Authors: Annie Kelly
InterMix Books, New York
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
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An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2016 by Annie Kelly.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-41225-5
InterMix eBook edition / March 2016
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.
Six Months Ago
My mother raises her eyebrows at me, then crosses her arms.
“Carson, your brother needs your help. You could at least ask.”
I shake my head and shove a hand back through my spiky hair. Despite my being the youngest, my mom still relies on me to swoop in and save the day when it comes to my older brother, Lennon. I glance at my watch, then back up at her.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do, Mom. I can talk to Mr. Hendricks, but I don’t think Holly Fields is hiring. Even if it were—I mean, it’s not like Lennon has any medical training. Hell, he hates old people. How would he work in an assisted living facility?”
A pounding sound punctuates each step as my brother comes stomping up from the basement. I have to force myself not to roll my eyes. How in the actual fuck did I reach twenty-four years old and still manage to have an older brother who lives with my mother? My life is a total cliché.
Lennon brushes past me, then bounds toward the fridge. He grabs two longneck bottles in one hand and a bag of lunch meat in the other. I can’t help but grimace as he slams the door shut and the entire rack of condiments rattles in protest.
“So, Mom said you’re getting me a gig at some hospital or some such shit.”
I turn to glare at my mother, who is purposely avoiding my gaze.
“Look,” Lennon continues, his mouth now full of lunchmeat, “whatever it is, please make it something where I’m not changing diapers or some shit. I can’t fucking handle that.”
I look at him, incredulous, then shake my head.
“I think I can say without a doubt that no one would hire you in that capacity, bro.”
He narrows his eyes. “What-the-fuck-ever, Carson.”
I scrub a hand over my face, feeling my panic begin to rise in my chest. I try to tamp it down without much success. I haven’t had much success in a while. School is a nightmare—so much so that I’m not even attending half of the time. I broke down and gave up my student teaching slot for this spring. I just couldn’t figure out a way to get through it. The truth is that my anxiety has never been worse. Not since high school, anyway. Not since Dad left.
“Look, I’m taking off,” I say to my mom, who is sorting through a pile of envelopes on the counter. She’s squinting hard at each one, then tossing it back on the stained Formica surface. I know they’re bills. I don’t want to know what for—ten bucks says there are a handful from the home shopping channels and a few from credit cards. Not to mention the utilities. Nothing has ever been paid on time or in full in this house.
“Where you headed?” Lennon asks.
He pops the cap off one of his beers, then downs it in about ten seconds flat.
“Gimme a ride to The Factory.”
He doesn’t even ask—it’s a demand. An expectation. I’m ready to protest when I see his hand slip into his pocket and briefly un-tuck a little vial of white powder. He shakes it at me as though I’m some kind of dog waiting for a treat.
He’s got me now and he knows it.
“Fine,” I grumble, “but we’re leaving now.”
I press a hand to my forehead. I wish I weren’t so enticed by the idea of a chemical escape, but the truth is that escaping is all I want to do lately. It’s why I’m at home right now, after all. It’s why I’m skipping my graduate seminar for the third time this month.
Running away just feels far easier than facing the truth. And running away is in my genetics. Mom always said I took after my father.
My whole world is spinning and that’s exactly how I like it. I’ve been waiting for Friday night all week, but it feels like it’s been a month. Maybe longer. The bump of coke I did in the car has made everything seem a little more possible. And all I want to do is dance.
The truth is this—I’m not cut out for the same life as my friends. I thought I could do it. I made it through college, got my degree, then entered my graduate program hoping to begin a career as an art teacher. In the process, I started neglecting all of the safeguards I’d put in place around my life, including the antianxiety medication I’d been taking for years and the weekly therapy sessions with my psychologist.
Here’s the biggest problem—at least as far as I’m concerned—when it comes to having an anxiety disorder: After a while, after months or years of therapy and medication, you start feeling fixed. Or at least a lot less broken. So, every time I get to a great place in my life, I find myself pulling back on my meds, then quitting completely, as though I was a solved riddle, a perfectly summarized result. Instead, I end up floundering—every single time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely incapable of functioning in society. But my social anxiety makes it almost impossible for me to do anything in public unless I have something intervening on my behalf. Usually that intervention comes in the form of drugs—it’s just not the legal ones this time.
