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Authors: Jade Goodmore

Winter Blues (4 page)

BOOK: Winter Blues
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“Thanks. I really enjoyed that,” I gush, still a little lightheaded from the adrenaline.

“So did every single person in here.” He gestures around the room with his beer. “Now, drink up, I have a proposition for you.”

 

 

 

6

Reid

 

Yet again, I wake from another lonely night’s sleep. This king-size bed was not made for one person to enjoy alone, and enjoy it I have not. Its vast size only reminds me of the woman who usually shares it with me, spread out so much that her side would merge with mine. For two nights running I have missed waking up with her legs entwined with my own, her hands seeking me out across the broad mattress, her head falling on my pillow rather than hers. Regardless of whatever is happening with us through the day, Darlene naturally gravitates to me during the night, allowing me a brief reprieve from our decaying relationship. That is, except when she sleeps in that damn chair.

Aft
er the dinner, which thankfully was a complete success, I rushed back to make my absence at the open mic night up to her, well that and our little spat before I left. I found a garage selling reasonably nice flowers and drove home quickly.

Thinking that we could put the night behind us, I opened the door to find that Darlene already had. She was flat out asleep in that damn chair. I contemplated waking her up, but for what? So she could find another reason to be pissed at me? No, I’d accept this defeat and try again tomorrow. Covering her with a thick blanket and kissing her head, I said goodnight. Making my way to bed after placing the flowers in a vase, I wondered if her sleeping out there was a conscious decision or whether she had been merely overtired after an eventful night, perhaps after having too much to drink. For once
, I hoped it was the latter. The thought of her purposely avoiding our marital bed hurts.

Glancing at the clock
, I reluctantly recognize that I’m running late.
Shit.
Getting up, I race to the bathroom, only to find the door shut and the sound of the shower running.
Double shit.
Not so long ago I’d have merely jumped in with her, but I’m not sure how well received that would be anymore. I hesitate with my hand on the door handle before finding my balls and opening it. I immediately look toward the shower door only to find Darlene already stepping out. She doesn’t quite scream at my presence but the look on her face and the speed that she reaches for a towel tells me that a shared shower would have been out of the question.

“Sorry,” I offer in response to her embarrassment. “I’m late for work, I-I thought I could...” Sighing disappointedly, I don’t continue.

“Oh, okay. I’ll leave you to it.” She takes another towel for her hair and walks past me. “Breakfast?”

“Please, something quick.”

She nods before leaving and closing the door. At its click I quickly kick off my pajama pants and hop into the shower. I welcome the cold spray of water as I work hard to shake the image of a naked and wet Darlene from my head. I really haven’t got time for this. But, fuck, she looked amazing. Beads of water ran over her slender curves, highlighting her flawlessness. Her lengthy hair clung to her ample chest, almost hiding her sweet, pink nipples, but not quite. I’m trying not to think about the brief glimpse of perfection, but it’s just no good. I’ve been hard since I first opened the door and now I’m throbbing with denied need.

Fuck, we’ll have to make this quick.

My hand falls straight to my rock-hard length and immediately gets to work on finding the release I need, the antidote to my built up frustration, my boost to get me through what promises to be a long day. As the water heats up, so do I. Needing it fast, I quicken the pace of each stroke, gripping harder until I find the perfect pressure. The image of Darlene stepping out of this very shower accompanies my arousal, but this time, she doesn’t blanch in shock. Instead, she takes my hand and guides me back in with her. She presses her generous chest against me before sliding down to her knees. Looking up at me with those oversized blues and grinning her devilish smile, she takes me in her mouth.

God, I’m close.

She sucks so hard, so fast, pumping her hand in time with her talented mouth. I’m close, so fucking close. When she bears her teeth in a salacious act I come undone and she happily takes my release on her tongue.

I open my eyes, allowing myself a minute to come down from an u
nsatisfying high and immediately regret the fact that I’m alone in this shower. Rapidly washing away the shame of what I have just done, I put it down to a weak moment. Not that there is anything wrong with jacking off. It’s just, well, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve needed to. Things really are bad.

After d
rying and dressing quickly I make my way to the kitchen to find coffee and toast waiting for me. Darlene is flicking through her phone, but I can barely make eye contact with her after what I just pictured her doing.

