by Dana Piccoli
Natalia Chambers is a successful singer/songwriter whose star is on the rise. But Nat has a problem. She can’t seem to write any new music and the pressure is on to write a follow-up to her last record. The fact that her last girlfriend betrayed her and left her with a wounded heart certainly isn’t helping any.
When Nat comes home from her latest tour, she’s ready for some serious R&R. The last thing she expects is a stunning pastry chef named Maddy LaDuke to send her tumbling (literally) head over heels. As Nat spends more time with Maddy she discovers a side benefit—it seems that their romance may hold the key to that serious writer’s block problem.
Just when Nat thinks she’s ready for something big with Maddy, an old flame arrives and tries to burn it all down. Will Nat and Maddy be able to put their hearts on the line and find trust in each other?
Dana Piccoli takes readers on journey of sweet romance and second chances with her debut novel, Savor the Moment.
Nat Chambers pushed open the backstage doors with a smile. Show nights always brought out the best in her and why shouldn’t she be happy? She was in a good band, no, a great band, with her best friends and was lucky enough to fall for her tour mate, Melissa Hartford. Both rising stars on the indie music scene, Nat and Melissa were a match made in musician heaven. Tonight, they would get to sing together in front of another sold-out audience and go back to their hotel together and celebrate six months of being a couple. Nat had already ordered Melissa’s favorites, champagne and chocolate, from room service. Things felt like they might be getting serious and Nat wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Melissa was a real catch. Beautiful, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes, an incredible voice and a biting sense of humor. Nat pulled out her phone to see if Melissa had returned her text from earlier and was disappointed to not see a new message. Nat shrugged it off. She was probably exploring with her band and lost track of time. She was a real artist and could easily get lost in her passions.
Nat nodded to the backstage crew and headed toward her best friend and bassist Lara Bianchi’s dressing room. Her other bandmate, Paul Lim, had stopped for a quick bite and a pack of cigarettes, so he’d probably be gliding in five minutes before showtime. Lara had been distant the last few days and Nat wanted to check in with her bestie and make sure she was all right. Lara had broken up with her long-time girlfriend a couple months prior and was having a rough time with it. Nat, who always wanted to be the kind of best friend you can count on, was worried Lara had fallen into a funk. Nat had been spending a lot of time with Melissa lately and made a promise to herself to make more time for Lara and Paul too. After all, without Paul and Lara’s support, Nat would still be playing open mics in Brooklyn for tips and free beer.
When Nat reached Lara’s dressing room, the door was closed but the lights were on, so Nat knew she’d be there. The trio had no secrets and being on tour together for so long created an open-door environment between them, so Nat found it a little odd that Lara’s door was mostly closed. Nat lightly knocked on the door before pushing it open.
“Hey girl,” Nat said as she let herself in. “I wanted to check in on you…” Lara was there, sitting on her dressing table with her breasts exposed and her skirt hiked up. Her blond head was thrown back in pleasure. Another woman’s head was deep between her thighs, and Lara looked like she had about reached her bliss. Nat was mortified, but it’s not like she’d never encountered one of her bandmates in a delicate position before.
“I am so sorry, Lara,” Nat winced as she covered her eyes. “I didn’t know you had someone in here. Carry on, I will see myself out.” Nat started to back out of the doorway when Lara spoke, her voice full of alarm.
“Nat, oh god, no. I… I am so sorry,” Lara said, her voice breaking and on the verge of tears.
Nat removed the hand shielding her eye and watched her friend of over a decade quickly cover herself as a familiar face emerged from between her legs. Melissa. Lara was a mess of blubbering tears and trembling fingers as she tried to button up her blouse and pull down her skirt. Melissa didn’t speak but her face was flushed and her expression unreadable.
Nat felt vomit rise in her throat as her legs went to jelly beneath her. She grabbed the door frame to steady herself. Lara ran to her and took Nat’s shoulders in her hands. Nat could feel Lara shaking her, and recognized the words coming out of her mouth, but it was like Nat was underwater and sinking fast.
“Why?” Nat managed to squeak out.
