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His hands curved over my cheeks, molding my face. Slowly, he pressed his lips to mine. “Mm, I feel something for you, Anne. Which is pretty f**king impressive given how numb I am right now.”

“It’s huge,” I agreed.

“I’m not normally like this … drinking this much. Want you to know that. It’s just …” A muscle spasmed in his jaw and he stared off into the distance.

“I know, Mal. It’s okay.”

No response.

“We’ll get through this.”

“Anne–” In a flurry of motion, he fell back off the stool. I grabbed at his jeans, trying to keep him upright. Not the best idea. One of Mal’s big-ass Chucks bumped the side of my head, which hurt. His other foot upset the cymbal stands and they clattered to the floor.

“Shit.” Footsteps rushed closer.

Mal lay on his back, laughing.

I sat back on my heels, rubbing at the tender spot on my skull. What a night.

“You alright?” asked David, crouching beside me.

“Fine!” called Mal, still laughing like a loon.

“Not talking to you, asswipe. You kicked Anne.”

“What?” Mal rolled over, grabbed the stool, and threw it out of the way. He rushed to my side, pushing David away. “Pumpkin, you okay?”

“Yes, you only clipped me. No damage done.”

“Fuck. Oh, shit, Anne.” His arms went around me, hugging me so tight he nearly throttled me. “I’m so sorry. We have to get her to a hospital and get a brains can. Brain scan. Fuck, one of those.”

“I don’t need a hospital or a scan. It’s just a bump.”

“You sure?” asked David, checking out my eyes.

“Yes,” I said. “It was an accident, Mal. Calm down.”

“I’m the worst boyfriend ever.”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t date you,” said David.

“Fuck off, Davie.”

“Parties over. Time for everyone to go home.” David wrestled him off of me and onto his feet.

Mal seemed perplexed to find himself there. He just sort of stood and swayed, frowning down at me. “You okay?”

“Yep.”

“I’m really f**king sorry, pumpkin. Wanna kick me in the head? Will that make you feel better?”

“Um, no. But thanks.”

David got Mal’s arm over his shoulders, dragging or carrying Mal toward the short set of stairs leading down off the stage. It was hard to tell which.

“Wait, where’s his shirt? He’ll freeze out there. ”

“Serve him f**king right.”

“Shut up, Ferris. You’re a whiny little bitch.”

“Yeah, and you’re loaded.”

I rushed ahead and held the door open for them. Mal stumbled and they almost fell. But David got them moving forward again instead of face-planting. Just. “I’m fine, man,” Mal said, pushing away from him to teeter precariously on his own. I grabbed his hand to support him and he pulled me in under his shoulder, steadying himself. “See, it’s all good.”

David just nodded, staying close.

“Gave my Ludwig kit a workout tonight. Broke a lot of drum sticks too.” Mal threw his other arm around me, holding me close. He really did need a wash. “American hickory. Zildjian. Made to take a beating but I must have broken eight, maybe ten. Happens in concert often but you don’t hear it. I just pick up the next one, keep going, never miss a beat. That’s how we roll. Shit gets broken, no matter, play on.”

He sighed, shifting his weight against me. I moved my feet farther apart, keeping my arms tight around his middle. The man was not light.

“I’m missing a beat, Anne. I can feel it. Shit ain’t right.”

I looked up into his beautiful face. My heart breaking for him. “I know. But it’s okay. We’ve got you.”

He just frowned down at me.

“I’ve got you,” I said.

“You sure?”

“Very.”

He nodded slowly. “Okay. Thanks, pumpkin.”

“Let’s get you back to the hotel room.”

The rain had stopped, thankfully. David stepped in again, helping Mal over to the Jeep, leaning him up against it. One of the shiny black Escalades was parked nearby.

“Man, where’s your keys?” asked David, digging through Mal’s jeans pockets.

“Geez, Davie. I was saving that especially for Anne.”

“I’m not interested in your dick. Where’s the key’s to your car?”

“Don’t get me wrong, man. I love you, just not in that way.”

“Uh, got ’em.” David dangled the keys from a finger. “Anne, you good to drive him? I’ll follow you back, help you get him up to your room.”

“Sounds good. Thanks.”

“Awesome,” Mal mumbled. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes. His mouth, on the other hand, he opened wide. “I LOVE YOU, ANNE!”

I jumped, somewhat startled by the noise. “Holy shit.”

“I LOVE YOU.”

David just looked at me with one eyebrow raised.

“Huh. He is really drunk,” I said, and David half-smiled. Best just to ignore my mini heart attack over Mal saying those words.

“I FUCKING LOVE YOU, ANNE.”

“Yeah, okay. Shut up now.” David tried to slap a hand over Mal’s mouth.

“AAAAAAANNNNNE!” My name was a long, drawn-out howling kind of noise, muffled at the last when David managed to cover his mouth. Muted grunts and snarling came next.

“God damn it,” swore David. “He just f**king bit me.”

“My love shall not be silenced!”

I did my best not to laugh. “Mal? I’ve got a headache from you accidentally kicking me in the head. Do you mind being quiet?”

