A/N: Hello! Again, just make sure you’re reading the correct chapter, as I’ve been posting these pretty fast! Enjoy ^_^
I sipped at my drink as I stared out the window, thinking.
It had been one year, three months, two days, and seventeen hours since the phone call that changed everything.
A little over a year ago then that I had left Neverglade and moved to the outskirts of Starlight Shores.
I took another sip, still staring.
Starlight Shores hadn’t been my first choice. I thought it sounded too busy, too crowded for my liking. A place like Hidden Springs sounded much more up my alley—but luckily I’d realized in time: Hidden Springs was just too much like Neverglade.
So I found Starlight Shores, a buzzing, mountainous city—a place where I could blend in amongst the crowds; a place where I could become invisible.
I had about finished my drink when I heard a quick knock at the door. I downed the rest of it before answering.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, and then grabbed my keys, slipped past the baby sitter, and out the door.
“Here again,” the bartender, Greg, stated as soon as I’d sat down. It wasn’t a question.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“I invented something new and as my lucrative customer, I’d like you to try it.”
“What an honor,” I said sarcastically, raising an eyebrow at him. I typically preferred a simple whiskey or some nectar over any other fancy drink Greg was always trying to whip up.
“Christ, are you trying to kill me?” I asked, watching as Greg combined a multitude of liquors and juices together.
“Pfft. I doubt even ethanol could kill the likes of you.”
“So, Carla’s been asking about you.”
“Has she?” I asked, feigning interest as I watched Greg mix up my drink with unnecessary flourish. Carla was a woman I’d met the other night. We’d had fun, I guess, and had even gone back to my place, but I thought I’d made it pretty clear I didn’t want anything more. I frowned, staring down at the worn wood of the bar counter.
“Did you really love her that much?” Greg suddenly asked. I looked up at him through bleary eyes, realizing that he definitely wasn’t talking about Carla. I took a deep breath and then let out a sigh of annoyance. I never should have told him anything about my past. Liquor was both a saving grace and a curse.
“I don’t know,” I said quietly.
“I know you hate it when I bring it up, and I know you hate it when I say this, but I’m going to keep saying it until it gets through your thick skull: it wasn’t your goddamn fault.”
I winced and then pursed my lips, resisting the urge to punch him in the jaw. “Thanks very fucking much,” I finally said with a tight smile. After all…it really was.
Greg ignored my sarcasm, finishing up my drink with another exaggerated spin through the air.
“TADA!” he cried, setting down a hot pink, sparkling drink in front of me.
“Seriously, man?” I asked, looking at the garishly feminine drink before me with distaste.
“What? So it’s geared toward the ladies—I still need someone to try it!”
“You owe me,” I muttered.
I brought the drink up to my lips, downing it in a few gulps. I remembered when drinks used to burn my throat; how my face would scrunch up and how my eyes would water, but they all went down easily now—for better or for worse.
“Sickly sweet and fruity. You can barely taste the alcohol,” I determined, setting down the empty glass.
“Now about how something that doesn’t make me feel like I just got my hair and nails done for a night out on the town?”
I went to Greg’s Tavern on a regular basis. I liked it because it usually wasn’t very crowded. It was an old place, stacked to hell with mismatched furniture and outdated portraits, which suited me just fine. All the “classier” places in Starlight Shores were filled with people, and I hated people.
I usually tried to limit myself to a couple drinks each evening, but there were times when I broke this self-imposed rule, getting drunk off of various combinations of glowing concoctions, or sometimes just whiskey. Whiskey, for whatever reason, was my typical drink of choice, although I wouldn’t say no to good nectar either. It was one of the few things that still burned a little going down—and that felt good.
Although Greg’s Tavern was typically sparsely crowded, and usually with sulking, solitary figures who lurked in the corners, glaring at others, sometimes a real gem would walk in. The greatest thing about these gems was that if they were coming to Greg’s Tavern, then they were desperate, and desperate women were easy targets.
“Bottom’s up?” I asked with a charming grin.
“Bottoms up,” she agreed with a sigh before tipping back her drink.
Mercedes was recently single, dumped by her boyfriend of 3 years, but that’s actually all I really knew about her because, well….
Mom always did say not to talk with your mouth full.
“I can’t believe anyone would leave someone like you.”
“You’re just saying that,” Mercedes said with a breathy laugh.
“Not at all. You’re picture perfect….and I have just a way to prove it.
Picture perfect indeed.
And do you know what the greatest thing about that tavern was?
