Lick, p.22
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       Lick, p.22

         Part #1 of Stage Dive series by Kylie Scott
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Page 22

  Author: Kylie Scott

  “This is what it’s like when they’re recording. They lose track of time, get caught up in the music. The number of dinners Tyler has missed because he simply forgot!” said Pam, hands busy unpacking the latest box.

  “It’s their job, but it’s also their first love,” she continued, dusting off an Asian-style bowl. “You know that one old girlfriend that’s always hanging around the fringes, drunk dialing them at all hours and asking them to come over?”

  I laughed. “How do you deal with never getting to come first?”

  “You have to strike a balance. Music’s a part of them that you have to accept, hon. Fighting it won’t work. Have you ever been really passionate about something?”

  “No,” I answered in all honesty, eyeing up another stringed instrument I’d never seen the likes of. It had intricate carving encircling the sound hole. “I enjoy college. I love being a barista, it’s a great job. I really like the people. But I can’t sling coffee for the rest of my life. ” I stopped, grimaced. “God, those are my father’s words. Forget I ever said that. ”

  “You can totally sling coffee for the rest of your life, if you so choose,” she said. “But sometimes it takes time to find your thing. There’s no rush. I was a born and bred photographer. ”

  “That’s great. ”

  Pam smiled, her gaze going distant. “That’s how Tyler and I met. I went on tour for a couple of days with the band he was in at the time. I ended up going right around Europe with them. We got married in Venice at the end of the tour and we’ve been together ever since. ”

  “That’s a wonderful story. ”

  “Yeah,” Pam sighed. “It was a wonderful time. ”

  “Did you study photography?”

  “No, my father taught me. He worked for National Geographic. He put a camera in my hand at age six and I refused to give it back. The next day he brought me an old second-hand one. I carried it everywhere I went. Everything I saw was through its lens. Well, you know what I mean … the world made sense when I looked at it that way. Better than that, it made everything beautiful, special. ” She pulled a couple of books out of a box, adding them to the shelves built into one wall. We’d already managed to half fill them with various books and mementoes.

  “You know, David’s dated a lot of women over the years. But he’s different with you. I don’t know … the way he watches you, I think it’s adorable. It’s the first time he’s brought anyone here in six years. ”

  “Why was the place empty so long?”

  Pam’s smile faded and she avoided my eyes. “He wanted it to be his place to come home to, but then things changed. The band was just hitting it big. I guess things got complicated. He could explain it to you best. ”

  “Right,” I said, intrigued.

  Pam sat back on her haunches, looking around the room. “Listen to me rabbiting on. We’ve been at this all day. I think we deserve a break. ”

  “I second that. ”

  Nearly half the boxes were open. The contents we couldn’t think of an immediate home for were lined up along one wall. A big plush black couch had been delivered. It fit the house and its owner perfectly. With various rugs, pictures and instruments strewn about, the place had almost begun to look like a home. I wondered if David would approve. Easily, I could picture us spending time here when I wasn’t in classes. Or maybe holidays would be spent touring. Our future was a beautiful, dazzling thing, filled with promise.

  In the here and now, however, I still hadn’t caught up with Lauren. A fact that caused me great guilt. Explaining this situation didn’t appeal and nor did confessing my fast-growing feelings for David.

  “Come on, let’s go grab some food from down the road. The bar does the best ribs you’ve ever tasted. Tyler goes crazy for them,” said Pam.

  “That’s a brilliant idea. I’ll just let him know we’re going. Do I need to change?” I had on the black jeans and tank top, a pair of Converse. The only shoes I’d been able to find among Martha’s buys that didn’t feature four-inch-plus heels. For once, I looked almost rock ’n’ roll-associated. Pam wore jeans and a white shirt, a heavy turquoise necklace around her throat. It was casual in theory, but Pam was a striking woman.

  “You’re dressed fine,” she said. “Don’t worry. It’s very relaxed. ”

  “Alright. ”

  The sound of music still drifted up from downstairs. When I went down there the door was shut and the red light shining. I could see Tyler with headphones on, busy at the console. I’d forgotten to charge my phone with all the recent excitement. But I didn’t have David’s phone number so I couldn’t have texted him anyway. I didn’t want to interrupt. In the end, I left a note on the kitchen bench. We wouldn’t be gone long. David probably wouldn’t even notice.

