruby notices that Liam is staring.

“Are you still okay with this?” Liam asks, but he is definitely not looking at her face.

“You’re beginning to sound like a broken record,” Ruby replies, hoping that her sharpness will hide her own insecurities.

“I just ... I’m looking out for you. I know what this is like,” Liam gestures to their surroundings. “The glitz, the glamour, the ... sex,” he whispers. “It’s easy to get caught up in it all.”

“Back in Summer Bay no one looked at me twice. Now suddenly, everyone wants to know what I’m doing, so I’m just giving them what they want.”

“But is that what you want?”

Ruby wonders if it’s possible to say, I want you, without it coming out sounding like ... well, that.

“Final round, guys,” Max says. “Really get intimate. You guys are good friends, right? So, Liam, you need to be right in between Ruby’s legs. Ruby, don’t be afraid to really go there. I want sexy eyes, passion, the lot.”

Liam’s chest is practically at her eye level as Ruby scoots forward so she’s actually barely still sitting on the desk. Her bare legs are wrapped around Liam’s, and Liam guides her hand to the first button on his shirt.

At first they keep it timid. Ruby’s hand stays on top of Liam’s shirt, Liam remains standing upright, but then Max suggests Ruby running her hands through Liam’s hair and it all goes downhill from there.

Ruby combs through Liam’s mussed up hair with her fingers and watches as Liam’s eyelids actually flutter closed. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows slowly and Ruby rests her hand around Liam’s neck. He leans forward, stooping down so it’s no longer his chest that Ruby is staring at, but his eyes.

They are literally centimetres from each other’s faces. Ruby can hear Liam’s breathing; feel the heat radiating from his skin under the hot lighting.

“Can we go a bit further? Liam, hand on Ruby’s leg. Higher,” Max instructs.

Ruby tenses and Liam must feel it. “Is this okay? Say if it’s not. Please, say something.”

“It’s fine,” Ruby whispers into Liam’s ear.

“That’s great, Ruby,” Max says. “Stay close to his neck, a bit of kissing, don’t shy away.”

Ruby flicks her eyes up to Liam who isn’t watching her, but has his eyes trained to camera while he uses his thumb to massage Ruby’s upper leg. He’s barely keeping below the hem of her skirt and Ruby is faced with very much all of Liam Murphy’s neck.

She inhales, smelling musk and sandalwood and sweat, but also something that is distinctly Liam. It brings her back to the beach and a stuffy classroom where Liam would have his guitar propped on his leg, strumming, while Ruby tested out lyrics. She sees that sparkle in his eyes when he was in the zone, chord progressions flowing from him, full to the brim with inspiration. It’s also causing an ache in Ruby’s chest that she sings about every night on stage. Of knowing a love, but not having it returned.

She presses her lips lightly into the hollow of Liam’s neck and hears a sharp intake of breath. It’s exhilarating and Ruby goes back in, kissing at his throat, letting her teeth graze along his skin.

Ruby relishes that she can do this, that Liam will let her do this. That he’s not stopping her, and he’s just faintly humming under his breath and she scratches her teeth along his collar bone, causing him to gasp and face to flush.

It’s everything she’s ever wanted.

Until Max is calling, “That’s a wrap!” and Liam is standing up straight and letting out a laugh.

“Man, Ruby. You really went to town.” He looks down at his skin. “I think you left a mark.”

Ruby shrugs and just like that, the illusion is shattered. The set is back and Max is uploading images to the computer and Liam is running a hand through his hair and chatting with the makeup department and Ruby is left watching on the sidelines.

For however much Liam wants Ruby to be part of this, she’s always going to be holding something back. Because opening herself up to all of it, to all of Liam, will only end in heartbreak. She knows from bitter experience.


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Part Three

Ruby spends her eighteenth birthday in a private room in a hotel surrounded by record company executives and people she doesn’t know. Liam is there, of course, but he’s busy talking to music producers about the album, because Ruby’s birthday was conveniently on the same date as the record release.

She has a drink in her hand, her second ... or maybe third, legal one - who knows - and she’s got that slightly buzzed feeling going on as she circulates the room. She smiles at managers and some cute boys who have obviously been invited by some of the roadies. Ruby doesn’t particularly care, because she is completely unsupervised and happy and finally feeling as though she is reaping some sort of reward for the hard work and long hours she’s had to put in over the last couple of weeks.

The bar is unlimited and Ruby waltzes up, and the bartender automatically slides something alcoholic and fruity towards her. Ruby sucks at the straw with a smile and let’s herself be introduced to people and kissed on the cheek and congratulated by everyone in a six foot radius.

