One more hour before Josh shows up.
Maybe he’ll get distracted with Sophie and Charlie—his beautiful new family. Then he can call and apologize for missing it, and I can say, Better luck next time.
Damn I hope that happens.
I shade with snow-white opaque, platinum and charcoal and finish off the edges.
I’m actually thankful to Quinn for walking in on me this morning—I could’ve fucked up my hands bad and would’ve had to cancel this session—and doing this is the best therapy I could give myself.
“I think you’re done, man. Why don’t you go take a look?” I tell him.
He slides off the chair and goes up close to the full mirrored wall. “Holy Fuck! It’s incredible!”
“Happy you like it.” I smile and begin cleaning my area.
“Man, it’s a fucking masterpiece.”
“Aren’t you afraid if you continue fighting in the MMA, you could hurt your hand so bad you wouldn’t be able to tat anymore?” he asks.
Wow! That statement hits too close to home.
“I don’t mean nothing by it—you’re a hell of a fighter—could become a world titleholder,” he continues. “But you’ve got an amazing talent right here.”
“Thanks.” It’s just another subject and another question I don’t have an answer for.
After he leaves and my station is all cleaned up, I walk out into the waiting room.
“He was a happy customer,” Adrienne chirps.
Adrienne has been working for me since I opened the place. She and her longtime girlfriend live in the apartment above the shop. They’re great people.
“Josh just called. He’s on his way,” she says.
“Great,” I mutter and then look around at what I’ve built: black walls with red trim and black and red checkered flooring with a Persian area rug welcoming clients to sit on the black leather sofas. My artwork hangs on the walls … they’re good, but these pieces aren’t parts of my soul. Those are colors I’ve only ever let one person see. After her, I pulled the dark shades down over those windows.
“Want to talk about it?” Ade shakes me from my daze.
“No thanks. I definitely do not want to talk about it.”
“Are you going to talk to her about it?”
When I look over at her, she has her arms folded across her chest defiantly. Her spaghetti strapped dress shows off her colorful, flowered arm sleeves.
“You’re going to get on my case too?” I accuse.
“Well, you know there are no secrets here.” When she tilts her head to challenge me, the light reflects off her silver chin post. “I think fate is giving you a lucky draw from the deck, and you need to play your cards right. You’ve been pining after her for as long as I’ve known you.”
“Ade—” I begin.
“I’m not finished speaking. This is do or die, Jack—where you find out if she still has a thing for you or not. Maybe then you can get on or move on.”
“Jesus Christ, I hate all of this free advice!” I sweep my fingers through my hair.
“Free advice just means you have a family that cares about you,” she quips.
At that moment, the buzzer rings, announcing someone has opened the door behind me.
“Welcome to The House of Ink and Steel,” Josh announces.
“Hi there!” Adrienne coos with the biggest smile. “You must be Quinn. I’m so excited to meet you.”
“Thanks.” She sounds unsure and distrustful.
“This is Adrienne, she’s been working here for forever,” Josh says.
“Oh yeah! Since Liam opened the place.”
“It’s impressive, Liam.”
When Quinn says my name, I feel as if I could melt.
“Would you like the tour?” Josh asks her when I don’t answer fast enough.
“I’d love it,” Quinn says. “You know, I’ve watched you on Ink Master.”
She’s still talking to me.
“Really? You watch that show?” I finally turn to face her.
“Well, only when you’ve been a guest judge. Guess I’m partial to your work as an artist.” She bites her lip and her gaze drops to the floor.
It’s her shy look. Her I-want-to-hide look.
“Come on, I’ll show you the alcoves.” Josh takes her arm in his. “Talon and Ryder do quite a lot more work around here than he does.”
As he leads her through the place Adrienne comes close and whispers in my ear, “It’s going to be alright, Liam. The universe has a way of working things through when it’s the right time.”
“At least one of us believes that.”
“Don’t be so cynical,” she scolds. “You just got handed a second chance.”
Before I can shoot her a dirty look, Josh and Quinn come back through the lobby. “Let’s get some lunch,” Josh says. “I’m famished.”
I give Adrienne a kiss on her cheek. Even though she’s just frustrated the living hell out of me, I know she cares.
We step out into the parking lot.
“I like the family SUV look you’ve got going on here,” I razz Josh, who used to drive a sleek Gillette Vertigo around. He still has it, but now he also owns a souped-up (with all the safety features) Chevy Tahoe. It has a pink flowered car seat in the back, which I’m sitting next to, along with the toys I had to push over to make room for my ass. A purple sippy cup sits in the drink holder next to Josh.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he admits with a shit-eating grin.
“I’d love to meet your family.” Quinn smiles over at him from the passenger seat.
“I can make that happen,” he tells her.
Soon, though, Josh drives the scenic route around Lake Calhoun.
“Look!” He indicates the colorful snow kites gliding over the frozen lake. Before anyone protests, he pulls into the recreation area’s parking lot.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen those,” Quinn says. “It looks like a kaleidoscope.”
