My heart felt like it was in my mouth. Escaping out the front door and down to the water, I continued to run aimlessly on the sand. At one point, about a mile down the beach, it became necessary to stop and catch my breath, even though I wanted to keep running. I’d gotten so wrapped up in Justin that I’d forgotten how sick I was this afternoon. It was all hitting me again as I stumbled over to the shoreline and vomited into the ocean.
I collapsed into the sand and must have sat there for over an hour. The sun was starting to go down, and the tide was coming in. It felt like everything was closing in on me. I knew I couldn’t avoid going home forever.
What if he told Jade what I’d done?
That I was watching him.
He was going to crucify me for this.
What excuse could I possibly give him that would explain why I was hiding behind his door, watching him ejaculate like it was a Fourth of July fireworks performance?
I decided that I needed to get home before Jade did. Maybe I could convince him not to say anything. Brushing the sand off my thighs, I made my way back over to the house.
My heart nearly stopped upon finding Justin standing in the kitchen, drinking out of a half-gallon of orange juice. I stood silently behind him and watched as he put the container back.
Justin turned around and finally noticed me standing there. His hair was wet, making it appear brown instead of blond. He must have taken a shower to wash away the awkwardness of our encounter. Looking painfully handsome in a brown distressed t-shirt that fit his chest like a glove, he just stared me down.
Here it comes.
I braced myself for his humiliating words. My heart was beating out of my chest as he just continued to look at me blankly without saying anything. He slowly walked toward me, and all of the muscles in my body tightened. He was going to get in my face and do it.
Justin stood inches away from me. He smelled so effing good, like soap and cologne. I could feel the heat of his body, and my knees started to feel weak. He stared deeply into my eyes. It wasn’t necessarily an angry glare, but it wasn’t a happy or amused look either.
After several seconds of silence, he took a deep breath in and said, “You smell like vomit.”
Just as I opened my mouth to respond, he turned around and walked away back toward the stairs before disappearing.
That was it?
I smelled like vomit?
He was going to let the whole thing go? Or was he just saving it for later when Jade came home? I would have to wait anxiously to find out.
Business at Sandy’s had really suffered since losing The Ruckus—their headlining band. Salvatore had managed to fill the spot each night with mediocre local talent, but people were noticing the difference. The place would empty out much earlier than normal, and we weren’t getting as many customers in general.
I knew that Jade had spoken to Justin about taking on a few nights, but last I’d heard, he wasn’t interested. So, you could imagine my surprise when he turned up at Sandy’s one early Friday evening with his guitar strap wrapped around him.
At first, I didn’t realize it was him until he looked over at me. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach the moment I noticed him standing near the door, looking like he didn’t know where to go. Since it was unseasonably cool out, he was wearing a navy hoodie and a beanie. God, he looked sexy in that hat. It always seemed to bring out his eyes. Really, he looked sexy in anything, but today, he was particularly hot because he also hadn’t shaved in days.
Given how he’d treated me, my physical attraction to him never ceased to amaze me. It was easier to focus on the physical, I suppose. Justin’s exterior, which was so different from what I remembered, helped distract from what I knew was inside. The truth was, as much as I wanted him physically, it still didn’t compare to the longing that remained for my old friend. Somewhere hidden beneath the brawn and beauty, I knew he was still in there, and that frustrated me.
As far as I knew, Justin never mentioned the jerk-off encounter to Jade, nor did he torture me about it. I didn’t know why he decided to give me a pass on that, but I was eternally grateful.
Jade had gotten called out of town for an audition this morning. I’d assumed that he was going to go back with her.
I stopped wiping the table I’d been cleaning and walked over to him. “What are you doing here?”
He lifted his guitar from around his neck. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“I thought you went to New York with Jade.”
“She’s not going to be gone very long. And I already committed to this...gig.” He’d said it almost scornfully.
“I thought you were against playing here. I overheard you telling Jade that you’d rather perform at a prison than a lowly beach hut.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess she showed your boss some footage of me, and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“How long will you be playing here?”
“I don’t know. A few weeks. Until we leave.”
“You’re not staying the whole summer?”
“No. That was never the plan.”
Disappointment set in. I should have been happy that he was leaving soon, but hearing that news had the opposite effect on me.
“Wow. Okay. Well…do you need me to show you around?”
“I’m good,” he said before walking away from me, heading toward the back of the restaurant.
Justin disappeared for at least an hour. He was scheduled to perform at eight, so he had about twenty minutes to go before show time.
My curiosity got the best of me as I went in search of him. The door to one of the back rooms was cracked open, and I could see him downing a bottle of beer and looking stressed. I wondered if he ever got nervous before a show. Even though he considered performing here a joke, he was still going to be putting himself out there.
His eyes darted to the side, and he noticed me standing there. We just stared at each other. It was ironic, but the only times I could ever feel the remnants of our old connection were in fleeting moments of silent eye contact. Sometimes moments of silence spoke the loudest.
I left him alone again, making my way back down the hall and into the restaurant to tend to the customers I’d been ignoring.
Things really started to get busy. Without Jade working tonight, we were short-staffed, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the orders. Sandy’s had indoor and outdoor seating. Normally, I would only be working one section, but tonight I was going back and forth between the two.
It was nice out, so I knew they would have Justin performing outside. I kept glancing over to the small stage to see if he was there. It was past eight, and he hadn’t made an appearance yet.
Sometime close to eight-thirty, I was in the middle of serving a large party of ten when I first heard it: the chilling sound of a soulful voice that was not familiar in the least. He gave no introduction. No warning. He just started to sing out the first few words, followed by the strum of his guitar. The song that Justin had chosen to start with was a cover of Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers.
The entire room soon quieted down, and all eyes were on the stunning blond male specimen with the spotlight shining down on him. Despite the fact that I was carrying a large round tray of dirty dishes, I couldn’t move. The vibration of his thick, smoky singing voice had completely paralyzed me, penetrating my body and soul.
Aside from the lone teardrop that fell the night he lost it on me during steak dinner, I hadn’t shed any more tears—until now. It was all too much. Hearing how different his voice sounded, how he’d trained it over the years, was a wake-up call as to how much I had missed. All of the hours of practice that must have gone into honing that beautiful voice, and I wasn’t there for any of it. The guilt, the emotions, the reality of a decade gone…everything started to pummel me at once. Not to mention the song—about a girl leaving. It probably had nothing to do with me, but in my mind, it sure as hell felt like it did.