“You’re really not looking at the bigger picture here.”
“Actually, I am,” I snapped. “Listen, I appreciate what you said you’d do about the lawyers, and I’ll never forget it. But I really think that should be the end of it. I don’t see this going anywhere good.”
Chance scoffed and shook his head. “You know, a couple of days ago, I would never have expected to be begging a woman to be with me.”
I bit my lip and looked away. “Sorry to disappoint, Sabbatical.”
He took a deep breath, let it out in a long sigh, and then nodded. “This fucking town,” he said.
I smiled despite the sorrow I felt in my heart. “Yeah, Ludwig has a way of changing people.”
“Not everyone, apparently,” he said.
Our eyes met, and we just looked at each other in silence for a few seconds before he turned and climbed into the back seat. The door closed, and I half expected the window to slide down, but it didn’t.
I watched as the limo left the motel, turned the corner, and Chance Ridder disappeared from my life forever.
I arrived back in Austin just as the sun was going down.
The penthouse was spotless, courtesy of good old Pauline, and I dropped my bag by the door as I made immediately for the kitchen and the beer that waited in the refrigerator. I popped a bottle open, took a long swig, and stretched my aching muscles. My mind was spinning, thoughts of how I left things back at Ludwig weighing down on me like dead weight, and soon enough I decided the beer wouldn’t do it for me.
Within an hour, I was slumped on the couch, gazing out at the city with half open eyes, half the whiskey bottle gone.
The only lights on in the penthouse came from the kitchen, but they were enough to mirror my reflection in the large windows, and it came as no surprise that I looked like a fucking mess. I needed a shower, desperately, and my clothes made me look like I had just barely survived a rodeo and barely lived to tell the tale. With the bottle of whiskey in one hand and a dying cigarette in the other, I was the poster child for a heart attack advertisement, with the tagline ‘This Could Be You – Call 1-800-early-heart-attack NOW!’
“How the fuck did you turn into this miserable mess in just two days, Chance?” I asked myself, scowling at my reflection, getting angry at myself for just looking like shit, not to mention feeling pretty much the same.
I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I could see Ashlyn reflected in the window, with her blonde locks, beautiful eyes, and soft lips stretched wide in a loving smile. She was laughing, probably at something stupid I said, and biting her lip in that way I had fallen in love with.
Fallen in what the fuck?
I shook my head and blinked rapidly, trying to push the image out of my head. I was being ridiculous. I was Chance Ridder, for fuck’s sake. I didn’t fall for anyone. People chased me, goddammit. People wanted to be with me. People didn’t wait for me to ask them to come back to Austin with me. People just did whatever the fuck I wanted them to do!
And I definitely did not fall in love. Not with Ashlyn, not with anyone. She chose Ludwig over me. She could rot there until the maggots crawled out of her eyes and devoured her beautiful, milky, soft skin.
I laid my head back and cursed the gods above. The alcohol swam through me like poison, reaching into the deepest recesses of my brain and tugging at whatever strands of sanity there were left. It was like a living essence, merging with every molecule inside me, turning every emotion I had into spite and hatred. I looked at the bottle in my hand, felt even more disgusted at myself for what I was doing, and angrily threw it across the room.
It shattered into pieces above the window, the whiskey pouring down and turning my reflection into a blurred mess. I looked even worse than before.
Pushing to my feet, I stumbled and fell, fighting through the haze in my mind as I made my way upstairs and to my bedroom. I needed a shower, and coffee, and Ashlyn.
I fell face first onto my bed, the mattress enveloping me and holding me in its warm embrace. I pictured Ashlyn by my side, stroking my hair, telling me everything would be okay. I could almost feel her touch against my skin.
I rolled onto my back, realized that I was actually all alone, and closed my eyes.
I woke up to the sound of incessant buzzing from downstairs. With a groan, I pushed myself up to a si
tting position and tried to clear my head. I had a massive headache that made me wish I could just shoot myself, and my vision was blurry enough that, for a few seconds, I thought I was still in my motel room in Ludwig.
The buzzing continued, and it was only when I began to register that I was back in Austin, in my bedroom, with a debilitating hangover, that I realized the buzzing was the sound of my doorbell. I ran a hand through my hair, cursed the asshole who had decided to pay me a visit and was only adding to my discomfort, and forced myself to my feet. It took me the better of ten minutes just to get downstairs.
When I opened the door, Alice took a step back, her eyes wide and her mouth open. She was taking me in, and I could see from the look on her face that shocked would be the understatement of the year.
“Why didn’t you just use your fucking key?” I snapped.