Charlie McGee knows all too well just how much truth that statement holds.
She was drowning, wasting away from guilt and sadness.
But when she meets Slayter Beck, he becomes the only calm in her ever-present storm.
All she wants to do is remember, and when the weight of that burden becomes too much, she tries giving up. But he won’t let her.
He vows to help her remember.
CHAPTER 1CHARLIEOCTOBER 15, 2013I don’t know why people say life is funny. It’s not.Life is cancer. Just when you think it’s all smooth sailing, it ruins you.I strum my fingers along to the beat of the music as I take the last gulp of my beer. It’s a song full of color, and cheer, and happy. And I hate it.I was happy once, with a life I’d do anything to keep… I think.I imagine I used to wake up in the mornings and make chocolate chip pancakes and pour a glass of orange juice without the pulp. I hate pulp in my orange juice with its thick, chunky texture. It makes me gag. I bet Phoenix hated it, too. But what do I know?Nothing.I know nothing because that is all I remember—nothing.Annoyed, I stop strumming my fingers. I hate everyone dancing to the happy song with their smiling faces and laugh lines around their eyes.I hate the beams of light shooting from wall to wall, all bright and colorful like it’s Christmas time.I hate everything today.Everything.Two years ago today was the day everything changed for me.The day everything was taken from me.I wave to the bartender, needing alcohol to help blur my heartache. “What can I get you?” he asks. I look up at his extremely tall, extremely skinny, frame. His rectangular glasses sit atop his overly large nose.I know a nose never stops growing. I know eyes always remain the same size throughout life. I could tell you what the square root of a number is without a second thought, but I couldn’t tell you what I did for my twenty-third birthday, or any birthday before that, for that matter. I couldn’t tell you my worst fear growing up, or what it felt like when I fell in love for the first time.I couldn’t tell you anything, because I don’t know the answers to any of that. Life took those simple pleasures from me.I jump as a hand brushes my arm, startling me from my reverie. “Ma’am? What can I get you?” the big-nosed bartender repeats.“Oh. I’m sorry. I’ll have two shots of whatever is good and strong. Lay it on me,” I answer as he walks down to grab some shot glasses.Within seconds he’s back at my side. “Tab, or you tapping out for the night?”I grab the cash out of my clutch and count it. Shit. I’m twenty shorter than I thought. I sigh. “I’ll tap out. I don’t have my—“A hand reaches across me, halting me mid-sentence, and grabs both of my shots. Dumbfounded, my eyes follow, watching as a guy downs them one after the other. “Excuse me?” I bark, shoving his arm.He tosses a hundred dollar bill at me before looking at the bartender. “Get her whatever that was I just downed, plus me two more. I’ll pay for all of them.”Rolling my eyes at his audacity, I grab the money and hand it to Big-Nose. “He’ll also pay my tab off.” I turn to the rude, arrogant prick who jacked my alcohol. “Thanks, asshole.”A smug, pained grin hints on his face as he sits down on the barstool next to me. He shrugs his jacket off and hangs it on the hook underneath the lip of the bar. He runs his fingers through his golden brown hair, disheveling it more than it already was, before rubbing the slight stubble peppering his jawline. If I wasn’t pissed off at everything, including him, I would find him attractive.If being the operative word here.The shots magically appear in front of me. Making sure my drinks don’t get stolen again, I quickly grab them both, downing them one after the other. The burn of the alcohol makes its way down my throat. It numbs me, but only for a second. God knows it won’t numb me forever. I’ve tried.“That good?” the guy beside me asks smugly.I cut my eyes in his direction and flip him off. He grins. He grins, and laugh lines appear at the corners of his eyes. I automatically hate him.Laugh lines mean happiness.My mouth snaps in a straight line. Bitterness boils inside of me because he has laugh lines, meaning he has reasons to smile in this world. Or maybe I’m bitter because there is nobody in my world to make me smile. At least no one I can remember.“Sorry I stole your shots. I really needed them. Bad day,” he confesses, before throwing a shot back. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’m Slayter, by the way.”I scoff. “Bad day, Slayter?” I spit his name out of my mouth like it’s vinegar on my tongue. “I’m sure it’s just been awful. Your girlfriend having her monthly visit so you can’t get any for a few days?”His stone gray eyes delve into me, like they’re trying to read me, trying to know me. Oh, the irony of it all.“I wish,” he clips. “My fiancée left a month ago, taking my daughter with her. Only for me to find out today via paternity test, she wasn’t my daughter at all. So now I’m without a fiancée, which I can handle, and I’m without the little girl I raised for nine months, which I can’t.” He shakes his head, lost in thought. I feel bad for the guy, almost enough to not hate him.I don’t have any clue what to tell him. “Yep. Sucks a little worse than what I was imagining,” I spit out, sounding every bit as sincere as I feel, which is not at all.His eyebrows scrunch together as he looks at me, tapping his fingers on his chin. “Yeah.” He sighs. “Only being able to live with her memory, and not her, for the rest of my life, is going to fucking kill me.”I roll my eyes, unable to stand his pity-party of one any longer. “Yeah,” I sneer. “I’d also imagine living with no memory at all for the rest of your life sucks, too. But you wouldn’t know, would you?”I slam my hands on the bar as I get up from the stool, kicking it back with all my might. The metal legs screech along the dirty, concrete floor before it topples over. I knew coming to this place was a bad idea. It’s been two years today, and my emotions are everywhere. Every little thing is pissing me off.I went to bed last night with his picture clung to my chest, praying, hoping, wishing today would be the day I would wake up and remember. Remember everything, good and bad. At this point, I don’t care what it is I remember, as long as I have something to grasp on to. I just want something to be able to tell me, “Charlie, this is who you were when you were you. This is what your life consisted of.” But no, I woke up this morning with a memory as blank as the day I woke up from my coma.With tears in my eyes, I storm out of the bar. The cool October breeze nips at my face, chilling me. Leaning against the black brick wall, I grab the photo out of my jacket pocket. It’s worn, torn on the edges from constantly being carried around. Even though it breaks my heart, I can’t help but to look at it every single time I feel like the weight of the world is suffocating me.I rub the pad of my thumb over the photo, closing my eyes, hoping this will be the last day I have to live with this black hole of pain in my chest. A tear trickles down my cheek as the pain completely consumes me. The pain of loss, of emptiness. The pain of not remembering the absolute largest part of who I am.Or who I was.“Phoenix,” I whisper, “please help me remember.”