Lara dropped to her knees and wept, and it was Melissa who stepped forward. “Nat, it just happened,” Melissa said, her voice flat and emotionless compared to the sobbing pile that was Lara. “Please don’t make a big deal out of it, okay?”
“My best fucking friend?” she spit out like nails.
“Honey, you know I love you. This was just… It didn’t mean anything.”
Nat looked over to Lara who choked on her tears, her face red and puffy. She looked so ashamed that Nat had to turn away because she started to feel sorry for her.
“When?” Nat asked.
“When, what?” Melissa replied.
“When did this start?”
Melissa bit her lip, and it was Lara whose broken voice rose just barely loud enough to hear. “A month ago.”
Nat let out a harsh little laugh and quickly wiped away a tear as it trickled down her face. “A month. A fucking month?”
“Lara, you should really learn to keep your mouth shut,” snapped Melissa. She stepped closer to Nat until there was little space between them. “You know me. I’m just not good with being tied down. I want to for you, though. It’s just…hard.” Melissa ran her fingers along Nat’s shoulder and Nat yanked her arm away. Melissa sighed. “Be the bigger person, Natalia. This doesn’t have to change anything.”
Nat swallowed and steadied herself. “Oh Melissa, this changes everything.”
Eight Months Later…
“Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three!” exclaimed Nat as she and Paul hauled a Marshall Stack amplifier out of the van.
“Sweet Jesus,” Paul panted as he pushed the amp to the side. “You know, Nat, we really need to get a new roadie.”
Nat wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. “Well, considering you slept with our last roadie and he ran out of the Denny’s in St. Louis crying, I’m thinking perhaps you should hush and start working on those rippling biceps of yours.”
Paul smirked and Nat couldn’t help but laugh. “Nat, just because you have a strict ‘no groupie or crew’ policy yourself, doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t like to have a little fun now and then.” He grabbed his kick drum and hoisted it high on his chest with a grunt. “I love you, babe, but sometimes you could stand to loosen up. You are a rock star, for chrissakes.”
“I’m not a rock star,” she said with mock indignation, her shoulders held back “I’m a moderately successful singer/songwriter.” He rolled his eyes with a smile as she picked up a Zildjian cymbal from the floor of the van and spun it on her finger. “And see? I’ve got mad skills. This is what I do when you and Jackie are off partying and getting laid.” The cymbal made a whooshing sound as it circled her finger.
“Very nice. The ladies will be very impressed. By the way, where is Jackie?” He put down the drum and scanned the backstage area. “We could use a little help!”
“I’ll check the sound booth. She’s probably offering her unsolicited advice to a very receptive soundman.” Nat shielded her eyes from the stage lights and peered out into the house. “Jackie, can you get your cute lil’ self up here and help Paul and me unload the rest of the van?”
“Coming, darlings!” called a lyrical British accent from the top of the house. “Tell Paul to quit his whining.” With that Nat’s other bandmate Jackie Adeyemi came bounding down the aisle, her dark ponytail swinging with every step. When she reached the stage, Nat hoisted her up.
“I can already tell the acoustics in here are choice,” Jackie said as she gave Nat a quick pat on the cheek. She blew a giant kiss to the sound guy, while secretly giving him a finger only Nat could see. Nat laughed as Jackie skipped off to help Paul and smacked him on the ass when she got there. Nat could hear them in the distance.
“Look there, you don’t even need me! Bob’s your uncle!” teased Jackie in her exaggerated British accent.
Paul picked up the petite cello player in a bear hug. “God, I love you, but I can’t understand a damn thing you say.” He put her down before they disappeared onto the loading dock.
Nat smiled to herself; how she adored her band, this life. The stage beneath her feet was well worn and solid. It felt like it held the notes of a million songs that played before her. Tonight was the last night of the final leg of their US tour and tomorrow the Nat Chambers Band would head home to NYC for some well-deserved rest before they started work on their new album. Life was perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but close enough.