“Mornin
g.”

“Morning,” I reply, taking a deep sip of my scolding hot
coffee. “Thanks for this.”

“No problem. You bought flowers?” she asks, pointing to the bouquet next to us. She’s re-organi
zed them, removing the paper and cutting them down to size so that they fit the vase perfectly.
Do they pull girls aside at school and show them how to do that?

“For last night.”

“The gig?” she assumes, her eyes lighting up a little with her words.

“Umm, yeah,
” I lie. I don’t really want to apologize now, knowing that it will only remind her of our dispute when she seems to have forgotten it so easily. “How did it go?”

“Amazingl
y. I actually have some exciting news.” She really is radiant with excitement. I raise my eyebrows, encouraging her to speak when my mouthful of toast can’t. “The owner of the bar has asked me to perform there,” she says through a bright smile.

“At another open mic night?”

“Nope. He wants me to have my own gig, baby. Two nights a week.”

I chew my toast much slower than necessary to allow for a brief moment of consideration. She never wanted to gig again, saying that she had left performing behind, so why the sudden change of heart?

“What nights?” I ask, not that it really matters, but struggling to work out what this really means.

“Mondays and Thursdays.”

“So, are you playing tonight?”

“No, I start Thursday, I wanted some time to prepare.” She takes a sip of her own coffee, eyeing me over the
mug. “I may go tonight, though. He’s performing and it was real good fun last night.”

“Who’s performing?”

“The owner. His name’s Blue.”

“Blue?”

“I know, right?” she chuckles lightly...oddly. “He’s actually pretty cool and I got talking to the others who work there. Everyone seems real friendly.”

Is that what this is about? Making friends? I should be happy, I suppose. I mean, she genuinely seems in a better mood this morning. I just wish it was because of me. “Maybe I’ll come with you. I can try and finish early.” Her face lights up and in response I feel like an ass. I know I won’t be finished in time, so why did I say it? Because I want to pretend that I’m a good husband? Just for a minute? 

“I’d love that. I think you’d really like it there.”

I nod, unable to
verbally lie again. Finishing the last of my coffee, I thank her once more for breakfast before fetching my briefcase and throwing on my jacket. I’m about to head to the door when I remember about her interview today.

“What time did you say your interview was?”

“Twelve.”

Against the little voice in the back of my head’s advice, I walk over to her and kiss her cheek, gently cupping her fine jaw. “Good luck, not that you’ll need it. Blow them away, Darl.”

She smiles sweetly, a little shyly. “Thanks. I’ll call you afterwards?”

“Of course.” Why does she feel the need to even ask? “See you later.”

 

Arriving late at work has really put a dampener on the whole day. I already had so much to do after securing the contract with the author last night and five more manuscripts have just landed on my desk. The morning has flown by in a wind of chaos and I’m momentarily contemplating how I’m going to fit in any lunch when my phone rings. I wait for the office secretary to pick it up, but when I glance to her desk she’s not there. Typical.

“Reid Daley speaking.”

“Oh, hi. I thought I’d get Karen.” It’s Darlene. Her voice is an instant soother to my taut mind and I lean back in my chair for the first time today.

“No, Karen is otherwise engaged, apparently.”

“Oh. Well
, I’m walking to the store, baby, you want something nice for dinner?”

“Never mi
nd that. The interview, how did it go?” I ask, knowing how little time I can realistically spare for this conversation.

“Really well, I think. The school is amazing and the principle’s fantastic.”

“Great, that’s really great,” I enthuse, physically crossing my fingers for her, for us. “Did they say when they’d let you know?”

“They have interviews all week
, so by the weekend.”

“Perfect, we’ll be able to celebrate Saturday then.”

“Celebrate? That’s a little presumptuous.” Her words counteract the smile I can tell she’s wearing. “I mean, let’s not tempt fate, baby. We don’t know that there’ll be anything to celebrate.”
              “I do. I know,” I insist because I know how amazing she is, both as a person and a teacher. I can’t imagine them having any reason not to hire her.

“Well, I wish I had your
belief,” she sighs so heavily I can hear it above both the background noise of the office and the cars whizzing past.
              “Don’t worry, Darl, I have enough for both of us.”

