And you want to scream,
Don’t call me kid.
Don’t call me baby.
Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me.
There’ssomething beautiful about tattoos. The way the ink sits beneath the surface of the skin, permanent and branding. The buzzing of the machine is enough to get me high, but the feeling of the needle pushes me over the edge. Since the very first one I got, I’ve been hooked.
“Are you asleep?” my best friend Knox asks as he rubs a paper towel over my sensitive skin.
“You’re unusually still.”
I roll my eyes, even though he can’t see me. “No. You’re just used to all the pussies in Rhode Island who squirm every time you bring a needle within six inches of them.”
He chuckles. “All right, you have a point. Touché.”
One of the benefits of having a tattoo artist in training as my closest friend is all the free art. I offered to pay for the ink and needles, but he refused.
The piece he's working on is a decaying skull on my right shoulder blade. Not going to lie, it hurts like a bitch, but it's a good kind of pain. The kind that rocks me to sleep at night, because I'm a sick fuck like that.
Delaney, Knox’s girlfriend, and her twin sister Tessa walk in, laughing and gesturing at something on Delaney’s phone. I carefully turn my head to the side and smile warmly at them. Knox stops what he's doing for a second to kiss Laney hello, while Tess comes to stand next to where I'm lying. She stares for a second at my shoulder.
“Dude, you're really letting him tattoo a dick on your back?” she asks.
My eyes widen and panic sets in. “He's what?”
I jump up off the bed and go to look in the mirror as the three of them laugh. When I see the piece is as perfect as I expected it to be, I sigh in relief. Tessa watches with a sickeningly sweet smile that's five times more innocent than she is.
“You're a menace,” I tell her.
She shrugs. “Yeah, but you love me.”
“Whatever you say, CBP.”
The mention of the nickname wipes the smile clear off her face, and she punches Knox in the arm as he snickers. It's a name he gave her when she first started coming around, being as she scared the shit out of the both of us. It stands for Cute But Psycho. We went a year and a half before she found out what it means.
I lie back down, and Knox goes back to work while Tess and Delaney busy themselves with some gossip.
AN HOUR LATER, I can barely feel my shoulder as he finishes up and uses his phone to take a picture. When he shows it to me, my jaw drops. I always knew he was talented, but this shit is unreal.
“How are you still considered a trainee?”
He grins, but Delaney answers for him. “Because all the work he does outside the shop doesn't count, including the shit he does to himself like some self-mutilating crazy-ass.”
Looking over at his girlfriend, he smiles. “Don't even try that. You think it's hot when I tattoo myself.”
She smirks and looks back down at her phone, not justifying that with an answer because he's obviously right.
Delaney is the last person I expected for Knox. They couldn't possibly be any more different. When they met, she was the kind of girl that thought wine coolers were too strong, while Knox could out drink any of the sad souls who dared to challenge him. And yet, somehow they work. She took him from someone I thought I'd need to bury before we turned thirty to someone with dreams, and goals, and ambitions. For that reason alone, that girl can do no wrong in my book.
The door opens and in walks the rest of the gang—Gage, Stone, and my roommate, Easton. Getting together isn't something we get to do often, since Gage and Stone chose to go away to college and Knox followed Delaney across the country, but we all make time when we're together.
They take a few steps inside, rowdy and loud, until their eyes land on Tessa. The history between Tess and Easton is a complicated one, and if I had realized they'd both be here at the same time, I would've warned him.
For the whole duration of our senior year, they had this casual dating thing going on. However, when it finally ended, it didn't feel so casual anymore. At least not to Easton. He was enrolled at UCLA for a couple months before moving home in hopes of getting his girl back. Little did he know, she had already moved on.
We went through a lot during those few months. Easton transferred to NHU, and the two of us got a place together. During a rough patch between Tess and her boyfriend, Easton tried as hard as he could to get her back, but maybe not in the best of ways. Ultimately, she went back to Asher, and Easton fell into an even deeper hole than he was already in.
Heartbreak was the least of his problems, as he spiraled into drugs and way too much alcohol. It took months of work before I got him to even resemble the guy I've known since third grade, but he eventually came around. It may have taken a few selfless choices on my side, but we got him there. Right now, however, I'm not sure he got over it at all, judging by the way he's staring at Tessa. I can't exactly blame him. The last time he saw her was in the hospital the morning after she overdosed on his entire stash, but that's a story for another time.
Tess, being the no-shits-given kind of girl she is, gets up and immediately walks over to the three of them. She gives Gage and Stone hugs first before facing Easton. Everyone in the room is dead silent as we watch the interaction between the two of them. Honestly, it looks like E might piss himself.
“No hard feelings?” she asks softly.
He exhales and the corners of his mouth raise as he grabs her hand and pulls her into a hug. “Come here, you.”
The tension in the room instantly dissipates as they leave their problems behind them.
We all sit around, talking about how it's the last night before everyone leaves to go back to school. And well, it wouldn't be us if we didn't do something at least a little epic. Knox must read my mind because he leans over and presses his forehead against Delaney.
“Text Savannah and find out what time our flight is tomorrow.”
She does as he asks, and I smirk at him.
“Club H?” I question, and he nods.