“Good thing we’re all dressed warmly. Let’s get a closer look.” Josh turns off the engine. “I could use the fresh air too.”
This is turning into more than lunch. Before I lose my cool, I try to get back into the state of mind I had when I was tatting the guy’s arm.
“Sounds good,” Quinn says, and that solidifies it.
We all walk out to the lake’s edge. There’s so much going on here, even in the middle of February, and it reminds me why I love this city. Vendors are serving hot cocoa and warm, freshly baked pretzels; kids are running around in full snow gear, and of course, there are the snow kites. A snow kite looks a lot like a windsurfer, only it’s built to stand and sail on ice. The colors remind me of a hot air balloon festival, when hundreds take to the skies.
“There must be close to fifty of them,” I say.
“Have you ever tried it?” Quinn asks, and I realize she’s talking directly to me.
“No. I’d fall flat on my ass.” I smile.
“Yeah, and break it, then I’d be the one carrying you home.” Josh laughs.
“Asshole.” I shove him lightly. “You know, Connor’s into it. Has his own kite and everything. He’s good at it.”
Josh asks Quinn, “So, where are you living these days?”
“Georgia. I’ve been there the past few years.”
“Do you like it?” he prods.
“It’s hot and humid in the summertime, but the winters aren’t so bad.” She shrugs. “I sort of like the storms that blow through.”
She didn’t really answer his question.
“It’s really cool you two became such close friends.” She stares off dreamily at the kites.
“Yeah, I put up with him,” Josh quips and shoves my shoulder. “You two entertain each other for a second, I need to use the loo.”
I’m going to kill the fucker. I have no idea what to say! And obviously neither does she, as we both just stand there, painfully uncomfortable.
“Adrienne seems sweet,” Quinn finally says.
“Yeah, she’s cool.”
“How long have the two of you known each other?”
“Since I opened shop six years ago.” I watch a novice kiter fall on his ass. I know how you feel, buddy, I think.
“Six years is a long time,” she says.
“I guess.” I just shrug my shoulders. I’m now plotting the ways I’m going to kill Josh. “You never did finish telling Josh if you liked living in Georgia.”
“The people are really nice. I love the southern hospitality and big smiles. The people make you feel really welcome.” She continues, “I’ve made some great friends.”
“But?” I say, while I crane my neck towards the bathrooms.
“It’s an easy question, do you like living in Georgia?” It comes out more rough-edged than I intend it to.
“Yes, I do,” she snaps back at me.
Perfect, I’ve made her angry.
Trying to save this conversation, which is already a train wreck, I try, “I’d miss the winter too much, I think, to live down south.”
“I miss the winter, the smell in the air and the prickly feel of the cold on your face,” she says, then slowly states. “I’ve been thinking for a while now about … maybe … moving back up into this area.”
It’s a big city, but not big enough. “Would your boyfriend go for that?” FUCK! Way to be subtle. And I don’t even want her to answer that! “You know, Josh is taking a long fucking time. I’m going to walk by the bathroom and see what’s taking him so long.”
I walk away fast, hoping she’ll forget that I asked her anything. Now I’m getting pissed off because I’m acting like a fucking teenager!
“Wait, I’ll go with you,” she says, catching up.
Without paying her much mind, I throw open the door of the men’s bathroom and walk inside, calling Josh’s name. When I get no answer, I come back out.
“Did you see him?” I ask.
“No.” She looks at me like I’m nuts. “Maybe he had to go to the car to get something.”
We walk together out into the parking lot, until we’re standing in the empty space Josh’s SUV had been parked in.
“Okay … that’s weird. You know, I’ll just call him.” She fumbles through her coat pockets. “He may have gotten a call from … Sophie … my phone isn’t here. Oh, shit! I just remembered, Josh asked if he could borrow my cell phone when his battery died. He must not have given it back to me.”
“I’ve got mine.” I feel my jacket’s inner lining and find only a piece of paper.
Sorry, Liam. Josh made me do it. Adrienne
I close my eyes as the reality of what Josh just pulled off becomes completely clear.
“That asshole!” I look around the lot, hoping it isn’t what I think.
“What is it?”
“He drove us out here, left us on purpose, and stranded us further by confiscating our fucking phones!” I’m fuming.
How the fuck could he do that to me? What the fuck would make him think this was a good idea?
I hear a soft giggle beside me. I peer over to see Quinn trying to stifle her laughter behind her mitten-covered hand.
“It isn’t funny!” I state. “It’s a five mile hike back to my place.”
That doesn’t stop her. Her response grows from a giggle to an all-out laughing fit.
“He didn’t even fucking feed us!” I growl.
But her eyes still sparkle when she laughs, and it sounds so good and beautiful I can’t help but get sucked into it.
“You think it’s funny?” I reluctantly smile at her.
She nods with tears in her eyes.
I have to hand it to him, this is definitely one way to force us together.
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