“Thank you, that’s actually really sweet. So...dinner tonight?”

“Yeah, about that...I’m sorry, but I’m really behind here. I don’t know what time I’m going to make it home.”

“But, you said...”

“I know, I know. I’m really trying to get this shit done but more keeps coming, ya’ know?” As if proving my point an email pings to life on my computer screen. It’s from James about the contract. I rub my eyes beneath my glasses and exhale heavily. “Darl, I have to go. I’ll try, okay?”

“It’s fine. I’m going to The Nest later anyway so if you make it out past midnight, then stop by.”

I ignore the bitterness that oozes from her exaggeration. I wouldn’t work until midnight. She knows this. “Okay. Bye, Darl.”

She hangs up without saying go
odbye, as if I didn’t feel shitty enough as it is. Can’t she see how snowed under I am? I’m still the new guy here, still trying to prove myself. It’s my own fault. I stupidly landed a major author in my first week and consequently got thrust into the thick of it. I’m the wonder kid, the lucky charm, tagged along to most meetings with everyone’s hopes pinned to my new designer suit. I do love it, and so far I have yet to fuck up, but while I excel at work I know that I’m failing at home and I can feel myself resenting both pulls equally. When things are great here I can’t help feel frustrated with the lack of support from Darlene, and then when I’m at home and I’m confronted with the sorrowful blue eyes of my wife I feel like an absolute asshole. Work is slowly tearing me away from Darlene and the procedure is torturously painful.

I need to find a balance,
soon.

 

 

 

7

Darlene

 

All thoughts of being let down, yet again, get pushed aside as I allow the prospect of another great night at
The Nest
to flood my mind. Opting for a ditsy-print dress with a short but fluid skirt, and my black cowboy boots, I remember the chill outside and quickly pull on some thick, black tights. I’ve given up trying to calm my hair, instead I choose to twist it into a loose braid and let it sit on my shoulder.

After shrugging on my coat I wrap a scarf around my neck, hoping to further protect from the cold. As I grab my bag I glance at the wild assortment of flowers that I just about managed to contain within a glass vase. They were such a surprise to see this morning, and Reid’s explanation did
nothing to ease my confusion. They were congratulatory? An apology? Regardless of what they were meant to be they were obviously a last minute thought. There’s no denying flowers that have been purchased at a gas station. I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Making sure to avoid an argument, I drop my phone into my bag and head out, hastily navigating my way onto the street and across the short distance to
The Nest
. The music guides me in and as I enter I feel another unaided smile spread across my face. It swells further when I make it to the bar and Blue swiftly hands me a Corona, shaking his head when I reach for my purse. I really need to find a way to pay him back for all these drinks. I mean, not like that, but you know, like with money. Jeez.

Blue doesn’t have chance to say anything other than a quick hello as he hurries to serve. He looks just as amazing as
he did last night, wearing a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up to expose his muscular forearms, and dark jeans and boots. I realize that this must be the uniform here because the other two bar staff, Veda and Nile, are also wearing black tops and jeans. They smile and wave when they see me but the bar is pretty busy so they’re unable to chat.

It’s beginning to look as busy as last night, if not busier, and it appears as though most of the clientele are regulars. Everyone seems to know everyone, and a few even recogni
ze me from my performance. As I struggle out of my scarf and jacket and move to the side of the bar I’m accosted by a young guy with unruly blonde hair. I’d ordinarily feel a little unsure of strangers but his bright eyes and equally bright smile argue that there is nothing to be wary of.

“Hi,” he says, both waving and nodding at the same time. I smile in return. “You were pretty amazing last night.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re new here, right? I mean, I haven’t seen you before.”

“No, last night was my first time here.”

“How come?” he asks, oblivious to the many reasons I could rattle off.

“Well, I’m new to Chicago. I mean, I’ve been here a few months, but I still feel pretty new.”

“Well, I’d be glad to show you around sometime.” His smile is a little lopsided, reminding me of Reid, back in the day at least. It’s been
a while since I have been honored enough to see it, but it means that I know exactly what Blondie is expecting. I’m just about to shut him down when a deep voice interjects and large hands grab the top of his arms, pulling him back playfully.

