On his back was a sweet ass phoenix. The design was tribal and done in all black with red accents through the wings and tail. The head was situated at the base of his neck, and the wings were slightly spread, spanning the length of his broad shoulders before tapering down as if they were closing or folding in on itself. The tail was angled and curved, and I reached out to let my fingers trace the line of it as it disappeared around his left side that was currently pressed into the mattress. Tribal markings swirled and jutted down his back and around the top curve of his shoulder, blending seamlessly into the phoenix design.
The right side of his body was mostly unmarked, with the exception of the tribal design swirled down his arm from his shoulder, but there were lines of script spanning his ribcage under his right arm. I sat up gingerly and pulled his arm slowly back to reveal the words beautifully scripted with small precise lettering in five straight lines.
You’ve got to take the good with the bad
Smile with the sad
Love what you’ve got and remember what you had
Always forgive but never forget
Learn from mistakes but never regret
The words touched me with the truth of them. I pulled back from him as he shifted in his sleep again, this time rolling toward me but remaining on his back, his right arm laid over his head on the pillow. The tribal design that flowed out from the phoenix on his back curved up over his shoulder and continued down his chest, stomach and side, before disappearing underneath the sheet draped over his hips. I pulled the sheet down a bit, wanting to see that gorgeous spot where they stopped, which was just shy of his hip bone.
In the spikes and swirls of the tribal design weaving down his arm, different sized black and red nautical stars were interspersed. On the inside of his left forearm, inside a spiked, curving swirl, he had more words scripted in even smaller letters, but no less precise. A small black and red star rested at the upper curve of the first line, and a second star was placed just below the last letter of the last line. I pulled his arm closer to me so I could see.
Lost in darkness, steeped in dreams
Blackened eyes and silent screams
Start and wake, now shaken free
Stand in faith and no more flee
While the other lines had touched me, these made my heart squeeze painfully as tears sprang to my eyes. I knew without a doubt that they were words that Luke had written himself.
My eyes jerked to meet Luke’s as his hand came up, his thumb wiping away a tear sliding down my cheek.
“Hey,” he said, his voice gravelly and low with sleep. “What’s wrong, baby?”
I shook my head before answering. “Nothing. Just looking…reading your tattoos.” I pointed at his arm. “This one is yours, isn’t it. About your life?”
He hesitated before answering. “Yeah, but its not meant to be sad. Its more about the strength to stand up for myself and for my brother. That strength got me where I am today. And right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, Emma. Not if it meant that I wouldn’t have met you.”
I closed my eyes against the emotions choking me, squeezing my heart. He pulled me to him, laying me across his chest as he kissed the top of my head. Of their own volition, I felt my lips part and the words slipped out.
“I love you, Luke.” I felt him tense underneath me before his hands resumed their leisurely movement down my back.
“I know.” Luke replied.
And then he just laid there stroking me. And saying nothing. Nothing more. Not a word, nor three little ones.
I tried to shake off the fact that Luke hadn’t said anything when I’d blurted that I loved him. I told myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t need to hear those words. If only I’d believe my own lies…
The morning after the party, I had gone downstairs to make some breakfast. I froze on the last stair in surprise when I saw Allie curled up with Doug on the couch. I walked over and sat beside her, shaking her shoulder gently. The last I had saw of her at the party was hanging upside down over the shoulder of one of the guys.
“Allie…wake up!” I whispered.
“Hmmm….?” Allie stretched, blinking her eyes at me to clear the sleep from them.
“Why are you on the couch? Where’s Jackson?”
“Um, I think he’s in bed with Brandon,” she said, yawning. “Why?”
“Just wondering why you were out here and not smushed in between them somewhere. So, the plan worked! Er, well at least for me it did!” I grinned down at her and she smiled sleepily back.
“Yeah, I heard. You think he’s God or something,” Allie said dryly.
“No-” I started, but she interrupted me.
“Yeah, seriously. I think you called him that like two thousand times, screaming at the top of your lungs.” She broke down laughing, and only laughed harder when I yanked the pillow out from under her head and smacked her in the face with it.
I rolled my eyes at her and asked, “So? Details! Luke said that it was Jackson that carted you off and Brandon was hot on his heels. What happened after they carried us off like cavemen?”
“Jacks grabbed me and threw me over his shoulder, bouncing me along until we got outside. Then he and Brandon took turns yelling at me. Assholes,” she grumbled.
“What? Why were they yelling at you?” I asked.
“They kept saying that no one else needed to see my goods dressed up like that. Of course, I yelled back at them because who the fuck are they to tell me who can see what? If I want to show off my chimichanga to the world, then I fuckin’ will!”
“Okay, so that explains why you looked so pissed when you came stomping back inside. Now cut the crap and tell me why they were wearing your lipgloss on their lips and you had leaves in your hair. AND why you didn’t put up a fuss about coming here last night.”
She sighed and then sat up to give me more room to sit down beside her. “I was right in the middle of yelling at them and Jacks just leaned in and kissed me. I heard him mumble something about hot bitches that didn’t know when to shut up and then his lips were on mine, his tongue was in my mouth, and I was completely like…holyshitfuckdamn! And then it turned into a holyshitfuckdamnohmigod when Brandon ripped me out of Jacks’ arms and HE kissed me! We ended up in a pile of leaves on the grass and everything was fan-fuckin’-tastic until they pulled back and both asked me if I was going to come in and change! Ugh!”
She and I laughed and traded stories back and forth quietly until the guys all started ambling in from different directions in the house. Then we got up and made breakfast and just enjoyed the weekend together.
In the weeks that followed the Halloween party, Luke and I spent pretty much all of our free time together. He never complained about Sunday breakfast at my parents’ house; even Brandon and Jackson tagged along. Brandon was always the first to the car to go over there, and I teased him that he was sweet on my mom’s cooking, to which he replied that it was more that he couldn’t wait to see what my brother and I would argue and fight over each week. Jackson admitted that that was primarily the reason he went, as well.
I tried to just ignore Calland so I wouldn’t give them more to laugh at, but I couldn’t help it that my brother was such an asshole. But I could not sit back and let him have his way about everything. We had enough of that growing up. My sisters and I had dubbed it the “Penis Rule” and my family had ran with it. Calland was fond of saying, ‘He who has the penis makes the rules’ and, my parents, Lord love them, thought it was hilarious.