The evening was going about as well as I expected. How likely is it in any given mating-game situation that the wingman will fall for the girl’s moral support sidekick? In this case, given my mindset, the odds were exactly zero. With the pounding music, even trying to make idle conversation was pointless.
We got our subs and energy drinks and found an empty patch of lawn to sit on. Bre cooed to Dan. Jake and I were awkward and ate mostly in silence. My gaze landed on an Up All Night sign advertising the events of the evening.
Precision Piercing. Specials—Tonight only! Half off the usual price. Bellybutton, ears, cartilage, and noses only.
My heart pounded in my ears. I’d read enough. I knew what I wanted, what I had wanted for a couple of years now but was too rebellious to do—pierce my navel. To understand how not piercing my bellybutton is rebellious, you have to know my mom. It was what she wanted me to do, so it was exactly what I refused to do. But now I didn’t care what she thought. I could pierce or not pierce at my pleasure. I was of age and didn’t need her permission. She’d never know unless I wanted her to. And even then, she wouldn’t be around to gloat and enjoy her triumph.
Anyway, that wasn’t the way I saw it. Doing what I wanted without regard to her was my victory. I looked around at the party atmosphere that I should have been enjoying and found myself almost smiling.
Dan and Jake wolfed down their sandwiches and were ready to party. Bre wrapped the remains of hers, ready to toss it so she could get on with the evening. I’d barely touched mine, but that wasn’t unusual. Since the breakup I’d lost my appetite for just about everything in life and ten pounds along with it. And I hadn’t been overweight to begin with.
Dan offered Bre a hand up. “Dance or take in the magic show?”
“Dance!” Bre laughed and took his arm, smiling up at him coyly.
“Body piercing!” I said in unison with Bre as I stood and dusted the grass off my butt.
Three pairs of eyes turned on me. I kept smiling. “What? It’ll be fun. It’s not something you do every day. What better way to remember the start of our illustrious college careers here than with a new piercing?”
I spoke boldly for someone who only had her ears pierced.
Beside me, Jake shook his head. “Guys don’t get pierced. Not at Up All Night.” He spoke like an expert.
I ignored him and appealed to Bre. She shook her head. “The line will be too long by now. We’ll miss everything else. You can get pierced any time. I’ll go with you whenever you want.”
“But not for half price,” I said.
“Ellie, come on.” Bre’s eyes begged me to be reasonable.
I waved her off. “You guys go ahead. I’m off to get my bellybutton pierced. I’ll text you when I’m done and catch up with you later. Have fun!”
Without waiting for an answer, I spun and ran off through the crowd toward the SUB, feeling free and exhilarated for the first time all summer.
My exhilaration lasted as I wound through the crowded first floor of the SUB, following the signs to Precision Piercing’s station. Up the stairs to the second floor toward the ballroom, right until I saw the long line and my courage failed.
Jake had been an ass about things, but he was right about one thing—there were no guys in line for piercing. Bre was right, too. There was a good chance I was already too late. Any minute they’d be shutting off the line, saying they’d reached their maximum.
I stood there, not quite in line, staring and debating with myself. I’d just ditched my roommate and she was going to be pissed about it, especially if I came back without another hole in my body. On the other hand, I could claim I’d been turned away because the line was too long and she’d have gloating rights for the rest of the semester. Maybe even the rest of the time we knew each other. At homecoming twenty years from now, I still wouldn’t hear the end of it.
“You’d better get in line before it’s too late.”
It took me a second to realize the sexy male voice was speaking to me. Startled, I looked around for the source. What was a guy doing here, anyway?
When I found it, my heart did an odd little flip. Sitting on a bench with an instant icepack pressed to his right eye was a guy that was too gorgeous to be benched. How could I have missed him? He had a wicked smile calculated to make girls melt, and his left eye danced with amusement as he watched me. He sat with his legs spread wide, just inviting a girl to stand between them and coo condolences on his injury. Touch his cheek. Offer him any comfort he wanted. He looked dangerous with one eye covered and the way a lock of dark hair fell against the icepack. Yet sympathetic at the same time, like you just wanted to take care of him.
Even though he was sitting, it was obvious he was tall and athletically built beneath the T-shirt and shorts he wore. “Well?”
I blinked. “I’m thinking.”
“The window of opportunity is closing.” He stood and walked over to stand next to me, so close I could smell the delicious scent of his cologne.
“Yes,” I said. “I know.”
He ignored any sarcasm that had slipped into my tone. “What do you want to have pierced?”
“My bellybutton.” I just blurted it out, wondering why this complete stranger inspired my confidence. And why he cared.
He nodded. “Good choice. Bellybutton rings are hot. Every woman should have one.”