“She’s married,” Blue warns with a smirk creasing his mouth and crinkling his eyes.

“Shit, really?”

I hold up my hand, using my ring as evidence and Blondie dramatically drops his head, mocking utter devastation. I laugh at him as he lifts his gaze back to mine.

“Oh well. We can all use more friends, right?”

I agree.
“Absolutely.”

Some more so than others
.

“It’s Darlene, isn’t it?” Blondie asks. I nod, offering my hand to shake. He accepts. “Great, I’m Zach.”

“Nice to meet you, Zach.” 

“Nice to meet you, too. I’m going to go get a beer and then sit with the guys. You’re more than welcome to sit with us?” He points a hand to a rowdy group, mostly men but a handful of girls. Both Zach and I turn to look at said group, but Blue
’s attention never wanes from me.


Thanks, maybe I will.”

When Zach smiles once
more and walks away Blue pulls up a seat next to me and leans in a little. I naturally do the same. Why do I feel so at ease with him?


I’m thinking of making Pilgrim your official pet name,” Blue says, eyeing me expectantly.

“Oh, so I’m a pet?” He shrugs and pouts playfully, doing a good job of reminding me of his deliciously full lips. “I don’t think I know you well enough for you to be using any pet names on me,” I insist, striving for firm but having to fight a small smile. What is wrong with me? I should be put off with his banter, not relishing in it.

“I’m sure we’ll know each other very well, very soon, so I’m just saving us time.”

I shake my head, pouting my own lips. This is as much as I can do to deter his teasing because I’m dangerously close to admiring his boldness. It’s been a long time since someone has so unashamedly wooed me.

He laughs knowingly and I relax a little in the knowledge that he is, indeed, playing. When his chuckling lessens he leans in a little closer and regards me seriously. “Please don’t sit with them,” he says without any remaining humor. His sincerity is highlighted by his unyielding stare into my suddenly wide eyes.

“Why not?”

“Because every single one of them will make a pass at you and I really don’t want to be worrying about you when I’m up on stage.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little thrown by
this. Is he worried for my safety? I guess that’s sweet, but I barely know him and I really don’t think there is any need for his concern.
The Nest
seems like a pretty safe place to be and if the guys are as friendly as Zach then I don’t think his concern is reasonably justified.

“Why would you worry?” I enquire, a little nervous about his response.

“For the very reason I just said.”

“Because they might make a pass at me?”

“No, because you might let them.” 

Wow.

This isn’t right.

What concern is that of his? He’s still flirting. Do I need to be more upfront about my disinterest? I am disinterested, aren’t I? Yes. No. Yes, of course I’m not interested in him, or his concern for that matter.

“I wouldn’t, I’m married,” I reassure him, as much for my benefit as his.

Nodding his head in acceptance but biting back a self-assured smile, he clocks eyes with me. “So where is this elusive husband of yours anyway?”

“At work,” I reply, a little bitterly.

“And last night?”

“Same. He’s a very busy man.”

“Too busy,” he affirms, rubbing his hand over his neat, short hair. “He doesn’t even have a little time to spare for you?”

“Of course he does, it’s just that...well he...”

I’m cut off, and as a result saved from having to stumble upon a reasonable response.
“I’m sorry, it’s really none of my business,” Blue admits.

“You’re right, it’s
not.”

“Well, whenever he can’t give you his time, I promise you that we will,” he offers, gesturing to the room around us as he stands from his stool. I don’t know whether to feel grateful or affronted, but I nod my head and reach for my beer, suddenly needing it.

“I really need to pay for these drinks at some point,” I call as he makes his way back to his side of the bar.


Oh, you will, eventually,” he replies rather obtusely, but the smirk on his face leads me to interpret his words in a way that I shouldn’t.

The night moves on and as expected I am blown away by Blue’s performances. His stage presence is electric. His talent and charisma combine to produce palpable energy in the room. Sparks fly as he sings and plays a variety of songs, many of them descending from the blues but also stretching to swing,
Motown and a little contemporary stuff too. I’m deeply impressed, I’m more than impressed...I’m awed. It’s been a while since I have been so sucked into a performance that I have forgotten the world around me, and it doesn’t help that Blue has included me throughout, smiling at me repeatedly and throwing dance moves my way.