Club Hypnotic is the eighteen and older club downtown, and the most laid back one around. No one cares if you smoke a blunt, get drunk off your ass, or even throw a few punches. It's only a matter of time before they get shut down, but for tonight, it's perfect.
“Six p.m. Should I tell her and Grayson the plan?”
He raises his brows at me, but we're already on the same page. “Hypnotic, it is.”
PULLING UP TO THEclub, you'd think we brought an entire entourage with us. We all climb out of our cars, and I look around at everyone who came. Knox, Delaney, and Tessa all rode with me, but in the other cars are Gage, Stone, Savannah, Grayson, and their friends Lennon and Cade. I've met those two a few times, and I have to say, they're not the worst. Although, one very familiar face is missing.
“Where's Easton?” Knox asks before I have a chance.
Stone shrugs, but Gage is the one with the answers. “He's waiting for his sister to be ready. She's coming with him.”
My brows furrow. “Amelia's home?”
The last time I saw that girl, she was thirteen and following us around like a little puppy. From what I know, she got some crazy scholarship to a boarding school in North Carolina. I'm sure she's been back for visits, but her and I haven't crossed paths since her 8th grade graduation party.
“Yeah. She enrolled at NHU,” Gage tells me. “Easton didn't tell you?”
I shake my head. “I guess it hasn't come up. I've been busy lately.”
Thoughts of what he's going to be like with his little sister on campus flood my mind. To say he's protective of her would be an understatement. She may only be a year or so younger than us, but to him, she's the baby. In middle school, he found out some kid called her ugly and made her upset. Easton tied him to the flagpole in his underwear with a sign that said, “I disrespect girls.” It earned him a five-day suspension, but it definitely scared anyone else away from messing with her.
We all make our way inside, and Tess leads us through to one of the VIP tables. “Asher's sorry he couldn't make it, but he wanted us to have fun tonight, so it's on him.”
It's a little shocking, but then again, if I was a professional football player, spending a few grand on a club night probably wouldn't make me bat an eyelash either. Delaney shrugs like it's totally normal, and Knox grabs an already-poured shot off the table.
“To one unforgettable night.”
We all grab a shot glass and toast to that before pouring the liquor down our throats. It burns the whole way but in the best way. There's nothing better than memorable nights with friends. Especially when your friends are as kick-ass as mine.
I'M DRINKING A BEERand talking to Knox when Easton finally shows up. He looks like he spent longer than necessary on his appearance, which I'm guessing is for Tessa's sake, but to each their own. If he wants to pine after someone as unavailable as she is, I can't stop him.
“Took you long enough,” I tease.
He rolls his eyes. “Sorry. I forgot how long it takes chicks to get ready.”
“Oh, like you were much better,” a voice chastises him.
I'm mid-sip when Amelia steps out from behind him. Her long, blonde hair flows down and across her shoulders, contrasting against the black dress she's wearing. It rests on her skin but still accentuates her whole body. What the hell happened to the little brace-face I remember? She's nowhere to be found in the gorgeous girl standing in front of me.
In one idiotically embarrassing move, I inhale quickly with a mouth full of beer. I guess it's better than spitting it all over her, but they all watch as I break into a coughing fit. My fist pounds against my chest in an effort to catch my breath.
“Uh, you good?” Easton asks.
I nod. “Wrong pipe.”
My voice croaks out as I get a handle on myself. Before I can say anything else, Tessa pushes herself between me and Knox.
“Can I just say how much I've missed you?”
Amelia lights up at the sight of Tess. “Oh my God, hey!”
They hug, and while I never knew they ever met, it shouldn't surprise me. Tess and Easton liked to act as if they were just fooling around, but I also know she went to his house for just about every holiday. I assume that's where she met Amelia.
Easton watches Tessa with a love-struck look on his face that makes even Knox sigh. As much as they made a pretty good couple, she moved on. That's just something he needs to accept. Still, he all but melts as she hugs him hello before focusing back on his sister.
“Come on. Let's go dance.”
The second they're gone, I narrow my eyes on Easton. He pulls his gaze away from his ex and over at me, then crumbles under my stare.
I shake my head. “I thought you were over her.”
His shoulders sag. “You don't just get over a girl like Tessa Callahan, Z, no matter how much time has passed.”
Knox pats him on the back. “You're setting yourself up for another heartbreak again, dude.”
He looks over at where Tessa is dancing with his sister, sporting the biggest smile on her face, and groans. “I need a fucking beer.”
LATER THAT NIGHT, I'Mleaning up against the rail, staring out at the dance floor. More specifically, at one girl—Amelia. I can't believe that's the same girl who used to beg us to play Barbies with her. Easton's overly smart, geeky little sister. But fuck, it's like she traded her braces and high-waisted jeans in for an hourglass body and a smile that could flip any fucker’s life upside down, mine included.
“Don't even go there, man.” Knox appears out of nowhere. “Easton would fucking kill you.”
I should have known he'd be able to read me like an open book. He knew the second I saw her, but he's right, and there's no point in lying about it.
“I'm not,” I answer honestly.
It may suck, but it's the truth. As drop dead gorgeous as she is, I can't and won't make a move. She's pure white silk—soft, untainted perfection—and I'm solely made up of black tar. I'd only ruin her.