Nat slid the key into the door of her Long Island City loft and breathed an exhausted sigh of relief. Life on the road, while exciting, was nothing compared to her nice warm bed and coffee in her own kitchen. When she opened the door, there stood her main man, Eddie. She bent down to rub his furry gray head, and he chirped and purred a welcome home. She brought in her guitar and suitcase as Eddie made figure eights between her feet. She made her way into the living room, where there was a note from Oliver Vargas, her full-time manager and part-time cat sitter.
Welcome home, beautiful. Hope the last show went off without a hitch. Take a few days to regroup, then give me a call. Lots to talk about, good things.
Ps…there is your favorite Thai takeout waiting for you in the fridge.
Pps. Your cat is an asshole.
Nat snorted a laugh and looked at Eddie, who now lounged on the couch and licked his nether regions. “Classy. What did you do this time, buddy?” Eddie washed his face and avoided the question. Nat opened the fridge, which was empty except for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a container of Pad Thai.
“Sweet ambrosia! Oliver, you are a goddamn saint, you know that?” She’d thank him in person soon enough, but now it was time to become one with the wine and noodles. She poured herself a glass and took a long sip. It was so beautifully grassy and herbaceous; she nearly teared up with joy. She took the glass and the Pad Thai and plopped herself on the couch next to Eddie. Grabbing the remote she channel surfed and stopped when she heard her own voice singing back at her. As the opening credits of the popular med school drama Trauma University rolled, so did her song, which had been chosen as the show’s familiar theme music.
Three years earlier, her song “Heart/Break” was chosen to play in the opening title sequence of the new show. Little did she know it would go on to be such a huge hit and gain her legions of new fans, not to mention boost her record sales. (It also scored her a make-out session with one of the shows gorgeous female leads in a bathroom stall at the show’s premiere party.) After years of struggling to make rent and cover touring expenses, The Nat Chambers Band now sold out shows in college towns and bigger cities alike. She was able to buy her loft outright, pay off all her credit cards and live comfortably for the first time in her adult life.
She raised her glass to the screen. “Cheers, you beautiful bastards.”
Her phone chirped signaling a text message. She looked at Eddie, who was twisted into a ball, with just one eye open. Thinking it was Paul or Jackie checking in, she grabbed the phone. However, she immediately regretted reading the message. It wasn’t from her bandmates. In fact, it was the one person she decidedly did not want to hear from. Melissa.
Hi Natalia. Heard your tour was a success. Welcome home.
She tossed the phone across the room where it landed with a thud against the love seat. She drank the rest of her wine in a big gulp, turned off the TV, and marched to her bedroom, leaving her noodles uneaten on the coffee table. Eddie gave them a sniff and then followed his owner into the dark hallway toward the bedroom. She peeled off her jeans and undid her bra, leaving them haphazardly on the floor. She dove face first into the mattress and waited a moment before she released a long and muffled, “Fuuuuuuuuucck.”
“And now let’s move into Sun Salutation,” the yoga instructor said softly as she canvassed the room. Nat, Paul, and Jackie had made a pact to get in shape and decompress after the tour. Hot yoga classes at The Space in Park Slope were on the agenda. The instructor, an attractive older woman with a gray pixie cut, passed by and corrected Nat’s posture. Paul and Jackie were on either side of her and Jackie was simultaneously texting and posing, while beads of sweat poured off Paul’s red face. It had been a few days since the trio arrived back in New York, and Nat was doing her best to avoid Melissa’s texts and drinking a bit more wine than she should. Her muscles were tight and dehydrated, and she felt a little unsteady on her feet, but she needed this release.
“Natalia, I’m dying. I’m actually dying,” whimpered Paul, the nicotine leaching out in his sweat.
“You’re not dying. You smoke two packs a day and you are a handsome, husky fool.”
“Didn’t you hear? I’m vaping now.”
“Focus please, ladies and gentlemen,” announced the instructor. Nat’s face grew red with embarrassment. “Let’s move into Downward Dog.”
