Featured Author: Bethany Turner
Why anyone had ever considered the musical tribute to that time his parents each tried to have an affair with other people, only to discover they were actually trying to have an affair with each other, a love song had always escaped him.
“It’s a good one,” Grayson O’Malley nonetheless responded to the woman who had pumped quarters into the jukebox while gushing that her selection was the greatest love song of all time.
O’Malley picked up his glass, threw down the last gulp of club soda—no piña coladas for him—and grabbed his jacket from the barstool next to him. The jaunty little tune that accompanied the misery and absurdity of his childhood wafted through the speakers. That was his cue to leave.
That was always his cue to leave.
“You do realize you own the jukebox, don’t you?” Charlotte Morales, his longtime manager, dried glasses on the other side of the bar. “You could trash that disc if you wanted to.”
“Oh, I want to.” He tucked the denim jacket over his arm and smiled. “In fact I have. More than once.”
“But then you always replace it.” She added the final glass to the glass hanger. Flipping the dishtowel over her shoulder, Charlotte added, “Don’t get me wrong. I like the disco ball effect…”
He smiled in response to her knowing wink and couldn’t help but chuckle as he glanced up at the broken and twirling shards of CDs hanging over the jukebox—twinkling and dancing like a mobile over a crib. “I always feel guilty for wasting the money.”
That stupid song was what had kept tourists coming into O’Malley’s for forty years—ever since his parents’ dysfunctional marriage had inspired a patron at his dad’s bar to write the number one hit. That was a few years before Grayson was born, but by the time he entered the picture, the legacy was cemented. As was his parents’ destructive obsession with spicing up their loveless marriage in increasingly dramatic ways.
He’d done all he could to get far away from it—he’d moved to Denver, gone to culinary school, and taken out a loan for a restaurant of his own—but when his dad had his second heart attack, every plan changed. That was five years ago, and his dad had now been gone for two, but the damage to Grayson’s aspirations had been done. Everything had been drained.
“See you tomorrow, Charlotte.” He turned toward the door, but her voice stopped him from stepping away.
“Hey, Gray? I know a guy.”
He faced her again. “You know a guy?”
She tucked the strands of her black layered bob behind each ear. “Yeah.” She leaned toward him and whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “He can take out the jukebox. No witnesses. Make it look like an accident.”
Grayson laughed. “I can always count on your inner-Tony Soprano to brighten my day.”
He pushed off on the edge of the bar as he stepped up on the footrail and leaned across to plant a quick kiss on her cheek. He stepped back onto the tiled floor and cleared his throat.
Every so often—when her cheeks were a little flushed, as they were now, or when the scent of her grapefruit shampoo broke through the smell of beer and whiskey—he had to remind himself that he would be lost without her. O’Malley’s would be lost without her. And he didn’t have a back-up plan.
He could never risk messing up their professional relationship—or their friendship—with his piña colada-scented emotional baggage.
“’Night, Charlotte,” he croaked through the familiar lump in his throat. The one that always seemed to get lodged there when he allowed his eyes to linger on her mauve-tinted lips just a little too long.
As the second chorus played on and the lyrical version of John O’Malley confessed he loved piña coladas, loved champagne, and hated health food—and still he had always blamed his bad heart on genetics—Grayson stepped outside.
He sighed into the darkness and slipped his arms into the sleeves of the jacket. His right hand got as far as the cuff before it met a paper obstruction. His brow furrowed as he used his left hand to pull out the white, tri-folded sheet covered with familiar penmanship in purple ink.
If you like drinking club soda
And much prefer fine cuisine
If you’re not great with people
And you hate the routine
Of list’ning to that stupid song each night
And pretending it’s great
Then I’m the answer you’ve hoped for
Sell to me and escape.
The lump returned to his throat, but this time there was no desire to clear it away. He ran back inside and held up the paper.
She turned away from the patron she was serving and her eyes focused on him—first his face, then the paper, and back again. The corners of her mouth rose.
Grayson rushed to the bar and repeated the maneuver from earlier. He once again felt the soft skin of her cheek beneath his lips. He observed her flushed complexion and smelled her grapefruit shampoo. But this time, he had a back-up plan.
He stepped down onto the tile and began walking around the bar slowly, with more intention than he’d ever felt in his life.
“I hate piña coladas and I hate O’Malley’s.”
She turned to face the direction of his approach. “I know you do.”
“But I think I love you.”
A confident grin overtook her eyes and mouth. “I know you do.”
His hand brushed against her cheek and tucked a silky black strand behind her ear, then he brushed his thumb against those lips he’d spent more hours observing than he’d ever confess. His fingers left a trail on her jawline before wrapping his hand around the back of her neck and pulling her smiling lips toward his.
And there were no thoughts of escape.
Bethany now writes pop culture-infused rom-coms for a new generation of readers who crave fiction that tackles the thorny issues of life with humor and insight. She lives in Southwest Colorado with her husband, whom she met in the nineties in a chat room called Disco Inferno. As sketchy as it sounds, it worked out pretty well in this case, and they are now the proud parents of two teenagers.
Connect with Bethany at seebethanywrite.com or across social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, BookBub, Goodreads, and YouTube Channel, where she clings to the eternal dream that John Stamos will someday send her a friend request.