Rating: PG-13, for language
Category: First time
Summary: Rodney McKay learns the meaning of "Go with The Flow" when he hatches a scheme to transform a diamond in the rough.
Written for the reel_sga challenge.
The next day Rodney called Steve Caldwell--who had been hired to produce and direct the concert--to set up a face to face meeting. When Steve suggested including some of the key talent, Rodney was only too happy to comply.
"I'll give Aiden a call and see if we can set something up."
"You know him as 'The Flow.' I prefer his given name."
"I see," Steve said. "I look forward to meeting him. I like his music."
"You listen to hip hop?"
"I've got three teenage daughters. It's not as though I have a choice. At least his music is more palatable than the rest. I can sing it, not that my wife would call what I do singing."
Rodney decided to go the formal route and call Teyla to set up the appointment. Carson answered the phone.
"Good morning, Emmagan Enterprises."
"Morning, Carson," Rodney said. Resigned as he was to losing Carson, hearing his voice still brought back painful memories. "I'm calling to set up a meeting with Aiden."
"I thought you were done with your makeover."
"I am," Rodney said evenly. "We need to meet about the concert."
"Oh. Well, Teyla has asked me to--."
"You're working for Teyla?" Rodney asked.
"No, technically, I work for Aiden. But Teyla calls the shots," Carson explained. "And right now she's being very protective of Aiden's time."
"Well, see if you can free up a couple of hours, will you? We need him in a meeting with the concert director/producer."
"I'll be speaking with her shortly. I'll let her know."
"Well, do you have any idea when he can come in? I have Caldwell flying in on Thursday."
"I'm not trying to be difficult, Rodney," Carson said. "Teyla seems to have a bee in her bonnet this week and she's been acting like a mother hen with one chick."
"All right," Rodney said. "Get back to me when you can, will you?"
"Of course, Rodney," Carson replied.
"Good talking to you, Carson." Rodney hung up and sat for a moment, recalling his last sight of his long time employee. He shook off his funk and got back to work. He was on his way out to lunch an hour later, when his cell phone rang. "Rodney McKay."
"No shit," Aiden said.
"Hi," Rodney replied, smiling. "What's up?"
"I hear you want to talk business."
"Oh, yeah; the guy who'll be doing the concert wants to meet with you."
"Cool. I'll be right over," Aiden replied.
"No, no; he's not here now. He'll be in town later this week. Didn't Carson tell you?"
"Fifteen minutes? I'm close," Aiden said.
"I'm out!" he said to someone in the background. "I'm on my way, Rodney."
"Oh, well, then meet me at Rick's. I'm on my way there now. Do you remember the address?"
"Dex will remember. The guy never forgets anything. See you shortly."
Rodney smiled to himself and got into the elevator. By the time Radek pulled up in front of the restaurant, Aiden and Dex had already arrived. Radek got out of the car and opened the door for Rodney just as Dex did the same for Aiden.
"Oh my God! Is huge!"
"Radek..." Rodney said.
"But is mountainous man!"
"Hey!" Aiden said, walking over to greet Radek like an old friend. "How was your vacation?"
"Vacation? Oh," Radek said, drawing his eyes away from Dex, who was frowning at him curiously. "Vacation was lovely, thank you."
"Cool," Aiden said. "Welcome back." Rodney took his elbow and steered him toward the restaurant. "Hey, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, but I get the impression you're on borrowed time and I'd rather you didn't spend it chatting with my driver. Ask me if I'm jealous; yes," Rodney said, all in a single breath. Aiden laughed as they were led to a table.
"You're such a goof, man," Aiden said as they sat down. The chef came out to greet the pair. "Hey, Rick," Aiden said, extending his hand. The two men touched fists before Rick shook hands with Rodney. He insisted on preparing something special for them and Rodney agreed to the scheme simply to get rid of him. "You're in a mood today, aren't you?'
"Am I?" Rodney asked as he gnawed on a roll. "I guess I am. What's going on with you? What was that all about back there?"
"Hey, I was just saying hello to the little guy--."
"No, I mean on the phone," Rodney interjected. "You look nice. New suit?"
"This? No, I've had this for--. Hey, I told you I had style! You think I never owned a suit before I met you?"
"No! Look, I was just--."
"It's cool, Rodney, I'm just yanking your chain."
"Again. Yes," Rodney deadpanned.
"It's so much fun! And I needed a laugh today."
"Man, they've been dogging me like--." Aiden sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "I don't know what's up with them but I suddenly feel like a prisoner. I know they're afraid that lightning won't strike twice, but it's not as though I'm an unproven commodity."
"Maybe they're jealous," Rodney suggested.
"Of what?" Aiden asked. Rodney shook his head.
"Think about it; you became a breakout star as a rapper. Your second recording shifted toward vocals, combined with rap. From what you've told me, the third album is going to be mostly vocal. You're going to be breaking new ground, reaching out to a new audience. That's risky; you could gain new fans but potentially lose your existing fan base. Teyla's very understandably concerned about the new album. She wants it to be the best it can be."
"You think so? I got the impression she didn't want me spending so much of my time with you," Aiden said plainly. Rodney felt the same way, but he was surprised by Aiden's candor.
"Well, I can't blame her for that," he said. "I've been trying to influence you in a manner that takes you even further away from your musical roots, so to speak. You don't exactly look like The Flow these days."
"Hey baby, the Flow is a state of mind," Aiden said smoothly. "It's not a wardrobe selection. You're good at what you do, but I haven't lost sight of who I am."
"Aiden," Rodney said carefully. "She might not--. Well..." He paused when the waiter appeared. Rodney was secretly relieved; he wasn't sure he should say what was on his mind and decided to change the topic as a salad was placed in front of each man.
"You were saying?" Aiden said as he poked at his salad. "Not bad. Mine was better, I think."
"I think you're right," Rodney said after trying his salad. "If your next album flops, maybe Rick can get you a job in the kitchen making the salads. What am I saying? You'd be even better on the dessert line."
"Hey, if my next album flops I'm going to open a chain of ice cream emporiums! Man, can you imagine that?"
"I can imagine the nation's obesity problem growing exponentially as a result," Rodney quipped. The two talked about food while they enjoyed their lunch. Rodney also told Aiden about Steve's vision for the concert. They quickly lost track of time, until Aiden's phone vibrated. He pulled it out and read the text message.
"I have to go."
"Playtime's over," Rodney said. He called for the check. Aiden reached for it when it came.
