Biggie and my dad couldn’t have been more different. Both in the looks department and the everything-else-department.
“I don’t know why the hell I’m telling you any of this. Nothing good can come of raising the ghosts of the past . . .”
“Please,” I said a bit too eagerly. “Please tell me. There will never be a better time for me to hear about you . . . and my mom . . . and my dad.”
Biggie took another minute, studying me, before letting out a long, resolved sigh. “Yeah, she wound up telling your dad,” Biggie said. “Laurel never meant to fall in love with me, and I sure as shit tried to steer clear of her, but nature kind of just drew us together. I never loved anyone like I fell for her. I had it bad. And I still haven’t loved a woman the way I loved her. What we had was . . .” He paused, searching for the right word.
But I had it.
“Special,” I said sadly.
“Exactly. Special.” Biggie nodded. “Of course I screwed things up the way I was born to do, and Laurel realized that your dad was the better man, which as much as I hate to admit it, he was.” Biggie’s forehead lined as he continued, “Laurel got married, I married this shitty bar, and the rest is history.” He studied my face again, and I could tell from the glimpse of intimacy that flashed in his eyes he was seeing my mom. “But I still think about her every day. Even after she and your dad were married, she helped me out when I hit some low times.”
My brows went sky high.
“No, no,” Biggie guessed at what I was thinking, “our relationship after she and your father got married was strictly on a friend to friend basis. But that woman saved me in about every way a person can be saved.” Biggie ran his hand through his short dark hair and stared at the floor. “You know, I might be all alone and have some pathetic what-could-have-been story about the time the most perfect woman in the world loved me, but every day, I’m able to get out of bed because I know if someone like her could see something in me to fall in love with. . . I must have one or two redeeming qualities.” After a few moments of reflection, Biggie’s face ironed out into the intimidating, chew ‘em up, spit ‘em out bartender who’d sent grown men running with a few words.
I was speechless. It had become a habit as of late. When I’d slid into this dark joint, I had not been expecting to be harassed by a couple of flannel wearing mullet heads, only to be saved by my mom’s dirty little secret named Biggie. A man who was obviously still in love with her. In love with a ghost.
This story hit far too close to home for comfort. I needed that drink STAT.
“So, Elle. You know my story now—what’s yours?” Biggie leaned across the bar and stared at me without blinking.
My mom had stared into these same eyes and probably gone a little weak in the knees. My mom had loved this man while loving my dad. My mom was me, or more like, I was my mom.
I really wished she was still around because I could have used her advice right about now.
“I know you can’t be any older than eighteen or nineteen, you’re the glorified good girl all set to marry the prince of Winthrop anytime now, so what could have brought you to the bad side of humanity late on a Saturday night?” There wasn’t anything antagonistic in his voice, just genuine curiosity.
I almost told him.
I almost admitted I was following in my mom’s footsteps and had fallen in love with the dangerous bad boy while I was the good boy’s girlfriend. I knew he wouldn’t judge me and could probably offer me some reasonably sound advice. I was so close to telling him, then Cole’s face flashed into my mind and my whole body ached.
“I needed a drink,” I replied, staring at the wall of bottles I couldn’t have named if he’d held a gun up to my head. “A strong drink.”
Biggie studied me for a few seconds, grimacing when he met my eyes again. “Because you’re Laurel’s daughter, I’ll pour you a drink,” he said, reaching back to grab a bottle from the top shelf as he snatched a shot glass with his other hand. “But because you’re Laurel’s daughter . . .” his smile turned sad, “I’m only pouring you one.”
Of course. Out of all the bars I could have stumbled into, I had to be in the one that would put me on a one drink limit tonight. I didn’t need any more limits. I needed to forget about limits for a few hours.
“I might not be the guy Laurel chose, but I sure as hell am not going to let her daughter lower herself to this level.”
I would have put up an argument if I thought it would work.
“So we’re clear?” Biggie poured the clear liquid to the top of the shot glass and waited for my response.
Biggie slid the glass in front of me. “You look so much like you’re mom I just about shit myself when I saw you standing in front of me,” he said, shaking his head. “But you’re a bit like your dad, too. He’s a good man, kiddo, damned as I tried not to believe it for the better part of my life. Whatever this is you’re going through, whatever brought you here tonight . . . you should talk with him about it. He loves you and only wants the best for you. I’m sure he’ll understand whatever it is.” Dropping his large hand over both of mine that were reaching for the shot in front of me, he squeezed them. “It’s an honor to meet you, Elle.”
He’d already wandered down to the other end of the bar by the time I lifted the glass to my lips. The fumes alone were making my eyes tear up.
The instant Cole’s face popped into my head, my mouth dropped open and I upended that shot in one fell swoop.
