Falling into You Read online

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One day soon, those girders will collapse, and her world will crumble, and I know I have to be there when that happens.

  Chapter 7: Cuts; Pain for Pain

  One week later

  I’m perched on a barstool in a midtown hole-in-the-wall bar, strumming my guitar and playing an original song. No one is listening, but I don’t care. It’s enough to play for the love of the music, for the chance to feel the notes fly out and bounce off minds and hearts. I take that back, there is one person listening: the bartender, a girl I knew for a long time and finally hooked up with a couple times a few months ago. We weren’t really compatible, and it turned into an odd sort of friendship, wherein she gets me to play on Thursdays nights in return for a hundred bucks and free drinks and some harmless flirtation that never goes further. Kelly, her name is. Beautiful girl, good in bed, funny, and slings a damn good Jack and Coke. But we just didn’t click in the bedroom. We never really figured out what it was, other than just…not quite right. But we enjoy each other’s company and have some good, much-needed laughs. So she’s listening, and I’m playing for her. It’s a song about her actually, about a girl with long black hair and bright brown eyes and coffee-colored skin and a sweet smile and a rocking body who will never be more than a friend. It’s an odd song, kind of lonely and sad but touched with humor.

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  Then she walks in. I strum a wrong note and Kelly frowns at me from across the bar, then her eyes follow my gaze and her eyes widen and she’s smirking knowingly. Nell is surrounded by people, four girls who could all be sisters, quadruplets or something with their identical blonde hair pulled into a ponytail with that stupid bump on top and their yoga pants and Coach purses. Each girl has a boy on her arm, and they’re matching sets as well, muscle-bound juiceheads with idiotic tribal tattoos and dead eyes and cocky swaggers. These guys have their hands on their girls possessively, and the girls seem to enjoy it.

  Nell has one too, and this pisses me off. He’s huge. I mean, I’m a big guy, but he’s massive. And his eyes aren’t dead. They’re quick and alert and full of latent aggression. He’s got the hottest girl in the bar on his arm and he knows and he wants someone to make a move so he can destroy them.

  His hand is on her lower back, on her ass, really, curling around her hip as he guides her to the bar. I see green, and then red. Which is stupid.

  This is bad.

  I’m gonna end up in jail. I make it through the song, but barely. Kelly sends over a shot of Jameson with a waitress. I down it, nod at Kelly. She gives me a questioning thumbs up. Am I good? I nod, lying.

  I’m not good. I’m really, really bad. I’m gonna start a fight tonight. I’m gonna get hurt, and Nell is gonna be pissed and Kelly is gonna be pissed.

  I should leave. I owe Nell nothing. I don’t own her. I don’t have a claim on her. Sure, she never said anything about a boyfriend, but then we didn’t really talk much and I didn’t ask. It didn’t cross my mind.

  I start a cover of Matt Nathanson’s “Come On Get Higher” because I can do that song without thinking. I’m watching, waiting. She’ll realize who’s singing any second, and that’s when things’ll get interesting.

  He’s pushing her impatiently towards the bar and she writhes her back away from his touch, twists her torso to snap something at him. I can’t see her lips to read them, but I can imagine. She steps away from him, but he follows and curls his arm around her waist, tugs her against his side and leans down to whisper in her ear. Whatever he says has her stiffening but acquiescing. Staying tucked against his side. I see her face, and she’s unhappy, but in a long-suffering sort of way. This isn’t new.

  But it only sends my rage burning hotter.

  I finish that song, then decide to up the ante. I clear my throat into the mic and do an intro. I usually just play through without any theatrics, especially when no one is really paying attention, but this is a unique situation.

  “Hey everybody. I hope you’re all having a great time. I know I am. I’m Colt, and I’m gonna be playing a mix of covers and original songs. ” She swivels toward my voice as if pulled by a wire. Her eyes go wide and she stops breathing. “That was Matt Nathanson I just sang, by the way. If you don’t know his stuff, you should give him a listen. He’s great. Anyway, I’m gonna do another cover. This is ‘I Won’t Give Up’ by Jason Mraz. ”

  It’s a little high for my voice, but it works. I don’t take my eyes off her, and it’s then, when I’ve got real reason to sing, that the crowd starts paying attention. Maybe something in my voice shifts, but the chattering quiets and heads turn toward me.

  I’m not sure she breathes at all. She’s still held tight against Brick-shithouse’s ribs, and she’s growing impatient. She wiggles to get away, and he resists. Eventually she elbows him, hard, and he lets go, frowning. She disappears into the bathroom; when she comes back, she’s wiping her lips with the back of her hand, and I know exactly what she did in there. I never take my eyes from her through several more songs. Eventually I have to take a break, so I thank the crowd and step off the stage. She’s been trying to ignore me, pounding shots of Jack and chasing them with Rolling Rock. Obviously she’s got a fake ID, or she’s older than I thought. Then I hear the group of girls and their guys all converge around her and sing “Happy Birthday dear Nell” hideously off-key. Her ogre boyfriend pulls her against him for a kiss, which she submits to limply, hands at her side, not kissing him back. At length, she pushes him away and turns the bar. I’m to her side, so I see her wipe her mouth as if disgusted, and suppress a shudder. Ogre doesn’t see, since he’s too busy ogling the waitress, who is in turn leaning over for him so he can see down her shirt as she flirts with him.

  I’m puzzled by this exchange, especially when he slips his hand—the one that isn’t on Nell’s hip—down to openly grope the waitress’ ass. I’m even more confused when Nell swivels in place and watches the entire thing, hints of amusement and disgust playing on her lips and eyes.

  Nell turns away, shaking her head, but leaves his hand on her. She meets my eyes, and I lift an eyebrow. Her eyes take on an almost guilty expression for a split second, but then it’s gone. I wave Kelly over and tell her to pour two big shots of Jameson, one for me, and one for Nell.

  When Nell has her shot in hand, I lift mine to my lips and tip it back. Nell matches me. Ogre watches this, and his face darkens. He leans down and whispers in her ear. She shrugs. He latches his hand on her bicep, and I see him squeeze, see Nell wince.

  Fuck that.

  I set my glass down and weave through the crowd toward them. Nell is watching me, shaking her head at me. I ignore her warnings. Ogre straightens as he sees me approaching, and his mouth turns up in a ready smile. He flexes his fist and steps past Nell.

  “COLT!” Kelly’s voice snaps out from my left, from behind the bar. “I don’t f**king think so. Not in my bar. ”

  I turn to Kelly, who is glaring daggers at me. Kelly knows a bit about me, knows some of the people I used to run with. She knows what I can do and she doesn’t want any part of it here. I don’t blame her.

  She reaches beneath the bar and lifts a collapsable police baton, flicks her wrist to extend its weighted head. She points it at Ogre and company.

  “Get out. All of you. Now. ” She also lifts her cell phone from her purse and dials a number, shows the screen to them. “I’ll f**k you all up, and then I’ll call the police and you’ll be arrested, because I have that kind of understanding with them. So get the f**k out. ”

  You don’t f**k with Kelly. She knows the people I used to run with, because she used to run with them too. What she doesn’t say is that the red bandana tying her dreadlocked hair back isn’t just for fashion. It’s colors. The kind of colors that say she can make one phone call and Ogre and company will vanish. Bloodily.

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  Nell glances at me one last time, then leads the way out, tossing a bill on the bar.