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Whiskey Lullaby

By:Stevie J. Cole

1
Hannah
Summer 2016

I breathed in the fresh scent of fabric softener while I carried the towels to the linen closet at the end of the hall. “God, Your Momma, and Me” blared from the radio in my room. My brother Bo walked out of his room with his earbuds in, singing along to whatever song he’s listening to.

“Hey,” I said.

He started down the stairs and I banged my hand on the banister, catching his attention. He yanked one of the earbuds out.

“I need you to mop the downstairs.”

He threw his head back on a groan.

“Come on, Bo. I need help.”

“Fine…” he grumbled before cramming the earbud back in and jogging down the stairs.

I shoved the towels in the closet and closed the door before walking to Momma’s room and cracking the door. She was propped up on pillows in bed, writing in her journal. “I’m fine, baby,” she said before glancing up. Her eyes seemed dull and tired, but she tried to hide it with one of her radiant smiles.

I checked my watch. “You can have some more medicine in an hour if you need it.”

“I’m fine.”

The drinking glass on the nightstand was empty, so I went to the bedside table and grabbed the pitcher to pour some fresh water for her.

This woman was my everything. She’d taken such good care of me growing up, every skinned knee, every hurt feeling she bandaged up and kissed away. That’s what Momma’s do, and now, I was taking care of her. Only, I couldn’t heal this wound… and I was still trying to accept that.

I swallowed before leaning over and kissing her cheek. “I love you,” I whispered.

“And I love you.” She patted my arm.

“I’m going to go change over the laundry, and I’ll come back.”

Just as I turned to leave the room, the song on the radio changed. Soft notes floated through the air followed by an all too familiar voice, and I froze at the foot of the bed, unable to move. The memory of Noah singing that song to me that night in the oak tree outside my room placed my heart in a thorn-filled vice, squeezing and pricking until I couldn’t breathe. “Oh… my God,” I whispered, then closed my eyes. It was like a ghost singing to me. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him. Taste him. I could remember all the things I’d tried so hard to forget. For a moment, I let his voice soothe me like it had so many times before, because although my mind knew better than to love him, my heart was a fool. It always had been when it came to the bad boy with the pretty voice.

“Hannah,” Momma said, and I turned to look at her. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. “It’s just…” I cleared my throat. “Um, weird.” I laughed. “You know, I uh, I knew him, so it’s strange.”

A sympathetic smile turned the corners of her lips up. “It’s hard to let go of people sometimes.” She sighed, motioning me to the bed. I took a seat on the edge of the mattress and she leaned over, wrapping her frail arms around me. “Makes me wonder if maybe there are some people we shouldn’t let go of.”

I wanted to break down and cry, but I refused to waste one more tear over someone I couldn’t have. I may have been the stupid girl who fell for him, but I would not be the girl who let him ruin her. I wouldn’t, so I had to let him go.

“Those words…” she whispered next to my ear while. “He’s hurting too, baby.”

“I don’t think so.” And that was the hardest thing for me to swallow: I had fallen in love with someone who I thought loved me back.

“Hannah, listen to the words—”

“It’s just a song, Momma. It’s his job to sing it.” Sitting back, I looked at her as I shook my head. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

She frowned. “You’re keeping it all bottled up inside. Did you ever even tell him goodbye?”

My heart pounded. “No.”

“You can’t move on when you have no closure.” She squeezed my hand. “You need to tell the boy goodbye.”

“Momma…I am not calling him to tell him goodbye. It’s been over a year, that ship sailed long ago.”

“I’m not saying you have to actually tell him goodbye, you just have to trick your mind that you have. Write a letter, tell him why you’re hurt, get it all out, pretend you sent it. It’s cathartic and might give you some sense of closure.”

I nodded just as the song ended, and I took a breath. “I’m going to go do the laundry…” I pushed up from the bed and made my way into the hallway and down the steps, wondering how in the world you can ever learn to unlove someone who was once the reason you smiled.

2


Noah

Fall 2016


One. Two. Three. Four.

