Talk about a total mind fuck, that was definitely it. I stood, jaw dropped open, eyes probably bugged out, and my heart pounding so fast my chest ached. Fear drenched me. I had to be losing my mind, I had to be. I knew what I’d looked like, felt like the night before. I knew what had happened to me.
My cell phone started ringing but I ignored it. Reality was too much for me to handle today. The stone in my hand warmed and I could have sworn it actually vibrated. The sensation snapped me out of my shock and I raised my hand, closed my mouth, and looked at the stone instead.
It was the same beautiful jasper it’d always been, at least since I’d found it. I raised it up and held it closer to the overhead light. The stone was densely colored. There was no seeing through it, no shards of light or even hints of it seeping through the rock. Just that same, steady, deep orange with a red tinge, the lines of black and blue striping it.
Maybe it wasn’t your average jasper stone—I’d done some research. The colors were an unusual mix, but that didn’t matter. It was still just jasper, albeit miraculously shaped and polished.
Again, the oval-shaped stone seemed to pulse. I shook my head, still staring at the colorful rock. Going back to bed sounded like the best thing for me to do today.
If my stupid phone would stop ringing.
I lowered the stone and held it in my hand as I left the bathroom. Rather than return the jasper to its usual spot, I held it and sat on the bed. My phone was ringing still, and I groaned as I saw the name of the caller. And the number of missed calls. And texts.
God help me, there was going to be no avoiding my friends on my birthday. Or, more likely, no avoiding going out to the club I didn’t want to go to.
They weren’t going to give up on me, which was, well, I’d have said annoying but it also made me feel cared for.
When the call stopped then immediately began again, I grabbed my phone, flopped onto my back, and placed the stone on my chest. There’d be no staying in bed all day, but I could lie there until I had returned all the calls and messages I’d missed.
Instead of the usual club, Artie, Josie, Mark, Andre, and Lola insisted on an overnight trip to Austin. We hadn’t been in months, and it actually sounded like fun.
With the jasper in my pocket, causing a bit of an odd yet smooth lump in my tight jeans, I was determined to have fun with my friends.
Artie and Josie had been a couple for a year or so before splitting up, amicably, which I had thought an impossibility. They were the only ones in our friends group who’d dated or had sex with each other. A long time ago, I’d wanted to ask Andre out, but never got up the nerve. That was a good thing, considering what a heavy player he was. Long-term relationship were three words not in his vocabulary.
He did look hot as fuck in red leather pants and a tight, red silk tank top. His dreds were past his shoulders now, and he had the prettiest green-grey eyes. We hadn’t been in the club, Sparks, for more than ten minutes before he had twinks all over him on the dance floor.
“At least he had a drink with us first,” Artie observed, raising his glass—a strawberry daiquiri, and he was unrepentant about it despite our teasing him about it—in a mock toast. “And told you happy birthday.”
“And gave you a box of condoms and lube,” Josie added.
“Yeah, it’s cool.” I hadn’t expected anything other than someone to pay my cover and buy me a drink or two at most, but no. My friends had paid for the hotel rooms, dinner, and had sworn to cover all my booze and food because, as Lola had said, I’d only be turning thirty once.
“Did you get your hair cut?” Lola asked Artie.
Artie, his eyes lined in purple liner to offset the pale green of his irises, primped and nodded. He was cute, attractive, but there were some assholes who would sneer at him and call him a ‘fem’, as if he should be ashamed of who he was, how he was. Artie always told them to go fuck themselves sideways. He was also a black belt in judo, so he could handle the trouble if anyone wanted to give him more shit.
“I did,” Artie replied, smiling brightly. “And I got a date with the hair dresser. He is so fab, and his hands, mmm.”
Mark thumbed in Artie’s direction. “He’s always been a hands man. Me, you know I like broad shoulders and a little bit of a gut.”
“Yeah, that last guy you dated was nice,” Josie said, pushing her long pink hair back over her shoulders. “Fred? Frank?”
“Fritz,” Mark answered, rolling his eyes. “And his idea of monogamy differed from mine, so we parted ways.”
“Wow,” Artie said. “He lasted like a month?”
“After we agreed to just see each other, yeah,” Mark agreed. “And he fucked all the waiters who’d bend over for him at our favorite restaurant. I can’t even go eat there anymore because everyone knows he cheated on me.”
“You could have told us this sooner,” Lola pointed out, scowling before she leaned back in her seat. “I’d have beat the shit out of him for you.”
She could have, too. Lola was close to two hundred pounds and it was all muscle. She competed in body-building events and all that. Her girlfriend Kara was a model, and they’d been together for a long time. If Kara hadn’t been away on a shoot, she’d have been there in Lola’s lap, chatting with us all.
“When will Kara be back?” I asked as I idly swirled my glass. The ice clanked every now and then, though I could barely make out the sound.
“Next week. Fuckin’ fashion shows,” Lola groused. “We’re talking about having a kid.”
“A baby, or an actual little goat?” Artie only came off a little snarky.
Lola flipped him off. “One of the diaper-wearing, bottle-needing ones.”
“That doesn’t clarify anything for me,” Artie said. “Don’t people do that with baby goats, too?”
Lola wadded up her napkin and threw it at Artie. “A human baby, you smart ass.”
I smiled, watching and listening as my friends interacted, and answered and spoke up when I felt the need. Slowly, I was beginning to unwind, and to stop the worrying I’d spent most of the day doing over what had happened the night before.
And the more I drank, the less I thought about Avery and disappearing bruises.
We went from club to club down Sixth Street in Austin, dancing once I got drunk enough. Somewhere along the way, Andre disappeared with a trio of blond boys in their early twenties.
“Thank God he got his own room,” Mark said. He looked around the latest bar. “Wonder if I could find a guy to fuck. Or maybe you and me ought to give it a shot, Matt.”
“Friends don’t fuck friends when they’re drunk,” Lola said.
“Yeah,” Josie agreed.
“For sure,” Artie added. “That’s just asking for some regrets ya can’t get past.”
“Who says there’d be regrets?” Mark slurred as he asked.
I was wondering that myself, though I hadn’t really ever thought of fucking Mark or vice versa. I guess that’s why there might be regrets.
“Have you wanted to fuck Matt before?” Artie asked.
“Sure,” Mark replied, looking me over and leering. “He’s okay.”
“Okay?” Well there was a ringing endorsement. I tossed back the rest of my vodka while my friends started giving Mark shit for that.
“See,” Artie said after a couple of minutes of bickering. He twisted and pointed to the left. “If you really wanted to fuck Matt, you’d have looked at him like that guy is doing.”
My heart pounded painfully hard again. Maybe I was going to keel over. I was afraid to turn and see who Artie was pointing at.