About half way through his set he calls out for a break and comes to sit by me again. Nile hands him a bottle of water and he consumes half of it in
a split second.

“Are you enjoying it?”
he asks.

“Of course I am.”

“It’ll be you up there on Thursday,” he says, nudging my shoulder with his. Again, he’s trying to make me nervous, and failing.

“I can’t wait,” I respond, my chin lifting a little with confidence.

“Really?”

I
nod my head, delighting in being able to mirror his cockiness. I’m genuinely excited, especially having been reminded of the buzz that music brings in this place.

“Then sing with me tonight.”

“What?”

“You heard.
Just one song,” he pleads, releasing his killer weapon against my stubbornness – that dazzling smile.

“I haven’t got my guitar,” I
reason.

“I’ll play mine.”

“No, I can’t sing without my guitar. I guess I could play yours though?”

“No, nobody plays my guitar.” I want to be offended by his inability to share but I feel exactly the same way about Cash. “Come on, we’ll sing together.”

“No, Blue. Really, I can’t.”

“Look, I’m going to call you up and if you refuse then you
’ll have a hell of a crowd to deal with,” he argues, arrogance radiating from every ounce of him.

“You’re an ass.”

“A nice ass though, right?” he replies proudly as he walks back to the stage, grinning and taking another long glug of water. I mirror the action but with my beer, finishing the contents and immediately gesturing to Nile for another.

From the stage
, I can hear Blue grabbing the microphone. He looks at me with that impish grin plastered on his stunning face.
No, stop.
I’m not going to appreciate his beauty now. I’m too pissed off. I want to sing, I do, but I have never attempted it without my guitar. I don’t have time to formulate an escape route though, for I am quickly called up onto stage.

Hesitantly making my way through the cheering crowd
, I am growingly annoyed with myself for getting this worked up. Blue offers his hand and hoists me onto the stage. I scowl at him but when he laughs I can’t hold back my smile.

Weak
.

“What are we singing?” I ask, twisting my fingers together nervously, anxious that he’s going to start playing something that I’ve never
even heard of.

“Oh, I have something in mind. Sing if you know it.” Sporting an impossibly mischievous smile, he winks and strums his guitar once, allowing the noise to reverberate around the room and consequently silence the crowd. The gesture is unsettlingly familiar.

Before panic can completely take over and before I am able to dislocate a finger, I hear the memorable chords of a much loved song. Watching Blue’s smile grow wider and even more devastating I quickly relax
. I am a pilgrim
. I should have known. His version is more upbeat than mine and leans toward soul rather than country but I still really love it.

Feeling suddenly at ease, I join in with Blue and his rich voice, finding the natural harmony and rejoicing in the sound of our complimenting tones. I’ve only ever sang a duet with my mama or daddy, so this feels completely alien and yet somehow completely normal. Who would have thought that Blue’s gravelly voice could mesh so well with my country twang, but it does, it really does. Blue seems to agree, playing up our easy partnership by turning to face me and singing directly at me, blocking out the loud, joyous crowd.

I completely let go of the nerves over not having a guitar to hide behind, gripping the microphone and finding pleasure in the light sway of my hips. Blue completely moves from his own mic and steps closer to share mine. We’re so close and the chemistry is so clear. Our performance is unbelievably natural, as if we have been gigging for years rather than only having met yesterday.

When the song draws to a close
Blue’s face is triumphant. He takes my hand and holds it up as I have just won a fight rather than finished a song. I giggle at his gesture but take pleasure in the moment. That was exhilarating. A perfect partnership.

Addressing the cheering crowd, and still holding my hand, Blue clears his throat into the microphone. “Please, show your appreciation for the amazing, the heavenly, Darle
ne!” The already rowdy audience emits a deafening applause and I am maneuvered into a shared bow with Blue. “You’ll be ecstatic to know that you can catch this talented lady every Monday and Thursday, starting this week. Only the best for The Nest!”

Before
helping me down from the stage Blue pulls me close, closer than necessary, and speaks directly into my ear. “Yet again, you astound me. Consider Pilgrim your new pet name, for sure.”

BOOK: Winter Blues
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