"My turn," he said.
"You asked me to bring you back here. If you pay, you can't be my date," Rodney reasoned. Aiden smiled and pushed the check over to him. Rodney took out his card and signed the receipt. He rose, then, and gallantly held Aiden's chair, much to the younger man's amusement. They both laughed as they left the restaurant, but they froze when they saw Dex leaning on the Escalade. Radek was sitting on the hood eating an apple.
"My driver's bigger than your driver," Aiden said teasingly.
"Everyone's driver is bigger than my driver," Rodney sighed. "Come, Radek. Back to the salt mines." Radek slid off the Escalade and smiled at Dex before he walked over and opened the door for Rodney. Aiden watched the exchange and waved goodbye as they drove off.
"You eat, man?" he asked Dex before he got into the Escalade.
"The little guy fed me," Dex replied. "He had an extra sandwich. What's his name? Radish?"
Aiden laughed as he got into the vehicle and headed back to the studio.
Late that afternoon, Rodney and Liz were in a production meeting with some of their event staff when the phone rang. Katie informed him that Teyla was on the phone.
"I'd better get that," Rodney said. He went to his desk, leaving the others to continue, and picked up the phone. "Hello, Teyla."
"Rodney? I understand you wanted to meet with The Flow?"
"Oh, yes. Steve Caldwell, the producer and director of the concert, wants to meet with Aiden to float some ideas about how to headline him."
"Director? We don't use directors for hip hop concerts."
"Well, this isn't your ordinary concert--."
"Why would he need to meet with The Flow in advance of the event?"
"Well, he wants to begin setting up the program, figuring out the timing, getting a sense of what Aiden needs--."
"...And will he be meeting with each of the performers?"
"Eventually, I suppose," Rodney said, frowning. "Why?"
"It just seems to me that this meeting is unnecessary, or at the very least, premature."
"Well, I think that Steve knows better than either of us what's necessary, and the event is in just a couple of weeks," Rodney said warily.
"Well, why don't you speak with him to work on the preliminaries," Teyla said. "Then have him get in touch with me when he knows exactly what he's doing."
"Wait a minute--."
"The Flow is in the middle of making an album, in case you weren't aware of that."
"I am aware of that!"
"He doesn't have the time to go off and play with you every time you call, Mr. McKay. He's on a tight schedule."
"I understand that. I'm not the one who--."
"You're the one who got him involved in this. While asking him to do the concert for Positive Youth was a great idea, it's quite another thing to expect him to forget his other responsibilities."
"I don't think Aiden has forgotten his responsibilities, Teyla," Rodney said, growing angry. "He made a commitment to helping to raise the money for the concert. You were there--."
"I'm well aware of the fact that you've already raised the quarter of a million dollars you were seeking. Why do you still need his participation?"
"Teyla, that was just seed money!" Rodney exclaimed. "A good deal of that money will be used to fund the concert. The rest of it will only represent a fraction of what the program needs."
"I see. Well, until this album is finished, it's going to be Aiden's highest priority."
"Is that your idea or Aiden's?" Rodney said, no longer caring how she read his tone.
"Goodbye." she hung up and Rodney swore.
"What's going on?" Liz asked when he rejoined the others. Rodney simply shook his head, but he was deeply troubled.
Rodney got home Thursday evening and found Radek in the kitchen talking on his cell phone. Since he was speaking Czech, Rodney left him alone and went to his bedroom, where he got out of his suit and took a long shower. He emerged feeling refreshed and ready to eat.
"Radek!" he called as he pulled a tee shirt over his head. "What's for dinner?"
"Big fancy apartment like this ought to have an intercom," Aiden said behind him. Rodney spun around, grateful that he'd pulled on a pair of jeans before he called out.
"Where did you come from?"
"I was in the media room," Aiden replied as he looked around in Rodney's voluminous closet. "I've been here for an hour. You had to work late or something?" he asked as he fingered a suit. "Nice tux."
"Why didn't Radek--? What are you doing here?"
"You said I could come back whenever I wanted to," Aiden said, smiling innocently. "Wow! This place is huge! Your bathroom is bigger than my first apartment."
"Did you come here to check out my bathroom?" Rodney said, leaning against the door frame.
"There's an echo in here!"
"Aiden? What are you doing here?"
"Oh; I finally got a night off. No studio, no bodyguard. Just me. Cool, right?"
"Very cool. Want some dinner?" Rodney gestured with his head and led the way toward the kitchen, but when he reached the dining room he saw that the table was already set for two. "I guess Radek did cook."
"I made the salad," Aiden declared.
"Terrific," Rodney said, walking over to select a bottle of wine. "What are we having for dinner?"
"I don't know. Radek told me three times but my lips can't make those sounds he does. Whatever it is, it's got chicken in it."
"That's close enough," Rodney said, reaching for a bottle.
"So I thought you were going to call me about meeting this Caldwell guy?" Aiden said. Rodney looked up.
"Teyla--. He only arrived today. We haven't scheduled anything yet."
"What was that about Teyla?"
"Nothing," Rodney said. "We...because she's so worried about the album, I thought I'd wait till we laid the groundwork to bring you in."
"No! I want to be in on everything! I've never been involved in this kind of production before."
"What about your album?"
"Let me worry about that," Aiden said as Radek entered with a tray bearing the chicken dish Aiden spoke of. He placed it on the table next to Rodney so he could serve his guest.
"Look, I don't want to get you into any trouble," Rodney said carefully when Radek was gone.
"Hey, I'm a grown man! I don't need--."
"I'm well aware of that Aiden, but--." Rodney stopped speaking as Radek returned, placed the salad on the table and retreated, pausing only to dim the lights. Aiden looked at the candles in the centerpiece and smiled.
"So is this like our second date?"
"Are we dating now?" Rodney asked, his casual tone belying his excitement.
"You're the one who told me we were on a date the other day."
"Yes, but my dates don't usually appear in my bedroom unannounced."
"There's a first time for everything," Aiden said puckishly.
"Of course, if you want, I could leave and you could call my cell and invite me over, proper-like."
"Let's skip that part," Rodney said, sitting forward. "I'm comfortable."
"Then let's eat."
"Can we watch a movie when we're done? You've got an amazing collection!"
"Whatever you say."
A half hour later, they settled in to watch a movie in the media room.
"This chair is off the hook! It's just like a theatre seat."
