As soon as he was clear of the door he ran. He ran out of the church grounds and up the street. Startled pedestrians stared after him as pushed past them in his haste. Finally he made it to the anonymous safety of his car. He slid in behind the wheel and with a shaking hand extracted his last cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights - it was a recently acquired habit. He placed it between his lips, held his silver lighter to the end and took a deep calming draw - it didn't help. He was shaking furiously.
Jon leaned forward and rested his head on the cool hard leather of the steering wheel. He clenched his eyes tightly shut, but behind his lids all he saw were images of her. Images that alternated between her laughing and happy on the beach years before, her lying dishevelled and contented in bed just days before, and finally her today, ready to walk down the aisle, a deep sadness evident in her eyes behind the smiling mask. He sat like this for an imperceptible amount of time.
Knowing he was in no shape to drive yet, Jon desperately scanned the surrounding area, until he spotted what he was looking for. There, just a little further up the road, hung a bright neon sign...McKinney's Tavern flashed bright green even in the stark daylight. It beckoned him. He reached across to the passenger seat where his baseball cap and sunglasses lay discarded. He
As he opened his car door and stepped out, a ruckus drew his attention up the road. Tin cans trailed behind a white sedan decorated with streamers and shaving foam. He watched in horror as the car drew ever nearer, he was frozen in place – unable to move, unable to flee. Unable to avert his view from this nightmare, his eyes locked on hers as the car passed. A multitude of emotion was conveyed in those few short seconds before she was gone – sorrow, love, pain, regret....
The blood drained from his face...he felt ill, physically ill. He ran around to the other side of the car, and, leaning on the hood heavily with one hand, retched into the gutter. When the contents of his stomach had been purged, he straightened up and headed for the bar ignoring the curious stares of bystanders.
McKinney's was exactly what he hoped it would be – dark and deserted, with the exception of a couple of regulars, moulded to their stools at the far end of the rustic timber bar. Jon slumped onto a stool midway down the bar, and nodded once to the two men when they acknowledged his presence.
"What'll it be?" A robust man in a stained white shirt, gaping open around his distended stomach asked him.
"A bottle of Jack and a glass."
The bar tender raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. He pulled a bottle of Jack from the shelf behind him and placed it on the bar along with a glass. Three hundred dollar bills had already been placed there.
"That's too much." He protested.
The bar tender shrugged, placed one of the bills in the register and pocketed the other two.
Jon filled the glass and downed the amber liquid in one swallow, embracing the burn as it blazed a trail to his stomach. Before it had hit bottom the glass was full again and tilted to his lips. He repeated the process several times before he let the glass sit idly on the bar. Resting his head in one hand he sat absentmindedly running his finger around the rim of the glass. He still couldn't believe that she went through with it. Up until the moment he had seen them driving away in the car, Rick by her side, there had been a chance. But now...all hope was lost.
He could hardly have expected anything more. He could never give her the life she deserved, but that knowledge didn't lessen the hurt. The memories of her assaulted him; the pain of loss consumed him. It was over.
The young woman sat alone in a corner booth observing the familiar stranger. He hadn't noticed her when he came in but she was used to that – she was usually spent the better part of her days blending into the background. It was often a requirement of her job. She had been watching him since he walked in and was becoming concerned with the way he was drinking, glass after glass until the bottle was almost empty. His liver would hate him in the morning, she thought with an amused grin. She had been getting ready to intercede, to distract him – she knew what alcohol could do to a person, to a family – but it seemed he knew his limits and stopped.
It was driving her crazy now. She knew she hadn't seen him in the bar before. She didn't think she knew him from work or the local area but he looked so damned familiar. The dark glasses and the cap didn't help either. It seemed silly to be wearing them inside... unless – the thought slowly dawned on her - unless he was hiding from someone... everyone. Her train of thought changed course then, he wasn't someone she knew...he was someone she'd seen. Images of celebrities flickered through her head to no avail; it just wasn't going to happen. She had been drinking herself. Nowhere near as much as him, just a couple to take the edge off - it had been a rough day – but still it was enough to cloud her thought process. Tenacious as she was, she couldn't let it go. She got up and sauntered over to the bar.
"Mind if I sit?" She asked him.
"Free country." He replied without so much as a glance in her direction, his gaze fixed on the glass now cradled between his hands.
The hour was getting late, and people were starting to file into the bar now that the work day was done. Someone put some coins in the old jukebox in the corner and music began to play. It was a classic, The Stones "Beast of Burden". She tapped her foot in time with the music keeping perfect rhythm and hummed along with the tune in perfect pitch.
"Hey Annie" The bar tender greeted her. "What tears you away from the booth."
She shot a telling look in her neighbour's direction, looking discretely from him to the bottle before answering. "Oh just got a little bored, thought I'd come have a chat. How're you doin' Joe?"
"Family ok?" She asked him as he wiped the bar down with a worn gray dish rag.
"Yep, all good! Katie's off to college this year. Can you believe that?"
"Wow...time sure flies."
"Sure does honey." He smiled gently at her. "I'd better get back to it before these thugs jump the bar. I'll catch up with you later."