It burned my throat like it was actually searing off the top layer of flesh as it made its way down into my belly. I’d never had a shot before. I’d had beer, wine, and even a few jello shooters, but never a hardcore, honest-to-goodness shot of alcohol.
I almost immediately felt the effects. My head went a little light, woozy even, and I relaxed. Instead of trying to blend into the crowd, I wanted to become a part of it. The band even sounded better somehow, so I shoved off the counter and made my way towards the dance floor.
The shot hadn’t completely removed my memory of Cole, but it had at least made me care less. I might be able to picture his face and remember what his hands felt like, but not enough to ache for him. Not enough to give a darn if I ever saw or felt him again.
I understood why this alcohol thing was so addictive.
I was having a little dance party with myself in the center of the dance floor when a familiar face appeared in front of me. Another point for the alcohol? I didn’t even care anymore about being recognized in a place like this.
“Elle Montgomery.” The guy in front of me grinned wide.
I grinned back. I hadn’t seen him since the bonfire. “Derrick Davenport.”
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” he shouted above the band who was now murdering an Aerosmith song.
“What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” I swayed a little then, like the dance floor was spinning, although I wasn’t so drunk I didn’t realize it was the alcohol spinning me, not the actual room.
Derrick grabbed my arms and steadied me. He stepped closer until my chest brushed against his. “Looking for a girl like you.”
I was fairly certain what that gleam in Derrick’s eyes was, but I ignored it. “Looks like it’s your lucky night then.”
He dropped his mouth outside my ear. I told myself it was so he didn’t have to shout over the band. “Looks like it is,” he said, his voice sending a tingle down my back. Not the good kind of tingle, either. Leaning back, he examined my face. “How many drinks are you into the night?”
“One,” I said, sticking out my lower lip. “The bartender cut me off at uno.”
One of Derrick’s eyebrows lifted. “I can help you out with that,” he said, sliding his wallet out of his back pocket. “Whatcha drinking?”
I had no idea what Biggie had poured me and I was sure if I told Derrick to order me something that was strong and clear, he’d roll his eyes. “Anything that will get me drunk.”
One side of Derrick’s mouth lifted. “I believe I can manage that,” he said before cutting through the crowd and heading for the bar.
By the time Derrick made it back, I’d almost forgotten he was here. It was sad how one shot could undo a girl so quickly, but I didn’t care because my heart hadn’t ached once for Cole. In fact, I couldn’t even feel my heart anymore.
“As ordered,” Derrick said, appearing in front of me and extending another shot of clear liquid. This glass was twice the size of the one Biggie gave me and just as full. “Bottom’s up.”
Derrick tilted his own equally large and full glass at me before draining it in one large sip. He dropped the glass on the nearest table, then looked at me expectantly.
What was one more drink? I’d come here for the stumbling drunk experience, right? I was going to be the best stumbling drunk I could.
Tilting my drink at Derrick, I closed my eyes and opened my mouth. I was careful not to inhale while I downed the entire shot. This one didn’t sting my throat as badly as the last one, but the effects were almost as immediate. The room wasn’t only moving now, it was spinning. Fast.
My stomach almost instantly spasmed. What sucked about that last shot was that my body was affected, but my mind was just as sharp. That wasn’t the plan. I didn’t care if I did or didn’t have control of my body, I just didn’t want control of my mind. I wanted it lost and emptied of all memory.
Then Derrick stepped close again and all of his body shoved against mine. His hands dropped to my h*ps and latched on. “I knew you were a wild one, Elle,” Derrick whispered in my ear. “Glad I could be around when that woman decided to bust free.”
Derrick had been my friend almost as long as Logan had. I couldn’t have picked a better night to get plastered. Knowing Derrick was here to look after me and make sure I didn’t do anything too stupid made me let go a little more. Allowed me to let go of the girl everyone expected me to be and behave like.
Winding out of Derrick’s embrace, I leapt up onto the closest table. I knocked over a couple beers and my feet grazed the head of one of the guys scattered around it, but no one seemed to mind.
In fact, when I started to move to the beat of the music, people started cheering. My body moved in ways it had never moved before, in ways I’d never known it could move—bending, flexing, and shaking like I was trying to make up for eighteen years’ worth of inhibitions.
One song ended, and another one was about to, and I still hadn’t stopped shaking my stuff up on some rickety table in some dive bar, but I was long past caring about what I was doing and where I was doing it. All I felt was this heady sense of freedom and I was chasing that feeling wherever it led me.
I vaguely remembered Derrick handing me yet another tall glass of clear liquid at the start of the third song I’d spent up on the table and, by the end of it, I was no longer dancing. I was teetering. Lucky for me, when I fell over, Derrick was there to catch me.