The faces around me are a bit blurry, but I can tell that my dance partner is somewhat attractive. His dark hair keeps shifting over his eyes, giving him an air of mystery, and his brown eyes are like liquefied chocolate. He’s hot enough that I’ll let him take me home for a night, that’s for damn sure. Just not quite hot enough for me to tell him my real name.
I grind up against his thigh and he puts a hand on each of my hips, flexing his fingers in a way that pinches deliciously. God, I’ve missed this. It’s barely been a week, and it’s still been too long. All I want is this—an evening of complete and utter intoxication where I can feel the rush of the night and the slight bite of pain. I can forget about school, about tests, about student teaching. I can forget my ever-present anxiety, and the panic, in favor of feeling anything
anxious. I think they call this feeling “free.”
“God, you’re fucking sexy,” the guy murmurs into my ear.
The music is loud, but his face is so close to mine that I can hear him clearly—as clearly as I can smell the liquor on his breath mingling with a dose of his Axe body spray. At any other time, it would be noxious and overbearing. Right now, it’s just right.
here is just right. And I don’t have to think about tomorrow.
Over my dance partner’s shoulder, I glance up at the band. I don’t know if I’ve seen them here before, but they’re good. The lead singer, a muscular black guy with a shaved head and quarter-sized plugs in each ear, is clearly closer to being a professional than an amateur. He’s got a wailing voice that’s raspy and melodic, so much so that he practically drowns out the other instruments.
Well, all except the drums—or the drummer.
I blink rapidly, trying to focus on the drummer’s face. He’s beautiful—his brown eyes are wide and flash with energy as he holds the backbeat, then breaks into a cymbal-heavy solo. I lock my gaze on him and flip around, tucking my ass up against my new friend and grinding back against his already hard cock. His grip on my hips tightens and I relish that bruise-worthy pressure.
But all I can see is the drummer. And all I can feel is my arousal.
We continue to dance. Or, at the very least, move against each other like there’s no such thing as clothes or propriety. The first song fades into the next and the next. I don’t know if the drummer sees me—in fact, I’m sure he doesn’t, not with the bright spotlights blinding him—but fuck if I care. In my mind, he’s behind me, pressing against me and sliding his hands over my skin.
I feel fingertips scale my arm from wrist to shoulder, then tuck inside the strap of my tank top and bra. The fingers move down over the slope of my breast until they meet my nipple and I gasp when he pinches.
The pain always makes it ten times hotter.
The drummer is going wild now, his body bent practically parallel to the kit. His arms and torso are cut and tan, glistening with the sweat of his exertion.
I’ve never wanted to fuck anyone so badly in my life.
“I gotta get you home, baby,” the guy behind me whispers. “I can’t wait to peel you outta these fucking clothes and get my hands all over your body.”
I swallow, still watching the drummer play his set. God, there are more tattoos on his arms than unmarked skin. I lick my lips, then glance back at the man behind me. My vision is starting to clear. He’s not unattractive or unappealing—he just isn’t the drummer. And that’s the only person I can imagine screwing tonight.
“Let me run to the ladies’ room first,” I say into his ear, and I give him a winning smile as I sashay off the dance floor.
I know what I need to get me back in the mood—or at least, to transfer my desire to the man I’ve been humping on the dance floor all night rather than the one I’ve been watching.
I teeter a bit in my lace-up boots and run a hand over the back of my neck. I need something to balance out the lust in my system, not to mention the martinis from earlier. Just one more bump, and I’ll be good to go. I’ll be ready for anything. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll wake up tomorrow with a clean slate and an empty memory, just like last time. And the time before that. And the time before that.
I turn the corner and slam right into two people who clearly couldn’t wait for home or even the backseat of a car. The girl is straddling the guy and he’s hoisting her up around his waist, both hands grasping her ass beneath a tight black skirt. I blink and start to mutter an apology when I realize who I’ve just run into.
“Dude, Lennon. What the fuck?” I narrow my eyes at my brother, who pulls his mouth away from the woman’s neck long enough to smirk at me.
