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Bad at Love
Author: Karina Halle


“Dream On”

 

“Tonight is going to suck,” Naomi grumbles.

I give her a withering glance but quicken the pace as we walk down Pico Boulevard toward The Mint where our friend Jane is playing tonight. We’re already running a bit late and her band, Magic 8 Ball, is first up. At a place like The Mint, they could have already started and finished their set by now. Or they might not go on for another few hours. It’s always up in the air.

Not that I’ve ever seen them perform live before, but I have spent many nights at The Mint during college weekends, drinking draft beer, watching bands, and vomiting outside. Ah, the good old days.

Which is probably why Naomi thinks it’s going to suck. We’re twenty-five now, not twenty-one, and what passed for good music when you’re wasted probably doesn’t when you’re (relatively) sober.

“It’s not going to suck,” I assure her. “It’ll be fun.”

She rolls her dark eyes. “Right. Fun. You know we don’t have that kind of fun anymore.”

“Always the grump,” I mumble under my breath.

“I can hear you,” she says.

“I know.” I sigh and check my phone again. We’re still a few blocks away. I wish I had my own car already instead of having to rely on the Los Angeles bus system. By the time we get to the venue, I’m going to be an even sweatier mess than usual. It may be October, but fall means nothing in LA. “This is about supporting Jane, just remember that.”

“What has Jane ever done for us?” she says. “The damn woman slept through last semester. If it hadn’t been for me stepping in and practically writing her papers for her, she would have flunked.”

“I don’t know? Professor McGill did have it pretty bad for her. I’m sure he would have given her a passing grade.”

Naomi giggles. We all study at the University of California in Riverside together, and though our fields and interests are different, we had some classes overlap and everyone knew that the Professor loved Jane.

Jane, however gorgeous she is with her tall, lithe body, killer tattoos, and long pink hair and piercings, was never the type to indulge him. Never mind the fact that he was thirty years older than her, came up to her boobs, and smelled like ham.

Finally, we get to The Mint and the bouncer is already looking the two of us up and down as we try to get ahead of the small line of smokers outside.

We tried to dress up from our usual day uniform of jeans and a tank top. I upgraded to ripped jeans and a sequin tank top with a little extra eyeliner. Naomi has me beat, wearing faux-leather pants that make a farting sound when she walks. I don’t have the heart to tell her.

“We’re on the list,” I tell the angry-looking dude with the bald head and beard down to his knees, the prerequisite bouncer uniform for music venues. I’m willing to bet he has a tattoo on him somewhere that says Mom but I’m not willing to find out.

He continues to give us the once over. “Name?”

“Marina Owens and Naomi Harris.”

He squints at Naomi. “The actress?”

“No,” she says flatly. “It’s spelled differently.” It wouldn’t kill her to smile. Because as annoying as it is to have the same name as an actress, she actually looks like said actress. And both of them are extremely beautiful, my friend even more so when she smiles.

But Naomi keeps her grump face on so I have to turn on my smile for the bouncer. Which I hate to do. It makes me look like a kid. I have a lot of teeth.

“We’re guests of Jane. Magic 8 Ball.”

“Who?”

“The band that should be playing right about now?” There’s a dull crunchy rock sound coming from inside but it doesn’t sound like they’ve hit the stage yet. Thank god.

“Let’s go.” Naomi tugs at my shirt. “Jane’s on the drums. She’s not even going to notice if we came or not.”

“No, we came all this way, we can’t just bail,” I protest, but my words sound feeble. It would be so wrong to go back home but feel so right. My bed is calling me. Comfy socks. Fluffy robe. I could have a bath and light some candles and read. I know that I’m young and your mid-twenties is about getting out there and partying and meeting guys, but both Naomi and I have accelerated to old lady status really fast. We’re like the Golden Girls over at our apartment.

“Come on,” she says, and I’m about to turn around and follow her like the weak woman I am when a tall, dashing man steps out of the door, digging a cigarette out of his pocket.

Okay, I know I just described him as dashing but my mind is fumbling for the right words to convey what I’m seeing, and I’ve read far too many historical romances lately.

I stare at him, and while Naomi continues to tug at my tank top like a child and the bouncer waits for me to say something, I try to come up with other adjectives to describe this guy standing just to the side of me.

Handsome.

Yes, he definitely is, but that’s boring.

He’s hot. Very hot.

But that’s boring too.

He’s…enigmatic.

Yes.

Enigmatic. Mysterious, brooding…sexual. A modern Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester dressed in black jeans, a grey V-neck shirt, arms covered in tattoos. He looks sweaty, thick black hair sticking to his forehead. An eyebrow ring over a low arched brow. Wide jaw, steel-cut chin. Full lips. He’s currently biting the lower one as he stands there, looking me over as he pulls out his lighter.

And then I realize everyone is still looking at me.

“Are you in or out, lady?” the bouncer says impatiently.

I snap my attention back to him. “Lady?” I repeat while Naomi snorts. He obviously doesn’t know me.

“You say you’re with Magic 8 Ball?” the bouncer goes on.

“Um,” I say. I can feel Naomi’s eyes burning into my skull, wanting me to tell him to forget it. But then there’s this sexy stranger and I’m not normally one to fan myself over a hot guy but this guy is like my kryptonite, and he’s got my panties in a twist. Plus, he’s watching me with interest now as he lights his cigarette, his dark eyes lit up by the flame.

“Because I wasn’t told there was anyone on the list,” the bouncer adds with some finality. He crosses his arms across his chest for emphasis.

“That’s okay, we’ll just go,” Naomi says.

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