Just One Song
Author:Stacey Lynn

Chapter One


I stare at the girl with the dark blue eyes in the mirror and frown. My eyes used to sparkle with vibrancy, but they now look dull - almost lifeless. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done physically over the last fifteen months to grieve and begin building a life, I know that everything has been done without any heart behind it. I’ve looked at my face for the last year and noticed the change but for some reason, tonight I’m saddened by the dark circles just barely covered by make-up and the tiredness which surrounds me.

I tilt my head to one side and then the other, slowly, and narrow my eyes as if a change in the view will change what I see, but I know I’m fooling myself. I still look just as sad and tired. I pick up my mascara and hope a few coats of ultra-lengthening black will help and re-examine. It changes nothing.

I set my tube of mascara down a little too forcefully and exhale loudly at myself in the mirror.

“I’m so tired of this,” I say with a sigh to no one else besides the stranger in the mirror.

The girl in front of me with the pouty red lips and chocolate brown hair is a blurred image of the girl I used to be and I’m so tired of seeing her every day. I hate this girl – an outer shell of who I was who wears her despair all over her face. It’s written all over the sunken cheekbones and sad smile I’ve been wearing like a badge of honor and I’m sick of it. I don’t even know how it all started, but I’ve counted every day since the accident, checking off the days on a calendar mentally reminding myself that I’ve survived one more day in hell.

Twenty-eight days ago I decided to stop counting, and actually try living. Or doing something different, but I’ve only managed to make a few pathetic attempts at actually moving forward. But as I stand here getting ready for my weekly dinner with my best friend Mia, I realize I’ve had enough. It’s time to move forward…to live again.

I don’t know what it means, but I can feel something rise up in me from the depths of my soul…planting seeds of growth and hope that are dying to burst forth into something more alive than the shell it currently lives in.

Before I can think twice, I grab my phone and send a text message to Mia.

Change of plans. We’re going to Jack’s Bar tonight.

I can practically visualize Mia staring at the text with raised eyebrows, her light blue eyes as a big as saucers, and a slack jaw. She’s probably thinking I’ve lost my mind and I already know I’m in for a really long explanation when she picks me up tonight, but I’m determined to do this.

Mia: You sure?

Me: Get here before I lose my nerve.

She responds almost immediately.

Mia: Welcome back, girl. It’s about freaking time.

I don’t know if I’m back….I don’t think I can ever go back to who I used to be. But for tonight at least, I want to fan whatever fire has been lit inside of me.

I look back at the girl in the mirror and see a small glimmer of hope.

I leave the bathroom and shut the door quickly, hoping the girl doesn’t come with me. For just one night, I want me back. The old me who loves music and dancing and smiling and heaven forbid - actually having fun.

***

I stumble over my own feet as Mia and I walk into our old-time favorite restaurant and bar. The first thing I see is the stage. It sits empty right now, but it’s Wednesday and it’s early. It won’t be too long before some local band takes the stage. I briefly hope we’ll be done with our dinner by the time the music starts so I can head out before then, but then I shake my head at myself.

This is what I came here for. To take one step towards doing things I used to love instead of hiding and running from them. I feel the longing deep in my soul begin to sir as I remember how many nights I’ve played on this exact stage. I’ve denied this part of me for the last fifteen months. Cut it out with a dull spoon and threw it in the casket the moment they were buried because I refused to have anything to do with anything that brought me happiness. It seemed like a betrayal to them at the time. It didn’t seem right for me to continue living the way I used to, enjoying my hobbies and passions, while they were gone.

But tonight, however it came about, I wonder if I was wrong. In order to know for sure, I have to take this step. I have to do this. It’s just for one night, I remind myself as I follow Mia to a small bar height table. It’s right in the middle of the bar area, against a railing over-looking the small dance floor, and in the direct line of sight of the stage.

It’s our table.

I smile sheepishly at her as I sit down. She’s been patient enough for the last twenty minutes, regaling me with tales of her last trip out to Los Angeles for her position as a buyer with an up and coming and trendy department store, Callie’s, ever since she picked me up. But I know my time is running out and soon she’s going to want an answer.

Mia and I have been friends since middle school when my family moved in next door to hers. As movers were unloading our truck, she came running across our front lawn screaming as her brother, Elijah, chased her with a garter snake. She grabbed my arm and pulled me with her and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Tonight, though, my hands are sweating and I’m uncomfortable as I sit across from her at the same place where I worked in college and the same bar where we came at least once a month ever since graduation. Jack’s Bar holds a million memories for me, and while most of them are good, it also feels like the life of my past might come crashing down on me at any second.

