Lick, p.41
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       Lick, p.41
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         Part #1 of Stage Dive series by Kylie Scott
Page 41

  Author: Kylie Scott

  “That must have been hard for you,” I said. “Hearing about her from Jimmy. ”

  One of his shoulders did a little lift. “He shouldn’t have had to deal with her on his own. Said he wanted to protect me. Seems my big brother isn’t a completely selfish prick. ”

  “Thank you for texting me. ”

  “S’okay. What do you feel like listening to?” The sudden change in topic told me he didn’t want to talk about his family anymore. He yawned again, his jaw cracking. “Sorry. ”

  “The Saint Johns. ”

  He nodded, flicking through to find the only song I had of theirs. The strum of the guitar started softly, filling my head. He put the cell on his chest and his eyelids drifted down. A man and a woman took turns singing about their head and their heart. Throughout it, his face remained calm, relaxed. I started to wonder if he’d fallen asleep. But when the song finished he turned to look at me.

  “Nice. A bit sad,” he said.

  “You don’t think they’ll be together in the end?”

  He, too, rolled onto his side. There was no more than a hand’s width between us. With a curious look, he handed me the cell. “Play me another song you like. ”

  I scrolled through the screens, trying to decide what to play for him. “I forgot to tell you, someone was in saying they’d seen you today. Your anonymity might be about to run out. ”

  He sighed. “Bound to happen sooner or later. They’ll just have to get used to me being around. ”

  “You’re really not leaving?” I tried to keep my voice light but it didn’t work.

  “No. I’m really not. ” He looked at me and I just knew he saw everything. All of my fears and dreams and the hopes I did my best to keep hidden, even from myself. But I couldn’t hide from him if I tried. “Okay?”

  “Okay,” I said.

  “You asked me if you were my attempt at normal. I need you to understand, that’s not it at all. Being with you, the way I feel about you, it does ground me. But that’s because it makes me question fucking everything. It makes me want to make things better. Makes me want to be better. I can’t hide from shit or make excuses when it comes to you because that won’t work. Neither of us is happy when things are that way and I want you to be happy …” His forehead furrowed and his dark brows drew tight. “Do you understand?”

  “I think so,” I whispered, feeling so much for him right then I didn’t know which way was up.

  He yawned again, his jaw cracking. “Sorry. Fuck, I’m beat. You mind if I close my eyes for five minutes?”

  “No. ”

  He did so. “Play me another song?”

  “On it. ”

  I played him “Revelator” by Gillian Welch, the longest, most soothing song I could find. I’d guess he fell asleep about halfway through. His features relaxed and his breathing deepened. Carefully, I pulled out the earbuds and put the cell away. I switched on the bedside lamp and turned off the main one, shut the door so Lauren and Nate’s eventual return didn’t wake him. Then I lay back down and just stared at him. I don’t know for how long. The compulsion to stroke his face or trace his tattoos made my fingers itch, but I didn’t want to wake him. He obviously needed the sleep.

  When I woke up in the morning he was gone. Disappointment was a bitter taste. I’d just had the best night’s sleep I’d had in weeks, devoid of the usual tense and angsty dreams I seemed to specialize in of late. When had he left? I rolled onto my back and something crinkled, complaining loudly. With a hand, I fished out a piece of paper. It had obviously been torn from one of my notepads. The message was brief but beautiful.

  I’m still not leaving Portland.

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  I think I’d have preferred to find Genghis Khan staring back at me from across the café counter than Martha. I don’t know — a Mongol horde versus Martha, tough call. Both were horrible in their own unique ways.

  The lunchtime crowd had eased to a few determined patrons, settling in for the afternoon with their lattes and friands. It had been a busy day and Ruby had been distracted, messing up orders. Not like her usual self at all. I’d sat her at a corner table with a pot of tea for a while. Then we’d gotten busy again. When I’d asked what was wrong she’d just waved me away. Eventually, I’d corner her.

  And now here was Martha.

  “We need to talk,” she said. Her dark hair was tied back and her make-up minimal. There was none of the LA flashiness to her now. If anything, she seemed somber, subdued. Still just a touch smarmy, but hey, this was Martha after all. And what the hell was she doing here?

  “Ruby, is it okay if I take my break?” Jo was out back stocking shelves. She’d just come back from her break, making me due for mine. Ruby nodded, giving Martha a covert evil eye. No matter what was going on with her, Ruby was good people. She recognized a man-stealing sea monster when she saw one.