“’Sup, sis. How goes it?” I lift a brow at him. “Couldn’t keep it in your pants long enough to find a storage closet?”
The girl giggles and Lennon shrugs. “Why bother?”
I shake my head, then motion to the restrooms at the other side of the bar. “I’m gonna hit the ladies’ and head outta here. Can you get a ride?”
Lennon’s blue eyes dart at his lady friend, then back at me.
“Yeah. I can guaran-damn-tee there’ll be some riding.”
My lip curls involuntarily. “Gross. Well, make good choices.”
I brush past them and hurry closer to the bathroom. My high is wearing off too quickly and my good humor is fading fast.
Once I’m inside a stall, though, it’s easier to forget. Forget about my problems at school, forget about my loser brother, forget about the fact that everything in my life feels like a shitty, stagnant version of what could have been.
I dip my nail into the tiny brown vial I stashed in my jacket pocket and take the bump like a champ. I breathe deep and wait for the shimmer of a delicious high as it travels through my body.
It takes less than five minutes. In the meantime, I focus on the sounds from outside. The band has stopped playing, replaced this time by the pumping bass of a DJ’s set. When the coke hits my system, it hits hard like a freight train of pleasure. It’s better than sex—at least, any sex I’ve had lately.
After a few more minutes, I manage to get back to my feet and stumble out of the stall. I glance up at the mirror. The streak of deep blue in my hair surprises me when I see it; I added it to my spiky pixie cut last week, but I’m so used to the jet black color I’ve been dyeing it for years that I still don’t immediately recognize my reflection in the mirror. My eyes look glassy, their pale gray framed by slightly smeared navy liner. Everything about me feels a little less than perfect lately.
I readjust my tight black tank top and smooth a hand over my bared midriff. My belly ring winks at me in the mirror. I wink back, then giggle as I move toward the door.
I’m still laughing when I exit the bathroom—and slam right into a very strong, very muscular body.
“Fuck, sorry,” I say. “Apparently I’m just going to run into shit all over the place tonight.”
I glance up and then freeze.
It’s the drummer.
He’s even hotter up close. Like, literally and figuratively—he’s sweating enough that his gray T-shirt appears almost black. In this dim light, his eyes are about the same color. I lick my lips, which are suddenly dry.
“Hi,” I finally manage, hooding my eyes in that way that makes my lashes appear even longer and darker than normal.
He quirks a brow at me, then leans his shoulder against the nearby wall.
“Hi yourself. Do we know each other?”
I shake my head slowly.
“I don’t think so. Although, I’m certainly open to making a new friend.”
I want to sound coy, but I think all I’m managing to sound is breathy and young, like a teenage girl with a crush. Not teenage, maybe, but the crush part is legit.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?”
He leans a little closer and I can see now that his eyes have the slightest tinge of gold around the iris. I want to sink down right into his gaze and never resurface again.
I tilt my chin up to meet his gaze.
His lips twitch at one side as though he’s holding back a smile.
“Well, Carson, tell me—was it just me, or were you eye-fucking me from the dance floor for the last fifteen minutes?”
I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. Both of his eyebrows shoot up this time, as his lips simultaneously reveal a killer smile. I blink rapidly, feeling a flush of something either lust or drug driven shoot through my system.
Suddenly, I hear a crash come from the bar. The drummer glances up, then frowns before looking back at me.
“I’m gonna go check out the action on the floor, Carson. I just wanted you to know that those eyes of yours? They’re fucking lethal. Weaker men must fall at your feet, and I sure as hell see why.”
And, with that, he strides away with a confident gait. I don’t know his name, but I’ve never wanted anyone so badly in my life.
For a second, I consider following him. Consider walking out into the bar and standing before him, giving him a look that he’ll know means “take me now.” He’ll drag me back behind the stage or into the coat closet or all the way back to the bathroom, then push me up against the porcelain sink and yank down my pants. He’ll realize I’m not wearing panties and it will thrill him. Then, he’ll enter me from behind with a force that’s beyond nature. He’ll grab my hair and make me look at myself in the mirror as he fucks me again and again and again . . .