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The room tipped and spun all around me. I pressed the soles of my shoes to the carpet in my living room and focused on the creak of leather as I gripped the sofa cushions beneath me. The steadiness of the floor under my feet didn’t help at all with the spinning.
I needed something to sober me up.
I cracked one eye open and peered at the glass-top coffee table in front of me. Right there, within arm’s reach, were two white lines of powder calling my name.
That was all I needed. One bump. I could leave the second and maybe save it for another rainy day. Like tomorrow. Because every day seemed to bleed into the next, and every time I woke up and realized the day had changed, I felt a little less alive.
Everything continued to dip and turn lazily around me but I leaned forward and braced my elbows on my knees anyway. I hunched over the line, closed my left nostril, and inhaled sharply through my right.
My vision blurred, but the dizziness cleared within seconds. The nausea in my gut abated as well and everything seemed to get a little brighter. Slumping back against the sofa cushions, I grinned with relief.
The peak of my high settled into all my darkest corners. There were more of them than ever before. As I reveled in the glow, I heard my front door open and close.
“Shit,” I mumbled.
Shit fuck shit.
I leaned forward again and took the second line before my brother came around the corner into the living room. Before I sat back, I dragged the sleeve of my shirt across the glass, wiping away the lingering powder. Sitting back, I ran the sleeve under my nose.
Jake stopped at the threshold to the living room. His eyes, the same dark green as mine, narrowed. “What the fuck was that, Levi?”
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.”
We’d done this dance a thousand times over. He walked in on me drinking or snorting or inhaling, and we fought.
I wasn’t in the mood to tango tonight. Or this morning. Or afternoon.
Shit, I don’t even know what time it is, let alone what day it is.
My younger brother let out a long sigh before raking his fingers through his dark hair. It was cut short like mine used to be, with more length on top than the sides. It suited him well, though I’d never say as much.
He looked around my living room and turned toward the kitchen. “This place looks as bad as you do, Levi. When was the last time you cleaned up?”
“And the last time you showered?”
I shrugged again. Even if I had the answer, he wouldn’t like it.
Wordlessly, Jake moved into the kitchen and began collecting empty liquor bottles. He brought them to the sink, intending to rinse them out, but found it piled high with dishes that had recently begun to mold. He braced himself on the counter and hung his head. His shoulder blades drew together, pressing against the thin fabric of his black T-shirt, but he said nothing. His frustration bled off of him as he began cleaning.
“Leave it,” I called. “I’ll do them later.”
“Bullshit, you will. So long as you have a clear coffee table to do lines off of, you have no need for clean plates. Who needs food, right?”
At the rate I was going, it certainly didn’t feel like I needed food. I didn’t want it, either. It had no taste. Nothing did.
Minutes passed and neither of us said a word.
There wasn’t much to say that hadn’t been said already. Jake was tired. Not tired as in fatigue, where he could catch a good night’s sleep and feel like his normal self tomorrow, but tired as in totally beaten down by me and my choices.
He was tired of taking care of me and watching me run myself into the ground. He’d told me enough times. I was sure he’d told his therapist, too.
He’d always been a tattletale when we were kids. Why would it have changed now?
“You should shower,” Jake finally said. “You smell worse than these fucking dishes. Like a corpse left out in the sun too long.”
“That might be the nicest thing you’ve said to me in days.”
Jake turned off the sink and dried his hands. “I’ve run out of nice things to say.”
“Have a drink. It’ll pick you right up.”
“Fuck off, Levi.”
“Fine. I’ll have a drink on your behalf. Pick your poison. Rum? Gin? Vodka?”
Jake shook his head. “I’m not in the mood for this tonight. You’re on your own, Levi. If you drink yourself into a hole, don’t call me to come dig you out.”
I followed him with my eyes as he made for the front door, where he hesitated with his back to me. I often wondered how long he would stick with me. I’d done this shit to him before—before her.
Before she walked into my life and breathed goodness back into me, I’d been in a bad way. Jake never faltered. He stuck by me, and when she left at the end of our month together, he’d been the one to get me to the front doors of a rehab center that shook me up pretty good and left me with a clear head.
I’d waited for months for Piper to come back to me. Neither drink nor drugs tempted me in the slightest. I started writing songs again and recording new vocals.
Then the day came and she chose Wyatt, not me.
Her wedding had nearly pushed me over the edge. By some sheer miracle, I didn’t pick up a drink. Cooper had helped in his own way. He stopped me from taking the drink poured by the bartender at the open bar.
But he wasn’t there when temptation struck again after I got home from the wedding. My big empty house—the house I was so sure Piper would return to and make her own—swallowed me up and held me deep in its belly until I gave up.
I couldn’t remember the last time I was sober and the wedding was seven months ago. She was pregnant now. Very pregnant.
And I was here doing the same old bullshit I always did.
“I didn’t mean it,” Jake said, bringing me back to the moment.
I rubbed at my nose. “Mean what?”
“Call me. If shit goes bad tonight and you’re in a hole, call me.”
Apparently today wasn’t the day he would throw in the towel, either.
“Don’t worry about me,” I told him. “I’m going out tonight.”
He turned from the front door with a creased brow. “Where?”
“No.” He shook his head forcefully enough to cause some of his hair to fall loose and hang in front of his eyes. He swept it away. “Bad idea, Levi. Really bad idea. Who the hell are you going there with?”
“A couple of guys from the band called. There’s an open slot to play. We’re going to surprise the crowd and play a couple of sets.”
“You haven’t played in months.”