Liam catches her eye from across the room, and shoots her a smile. Ruby finds herself smiling back, her eyes flicking down to the faint mark on his neck. The one that she made and is just high enough that it can’t be covered by his shirt.

As the night progresses she keeps sipping her drink and glancing around the room, enjoying the attention and letting herself get a little messy because she doesn’t have to perform.

A particularly handsome and slightly older guy has just come up to her and introduced himself as Dean, an intern for their record label. He’s chatting about the trajectory of the song and complimenting Ruby on her dress when she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. The screen illuminates with Charlie.

Ruby has to excuse herself from Dean, with a polite, “I’m sorry, I have to take this call.”

“It’s not just a convenient excuse to get rid of me, is it?” Dean jokes.

“It’s not,” Ruby replies with a shy smile.

As soon as she closes the door behind her, Ruby is answering the call with a breathless, “Charlie?”

“Oh, Ruby, it’s so good to hear you,” Charlie gushes. “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks,” Ruby replies and she thinks her face is literally going to break apart she is smiling so hard.

“So, how are things going?” Charlie asks.

While Ruby’s been on the road there have been texts sent, many missed calls while she’s been on stage or in interviews, but it’s not the same as actually talking to Charlie. There’s this ache in her chest, right between her ribs that seems to be roughly proportionate to Charlie, and Ruby knows she wouldn’t give up any of this right now, but that doesn’t stop her from wishing Charlie could be there with her so she could experience it, rather than just having Ruby tell her what she’s been doing.

“Good,” Ruby replies, and it seems woefully inadequate.

“And things with Liam?”

“They’re good too. He’s been really great about helping me and making sure I’m okay -” There’s a bang on Charlie’s end of the line and Ruby hears a muffled voice in the distance.

“Sorry, Rubes. I’ve got to go, but I just wanted to call and wish you Happy Birthday and let you know how much I miss you.”

And just like that Ruby can feel the tears welling up in her eyes and she has to take a deep breath before she can be sure her voice isn’t going to give way when she says, “I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” Charlie replies and then there is nothing but the dial tone in Ruby’s ear.

Even though Charlie has hung up, Ruby keeps the phone pressed to her ear like it’s a lifeline. She feels a tear trickle down her cheek and jumps slightly at the sudden bang at the end of the corridor.

Liam is standing there, and as he sees Ruby’s face he rushes towards her, engulfing her in a tight hug. Ruby buries her face in Liam’s shirt, grabbing at his front and letting herself be lonely and homesick while Liam holds on tight.

He’s rubbing her back and telling her, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” in a hushed, soothing tone.

Slowly Ruby’s tears stop streaming down her cheek and she takes a couple of deep breaths before pulling away from Liam’s embrace.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Ruby stutters out as she wipes at her eyes. “I’m tired and slightly drunk and being emotional.”

“Its fine,” Liam says, “I’ll always be here for you. Even when you’re drunk and emotional.” He uses the pad of his thumb to carefully wipe away one last tear from Ruby’s cheek. “Especially when you’re drunk and emotional.”

Even though she’s not obviously crying anymore, Liam is still holding her up. He’s got a hand pressed firmly into Ruby’s lower back and he’s rubbing small circles there. It’s comforting and warm and makes Ruby ache for her bed and her own mother, not just her stupid song-writing partner, who can’t acknowledge that Ruby is stupidly in love with him.

“You’re in love with me?” Liam asks, and oh crap, Ruby totally said that last part out loud. He doesn’t sound mad or angry, maybe a bit bewildered or confused, but not like he’s going to run away or potentially yell at Ruby for being such a child.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Liam asks.

“I can’t be trusted to say anything right now. My mouth and brain are not communicating.”

Liam chuckles. “Good, maybe then you’ll give me a straight answer. How long?”

Ruby rolls her eyes. “Pretty much since we wrote the song. So yeah, a while.” She shakes her head sadly at herself. “And I know nothing is ever going to happen, because yeah, we work together and now we tour together and you used to be my teacher and-”

Ruby doesn’t get to finish her smart and sensible reasons why Liam will never love her back because Liam kisses her.

Ruby blinks back as Liam pulls away.

“Okay then,” she says slowly. “Was this something you’ve been planning or is this a spur-of-the-moment-Ruby-is-a-pathetic-teenager sort of thing?”

“Wow, you really are drunk and emotional,” Liam comments, avoiding Ruby’s question. It doesn’t sound overly condescending, maybe slightly amused.