  Martha headed back outside with her nose in the air and I followed. The usual flow of city traffic cruised by. Overhead, the sky was clear blue, a perfect summer’s day. I’d have felt more comfortable if nature had been about to dump a bucketload of rain on top of her perfect head, but it was not to be.

  After a brief inspection of the surface, Martha perched on the edge of a bench. “Jimmy called me. ”

  I sat down a little way away from her.

  “Apparently he has to apologize to people as part of his rehab process. ” Perfectly manicured nails tapped at the wooden seat. “It wasn’t much of an apology, actually. He told me I needed to come to Portland and clean up the shit I’d caused between you and David. ”

  She stared determinedly ahead. “Things aren’t great between Ben and him. I love my brother. I don’t want him on the outs with Dave because of me. ”

  “What do you expect me to do here, Martha?”

  “I don’t expect you to do anything for me. I just want you to listen. ” She ducked her chin, shut her eyes for a second. “I always figured I could get him back whenever I wanted. After he’d had a few years to calm down, of course. He never got to screw around, we were each other’s first. So I just bided my time, let him sow all the wild oats. I was his one true love, right, no matter what I’d done? He was still out there playing those songs about me night after night, wearing our earring even after all those years …”

  Traffic roared past, people chatted, but Martha and I were apart from it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear this, but I soaked up every word anyway, desperate to understand.

  “Turns out artists can be very sentimental. ” Her laughter sounded self-mocking. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. ” She turned to me, eyes hard, hateful. “I think I was just a habit for him back then. He never gave up a damn thing for me. He sure as hell never moved cities to fit in with what I wanted. ”

  “What do you mean?”

  “He’s got the album written, Ev. Apparently the new songs are brilliant. The best he’s ever done. There’s no reason he couldn’t be in whatever studio he wanted putting it together, doing what he loves. Instead he’s here, recording in some setup a few streets over. Because being close to you means more to him. ” She rocked forward, her smile harsh. “He’s sold the Monterey house, bought a place here. I waited years for him to come back, to have time for me. For you he re-organizes everything in the blink of a fucking eye. ”

  “I didn’t know,” I said, stunned.

  “The band are all here. They’re recording at a place called the Bent Basement. ”

  “I’ve heard of it. ”

  “If you’re stupid enough to let him go then you deserve to be miserable for a very long time. ” The woman looked at me like she had firsthand experience with that situation. She stood, brushed off her hands. “That’s me done. ”

  Martha walked away. She disappeared among the crowds of mid-afternoon shoppers like she’d never been.

  David was recording in Portland. He’d said he
was working on the new album. I hadn’t imagined that meant actually recording here. Let alone buying a place.

  Holy shit.

  I stood and moved in the opposite direction to the one Martha had taken. First I walked, trying to figure out what I was doing, giving my brain a chance to catch up with me. Then I gave it up as a lost cause and ran, dodging pedestrians and café tables, parked cars and whatever. Faster and faster my Doc Martens books carried me. I found the Bent Basement two blocks over, situated down a flight of stairs, between a micro-brewery and an upmarket dress shop. I slapped my hands against the wood, pushed it open. The unassuming green door was unlocked. Speakers carried the strains of an almighty electric guitar solo through the dark painted rooms. Sam sat on a sofa, reading a magazine. For once his standard black suit was missing, and he wore slacks and a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt.

  “Mrs Ferris. ” He smiled.

  “Hi, Sam,” I panted, trying to catch my breath. “You look very cool. ”

  He winked at me. “Mr Ferris is in one of the sound booths at the moment, but if you go through that door there you’ll be able to observe. ”

  “Thanks, Sam. Good to see you again. ”

  The thick door led to the soundboard setup. A man I didn’t know sat behind it with headphones on. This setup left the small studio at Monterey in the dust. Through the window I could see David playing, his eyes closed, enmeshed with the music. He too wore headphones.

  “Hey,” Jimmy said quietly. I hadn’t realized the rest of them were behind me, lounging, waiting to take their turn.

  “Hi, Jimmy. ”

  He gave me a strained smile. His suit was gone. So were the pin-prick eyes. “It’s good to see you here. ”

  “Thanks. ” I didn’t know what the etiquette was regarding rehab. Should I ask after his health or sweep the situation under the rug? “And thank you for calling Martha. ”

  “She came to talk to you, huh? Good. I’m glad. ” He slid his hands into the pockets of his black jeans. “Least I could do. I’m sorry about our previous meetings, Ev. I was … not where I should have been. I hope we can move on from that. ”
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