Pricked (Page 44)
“Not because I didn’t want it.”
His jaw flexes. “Great, so you let your parents make that decision for you too?”
I want to slap him. “It wasn’t a viable pregnancy. I lost it.”
Scoffs. “That’s not what your dad told me, but then again, he isn’t the most honest man, is he?”
“What are you talking about?” I fold my arms across my chest. It’s chillier out here than it is in the ballroom, and a spray of goose bumps covers my bare skin. Still, I feel none of it.
“There’s so much I have to tell you.” His dark eyes are wild, excited almost, and he begins to say something until the double doors leading out of the ballroom swing open and out walks my father with two security guards in tow.
“That’s the one,” he says, pointing to Madden.
“No, wait.” I step between them, but my father pulls me away.
“I want him out of here. Immediately,” my father says, pointing. “Brighton, get back inside.”
Madden looks to me before lifting his palms and walking away before the guards can lay a hand on him. A moment later, the three of them disappear into an elevator.
“Why did you do that?” I ask.
“He had no business being here,” he says, practically spitting his words. “And how did he even know you were here?”
I have no idea, but I’m sure I’d have found out if he hadn’t interrupted us. Madden was about to tell me something, and by the incited look on his face, I imagine that something was big.
“Have you been in contact with him again?” he asks. “Since you’ve been home?”
He studies me, like he doesn’t believe a word of it. My mother appears in her shimmery baby-blue mother-of-the-groom gown and asks what’s going on.
I shoot my father a look before giving her a simple answer. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
And then I return to the ballroom to find Johnathan.
“Dance with me,” I say as the band begins to play an Al Green song. If I’m on the dance floor with him, in front of hundreds of friends and family, my parents won’t dare make a scene. And while dancing isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to avoid my parents the rest of the night.
I press my cheek against Johnathan’s suit jacket and breathe in his unfamiliar cologne. Sometimes I wonder if we’d have ended up together if he weren’t gay. We get along so well, like we have an unspoken language. And it speaks volumes that we can go years without seeing each other and pick up right where we left off.
But alas, it was never meant to be.
With my hands on his shoulders, I can’t get comfortable. It’s like his height is all wrong for me. He isn’t tall like Madden. The top of my head doesn’t fit perfectly beneath his chin like it did with Madd. And his shoulders are narrower, not nearly as substantial as Madden’s were.
I’m not sure why I’m comparing the two right now. It’s a pointless endeavor all around.
A new song begins a few minutes later, this one peppier, and it draws more people to the dance floor. Johnathan twirls me under his arm, laughing, not a care in the world. I try to place myself back in this moment. I try to enjoy being surrounded by friends and family and the kinds of things that symbolize love …
But it’s hard to be here when my heart is somewhere else.
We dance to two more songs before I pull him to an uncrowded corner and tell him I’m leaving.
“If my parents ask where I am, can you cover for me?” I ask, scanning the room to make sure they’re not watching me like hawks.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
I rise on my toes, kissing his cheek. “I’ll tell you everything later. I promise.”
Pierce drops me off in front of my place shortly after one in the morning.
Ears ringing, I make my way to the side door. I have to say that’s the first time in my life that I’ve attended a Flaming Lips concert and not enjoyed it.
And how could I, with the woman I love a few blocks away, dancing the night away with some other guy?
When I saw her board the elevator and watched as it hit the fourth, eleventh, fifteenth and top floors, I searched them all until I found her.
Apparently it was her brother’s wedding, not a date. But who the hell gets married on a Friday night in December?
I’d barely had a chance to say more than a couple of sentences to her when her father had me escorted off the property.
Heading into my building, I climb the stairs. I’m halfway up when I fish my keys from my pocket and glance up at my door.
“Hi.” A pretty blonde in a sparkly gold dress is seated on the top step. A pair of pointy gold heels rest beside her. Nothing about her looks like she belongs here but the juxtaposition of her radiant beauty against stained concrete steps in a dimly lit apartment building is a sight for sore eyes—and one I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see again.
“Hi.” I continue toward her, never taking my eyes off her, as if she’s a desert mirage that could disappear if I so much as blink. “How long have you been waiting here?”
She gives me a tender smile. “A while.”
“You could’ve called me.” I’d have left that concert so fast …
“I have a different phone now. Your number’s in my old one.”
That explains a few things.
I slide my key into the lock and let us in, flicking on a couple of lamps before meeting her in the small bit of open space between the bed and the living area.
Her hands fall at her sides. “So? What’d you want to tell me?”
Drawing in a hard breath, I let it go before answering. “Everything.”
“Everything?” She raises a brow.
“Yes. Ask me anything. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
Her full lips press together and her eyes scan the length of me before returning to mine. “How much time do we have?”
Her tongue darts to the corner of her mouth before she squints at me. “All right. Why don’t you have any tattoos?”
I take her hand, leading her to the loveseat by the TV, and we sit together.
“I had a brother once,” I begin, chest tightening. “We were twins, actually. Identical. His name was Dallas.” She says nothing, but her eyes soften. “Growing up, we did everything together. And we were twins in every sense of the word—right down to our interests. From the second we were old enough to write our names, we both took an interest in drawing. And over the years, we’d practice, getting better and better. Then we started practicing on each other—drawing different tattoos and that sort of thing. Anyway, when we were sixteen, we made a pact … we were going to open a tattoo shop together when we were older. And we agreed that I’d give him his first tattoo and he’d give me mine.” I stop for a second, swallowing the lump in my throat just to have it return. “Anyway, he died later that year … and I vowed to keep my end of the agreement. So there you go. I know it’s not some scandalous secret, but losing my brother … I can’t even begin to describe—”
She places her hand over mine. “It’s okay. I get it. I know what it feels like to lose someone you love more than anything.”
We sit in silence for a second. I’m not sure if I feel lighter because I got that off my chest or because she’s here, but suddenly the world feels a little less heavy.
“But there’s something else,” I say.
“My father … he killed your grandparents.” I wince, watching for her reaction.
“I know.” She leans toward me. “And for the record, I would never hold any of that against you. Honestly, I wish you’d have told me sooner.”
“How long have you known?”
“Since the week after I last saw you.” Her eyes shift from a stack of sketch pads on the coffee table to me. “I’m sorry about your brother, by the way. I can’t imagine. And I’m sorry for the role my grandfather played in his death.”
I nod, at a loss for words at first. It’s good to hear somebody apologize for his death, even if it had nothing to do with her.
“How’d you find out?” I ask. “About everything?”
“My father did a background check on you.”
I sniff. “Of course he did.”
“Which leads me to my next question … why didn’t you tell me about your criminal history? The stalking and the harassment?”
My head cocks to the side. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Madden,” she says. “I saw your criminal record. Everything was listed there on the background check. Burglary, DUI, criminal mischief …”
“Brighton.” I half laugh because this is completely ridiculous. “I’ve never so much as had a speeding ticket.”
She straightens her posture, watching me. I get the sense that she wants to believe me, but I’m sure her father’s filled her head so full of lies that it isn’t that easy.
“Whatever he gave you … it’s probably fake,” I say.