"It is a theatre seat," Rodney said from the couch as he watched Aiden recline and check out the chair.
"This thing rocks!"
"Yes it does. But why don't you come over here?" Rodney asked mildly. "My dates never sit across the room from me--not if things are going well, anyway.." He patted the sofa beside him. Aiden slowly righted the chair. He got up and walked over. He waited for Rodney to move his hand and then lowered himself into the seat. "That's better," Rodney said, leaning forward for his ever-present bowl of M&Ms. "Hey, what the--?"
"Oh, I ate those earlier," Aiden said. Rodney looked at him. "Oops."
"It's all right," Rodney sighed. He settled back, his eyes on the screen.
"Are there more?"
"I'll ask Radek."
But Aiden was off like a shot. Rodney smiled and sipped his iced coffee. A few minutes later, Aiden returned.
"This isn't the movie," he said.
"I turned it off till you came back," Rodney explained. "What have you got there?"
"Something better than candy," Aiden said, slipping back into his place.
"Sorry," Aiden said. "You should hold still when I'm feeding you."
"You should warn somebody when you're about to shove--. Oh my God, that's good!"
"I think it's one of my best flavors," Aiden said as he fed Rodney a second spoonful of vanilla praline ice cream. He giggled at Rodney's reaction before feeding himself a taste.
"You only brought one spoon?"
"I thought we'd just share."
"That's cruel. We can't use one spoon and eat fast enough," Rodney pouted.
"Hey, my ice cream is worth waiting for. Wait your turn!" Aiden slowly scooped up a spoonful of ice cream and languidly licked it from the spoon, while Rodney groaned. Aiden laughed and handed him the spoon and bowl. "I'm done," he declared.
He turned his attention toward the television and settled in to watch the movie. Rodney sighed and ate in silence. A short time later, Aiden leaned against his shoulder and put his feet up. When the movie was over, Aiden yawned and checked his watch.
"I'd better get home," he said, rising and stretching. "Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. I'll be going to see CJ to finish that shoot first thing in the morning and the rest of the day will be spent in the studio."
"What do you do in the studio day after day?"
"Well, we record different tracks of a song, sometimes several times. We have to rehearse some stuff, too. It can get pretty tedious, but it's a lot of fun. You should come to the session; then I can find out if you have any musical talent."
"If you're thinking of making me sing, I strongly advise you to reconsider," Rodney said with a laugh.
"I was thinking tambourine," Aiden teased. "You got rhythm, right?" Rodney shot him a dry look. "Maybe not; do you have time tomorrow?"
"I don't know...maybe. But I'm sure--."
"Oh, come on! Here," Aiden said, pulling out his wallet and looking for a card. "This is the place. Why don't you drop by after work? You can watch the session and maybe we can eat afterwards. That sound like a plan?"
"Sounds like a third date," Rodney said roguishly. He glanced up from the card and saw Aiden punching a number into his phone. "Hey, if you need a ride--."
"It's okay; Dex will pick me up," Aiden replied. "Yo, Dex, I'm ready. Yeah; Rodney's crib. Cool." He closed the phone, frowning.
"He's already downstairs."
"So how did he know where I was? He didn't drive me here."
"I gotta go."
Rodney walked him to the elevator and pushed the button.
"Are you sure you want me to go to the session tomorrow?"
"Sure, why wouldn't I?" Aiden asked. Rodney shook his head. "You'll come?" he asked as the elevator doors opened.
"I'll come," Rodney said. Aiden smiled and Rodney reached out to caress his cheek. The two men gazed at each other for several seconds and then Rodney leaned in and kissed him. It was brief but full of promise, and Rodney smiled when Aiden initiated one of his own. Aiden stepped into the elevator.
"Good night, Aiden." Rodney watched the doors close and the then slumped against the wall. "Well, Rodney, you showed great restraint. Oh, do you really think so? Yes, he left in one piece with his virtue intact. True, true. You know, you did show admirable restraint," Rodney said as he closed and locked the apartment door. He turned around and saw Radek staring at him.
"You are talking to yourself."
"Who is winning?"
"Me," Rodney smiled. He went down the hall and disappeared into the bedroom.
Early the following evening, Rodney entered the music studio and saw Gene talking on the phone. He stood to one side and looked around the reception area. There were several framed gold records on the wall and a few platinum records, including the one recently awarded to The Flow. Rodney read the captions on each one and looked at pictures of the various artists who had recorded at the studio while he waited for Gene to finish his call. After a couple of minutes Gene looked up and waved him over. He gestured for him to have a seat, but Rodney paused when he saw Aiden through the glass window.
He was sitting in one of the recording booths alone, apparently unaware of his audience. He was playing the piano with great energy. Rodney frowned and peered through the glass, but couldn't make out what he was playing. He set down his briefcase and walked over to the sound engineer's booth. Gene watched him go, his attention still on his call.
"Hey," Rodney said to the engineer. "What's he doing in there?"
"The Flow?" the audio engineer said. "He's just goofing off. The rest of the musicians won't be here for another twenty minutes so he's playing. He always gets here early and plays the piano. He likes the acoustics in there."
"Oh," Rodney said, sliding into an empty chair. "Can I hear what he's playing?"
"Oh, we aren't recording--."
"...But you can hear what he's playing in there," Rodney said.
"Sure." The engineer leaned across the panel and flipped a switch and Rodney was shocked to hear the unmistakable strains of Chopin. His mouth fell open. "Ain't it cool?" the engineer laughed. "I'm not into this stuff but when The Flow plays it..."
"Yeah," Rodney said, sitting back to listen. He watched as Aiden continued to perform. He was wholly absorbed in the music and within seconds Rodney had determined that he was classically trained. When Gene entered the booth a few minutes later, he looked up.
"You've been holding out on me," Rodney said as Gene sat on the edge of a desk.
"I'm not the one holding out on you; it's him," Gene said, folding his arms.
"No shit! When I asked him where he learned to play he told me he'd picked it up somewhere."
"The somewhere was Juilliard; he took classes there as a kid," Gene replied.
"Does that sound as though I'm kidding?" Gene said. Rodney turned his attention back to Aiden. He watched for a few minutes.
"Why would he lie about something like that?"
"Aiden's spent most of his adult life lying about things like that," Gene said bitterly. "You'd be surprised."
"Why would he do that?"
"You'll have to ask him," Gene replied.