Nat pulled herself into the inverted V position, and while holding the pose, she looked toward the floor to ceiling windows. Right beyond Jackie, who was somehow taking a selfie, Nat noticed a woman with wavy red hair. She had toned arms the color of fresh cream dotted with light, playful freckles. Her shoulders were bare and defined, glistening with perspiration, leading into a raspberry colored tank top. Just as Nat was thinking how lovely it would be to run her fingertips across those beautiful arms, the woman turned her head and met Nat’s gaze. Her lips curled into a grin that took Nat by surprise, so much so, that her sweaty hands gave way underneath, sending her tumbling from her pose, her head smacking against the blond wood floor of the studio. Everything went black.
When Nat opened her eyes, Jackie and the instructor knelt above her. She felt a knot rising on her forehead as Jackie applied a cold ice pack. Paul appeared with a cup of water, his face still red.
“You’ll be just fine,” said the instructor. “I’m a former nurse, and I don’t think you have a concussion. Just a small bump. Might be wise to get it checked out by your general practitioner, though. Can you stand?” Nat nodded and Jackie and Paul helped her up. She was a little sore but more embarrassed than anything. Her first thought was what an ass she had made of herself in front of that beautiful stranger. The rest of class had cleared out during the hubbub, so Nat, Jackie, and Paul gathered their mats and belongings as well. As they headed toward the lobby, the beautiful redhead rose from the window seat.
“Is she okay?” she asked Paul. She turned her concerned gaze toward Nat. “Are you okay?” Nat, touched that the redhead had waited to check on her prognosis, smiled and nodded yes. The redhead smiled back. Nat opened her mouth to speak, but the room was still spinning a bit, so she thought better of it.
“Oh, good.” The redhead slipped her mat under her arm. “Feel better,” she whispered before heading through the front door and out to the street.
Jackie poked Nat playfully in the ribs, bringing her back to reality.
“Wanna skip coffee?” Paul asked.
Nat reached up to brush some hair away from the swollen goose egg. “It’s too early for bourbon, right?”
“Oh girl, it is never too early for bourbon,” remarked Paul.
Jackie cocked her head at him.
“What?” he shrugged.
“Coffee is good. I could use a boost. Let’s go,” Nat declared as she linked arms with her friends.
Nat and Jackie stirred their lattes at a café table in the coffee shop downstairs from the yoga studio. Paul stomped over with a magazine in his hand. “You are never going to believe this shit.” He tossed it on the table, causing the empty sugar packets to flutter onto the floor in its wake. It was a copy of the weekly indie rock magazine Market, and on the cover was none other than Melissa Hartford.
“Sweet Agony Lead Singer Melissa Hartford: Uncovered,” Jackie read aloud nonchalantly.
“They should hurry and cover the bitch back up,” sniffed Paul as he took his seat.
Nat took a long sip of her coffee and the table was quiet for a moment.
Jackie broke the silence, her brown eyes flashing between them. “Soooo… Is anyone going to tell me the real story? I know you and Melissa had a thing and then a falling out of sorts—”
“Of sorts? Well, that’s the goddamn understatement of the year,” Paul said.
“All right, easy, mate,” Jackie said. “But I want to know the whole story. Since I came on board this tour, I’ve only heard bits and pieces from Paul.”
Nat shot a look at Paul, who shrugged his shoulders and said, “What? We share a van, for chrissakes. Long, lonely nights. I mean, frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t spill all the damn tea.”
“It’s fine,” Nat sighed as she shifted in her chair. She paused for a moment, then flipped the paper over. “Last year, Melissa Hartford’s band and our band booked a North American multi-city double bill. That much you know.” Jackie leaned forward with her hands under her chin. “Well, things were great at first. Melissa and I…hit it off.”
He rolled his eyes. “More like they spent every waking moment together,” he interjected, “which was annoying by the way.”
“Would you like to tell the story?”
“Well, I tell it much better,” he said with a smile.
“Fine,” She leaned back in her chair and gestured for him to continue.
He pulled his chair closer to Jackie. “Okay, so Natalia falls head over heels for Melissa, who is a soul sucking monster with really nice boobs and bouncy hair.”
“It was quite bouncy,” Nat agreed as she chewed on the end of her stir straw.
“Right, so these two are all duets and love songs and guesting in each other’s sets and shit. The crowds didn’t know for sure, but they could feel the energy and they loved it. They called them Natlissa.”
