Trey Turner tipped the plastic bottle and watched the little white pills scatter across the desktop. One would take the edge off; twenty would end it all. He considered his options. He wasn’t ready to give up; he couldn’t do that to his family.
He put one of the pills on his tongue and swallowed it with a mouthful of scotch as the phone rang. He knew it was the morning radio show calling to interview him. His manager, Luc Spencer, had arranged it and, despite his protests, Luc insisted it was necessary. The public was demanding answers; it was time to end the speculation.
He checked the call display and pushed the button to activate the call. “Hello.”
“Trey, Johnny Madson, KX790 in Nashville. How the hell are ya this mornin’, buddy?”
Trey rubbed his eyes, willing the pill to take effect. “I’m good.”
“We’re going live in three minutes. Stand by.”
Trey endured the longest three minutes of his life as he waited for the radio host to return. He glanced at the list of questions and answers his publicist, Avery, had provided. He’d been doing this long enough to know they always surprised you with questions they knew were off-limits. He hoped he was sharp enough to dodge the bullets this morning.
“Trey, we’re live. Our listeners are anxious to hear about what’s been happening with the king of country music. Where’ve you been, man?”
“I’ve been in the studio working on the next album.”
“That’s what we like to hear. Tell me, when do you plan to release it?”
“By early next year, I hope.”
“Can we assume you’re planning a world tour to promote the new album?”
In his current state of mind, just the thought of a tour was overwhelming, but he owed it to his fans and his label. “That’s the plan, Johnny.”
“Good stuff. I know your fans are looking forward to that. We get calls and emails about you every day. People want to know what you’ve been up to. They’re dying to know when the new album’s coming out.” He laughed. “The pressure’s on, man.”
“Yeah, I know. I plan to deliver the goods.” If only he could figure out how to break through the mother of all creative blocks and write a song he wouldn’t be embarrassed to attach his name to.
“So why did you decide to sign with a new record label, Trey?”
Because my old label was putting pressure on me to get off my ass and produce a record, he thought, considering the fall-out if he came clean. He was tempted to tell the truth and accept the ramifications. He was so tired of living a lie, pretending to be the man, the musician, everyone expected him to be. “There was just a difference of opinion with the old label. No hard feelings.”
“Are you expecting this album to go platinum like all the others?”
Platinum, hell he would be satisfied if it didn’t end his career. “We’ll see what happens, Johnny. It’s up to the public to decide.”
“So, you’ve been spotted around town with some of the most beautiful women in Nashville. Is there anyone special in your life right now?”
He clenched his jaw in frustration. He had come to expect this question, but he still resented it. “No, not really.” Megan would take offense, but he didn’t care.
“You are one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. Think you’ll ever marry again?”
“No.” The only woman he wanted to call his wife was determined to forget he was alive. He’d had his one chance at forever and he blew it. He sure as hell didn’t deserve another one.
“Can you tell us about the car wreck you were involved in last year, Trey? We understand a woman and young child were killed. Your Hummer and their mini-van were hit by the driver of a tractor trailer who fell asleep at the wheel, right? Rumour has it you were lucky to escape with your life. That would have been a hell of a loss for country music, man.”
Trey wanted to tell him the loss of life that occurred was much more valuable than his, but he kept his mouth shut. He could imagine the headlines: Country Superstar Trey Turner Wishes He Had Been the One to Die in Fatal Crash.
“I’d rather not discuss that, Johnny.”
“Sure, I understand. We’ve all heard you’ve fallen off the wagon after three years of sobriety. Is that true, Trey?”
He glanced at the highball of scotch to his right. “I’d rather not get into it.” Which he knew was akin to admitting guilt. His manager and publicist would go ballistic, not to mention his record label. He had to end this call or risk digging himself a deeper hole. “Look, man, it’s been good talking to you, but I gotta roll.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks for talking to us, Trey. We’re all looking forward to the new album, so don’t keep your fans waiting too long.”
“I’ll try not to. Thanks, Johnny.” He pressed the button to end the call.
His hand shook as he reached for the crystal glass. He took a long swallow of the amber liquid, savouring the familiar burn on the way down. He knew it was toxic, eating him alive from the inside out. He hated that he needed it, hated the fact that alcohol was the only thing that seemed to take the edge off and calm the fear and anxiety so he could get through another day.
He looked up at the ceiling. “What the hell am I gonna do?” he whispered. He needed help, was desperate for guidance, but had no idea where to turn. His faith had been tested to the limits, and he couldn’t face the idea of admitting the truth to his friends and family. He had never felt so alone.
He knew that every day he lived without creative inspiration was another day closer to sealing his fate. He couldn’t stall his manager and record label forever. They expected answers and he knew he had to tell them the truth; his career was over. But every time he tried to tell his best friend and manager, he panicked. He was terrified that, without music, he was looking into the abyss of a dark, empty, meaningless future. His music was the only thing he had left.
He pulled the newspaper clipping out of his desk and stared at the black and white photo of the little girl who had died in the fiery crash. Six years old, the same age his daughter would have been. Trey couldn’t comprehend why he had been spared when a little girl with her whole life ahead of her had been taken. If he could, he would have traded places with her in a heartbeat, given her a chance at the life his daughter deserved. A knock on the door of his studio interrupted his reverie and he silently wished he could escape. Escape the questions and expectations of a world where he no longer felt he belonged.