Aiden abruptly stopped playing and Gene turned to look at the studio entrance. A group of men, who Rodney recognized from their visit to his office, entered. Aiden started playing a rather simple melody, clearly hiding his musical talent from his friends.
"See what I mean?" Gene said. "Staying for the session?"
"Yeah; Aiden and I have plans for afterward."
Gene glared at Aiden through the glass. Then he glanced at Rodney and shook his head.
"Have fun," he said before he rose and abruptly left the booth. Rodney followed Gene back out into the reception area. The attorney was throwing a folder into his briefcase.
"Why don't you just get it off your chest?"
"Excuse me? Get what off my--?"
"Don't play games with me! You know--." Rodney stepped closer and lowered his voice. "You and Teyla know how I feel about Aiden and you disapprove. Well, Aiden's a grown man and he's old enough to make his own decisions. As for me, you can rest assured I won't do anything to harm him or his career." Gene snorted a laugh and shook his head.
"Hey, I can't speak for Teyla but I have no problem with you and Aiden," he said. "The fact that he's occasionally interested in guys isn't exactly a revelation. We've talked about it many times. And for the record, I happen to think you might be the best thing that ever happened to him. Too bad he doesn't know it yet."
"What does that mean?" Rodney demanded. "And what's your problem, then? If you're not a homophobe, what's your problem with me?"
"I don't have a problem with you," Gene insisted uneasily. Rodney watched him as he closed his briefcase and prepared to leave. Gene pocketed his phone and headed for the door as the pieces suddenly fell into place.
"You have a problem with him. Is that it?" Rodney asked. Gene paused at the door and turned around. He hesitated for a moment and then went back over to Rodney.
"Yeah, I got a problem with Aiden. I have several problems with Aiden," Gene said in a harsh whisper. "Look at him! You see how much talent he's got? You see how he's chosen to make a living? Tell me that makes sense to you! And that's not even the half of it," he added as he started for the door again. Rodney grabbed his arm.
"Tell me the other half," Rodney demanded. Gene pulled his arm away, but he stopped and turned back. "Tell me," Rodney repeated. Gene glared back at him for a moment and then nodded.
"I'll have to show you. Maybe it's time you saw the real Aiden Ford."
Rodney hesitated, looking over his shoulder at Aiden, who'd stopped playing and was singing into the mike. He turned back to Gene and nodded. He collected his briefcase and followed him out to his car. Gene tossed his briefcase into the back of his Mercedes and slid into the driver's seat. Rodney got into his own car and followed him to a large house in an exclusive neighborhood about twenty miles north of the city. Rodney pulled up behind Gene and got out of the car, gazing at the house.
"What is this place?"
"Come on in and find out," Gene said as he emerged from his vehicle. He led the way into the spacious entry hall and walked through into what was apparently the music room. As grand piano dominated the space, which was tastefully decorated in subtle masculine hues. Rodney looked around and nodded.
"This is Aiden's house," he surmised.
"Yes," Gene replied.
"Not exactly what I'd expect for a young hip hop icon," Rodney said.
"Nothing about Aiden is what you think," Gene said. "That's why I brought you here; so you can see for yourself exactly who you're actually dealing with."
"I don't understand."
"You think you pulled off some miracle transforming Aiden into a polished young man. You've been patting yourself on the back for teaching him to speak well, to wear a suit, to stand without the gangsta lean--. Well, take a look around. Does this place look like the home of a thug from the streets?"
"No," Rodney said warily.
"Look over here," Gene said, leading Rodney into the next room. "Want to know what he does in here? Yoga! The dude does a half hour of yoga every morning. Look in here," Gene said as he hastened on to the next room. "Here's where he watches television. Do you see a copy of 'The Godfather' or 'Scarface'?" he asked, pulling a handful of DVDs off a shelf. He handed them to Rodney, who skimmed the titles.
"So he likes old movies," Rodney said. "What's your point?"
"Can't you see?" Gene cried. "Look around, Rodney! Take a good look." Rodney followed him into Aiden's study, where the desk was piled high with books. Rodney picked up one, and then another and another. He read each title with increasing wonderment.
"Foucault's Pendulum, Atlas Shrugged, The Left Hand of Darkness...I don't--." Rodney looked up and saw the diploma on the wall. "He graduated from Bennington?" he said incredulously. "He told me--."
"He lied. It's all a lie. The Flow is nothing but a carefully crafted persona. Aiden is about as 'street' as you are. Yeah, he's spent time in the inner city. His grandmother still lives in the house where she was born on Striver's Row. He spent a few weeks with her every summer and saw plenty of the street life when he snuck off to play with his pals from the hood."
"Striver's Row? What's Striver's Row?"
"It's a street. It got the name because it's the finest row of townhouses in Harlem. The place is on the National Register of Historic Places, but just a few blocks away it was a whole different world until gentrification hit the area. Aiden would go off and hang out with the little thugs. He learned the lingo, adopted the look, the whole nine yards. He could have been a doctor, a lawyer, a musician--he could have been anything! He chose to become a hip hop singer, appealing to gang bangers and street kids," Gene said disgustedly.
"He's a huge success," Rodney said, confused by Gene's tirade.
"He's a young, gifted black man who has the talent, the brains and the connections to break through all the stereotypes and become whatever he set his mind to. So what did he do? He might have been a role model; he chose to follow the crowd. You saw him! He only plays Chopin when he thinks no one can hear him. He stopped as soon as his buddies showed up as if having a wealth of God-given talent was something to be ashamed of. You know, he speaks 'street' only when he plays 'The Flow.' Otherwise, his English is as good as yours."
"I noticed that," Rodney said. "So why did he go along with my scheme to--?"
"Don't you get it?" Gene exploded. "He's living a damned lie! He had no choice but to play along. What was he going to say? 'Sorry, I don't need the polish; I was actually born with a silver spoon in my mouth?'"
"This is the house he grew up in! His father was a judge! His mother was a college professor! He could probably teach you a thing or two about how to speak or act!"
"Do you get it now? Can you understand why I've got issues with him?" Gene asked wearily. "I walked out of that studio because it breaks my heart every time I see him perform. I'm almost relieved that my sister didn't live to see what he's become."
"This is... This is unbelievable," Rodney said, reeling from everything he'd just learned. He ran a hand over his face and sat down.