Another gem was always just around the corner.
I know what you must be thinking now.
You must be thinking, “Oh my god! You pig! What about Jo? James, you idiot! Did you completely abandon Jo in favor of this drunken, womanizing lifestyle?!”
No, I did not.
No matter how bad it got, how low I felt, or how much I drank, Jo was always my first commitment.
It’s difficult to believe, I know, and maybe I wasn’t the perfect father, sometimes even having to call a babysitter up because I was just too hung over to get out of bed, but I had made a promise to my little girl a long time ago, and I would never forgive myself if I broke it.
Barring the occasional fling, and of course my time with Jo, I lived a very solitary life.
I cooked alone, ate alone, and usually slept alone too.
But mostly, I wrote.
I’d write superficial bullshit; I’d write poems. I’d write heart-wrenching passages; I’d write comedy. I’d spend seven hours, just sitting, typing, drinking, taking care of Jo, and then sitting, typing, and drinking once again. I’d break down into tears of frustration. I’d laugh at the futility of it all. I’d write pages upon pages only to delete it all in the end, rewriting everything in a mad fury.
I’d get drunk off my ass and then pass out at my computer, dreaming of my characters and the next story line.
In order to keep myself from going insane I’d take days sometimes where all I would do is spend time with Jo.
She continued to be a stubborn, fussy kid, but there was no doubting that she learned fast, as long as she put her mind to it.
For the longest I tried to get her to walk, spending hours propping her up on her feet, only to have her sit down again and again and again. Then, one day, she must have gotten bored of that, because she just walked out of her bedroom, clear across the living room, and right into my arms as I stood in the kitchen.
She loved to sit down and read with me too—I never even had to force her to sit down with me.
Instead, I’d settle myself down on the floor with a book, and Jo would come over excitedly, already babbling enthusiastically. She’d cuddle against me and I’d read while Jo occasionally pointed out one of the illustrations and looked up at me questioningly.
One time, there was an illustration of a mom and a dad with their little girl.
“Das me!” she’d cried happily, pointing at the little girl. “And das you!” she pointed out, her little hand on the dad now. Her eyes went to the mom then though, looking at her for a long time before she glanced up at me. “Who dat?”
I couldn’t even find the words to answer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I always fell back into the cycle—no matter how hard I tried.
Drink, write, drink more, delete, write, write, write, and drink.
The system wasn’t all bad though. I had gotten some books published, and one of them was even doing really promising on the market.
The problem was, since then; I was having difficulties finishing another novel, constantly trashing whatever I’d written or just having been too drunk to write at all.
I didn’t think much of it until one evening, when I got a call from my publisher.
“The deal was for three novels by this time, James. Not one. You’re missing deadlines.”
“I know. I’m working on it,” I insisted, forcing my brain to try and stay clear even though I’d just finished off a bottle of nectar.
“That’s exactly the answer you gave us a month ago, and the month before that, and the month before that. I’m sorry, James, but if you can’t meet deadlines, well…our company will no longer publish your works.”
“It won’t come to that!” I exclaimed, panicked. “I understand, sir. You’ll get your novels,” I breathed, trying to calm my racing heart.
“I do hope so, James. You’re a very promising author. ….good night.”
“Good night,” I mumbled, hanging up the phone in a daze.
My stomach churned and my hands felt shaky. If I wasn’t able to sell books—how would I continue to take care of Jo?
After that phone call, I fell so deeply into my cycle that I admit I may not have taken as good a care of myself as I should have.
In the morning, I felt that a piece of toast with some jam and half a bottle of nectar was a sufficient breakfast before I locked myself up in my library, a slave to my laptop until well past dinner time.
During that time, I had a babysitter look after Jo while I typed away furiously. I paused only to finish off the bottle I’d started in the morning, often starting on a second as the sun began to set.
Sometimes, after Jo had gone to sleep and the moon had rose high in the sky, I’d start downing coffee instead, determined to stay up for just a few more hours so that I could get in at least one more chapter. If I got hungry enough, I’d grab some canned soup and eat it cold, washing it down with hard shots of whiskey to make it go down more easily.
I was sick often.
Finally, FINALLY though I did finish that book, submitting it to my publisher with shaking hands.
They loved it, hailing it as one of the darkest, most heart-wrenching, most beautiful novels that they’d read in a long, long time. They expected it to be a major best seller.
But the toll on me had been severe.
“Daddy…Daddy isn’t feeling so good,” I mumbled. The room swirled around me and my vision began to darken.