Badd to the bone, p.13
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       Badd to the Bone, p.13

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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  It was well past midnight, and the place was crowded wall to wall with people, three deep waiting for drinks and all the tables were full. One of the recent improvements the brothers had made to the bar was keeping the kitchen open through closing, with a limited deep-fry-only menu available after eleven. Since most other bars closed their kitchens at eleven, this brought even more traffic to Badd's, since who wouldn't want French fries or chicken fingers with late night booze? The after-hours menu was designed by Xavier and it featured items he could sling by himself and serve in extra-large paper cups, which meant no extra dishes to manage. It was a pretty genius move, actually. Their liquor sales had skyrocketed in tandem with food sales, and now even on weeknights the bar was pretty packed, and on weekends it was pretty much insane from open to close. It didn't hurt that the brothers were all sexy as hell, something the female patrons really appreciated.

  I sipped from my glass and watched Brock shaking a martini, frowning absently, thinking about the way he'd caught me unawares with his bullshit interrogation.

  Let's go for a flight, Claire, he says.

  Let's sit on the pontoon and TALK, Claire, he says.

  Let me pin you to the wall about your most private, personal, painful inner thoughts and feelings, Claire, he says.

  I was truly pissed about it. Could he not just give it a rest?

  Gahhh. The more I thought about it, the more pissed I got. I mean, where did he get off, thinking he could just drag everything out of me? What? I'm supposed to just spill everything I'm going through just because we're dating? Um, no. Thanks, nice try, but no. That's not how I work. I'm a very private person when it comes to my feelings. I've let him get closer to me than anyone else in my entire life...I've told him stuff NOBODY knows, not even Mara. Isn't that enough? He was there for me when my dad was dying, and yeah, he was probably right in that I'd eventually be thankful he had made me go. Because of his insistence, I'd discovered a truth which I would have otherwise spent the rest of my life not knowing. But right now...I wasn't thankful, I was pissed. At Brock, at Mom, at Connor, at Brennan, at myself, at life.

  I was sitting in the corner of the booth, wedged in next to Mara, with Dru across from us. I was slamming whisky, neat. I hadn't bothered to count, since I was just kind of pouring them haphazardly from the bottle of Johnny Black Zane had dropped off...but the bottle had started out full and was now half-empty. A LOT of whisky, especially for a smaller chick like me. Thankfully Xavier had wandered out, saw how much scotch I was drinking, and returned promptly with a cupful of fries sprinkled liberally with Cajun seasoning and another cup full of chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks. All of which I was gleefully hogging. It was soaking up the whisky nicely, but I was still pretty well sloshed.

  Okay, I was hammered.

  But I had no intention of stopping. I tossed back the last swallow from my tumbler and poured another measure, sloppily with both Mara and Dru eyeing me and then each other, meaningfully.

  "SHUT UP," I slurred loudly. "I don't need your silent judgment."

  Mara sighed. "We're not judging you, Claire, we're just..."

  "We're worried, honey," Dru finished.

  "I'm fine."

  "You're--" Mara started.

  "Drunk," I cut in. "Yes. Very much so. But I'm fine. Tooooootally fine."

  "Claire." Mara said my name in the tone of voice she reserved for when I was being obtuse. "You've been drinking whisky for two hours."

  "I'm having fun," I snapped.

  "You don't even like whisky, and plus, you haven't said a single word since we sat down."

  "I'm having FUN!" I insisted, more loudly.

  "You're eating fried food," Mara said, as if suggesting I was doing something illegal.

  "I was hungry."

  "You never eat fried food, Claire."

  I growled. "Oh, for fuck's sake." I shoved at Mara until she slid out. "I don't need this shit."

  I stood up, wobbly, and started to walk away. I got two steps before I spun around and grabbed the bottle and the tumbler, and then turned away again. And then I stopped, transferring the tumbler and bottle to one hand and then snagged the cups of food, glaring at Dru and Mara as if daring them to try to stop me.

  Mara watched me for a second. "Where are you going?"

  "OUTSIDE," I snapped. "Where there's no one to get on my case."

  I threaded my way dizzily through the kitchen, where Xavier just watched me stumble past him to the service door, which he'd propped open with a milk crate to let in the fresh air and the cool evening breeze.