Gene left him to his thoughts, closing the door behind when he left the room. Rodney never heard him leave. He just stared at the books in his hands for another moment before carefully replacing them on the desk. He walked around to the chair and sat down. On the desk was a picture of a couple, undoubtedly Aiden's parents. The attractive pair was smiling at the small child in his mother's lap. Rodney picked up the picture for a closer look at Aiden as a little boy. His smile hadn't changed in the twenty-odd years since the photo was taken. Rodney set it down again, his smile fading as his eyes moved to a more recent photograph. Aiden was in a cap and gown and was standing between an elderly man and woman. His grandparents, Rodney surmised, but he barely spared them a glance. He stared at Aiden for several minutes as his blood began to boil. He put down the picture and stormed out of the house. So intent was Rodney on leaving that he failed to notice Gene sitting on the steps in the entrance hall, mulling over what he'd just done. Gene rose as Rodney walked by and he went to the door to watch him leave.
"I hope I did the right thing," he said.
Rodney had no idea where he was going when he left the house, but he ended up back at the recording studio. He sat in the car for a moment. He wasn't sure if he was ready to confront Aiden or what he should say. He finally gave up and turned off the ignition. Rodney sighed and closed his eyes.
"Even knowing what a bastard he is, I can't walk away. How pathetic are you, McKay?"
He emerged from the car and pocketed his keys before reluctantly returning to the sound studio. As he entered he heard the track Aiden had recorded earlier. Rodney was immediately drawn in by the seductive melody and the heavy beat. But it was Aiden's voice that swept him away. Rodney paused and listened to the words of love and longing and felt his pain anew. He was relieved when the track changed to the rap portion of the recording. Rodney walked in and sat down near Carson and Teyla, who had arrived some time during his absence. Carson immediately engaged him in conversation, but Teyla went into the engineer's booth to avoid Rodney, which suited him just fine. He had no idea what Carson was talking about, so he nodded and grunted and smiled, but his eyes never wavered from their target. They never left Aiden's face.
Every smile, every action, every word out of Aiden's mouth was scrutinized. Where Rodney had previously seen achievement, he now saw artifice. Where he had seen his own influence, Rodney now saw Aiden's manipulation. Where he once saw innocence, he only saw disingenuousness. And worst of all, where Rodney once saw an opening, he now saw a door closed, probably forever. It hurt worse than he expected. Rodney wrapped his arms around himself and sighed, wondering why he'd bothered to stay. Sitting there watching Aiden was downright painful and he fully empathized with Gene's feelings for his nephew. At some point, Aiden looked up and saw Rodney. He smiled and gave him a wave. Rodney managed a nod of his chin but he couldn't muster a smile.
"I'm not that good an actor," he muttered.
"I like this new direction his music has taken," Carson said. Rodney surreptitiously rolled his eyes and nodded. "He said that you'd inspired it. ....Something about you preferring his singing voice over his rapping." Rodney shifted in his seat and crossed his legs. "I'm glad. I'd really like to see him cross over to reach a more mainstream audience. He's got the voice for it. He'd be dynamite in a solo performance. I think your charity event will demonstrate that. It'll be a safe venue for him to experiment in."
Rodney's phone rang and he pulled it out to check the caller identity. It was Radek; Rodney checked his text message and shut the phone. A few minutes later, he realized that Carson was talking again and forced himself to make eye contact with him.
"...the best thing he's ever written. He's never done anything so...I don't know. It has a personal quality to it."
Rodney blinked at him. He had no idea what Carson was talking about, but he nodded.
"Awesome," he said, turning back to the glass. The recording session was apparently over and the others in the room were packing up. "That was fast."
"They only needed to lay down a few more tracks," Carson said rising. "Excuse me. I have to speak to Little John and Petey." He left Rodney, who slumped in his seat. Aiden frowned at him through the glass. Rodney averted his eyes to his lap. He looked up again when he heard Aiden on the piano. He began to play again, only now he seemed to be tinkering. That was the final straw. Rodney got up and walked out of the studio. He got into his car and headed for home without a word to anyone. Teyla, meanwhile, walked into the recording booth and sat down next to Aiden.
"Still working on your song?" she asked as she set down a mug of green tea.
"Yeah; I can't quite get the melody to work the way I want it to," he replied. "It needs more... I don't know. It needs something."
"You need to rest. You've got that TV appearance tomorrow. Don't want to wear out the pipes."
"That's why I want to finish this tonight," Aiden replied as he began the song once more. "I've decided to record it." This time, rather than just picking out bits of the melody, he played it with both hands, humming along. He closed his eyes and embraced the music, pouring his heart into the melody. He stopped abruptly and looked through the glass.
"That was wonderful," Teyla said. "Why did you stop?"
"Where'd Rodney go?" Aiden asked. Teyla rose and peered out into the reception area.
"I don't know."
"Hottie is calling again."
"Radek I don't have time for word games tonight," Rodney said testily. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Hottie: five foot, ten inches tall, slim build, skin the color of hazelnuts lightly roasted. Beautiful face; awesome ass. Inexplicably fond of you. Ring a bell?"
Rodney sat up and glared at him.
"He calls himself something river does."
"Radek, are you drunk?"
"The Flow, Radek. What about him?"
"He called again."
"Again? What do you mean 'again'? When did he call before?"
"Two hours ago, an hour ago, a minute ago..."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Rodney leapt to his feet, suddenly alarmed. He'd holed up in the media room since returning home, drowning his sorrows in M&M's and artisanal vodka. There was no phone in the media room, one of the reasons why Rodney liked to hide there, so the revelation that Aiden had called came as a shock to him. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him you didn't want to talk to him," Radek answered evenly.
"What? Why the hell did you tell him that?"
"You came in and shouted 'Radek! I'm not here. I'm not home to anyone, you hear me! I don't want to see or talk to anyone.' So I told him--."
"You told him I was home," Rodney sighed.
"No; I only told him you did not want to talk to him."
"What did he say?"
"For black kid, his Czech is pretty good," Radek replied impishly.
"He spoke to you in Czech?" Rodney said incredulously.
"He used few choice words extremely well."
Rodney collapsed into a chair. He ran his hands through his hair.
"Go pack a bag."
"Where am I going now?" Radek asked.
"Not you, you idiot. I'm going. To the house in St. Croix."
"What about your show?"
"I'll be back in time," Rodney said, not meeting his eyes. Radek frowned sympathetically and sat down beside him.
"He hurt you."
"No," Rodney said too hastily. "I--. I came to my senses before he had a chance."
