Page 2

Author: Cora Carmack


Oblivious, Bliss turned to Garrick and said, “We have to go, babe. We have call across town in like thirty minutes.” She turned to me, “I’m sorry, Cade. I meant for us to have more time to chat, but Kelsey’s been MIA for weeks. I couldn’t not answer, and we’ve got a matinee for a group of students today. I swear I’ll make it up to you. Are you going to be able to make it to our Orphan Thanksgiving tomorrow?”


I’d been dodging that invitation for weeks. I was fairly certain that it had been the entire purpose of this coffee meeting. I’d been on the verge of giving in, but now I couldn’t. I didn’t know when Garrick planned to propose, but I couldn’t be around when it happened or after it happened. I needed a break from them, from Bliss, from being a secondary character in their story.


“Actually, I forgot to tell you. I’m going to go home for Thanksgiving after all.” I hated lying to her, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. “Grams hasn’t been feeling well, so I thought it was a good idea to go.”


Her face pulled into an expression of concern, and her hand reached out toward my arm. I pretended like I didn’t see it and stepped away to throw my empty smoothie cup in the trash. “Is she okay?” Bliss asked.


“Oh yeah, I think so. Just a bug probably, but at her age, you never know.”


I just used my seventy-year-old grandma, the woman who’d raised me, as an excuse. Talk about a douche move.


“Oh, well, tell her I said hi and that I hope she feels better. And you have a safe flight.” Bliss leaned in to hug me, and I didn’t move away. In fact, I hugged her back. Because I didn’t plan on seeing her again for a while, not until I could say (without lying) that I was over her. And based on the way my whole body seemed to sing at her touch, it might take a while.


The two of them packed up to leave, and I sat back down, saying I was going to stay and work on homework for a while. I pulled out a play to read, but in reality, I just wasn’t ready for the walk home. I couldn’t spend any more alone time locked in my thoughts. The coffee shop was just busy enough that my mind was filled with the buzzing of other people’s lives and conversations. Bliss waved through the glass as they left, and I waved back, wondering if she could feel the finality of this good-bye.


2


Max


Mace’s hand slid into my back pocket at the same time the phone in my front pocket buzzed. I let him have the three seconds it took for me to grab my phone, then I elbowed him, and he removed his hand.


I’d had to elbow him three times on the way to the coffee shop. He was like that cartoon fish with memory problems.


I looked at the screen, and it showed a picture of my mom that I’d snapped while she wasn’t looking. She had been chopping vegetables and looked like a knife-wielding maniac, which she pretty much was all the time, minus the knife.


I jogged the last few steps to Mugshots and slipped inside before answering.


“Hello, Mom.”


There was Christmas music on in the background. We hadn’t even got Thanksgiving over with, and she was playing Christmas music.


Maniac.


“Hi, sweetie!” She stretched out the end of sweetie so long I thought she was a robot who had just malfunctioned. Then finally she continued, “What are you up to?”


“Nothing, Mom. I just popped into Mugshots for a coffee. You remember, it was that place I took you when you and Dad helped me move here.”


“I do remember! It was a cute place, pity they serve alcohol.”


And there was my mom in a nutshell.


Mace chose that moment (an unfortunately silent moment) to say, “Max, babe, you want your usual?”


I waved him off, and stepped a few feet away.


Mom must have had me on speakerphone because my dad cut in, “And who is that, Mackenzie?”


Mackenzie.


I shuddered. I hated my parents’ absolute refusal to call me Max. And if they didn’t approve of Max for their baby girl, they sure wouldn’t like that I was dating a guy named Mace.


My dad would have an aneurysm.


“Just a guy,” I said.


Mace nudged me and rubbed his thumb and fingers together. That’s right. He’d been fired from his job. I handed him my purse to pay.


“Is this a guy you’re dating?” Mom asked.


I sighed. There wasn’t any harm in giving her this, as long as I fudged some of the details. Or you know, all of them.


“Yes, Mom. We’ve been dating for a few weeks.” Try three months, but whatever.


“Is that so? How come we don’t know anything about this guy then?” Dad, again.


“Because it’s still new. But he’s a really nice guy, smart.” I don’t think Mace actually finished high school, but he was gorgeous and a killer drum player. I wasn’t cut out for the type of guy my mother wanted for me. My brain would melt from boredom in a week. That was if I didn’t send him running before that.


“Where did you meet?” Mom asked.


Oh, you know, he hit on me at the go-go bar where I dance, that extra job that you have no idea I work.


Instead, I said, “The library.”


Mace at the library. That was laughable. The tattoo curving across his collarbone would have been spelled villian instead of villain if I hadn’t been there to stop him.


“Really?” Mom sounded skeptical. I didn’t blame her. Meeting nice guys at the library wasn’t really my thing. Every meet-the-parents thing I’d ever gone through had ended disastrously, with my parents certain their daughter had been brainwashed by a godless individual and my boyfriend kicking me to the curb because I had too much baggage.


My baggage was named Betty and Mick and came wearing polka dots and sweater vests on the way home from bridge club. Sometimes it was hard to believe that I came from them. The first time I dyed my hair bright pink, my mom burst into tears, like I told her I was sixteen and pregnant. And that was only temporary dye.


