Authors: Kandi Steiner
By Kandi Steiner
© 2014 Kandi Steiner
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior written consent of the author except where permitted by law.
The characters and events depicted in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Kandi Steiner
Edited by Betsy Kash
Cover Photography by Austyn Bynon
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To the real Kellee.
Thank you for being the ever-constant voice of encouragement in my otherwise bleak and pessimistic author mind. I could never truly express how precious your friendship is to me.
Table of Conten
There were no word
s I could say to make her stay. I knew it as soon as they started flying out of my mouth. I could practically see her heart beating for him, yet there I stood, spilling out every ounce of blood I had left in my pathetically beating heart right onto her floor to try to get her to lay back down on that couch with me and let me hold her until all her pain was gone.
I think in my head, I already knew she was out of my grasp. I knew it the moment I showed up on her doorstep that
Sunday and took her to our spot and watched her emerald green eyes squeeze tight into a smile because of another guy. I was too late, I’d waited too long to tell her how I felt, but I did it anyway.
And I hurt her.
On the ride home, I played that scene in my head over and over again, like a fucking torture scene in a horror movie. Flashbacks surrounded me as I drove, my eyes blurrily focused on the road that laid out in front of me – the road that would never lead to her. She had said to me, “Sometimes the last thing you need is the only thing you want, Tanner. I can’t help what my heart feels.” Driving back to New York, I actually laughed at that. How ironic that the woman I couldn’t help but love was preaching to me about how we can’t help what our hearts want?
But that wasn’t what plagued me most, that wasn’t the nail that dug itself deep into my skin and poisoned my blood. No, the words she said to me just before walking out her front door would be the ones that would never leave, the ones that would be a constant reminder of one of the biggest mistakes I had ever made.
“You’re my best friend in the entire world, but you just hurt me more than you could ever know.”
So I drove, in tortured silence, not allowing myself the pleasure of turning on the radio. I just sat and thought about the one girl I had always written my perfect song for, the one girl who had made me think of her with every lyric I ever sang, the only girl in the world to ever make me feel nervous because I knew deep in my gut that she was completely out of my league. I thought I had found my perfect song,
my own personal soundtrack that I would keep and have forever as mine.
Instead, I had chased her away.
I really fucking hate the stench of cigarette smoke. I do, I hate the way it clouds up the space I sit in and the way it stays in my clothes long after I leave. So I guess it doesn’t really make sense that I’m sitting in this shitty hole in the wall bar where the smoke is thicker than the women who work here, but here I sit, because NYU insists we take these damn social retreats while in the Pediatrics Residency Program.
But if I’m being honest, I kind of want to be here. P
robably because it’s the only place in this whole fucking city where I can feel her.
In the past two years that I’ve lived in New York, Paisley
Bronson has only visited one time, and it wasn’t even me that she was visiting. She was here for some work conference and she only had time to meet me for a drink the night before she went back home. This is where I brought her, to The Box. Out of all the classy bars and out of this world night clubs that exist in New York City, I brought her to the one bar that is most like the little ones back home in Orlando. And the crazy thing is – she appreciated that. She’s not a city girl, she never has been, and she finds value in the little things like having a bartender who knows your name and your order or having a karaoke night where no one who can actually sing ever shows up.
So I come back here, every Sunday, just to feel her.
Sometimes it’s with the other residents in the program, but most times it’s by myself. To sit here and think about how it might have been different if I’d taken her to dinner instead and told her back then that I was so in love with her that I could barely breathe when she wasn’t with me. But instead, I took her here, and we drank the same Jack Daniels and Coke that we always drank and I held my tongue and tried not to brush that single strand of hair from her face and tuck it behind her ear. And kiss her.
God, I wanted to kiss her.
I drain the rest of my drink and signal to Sal, the bartender on my end of the bar, for another refill. He sees me every Sunday and knows exactly what to pour, and God love him he hasn’t cut me off yet, even though I’ve given him plenty of nights where he should have. The group of girls singing right now makes me want to shove my head into a fucking dryer and slam the door shut over and over again. They’re laughing and slurring their way through a Britney Spears song and no doubt think they’re the hottest pieces of ass this bar has ever seen. They probably came as a joke, as a one-check-on-the-bucket-list sort of dare, but apparently I’m the only one who sees it for what it is because the rest of the men in the bar are hooting and elbowing each other like it’s the best damn show they’ve seen, including some of the guys in the program with me.
Benny stands and applauds as the girls leave the stage before turning to me. “Cheer up, T Dubs! You look like you’re at a funeral.”
Does the death of my fucking heart count?
I smile, “Sorry man, long week.”
Long year would be more accurate. When I left Orlando, I thought I’d never see Paisley again, that she’d never want to look at my face again after what I did to her. But she called me, just a few months later, and somehow we worked through it. Corbin, the guy she fell in love with, deployed right after he and Paisley made up and it’s been hard on her. I’ve been there for her through the whole thing, even flying to Orlando a few times to be there when I knew she just needed to be held. But it was different than it used to be because she knew how I really felt. Every time I held her, I felt her stiffen. She didn’t feel the same around me, and that just made me feel shittier around her.