I can do this. I have to do this. It’s just one night.

I repeat it over and over as a mantra to bring me peace and calmness but it doesn’t work. I’m five seconds away from bolting out the door and never coming back, and I would….except I know that if I can’t face Jack’s, I’m not sure I can face anything.

Mia continues to shoot me questioning glances as we order our food and first round of drinks, while my eyes dart around the dark and dingy bar that used to be our home away from home. Absolutely nothing has changed except the names of band posters lining the wall by the pool tables and the faces of the waitresses.

Once our beers arrive, I know I’ve run out of time. I set my drink on the table and take a deep breath.

“I’m really tired of being sad all the time. I wanted to come here tonight to try to remember….and maybe for one night, just have some fun for a change.”

Mia looks at me with a grin the size of Canada. She’s been trying to push me in this direction for months and I’ve stomped my foot and thrown my adult sized tantrums every step of the way. Heck, she’s the one who started forcing me to come out for these Wednesday night dinners in the first place when she walked into my old house and declared I’d spent enough time wallowing in yoga pants and old threadbare t-shirts.

“Also…” I clear my throat, unable to stop the nerves that assault my stomach. “I’m thinking….I don’t know, it’s time. To try really living or moving on. Or something.”

Inwardly, I cringe at my own awkwardness.

Mia regards me thoughtfully. She gazes at me full of compassion, but I know she’s trying to understand what I’m trying to say, since I obviously didn’t say it clearly enough. “It’s been over a year. You’ve moved into your own place. And you have your own business now.”

This is all true. And makes it sound like I have been living; moving on. But that’s not what I meant.

“I mean…..socially.” I hate the timidity in my voice and want to crawl under the table and hide. Or just run home and throw myself into my photography work. But that would still be hiding, which is exactly what I want to stop doing. I’m not even sure dating was on my mind earlier tonight as I was getting ready and thinking about the shell of a life I’ve been living, but I’d be lying if I say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind a few times over the last few months. Mia’s a great friend, and my parents are close enough that I can see them whenever, but besides them….I’ve been lonely.

Mia’s mouth turns into a perfect shaped “O” when she finally understands what I’m talking about. “Like dating?”

I nod and run my fingers through my hair, feeling especially vulnerable. “I mean, like…not tomorrow. But I miss…” I stop mid-sentence trying to find the right words to tell Mia how I feel. The truth is, I miss Mark and Andrew. I miss them every single second of every single day, but over the last few months I’ve finally accepted they’re gone. And once I began to accept that, I realized how much I miss a relationship – the closeness and intimacy with someone. I miss sharing my day and laughing over dinner and simply knowing there’s another person on the planet who cares about me in a way that’s above and beyond friendship and family. I want to feel that again.

I at least want to know it’s possible to feel that again.

I don’t need to finish my sentence for Mia to understand. Like always, she knows what I’m thinking without words and I’m sure the dreamy look in my eyes as I even contemplate a relationship with someone else tells her what I want.

“I think that I’m really happy you want this.” She speaks softly, but I don’t miss the way her face lights up. Her smile mirrors the way Andrew’s would shine with joy on Christmas morning when he came downstairs and saw the presents bursting out from underneath the tree. I know by even considering this, I’ve made her really happy.

I also know I’ve made her really dangerous, because more than her love of all things fashionable and fancy, her two favorite things in the world are dating, and setting people up on dates. She loves men. All sorts of types of men, and I’m guessing by even suggesting this idea, she’s now mentally flipping through her rolodex of guys she could, and will, set me up with. I can’t begrudge her too much, though. She’s really quite good at playing matchmaker.

Watching her excitement blows me away that somehow, we’ve been friends for a long time. Our personalities are so different, but perhaps, complimentary in so many ways. Mia takes every opportunity life throws her way full of gusto, like she can take on the world. She’ll take risks head-on, whereas I’ll take them on, when dared. In all the years we’ve been friends, she planned the adventures, and I went along reluctantly only after her three favorite words were issued: I dare you. But I was always thankful I followed her lead afterwards. Like the time we toilet-papered all the cheerleaders’ houses in high school, or traded her sorority house’s composite photo with her fling-at-the time frat house’s photo. My favorites are the time she decided she had to go sky-diving, and of course, the night she dared me to meet Mark.

Her light blue eyes dance with excitement while planning my future hook-up. I can practically see her plans for me taking shape.

“You’re really serious about all this aren’t you?”

I nod. “I need this tonight.”

