Brand: A Steel Paragons MC Novel (The Cost: Book 2)
“Ethel!” I did my best to speak loudly but not shriek.
“Oh, shit,” she said adjusting the camera angle from her cleavage to her face. “Did I hit the video thing again? I thought I hit the speaker one.”
I couldn’t help but to laugh. Ethel was pushing eighty and completely insane. Not in an ‘old, I’ve lost my mind’ sort of way. No, she was very aware and with it. The woman was just in her own kind of world and wasn’t afraid to say or do whatever was on her mind. And she had a more active sex life than most of the brothers. Or so, it came off that way. It wasn’t something I wanted to know, but I did, nonetheless.
I’d met Ethel when I was back at Moon Hill. The Steel Paragons’ chapter that I’d prospected and got my patch at. She was the grandmother of Reagan—my good friend, at one time. Years later, Reagan was still a bit of a sore subject for me. But it was something I tried my hardest not to think about. I kept telling myself that she was happy, and so I vowed to be happy for her.
“When did I last call you?” she asked.
That woman was smart as a whip, so I knew she remembered when she last talked to me.
“Three days ago, Ethel. You told me you made those praline brownies and you wanted me to try them. I’m still waiting for the mailman, he hasn’t come today.” I knew she was calling to see what I thought about those things. She did this a couple times a month. She’d find some crazy recipe off of Pinterest and give it a shot. Then she’d send them to the shop to see what I thought. I wasn’t sure why she wasted all that money on shipping things to me when I knew she had the whole club there that would jump at the chance to get her goodies. And I was talking about the ones she baked, not the ones she was always trying to show everyone. Yes, wild was a very respectable word to describe Ethel.
I laughed again. I had a special place in my heart for her. While I missed her dearly, I could only take her in small doses.
“I promise I will call the moment I put it into my mouth,” I said with a smile.
“Okay, fine,” she said with a fake sound of disappointment in her tone. “How are things down there?”
“Good. Shops picking up. I’m actually booked up for the next three weekends, so that’s good. Looks like I have a bunch of appointments down during the week, too.”
I was proud of the shop. Branded In Ink was more or less my place but I always said it belonged to the club. I had full ruling over every decision made, even if I chose to go to my prez, Iron, about them. And every time he would wave me off and simply tell me to ‘get to it.’ We’d been open a little over a year and things were picking up fast.
Currently, the shop had three tattoo artist, one of which also did piercings. I’d thought about bringing on another artist or two but the search hadn’t been going well so far. It had to be someone that not only had talent that complemented what we already had going on there, but they had to mesh with us, too. The shop was a zero percent for drama and I wanted to keep it that way.
“Well, hot damn. That’s good news.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“So, there’s no chance you’d leave that place and come back here, huh?”
This wasn’t the first time she’d said something like that.
“Ethel,” I said and held back a sigh. “You and I both know it’s better for me here.”
“I don’t believe that horse shit for a minute. You were so good to her and I just think that maybe you guys could work something out. All of you. You know? Like have one of those…oh, what are they called…you know? The relationship where there are three people in it. There’s a name for it. I was reading up on it the other day. God knows, I love Nathan like no other, but with the two of you, she’d never want for nothin’.”
And that was the moment I should have hung up. Inside I was laughing and banging my head against the top of the counter all at the same time. I had to constantly remind myself that it was just how Ethel was.
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to work. One, I’m not really that kind of guy. I like the one-on-one thing. Call me old-fashioned or something. And two, I’m pretty sure both of them are just fine with what they’ve got. He makes her happy, he’s everything to her and he thinks the same of her.”
The Reagan thing was complicated. I had no idea what was really going on with me back then. Reagan was genuine and tough. She was sunshine and rainbows all while having a backbone. She was…intriguing, to say the least.
The big question was, did I love her?
The complicated answer to that was yes and no. Was I in love with her right at this moment? No, I knew that much. Had I been at one point? Maybe? I couldn’t say for sure, but I did have some strong, deep feelings for her, I could admit that much.
The thing I missed the most was her friendship, I knew that for sure. While we still talked from time to time, we weren’t as close as we’d once been. And I often wondered that if the circumstances hadn’t forced us together, then maybe we wouldn’t have even gotten that close to begin with.
But that was neither here nor there.
She was happy and Loch loved her with everything he had in him.
“You got someone special then?” she asked.
“No. Haven’t had time.” That was partially true. I hadn’t been actively looking for anyone was more the truth. The bell on the shop door jingled. “Ethel, my next appointment’s here. I’ll call you the moment I open the box.”
“Alright. I hope it’s an old man that wants you to tattoo his wrinkly dick.”
“Thanks for that,” I laughed as I tried to wipe the image out of my mind. I hadn’t come across a customer with that request yet, but that wasn’t to say it wouldn’t happen one day. And no, I didn’t have a clue what I’d do when that situation presented itself. “Bye, Ethel.”
With a blink, I switched into work mode. I didn’t have time to think about things that would never be or the reasons why and how I’d ended up here. The truth might have been that I didn’t let myself go there because I wasn’t sure if I was ready to figure out all the answers. I knew deep down that I might not like them. But that was the great thing about keeping busy and constantly having people around, it gave me an excuse to keep avoiding.
By nature, I was in my head a lot. I wouldn’t say that I lived in my head, but being an artist, my brain was constantly working out the angles of every situation. I knew they weren’t stories and the details of the past could never be changed, but that didn’t stop me from always wondering ‘why’ to everything.
That was my biggest life mystery, you could have said. While I could see all the little threads that weaved themselves together and brought me to the place that I was, I wasn’t always so sure that if just one of those threads had been removed that I’d end up here. Right here, sitting in this shop that oddly smelled like home to me. Dipping my needle into a tiny cap of ink and making the image in my head come alive on someone’s skin.
But then again, I wouldn’t want life to be any different. So, really, it was silly to wonder such things. If I was honest with myself, I would have said that I wouldn’t have changed a thing in the past. That if I was given a choice, I would choose the same exact path. The future may be uncertain, but I could have said that I wasn’t worried about it. In my heart, I knew it would turn out how it was meant to be.
I mean, it wasn’t like I really would know any differently, anyway.