Nick Hannigan has it all. He’s a handsome rock star with a successful band, a beautiful wife and an adorable daughter. Not bad for the kid no one thought would make it.
But Nick is caught in the past and the distant memories of first-time love. Getting in touch with an ex ten years after a bad breakup reveals secrets Nick couldn’t have begun to imagine and lies he can’t begin to comprehend.
A bittersweet reflection between the past we have and the future we want.
Can anything be changed with hindsight?
Nick Hannigan, rock star, husband, known idiot, is not in a great place.
He’s been sitting in the bar for hours now. Too long. He knows he should call someone, someone that will come pick him up and take him back home, but he can’t quite bring himself to dial the numbers. So instead, he drinks. Beer bottles stand sentry on the table in front of him.
Ten brown bottles.
He drinks deep, leaning back in his chair. His eyes feel heavy behind his glasses. He put them on tonight intentionally. He doesn’t want to be recognized and, bizarrely, the very things that would have attracted attention ten years ago hide him completely now. Glasses over the blue eyes magazines refer to as ‘mesmerizing’, peaked cap pulled low over thick, blond curls, collar of his checked shirt turned up. No one is looking. No one cares.
He’s accepted now that he’s never going to feel comfortable in his own skin. He’s gone from chubby, self-conscious kid with a guitar to rock star and can’t find anywhere on the spectrum that feels right.
He wants to feel right.
Another bottle joins the rest. He catches the bartender’s eye, twenty-dollar bill held up casually between two fingers. The man nods, hands him another. He takes a long swallow.
Everything’s different now. Everything’s changed. Sometimes, he yearns for a time before all of this. Before At the End got big, just four sweaty dudes crammed into a van treating life like an adventure. This yearning is dangerous, the reason he walked away from his career the last time, convinced he could recreate something meaningful if he just stepped away from the band.
That backfired spectacularly. A lonely two years spent touring the country playing songs he filled with his heart to bars full of apathetic kids, screaming for a band that didn’t exist anymore.
When James, his lead guitarist, called him, tripping over himself in his eagerness, to tell him he’d written something big, something powerful, something that would make the hurt and rejection go away he’d been so pathetically grateful he cried. Huge, racking sobs in his cheap hotel bathroom. Sobs that made his chest hurt and his stomach cramp. He still doesn’t know if the gratitude was because there would still be music, or because he was just so relieved to hear James’s voice.
So, here he is. On top of the world again. But something isn’t right, something has driven him to this bar, to sit drinking bottle after bottle of really fucking expensive beer.
She slides into the seat opposite and all of the air leaves the room. In the perfect vacuum of silence, he stares at her, unsure if she’s real or some specter stretching through the last decade. His beer bottle is halfway to his lips and she’s staring at him with those eyes he can’t bear to see but can’t stand to look away from.
Slowly, he places his bottle on the table and reaches to brush his fingertips against the back of her hand. She’s warm and soft and real and so anchored in a time he felt safe that he can feel himself crumbling.
“What… What are you doing here?” he asks quietly.
“You text me about an hour ago,” she replies, puzzled.
“I don’t remem — did I?” He looks surprised. Looks at the bottles. Perhaps not so surprising. “I guess I did.”
The bartender is looking at him expectantly. He nods and two fresh bottles are placed in front of them. He knows he’s wasted. His limbs feel heavy but his head is light. He hasn’t been this drunk in a long time.
“Why did you text me?” I’ve missed you.
“Why did you come?” You haven’t been there in so long.
She doesn’t reply. Another mouthful. The hops smell sweet on his breath.
“Do you think it’s possible to get homesick for a time, not a place?” Fuck, he sounds drunk.
“Are all of these bottles yours?” she asks, concerned.
“Not important. Well, do you? Like, if you could just go back to some time that was special and spend a few days there? Would you?”
This conversation is dangerous. It’s so dangerous and it’s such a bad idea. But the band-aid is off now and he’s going to pick at the scab underneath until it’s raw and bleeding again.
“And you’re a stuck-up bitch.”
They fall silent again.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have called you that.”
“It’s okay. I’m trying really hard to work out what you want from me. Why did you text me?”
He looks at her again. Because I wanted to fuck you, he thinks. Because I love you and I hate you and you’re the only one that knew me then and doesn’t know me now and I need that, I need that so badly right now.
“I wanted to talk,” it’s a shitty answer and he knows it.
“Okay. What are you wearing?”
He laughs now, realizing how ridiculous he must look in an outfit that fit him when he weighed fifty pounds more.