"And that's why you run away. Perfectly clear," Radek said in his native tongue as he rose and went to the door. "I will call airport."
He returned a short time later. Rodney looked up and Radek gestured with his head. "Come." Rodney got to his feet a bit clumsily and followed him out to the car. A half hour later he handed Radek his cell phone.
"I'll see you a week from Thursday."
"If hottie calls again?"
"Tell him I'm away."
Rodney managed to conduct business from the Virgin Islands via telephone and the Internet. He also saw Aiden's appearance on a morning show. Rodney couldn't resist the urge to record the show when he found out that Aiden would be doing a live concert on the program, but when he was interviewed after the first song, Rodney exploded in anger. He ripped the disk out of the recorder and hurled it into the ocean, vowing that he never wanted to hear The Flow again.
But Rodney couldn't stop thinking about Aiden. It angered him, initially, that he couldn't separate the two, but as the days wore on he became reconciled to the two dimensions of the man he'd fallen for. Though he couldn't bring himself to forgive Aiden's deception, Rodney could understand Aiden's choice. He enjoyed hip hop music and wanted to be a part of that scene. Rodney respected that. He could even imagine himself as Aiden's publicist. He would have told his client that if he wanted to succeed as a rap artist he would have to change his image. He needed to "walk the walk and talk the talk", as Aiden had said. That did nothing to ease Rodney's pain, however. Aiden had lied to him and Rodney couldn't get past that. So he buried himself in his work. He met with the second foundation by teleconference; he spoke to Liz and Radek and John regarding business, refusing to explain his absence beyond saying that he needed to get away from the stress of the city.
Radek told Rodney that Aiden stopped calling after three days. He strongly suspected that Radek told Aiden why he left, but Rodney couldn't bring himself to confirm or deny his suspicions. He kept tabs on Aiden through Radek. Not voluntarily, but Radek was apparently in touch with Carson and his emails always contained some news of Aiden's whereabouts or activities.
"The kid makes great ice cream," Radek said during a phone conversation a week into Rodney's exile.
"You ate my ice cream?" Rodney cried.
"Is not as though you want it," Radek replied. "Is tainted by bitter memories."
"Is not your ice cream I eat. Young hottie gave me my own."
"What? You've seen him?"
"Yes, yes. Take papers you send me to theatre for Mr. Caldwell. Tall Dex is there with little hottie."
"Sorry. I am distracted by tall creature. But I see Aiden; he asked for you."
"What did you tell him?" Rodney demanded.
"I told him you entered Witness Protection Program."
"You did not."
"I did! He laughed; said he was worried about you."
"Is that when you--?"
"You told him something."
"You said something that made him think. Then he showed up later at the penthouse with a pint of ice cream, right?"
"You installed cameras while I was away on vacation! Hah! I knew there was ulterior motive!"
"What did you tell him?" Rodney said blandly.
"I prefer butter pecan to praline, but this is nice."
"Radek, would you please--."
"I told the truth. I do not know why you are avoiding him."
"What did he say?"
"He said he was sorry for whatever it was he did wrong."
"Nice of you to show up," Liz said when Rodney strode into the theatre a week later.
"I told you I'd be here," he said somewhat testily. "What's with the remote telecast set up?"
"That's a little surprise we cooked up," Liz said as she peered out at the broadcast trucks. "Tonight's concert is being recorded for future sale, the profits of which will be contributed to Positive Youth."
"You set that up? Liz, honey, I love you dearly, but you know you have no head for negotiations. You should have--."
"I didn't negotiate the deal," she said evenly.
"Carson brokered the deal. It was Aiden's idea. He spoke to all the artists performing tonight and Carson worked out the rest."
"Carson? Our Carson?"
"He's Aiden's Carson now," Liz reminded him as Rodney caught a glimpse of the man under discussion across the room.
"Where is Aiden?"
"That is the question of the hour. He didn't show up for his sound check earlier on."
"Well, did you speak to Carson? He's his front man, now. He should be able to--."
"Carson hasn't seen him either," Liz said soberly. Rodney sighed and flopped into a chair.
"Maybe not; we've got a hell of a lot of talent out there."
"...And we have no headliner. Everything for the concert was designed to make Aiden the centerpiece and he's not here. This is his way of getting even. I'm screwed."
"Getting even? For what?"
"Let's go outside," Rodney said rising. "I need a cigarette."
"You gave up smoking five years ago!"
"Liz, don't give me grief," he said wearily. Rodney managed to bum a cigarette and some matches and went outside to light up. Liz followed and waited for him to break the silence. "He played me, Liz. He played all of us. Aiden Ford is no more 'street' than I am. He was born in a wealthy suburb to two professionals with the means to provide him with a very privileged childhood. They'd probably roll over in their graves if they saw what he'd become--if they're really dead. I don't know what to believe anymore."
"So what are you telling me? He's--."
"It's all a sham! He lied to us! He lied to his public! Everything he said, every word out of his mouth was a lie," Rodney shouted bitterly. He sat on a large crate and sighed.
"Maybe he created a public persona because it was better for his career," Liz suggested reasonably.
"Of course he did; but why did he have to lie to me? Why couldn't he just walk in here and say--and by the way that lingo is phony as the rest of it--that he didn't need speech lessons? The man reads books I can't understand the titles of! I looked in his closets! He's got suits by Zegna, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana--every top designer out there! He's got a house full of antiques! He plays Chopin! Listen to this--as a kid he took piano lessons at Juilliard!"
"Well, he's a prosperous artist, Rodney. Lots of them have fancy cars, clothes, jewelry; they're the usual trappings of big stars. Why are you so upset about this?" Liz asked. "What difference does it make if he's got another persona?"
"He lied to me!" Rodney screamed. Liz sighed and sat down beside him.
"You're in love with him!" she declared.
"What if I am?" Rodney said bitterly. "It's over. He betrayed me and I cannot forgive that."
"Have you spoken to him? Did he have an explanation for what he did?"
"It's a moot point, Liz. Drop it." Rodney shook his head and Liz wrapped a supportive arm around his shoulders.
"I don't suppose it occurred to you that all this might be your fault?" she said. Rodney twisted around to glare at her.
"How the hell could this be my fault? I'm not the one who lied!"
"If you recall, I warned you about the whole notion of asking Aiden to become something he wasn't."
"And little did we know that it was redundant," Rodney said angrily.
"That's my point," Liz said. "He was already living under an assumed identity and you came along and demanded that he become someone else. You insisted he become someone else, Rodney--."
