Big lies from a small mouth, bright lights in a squalid town. You fucked around, let me down, so I stole this throne and broke your crown. Am I better now? Am I better now? -Jack Killian
Bettie was pink-cheeked and breathless when she found me sitting on the hood of her car. The night was cold, and I was shivering under my thin jacket. I'd been watching the stars and listening to the hum that seeped out of the convention center.
The hum of muffled music from afar and the magical sounds of thousands of people cheering and applauding.
I'd imagined Bettie in there, pressed close with the rest of the throng. Jack in a small spotlight on a stage too big for him. Wondered, did the show go on the same, despite our run-in?
Did he perform as always, forgetting about me as soon as his guitar was strapped on?
I knew Bettie had seen him perform before; she might know, but I wasn't going to ask.
"Hey." My tone was gentle.
"Hey. You look frozen."
I looked down; my hands were clenched into little fists as high up my sleeves as possible. "Yeah."
Bettie beeped open her Golf and turned the engine over, before pulling her Kools out of her trouser pocket and shaking one out. She stuck it between her lips, lit it, and gave it a hollow-cheeked suck before reaching for my cold hands and rubbing them fiercely with her warm ones.
She jumped right in, the cigarette bobbing as she spoke.
"I guess I understand why you never talk about him. But jeez, Kibbs. I feel kind of like an ass right now."
"You couldn't have known. And I... well. I think... I think I meant to tell you at some point. But then I didn't. And I kept on not doing it. I do that, actually. Just ask Jack."
She snorted. "Just ask Jack. Just ask Jack Killian... you say. Like it's nothing."
"I'm sorry." I wasn't sure for what, but I definitely felt it. Remorse, for a lot more than just not telling her. I pulled my hands back.
"Pshaw. It's your business. I get that." The sound of the engine smoothed out, starting to get warm, and it hummed beneath our silence. I fiddled with my cuff. Not sure what to say. Bettie smoked. "Show was amazing. If I say anything you don't want to hear, just stop me. But... Katie. Talk about emotion. Real emotion."
Your music is better now. It's real emotion, now.
I remembered my own words and the look on Jack's face when he'd leaned into me, telling me he didn't give a fuck about my opinion. Then, another Jack, from another time, from a snowy hilltop where he dragged a gloved finger down my cheek, his eyes alight with love or passion or restraint.
The moment I'd known my whole future. Our future. We were for each other.
But I'd been wrong.
I felt the sob in my throat, choked it back.
It hurt to swallow and I felt foolish—mired in a mess of my own making, pathetic for not being able to just move on. People get divorced all the time. People lose love every day. They get over it. Why was it so insurmountable for me? Why was I doing this to myself?
Because that had to be it. Some kind of psychological sickness, something passed to me by my mother, something preventing me from healing mentally or emotionally.
"Is 'Para Pacem' really about you? He didn't do that song, which is strange. It's kind of... you know... his only sort-of hit."
I shrugged. "Maybe. I used to think so, I guess James confirmed it."
YOU ARE READING
I'm still technically married. I still technically wear my wedding ring. It's on a chain around my neck. With his. He still won't sign the divorce papers. I still don't want him to.