The Beast and the Harlot

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Val could be a hardass. I would not want to get on her wrong side.

"It's not like that Val," Zacky protested.

"You wanna share what it is like Zack?" I was furious, "I came here tonight to spend time with people that I was assured were friends with my brother and a guy he considered one of his best friends. Both of them are gone and they're not coming back. Instead of stories and reminiscences about our mutual friends and loved ones I get treated like some home wrecking slut while two friends tear each other apart. What the hell do you call that?"

Zacky looked abashed. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean it that way. It's just so out of the blue. I never expected them to break up... not in a million years. None of us are dealing with it well. It's changed the dynamics of everything and I can't quite get my head around it."

"Zacky, you think doesn't affect us all? What about Matt and me, huh? You have to stay out of it. You're making assumptions that affect us all and hurt a guy who's supposed to be one of your best friends. Back off," Val crossed her arms one hip popped out to the side but the look she gave him wasn't unsympathetic.

I got where he was coming from even if I didn't like the way he'd spoken about me. That was one bizarrely positive aspect of Eli's and my breakup. Our shitty friend circle. As far as the friends went it was a scorched earth policy, Eli's friends hated me and my friends hated Eli. Those relationships burned. There were no conflicting loyalties. Eli's friends were all about appearances. My friends were all about travelling and making the most of your life.

"None of this makes sense to me Val but I'll stay out of it." He turned to me, "I really am sorry. I didn't mean to imply that you're a harlot. Can you forgive me Tick?"

That was it!

"Don't call me fucking Tick!"

Zacky and Val laughed. I glared.

"Really Steph, I'm sorry. Come have a drink with me, Johnny and Brooks and we'll drag up the most scandalous stories about King that we can remember. Friends?" He offered me an adorable smile. One thing about me, I am shit at holding a grudge. Offer me a sincere apology and I'll roll over like a golden retriever jonesing for a belly rub. Part of me was ready to roll over then and there but another part of me was still confused about exactly what it was I'd just witnessed.

Brian had a wife, soon to be ex but still a wife, and a kid. What was up with that? He seemed pretty cut up about it and my burgeoning crush was urging me on to soothe his troubles. If I was being honest it wasn't just the crush, I genuinely liked him and he'd been there for me when I'd listened to Ryan's music for the first time in years. I glanced toward the doorway Matt and Brian had disappeared through.

Val grabbed the wine bottle from the kitchen island and topped off my glass. "We'll see you out there in a minute Zack. Just need to dig out another bottle." She smiled at him and pushed him through the doors.

"Steph, trust me when I tell you that Brian and Michelle's marriage is over. It's not my place to share all the details of why they broke up, if Brian wants you to know I'm sure he'll tell you but trust me when I say there is no blame. On either side. It's sad as fuck but Michelle is my twin sister and if there was any way, any way at all that I could find fault with his behaviour he would not be welcome in my home. Fuck the years of friendship and fuck the band." Val pulled open a door in a wall of cupboards revealing a full butler's pantry complete with top of the range wine fridge. Bloody hell. Val had the adulting thing sewn up with her adorable dimpled husband, perfect patio, most likely angelic children and her wine fridge. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up minus the children.

"Okay Val. I guess I know a thing or two about marriage breakdowns." I really wished I didn't but hey, what's done is done.

"Yeah, I guess you do and a public one at that." Val shot me a sympathetic look.

As she extracted a bottle of wine from the fridge she said, "Brian really likes you." I opened my mouth to protest but she cut me off as she continued, "I know this wasn't a date but he does like you. This may be nothing more than friendship but that's still important. You heard Zack. These guys are all so wrapped up in the way things were that they're having trouble remembering Brian as an individual. He needs a friend that just knows him, Brian, and not Brian-and-Michelle. And Steph?"

I turned to her, my eyebrows raised at the question in her voice.

"If it did turn out to be something more than friendship, I wouldn't hate it," she said with a smile. I blushed. Who wouldn't? There didn't seem to be much point in objecting, it seemed as though once Val had her mind made up there wasn't much that could change it.

"Do you think he'll be okay?" I tilted my head in the direction that I imagined Brian and Matt would be.

"Eventually. Matt will smooth it out. They'll head out here soon. In the meanwhile I know just as many scandalous stories about King as the boys do and we're going to get wasted, for fucks sake I dropped the boys at my parents' for a child free night, and I'll tell them all." She grabbed my arm and dragged me from the pantry, through the kitchen and out onto the patio.          


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