The show ends and the people file out around me. I sit motionless. It takes a while but the auditorium eventually clears. Before I get up, I take out the single long-stem red rose I tucked away inside the Martin's case.
With her guitar in one hand and the rose in the other, I begin the walk that will end my long search to find my beloved. I'm wound tighter than a spring—partly because I've watched Don-fucking-Juan make moves on my girl all night—but more so because I'm finally about to see the woman I love with all my heart.
Once I make my way down to where the stage leads toward the back, a security guard stops me. "No one is allowed back there except the band and the staff."
"I have Paige's extra guitar." I hold up the evidence in my hand.
He crosses his arms and puffs his chest. "Sorry. If that belongs to one of the musicians, then you should make other arrangements to get it to her."
I can see that muscle man won't be sweet-talked, so I pull out my wallet to begin our discussion in a manner that may persuade him. I take ten hundred-dollar bills and hold them in front of his face. "One thousand dollars cash. It's yours if you let me back so I can give Miss McLachlan her guitar."
His eyes grow large and he looks around. He reaches for and swipes the cash from my hand. "If you get caught, don't you fucking tell them it was me that let you back. Got it?"
He swings a door open and points down a hall. "She should be in the lounge while they're packing up the stage. Third room on the left."
He shuts the door behind me. I stand in the corridor for a moment and take a deep breath. My heart slams against my chest, trying to escape to find its mate. It's drawing me to her because my heart requires her to feel complete again.
I make my way down the hall. I pass a couple of blokes along the way but they see the guitar case in my hand and say nothing. I stop at the door and hesitate because I'm scared shitless.
The door is cracked and I see Laurelyn sitting on a couch—with the eye-fucker beside her. His hand is on her leg and he's rubbing it slowly—just the way I did so many times. Fuck! He's touching her but even worse, she's letting him. And it's breaking my heart. I'm sure I feel it shattering into a million pieces as I stand here witnessing the one thing I was so afraid of.
I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping I'm seeing this wrong or that my mind is playing tricks on me. When I open my eyes again, he's leaning over. To kiss her.
"Hey. What are you doing back here? Who are you?" I hear someone call out and I turn to see the band's drummer.
I swallow the tortured sounds threatening to escape from my throat. This is my fault. I fucked up and now I'm paying for it.
I hold up the guitar case for him to see. "This belongs to Miss McLachlan. Could you please give it to her? And the rose too."
"A Martin. Cool." He takes both from me and asks, "Do I need to tell her anything?"
Yes. Tell her how much I love her and that I'm so sorry for letting her go. "Just tell her I enjoyed the show and that I said she was fan-fucking-tastic."
He holds up the case and the rose. "Who should I say these are from?"
Charlie gives me that look most of the time we're performing, and I'm pretty sure I don't need anyone to translate its meaning. It reminds me of what I once saw in Jack Henry's eyes—a forewarning of things to come.
I still recall the way he could make me tremble when I saw that look from him. I desired all the things my sexy Aussie man had in store for me. And I still do. Desperately.
I'm not being fair to Charlie. He doesn't deserve what I've put him through the last couple of months. He's a sweet guy and is so good to me. He's been incredibly kind and understanding about Jack Henry. He even said that he's willing to wait for me, but tonight's there's something different in his eyes. It's a fire and it's new. I consider it a warning that he may be changing his mind about patiently waiting for me to get over a man I'll never see again. Or never stop loving.
We wrap up the show and the band heads backstage to the lounge. I'm exhausted as I fall onto the couch. I just want to go back to the hotel, shower, and crawl into bed so I can sleep for a year—or until this ache in my heart has left me. But I can't. Charlie wants to talk and there's no way I'm letting that conversation happen in either of our hotel rooms.
He sits next to me on the couch and I find myself alone with him. He reaches for my hand and cups it inside his while his thumb strokes the top of mine. "I want to talk about what's going on between us."
He's right. We have to talk about whatever this is. I need to tell him we aren't going to happen, so it's only right for him to know before he has a chance to say too much. "Okay, but I need to go first."
