My sobriety teetered the moment she walked into my bar. Gravity shifted in that weird way when you know fate wrenched away the upper hand. The past held a theft washed away with booze. The future held a trip-wire to an urge to drink. Or kill.
Her smile—all sparkle and heat-ray warmth—kicked me in the gut the same way it did in high school. Her first three steps inside oozed with confidence, then she hesitated. Four guys lifted their heads from their beers, and one was on his feet asking if she needed something before his friends could stop him.
Another second would have glued him to his seat. Jason Nicks—the Jason Nicks—walked in behind her and kissed her head in the F-you way like dogs pee on hydrants. He marked his territory as soon as he walked into mine.
That’s right. The Jason Nicks. RumTide’s lead singer and the Grammy-winning, chart-topping S.O.B. that taught me the taste of hate. We don’t get that kind of star-power in Ipswich, Massachusetts and seeing him changed the late-night crowd from red-faced laughter to elbow-nudging whispers.
Causing a ripple must be something typical for him because he stood in the doorway scanning the crowd, oblivious. When he saw me, he air-guitared two beats then shook his hands over his head.
“HOLL-ah to my BRO-thah!”
In seconds, he enveloped me in a bro-hug, fists clenched to chests, complete with back slaps and shoulder grabs. “How the hell’s my old band mate, Dude? God man, how long’s it been?”
Being a twelve-step guy made me a pretty sure bet to be the only sober one in the room, but you wouldn’t have known that from my reaction.
“J-Jason … Whah the fah—” Dockers and a button-down were no match for black skinny jeans, motocross boots, and chains.
“Andrew Black!” he shouted, “You are a sight for sore eyes, man!” He brought his mouth down to my ear. “This’ll boost your business ten times over. I’ve got the touch.” He rubbed his fingers and thumb together in front of my face and stepped back. “I wanted to come sooner, but we’re touring Maine next week. Maine! Do they even have stadiums up there? Anyway, it worked out to come now. Sorry about your dad.”
I screwed my eyes shut, pinching the bridge of my nose to will away the wave of grief. “He was a good man and is in a better place. Memorial was last month. Nice crowd.”
Something gentle and sweet rubbed my upper arm. Lips bussed my cheek. “I’m sorry, too. Good to see you, Drewsk.”
Drewsk. In that one word, our word, an urge grew to call my sponsor. “Thanks, Kate. Dad followed RumTide’s tour dates closer than Sox games. He always asked about you guys, you know, if we stayed in touch at all. He kept reading Billboard and Rolling Stone to see if you two ever got hitched. When he got desperate, he’d even reach for Entertainment and People.” I laughed. The thought of my beer-chugging dad reading People was pretty damned funny.
Jason’s and Kate’s faces did a dance. Smiling wasn’t a part of it.
“Life on the road and marriage do not mix. Right Kate?” Jason’s eyes flashed something that was unreadable to me, but seemed to scorch through her.
“Sure, yeah.” Her face turned away, hidden by a curtain of honey-blonde hair. My fingers tingled at the memory of it. Maybe the life of a rock star’s manager and girlfriend didn’t agree with her. She sure didn’t look the part. She wasn’t all boobs and tats like most of the women pictured with Jason. Even in this muggy New England evening, she wore a sleeveless shirt tied at her waist and jeans. Sweet looking. No barely there camisole. No sky-high heels. Just sandals. Her feet were tanned and smooth, like on another summer night.