I counted my steps, watching the shoelace of my Chuck Taylor flop as I maneuvered through the crowded terminal. I was pretty sure the Atlanta airport is the inner circle of hell… too many people. Too many smells and crying children. My shoulder bumped into someone and I mumbled sorry beneath my breath, but I refused to look up. As much of an ungrateful ass as it may make me sound: I didn’t want to take another selfie or sign another autograph. Honestly, I was only touring to keep myself occupied. To keep myself from missing her…

A boom of thunder rattled the building, the large windows overlooking the tarmac shook, and the people hurrying to their flights stopped in the middle of the terminal to exchange nervous glances. I looked through the window just as a bolt of lightning streaked through the sky. “Great,” I groaned and continued to weave through the swarming concourse.

On about step twenty-seven, I tripped on my lace, catching myself before my chin slammed against the tile. Damn, I should have tied it! My ball cap tumbled to the floor and I quickly grabbed it and shoved it back on my head.

“Oh… my... God!” That squeal echoed into the tall ceilings. “Noah Greyson!” And I knew from the high octave shriek that followed my name, it was too late to run.

People in front of me were shoved out of the way. They stumbled several steps before shouting at the girl making a beeline for me. With flushed cheeks, she stopped right in front of me and gasped. “Oh my God! It is you!” Her sweaty hands grabbed onto my arm. I wanted to pull away from her, but I couldn’t. “Can I get a picture? I just love your music. It’s so beautiful and raw and just…” The stranger threw her arms around me like I was a long-lost friend and continued to ramble about my songs, my life, how much she loved me. Before I could respond, her camera was in my face. I smiled at the flash, and then she hugged me. Again. And then… she was off with her phone in hand and her fingers going crazy over the screen.

Sighing, I scrubbed a hand over my face before tugging on the bill of my cap to cover my eyes. Again, I knew I should have been grateful, not annoyed, but after months of touring and a fifteen-hour flight, I was just fucking tired.

Fame wasn’t what I thought it would be. Hell, life wasn’t what I thought it would be.

When I reached gate A-13, I checked the board and groaned. Delayed. Another roll of thunder rumbled through the building, kind of like a fuck you from Mother Nature, I guess. I went to take a seat but caught the flicker of the neon TGI Friday sign at the end of the corridor. I needed a little something to take the tension away. Who cared if it was only three in the afternoon, I thought. The tabloids all said I was a drunk anyway. I would have hated to let them down, so I headed straight inside to the bar.

The bartender busied himself by wiping the counter. He didn’t bother to look up when I dropped my carryon to the floor and pulled out a stool, and while some might have found that rude, I was just fine with it.

“What can I get you?” The monotone hum of his voice reminded me of that teacher off the Wonder Years.

“Whiskey. Neat.”

Without a word, he turned away, and I pulled my phone from my pocket, opened Facebook, and scrolled. There I sat, taking a glimpse into the lives of people I didn’t even fucking know… social media was such a weird thing.

“There,” the bartender said before I heard the clink of glass over the bar top.

“Thanks.” I kept scrolling while I downed the warm liquor, slamming the empty glass onto the counter when I finished. Cat meme. Political post. Some guy I used to be friends with… and then Facebook did a real number on me: Noah, share this memory from a year ago. A picture of me and Hannah lying on my bed. I posted that picture after I’d left town, hoping she’d see it. Hoping someone would tell her I hadn’t forgotten her, but I guess they didn’t. In the picture, I could see everything I tried to deny since I left Rockford— the kind of love I had for her was the kind you never fall out of.

Hannah Blake. I stared at her name in the tag bar. It was black when all the others were blue, because she blocked me almost a year ago. She cut me out of her life completely.

“Can I get another,” I asked, my eyes still glued to that picture, my chest tight with hurt and anger and all those awful emotions that knowing I lost her carried. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, and that was enough. It was like a tiny bomb went off in my head. Tattered reels of film shot flashbacks through my mind: her smile. Her lips. The dark. The promises… it was enough to give me that little jab in the chest that reminded me I was not a good person.

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