39,428
07.03.2019

Now, get this. Never in my life have I taken Max seriously. We always joke like this and I’ve never felt the need to correct him. I always joke back. We have a playful dirty banter and laugh together.

Yeah. Not today.

My face flushes, I jump up from the sofa, turn my wide eyes to Asher and pointing to Max, I yell, “He’s lying!”

I have no idea where the need to defend myself came from, but Max looks at me like I’ve seriously lost my mind while Asher looks pleased and about to burst into laughter. Realizing what I’ve just done, I say quietly, “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from. Something’s wrong with me.”

A light bulb goes off in my head and I say the magic words. “I must be getting my period.”

Max’s face turns uncomfortable and he utters, “TMI, babe. T. M. I.”

I look over to Ash wearing a shit-eating grin. My expression clearly says I win. He rolls his eyes at me then goes over to greet Trick and Tatiana who has more rice pudding on her face than in her mouth. Something tugs my pants leg. I look down at Max. He wears a frown and whispers, “Everything okay?”

A fake smile spreads across my face. I reply, “Just peachy.”

He nods in resignation. “Let’s order the pizza.” He stands, puts his arm around my shoulder and we walk into the kitchen together.

I sneak a peek at Asher and can’t hide my smile.

Tatiana’s sucking on his nose again.

Sigh. Ah, them feels.

As we exit his car, Asher walks around to me and puts his arm around my waist, pulling me close. Still shocked at tonight’s events, I’m not sure what I’m feeling exactly, but I am exhausted.

It all started an hour after we all got to Nik and Tina’s. Lola and Trick were obviously not seeing eye-to-eye so Trick left. No goodbyes. No wave. Just up and left. Shortly after that, Lola emerged from the bedroom, red-eyed and announced, “Sorry guys, I think I’ll just go-” The poor girl looked around the room, lowered her head and whispered, “He’s gone, isn’t he?”

My gut twisted for her.

Enough of this bullshit!

Luckily, Mimi, Tina and Tatiana were off playing in Ceecee’s room. I crossed the room to take a sobbing Lola into my arms before turning to Nik, Max and Asher and stating, “Enough is enough. Tell her what’s going on! Trick isn’t going to and…” Shocked to feel my own tears welling, I choked out, “…her heart is breaking.”

When you have friends like I do, even a cold person like me is affected by their hurt. My heart squeezes. Looking right into Ash, I whispered, “I can’t watch this anymore. It hurts my heart.”

Ash turned to his brothers and firmly said, “Deal with this.” This was clearly not a request.

He walked over to Lola, kissed her head then picked up his keys and left. Leaving me confused as hell, I yelled out, “Is someone going to tell us what the fuck is going on?”

Max and Nik turned to each other and with facial expressions and hand gestures, they had a silent conversation. A minute later, Max sighed, “We told Trick to tell you, Lola. The guy’s falling apart.”

Lola lifts her head from my shoulder and replied a watery, “He’s hurting me so bad!”

Nik and Max have three sisters. You’d expect they would be used to tears, but whenever one of us girls cries, they look like they want to put a fist through a wall. Max stepped up and explained, “We promised Trick we wouldn’t say anything. Sorry girls, he trusts us.”

Lola lowered her head to my shoulder and wailed hard. A panicked Nik argued, “Yeah, he trusts us. And we would never say anything. So we can’t say anything,” nodding every time he said say, trying to get a point through to us.

Catching on, I encouraged, “Okay. So don’t tell us. Show us.”

Max’s brow furrowed and he shook his head at Nik disapprovingly. Nik pointed to Lola with a she’s breakin’ my heart expression. Max turned and looked at Lola a short while before sighing and nodding. Nik stood in front of me while I held Lola, put his hands together in a cradle action under his chest and rocked his arms back and forth. I gasped, “Trick’s got a baby?”

Lola lifted her head in shock and shrieked, “What?”

Max and Nik both vigorously shook their heads.

You’re really bad at this shit.

Nik tried again with the same action as before and Lola yelled out random words like she was on a quiz show, “Uh, baby! Crib! Cradle! Children! Sleep! Rock! Rock! It’s rock! He’s in a rock band! Don’t throw rocks at glass houses! Uh, he rocks? Just tell me!”

