Jamison Cole, known to his fans as simply JC, slowly strummed his guitar strings and leaned closer to the mic. He closed his eyes and sang the final line, stretching the last note of the slow, soulful song. “And it all comes back to you.”
Applause interspersed with whistles accompanied the end of the song. He played a final lick, repeating the closing chords twice, then opened his eyes and smiled at the audience. “Thank you,” he said into the mic. “You’ve been a great crowd tonight.”
It was Tuesday night at Griﬀ’s, Ladies Night, the best night of the week for his band, The Drunken Poseidons, to play, as far as they were concerned. Most of the women present occupied the tables, but a few stood on the dance floor near the stage, their breasts shoved forward, lips wide and shiny with sinful shades of red. He looked them over for any interesting prospects, but his heart wasn’t into it. It never was, not since Delilah.
He’d long ago tired of the cliché rock-and-roll scene. Nowadays, after a gig, he preferred to head back alone to his tiny apartment behind the Stop ‘n Shop, using the energy he was infused with after a performance to write new songs or tweak the ones he had in progress. The music industry may not want what he’s writing now, but he didn’t care. He was writing these for Delilah. It was his only way to talk to her.
Tonight, for some reason he couldn’t pinpoint, she was fresh on his mind. There was nothing special about the day. No anniversary, good or bad. But from the moment he walked into Griﬀ’s, something was diﬀerent. She hadn’t ever been here with him, but it was as if she were out in the audience watching him like she used to do.
Anthony, his drummer, began counting out a beat on the snare, signaling the final song of the set. Cole snapped out of his fog and took the cue. “For our last song of the evening, we’re going to rock you lovely ladies out the door. But first, some words of wisdom from an asshole who’s been down this road.”
He paused, Anthony keeping up a steady rhythm on the kick. JC always gave this speech at the end of every performance, whether here or at the casinos or any of their other gigs. “Make sure you know who you’re going home with.”
He held up his hand and lifted a corner of his mouth at the hoots from the crowd. “If you had a few too many, see Buddy. He’ll arrange a cab ride for you on the house. Killing yourself or someone else isn’t worth it.”
He picked a few chords on the guitar while Vince, the bassist, joined in to complement the percussion. “I’m not trying to preach. Just trying to keep you all safe. Now I’ve said my peace – are you ready to rock one last time?”
A collective whoop went up from the audience as JC began playing the upbeat chords of the band’s most popular song. Anthony kept up the groove on percussion, punctuating the refrain with a tap on the hi-hat cymbal, while Dave on keyboard led them into the quieter bridge of the song that had launched JC and the Poseidons into short-lived stardom years before. ‘Course, back then, the band numbered five.
JC mentally stomped down the old memories threatening to distract him and continued to the bridge, only the keyboard accompanying him while he sang with the thick, malted voice that distinguished him from other rockers.
Rock me to my knees
Rock me to my core
Pretty pretty please
Rock me, rock me more
Anthony’s drum fill picked up cadence before the last note was finished. Dave and Vince joined in, with JC wailing on his guitar in a frenzy. He looked up at the bassist and nodded, and the group launched into the song’s final refrain, the audience singing along with them. After the final note was played, JC thanked the audience again and gave Buddy, the barkeep, the signal to turn up the lights. He wiped his face with one of the hand towels they kept on stage and unsnapped his guitar strap so he could set the instrument back into the black, velvet-lined case he kept her in when she wasn’t being played.
He crouched, back to the room, studiously ignoring the tipsy tittering and flirtations from the women behind him. “JC!” one of the women called out. “You were soooo amazing. Can I get your autograph?”
He snapped the guitar case shut and sighed before turning around. A buxom bleached-blonde stood at the lip of the stage, which was barely a foot oﬀ the ground. She held out a hot pink sharpie the color of her lips and looked up at him with wide hazel eyes. The rope Buddy used to keep people back while they were performing had been removed, much to his annoyance. In addition to the blonde with the nice rack, a few other similarly-endowed women were chatting up his bandmates. Couldn’t these fucking people give the musicians a few minutes before they started jumping all over them? But as usual, it appeared he was the only one that minded. All of the guys were single and loved the attention they got, even though that same attention made JC want to shower and get a shot of penicillin.
“Sure,” he said, making no attempt to hide the resignation in his voice. If she were anything like the hundreds of groupies he’d met over the years, she wouldn’t notice or care if she did.
He took the sharpie from her and uncapped it. “Do you have a napkin or paper you want me to sign?”
“Just these.” She yanked down the scoop neck of her t-shirt, revealing a swell of tanned tits. Jesus, one of them.
He hesitated. What if this time he didn’t play the game? What if this time, he told the fan to pull up her shirt and reclaim some decency and self-respect?
