Authors: Rissa Brahm
All of it.
Even and especially now, damn it, with those vile words flying over and around his head from across the mahogany table, making him sick, his
fists in plain sight on top of his notepad that was blank except for Stanton’s scribbled warning to “Keep cool.”
Fine, damn it
. But he’d make them eat their words. Their vile accusations. The review board, the hospital directors, the legal teams, and his former
—all of them. Because he knew their words were just colorless shreds of recycled paper floating on air with no hope of landing on solid ground.
Preeya’s throat hurt from yelling, but her stomach had settled a bit.
“Everything okay in there?” a female voice, assertive yet muffled, piped through the door.
Preeya pulled the sheet she’d stolen back from Josh up to her chin.
Josh shoved his head farther under the pillow, then grumbled and belched at the same time.
Like she needed any more convincing?
“Hey, Josh. You hear me?” From outside the door, not so muffled anymore.
“What the fuck is it, Dawn?” Josh shouted.
girlfriend, or, holy crap, his wife? Was he married and didn’t say? Oh, wouldn’t that make this all so much better. Preeya shivered with dread.
“Josh!” Preeya shook his shoulder. “Who the hell is the woman at the door?”
“Fucking band manager,” he muttered. “Lesbian, hard ass, on my dick all the fucking time to keep me, you know, on it.” His words, stifled but clear enough.
Bang, bang, bang.
“Hey! Answer me or I’m coming in. You remember what happened last time, Josh?”
Naked and sicker to her stomach now, Preeya really wanted to be gone before this stranger broke down the door. “What happened last time?” Preeya shot.
“I flushed his entire stash is what happened.”
Jesus, was her ear to the door?
“Remember, Joshie boy? Cost you a good few grand or so, eh? You know I’ll do it again. Don’t give a shit if you have the shakes onstage, either.”
Preeya watched Josh’s nostrils flare between the pillows still tight around his chiseled cheekbones. But he didn’t budge or grumble or speak.
“Fuck it, Josh. I’m coming in.”
The door flew open. The hallway light streamed in.
“What the hell, man? It’s the middle of the fucking night
time,” Josh barked.
Preeya squinted, adjusting her eyes to the scene. In the doorway stood a petite woman—like,
—in a thick leather jacket, buzz cut, gas station pants, clunky black army boots, and huge
Before Preeya could take a next breath of the room’s putrid air, though she noted a slight difference since the door had opened, the little manager stormed into the room, kicking through the awful pigsty on the floor. She headed straight for the window while Preeya clung to the bedsheet, brought her knees to her chest and stared. At Josh—hiding. At the intruder—searching…for his stash? Then at the floor strewn with wads of paper, smashed beer cans, crumpled chip bags, and pizza leftovers she didn’t recall set at her feet—the grossness she’d stepped in. Preeya surveyed the rest of the floor, with its piles of notebooks, Josh’s opened guitar case, and strewn clothes—somewhere,
only wearable uniform—and then at the dead watch on her right wrist. Covering her tattoo. The tat that fit his, currently covered by the blankets he’d stolen. God, what a fucking joke. She raked her fingers through her long—oh God, so matted—hair as her thoughts rushed and the room spun, adding to her queasiness that wouldn’t quit. If she could locate her
or purse, she’d grab some
form of pain pill, if she’d remembered to replenish her stock. She wasn’t known for keeping track of, well, much of anything.
But the crunch of a beer can ripped Preeya from her daze. Hands on hips, the short, gruff intruder stood by the window. “
time, eh? Always
time, you selfish prick. Always making
—hell. You don’t know your ass from your cock, right from left, day from night!” The little woman, Dawn with the unmistakable Canadian accent, whipped around to the window and flung open the curtains.
Merciless white glare tore through the uncovered window, Seattle’s summer sun somewhere back behind the
Preeya squinted, swallowed hard, and gasped for breath as if the hatch to this underground prison had been pried open. Though blinding and even more clarifying as to the horrid state of her surroundings, there was hope outside the metaphorical dank dungeon. Her mistake of a night could be wiped away, burned away with the blinding and diffused light of a new day.
!” It couldn’t be day. What time of day?
Preeya shot up, feet to floor just narrowly missing the cold pizza again, and hunted on and around the nightstand, kicking at piles, upending boots, flipping boxes. No fucking phone anywhere.
Out of the corner of her eye, something out of place.
Josh’s leather jacket—
draped over a chair back?
She took one giant step over a puddle of something—
—and lifted the cherished article. And there on the seat cushion lay her phone, safe, sound…and silenced?
She snatched it up, hit power. A screen full of missed calls and alerts flashed to view…then the empty battery icon.
. Shit, she’d forgotten to charge it before the
She grabbed the device then scanned the room for her purse—for her charger—but it and her
were still MIA, even in the
light of goddamn day.
Josh’s charger, at his
nightstand. She crawled onto the bed, reached over him, ignored his
cursing, and yanked the cord from the wall. Returning to her side, she plugged it in behind her nightstand and connected her phone. Panting, waiting, praying—while not realizing that her makeshift toga had fallen to her middle in her mad rush, letting her right breast free. Her nipple pebbled with the cold room air—the damn AC again, right on cue.
And not realizing, too, that Miss Mini Manager was still present. Dawn’s brow lifted, eyeing her bare tit. Preeya glared back at the woman while jerking the sheet up to her chin again and refocused on her phone. “Please, please, please.”
“It’s eight a.m. on Friday May 30th, sweetheart—”
“Yep. And my boy Josh here has a lineup of promo interviews in thirty minutes. Which”—Dawn turned to Josh and scowled—“I reminded him about a dozen times yesterday.” Back to Preeya. “And although I love you little groupies taking the edge off for him—”
“Whoa.” Preeya’s eyes shot death darts at the woman. “I’m
She wasn’t. Not seven years ago, and not now.