"Well, I had no idea he was already a polished, urbane intellectual."
"Did you ask?"
"What?" Rodney squeaked. "You think I should have walked up to a young hip hop musician and asked if he was capable of wearing a dress suit and speaking the Queen's English?"
"Perhaps it was your assumption that he was incapable that led him to play you for a sucker."
"I don't need you making excuses for him. He's an accomplished debate champ, too."
"I'm not making excuses for him. I'm simply pointing out that you're not completely innocent in this. In fact, what we do for a living is exactly like what Aiden did for himself. We create the image we want people to see. We don't pay any attention to who our clients really are or what they really want. We take them and mold them into our own ideal. What right do you have to tell Aiden that he couldn't do that?"
"I don't resent his choosing his own public persona," Rodney began.
"But you resent him for not trusting you enough to tell you the truth. How could he? You bullied him into cooperating with you. You never gave him a chance to come clean. Every time he tried to offer an opinion you shot him down. You insulted his taste, questioned his judgment and outright insulted him when you ran out of other options."
"Yes, yes, I'm a bastard," Rodney spat. "I think we established that ages ago. What of it?"
"Don't you see? He's done to you what you've done to him."
"Come again? When did I lie to Aiden?"
"You abused his trust and he abused yours," Liz explained. Rodney waved his hand dismissively. "Leave it to you to fall for someone who's as big a bastard as you are."
"Say what you will, I don't see how--." Rodney paused when Carson appeared at the stage door.
"Fifteen minutes till show time," he said softly before disappearing back inside. Rodney was going to ask about Aiden, but knew instinctively that he hadn't arrived.
"I'm screwed," he said, taking one last drag on the cigarette and extinguishing it. "We're all screwed."
"It's too bad," Liz sighed. "I thought you were good for each other." Rodney gave her an odd look. "No, I mean it. You were a positive influence on each other."
"I was no influence at all! He should have been teaching me a thing or two."
"That's what I mean. You have learned from him, whether you want to believe it or not," Liz said.
"Other than the fact that Carson can be bought off by a prettier face than mine, what did I learn from Aiden Ford?"
"Oh, don't try it, Rodney. I know better than anyone that you're a changed man. Everyone's noticed--even my mother. She asked me if you'd had a heart transplant," Liz said, giving Rodney's arm a teasing squeeze. "You're a better man today than you were two months ago when Aiden Ford first walked into your life. It's kind of ironic that you were taught civility from someone you thought looked like a 'sixteen year old juvie.'"
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Rodney asked.
"No, Rodney; I could never enjoy your pain. But the fact that you're in pain says that you've finally found someone you could really open your heart to; I think that's a wonderful thing."
"It's a wonderful thing," Rodney repeated. "And he doesn't want me. He's just been yanking my chain."
"You're the one who ran away, Rodney, not him."
Carson reappeared at the door.
Rodney leapt to his feet and rushed past him so fast that Carson jumped backward to avoid being hit. He turned to look at Liz and they shared a sober look.
"Two weeks ago he couldn't get away from him fast enough," Carson observed. Liz could only shrug.
Rodney made his way back to the backstage area and saw the stagehands scurrying around. He frowned in confusion.
"What are they doing? What--. What are you doing? This is for the opening number!"
"They've scuttled the opening number," one of the hands said.
"What? But that's The Flow's number!"
"It was his orders," the hand said before he carried away a platform.
"So that's it. He's not going to perform. Fine," Rodney said. "He came to cancel." Rodney took a few steadying breaths and went to Aiden's dressing room, muttering to himself along the way. "They spent a week rehearsing a show where he opened with his latest hit and now he's not going to perform, not to mention his part in the final number. Fine! I can deal. He wants to play rough? I can play rough, too. I've been a bastard a lot longer than he has." He reached Aiden's door and was about to knock when Dex interposed himself between Rodney's fist and the door. "I want to see him."
"He's not seeing anyone."
"He'll see me."
"You think so?" Dex replied, stepping forward in a manner that was effectively intimidating.
"All right; maybe not," Rodney said. "Just tell Aiden that he's violating our agreement and that if he fails to appear tonight there will be repercussions."
"Who said he wasn't appearing?"
"He did. I mean the stage hands did." Rodney frowned. "At least..."
"Trust me. He'll perform tonight," Dex said.
"Why did he cancel the opening number?" Rodney demanded. Dex shrugged. Rodney realized that there was no way he was going to get past him, so he backed off and went looking for Carson.
"Carson," Rodney said awkwardly. Though they'd already spoken several times that evening, neither man could make eye contact. "Do you have any idea what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did he cancel the opening number?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. I only know that when he arrived he said that Imani has agreed to take his place."
"So he'll perform in her place?"
"He'll be the last one before the finale."
"I suppose that works," Rodney said, feeling somewhat relieved. He tried to tell himself that his mood shift had nothing to do with Carson's reassuring presence.
"It'll be fine, Rodney," Carson said, hazarding a smile.
"It always is with you on the job," Rodney said sincerely. He patted Carson on the arm and went to find a quiet spot from which to watch the show. A brief PA announcement alerted the audience to the program change and then the stage lights came up. Imani took the stage for the opening set and immediately won over the audience. The next act built on her momentum and Rodney relaxed and began to enjoy the show. He'd almost forgotten about Aiden when he heard the announcer say his name. Rodney moved closer to the stage.
The stagehands were frantically moving around in the background along with the musicians. Rodney frowned and opened his mouth to speak when he caught sight of Aiden on the opposite end of the stage. Then he was speechless. Aiden looked at him for a second, then took a deep breath and walked out onto the stage. He was dressed in an impeccably tailored charcoal grey suit and a dark green silk shirt. There were diamond studs in each of his ears and they caught the light as he stood in the center of the stage accepting the audience's applause. He waited until they quieted before he spoke.
"For the last two years you've known me as The Flow. Tonight I'd like to introduce you to Aiden Ford."
He tossed the microphone to one of the stagehands and walked over to the piano. He sat down, his eyes on Rodney, and once again, took a steadying breath. He licked his lips and closed his eyes. Then he began to play.
Rodney caught his breath and held it as soon as he recognized the opening notes. It was the Chopin piece he'd heard Aiden play at the studio. Surely he wasn't intending to play Chopin at an R&B music concert? Rodney stole a glance at the audience. They were clearly stunned but raptly staring at the spectacle on the stage. The Chopin suddenly struck what sounded like an off note and Rodney turned to look at Aiden, who'd suddenly changed to a jazz number that was vaguely familiar. Rodney frowned. What was he playing at?