Both Max and Nik wear mirrored expressions that said where the hell are you coming up with this stuff and shaking their heads. During this time of commotion, we hadn’t heard the front door open.

“My mom. She’s sick.”

We all turn to look at the hall where Ash stood with a hand on Trick’s shoulder in an obvious show of support. Trick looked devastated. So devastated that I hid my quivering lip by biting it. Lola ran over to Trick and threw herself at him saying, “I’m so sorry, baby. You should’ve told me. I could’ve helped somehow.”

And just like that Trick and Lola were once again Trick and Lola. Trick even smiled.

Anyone could see the night was over, and I really wasn’t in the mood for pizza anymore. I went into Ceecee’s room pleading a headache and said goodbye to everyone. Not caring who saw, I walked over to Ash who still had his keys in hand. He put his arm around my shoulder, I put my arm around his waist and we left.

After Tina’s mom and daughter died, I told myself that I would wake up every morning with a good attitude. For months after they passed, I would repeat the mantra ‘I will be grateful for this day’ because the thing is, you think you have time. Living our droll everyday lives, we forget to relax and just live in the moment. We need to count our blessings not our problems. Everyone in life is fighting their own battles. Ones you’ll never see unless they allow it.

Which brings us to now.

Without even asking permission, I follow Ash into his apartment, walk past him toward his room, over to his bed and fall forward, faceplanting. Not ten seconds pass when I felt his bed dip. Both obviously unsure what to say, we lay in the dark in comfortable silence, stuck in our own thoughts.

After a while of thinking about every random thing my brain could possibly present to me, I turn my head to the side and whisper, “Don’t let me fall asleep, okay?”

Through a yawn, Ash replies, “Okay, babe. Talk to me.”

Glad that he wants me here, I do. I tell him all about my childhood. How it was growing up Croatian. About the time Helena put the cat in the fridge. How mom makes me palačinke, Croatian pancakes, every time I come home. That my dad knows how to swear in eight languages. About my first high school crush.

“And he was such an ass. He told everyone he fucked me and that I wasn’t any good. I mean puh-lease, right? If I could, I’d fuck myself because I’m that good.” With every soft and slow word I say, my eyes droop further closed. Somehow we’ve become tangled in each other. Ash cradles me to his chest with his nose buried in my hair, breathing me in. I remind him, “Don’t let me fall asleep, okay?”

He grunts his acknowledgement so I continue weakly, “Then I saw him a while later and he was all, ‘you look so good’ and ‘maybe we could go on a date’…” Through a yawn, I go on, barely able to keep my eyes open and slurring my words, “…and I was like whatever, asshole.”

Everything fades to black.

Lights out.

Chapter Seventeen

Pajama party

Something warm presses into me and sighs sweetly then snuggles deeper into my chest.

What the fuck?

It takes a while for me to open my eyes, but when I do, I almost shit a brick.

The sun is out.

My brow bunches in total confusion. I don’t remember waking last night. My body isn’t sore or tense from the violent night terrors that haunt me every fucking night of my life. Probably because I didn’t have any last night, and when I look down, I think I find the cause.

She looks so beautiful.

Innocent.

That makes me smirk. I know she’s anything but innocent but she does look it right now.

Not wanting to wake her, I reach for my cell phone on the nightstand and turn off the alarm. It’s still early, just past six am. As gently as I can, I take the arm that’s gripping my side, move it up and over til she rolls the other way.

Well, that was easy.

Standing, I take a good look at her. She looks so tiny alone in my bed. Her flaming red hair such a contrast against my navy pillows and covers.

Beautiful.

Running a hand through my hair and shaking my head in disbelief, I make my way to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. As I finish getting the coffee started, my brow furrows in confusion and I sigh.

This is not good. The last thing I need is to become more attached to Nat. I care about her and I know she cares about me too in a fuck-buddy kind of way. I just really didn’t need this shit right now.

What is it about her?

She doesn’t take shit from me.

It’s more than that and you know it.