“You used to tell me I looked good in this shirt.” He wishes he knew what she thinks of him now.
“I used to tell you lots of things.”
Impasse. He stares at his beer bottle, working his thumb nail under the edge of the label and peeling it back carefully. This is insane, he is insane. He needs to go back home, take a shower and sleep.
It’s inevitable that when he next speaks, she does too, in the same moment. He falters.
“You first,” he prompts.
“What have you been do-”
“No. Don’t ask,” he raises a hand, as though to physically stop her from speaking. Because if he’s going to pretend he’s some place, some time, else, she can’t ask him that. The illusion is already as fragile as glass, ready to shatter and cut him to tiny, insignificant shreds. “I won’t ask either. Just… Please?”
She nods, although he’s pretty certain she doesn’t understand. That’s okay though, he doesn’t either.
“Do you remember that night in Seattle?” What is he doing?
“There were lots of nights in Seattle, Nick,” she replies softly.
“You know exactly which night I mean,” his voice is teasing now, laughter caught at the edges like driftwood. He closes his eyes for a second, remembers the feel of nails down his back, the slick of hot, wet skin.
“Was that the night with the cab ride?”
“Yes, it was,” he smiles, caught in the memory again.
“Nick, stop,” she hissed as his hand slid deftly under her skirt.
“Yeah man, the one on Union Street,” he ignored her completely, fingers tracing gently over her underwear. He continued banal conversation with the cab driver even as his fingers slid deftly inside.
He didn’t look at her, not once, not even as her nails sunk into his forearm so hard they broke the skin, small crescents of white, ragged flesh bordering thin lines of bright red blood, so stark on his pale skin. He kept talking shit to the cab driver, something about baseball maybe, what did it matter? All that had mattered was her and the little world that they had created for themselves.
“You always were a dirty son of a bitch,” she’s smiling now too.
“I was twenty-two,” he sighs. “You were all I could think about.” You’re still all I can think about. “Do you remember the night we got caught in the rain?”
“Fuck, yes. Why were there no cabs?”
The rain poured down as they walked, shivering, the forty-five minutes back to their apartment. He looked at her, rain caught in her hair and on her lashes and his heart almost burst. He remembered thinking that nothing would ever change this, how could it? It was perfect. Laughing, he pulled her to him, devouring her lips, hot and sweet in the cold of the rain, the taste of Malibu and coke rich on her tongue.
He realizes now that nothing is perfect, at least not long term. Happiness is nothing but a series of short snapshots interspersed amongst mortgage payments and day care schedules and crushing loneliness in hotel rooms.
Silence has fallen again, comfortable, companionable. He can’t quite decide if adult life is supposed to be like this, if everyone around him holding down jobs and paying bills is secretly just a terrified teenager inside. Do the people that run countries feel like this? Or just musicians that write songs for heartbroken kids?
There had been a point in time, an idyllic moment when the world had reduced to the two of them, when it seemed she was the very air that he breathed, the blood that coursed through his veins.
He sat, his back pressed to the headboard, her thighs straddling him, breasts crushed to his chest. He bowed his head, lips brushing against her neck, her ear, tracing the curve of her throat. He was still inside of her, his body as consumed by her as his heart.
He leaned back, carefully pushing a few locks of hair out of her eyes. She ran her fingers through his, tucking it back behind his ears. He knew he looked as goofy as hell, but he didn’t care, cupping her face in his hands, thumbs following the arc of her cheekbones.
“I am so fucking in love with you.”
“No, you love fucking me.”
“Can’t I do both? I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He looks at her, wondering if she’s recalling the same things as him, if she remembers the good times more than the bad. He knows there were bad times, he’d be a fool if he failed to acknowledge that. Sadly, he knows most of those bad times were his fault. Because he’d been a kid and a fucking asshole at times. And now she’s here and tangible and he has no idea how to apologies, or even if he should. Is an apology delivered ten years late even worth a damn?
“Tell me what you remember,” he pleads, he needs to know it was good, he needs to know that she thought he was good.
She pauses for a moment, gathering her thoughts.
“I remember Paris, do you?”
“Oh God, crepes, ” he’s laughing openly now, in spite of the dull ache in his chest. “And that hotel, the one where the lights went off in the hallways. Like something out of a fucking horror movie.”
“Do you remember getting lost on the subway? Who can’t find the Sacre Coeur, for Christ’s sake?”
“I know, right?”
The conversation flows easily, they talk in their old relaxed way, in clichés and riddles and half remembered stories, finishing them for one another.