  There was an old Formica-covered table out there beside the dumpster, with a cluster of mismatched, cast-off chairs--lawn chairs, old wooden restaurant chairs, old bar stools. I slumped into the nearest seat and carefully set down my fuck-everyone-and-everything supplies, and immediately shoved half a mozzarella stick into my mouth. Mmmm, cheesy, deep-fried goodness. I knew I'd regret this later, because my stomach would very painfully and violently remind me that I hadn't eaten fried food in years, but shit, the amount of whisky I'd already had was going to be punishment enough. Why not add to the agony with some delicious in the moment?

  I tossed back more whisky, and ate a handful of fries while mentally berating Dru and Mara. Even in my own head I knew I was being drunk and stupid, but I couldn't help it.

  After a few minutes, Xavier came out with a pint glass full of beer, a white-and-green striped bar towel tossed over one shoulder and a stained white apron tied around his waist. He sipped his beer, and then eyed me, hesitating.

  "Don't start, Xavier," I mumbled.

  He didn't say anything, just quirked any eyebrow at me, and then took my glass from me, ignoring my protests, and then tossed back a healthy swallow before returning it.

  Another few minutes of silence, and I couldn't handle it anymore. "What, Xavier? What do you want?"

  He shrugged. "I'm just taking a break, that's all."

  I eyed him. He was a damn sexy kid, Xavier Badd. Tall and lean, wiry, with the signature Badd chocolate-brown eyes and messy dark hair, he was the most hipster of his brothers, always wearing tight jeans and retro T-shirts, like Atari and Galaga and original Nintendo and shit like that, retro-geeky stuff. He left his hair long and messy on top and cut close to the scalp on the sides. He was a super-sweet kid, and very eccentric which made him funny and unpredictable, plus he was fun to talk to and fun to mess with, since he was obviously a virgin.

  He was wearing black Dickey work pants, much-stained, clearly meant only for work, and a faded black T-shirt with a red dodecahedron on it designed to look like a nucleus with electrons and such swirling around it--it was a D20, in gamer parlance, a dice used by Dungeons and Dragons players. The shirt looked old as hell, with holes in it and evidence of a lot of wear and tear. Much-loved, obviously.

  "Bullshit," I said. "Let me guess...someone sent you to keep an eye on me."

  He blushed, glanced down at the table, tracing idle patterns on the surface in the moisture left behind by his sweating pint glass. "Nah, I just--"

  "You're a bad liar, Xavier," I said. "Pro-tip? Don't do it, you have too many tells."

  He laughed, nodding. "I know. My brothers make fun of me for it."

  "Who sent you?"

  He shrugged. "Everyone?"

  "Everyone?"

  "Yeah, well, Mara told Brock that you'd come out here, and he was unable to leave the bar, and Mara said you were being..." He trailed off, uncomfortable with whatever she'd called me. "She said you were being difficult."

  "Oh horse-shit. That's not what she said."

  "No, but I'd rather not repeat it."

  I laughed. "Now I'm curious. What'd Mara say, Xavier? It's not gonna hurt my feelings. We talk like that to each other and about each other, it's just how we are."

  He was so fun and easy to mess with: I was wearing a low-cut V-neck T-shirt, no bra, so I leaned forward casually. He did his damnedest to not look, but he kept accidentally directing his gaze to my chest.

/>   He glanced away, then looked at my eyes, and blushed. "You--your..." He let out a breath and leaned way back in his chair, tipping back on the back legs, and took a long swig. "You're messing with me, aren't you? You're using your feminine wiles on me."

  I burst out laughing so hard I spewed whisky all over the table, and then dissolved into hacking. When I could breathe again, I laughed some more. "Oh my god, Xavier--holy shit, honey. Feminine wiles? That's the funniest thing I've ever heard in my entire life." I reached out and grabbed his wrist, meeting his gaze, worried my laughing had hurt his feelings. "You are so adorable it hurts, you know that?"

  He frowned at me. "Adorable. That's wonderful."

  I tilted my head at him. "You say that as if it's a bad thing."

  "It is. No guy, no man ever wants to be cute or adorable, and that's what everyone calls me. It's the kiss of death. The moment a girl thinks you're so cute or sooooo adorable..." He drew his finger across his throat. "You're done."