“I thought it was HartChamber?” Nat interjected.
“Whatever. The point is, they shipped it.”
Jackie narrowed her eyes. “Shipped it?”
He sighed. “Yes, it’s short for relationship. Are you ever on Twitter? Get with it, Jackie. Anyway…”
Paul then proceeded to tell the story of the worst day of Nat’s life.
“Oh, bloody hell!” exclaimed Jackie who looked at Nat with horror. Nat ran her fingers through her hair and pursed her lips.
“It was worse than you can imagine,” Paul continued. “Nat, Lara, and I still had to perform three more shows together. Nat didn’t speak to anyone save for me that last week. She breezed past Melissa during and after shows. To Nat’s credit, she was one hundred percent professional. Said she didn’t want to punish the fans for something out of their control. Lara was all tears and apologies. She begged Nat to forgive her. I mean they were bandmates and friends for years.”
“Some things you can’t get past,” Nat said as she peered out the café window.
“What about Melissa?” Jackie asked looking to Paul.
“Melissa was nonchalant, to say the least. She made it seem like Nat had never meant that much to her in the first place and that they were just having fun. I think that’s what hurt Nat the most.” Paul looked into Nat’s eyes, which were welling with tears. He reached over and brushed her cheek with his thumb. “I’m sorry, love,” he said gently.
“It’s the head bump.”
“Sure, doll.” He returned his focus to Jackie. “After that, Nat let Lara go and decided to go with a fresh new set up. Bass out, cello in. That’s where you came in.”
“And we’re all the better for it, right Natalia?”
Nat took a deep breath. “Absofuckinglutely,” she cheered as she raised her paper cup to her bandmates. Paul and Jackie joined her in the toast.
“So, speaking of that, Oliver wants us to get back in the studio soon,” Nat announced. “Which would be fine if I’d been able to write any decent new songs in months.”
Paul slurped his coffee. “What about that one you played for me last week? The one in six-eight?”
“It was shit. I tossed it.”
“I thought it was good.”
“It was trite and passionless.”
He laughed. “Those are some of my best qualities.”
“Well,” Jackie piped in, “perhaps you need a little inspiration. You seemed pretty inspired before you went all ass over tit during yoga.” She cast a raised eyebrow at Nat.
“How did you even see that? You were taking a picture of your own boobs,” Nat responded.
“I’m an excellent multi-tasker. Come on, I play cello and sing harmonies at the same time. I’m goddamn spectacular!”
“That you are.” Nat smiled. “Considering I literally fell flat on my face in front of her, I’m going to venture to say that I didn’t make the best first impression.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Jackie said with a knowing smile. “Even I felt those sparks.”
Nat chuckled at that thought. “Sparks, eh? No, that was the look of pity for a poor woman who is apparently as coordinated as a newborn giraffe.”
“Nah, there was definitely sparkage, right Paul?” Jackie playfully punched him in the arm.
“Loads. Sparks. Sparkles. Glitter!”
Nat couldn’t help but smile. Could there really have been sparks? No way.
Nat sat in bed, carefully licking orange cheese dust off her fingers. In the two days since she’d fallen ass over tit at the yoga studio, she’d been nursing her wounds and laying low. It wasn’t so much the bump on the head, but the conversation with Paul and Jackie afterward.
Seeing Melissa on the cover of that magazine shook her. She’d spent the last year trying not to think about Melissa, and all that did was remind her of the pain and frustration of the situation. She hadn’t dated anyone since the breakup, and the double whammy of losing one of her best friends along with her lover was too much to bear. She’d compartmentalized it, but sometimes she just had to admit it really sucked. So there she sat in bed, Eddie sprawled out on his back in a sunbeam, while she looked disheveled and covered in a thin layer of nacho cheese powder. She ignored a soft knock at the door and searched through Netflix for something to watch for the umpteenth time. With annoyance, she tossed her iPad and laid down in a huff.
“Chambers, you look like shit,” Paul said, suddenly standing in the door frame of her bedroom.
She screamed with surprise. “Jesus H, Paul! What are you doing here and why are you trying to kill me?” She tossed a throw pillow at him.