He becomes aware that they’re sitting impossibly close; thighs touching, her hand on his arm, her lips close enough to kiss. In spite of the beer, in spite of his mood, in spite of everything, he’s agonizingly hard and he just wants to drive into her, to fuck the memories away until they don’t hurt any more.
She senses the change in the mood, there’s a palpable crackle in the air between the two of them, it’s thick with the smell of it. How could she not notice?
“I remember LA,” he says softly, tongue forming the words carefully then dragging across his bottom lip. She mirrors his action before catching her lip between her teeth for a fraction of a second. “Do you?”
“You’re drunk,” she whispers.
“I am,” he replies, as drunk as she needs him to be for this conversation to be okay. “But do you remember?”
“Yes,” her voice is weak, trembling.
He runs a hand over his jaw, feeling the rough scratch of stubble under his palm. Smirking, he catches her knee between his under the table, applying just a little pressure, just enough. Is it his imagination, or did her fingernails dig into her palms?
“Tell me what you remember,” his voice is low and measured, suddenly he feels completely sober.
“Nick,” she falters, she’s uncertain. “Come on. Don’t.”
“Tell me,” he’s cajoling her, gentle and persuasive. Oh, he’s always been so persuasive.
She shakes her head, there’s a beautiful flush to her cheeks. He catches himself before he reaches across, aching to run his thumb over her lower lip, to press his mouth to hers. He swallows, knowing that’s not the only place he wants to taste.
“Don’t you remember?” Is he leering? He feels like he might be leering.
She starts to stand, gathering her purse and keys.
“Oh, come on, stop,” he backtracks furiously. She can’t leave. Not yet. “I’m just playing with you, sit back down. Drink with me.”
“You’re married,” she says it softly but it hits him like a slap to the face.
“I’m also drunk,” he responds helpfully. “Ridiculously so. Anyway, we’re just talking, aren’t we? We’re not doing anything wrong.”
Two more beers have appeared. Her purse and keys are back on the table and she’s sat down next to him. Maybe she thinks it’s more appropriate – sitting across the table from one another is too intimate, too much like a date. He’s safe for now, but he knows he needs to be careful.
“I do remember,” it’s barely a whisper but his head snaps up sharply. “I remember every second. We were great together once.”
“Amazing,” he agrees. “Do you ever think about what could have been? If we’d… oh, I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“You moved on so fast.”
“I never was any good on my own.”
“Are you good now?” Her voice is casual, like she doesn’t give a fuck, but her eyes give her away.
He shrugs slightly, shoulders barely moving. He takes another sip of beer. He’s never really stopped to consider whether or not his marriage is a happy one. He supposes it is. But if James can keep writing songs for the girl that still holds part of his heart, Nick can keep singing them for the woman sat next to him.
“Are you happy?” he asks, his voice tender. He feels as though the only thing that could make him okay right now is knowing that she’s all right, that his failings didn’t cut her too deeply.
“I’m… I’m fine,” she reaches for his hand and he grasps is gratefully, a drowning man reaching for a life belt. “We hit a crossroads. We chose different paths.”
Her hand feels so warm and soft in his. He leans in, rests his forehead against hers. Just for a second, he promises himself, just a second…
She still smells of the same perfume. His stomach lurches at the memory.
He tried his best to lie perfectly still, his cheek pressed to the smooth skin of her stomach, a perfect stretch of alabaster, as soft and warm as feather pillows. Her hand drifted to his hair, her fingers tightening and a small moan slipped past her lips as he casually ran a fingertip over one perfect, rose colored nipple.
“Nick…” her voice contained a note of warning, a threat she had no intention of carrying through.
He raised his head and smiled at her.
“Yes…?” He raised an eyebrow, mischief painted all over his face.
“Nothing,” her smile mirrored his, widening as he clambered on top of her, pulling the sheets over their heads as he did so. “Why hello, Mister Hannigan.”
“Hey,” he paused, burying his nose in the crook of her neck and breathing deeply, drunk on the very scent of her. His lips moved to hers landing butterfly soft kisses as she shifted beneath him, thighs parting.
His hand moved down, caressing her breasts, the curve of her hip, lower. She moaned into his mouth, his tongue meeting with hers as her lips parted.
She sighed softly as he slipped inside of her, slow and sweet. He continued stroking her gently, delighting in every gasp and moan, in the twinge of pain as her nails dug into his back, the way her hips arched to meet his.
She finished first, with a delicious little moan of his name, he followed her a few strokes later. They lay, not moving save for their gasped breathing, beneath the sheets. The air was hot and damp, thick with the smell of sex and sweat and her perfume.