It was easier these days just to humor them, especially since they were still helping me out financially so I could spend more time working on my music. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love them . . . I did. I just didn’t love the person they wanted me to be.


So, I made small sacrifices. I didn’t introduce them to my boyfriends. I dyed my hair a relatively normal color before any trips home. I took out or covered my piercings and wore long-sleeved, high-neck shirts to cover my tattoos. I told them I worked the front desk at an accounting firm instead of a tattoo parlor, and never mentioned my other job working in a bar.


When I went home, I played at normal for a few days, and then got the hell outta Dodge before my parents could try to set me up with a crusty accountant.


“Yes, Mom. The library.”


When I went home for Christmas, I’d just tell her it didn’t work out with the library boy. Or that he was a serial killer. Use that as my excuse to never date nice guys.


“Well, that sounds lovely. We’d love to meet him.”


Mace returned to me then with my purse and our coffees. He snuck a flask out of his pocket and added a little something special to his drink. I waved him off when he offered it to me. The caffeine was enough. Funny how he couldn’t afford coffee, but he could afford alcohol.


“Sure, Mom.” Mace snuck a hand into my coat and wrapped it around my waist. His hand was large and warm, and his touch through my thin tee made me shiver. “I think you would actually really like him.” I finished the sentence on a breathy sigh as Mace’s lips found the skin of my neck, and my eyes rolled back in bliss. I’d never met an accountant who could do that. “He’s very, ah, talented.”


“I guess we’ll see for ourselves soon.” Dad’s reply was gruff.


Hah. If they thought there was any chance I was bringing a guy home for Christmas, they were delusional.


“Sure, Dad.”


Mace’s lips were making a pretty great case for skipping this morning’s band practice, but it was our last time to practice all together before our gig next week.


“Great,” Dad said. “We’ll be at that coffee place in about five minutes.”


My coffee hit the floor before I even got a chance to taste it.


“You WHAT? You’re not at home in Oklahoma?”


Mace jumped back when the coffee splattered all over our feet. “Jesus, Max!” I didn’t have time to worry about him. I had much bigger issues.


“Don’t be mad, honey,” Mom said. “We were so sad when you said you couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving, then Michael and Bethany decided to visit her family for the holiday, too. So we decided to come visit you. I even special ordered a turkey! Oh, you should invite your new boyfriend. The one from the library.”


SHIT. SHIT. ALL OF THE SHITS.


“Sorry, Mom. But I’m pretty sure my boyfriend is busy on Thanksgiving.”


Mace said, “No, I’m not.” And I don’t know if it was all the years of being in a band and the loud music damaging his hearing, or too many lost brain cells, but the guy could just not master a freaking whisper!


“Oh, great! We’ll be there in a few minutes, sweetie. Love you, boo boo bear.”


If she called me boo boo bear in front of Mace, my brain would liquefy from mortification. “Wait, Mom—”


The line went dead.


I kind of wanted to follow its lead.


Think fast, Max. Parentals in T-minus two minutes. Time for damage control.


Mace had maneuvered us around the spilled coffee while I was talking, and he was moving to put his arms back around my waist. I pushed him back.


I took a good look at him—his black, shaggy hair, gorgeous dark eyes, the gauges that stretched his earlobes, and the mechanical skull tattooed on the side of his neck. I loved the way he wore his personality on his skin.


My parents would hate it.


My parents hated anything that couldn’t be organized and labeled and penned safely into a cage. They weren’t always that way. They used to listen and judge people on the things that mattered, but that time was long gone, and they’d be here any minute.


“You have to leave,” I said.


“What?” He hooked his fingers into my belt loops and tugged me forward until our hips met. “We just got here.”


A small part of me thought maybe Mace could handle my parents. He’d charmed me, and for most people that was akin to charming a python. He may not have been smart or put together or any of those things, but he was passionate about music and about life. And he was passionate about me. There was fire between us. Fire I didn’t want extinguished because my parents were still living in the past, and couldn’t get over how things had happened with Alex.


“I’m sorry, babe. My parents have made an impromptu visit, and they’re going to be here any minute. So, I need you to leave or pretend like you don’t know me or something.”


I was going to apologize, say that I wasn’t ashamed of him, that I just wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t get a chance before he held his hands up and backed away. “Fuck. No argument here. I’m out.” He turned for the door. “Call me when you lose the folks.”


Then he bailed. No questions asked. No valiant offer to brave meeting the parents. He walked out the door, lit up a cigarette, and took off. For a second, I thought about following him. Whether to flee or kick his ass, I wasn’t sure.


But I couldn’t.


Now, I just had to figure out what to tell my parents about my suddenly absent library-going-nice-guy-boyfriend. I’d just have to tell them he had to work or go to class or heal the sick or something. I scanned the room for an open table. They’d probably see right through the lie and know there was no nice guy, but there was no way around it.


Damn. The coffee shop was packed, and there weren’t any open tables.


There was a four-top with only one guy sitting at it, and it looked like he was almost done. He had short, brown curls that had been tamed into something neat and clean. He was gorgeous, in that all-American model kind of way. He wore a sweater and a scarf and had a book sitting on his table. Newsflash! This was the kind of guy libraries should use in advertising if they wanted more people to read.

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