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Smoke and Lyrics
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Country star Jenson King is accustomed to fighting battles and losing–in his career, in his love life, and with alcohol. Following his divorce, thousands, if not millions, of fans are counting on his comeback. But how does one find the spark of passion when it’s long since burned out?
Lindsey Farrar wants nothing more than to prove herself as a music photographer. Fiery and independent, she’d rather work countless side jobs to fuel her dream than ride someone else’s name to success. After a chance encounter, Lindsey shakes up everything Jenson believes about life and that other four-letter word.
Together, they’re fire and gasoline. But Lindsey’s determined to shine all on her own, and Jenson casts an enormous shadow.
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I tug the cap farther down on my head, hunching over the bar top and two fingers of my most favorite vice: whiskey. Maker’s, to be exact. The amber liquid gleaming in the neon lights of the bar looks almost warm. It certainly has its arms wrapped around me more often than not. But the truth is, it’s the coldest thing there is. It blurs rationality and the hard line between right and wrong.
Oh yeah, and it fucking decimates relationships.
My realization is alarmingly slow to settle that I’m doing it again—deflecting blame. The liquor didn’t breathe inadequate words at my ex-wife, words that were meant to soothe, to temper, but really just fueled the flames of her hatred for our marriage. The bottle didn’t force her to leave. I did. I did those things. And until I accept responsibility, there’s no hope for me. My therapist in rehab told me that. Not in so many words, but being a songwriter and musician, I’m pretty good at reading between the lines.
I’ve drunk so much I’m surprised I’m not pickled yet. But I can’t stay away. Being out here—walking among the living—keeps me connected to the world I’m afraid to lose. The one I love and hate. I am not made for the greed and narcissism of the industry, yet I hold onto my career with desperate fingers even as it slices deep. Nothing sticks in my world; not good habits, not love.
I took as many precautions as one could when they’re a platinum-album recording artist at a bar near Broadway, one of the busiest streets in Nashville. My prolonged social media hiatus means everyone thinks I’m as long-haired and bare-faced as always, and my sleeves cover most of my trademark tattoos. Maybe Tripp’s wasn’t the smartest of choices for my Thursday-night binger, I’ll admit, but I’m sick of hiding. I’m tired of camouflaging who I am for the sake of others. I haven’t completely committed to waving my career good bye as it flushes down the shitter, but I’d better get used to the idea—that’s what’s going to happen if anyone in this bar happens to recognize my face in the sea of bleary strangers.
Even my own bandmates think I’m plotting my comeback. I’m supposed to be writing music right now, but what am I doing? Pouring gasoline on all the bridges I’m about to burn.
Though I want to flip two middle fingers to it all, I can’t stop my gaze from flitting around the room. If I’m being documented by other bar-goers guzzling whiskey while I’m supposed to be getting my life on track, I at least want the heads up so I can prepare an epic, not at all meaningful apology speech for the label execs. But nobody gives me a second glance. As of now, the haircut is working. It’s the one everyone and their dad is rocking these days—short on the sides and long on top—and I’ve allowed my stubble to reach its full potential. Yeah, a beard, as if I could get more cliché.
Counting it as good luck that no one’s onto me, I go to turn around and snag Tripp for another whiskey, when something by the entrance makes me pause. Or rather, someone. The neon plays off strands of dark hair, pulled up on top of her head in something my ex-wife would refer to as a topknot, though it looks more like a nest you could lose a bunch of shit in if you weren’t careful. I peg her as someone in the hospitality industry based on the usual get-up—little T-shirt with a mass-produced logo emblazoned on the front, shorts, a slice of flat stomach showing between the two, and non-slip shoes. But it’s not her general attractiveness holding my attention, it’s the preoccupied look in her eyes.
She’s shooting worried glances out the door as if she’s watching for someone, but she flattens against the wall after each look. Like she’s expectant, but at the same time doesn’t want to be seen. The group of twenty-somethings huddled around a table near the dartboards keeps looking her way, eating her up with their eyes and talking loudly, puffing their chests like they’re animals trying to attract a mate. If they haven’t learned by now that subtlety is the key to winning the hearts of girls way out of their league, chances are they never will.
Redirecting my attention, I raise a couple fingers to signal to Tripp for another. Not your problem, Jenson. He slides a glass my way, accompanied by a look of warning. I ignore him and take a long pull, relishing the warmth as it reaches its fingers down my throat. I remember when whiskey used to burn. But you can’t fight fire with fire, and I burn everything I touch.
I feel her before I see her, hearing the whoosh of her breath as she plops down two barstools over. I look in her direction and immediately regret it. I study the bottles up on the shelves instead, though their labels are ones I memorized long ago.