“I didn’t do it for you. I did it for him.”
I breathed out a laugh and then licked my lips when I saw him pull out a cigarette. “I’ll take one of those.”
Tyler held his cigarette between his lips while he lit mine, cupping the lighter as he puffed on his own. We exhaled at the same time, and I felt my body begin to shake.
I shook my head. “I’m taking Paige home. She was into Sugar. Now she’s back there, sitting alone, feeling deficient when she’s really the most beautiful thing to ever grace that shit hole.”
“Not the most beautiful,” he mumbled, looking away. When I didn’t respond, he turned to meet my gaze. “I wanna take you home.”
“I’m in the mood for something soft tonight.”
He leaned down, kissing my lips once. “I can do soft.”
I breathed him in, feeling my thighs tense. “Not like we can.”
He slid his fingers behind my neck, backing me against his door, and then pressed his lips against mine, tasting me like he had the first night, with a yearning that made all reason melt with the rest of me.
He pulled away, brushing his thumb across my bottom lip. “Fuck Paige.”
“I intend to,” I said, walking backward a few steps before turning around.
Tyler puffed, and then I heard his door open and close and the engine fire up. I crossed the street and returned to Turk’s. Paige was standing outside in the snow-lined alley, smoking, looking relieved to see me.
“You came back,” she said.
My phone buzzed, and the display lit up. I recognized Finley’s magazine-worthy selfie and frowned.
On my way. Marco will drive us.
I growled, shoving my phone back into my back pocket.
“It’s just … the girl I was with, my sister, Finley. She has an assistant, and she’s with him now. They’re coming to get us.”
My face softened. “Yeah. You have plans for the next three hours? Or until morning?”
Paige swallowed and then smiled, shaking her head. She had such a sweet face. The death of her innocence was still fresh, and I could tell that she still liked to pretend it existed.
Headlights beamed into our eyes, and we both held up our hands. “The fuck, Marco? Turn off the brights!”
“I’m sorry!” he called from the driver seat.
The lights dimmed, and I held out my hand to Paige. “This is not happy ever after. It’s just tonight.”
She hooked my fingers with hers and nodded, following me to Marco’s rental.
“Hi,” Finley said as we settled into the backseat. Her lipstick and mascara were smeared.
I recoiled. “Ew, what happened to you? Please don’t tell me you guilt-sucked Marco.”
Finley’s smile faded, and she turned around. “Take us home.”
Finley waddled into my room, swathed in a plush white robe, holding a box wrapped in thick white paper and a bright teal bow. She flipped on the light and recoiled. The smeared mascara was gone and she looked like her usual gorgeous self, sans the makeup she didn’t need anyway.
She noted Paige naked and prone in my bed, and then joined me on the bench next to the windowsill.
She handed me the box and leaned against the wall. “Open it.”
I did as she asked, pulling at the fussy ribbon and paper, finally getting to the cardboard lid. Inside was another cardboard box. I lifted it, seeing a picture of a camera on the side. “What’s this?”
“Not the most expensive camera for beginners out there, but it’s the best. Or so Google tells me.”
She shrugged. “Marco’s. He mentioned the time you were bored in Maui until you stole his camera. He was really impressed with some of the shots you took. He thought it would be a nice present for you.”
“So a camera is definitely a good idea for you,” she teased.
I removed the lens cap and pressed the power button, configured the few settings I recognized, and pointed the lens at Finley. She held up her hands in front of her face. “Don’t you dare.”
I turned toward Paige, zoomed in on her hand against the wrinkled sheets, and clicked.
The image immediately popped up on the screen, and I turned the camera just enough so Finley could see.
“Thanks for the camera,” I said. It did feel natural in my hands—something I could hold on to.
Finley nodded toward Paige. “She’s a sweet girl. And God … crazy beautiful. She must have been burned pretty badly to be waking up in your bed. More like tarred and feathered. Poor kid.”
“You know that doesn’t work. We don’t get happy endings with people like her. We ruin them.”
I pinched off the cherry of my cigarette, and then tossed the butt out the window to rest with the hundreds of others in the hidden Marlboro cemetery below.
“I don’t know. I’d consider last night a happy ending.”
“And so we’re clear, I don’t do guilt blow jobs. That’s your fucked up talent.”
“I shouldn’t have said that. I was a little messed up. The firefighter kissed me. I was trying to take anyone home but him.”
“The cute one?” When I nodded, her shoulders fell. “Damn it. I wanted him.”
“Ignore what?” I glanced over at Paige. I could still feel her soft hands all over me, her salty sweetness lingering on my lips.
“That he’s into you. Every time I opened my mouth it was like I was breaking his concentration. He wanted so badly for you to look at him, and you were staring at blueberry muffin over there,” she said, gesturing to Paige.
“I wasn’t her first choice. She’d rather be waking up next to Sugar.”
“Sugar was talking to Zeke about another girl. I got the feeling he’s nursing a broken heart. Paige is better off.” Finley scanned Paige as if she were a dying kitten. “Maybe she’ll be okay.”
“She’ll be okay,” I said, standing. I strolled across the room, lying next to the naked masterpiece in my bed, snuggling up next to her.
Paige reached back, tightening my arms around her without opening her eyes.
Finley waved to me, mouthing, Brunch in two hours, before she left.
I rested my cheek against the silky skin of Paige’s back, inhaling the alluring mix of stale smoke and lotion. She stirred, her blue hair dragging against the pillow like a peacock feather. I didn’t fear the awkward goodbye that would inevitably follow, or her feelings. My genuine curiosity for what she would do with her life after me settled in the nonexistent space between us. I hooked my leg over hers, the full, smooth limb sticking out of the expensive wrinkled sheet that only covered her perfectly curved ass—the same one that arched and bucked against my touch until the sun cast pastels across the sky.
“I’m awake,” she whispered. “I’m afraid if I move, it will be over.”