He gingerly held up a keychain. “Remember, I have a key?”
“That’s for emergencies only.”
Paul shrugged and sat down on the bed. “You didn’t respond to my text for like, five hours. I figured that meant emergency. But now that I see you, I’m guessing…more lezmergency than actual emergency.”
She glared at him. “Lezmergency?”
“Yeah,” he said as he picked up little pieces of trash and discarded clothing from the bed. “It’s when your lesbian best friend is brooding over a woman and you have to come and try to fix it.”
“Who says I’m brooding?”
“Well, the state of your hair for one thing. Also, I know that the Melissa thing got under your skin the other day.” He pulled out a joint and offered it to her. She shook her head. “Good thinking.” He lit up and took a drag. “You are the worst on pot.”
“Thanks. Remind me again why you’re here? Just to torture me?”
He grabbed her by the shoulders. “That’s always fun but no, I’m here on official best friend business. So, let it out.”
She huffed. “There’s nothing to let out.”
“Bullshit.” He took another drag and blew it out the side of his mouth. “I can see you are hurting, so let’s talk.”
She pulled at a loose thread on her comforter. “Fine. I guess, it’s just that every time I think it’s over, that I’m not hurt or angry anymore, something happens to remind me that I’m not over it.”
“Maybe it’s not that you aren’t over it. Maybe, it’s that you hold on tightly to things, even pain, and it brings you some sort of weird comfort to have this big bad emotion in your life.”
She scrunched her eyebrows. “That’s nonsense.”
“Is it?” He stubbed out the joint on a nearby plate of cookie crumbs. “Do you still love Melissa?”
“No,” she said with assurance. She didn’t.
“Do you miss her?”
He motioned for her to move over and he laid next to her. “So, it comes down to pride then?”
“What? No. I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I mean, it makes sense. If our roles had been reversed, my pride would have been wounded too. The ego is a bitch of a thing to battle against. I think, and I may be wrong, but I doubt it, that you’re more hurt about Lara than Melissa.”
Nat’s stomach dropped at the mention of Lara’s name. Friends since their early days in New York, Nat and Lara had been more like sisters than friends. “I hate to admit it, but you may have a point. I put so much anger toward the situation, I didn’t really take the time to process how sad I was about it.”
“I don’t miss Melissa but I do miss Lara.”
He leaned on one elbow. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but now that you’re having your come to Jesus moment, I think you can handle it.”
“Okay?” She prepared herself for the worst.
“I ran into Lara the other day.”
“Really? Where? Last I heard she was moving to LA.”
“She did. She was in town for a gig, I guess. We bumped into each other in Hell’s Kitchen on the street. New York is such a small town.”
“She’s good. She let her hair grow out. She’s working with a new band she likes a lot. She was with a guy who it turns out is her boyfriend. Cute.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better?”
He sneered. “I’m getting there. Anyhoo, she asked about you. Told me she misses you a lot and regrets what happened every day. She’s happy now but she wished she could change how things happened. Turns out Melissa told her you guys were opening up the relationship and that she didn’t have to worry.”
“Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s not like she was using that as an excuse, because let’s face it, fucking your best friend’s girlfriend under any circumstance is not cool.”
Nat rubbed her face. “And?”
“And, she’s sorry. She was also harboring this hidden jealousy of you, and it found a way to worm its way out in the worst possible way.”
“She said that?”
“Yeah, she’s been doing a lot of meditation and therapy. Don’t roll your eyes.”
“You wanted to. The point of all this is, Lara is really sorry and she wanted you to know that. I know it’s not the closure you were probably looking for, but it’s out there in the universe now if you want to grab hold of it.”
Nat sat quietly for a moment. She wanted to forgive Lara and maybe that was the key to moving forward. “I’ll think about it.”
“Okay, you do that. Meanwhile, I’ll order us some Chinese while you take a shower. You smell like regret and processed cheese. Normally that’s appealing to me in a person, but not today, buddy.” He hopped up and headed into the living room. Eddie trotted behind him, hoping for a treat.
Nat sniffed her armpits and decided Paul’s advice was best taken.