Charlie's hand releases mine and he moves it to my knee. He begins rubbing it the way Jack Henry would when we'd sit on the couch and talk. I catch myself closing my eyes so I can pretend it's my caveman's hand I feel—not Charlie's. "I already know what you're going to say and that's why I'm going first. I need to tell you how I feel before you have the opportunity to shoot me down."
That confirms it. He's about to make his move.
"I know you aren't over him. I'm not stupid. But I really believe I can make you forget him if you'll only let me try." He moves his hand higher up my thigh and twists his body so he's facing me. "Would it be so hard to let me in? Would it be so terrible if you let go of all your pain and found happiness with me?"
It's what I want—to be happy again—and sleep a whole night without seeing him in my dreams. In my sleeping fantasies, he's cradling my face with his hands and asking me if I want to try to make things work. Then I wake and my heart breaks all over again. It's a vicious cycle and as hard as I try, I can't make it stop.
I don't say anything—because I can't—and Charlie doesn't stop pleading his case. "Those who can't forget the past are condemned to relive it. That's what's happening to you, and it has to stop. You have to let him go. It's been three months. He's in Australia and you're here. The bastard hasn't even made an attempt to call you." He reaches for my face and his thumb catches the single tear rolling down my cheek. "I want to be the calm in your storm, not the shipwreck that takes you down. That's what he is to you."
He reaches for my face and leans over to kiss me. I let him because I'm desperate to feel anything besides this pain that consumes me night and day. It's smothering me and I die a little more each day.
Charlie's lips are soft and his kiss is gentle. There's nothing demanding about it. Or stimulating. And it's at this moment that I'm swallowed up by the fear that I may never find a man who makes me feel the way Jack Henry did.
The lounge door swings open and PJ breezes into the room. I jerk away, embarrassed at being caught kissing Charlie. He stops and looks surprised. "Sorry. Maybe I should've knocked but I had no idea you two were going to be lip-locked."
"No problem. We all share this lounge. You don't have to knock." I don't know what else to say.
He holds out a red rose for me. "You have an admirer."
I take the rose and bring it to my nose. Being given a bouquet of flowers isn't unusual after a show but I've never been given a single rose before. It seems so intimate. "A fan, I suppose?"
"I found this dude standing outside the door looking in here just now. I asked him who he was but he didn't say. He just told me to give you the rose and this guitar. Oh, and tell you he enjoyed the show—that you were 'fan-fucking-tastic.'" He puts the case at my feet and the world around me begins to spin way too fast.
It's my Martin. That can only mean Jack Henry was here. Right outside that door—that cracked door—while Charlie was kissing me.
I dash off the couch and run down the hallway, calling out for him like a maniac. "Jack Henry! Jack Henry!"
I have no idea which way to go, but I run toward the auditorium. It's empty other than the cleaning staff, so I run toward the lobby and out to the street where I pray I'll find him standing on the sidewalk.
It's storming and the raindrops pelting down sting as they hit my face. I reach up to push my wet hair from my eyes and that's when I see him. He's getting into a cab up the street. "Jack Henry!" I shout at the top of my lungs but he doesn't hear me. He's too far away. "Jack Henry!"
I run toward the car screaming his name and I reach the cab as it's leaving. I slam my hand across the top of the trunk as hard as I can before watching it pull away, taking him out of my life again.
"Nooo!" I scream so loudly, my vocal cords spasm. I drop to my knees there on the cold, wet concrete. I try to scream, and again, nothing comes out because my breath has been taken from me.
Please, don't leave. Please, don't be gone out of my life forever.
The cab moves for a moment but then I see the blurry, glowing red lights through the downpour against my face and heavy lens of tears covering my eyes. The cab's brake lights. The car has stopped, as have I—and then I see the back door open.
He gets out of the cab and stands in the heavy rain looking back at me. I don't know how—because my body has turned to mush—but I'm off my knees and running toward him. I pummel him against the open door when I reach him and squeeze my arms around him tightly, using all the strength I can muster. My knees are far too weak to stand in his arms without falling. I bury my face against his neck and breathe him in. This is where I want to be forever—in Jack Henry's arms.
"Are you in or out, man?" I hear the driver call from inside the cab.
Jack Henry doesn't answer and I ease my tight grip on him so I can look into his eyes. I touch his face because I can't believe he's real. "You sort of have a beard. Almost. I love it. It's sexy."