His eyes flickered to her face. The tiny tip of her tongue snaked out and licked a path along her glossy lips. She breathed in, raising her tits closer to him. Fuck it. If this is what she wants, then this is what she gets. Who was he to deny his fans, even if they disgusted him?
With a flourish, he scribbled his name across her skin, capped the marker, and handed it back to her. “There you go.”
He stepped back, but she reached out and grasped his arm, her red-tipped talons grazing his skin. He fought a shudder. “Wait,” she said. “Do you want mine?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You’re what?”
She pouted. “My autograph. It comes with my number.”
He gently removed his arm from her grasp and faked a yawn. “Sorry, not tonight. I’m afraid I’m worn out from playing.”
He turned around and gathered his guitar, then headed to the back room. Let the guys pack up the rest of the shit once they were done playing rock stars. He was done for tonight. Delilah had been on his mind all evening, and it was driving him to drink – almost literally. Thank God Buddy knew enough not to serve him. Nights like this, when memories and regret hung so heavy over his head, were the most dangerous to his sobriety. He’d walk back to his apartment a block away. The cool autumn air and the breeze coming off the water would help clear his mind. Maybe tonight he’d sleep.
He put on his dark-washed denim jacket and fixed his ponytail, then went out to say he wasn’t one to judge or begrudge. He nodded at them and walked over to the bar, saying hello to a few of the regular patrons he recognized on his way.
Buddy was in the middle of an order, and he held up a finger to indicate it’d be a minute. JC tapped a beat on the edge of the bar while he waited, the notes to a song he had the melody for, but which the lyrics were harder to come by. He eyed the green glass bottle of scotch on the shelf closest to where he stood, the Jameson label front and center. He’d always joked he was its namesake, and it was his duty to help keep Uncle Jamie in business. He could still taste it – the sweet burn sliding down the back of his throat, the fire in his belly overriding all his thoughts, his feelings, his anxiety. His good sense.
He stopped tapping his fingers and turned away from the temptation, only to have his gaze land on the eyes that haunted his dreams and sometimes even his waking moments. Steely gray that reflected back blue or green, sometimes brown, depending on the lighting and her mood and what she was wearing. Magic eyes. It was the title of the first song he wrote for Delilah.
Only the owner of these eyes wasn’t the woman he was thinking of. This woman was younger, her fair skin smooth and untouched by age. Her bow-like lips were pursed, and her caramel-colored tresses fell in a fall of waves down her back. Those magic eyes stared at him from behind a pair of black-framed spectacles. Something nagged at his subconscious.
The young woman hopped oﬀ her barstool and walked down to the end. She was petite, slight in frame, but looked fit rather than delicate. He stole a glance at her chest, and a lyric from an old Bob Seger song about points sitting way up firm and high flitted through his head.
She nodded to where he’d been looking at the scotch. “Buy you a drink?” she asked in a low, smoky voice. He’d expected – he didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t for a sexy siren’s voice to come out of this woman who could be the girl next door or someone’s kid sister.
“Uh,” he cleared his throat, “I’m heading out soon as I talk to Buddy. But thanks for the oﬀer.”
“Oh.” She tilted her head, scrutinizing him top to bottom, then back up to his face, blazing a trail with her appraising gaze. “You look the same – physically – but I don’t know, there’s something different about you.”
He shifted on his feet, disquiet walking her chilly fingers up his spine. “I’m sorry, have we met before?”
“You don’t remember me.” She stated it plainly, and he couldn’t get a read on whether that bothered her or not.
Shit. Had he slept with her back in the day? He spent a lot of his early rock-and-roll nights in a drunken stupor. His brow gathered together. But she looked too young, early twenties at best. She’d have had to have been –
Heat flooded his cheeks. Had she been a teenage groupie? The roadies back then were usually good about making sure only women of age were allowed on the bus or in the back rooms. But what did he know? One could’ve slipped by.
She made a tsk with her tongue. “We’ve never slept together.
Though you did give me a ride of a different kind once.” Relief drifted over him like a security blanket. “How—?”
“Your face.” She waved her hand at him. “It was all twisted and your eyes looked like they were going to drop out of their sockets. I figured you were doing math in your head and thinking I might be one of your girls from when you were touring, but that was six years ago. I was only sixteen then.”
He gave a rough laugh. “Yeah, that about sums it up. But you say I gave you a ride once?”
“On your new Harley,” she said, leaning up against the bar. “You’d just gotten it. My parents freaked when they found out you took me around the block.”
JC straightened, jumbled pieces in his brain slipping and sliding together until they all clicked into place. “Wait – no, it can’t be,” he said mostly to himself. “Miriam?”
“I go by Miri now, but yeah. It’s me.” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “Delilah’s sister.”