Aiden switched to ragtime, and then to a hip hop beat before it became something completely original. It was a hauntingly beautiful tune and Rodney leaned against a wall to listen as Aiden began to sing.
Baby, I'm no mystery
I'll play the part you ask of me
Whatever man you want to see
I'll play your game so perfectly
There's nothing I won't do for you
Be anything you want me to
Chameleon of any hue
And through it all my heart stays true
Is it so hard for you to choose
The lover, friend, or gentle muse
Take my love, you can't refuse
While you delay I stand to lose
Baby, please why can't you see
My heart is yours, my love is free
It's destiny, it's meant to be
The only man you need is me.
Rodney bit his lip and blinked back tears, but he was unable to avert his eyes. He had to see every second of Aiden's performance. It was gutsy, heartrendingly beautiful, and brilliant. When it was over there were full two seconds of silence before the audience erupted wildly. The cheers were deafening. Aiden just sat there for a moment, obviously surprised by the reaction. He looked over to where Rodney had been standing, but so many people had moved forward to cheer that he could no longer see him. Imani was in the wings and she gestured for Aiden to take a bow. He smiled sheepishly and rose. He stood there for several minutes, looking somewhat shell-shocked as the thunderous applause continued.
Finally, he stepped back and returned to the piano to begin the finale. If anyone was disappointed that he'd skipped the rest of his set, no one spoke up. The other artists joined Aiden on stage for the finale, which he played rather mechanically. He sang his part of the number but was otherwise mute and distracted. Rodney observed him closely, his heart pounding in his chest.
When it was finally over and the curtain had fallen, he lurched forward onto the stage with the rest of the crowd that had gathered around Aiden. It was impossible to get near him amid the throng of artists, well-wishers and the media, all of whom were clamoring for Aiden's attention. Rodney pressed forward aggressively, but was thwarted by Dex, who shook his head. Rodney sighed and backed off. He caught a glimpse of Gene in the crowd surrounding Aiden and saw that he was beaming with joy. Rodney smiled at him; Gene returned the smile and nodded.
A few minutes later, when the crowd had dispersed, Aiden was gone, leaving Rodney standing beside the piano. He was emotionally drained and too overwhelmed to think. Carson saw him standing there and called Radek to bring the car around. When it arrived, he silently escorted Rodney to the limo. Rodney muttered a thank you and Radek took him home, where he took a long shower and fell into bed. He didn't sleep a wink for hours.
The following morning, Rodney awoke to the sound of familiar voices whispering outside his door. He sat up abruptly when he recognized one of them as Carson's. At first Rodney feared that he might have showed up with Aiden, but it quickly became apparent that such was not the case. Rodney got out of bed and reached for his robe. He went out into the living room, where John and Carson were both talking on their respective phones.
"What's going on?" Rodney demanded.
"We came by because we were worried about you," John said, snapping his phone shut.
"Worried about me; why?"
"The phone has been ringing off the hook," Radek said, entering with a tray laden with coffee and the makings of a Continental breakfast. He poured a cup of coffee for Rodney and handed it to him. "People calling for you, people calling for hottie, people calling for you and hottie..."
"Carson?" Rodney said worriedly.
"He's not answering his phone, either," Carson replied. "Word of his performance last night has gotten out and it rocked the entertainment world. He was mobbed at the post concert party and every media outlet in the US is demanding interviews."
"But he's all right?"
"Aye; Gene's with him; I've just been speaking with him."
Rodney heaved a sigh of relief and sat down.
"I should be going," Carson said. "I thought I'd pay a courtesy call to ask how we should handle this but if Aiden's not willing to speak with the media it's pretty much a moot point."
"Aiden's your client now, Carson," Rodney said into his cup. "You should handle all the press for him. My job is done. I've done the concert and raised the cash."
"A nice bit of cash, too," John said. "As of last night the total raised was approximately $365,000--and that's only for the concert. We haven't gotten figures for the tee shirts, bracelets and the like. Liz and I estimate that the total will end up somewhere around $400,000, not including the high school thing and the two foundation grants."
"Aiden's record label tossed in another fifty grand," Carson added. "They handed me the check last night."
"Sweet," Rodney said.
"Well, I'd better go. Good job, Rodney," Carson said. Rodney looked up.
"The concert was an amazing success! Congratulations!"
"Oh. Thanks. Bye," he said as Carson left. John picked up a croissant and went to sit beside him.
"Liz told me about you and Aiden," he said.
"I don't want to talk about it, John."
"So that's it? You're just going to sit there and be miserable?"
"What do you want me to do?" Rodney said.
"I don't know, but do something! Get angry! Get even! Get laid! Just don't sit there feeling sorry for yourself!"
"Maybe you're right," Rodney replied. He drained his cup and rose to his feet. He refilled his cup, grabbed a scone and told John he was going to take a shower. An hour later he arrived at Aiden's house. Gene answered the door and walked out after letting Rodney in.
"What took you so long?" he said with a smile. Rodney smiled crookedly and waited for the door to close before following his ears to the music room. He stood in the doorway for some time as he listened to Aiden playing Ravel's "Sonatine." His lingering resentment dissipated as he stood there and was swept away by the music. Rodney walked over and sat down. Aiden glanced over at him, but continued to play until he was finished. Then he placed his hands on his lap and gave Rodney his full attention.
Rodney suddenly found his anger and he unleashed in a rant, hurling accusations one after another. Aiden took it all in mutely, which only fueled Rodney's rage, but he quickly ran out of steam and sat down again.
"Why?" he asked simply. Aiden reached for something and leaned over to hand to him.
"I don't know what the take is," he said softly. "This is my contribution. I'll still make good on my promise."
"That's all you're going to say?" Rodney replied.
"What do you want me to say? Guilty as charged? All right; I'm guilty of everything you said. You asked me to come in and work on my clothes, my speech, my walk; I did everything you asked me to. I fronted for you at that meeting."
"You didn't tell me the truth."
"Hey, I tried to tell you from the get-go; you weren't listening." He rose and left the room. After a moment, Rodney rose and followed him. Seeing no sign of Aiden, he went to the front door. He paused to look back, taking in everything and thinking about what Aiden had said. Then he left.
On to Part 5