After

3 - Jessica

"Don't cut through your mountain!" I declare victoriously as the eyes of three thousand people are fixed on me. "The tunnels and mines you choose to dig will be your downfall!"

Each click of my stilettos across the stage stabs each of my words, sending their impact hurling. I can feel the crowd enthralled, their breaths hanging on my every syllable. "I made it through one of those mines," I spin on my heel to fix my eyes like a dart on their faces. "But it wasn't easy. I didn't escape unscathed." My words are dramatic as I pass my gaze from one face to the other. They are itching in their seats, like mini volcanoes ready to burst. Perfect.

My shirt hangs low over my cleavage - I had chosen it especially just to frame the clear, X-shaped scars riven across my chest. Well, not just for that. There are men here who hold the cards of my future in their grubby, oily hands. If I play to my strengths, there could be a promotion in it for me.

Not could. Will.

"Shortcuts," I finalise, hearing the creak of audience members hitching forward, hinging on the end of their seats and on the cliff of my words. "Only lead to destruction." I click my tongue. "You," I add, gearing up my final weapon, "Are better than a shortcut. Thank you."

My bow triggers an eruption of cheers as bodies shoot to their feet, hands clapping wildly. With a smug smile, I parade off the stage, hearing a very recognisable, low chuckle in my earpiece. "You did it again, Jess," the voice attempts to flatter me.

"As always, Greg," I smile slyly as if he can see me, where I'm slipping backstage and grabbing for my water bottle.

"Bravo," he chuckles rhythmically as I unscrew the bottle top and gulp down a load of water to soothe my throat.

"Jessica?"

I almost choke, the water shooting out of my mouth and spraying quite spectacularly over the sound guy. He immediately glares at me though knows well enough not to attack. I shrug. At least it didn't spray on the electrical equipment.

"What are you doing here?" I glare at the man in front of me, tapping my heel impatiently. I don't have time for this. I refuse to let my stomach knot up with nerves as I wait for him to respond.

The man clasps his hands around his briefcase handle, swinging it confidently in front of him. He is far too pristine for his own good, his jet black suit chiseled perfectly into sharp points at his shoulders. "He insisted that I visit you personally."

I roll my eyes, using it as an excuse to divert my gaze, to calm my heart and my twisted intestines. I can't bear to see him. It's too risky - too many memories are creased into lines on his forehead and sewn into ends of his receding hairline. I'm not prepared to burst open that canal.

"He needs to see you," the man narrows his eyes, determined. Of course, Mike wouldn't hire some half-assed lawyer.

"No," I flip my hard gaze back to the lawyer before strutting past him.

My experiences on top of that mountain have been concealed. Only tiny details - insignificant details, ones that don't contain my heart - have been strategically guided out for my motivational speeches, my career. I can't handle anymore - and seeing Mike again would push me over the edge.

"He says you owe him," the lawyer coughed, seeming uncomfortable with resorting to blackmail, "For rehab."

I spin around in one swift movement and set my sights on the man like a hawk. "So he's blackmailing me now?" I scoff, shaking my head as if I couldn't believe it. But I definitely can.

"Fine," I bite my word as it spins out of my word. My tone is sharp, a dagger, as are my heels as I take strong, purposeful steps towards the lawyer. "But on my terms. My time."

The lawyer nods as if he's understood.

"There's a car waiting outside for you right now," he adds nonchalantly, turning around and vacating the building like a ghost.

I sigh dramatically. So much for my terms.


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