“All right, then.” She claps her hands together as if we’ve just made a deal – on what I’m not so sure - but I have a feeling she’ll be talking me into doing something wild and stupid before the night’s out. I smile at the thought because for some reason, it doesn’t sound nearly as scary as I thought it would.

I eye her speculatively, wondering what she’s planning, but I’m saved when our food arrives. I dig into my burger like it’s my job because I feel a bit nervous as to what she’s thinking and I want to avoid her plan for as long as possible.

Eventually she loses the mischievous gleam in her eyes and we fall into an easy banter and I tell her about some of the families’ photographs I’ve taken over the week. Photography has always been one of my passions and it was Mia’s insistence that I find something to do with all the time on my hands, that caused me to start my own business. It was an easy choice and I originally began taking friend’s photos from my old neighborhood. They were more than willing to be my guinea pigs and eventually, they sent referrals my way and my business grew from there.

“So,” she begins and I instantly know I’m in trouble. “I want you to flirt with someone tonight.”

I spit out my sip of beer and watch, embarrassed, as my spit flies across the table. Mortified, I cover my mouth with my hand at the same time Mia chokes back her laughter.

I shake my head but she cuts off me off, and I see it in her eyes.

I glare at her and it’s as if we’re having an argument without saying any words. None are needed. She’s totally daring me to do this. She doesn’t even have to speak the words because I can see them being silently spoken in the glare of her eyes. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen that look – the last time being when she dared me to go skinny-dipping at my parent’s lake house. It was the middle of the day, on a lake filled with jet-ski’s and water skiers. This is the very first dare she’s issued me since the accident, and something about knowing that, coupled with my recent desire to start actually living again, lights a small spark within me.

“No way. I just wanted to come tonight and listen to music. I don’t think I can…”

My voice trails off. It’s been so long since I’ve had to flirt, I don’t even remember if I know how.

I know better than to argue as I watch her eyes sparkling with glee. Her gaze travels across everyone in the bar and I feel a rock beginning to form in the pit of my stomach. She’s actually going to make me do this.

“Mia…” I start to argue with her but she stops me with a raised hand and narrows her eyes.

“I. Dare. You.”

Damn it. I haven’t backed out on a dare or a bet since I was thirteen years old and it pains every fiber of my physical being to consider backing out tonight. I keep my eyes on my perky best friend as she flounces her long blonde hair, grinning like she’s just won a million bucks. And she has, because as much as it worries me that I’ll fail miserably, I can’t say no.

“Fine. What do I need to do?”

She scans the crowd while she starts talking, my anxiety climbing with every second. I can’t believe I’m doing this. All I wanted to do tonight was visit my favorite place in the world and enjoy a few drinks while listening to live music for the first time in fifteen months. It’s amazing how quickly I can get suckered in to insanity.

“Simple. I dare you to flirt with whoever I choose and I’ll even entice you a little bit….” She smiles and I raise my eyebrows, curiosity blossoming within me. “You get someone to buy you and drink, and I’ll buy you a pair of Manolo’s.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. And I’ll make it even easier on you.” She points the tip of her beer towards the back of the bar where two guys are standing. One is tall and blonde and he’s gesturing with wild arm motions to his friend. From the little I can see they’re both about our age if not a little bit older. Attractive doesn’t even begin to describe the blonde, but the other guy is shaded by the shadows of the bar and hidden by a baseball hat that’s pulled down low over his eyes.

I turn back to Mia and groan.

“They’re in the corner of the bar. That’s the classic leave me the hell alone spot and you know it.”

“Yeah, but there’s two of them, and only one has to buy the beer. I’m sure you can sweet talk your way into getting one of them to pay up. Now roll up your skirt a little bit to show off your amazing legs and go get your shoes.”

I snort and look down on my black skirt that already hits several inches above my knees and look at Mia. My legs are amazing? Toned, yes, and long. But Mia’s the one who has the body of a dancer without ever having to work for it. If anyone has amazing legs it’s her.

A part of me wants to run, the other part – the part I’m starting to remember – really wants a new pair of expensive and fabulous shoes. “Fine.”

My legs feel like they’ve been replaced with Jell-O as I walk nervously to the bar. My entire body buzzes with a mixture of fear, nerves, excitement, and a small dash of what-the-hell-am-I-thinking. As I reach the bar, the tall blonde guy gives me a brief smile and turns to his friend. I feel defeated and my attempts at flirting haven’t even started yet.

I look back at Mia who flashes me a smile and waves her hand in an encouraging fashion. I set the beers on the bar and lift my hand to get the bartender’s attention. When I see the bartender, all of my nerves and thoughts of flirting disappear.