Tell the woman, Josh.
I’m Preeya. The
Preeya—from the guest room that summer, that
I’m Preeya the muse, damn it.
The one who inspired the song.
And she was
But instead of Josh tuning in to her mental plea for justice—
manage your expectations much, Preeya?
—he only let out a low, guttural snore.
Oh God, it’s worse.
Now with a witness to her state of
, it was so much worse. “Josh, damn it, tell her.”
Josh lifted the top pillow. “Get the fuck out. Both of you.” His rasp and words and, God, his breath again, made her guts twist tighter, her head spin faster, her heart pound harder in horrid
The pillow descended again on top of Josh’s stunning face.
to flee, to run, to fly—nothing in the world she wanted more. First the little intruder needed to make her goddamn exit so Preeya could find then throw on her clothes. And Josh needed to get up to drive her back to
She heaved a breath then froze. At the entire task. Not just because she was still at the brink of projectile vomiting, but also, she didn’t know which insurmountable step to take first—Dawn out, clothing hunt, face and body presentable, Josh up and ready to drive—and she now had to recoup her totally vanquished pride.
She jutted her chin out and filled her chest—when her phone finally booted up. She glanced at the screen. Twelve missed calls—
Geej, Dad, and fucking Aunt Champa?
—and three calendar alerts. She swiped them all away with a furious flick and faced Dawn to resume her ego’s defense.
“For your information, I’m Josh’s…old…an old…”
. What was she?
An old groupie, Pree.
You’re an old repeat groupie who he’d called babe.
“Babe,” like he’d probably call any of his quick fucks. Yeah, just a
groupie in the center of a pathetic whirlwind of devastating reality.
God, living for the
had never felt so shitty.
“Am I just a stupid groupie whore?” she asked the room’s apathetic peanut gallery.
Dawn cleared her throat. “Dude…what the fuck with the groupie shaming? Ever hear of women’s right to sexual liberation and exploration and experience? Sex, drugs, and rock and roll for all, man.” Dawn glared at Preeya then at Josh, then back to Preeya, a newer softness in her previously harsh expression. Then the woman cocked her head to the side. “But being
prick’s groupie, that’s another story.” Dawn snorted. “He’s just—”
“Awful.” Preeya grimaced and shook her head as tears welled in her eyes. “But I remember him as…as someone else. And I was someone else…to him…I’d thought.” Her tears, unstoppable now, assuredly carried yesterday’s mascara with them down her cheeks, black streaks of shame. Chest tight, throat thick, and words hard to come by but not impossible, she sniffled then wiped her nose. “I’m a Josh Bolte groupie
Dawn sighed. And probably rolled her eyes.
“I’m pathetic.” She couldn’t stop, and didn’t try.
Her shoulders sank low—her chin hit her chest.
Dawn cleared her throat. “Seriously, dude. I don’t have time for this…and I thought you didn’t, either.”
“You know what’s funny?” she sniveled. “I’m late for nine out of ten shifts. I can’t even get this flight attendant gig right.”
snore rolled from Josh’s throat while Dawn just stared at her.
“Flight attendant, eh? So you really should watch the groupie slut shaming, dude. Flight attendants know how to party just as hard as groupies…”
Preeya rolled her eyes and sighed.
Is this a women’s lib lecture now?
“I’m not…shaming anyone. I don’t slut shame in general, as a matter of fact. I just…I just…
,” she said with a head jerk toward their common pain in the ass. It was true. She didn’t judge anyone but herself—at least she didn’t think she did. She kept strict lines at work—to limit awkward situations on the job—but a lot of her FA friends enjoyed themselves…a lot. And hey, power—and pleasure—to them…well, except for
Kelly who pretended she didn’t have a husband and kids at home when she damn well did. Preeya hated cheaters, men or women. Betraying one’s family just crossed the line. But, yeah, other than that, she didn’t judge.
“Well, shaming yourself is just as bad, you know…you
groupie air hostess whore
.” Dawn broke out laughing.
Preeya glared at the small woman until she keyed into the teasing glint in her eye. “Fine. Okay.” Lips bunched, eyelids halved, waiting out the stranger’s waves of enjoyment at Preeya’s expense. “Funny.” Preeya wet her parched lips and sighed through Dawn’s continued laughter while the woman’s earlier words echoed in Preeya’s ears.
Shaming myself…just as bad?
No, the message wasn’t lost on Preeya. It settled slow and soft in her heart like a lost piece of cloud falling to earth.
“So…” Dawn’s laughter eased. “About you leaving?”
Preeya sucked in her bottom lip.
Keep it together.
. Well, first I need
to leave so I can get my stuff from around this hellhole without tripping over my…toga wrap, here, and”—she turned to Josh, sighed long and sad, and shook his hefty, muscular shoulder—“damn it, I need to get to the airport, Josh. Wake up.”
“He’s not going anywhere, dude. Well, not anywhere but to my lineup of interviews downtown.”
Preeya ignored Dawn and shook Josh harder.
He whined and grunted while holding the top pillow down to his head harder now to block her out.
“Please, what?” One eye squinted open through his white, fluffy hiding spot. “You’re still here, for fuck’s sake?”
Her back teeth gnashed so hard she shivered from the squeak. “I am until you get your ass up and drive me to my flight, my job.”
He lifted his head, eyes open wide—he seemed suddenly conscious, aware, if just for that moment. She blinked with disbelief. Deep and familiar and nearly warm, his expression. “Yeah, no, babe. Sorry, I’m” —he shoved his head back under the pillow—“—in no shape to drive. No shape to be awake. Just, you know, cab it. Grab some cash on the nightstand.” End mumble. Head hidden. Snoring resumed.