Word of my return travels fast and people are in and out of the studio to see if the rumor is true. I'm greeted by those I once saw on a daily basis, but then the dust settles and there's business to discuss.
I count on David to handle the details for me, and he does like the beast of a manager he is. In under an hour, there's an agreement reached. Things went well—better than I could've ever imagined—and tomorrow, we'll return to recording the album I walked away from four months ago.
Perhaps Blake carries some guilt for what he did to me and that's why he was so willing to negotiate with us. Even I have to admit that he didn't have to do that; I was the one in breach of our contract.
As I'm waiting to catch a ride down, I'm feeling pretty shitty about having just sacrificed myself and everything I believe for the sake of making my dreams come true. But it's the viciousness of the industry. Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do in order to get ahead. I just have to get through this recording and then hope I never have to lay eyes on Blake Phillips's ass again.
I step into the tiny space that'll take me to the ground floor. Blake follows again, and there's nothing I can do but ride down with him. We're alone, but I don't expect him to stand there and say nothing while he stares at me. He slithered in here for a reason.
"I'm glad to have you back."
Oh, hell to the no. "Let's be crystal clear about one thing. You don't have me back. Not like that."
"I just meant that I'm happy you're home in Nashville where you belong instead of halfway around the world wherever you were."
Who is he to think he knows where I belong? "I was nine thousand miles away and it still wasn't far enough away from you to suit me."
He runs his finger down my arm. I used to love when he did that, but now it makes me sick. "Laurie, don't be that way. You missed me. I know it and you know it."
I look him dead in the eyes for the first time. "You're wrong."
He smirks and I want to throat punch him. "You thought going away would get me off your mind but that didn't happen, did it?"
I start laughing because there's no possible way to avoid finding this asshat anything but ridiculous. "I was only in Australia for six hours before I met a real man. I spent three months with him and I assure you that you weren't on my mind while he was fucking me hard and making me come over and over."
I see the lust in his eyes as he closes in on me. He forces me into the corner and presses his body against mine. "Well, it'll be impossible for him to fuck you hard and make you come from wherever he is, so it looks like you'll be needing another man for that job."
Is he seriously suggesting he'd be the man to do that? "You have someone you'd like to recommend? Because you sure never fucked me hard or made me come once."
We reach the ground floor and he's forced to release me before he can respond—or retaliate. The doors slide open not a second too soon and I quickly scramble out. I don't have to look to know he's hot on my heels. His presence behind me is like a bad feeling I can't shake.
I unlock my car with the keyless remote but he's on me before I can get inside. He grabs me from behind and pulls me against him—just like Jack Henry would, except much rougher. I can feel that he's hard for me, and it's sickening. I look around the parking garage, hopeful someone might see what he's doing. "Are you crazy, Blake? Anyone could see you doing this. There are cameras everywhere."
His mouth is at my ear and I feel his breath on my skin. My hair stands on end at the back of my neck; my scalp prickles. "I don't care if anyone sees us, Laurie. I've missed you so much and I made a decision while we were apart. I'm ready to leave Beth so we can be together."
The hell he is. "No, you're not."
"No, Blake. You don't understand. I didn't say that because I didn't believe you. I said it because I don't want you."
His hold on me tightens and he kisses my neck. "I want you, Laurie," he pleads. "I didn't realize how much until I didn't have you in my life. Please, don't make the mistake of ending us before we've had a chance to be happy together."
"This is insane. You're talking to me like we broke up over a simple indiscretion. You have a wife and she wasn't the transgression—I was. Not to mention that our whole relationship was based on a lie."
"Don't call me baby." Jack Henry is the only one I want calling me that. "And no husband and father should ever refer to his wife and children as faults."
He turns me around to face him. "All of this is about him—that Australian bastard I talked to on your phone. He's the reason you're blowing me off—because you still want him."
"I will always want him."
Blake's face changes and is no longer soft or wanting. It's angry. "Do you want him more than you want your career?"