  "I didn't mean it like that."

  "You didn't mean it to be condescending, no. I know that. But it was still...dismissive.

  "I get a lot of shit about being a virgin. And partially, yeah, it is a decision I have made intentionally, because that's something I do not want to give away cheaply. I want it to have meaning. That's the story I tell everyone, and it's true."

  "But?"

  He shrugged. "But I'm also just..." A sigh, and another shrug, an uncomfortable one. "I'm not good with physical contact. Not with anyone. I want to have sex--with the right woman, someday hopefully soon--but...sometimes I'm scared I won't be able to. I'm worried my hypersensitivity to touch will make it impossible. What then? I remain a virgin the rest of my life?" He poured some Johnny into the tumbler and drank it. "Nikolas Tesla voluntarily remained a virgin his whole life, so as not to be distracted from achieving the maximum potential of his intelligence. Maybe that's what I'm doomed to be. I'll probably die like him, too--alone, poor, with my accomplishments only recognized long after my death."

  "No, Xavier. I really don't think that's likely."

  He wouldn't quite look at me. "But what if I can't ever go through with it?"

  "I don't know. I can't really answer that." I hesitated. "I'd like to say that you'll find the right person and it'll work out for you. I mean, I'm not you, I don't have your issue with touch. But I went through some things that made me not want to ever do that, or to allow anyone to get that close to me. But I did, and even though it was kind of hard the first time, I got over it, and it became something I really enjoy. Maybe for you it'll be similar. I mean, hopefully you won't ever go through what I did, but I'm just saying you'll maybe have to just take it slow, take it one step at a time, with the right person, acclimating yourself to letting that one person inside your walls, letting them have that part of you."

  "That makes sense, I guess."

  I stared at him for a moment. "Damn you. That was a nice deflection." I took a sip of scotch and said, "Now. Tell me what Mara said. I won't be mad at you or her, I promise."

  He sighed. "She said you were being a stubborn, obnoxious, impossible little bitch who wouldn't know a good thing if it literally bit you on the ass."

  "I do know a good thing, but I haven't been able to get him to bite me, yet."

  Xavier blushed again.

  "She also might have tossed the word whore around a few times," Xavier said, not quite looking at me.

  "Sounds about right. You can go back in there and tell all of them that I don't need a babysitter. I'm an adult and I can do what I want and they can all go fuck themselves. Tell Mara I said to remember that she's a commitment-phobic sissy just like me, so she especially can kiss my ass."

  "Why am I giving them these messages?" Xavier asked. "Why not tell them yourself? Are you going somewhere?"

  "I don't want to see anyone right now. Least of all Mara or Brock."

  "I must admit, I do not understand any of this."

  I laughed again. "Because you're beautifully and wonderfully innocent, honey-buns." I touched his wrist again, a brief contact. "Let me tell you something: when you fuck someone, it's just fucking. No complications, no mess, no bullshit. But once you start giving a shit, that's when it gets messy. You gotta be really sure you want that mess, kiddo, because once you start giving a shit, you can't take it back."

  "You act like you can separate...fucking someone from caring about them." He hesitated over the F-word, which made me want to clasp my hands together under my chin and go awwwww, how cute.

  "That's because you can."

  "How?"

  I shrugged. "It's just sex, just bodies and hands and sweat and spit and dicks and pussies. Peg A goes into Slot B, repeat until orgasm, it feels good, go home. Simple." I polished off the last of the fries with another shot of whisky, and holy motherfucker, I was wasted. I'd have hell to pay when I stood up, but for now, I was wallowing blissfully in the haze of being sloppy drunk.

  "But...but--when you start doing stupid shit like caring about people, sex isn't just sex anymore. It's not just feeling good anymore. You can't just give a shit once and then be done. Oh nooooo, you have to keep giving a shit. Perpetually. And you have to allow the other person to give a shit about you. That's the worst part."

  Xavier's frown was so puzzled, so thoughtful, so delightfully innocent my heart hurt. "Why would letting someone care about you be bad?"

  "Because then they have the power to hurt you, and not just a few little hurt feelings, but the really deep down fuck up your life kind of agony. And that shit sucks, okay? It just sucks. I do not recommend it."