My phone buzzes, breaking me out of my thoughts. Leaning forward, I check the display and my good morning turns to shit. I reach forward and reject the call. What is she doing calling me anyways? It’s not like I ever answer her calls. Nik is always telling me to change my number, but it’s the fucking principle that stops me from doing it. She shouldn’t be calling. I shouldn’t have to change anything because she can’t let go. Fuck her. I don’t want to see her or hear what she has to say. That ship has sailed.

I hear shuffling down the hall and Nat emerges. I can’t help but grin at her appearance. She’s all over the place. Her lipstick and eye makeup are smeared across her face and her hair looks like it’s been teased. Obviously having been cold, she wears one of my long sleeved tees and she’s swimming in it. I try not to think about how much I like her wearing my shit but, fuck, I do. I’m getting hard.

“The eighties called. They want their hairstyle back,” I tell her.

She gasps and steps back from me. Wearing a genuinely shocked expression, she asks quietly, “Did- did you just make a joke?”

All too pleased with myself, I rub my nails on the front of my shirt and reply a smug, “It’s been known to happen, girl.”

Smiling she says, “No way.” Her face falls as she asks, “Where did you crash last night? I told you not to let me fall asleep.”

For no reason whatsoever, I’m nervous about telling her. I don’t want her to get freaked out, but it’s not in me to lie, so I tell her vaguely, “I slept where you slept.”

Leaning her hip on the counter, she confirms, “We slept in the same bed?”

Without looking at her, I nod my reply. She doesn’t say a thing for a long time. I look over to her and with narrowed eyes she goes on, “We slept in the same bed.”

Pursing my lips, I nod again. She’s not letting this go. Nat asks, “You didn’t have a memory attack?” I nod once more and she continues, “We slept in the same bed. All night. And you didn’t have a nightmare.” A huge smile forms on her face and she runs over to me, jumping and circling her arms around my neck. I hold her ass to stop her from falling and she wraps her legs around me. Planting kisses on my face, I make out as if I’m annoyed but it feels good. She says happily, “Don’t you see what this means?”

Trying to speak around her assaulting kisses, I tell her, “No. Not really. What does this mean?”

Pulling back from me wearing a shit-eating grin, she boasts, “I cured you!”

The laughter bubbles low in my throat before bursting out full force. Her face falls and I laugh harder. She slips out of my laughter-weakened hold and leans against the counter.

Oh, this woman. I knew she’d rock my world.

Unable to stop, I hold my side and speak through my laughter, “You really don’t fuck around, do you?”

Placing her hands on her hips and wearing an annoyed expression, she snaps, “Well, it’s true!”

My laughter finally settles and I tell her, “We don’t know if this was a one-off thing. Maybe my mind was too tired to give a shit about anything but sleep after all the stuff that went down with Trick and Lola.”

Looking deflated, she mutters, “You’re right. Unless…” Her eyes widen and she grins, “Unless we try again tonight!”

Shaking my head at her in disapproval, she nods her head vigorously and shouts, “Pajama party!”

And I know I’m fucked. Hardcore fucked. Fucked up the ass, kind of fucked. If this works, it means big problems for me.

Nat walks forward and looks me in the eye. She smiles a soft smile, “Hey, we can only try, right?”

Curiosity makes me give in, not that it was a hard battle to win. I nod and sigh. “Yeah. Okay.”

She squeaks and punches me in the gut lightly. Walking back into my room, she lifts her arms in the air and yells, “I’m so excited!”

“I cannot believe you’re making me do this!” Nat squawks.

Looking over at her, I try my hardest not to laugh, but she looks so cute and so damn funny at the same time that I start to laugh but turn it into a cough. I’m a little too late. She narrows her eyes at me muttering, “Laugh it up, assface.”

Looking away from her and back to the TV for fear of losing it again, I reply, “Safety first.”

“I can’t sleep like this!” she says heatedly.

Lying back on her soft sofa and trying to concentrate on the cooking show, I tell her distractedly, “Either we do this my way, or no way.”

As soon as it slips out of my mouth, I want to take it back. I hope she doesn’t tell me to go home. Knowing Nat, her curiosity will win. And I breathe a sigh of relief when she responds, “Okay. But just this once. If this works, I’m never doing this again!” Then she stalks off rattling and clanking all the way. I shake my head and chuckle.

❮❯