“Oh, shit, f**k, okay. Sorry, pumpkin. So sorry.” He stared up at the sky. “Look, Anne, stars and shit. It’s beautiful, right?”

I looked up and sure enough the clouds had parted, allowing a couple of brave stars to shine through. “Right. Let’s go back to the hotel now.”

“Mm, yeah, let’s go. I have something in my pants I want to show you.” His clumsy fingers started in on the waist of his jeans. “Look, it’s real important.”

I grabbed his fingers, squeezed them tight. “That’s great. Show me back at our hotel room, okay?”

“Okay.” Mal happy sighed. The air around him consisted solidly of scotch fumes.

“Thanks for texting Ev.” David pulled open the passenger side door, grabbed Mal’s arm, and proceeded to shove him into the car. “You think tonight was fun, wait till we go on tour. Then things’ll get interesting. First time ever there’s been girlfriends or wives along.”

“The way you say that … should I be afraid?”

Mal hammered on the passenger side window. “Anne, my pants itch. I think I’m allergic to them. Come help me take ’em off.”

We both ignored him.

David scratched his head. “Think it’ll be a learning curve for all of us, yeah?”

“Yeah.” The future was a big, ripe ball of I had no damn clue what would happen. And for once, that was okay.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

There was groaning, loud, long, and explicitly painful. Most closely it resembled a wounded animal. Though with an animal, there would have been less swearing. These noises coming from behind me didn’t speak of fun times. No, what these noises referred to was a special particular level of hell called The Morning After a mother truckload of booze.

“Pumpkin.” Mal buried his face in the back of my neck, pressing his hot skin against me. “Fuck.”

“Hmm?”

“Hurts.”

“Mm.”

The hand stuffed down the front of my pants flexed and curled. It pressed down on all sorts of interesting places, making me squirm.

“Why’d you put my hand down your panties while I was asleep? What’s that about?” he mumbled. “Christ, woman. You’re out of control. I feel violated. ”

“I didn’t do that, sweetheart. That was all you.”

He groaned again.

“You were most insistent about having your hand there. I figured after you fell asleep I’d be able to move you. But it didn’t happen.” I rubbed my cheek into my pillow, his bicep.

“This pu**y is mine.” His fingers stretched, pushing against the material of my underwear, stroking accidentally over the insides of my thighs. So not the time to get turned on. We had talking to do.

“Yes, that’s what you said. Repeatedly.”

He grunted and yawned, then rubbed his h*ps against me. Morning wood pressed into my butt cheek. “You shouldn’t have made me drink so much. That was very irresponsible of you.”

“I’m afraid that was all you too.” I tried to sit up but his arm held me down.

“Don’t move yet.”

“You need water and Advil, Mal.”

“’Kay.”

His hand withdrew from my crotch and he rolled onto his back with much huffing and puffing. I hadn’t managed to get him into the shower last night. Accordingly, this morning, we both stank of sweat and scotch.

I got him a bottle of water and a couple of pills and sat back on the side of the bed. “Up. Swallow.”

He opened one bleary eye. “I’ll swallow if you will.”

“You got it.”

“You better mean that. A man doesn’t like to be lied to about that sort of thing.” Ever so slowly he sat up, his lank, blond hair hanging in his face. He stuck out his tongue and I dropped the pills on it, then handed him the water. For a while he just there, sipping the water and watching me. I had no idea what came next, what I should say. It was so much easier to just crack stupid jokes than to actually attempt to be deep and meaningful. To help him.

“I’m sorry,” I said, just to break the silence.

“Why? What’d you do?” he asked softly.

“I mean about Lori.”

He drew up his legs, braced his elbows on his knees, and hung his head. There was nothing but the noise of the air conditioner clicking on, the clink of silverware or something from the room next door. When he finally looked up at me, his eyes were red rimmed and liquid. Mine immediately did the same in empathy. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t hurt for him.

“I don’t know what it feels like so I’m not going to pretend I do,” I said.

His lips stayed shut.

“But I’m so sorry, Mal. And I know that doesn’t help, not really. It doesn’t change anything.”

Still nothing.

“I can’t help you and I hate that.”

Fact was, a part of wanting to soothe another person was making yourself feel useful. But nothing I could say would take away his pain. I could turn myself inside out, give him everything, and it still wouldn’t stop whatever was wrong with Lori.

“I don’t even have a functioning relationship with my mother, so I have no idea. Truth is, I used to wish her dead all the time. Now I just wish she’d leave me alone,” I blurted out, then stopped, reeling at my own stupidity. “Shit. That’s the worst thing to be telling you.”

“Keep going.”

Crap, he was serious.

I opened my mouth and my throat closed up. The words were dragged out kicking and screaming. “She, um … she checked out on us, Lizzy and me. Dad left and she went to bed. That was her great solution to the problem of our family falling apart. No trying to get help, no doctors, just lying in the dark doing nothing. She pretty much stayed in her room for three years. Apart from the time child protection services came by. We managed to persuade them she wasn’t a complete waste of space. What a joke.”


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