  The bar was a traditional wooden wonderland with a big jukebox and three pool tables. Staff called out “hello”s to Pam as we walked in. No one even blinked at me, which was a relief. The place was packed. It felt good to be back out among people, just part of the crowd. Pam had phoned ahead but the order wasn’t ready yet. Apparently the kitchen was every bit as busy as the bar. We grabbed a couple of drinks and settled in to wait. It was a nice place, very relaxed. There was lots of laughter and country music blared from the jukebox. My fingers tapped along in time.

  “Let’s dance,” said Pam, grabbing my hand and tugging me out of my chair. She bopped and swayed as I followed her onto the crowded dance floor.

  It felt good to let loose. Sugarland turned into Miranda Lambert and I raised my arms, moving to the music. A guy came up behind me and grabbed my hips but he backed up a step when I shook my head with a smile. He grinned back at me and kept dancing, not moving away. A man spun Pam and she whooped, letting him draw her into a loose hold. They seemed to know each other.

  When the guy beside me moved a little closer I didn’t object. He kept his hands to himself and it was all friendly enough. I didn’t know the next song but it had a good beat and we kept right on moving. My skin grew damp with sweat, my hair clinging to my face. Then Dierks Bentley came on. I’d had a terrible crush on him since age twelve, but it was all about his pretty blond hair and nothing to do with his music. My love for him was a shameful thing.

  Dude One moved away and another took his place, slipping an arm around my waist and trying to pull me in against him. I planted my hands on his chest and pushed back, giving him the same smile and headshake that had worked on the last. He might have been only about my height, despite the huge hat, but he was built solid. He had a big barrel of a chest and he stank of cigarette smoke.

  “No,” I said, still trying to push him off me. “Sorry. ”

  “Don’t be sorry, darlin’,” he yelled in my ear, knocking me in the forehead with the brim of his hat. “Dance with me. ”

  “Let go. ”

  He grinned and his hands slapped down hard on both my butt cheeks. The jerkoff started grinding himself against me.

  “Hey!” I pushed against him, getting nowhere. “Get off me. ”

  “Darlin’. ” The letch leaned in to kiss me, smacking me in the nose with the brim of his hat again. It hurt. Also, I hated him. If I could just wiggle my leg between his and knee the asswipe in the groin, I’d be able to even the playing field. Or leave him writhing on the floor crying for his mommy. An outcome I was fine with.

  I shoved my foot between the two of his, getting closer to my objective. Closer …

  “Let her go. ” David miraculously appeared out of the crowd beside us, a muscle jumping in his jaw. Oh, shit. He looked ready to kill.

  “Wait your turn,” the cowboy yelled back, pushing his pelvis into me. God, it was disgusting. Puking could happen. It would be no less than he deserved.

  David snarled. Then he grabbed the man’s hat and sent it flying off into the crowd. The man’s eyes went round as plates and his hands dropped away from me.

skipped back a step, free at last. “David—”

  He looked to me and in that moment, the cowboy swung. His fist clipped David’s jaw. David’s head snapped back and he stumbled. The cowboy dove at him. They landed hard, sprawled across the dance floor. Fists flew. Feet kicked. I could barely see who did what. People formed a circle around them, watching. No one doing anything to stop it. Blood spurted, spraying the floor. The pair rolled and pushed and David came out on top. Then just as fast he fell aside. My pulse pounded behind my ears. The violence was startling. Nathan used to get into fights regularly after school. I’d hated it. The blood and the dirt, the mindless rage.

  But I couldn’t just stand by, caught in a cold stupor. I wouldn’t.

  A strong hand grabbed my arm, halting my forward momentum.

  “No,” said Mal.

  Then he and another couple of guys stepped in. Relief poured through me. Mal and Tyler wrestled David off the cowboy. Another pair restrained the bloody-faced fool who bellowed on and on about his hat. Goddamn idiot.

  They hustled David out of the bar, dragging him backward. Through the front doors and down the steps they went while his feet kicked out, trying to get back into it. And he kept right on fighting until they threw him up against Mal’s big black Jeep.

  “Knock it off!” Mal yelled in his face. “It’s over. ”

  David slumped against the vehicle. Blood seeped from one nostril. His dark hair hung in his face. Even in the shadows he looked swollen, misshapen. Not half as bad as the other guy, but still.

  “Are you okay?” I stepped closer to check the extent of his wounds.

  “I’m fine,” he said, shoulders still heaving as he stared at the ground. “Let’s go. ”

  Moving in slow motion, he turned and opened the passenger side door, climbing in. With a mumbled goodbye Pam and Tyler headed for their own car. A couple of people stood on the steps leading into the bar, watching. One guy held a baseball bat as if he expected further trouble.
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