“So? It’s like riding a bicycle.”
Jake abandoned the door and came back into the living room. “The press will be there. You’re going to make an ass of yourself like you always do and there won’t be anyone around to bail you out this time. There’s going to be so much booze and drugs…” He trailed off and sighed. “And none of that is going to deter you because you’re a fucking addict who doesn’t give a damn about anything anymore.”
“You finally understand me,” I said.
“It’s not funny.”
“Never said it was. Thanks for doing the dishes.”
He studied me, and I could see there were so many things he wanted to say but didn’t dare. Jake thought about his words before he spat them out. I’d never been very good at that. I said things as they popped into my head and I’d cost myself a lot of friendships for it. Jake always tried to keep his head in the game, especially where I was concerned.
“Don’t do anything stupid tonight,” Jake said. “I can’t do any more hospitals.”
The crowd shrieked and swarmed the stage as my bandmates and I played our encore. The house lights made it damn near impossible to see the faces in the crowd, and with all the booze in my system, they all looked like identical cut-outs of one another in dark clothes.
The electric guitar sang and I gripped the microphone as I bellowed the last chords. The sound system pounded around us, deafening, and the crowd descended into hysteria as I broke away from the mic and followed the others off stage and down into the Pit.
It had been a long time since I stood in the Pit with my bandmates but the place looked the same as ever. Signed posters of performers covered every square inch of wall space, including a poster of the Levi Project when we were a much younger band. My signature, along with those of the rest of the band, covered the poster in permanent black marker. The signature there was elegant and controlled. It wouldn’t look the same now if I signed it.
My hands shook with adrenaline as I fell onto a sofa next to a guy from the sound crew who was setting up lines on a storage trunk used as a coffee table. It had been there as long as I could remember. The sound guy invited me to go first, and I did two bumps before sliding out of the way for the rest of the band as they stepped up to take their turn.
“Levi, there’s someone here to see you.” A young woman poked her head into the Pit and smiled at me. “He says he’s a friend.”
The cocaine ripped through me. Fuck. The shit was strong.
“Send him in,” I said. My voice sounded far away. I needed something to take the edge off. Someone with a face I didn’t recognize pressed a bottle of rum into my hands, and I tilted my head back and drank like it was water.
The warm burn down my throat and in my belly cut the sharpness of the drugs in my system. I basked in the fuzzy feeling that wrapped around me until someone I did recognize filled the doorway. I narrowed my eyes and peered through the blurriness at a dark-haired, well-dressed man. He had a beautiful young woman on his arm with curly blonde hair, and she looked around like this was the first time she’d ever encountered a room full of drugs before.
Maybe it was her first time.
When her eyes landed on me, they widened. “It’s him,” she whispered to the dark-haired man. “It’s actually him!”
I rose from the sofa on legs that felt like they were made of seaweed. “Joshua fucking Curtis,” I drawled as I lurched forward to clasp his hand. “What the bloody hell are you doing out here in LA? Is there no more snow up in Canada for you to make igloos out of?”
I snorted at my own joke while the pretty blonde looked from me to Joshua with furrowed brows.
I hiccupped. “Am I not what you expected, sweetheart?”
Joshua released my hand. “I saw that mess in the news about you getting in a fight last month. Looked messy. I was in town and thought I’d check in.”
I’d forgotten the bottle of rum was still in my hand. I took another swig and offered it to the pair of them. “Yeah, the guy had it coming.”
“He kicked your ass, Levi,” Joshua said, a smile pulling the corner of his mouth. “Not the other way around.”
“I remember things differently.”
“Unsurprising,” Joshua muttered before gesturing to the young woman on his arm. “This is my girlfriend, Iris.”
For some bizarre reason, I bent at the waist and bowed to her. “Nice to meet you, Iris. Can I get you something? A drink? A line? A puff? Say the word and it’s yours.”
“Oh, um, no thank you,” she said sweetly before smiling nervously up at Joshua.
I laughed and swayed on the spot. “Am I disappointing you, sweetheart? Don’t worry, I’m used to it. People like the idea of Levi Morgan, but when they meet him in the flesh?” I barked out a fierce laugh that made her flinch. “Well, they go running the other way.”
Joshua looked around at the stashes of liquor and the sound guy setting up more lines. He frowned. “Want to go somewhere quieter to catch up?”
“With you?” I asked. “What the fuck do you want to catch up with me about?”
Joshua’s lips pressed into a fine line.
I gripped his shoulder. “You’re a good guy, Joshua. Get the fuck out of here. Take your pretty little replacement for Piper and go back to Canada where you can paint cute little pictures and forget all about this. Yeah?”
Joshua shook his head and whistled. “Shit, man. You’re a mess.”
I grinned. “No. I’m Levi fucking Morgan.”
Iris tugged anxiously on Joshua’s sleeve, and he turned away for a minute to assure her that everything was okay.
But it wasn’t. Not for me, at least.
Suddenly, the floor rushed up to meet me. I hadn’t noticed when my knees buckled, and I didn’t even realize I was falling until my jaw and cheek crashed against the cement. Iris let out a startled yelp and the room erupted into a frenzy as things came in and out of focus. Joshua dropped to his knees and tapped my cheeks. He shouted something at me that rang in my ears and didn’t make any sense, and Iris hurried to pull out a phone and call what I assumed was an ambulance.
None of them heard me when I begged them to leave me there. Or perhaps they did and they just pretended not to hear for their own comfort.
My eyes closed of their own volition and I let the darkness consume me.