She laughed. “Oh, is that what you think?”
“Yes, I’ve put a lot of thought into it.”
“I bet you have.”
She reached up and curved a hand around the back of my neck. I took that as permission enough and pressed her into the mirror.
Her nails bit into my neck, and I groaned.
“Shh! You’re going to get us into trouble.”
“The best kind of trouble.”
I marked a path from her mouth, across her jaw, and down her neck. Her head tilted back against the mirror, and she whimpered. The sound shot straight through me, and I strangled a groan in response.
“Somehow, I don’t think this is what the owner had in mind when she offered to stay open a little longer for us.”
I found a spot at the base of her neck just above her collarbone that made her say, “Oh God.” I concentrated my efforts there, and she wrapped both hands around my neck like she was going to fall. Her breath came in heavy pants, and mine wasn’t much better. I’d not meant for it to go this far, but touching her had a way of derailing my best intentions. I started to kiss lower, but the high neckline of her dress limited my travels.
I groaned, “This dress is definitely not the one.”
She gave a shaky breath, and pushed me away.
After that, I wasn’t allowed in her dressing room. She didn’t even let me see the final dress. She made me return to the car because she wanted it to be a surprise, and because she felt guilty about taking too long.
When I finally saw her in the dress the next day, a black velvet bodice hugged her chest and gave way to a full white skirt that started beneath her breasts and trailed all the way to the floor. The white material was sheer and so layered that it reminded me of a cloud. There were dozens of smaller straps that went over her shoulders and tied in the back. The branches of her tattoo blended in with those and looked like an extension of the bodice. It was the kind of dress I could see her getting married in.
She stood at my door, smiling in a way that was demure and unfamiliar and set my heart racing. I’d experienced a plethora of emotions in my life. I’d made it my career to explore and portray those emotions onstage. When I looked at her, the feeling in my chest eclipsed them all, and I knew that I loved her.
THREE MONTHS LATER
I hadn’t told him that I loved him yet, even though he said it to me a few weeks ago. We’d just passed the mark of my longest relationship, and even though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I was still afraid that I was going to screw this up somehow. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’d almost told him a dozen times, but those three words are the kind of thing you can’t take back. Once they’re out there in the universe, everything changes.
So, I was waiting for the right moment to make that change. Cade called them “beats,” an acting term he’d taught me when we’d been working on some of my music together.
I brushed more blush across my cheeks and smoothed on my signature red lipstick. Cade knocked on the bathroom door and said, “You ready, babe? We’re up next.”
Cade and I were singing at an opening mic tonight . . . together.
There was a song, the first song I ever wrote actually, that I was finally ready to sing, but I didn’t think I could do it without him. He hadn’t been comfortable singing at one of the band’s gigs, and I wasn’t sure this was a song I wanted associated with the band. This song wasn’t about getting a break or making money.
This song was just for me.
He asked, “Are you nervous?”
I smiled and said, “Only enough to throw up.”
He laughed and said, “You’ll be fine then.”
The bar was about half full as we took the stage. It was a big enough crowd that I didn’t feel like our singing was pointless, but not so big that I was overwhelmed. Cade pressed a kiss to my hand, and then took up the bass guitar. In true Golden Boy fashion, he’d learned to play in about a month so that he could play with me while I was writing. I took my guitar up, too, and adjusted the microphone.
The lights were just bright enough to cast the bar in darkness. I leaned into the mic and said, “My name is Max, and this is Cade. Tonight we’re singing an original song that I wrote a long time ago. I’ve never played it in public, and I finally decided it was time.” I took a deep breath. “It’s called ‘Ten Years.’ ”
I started with the familiar opening cords, and immediately all the old emotions rushed up under my skin. I took a deep breath, and thought about why I was doing this. The song had haunted me since I wrote it, and it was time to move past it.
I took a deep breath and started to sing. Cade sang with me, low and solid. His voice was an anchor to the song and an anchor to me.
“In one second, I see ten years
I picture a future of all my fears
One blink, and I think
Losing you is like losing me.”
I met Cade’s eyes and thought that in a few ways this song spoke to our situation as well. It had been three months, and we’d insinuated ourselves into each other’s lives so completely. Even associating him with a song about loss made me have to blink back tears. I was in danger of saying all the cheesy things about better halves and soul mates that I’d always laughed at in movies.
“Lights flash, the car spins
Every time I close my eyes I see
Broken skin, my life stretched thin
Every time I close my eyes I see
Broken skin and broken kin
The end of you feels like the end of me.
“There’s a scream in my soul
’Cause I’ll never feel whole
I’m stuck in the moment. My mind’s on repeat
Trapped in an instant I can’t delete
“Time unravels, my life unspools
The future has made us all into fools
You’re lying there, and I’m stuck in my chair
All I’m allowed to do is stare.”
I got so choked up on the verse that my voice broke, and I had to take a break and repeat some of the guitar part before I was able to come in for the next verse. Cade was so in tune and perceptive that he followed me easily.
“We’re all slaves to the grave
Helpless to save
So we close our eyes to shut it out
Instead it becomes what we’re all about.”
I closed my eyes, and I did see it all as I sang. I remembered the images that had flashed through my mind of a life without Alex. I’d thought of all the moments in my life that she would miss, and how nothing would ever be the same without her. I was at nine years now, and though nothing was the same without her, life also wasn’t as bad as I had pictured it would be.
I glanced at Cade. Life wasn’t bad at all.
“In one second, I see ten years
Can’t hold it back any more than the tears
I see black dresses, life’s stresses
Imagine the grief, loss of belief
My life unfolds as yours is untold
“Every time I close my eyes.”
Cade repeated the last line alone, and when I heard his low and steady voice, I finally felt like my ghosts had been put to rest.
People started clapping, and I looked at him over the microphone and mouthed, “I love you.”
I blinked, and just like that I saw ten more years unfold.
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