Annie glanced furtively at her neighbour through her auburn curls and watched him wince as a new song began to play. So he only likes the classics. She peeked again...damn but he was fine. Shoulder length blond hair peeked out from below his cap. The faintest hint of stubble was evident on his chin and emphasised the cleft there. He had olive skin, a strong jaw, a straight well proportioned nose and a wide set mouth. She couldn't see the eyes behind the glasses, but found herself hoping they would be blue...she had a thing for blue eyes.
The song playing on the jukebox slowly filtered into her brain. The voice was familiar...the song not so much. It was just another puzzle to play on her mind, one more she couldn't handle. The stranger sitting next to her was enough of a challenge.
You want commitment
Take a look into these eyes
They burn with fire
Until the end of time
And I would do anything
I'd beg I'd steal I'd die
To have you in these arms tonight...
She listened intently but couldn't get it. "Hey Joe, who sings this?" She yelled down the bar.
Joe shrugged in response.
"Bon Jovi" Came a soft voice from beside her.
"Oh, thanks. I hate it when shit like that plays on your mind. I could have been up half the night trying to figure it out."
"No problem." He said dismissively. He hadn't looked up once.
"Can I buy you a drink?" She offered. The question was an excuse to look at him fully, to try and engage him in conversation.
"I'm good." He indicated the bottle before him, again he didn't look up.
"Having a rough day?" She asked.
"Look miss," he turned towards her then and paused for a moment as he appraised her, "I don't mean to be rude but I'm in no mood for idle chit chat." His words were a little slurred with the effects of the alcohol.
"Sorry." Annie said quietly. He stared at her a moment longer then his gaze returned to the bar. That extra moment however had triggered the brain spark. "Hey...you're him...you're that Bon Jovi guy."
It obviously came out a little louder than he would have liked. "SHHH," he frowned at her.
"Sorry," she replied with an apologetic little shrug, "I guess you don't get to be anonymous much."
"Nope," he said, exhaling sharply.
She watched as he fished his car keys from his pocket and got off the stool, weaving where he stood.
"I hope you're not planning on driving home?" She looked at him appalled.
She snatched the keys from his hand.
"Hey. Give 'em back."
"No way are you driving in that state."
"I'm fine. Now... give... me... my... keys!" Each word was clear and defined.
"Uh uh, that's not gonna happen." She insisted. "I'll take you home."
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Mine or yours?"
Maybe she was just the distraction he needed. Maybe she was the perfect substitute. For all her differences, she was close enough in appearance. The hair, even the figure, but that's where the similarities ended.
"I don't care. As long as you're not driving."
"Fine then. Take me home."
"Let's go." She indicated towards the door with her head.
As he moved away from the bar his head started to spin.
The woman lifted his arm and ducked under it, wrapping hers securely around his waist to steady him. "C'mon rock star...let's get you outta here."
He stumbled a bit as they walked but she kept a firm grasp on him as she led him out into the crisp evening air. The cool blast sobered him a little but not enough to keep him from weaving as he walked. They had gone a couple hundred yards before he realised they were going in the wrong direction.
"Hey...Annie is it?"
She nodded in affirmation.
"I think my cars back thatta way." He was almost sure...
"That's ok. We're here."
"Home...my home." She gestured towards a large and imposing block of apartments before them. Annie had had a couple of drinks herself and while she knew she wasn't over the limit, she preferred not to drive with alcohol in her system. Too often she had seen the tragedy it caused.
"Oh... ok?" This was good. At least he could make a quick escape when he was done with her.
She leaned him against the wall, obviously not confident in his ability to stand. He watched as she punched a security code into the pad near the door, waited for the lock to click and then pushed firmly on the door to open it. She held the door wide for him.
"After you." She made a sweeping gesture with her arm to usher him inside.
He feigned a stumble – he liked the feeling of her body against his - and she caught him again before he could fall.
He offered her a sheepish grin. "Thanks...good thing I didn't drive huh?"
"Yep." Oh my God...look at that smile and he smells sooo good, she thought to herself. It had obviously been way too long since she'd had a man in her life. What would a quick no strings roll in the hay hurt? She was under no illusions that it would be anything more than that...the ring on his finger screamed to her that it wouldn't. No, not like this. She couldn't, wouldn't be a diversion for him.
They stood in the foyer and waited for the elevator to arrive. Her body felt soft and warm pressed against his side, and he felt his body respond in anticipation. He let his hand fall forward, in a decidedly teenage move, to hover over her breast. She looked up at him quirking one eyebrow, but did not attempt to move it. This was good...it meant it wouldn't take much to have her. No promises, no lies...just an easy screw. That's what he needed - a quick fuck without the complications. It had been so long since he'd indulged like that...just the thought was making him hard.
They rode the elevator in silence. Her apartment was not large but it was comfortable and tidy. An eclectic assortment of furniture was scattered about the living area. Two well worn soft black leather lounges dominated the space sitting opposite each other separated by a glass coffee table. All sat on a large rectangular black and grey rug. On the third side of the rug sat a single armchair that matched the lounges. It looked out to a view of the city through a large ceiling height arched window. Old classic movie posters adorned two walls. Hundreds of books lined one other along with a fairly substantial music collection – both records and CD's.