His sister poked her head in the door. “Hey, just heard you on the radio, big shot.”
He smiled. His sister was one of the few people who could still make him smile. Perhaps because she didn’t see him as Trey Turner, money machine. She simply saw him as her over-protective big brother.
He and his sister had always been close, especially before and during his marriage. Marisa and his ex-wife had become fast friends, bonding like sisters soon after they met. She tried not to take sides, but he knew she blamed him for the marriage falling apart. Marisa made the effort to maintain contact with him, but their relationship hadn’t been the same since his divorce. Nothing in his life had been the same since his divorce.
He sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. He rubbed his eyes and stroked the two-day growth of beard. He knew he must look like hell, but he couldn’t summon the energy to care. “What’s up, Marisa?”
“I could ask you the same. You look like you’ve been on one hell of a bender.” She eyed the highball of scotch on the desk. “Have you?”
“No, just not sleeping much.” Truth be told, he felt like he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.
She glanced at the glass again, sighing. “Isn’t it a little early for that, Trey?”
He chuckled, the sound unfamiliar to his own ears. It had been a long time since he’d had any reason to laugh. “Honey, it’s gotta be five o’clock somewhere.”
She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him, but he could see the fear and disappointment lurking beneath the anger.
“Damn it. It’s not funny, Trey.”
Her expression softened and he saw the pity. God, he hated to be pitied almost as much as he hated feeling useless, inept, and washed up.
“I’m worried about you. So are Mama and Daddy. You haven’t been the same since the accident.”
He slid the newspaper clipping under a stack of documents. He didn’t want her to know he’d been obsessing about the past again. Why couldn’t he just let it go, look to the future? Maybe he could stand the thought of a life without music if he wasn’t facing it alone. He sighed. No sense wishing for the impossible.
“Nothing to worry about, sis. I’m fine.”
“Prove it.” She claimed the chair across from him. “Come to Jimmy’s tonight. You and I haven’t spent any time together in months.”
He shook his head. He hadn’t been back to his old haunt since the night of the accident. He had been on the wagon that night, not a drop to drink, not that it mattered. Two innocent people still lost their lives and he lost what little remained of the life he’d known. If he hadn’t gone to the bar that night, he wouldn’t have been on the road at two a.m., wouldn’t have rushed to the aid of the minivans’ passengers. He wouldn’t have been holding the hand of that little girl as he watched her slip away.
“Sorry, not interested.”
Marisa reached across the desk and put her hand on his arm. “Trey, please do this for me.”
“That’s the last place I want to go tonight.” He glanced at the date on his phone, a neon reminder of that fateful day exactly one year ago. Not that he needed to be reminded. The visions were burned in his memory like a bad horror flick on perpetual rewind.
“I think you need help.”
He knew he needed help, had for years, but the only person who could help him wanted to forget he was alive. “Spare me your dime-store psychology, Marisa. Stick to what you know best, clothes and shoes.” He knew that would hit a nerve, piss her off enough to drive her away.
“Do you think we’re going to sit by and let you self-destruct again, Trey?”
Again. Like he had five years ago when Sierra left him and he lost his will to live.
“You were sober for almost three years. Why the hell are you doing this? You’re punishing yourself for an accident that wasn’t even your fault.”
He saw the tears in her eyes and hated that he was causing the people he loved so much pain. He knew they would be better off without him. Maybe he should just disappear. Hole up somewhere far away and drink away the past six years of his life.
“This may not have been my fault, but what about the other accident?” The accident that took my baby girl and the woman I loved, he thought.
“You have to stop punishing yourself for that. It wasn’t your fault.”
He wondered, was it an accident or divine intervention? Maybe God was punishing him for every thoughtless, selfish thing he’d ever done. Maybe He disapproved of his tactics, trampling anyone and everyone on his mission to dominate the country music industry. It was never enough. No matter how many awards he’d won, records he’d sold, or millions he’d made, it had never been enough. He had worked longer and harder every day in his quest for supremacy until he finally wound up alone.
He propped his elbows on the desk, dropping his head in his hands. “Maybe it was an accident. I don’t know. What I do know is that my stupidity, my recklessness, caused Sierra to go into labour ten weeks early. If I hadn’t been arguing with her, I wouldn’t have been distracted. I would have been able to stop in time.” He swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the grief blocking his airway.
“We lost our daughter because of me, Marisa.”
She reached out to him, but he pushed her away. He didn’t want her sympathy, didn’t deserve it.
“Sierra has forgiven you, Trey. I think it’s time for you to forgive yourself.”
“Never,” he whispered.
To forgive himself would dishonor Callie’s memory. He had come to terms with who he was: a self-indulgent, power-hungry, control freak, and because of his failings, his angel had died before she had a chance at life. He wasn’t worthy of forgiveness.
She leaned back in her chair, staring at him like she was looking at a stranger. “Is that why you haven’t been able to get past this accident? Because it reminded you of what happened back then?”
He got up and crossed the room, feeling trapped, like a caged animal desperate to escape the confines of a life behind bars. Only he was trapped by gaping wounds that time and booze couldn’t heal and mistakes that he couldn’t make up for, no matter how much he wished he could.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Marisa. Please, just go.”
She hesitated and he knew she wanted to object.
“Fine,” she said softly. “I’ll leave, but only if you promise to come to Jimmy’s tonight.”
He just wanted to be alone, alone with his misery and memories. “I’ll be there. Just go now, please.”