Then he’s leaning in again, this time cupping Ruby’s cheek and angling her face up to his so that she’s kissing his bottom lip. Ruby’s brain is practically humming inside her skull and in the back of her mind there’s a voice that sounds an awful lot like Charlie telling her, ”you shouldn’t be doing this, this is wrong, stop this right now,” but it’s not loud enough to be really heard over the pounding of her heart and the raggedness of her breath as they pull apart.

“You can’t do this,” Ruby says.

“But I thought this is what you wanted?” Liam questions.

“It is,” Ruby replies. “I’ve wanted this since I was invisible and no one knew who I was. But I’m not about to be your one night stand. I can’t be that to you.”

“Good,” Liam says, crowding Ruby against the corridor wall. “Because I want you now, and tomorrow and the rest of the time we have.”

This time Ruby is ready when Liam leans in to kiss her. She meets him halfway, suckling at his lip and grabbing at the front of his shirt, fisting the material into her hands as she tugs him closer.

Liam is grabbing at her face with both hands, kissing her deeply and skirting his tongue into her mouth. It’s warm and wet (but maybe she’s just crying again), and Ruby moans into the kiss, feeling her legs go weak underneath her.

“God, Ruby,” Liam murmurs, and Ruby wants this so badly. She wants to kiss Liam and keep kissing him, but there is also a room full of people waiting for them. Anyone could come out now and see them, which could ruin any chance of a career for either one of them.

It’s all well and good to play up the ‘sex’ angle for a photoshoot, but Ruby is offering up her heart to Liam right now, and she doesn’t want it to be trampled all over just because she’s slightly tipsy and feeling homesick.

“Are you sure?” Ruby asks.

“Why are we talking when we could be-” Liam parts his lips again.

“Would you stop,” Ruby insists. “Stop kissing me instead of talking. I need to know what’s going on.”

Liam looks slightly stunned by Ruby’s turn around. He takes a step back, runs a hand through his hair.

“I don’t know, Ruby,” Liam admits. “This is ... this is new for me too. Yeah, I’ve done the music thing before, but never with someone else. But I just, I can’t keep going out on that stage every other night and singing about love and passion if I don’t have that with you.”

“So, you’re saying that you only want this for your performance?”

“No, no! That’s not what I meant.” Liam scrambles for his explanation. He recomposes himself before he speaks again. “You mean everything to me, and I’ve known the whole time, but didn’t know how to say anything.”

Ruby can’t speak.

“I know how to write my feelings down in a song, but when it comes to telling the person in question, I just ... can’t.”

“You just did,” Ruby whispers, finally trusting herself to lift her body off the wall.

She watches as a small smile creeps over Liam’s lips, still red and shining from where Ruby was moments ago.

“Yeah,” he echoes. “I guess I did.”

They stand there for a moment before Liam reaches out and takes Ruby’s hand.

“What do you say we get back in there and rock that party? It is your birthday after all.”

For the rest of the night Liam is by her side; smiling, laughing, a warm hand pressed into the small of Ruby’s back, and Ruby is content to stand back, to lean into the touch. In the early hours of the morning Liam leads Ruby back to her room. He hovers outside her door and Ruby makes no move to find her key.

Slowly, and with care, Liam leans down and gives her a closed mouth kiss. Ruby blinks up at him, unable to hide the confusion on her face.

“Happy Birthday,” Liam says.

“You don’t have to go, you know,” Ruby replies.

“I know,” Liam says, and it’s as simple as that.

The tour continues and there are more hotel rooms and more press. Interviews, photoshoots, tv appearances and live performances. Except now, at the end of a long day, a final show, Liam takes Ruby’s hand, they walk back to the bus together.

There are nights where they sleep in separate rooms, when Liam is exhausted or Ruby wants space. But there are others - many others - when they share a room, a bed, much more. It makes the experience less isolating, but more so at the same time. They are the only two people who know how the other is feeling, what it’s like to be in this situation; something that no one else will understand, and Ruby tries not to think about what will happen when it’s over. When the sun sets earlier and summer comes to an end and they have to go back home. Back to Summer Bay, Ruby to school and Liam to work, and the real world.

“You’re thinking,” Liam mutters sleepily from beside her. He rolls over, throwing an arm across Ruby’s body and tugging her closer to him. She obliges, relishing the warmth of his bare chest through her thin pyjamas, the little puff of breath on her neck, and Ruby closes her eyes and tries to sleep, wishing the summer would last just a little bit longer.



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