"May I?" He asked as he eyed them appreciatively.
"Go ahead...you sure you can make it without falling over?" She teased.
"I don't know. Maybe you should help me." He wasn't ready to lose the warmth of her just yet.
She walked him over to the large built in bookcase that housed her pride and joy. "There you go...now just be sure to lean and you'll be fine. I'm gonna go fix us some coffee. Strong and black?"
"Thanks," he nodded.
Her collection was impressive except for one thing...not one of his records was there... but that was ok. Not everyone was a fan and for the purposes of this evenings 'entertainment' that was definitely a good thing. At least he would be able to walk away without repercussions. It had been so long since he'd done this sort of thing he'd almost forgotten the risks it posed - overzealous fans, stalkers – he'd seen it all.
He smiled to himself as he selected a CD and placed it in the sophisticated sound system. She obviously enjoyed her music; the stereo was almost as good as his. His friend's voice sounded true and clear from the speakers.
"I can't believe it." He said teasingly as she re-entered the room, two mugs of steaming liquid in her hands.
"You didn't even know our song, or recognise me, but you have Richie's album." He said a little chagrined.
"And?" She asked.
"He's our guitarist." He said pointedly.
"Oh," she shrugged, "What can I say... I know what I like. I heard it playing in the store so I bought it. He's very talented. You're lucky to have him."
"Yeah I know...and the best brother a guy could have." Jon smiled affectionately.
"He's your brother?" Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
"In every sense but the biological...they all are."
"Must be nice." She said placing the coffee's on the table, offering him a perfect view of her rounded ass.
"Oh... I love this song." She swayed seductively in time to the music as Richie's smooth sexy voice filled the room.
Jon joined her pulling her close, the coffees left forgotten as they danced. He sang in harmony with the CD as the song approached the chorus.
Hey pretty mama I'm just trying to be polite
I wanna make you feel the rhythm of the river tonight
And when the story is over
You'll be satisfied
Honey, honey, honey don't you understand
To make you feel like a woman
Makes me feel like a man
His breath was warm on her ear and neck, his body hard as it pressed up against her. It would be so easy to give in, to stop thinking and just feel. They swayed slowly in time with the music as his hand drifted up and down the length of her spine. She could feel the length of his cock incessantly nudging the soft flesh of her belly. She rested her head lightly on his shoulder.
He pulled away for a moment and looked into her eyes. His, no longer clouded with alcohol, were now bright with passion. His mouth came down on hers, his lips urgent and demanding as his tongue sought to tangle with hers. God it felt good, they both thought, this feeling of reckless abandon. Annie knew if she didn't stop it now she wouldn't stop it at all, it took all her will to pull back from him.
"Jon...Jon..." She placed her hand flat on his chest to push him away as he struggled to hold her to him, "stop."
"What's wrong? Why are we stopping?" Jon asked as he tried to pull her back closer to him.
"I don't want to do this."
"Are you serious? You don't want this?" He said gesturing to himself.
"Very serious! I don't want it."
Fuck...I just can't win for losing. And then it dawned on him... "Ahhh...I get it. You're not into guys..." He grinned crookedly.
Typical, Annie thought shaking her head, you say no and they assume you're a lesbian. "Oh no honey...I'm very much into guys. Just not drunk fools!"
"I am not!" Jon replied indignantly.
"What...drunk or a fool?" her tone softened then, "Listen you are drunk. I don't think you're a fool but I do think you're hurting...and Jon...this...you sleeping with me...it won't erase that. You'll just feel like a bigger ass in the morning.
"Go home to your wife...talk to her...make love to her, instead of trying to fix your problems with a stranger."
"That wouldn't solve a thing." Jon said sadly, he wished it was that easy.
"How do you know 'til you try?"
"Because my wife isn't the problem. I just watched the problem marry someone else." He slumped into the nearest chair, flopped his head back and rubbed his thumb and forefinger across his closed eyes as they began to burn.
"Ohhh...I...oh" Annie was lost for words, it was a strange sensation for her, she always knew what to say. She could see it now, the torture of loss in his eyes – those crystal pools of blue. Annie sat on the arm of the lounge beside him and placed a tentative hand on his shoulder, he didn't stir. "Do you want to talk about it?"
The only response Annie received was a gentle snore – he had passed out the second he had laid his head back. She pulled the worn old ottoman out of the corner and slid it under his legs. She then fetched a blanket from the closet and laid it gently over him. He couldn't come to too much harm here and the gun in her closet assured her that she wouldn't come to harm either.
Locking the door and removing the keys, Annie headed into her bedroom, flicking off the lights in the lounge room as she passed. It wasn't late at all but it had been a big week and now, without the prospect of something more interesting to occupy her, she suddenly felt exhausted. She dug Jon's keys out of her pockets and placed them in her bed side drawer along with her own before stripping down to her underwear and collapsing on to the bed. Just as Jon had done only minutes before, Annie fell into a fitful slumber the second her head hit the pillow.