AFTERMATH BY L.A. WITT
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Cover Design: Christine Coffey
Brent Weyland was the life of the party until an injury ended his hockey career. Now he’s retreated alone to a lakefront house, trying to make sense of a life and body that don’t feel like his anymore.
Jon Norquist was happily married right up until he wasn’t. Now a single father in his forties, he’s trying to figure out what comes next. In the meantime, he pours his heartache and regret into the lyrics he sings for the wine bar crowd a couple of nights a week.
When a friend coaxes Brent out for a night of wine and music, he puts Brent and Jon on a collision course. Their chemistry is instantaneous. Jon gives Brent’s battered body a much-needed remedial lesson in pleasure. And Brent gives Jon a reason to smile again.
Multiple reasons, actually. Neither man wants anything serious, but love has a habit of showing up whether it’s welcome or not. No matter how hard they try, the two can’t help having feelings for each other, even as life continues to throw them curveballs.
But they’ve both got baggage to unpack and hurt to move past, and if they can’t leave their pasts in the past, they might just miss out on an amazing future.
If there was one thing I was good at when I performed onstage, it was engaging my audience without being distracted by them. The lighting here at Vino and Veritas didn’t mask the crowd in shadows like bigger venues did—no blinding stage lights in my eyes obscuring the people beyond them—which meant I could make out a lot of faces. And there was usually a fair amount of activity, too. People came and went. Waiters brought out drinks and food. Bartenders poured drinks. Quiet conversations went on. Some loud ones, especially as more alcohol flowed.
I was used to it, and I was never distracted by it. The sea of motion and faces was easy to ignore.
Except for that guy’s face.
One glance at him, and thank God I’d been between songs, or I’d have forgotten what I was doing.
And it didn’t help at all that he’d been looking right back at me as if I’d caught his eye the way he’d caught mine. Not just like people casually watched a performer onstage, but like something I’d done had made him stop dead and stare. He was still, his eyes wide and his lips parted as he stared at me. I couldn’t tell if it was a trick of the lights, but I swore he blushed too.
As I played on, I kept my gaze down, or at least tried to only let it drift toward the side of the room where he wasn’t sitting. Otherwise I was going to go blank on every note and every lyric.
But then I was far enough into the music that I forgot, and I glanced in that direction again, and there he was, still looking right at me, and—
What song is this?
I only missed a beat or two, fortunately, and I recovered quickly. I doubted many people noticed, if any of them did. In a venue like this, a lot of people were only half-listening, as opposed to during an actual concert when they were all focused on me. I was background noise for most, even those who applauded between songs. Just as well when I was this distracted.
By some miracle, I made it through my set, and people didn’t mutter things like, “Oh my God, finally,” or “One more and I was going to stab my own eardrums” as I left the stage. Given that this hadn’t been my best or most focused performance, I’d take it.
In the back room where overflow books and promo items from the bookstore were kept, I put my guitar in its case and downed the rest of my water bottle. That had been, hands down, the hardest set I’d done since I’d started singing here. The first few had been tough because the emotions had been a lot more raw—because I’d been real smart, singing what I’d just written about my painful divorce-in-progress—so it had been rough for a while. But even during that period, I’d never actually struggled like I had tonight to remember lyrics and chords, or to keep my fingers from slipping or my tongue from getting tied.
And now I needed a drink. Not just water this time, either.
So, I left my guitar and jacket in the back where they were safe, and then headed up to the bar for a glass of wine. Only one, since I was driving. I’d probably have a couple more when I got home. Maybe not the healthiest thing in the world, but I’d been in a shitty place all day, and singing about my divorce poured some salt in wounds that hadn’t closed yet. I wasn’t apologizing for numbing that with a little alcohol once in a while.
“The usual?” Rainn asked over the bar.
I shook my head. “Glass of pinot blanc.”
Our eyes met. Then Rainn nodded and stepped away to get the wine. He knew me and what I’d been through the last several months, so he didn’t question me. He just didn’t need to know that my ex-wife wasn’t the one screwing with my concentration tonight.
He handed me the glass, and I thanked him before taking a sip. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I had to say, I loved the wine they poured in this place. One of these days, I’d buy a bottle or two to keep at home. Maybe after I finished redoing the kitchen and had a place to put a wine rack.
That was another depressing thought that didn’t need to take hold tonight, so I focused on enjoying the amazing wine while I wound down after my set. My son was at his mom’s tonight, so I didn’t need to rush out of here to pick him up from the babysitter. I preferred the evenings where he was with me, but when he wasn’t, I couldn’t complain about relaxing here for a little while.
Someone stepped up to the bar beside me, and as I moved aside to give them some room, I glanced up and—