I think he's threatening me, but I want to hear him say it. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what you think it means. You know how easily I can end you, so you have two choices: either come back to me or your career is over. Simple as that."
I stare at him, astonished. I can't believe he's capable of such a ruthless threat. He says that he's giving me two choices but that's horseshit and we both know it. He's trying to bully me back into his bed. It infuriates me so much that I have a knee-jerk reaction—as in I jerk my knee up into his balls as hard as I can—and he's instantly face down on the concrete of the parking garage.
I jump into my car and slam my hand down over the lock because I don't know where his head's at. My hands are shaking so badly, I fumble to get the key into the ignition. My old Honda roars to life and I feel a streak of something—maybe strength—and decide I'm not finished with Blake yet.
I want to run over him but decide that probably isn't the best idea, so I lower my window instead. "You can take my songs you're holding hostage—along with our contract—and shove them all up your ass. And when you get your balls out of your gut, sue me for breach of contract so I can tell the world what a cheating, lying little prick you are. And a fucking lousy-ass lay. As in terrible!"
I leave half the rubber of my tires behind as I spin out and immediately begin to panic.
What did I just do?
Who am I kidding? There's no mistaking it—I just killed my career.
I thought I'd hit rock bottom before but I couldn't have been more wrong. This place I now reside is one level of hell below it.
I walk like a zombie through my apartment until I reach my bedroom and fall backward onto my bed. I sigh as I stare at the ceiling and watch the oscillating blades of the fan, thinking about how they remind me of my life. Each blade is chasing the one in front of it but it's a fruitless race. None of them will ever catch up to the one ahead. The story of my life. I chase the happiness right in front of my face but it always outruns me, no matter how fast I am.
I lie like that for a while before I eventually drift off. I have no idea how long I've been asleep when my phone wakes me with the "Jolene" ringtone. Fabulous. Jolie Prescott is exactly what I need right now.
I contemplate letting it go to voicemail but I know she'll only continue to call. Persistence—it's one of her gifts. "Hi, Mom."
"Laurie, I've been waiting all day for you to call with an update on your meeting with David and Blake. Why haven't I heard from you?"
It was a mistake to tell her I was meeting with them. I don't want to talk about this right now, but she's not going to give me a choice. She never does. That's another one of her talents but it doesn't mean I won't try to get out of it. That's one of my skills.
"It's a long story and I don't really want to talk about it right now. Maybe we can get together a little later and discuss it."
"That means it didn't go well. Please come over. We need to talk about this so we can get a game plan on where we should go from here."
I love that—where we should go from here. She had a real presence in the industry at one time and knows the ins and outs of how things work. Maybe she'll have some ideas on which direction I should go because I damn sure don't know which end is up at this point.
But I'm not going if her lover boy is hanging around. "He's not there, is he?"
"No, Laurelyn. He's not here." She says it like she's annoyed I don't want to be around him.
"Okay. I'll be over after I change."
I end my call and pull on jogging pants that read LOVE across the ass—the very same ones Jack Henry enjoyed shoving to my knees when he bent me over the arm of Ben's couch. I don't care how old or gray I get, I will always carry that memory with me. But just in case, I'm gonna write it down in a journal so my nurse can read it to me if I get Alzheimer's. I might not remember it was me in the story, but I'll think some lady sure got lucky.
And yet, I don't need a journal to record our story. Every song I write from here on out will be about Jack Henry. That's how our tale will go on and on forever—through my music.
He will always be every song I sing.
I find my mom in her living room. Her home is humble, its decor simple. Most of her furnishings are from bargain stores, so I wonder what the famous Jake Beckett must think about it while he's slumming.
She takes one look at me and I can tell by her expression that she thinks I look like hell—because I do. She hasn't seen me in two weeks, so I'm certain my weight loss and the dark circles catch her attention.
"Laurelyn Paige! What's happened to you? Have you been sick? Did you catch something while you were on your trip?"
I sure did. It's called being lovesick. I would expect her out of everyone to recognize this look.