Benny shakes his head and slams his fist down on the bar, “Sal! Can I get another whiskey for my friend here? Put it on my tab. And if you’ve got any happy pills back there, slide those in, too.” He nudges me in the ribs and I laugh, pushing him off me. Sal was already working on my drink, but at least it won’t be on my tab now.
“Alright, alright, I get it. I’ll put on my fucking happy face.”
boy,” he laughs. “And don’t think you’re getting out of singing tonight. You haven’t sang in over a year and we’re breaking that streak tonight.”
I nod to Sal as he sets down my fresh glass
, “Keep dreaming, Benny.”
“Aw, Tanner, please! I miss that dreamy voice of yours,” Charlie says, her voice low and seductive. She traces her finger along my bicep and I shake her off
. She’s beautiful, in an easy target kind of way, but I’m not in the mood to put up with her shit.
“Well you’ll have to keep on missing it. I’ll drink all the whiskey you feed me, but I’m not singing.”
I haven’t sang since I left Orlando that day, after calling Corbin and telling him the truth about Paisley – the real truth. I told him that she was crazy about him, that we were just friends, and that he’d be insane to let her go.
And as much as I knew it would make her happy, it still fucking killed me.
What I had told him before the truth was that Paisley had kissed me – that she loved me and not him and he was just another set of tags to hang on her chain.
Yeah, I know it was shitty, but I was desperate to keep her.
I didn’t know what else to do.
But, after I saw how hurt Paisley was when I told her that’s what I had said and after she walked out on me – I knew I had to mak
e things right. I called him the morning he was supposed to get on a plane to go back to his base and laid out the truth. I even told him I was a fucking idiot who was trying to save the woman I loved for myself even if it wasn’t what she wanted. Corbin, surprisingly, understood – but in the end he got Paisley back.
And I got a broken heart.
“Why won’t you sing?” I hear a smooth, almost angelic voice coo behind me. I turn in my barstool and literally choke on my drink. Sal has moved down to the other end of the bar and standing in his place is a fucking angel. No shit, this girl is glowing. Her long, sandy blonde hair is falling all around her and her soft eyes are like two illuminated wells pulling me in deep. I can’t see what color they are, which kind of intrigues me, but what I notice most is her freckles.
Damn, I have never seen freckles that sexy before.
“Are you okay?” she asks, tucking her hair half behind her ear. Probably because I choked on my drink and still haven’t found one word to say.
I set my whiskey
on the bar and turn to completely face her, “I’d be better if I knew your name.” I turn my game on and break out the half smile, the one that usually lands a girl in my bed within a few hours.
“I’ll tell you my name if you sing,” her brow arches as she grabs the white towel hanging off her shoulder and begins drying a glass. She’s dressed modestly in a pair of jeans and a bright yellow tank top, but her skin looks freshly tanned and a sliver of skin just above her hip bones makes me want to trace it with my fingers and send goose bumps down her body.
“How about you tell me your name, and if you’re lucky, I’ll sing to you later when you’re in my bed?” I know it’s a cocky line. Hell, for once I feel a little stupid saying it, but in all honesty I’m a guy, and this girl looks like the perfect distraction from Paisley. Still, I can tell this girl is different, and I somehow feel embarrassed that the words tumbled out of my mouth.
expected, she rolls her eyes and swings the towel back over her shoulder before leaning across the bar. “Trust me, honey. If you got me in bed, you wouldn’t be able to speak, let alone sing.”
The corners of my mouth turn up as she pushes back from the bar. Her eyes are challenging mine, and damn if I don’t like a challenge. I’m just about to shoot back with a clever quip when she tosses her towel on the bar and runs her fingers through her hair, “How do I look?”
I shake my head, “Do you even have to ask?”
She laughs, “Not really, but I wanted to see if your jaw would hit the floor again or if that was just a one-time thing.” She winks at me, lifts the end of the bar up and walks up to the stage, her ass swinging the entire way.
Yeah, she definitely knows I’m watching.
She stands to the side with the DJ, pointing on his laptop screen and asking him questions. Benny and Terrence are doing a very drunken version of
Ice Ice Baby
and I can’t help but let my mind wander back to Paisley. She was never into music as much as I am, but she would always try to keep up with my tastes and listen to whatever I threw at her. That’s why it shocked the shit out of me the night I took her to one of my fraternity parties and she started busting out every line in this song when it came on. I laughed so hard I almost fell over. I can still remember it, like it could be happening right here, right now. She had her hands in the air and her wavy auburn curls were swaying all around her. She kept getting in my face like she was a gangster and when the chorus came on, she would rub her arms like she was cold as she mouthed the lyrics at me.