“You should marry me.”
“You and I. We should get married.”
“I can’t tell if you’re joking or not,” she laughed, tossing the sheets back from their heads, destroying the illusion that the world no longer contained anyone or anything else but them.
He laughed too, a little uncomfortable. He hadn’t planned to say anything so stupid but once he did, he knew in an instant that if she agreed he’d drive her to Vegas that very minute.
The memories are proving too much, too potent a cocktail when mixed with alcohol and regret. He can feel tears stinging his eyes, his throat suddenly thick with them. This was such a terrible idea.
“Don’t. Please don’t.” He presses in marginally closer, moves a hand to cup her face, fingertips caressing her cheek gently.
She doesn’t resist and he supposes that’s something, although he isn’t sure quite what that might be. There’s tenderness to her touch as she reaches up and gently wipes away his tears. He’s not sure, but he thinks she might be crying too.
“I’m so sorry. I’m just so fucking sorry…” He whispers it over and over, like a prayer, like a mantra, sure that if he just says it enough it’ll make it all okay.
She doesn’t say anything, not a word and he wonders how he can be spilling his guts to her when she’s giving nothing away. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, eyes closed, concentrating intently on the feel of her skin under his fingertips, the sound of her breathing.
Finally, he steels himself and opens his eyes, meeting hers.
She’s looking at him with sadness, tears caught on her lashes and he feels like he’s been punched in the stomach.
He forced himself not to watch as she put the last of her things into a bag. A few shirts, probably her toothbrush, although privately he had wondered if she’d leave that there just to hurt him.
He didn’t want to turn to look at her. He knew it would tear his heart out if he did. But he owed her that much at least.
“Please…” he knew he was begging, wheedling. He didn’t care. “Please don’t do this. Don’t go.”
“How can I not?” Her voice sounded so sad, so resigned.
“I love you,” he moved towards her desperately, she took a wary step back. “Please. I… I love you.”
She didn’t respond, just looked at him, eyes shining with tears she’d clearly decided she was too proud to shed in front of him. She reached for her bag and, somehow, he lost his mind.
He moved quickly, trying to hold her, he just wanted to touch her. She tried to twist away but he ignored her, grabbing her wrists and holding them to her sides. He needed to show her, needed her to see that she couldn’t leave.
“Please… Please… I love you… Please don’t leave… I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so fucking sorry,” he was vaguely aware that she was still fighting against him as he tried to kiss her, tried to touch her, he just wanted so desperately to touch her.
“Nick! Get off me!” She must have yanked a wrist free, a loud crack rending the air as she landed a hard smack across his face.
He stopped, stunned, took a staggered half step backwards, hands falling uselessly to his sides. She reached again for her bag, the tears falling freely now.
“It’s over Nick,” she whispered. “It’s just… over.”
He doesn’t understand how something can still hurt so much, a decade on. He realizes now that the wounds are superficially healed and not the thickened scar tissue he assumed they were.
And now here he is, lonely even if he’s not alone.
“Could I…. Go back to your place? With you?” He avoids looking at her directly, choosing instead to pretend that the label on the beer bottle is the most interesting thing he’s seen.
If he’s fooling her that he can even see straight enough to read any more, he’s a better actor than he gives himself credit for.
“I think you could probably do with some sleep,” she suggests gently.
“I’m fine,” he smiles at her, pulling himself to his feet. He staggers slightly but quickly rights himself using the table. She can’t have seen. He’s got this. “Where are you living now?”
“Logan Square,” she replies. “Come on, let’s go get a cab.”
Fuck, he feels unsteady. He tries to subtly grab onto tables, chairs, the bar, anything to keep himself upright as he sways after her. They move outside and the fresh air hits him like a punch in the face.
“So, we’re going back to your place?” he asks, leaning against a streetlight in a manner he hopes looks casual and not as though the light is in any way structural. Which it most definitely is.
She nods, raises her hand, hailing a cab as it approaches. He collapses into the backseat as she leans in to tell the driver her address. It takes him a minute to realize she hasn’t joined him.
“Where to, man?”
“Wait, my friend is just…” He frowns before blinking heavily. He’s so fucking tired.
“She’s not coming,” the driver smiles at him sympathetically.
“But… No…” He turns in his seat, realizes she’s walking away from him again.
“Don’t worry about it, happens to all of us. Where to?”
He sighs, gives his address. The cab pulls away.
The Rock Star’s Secret Vol. One: Hindsight will be available December 15, 2018! Register for my mailing list to be reminded and to receive a FREE eBook!