  "It seems to me that pain heals, even if you never totally forget, even if you have scars, literally or metaphorically." Xavier's eyes met mine. "Pain will heal. But loneliness, isolation, the pain of not having anyone who understands you, not having anyone you really trust, not having anyone that can...be your person, I suppose...I would think that would be worth the risk of pain."

  The innocence, the hope, the genuine kindness in his big chocolate-brown puppy dog eyes was way too much for me. I shook my head in irritation and stood up carefully.

  "That's because you've never felt either one, Xavier." I flattened a palm on the table for balance and drained the last swallow of whisky in the glass, and noticed that the bottle was down to three-quarters empty. "But I'm black-out wasted and cynical, so I wouldn't listen to me if I were you."

  "You don't sound very drunk," Xavier noted.

  "I'm one of those drunks who never looks, sounds, or acts as drunk as they really are. Make no mistake--I'm completely obliterated right now."

  "So where are you going?"

  I shrugged. "I dunno."

  "Should you walk around alone if you're as drunk as you say you are?"

  "Yes. I should," I said, picking my steps ever so carefully out of the alley toward the sidewalk.

  "I'm not so sure I agree, Claire." He stood up and followed me. "You could get lost, or fall over and be hurt. Why don't you let me get someone to go with you?"

  "BECAUSE I WANT TO BE ALONE!" I shouted. "I don't need a fucking babysitter!"

  "I'm not trying to babysit you, Claire, I just--I'm worried about you."

  "Yeah, well I'd say get in line, but it'd be a pretty short fucking line."

  "That's rank nonsense," Xavier snapped, sounding more irritated than I'd ever heard him. "And on the behalf of myself, my brothers, Mara, and Dru, I take offense to that statement, and the insinuation behind it. The line is actually fairly long, at this point. There's not one person in that bar that wouldn't go out of their way for you, and you know it." He kept pace with me. "But what do I know? I'm just a cute, innocent virgin."

  "XAVIER!" I heard a male voice shouting. "WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU? I GOT ORDERS!"

  "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, Xavier. You're a gorgeous person, inside and out." I waved him away. "Now go. I'll be fine."

  He eyed me warily, thoughtfully, and then turned and went back to the kitchen. I set out do
wn the sidewalk, stumbling a little here and there. And with each step, I realized exactly how clobbered I was; it became harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other, harder to see straight, or see one of anything.

  I wasn't sure where I was going, or why. All I knew was that everything hurt.

  I didn't want to care about Brock. I didn't want him to care about me.

  I didn't want to answer any more damn questions. I didn't want to think about my mom, or Connor, or whatever the fuck the other guy's name was, Brendan? Brandon? Brannon? Something like that. Fuck him, whatever his stupid Irish name was. Fuck him for dying. And fuck Connor for taking Mom back when he clearly wasn't up to the task of loving another man's baby.

  Fuck both of them, for not being there for me.

  Fuck Mom and Dad--Connor, I mean--for lying to me my whole life.

  And fuck Brock for forcing me to go watch my stupid lying dick of a father-figure die, and thus learning the truth. Would have been better to have gone the rest of my life just thinking there was something wrong with me that prevented him from loving me. Knowing the truth fucks my up whole life in so many ways I don't even understand.

  I abruptly stopped walking, wobbled, stumbled, and found a solid vertical surface at my back and slid down to a sitting position. Waves chucked and slapped nearby. I peered around and made out blurry white shapes of boats. I was at the docks, then? I couldn't really tell, and didn't care.

  I didn't want to care about anything.

  Fuck Brock for making me care about him, about me, about my past, about my future, about anything.

  "Claire?" I heard a voice.

  I ignored him.

  "CLAIRE!" he shouted again.

  "Stop shouting," I said. "I'm over here."

  I heard the sound of running on the dock and then Brock was kneeling in front of me. "Claire, goddammit. What are you doing?"

  I shrugged. "I dunno. Sitting here?"

  "You're about to fall into the water."

  "That's okay. I can swim."

  "You're hammered."

  "So I can swim hammered." I peered up at him. "You can fuck off. I don't need you."

  "Yes, you do." He lifted me to my feet and guided me away. "Now, come on. You need to lie down somewhere."

 
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