All In (Full Tilt Book 2)(8)

By: Emma Scott


I adjusted my guitar and nearly knocked over the mic stand. The floor was spinning lazily beneath the stool I sat on, and the stage lights hurt. Big fuzzy blobs of light to sear my eyes. The audience beyond was a blur of faces. I closed my eyes. I didn’t need to see anyway. My fingers found the frets, my right hand strummed the strings, and a song came out.

Routine.

My body knew what to do and it seemed no matter how drunk I was, it would always remember. Muscle memory, or maybe something more. Maybe when a song lives this deep in you, it becomes part of you. I hit every note and sang every word of ‘The Lighthouse’ with no more thought than I paid to breathing.

Frets. Strings. Strum. Song. Breathe. Four nights a week. Wednesday through Saturday.

“It’s funny we have the same exact work schedule,” he said. “Wednesday through Saturday nights.”

“I requested those days.” I said. “They’re the best shifts.”

Jonah smiled. “They are.”

My chest constricted and tears burned behind my closed eyes. After six months, I should’ve been used to the way he snuck up on me. Little bits of conversation. Little slivers of memory.

Little moments.

Jonah.

I was crying now, but the audience loved it. They expected it. Tears were part of the act. La Fille Submergée, they called me. The Drowned Girl.

I cried just hard enough to enhance the song without disrupting it. At least, that’s what some chick in the bathroom at Bon Bon—my Saturday night gig—once told me. I made the tears and the sharp intakes of breath part of the experience.

She had an experience listening to me sing.

What a fucking abomination, I’d wanted to tell her. Jonah is dead and I’m turning it into an experience.

I finished the song and applause drowned my murmured thank you. I slipped off the stool and carefully picked my way across the stage, more than ready for my post-show cocktail.

“You sounded good tonight, sweets,” Big E said as I took my reserved seat at the corner. The bartender had a short-cropped reddish-blond beard and a perfectly shaved head. His real name was Mike Budny, but everyone call him Big Easy or Big E. He reminded me of Hugo, the Pony Club bodyguard in Vegas: big and intimidating on the outside, but total mush inside.

“When are you going to invite one of your friends to listen to you play?” he asked. “Or family?”

Every night I worked Le Chacal, Big E tried to pry some personal information out of me. He openly worried about me, and never gave up trying to dig up some kind of hint about my past.

“The third degree again?” I squinted up at him. The lighted shelf of liquor bottles behind him pierced my eyes. “I should call you Sherlock.”

“You do call me Sherlock,” he said quietly. “You just never remember.”

I snorted a laugh and sipped my drink. “My family is busy,” I said, my words tripping over themselves. “And you’re my friend.” I gave him a watery, playful smile. “You always listen to me play. What more do I need?”

“A lot, sweets,” Big E replied somberly. “You need a lot. You need help.”

Help.

For all his prying and not-so-subtle intervention, he’d never said that word before. Since I’d moved out of Vegas and cut myself off from everyone, I hadn’t heard it before either.

I need help.

I sniffed and downed my whiskey, pushed the glass across the bar toward him. “If you want to help me, you’ll give me one more.”

“Last one,” Big E said, pouring a finger of whiskey into my glass. “I’m not giving up on you, Kacey.”

I raised my drink in a mock toast and took a sip. I clinked my teeth painfully on the edge of the glass, ruining the I’ve-got-my-shit-together-thank-you-very-much vibe I was trying to exude.

“Ow. Fuck.”

“You okay?” asked a voice on my left. A young, good-looking guy with tatted arms and slicked-back hair had slid onto the barstool beside me. “That sounded painful.”

“All teeth intact,” I muttered, sipping my drink.

“Good thing,” the guy said. “You have a beautiful smile.”

I snorted wetly. “Is that so?”

“I don’t know actually,” the guy replied. “The Drowned Girl doesn’t smile, but I’d like a shot at changing that.” He flashed his own winning smile, and held out his hand. “I’m Jesse.”