I push through the doors of the tattoo shop and step inside. The air around me settles, the noises from the street stopping like someone just sealed me into a casket. I used to love this place. I used to visit Matt here. I’d stop by and surprise him with lunch. I’d drop by unexpectedly and he would smile at me. But no one is smiling at me now. I force myself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
Heels click as someone walks toward me. “What the fuck are you doing here?” Friday Reed asks. She’s decked out as usual in high heels, and she’s wearing a tiny black tutu and fishnet stockings. The outfit is completed with a pink tank top that has been bedazzled with the words “I’m a Reed.”
I was supposed to be a Reed once upon a time, too. Only it didn’t work out.
“Is Matt here?” I ask quietly, rubbing my hands up and down my upper arms in an effort to comfort myself. But there’s no comfort here. There’s only regret. Regret and wishes for a life unfulfilled. A life that was never meant to be.
“No, he’s not here. Why do you want him?” Friday punches her fists into her hips and glares at me.
“I was hoping maybe we could talk.”
Friday snorts. “About what?”
How about none of your fucking business, I want to scream at her. But the last time I dared to go up against Friday, she left me with a bald spot the size of my fist and a whole bunch of regret. “That’s between me and Matt.”
A waft of wind and street noises filters into the shop, and Friday looks up. I do too. My heart stops when Matthew Reed walks into the building. He stops short, the bell over the door tinkles as it shuts, and my tomb grows even tighter around me.
“April,” Matt says. He stares hard at me, but there’s none of the animosity I expected to see in his eyes. There’s only a question. He wants to know why I’m here. “Are you all right?” he asks.
Even now, Matt cares about me. His feelings for me didn’t just die, and that hurts me as much as anything I ever did to him. “I’m okay, Matt,” I say.
His brow furrows. “Why are you here?”
Friday shakes her finger at me, her voice getting louder and louder. “Because she’s the dumbest bitch that ever walked the face of the—”
Matt walks quickly to her and covers her mouth with his hand, holding it tight as she mumbles against it. “I’ll put you in a head lock if I have to,” Matt warns her quietly. He never did get loud. He has always been quiet. Quiet and powerful.
Friday stops her mumbling and he lifts his hand.
“You know I love you, Friday,” Matt says. He kisses her forehead quickly, and she mutters something under her breath that makes him laugh. “But this is between me and April, okay?” He bends down a little so he can look into her flashing eyes.
She points a finger in his face. “You call me if you need me.” She looks up and down my body. “I can take her.” She flips me the bird and goes to the back of the shop.
I rub my sweaty palms on my jeans and try to laugh.
Matt stares at me. “What can I do for you, April?”
“I was hoping maybe we could talk.” I look around the shop. “Privately.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I look at the pictures on the wall. They’re pictures of all the Reed men and their families. I see one with Matt standing with his kids, his arms wrapped around a blonde, and he’s smiling. He looks so happy. “You had another baby,” I suddenly blurt out.
He comes to stand beside me and looks at the picture. “Yes. Gracie. She’s the newest.” He grins, and happiness settles inside me, wrapping me up like sunshine on a warm summer day.
“You have five kids?”
“Six.” He starts to tick them off on his fingers. “Seth. Mellie. Joey. Hoppy. Matty. And now Gracie.”
I smile at him. “You finished yet?”
He smiles back. “I don’t know.” He shrugs. “You never know what life will give you.”
I lay my palm on his forearm and squeeze. He flinches, lifts my hand, and lets it go. Then he takes a step back from me. “Say what you came here to say, April.”
“I’m sorry, Matt,” I rush to say. My words tumble over one another. “I’m so fucking sorry.” I can’t say it fast enough or mean it more. “I really fucked everything up and I’m sorry I left you when you needed me most. If I had it to do all over again, I would have chosen differently. I’m sorry, Matt.”
He heaves a sigh. “Do you need my forgiveness, April?”
“Yes, Matt. I do.” I need it more than anything.
He points to the picture on the wall. “Do you see her?” Matt asks. His face softens and his eyes get all dreamy, and I suddenly and irrevocably know that someone else took my place in his heart. And more. She’s more to him than I ever was. “That’s my wife, Sky. She’s my everything.” He shakes his head, like he’s trying to drag himself from a drunken stupor. “I have no doubt that you and I could have been happy, April, if what happened between us had never happened, if you had never cheated. But my life with Sky…it’s all I ever wanted. It’s so much more than what we had.”
A tiny needle pokes me in the heart. “I understand why you want to hurt me, Matt—”
“That’s just it, April,” he says softly. “I don’t want to hurt you. I never did. I just wanted to love you. Then I met her and I knew what real love was. I didn’t know until then.” He stares hard at me. “Why are you here?”
“I want absolution.”
I wait, and the words hang there in the air between us like a firecracker with a lit fuse.
“I can’t absolve you. Only you can do that. But I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago. Life works out the way it’s supposed to.” He bends a little so he can look into my eyes. “Are you all right?” he asks. “Has something happened?”
“Yeah.” I sigh. Then I meet his gaze and stare into his blue eyes. “I fell in love.”
He startles. “Oh. Well, that’s good.” He smiles and I see only happiness within him for me. No hatred. No animosity. Of course, this is Matt. He is goodness and light and all things wonderful.
“You used to hate me.”
He nods. “I did for a while. I won’t lie.” He scrubs a hand across his mouth like he’s wiping away a smile. Then he grows serious. “I don’t hate you anymore.”
“But you don’t love me anymore, either.” I watch his face closely.
“I love Sky with all that I am.” He stops and stares at me and I know that he’s telling the truth.
Finally, I smile. “Good.”
“Is there something else I can do for you?” he asks, the ruffle of his brow betraying his confusion.
I wince. “I was hoping to get a tattoo.”
He points to the floor beneath our feet. “Here?”
“Where else?” I grin at him.
He shakes his head. “You know I can’t do it.”
“Someone else, then?”
“I’ll do it!” Friday calls out.
I shake my head vehemently. “Not Friday, Matt.” Friday will give me a pair of balls on my forehead or a penis on my cheek.
Matt scratches his jaw. “My brothers love me, so they can’t do it.”
“Won’t do it!” Paul yells out from the other end of the room where he had seemed to be engrossed in applying a tattoo.
I sigh. “I’ll go somewhere else.” I reach for the door handle.
“Wait,” Matt calls. I turn back. “We have a woman here today who’s auditioning to be an artist on the show. Her skin cancelled. She could do you.” He looks toward a woman who is in her early fifties. Her hair is teased up high and she has about five shades of dye in it. But she’s gorgeous, with ink all over her. Matt winces. “The only thing is…all of the tattoo jobs are going to be televised. Your story would be public if you let her do it.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Okay?” he parrots.
I nod. “Okay.”
He introduces me to Karla, has me sign some release paperwork, and I follow her to the back of the shop. I turn back at the last minute. “Will you still be here when we get done?” I ask Matt.
He shrugs. “Maybe.”
“It was good to see you again, Matt,” I say. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
“You too, April,” he says, and he smiles at me.
I follow Karla and a cameraman into a small room and she closes the door behind us. “How much of that did you hear?” I ask her. The cameraman is already filming, the camera hoisted over his shoulder as he focuses on me.
She grins. “All of it.” She jerks a thumb toward the cameraman. “He got it all too. You can say what you want him to use and what you don’t.”
“No, it’s fine. Then I won’t have to repeat it.”
“So you had a good thing with Matt, and you didn’t appreciate it, and you cheated on him, and then what happened?”
“I married the guy I cheated with because I got pregnant.”
“And then he cheated on you too,” she deadpans.
“How did you know?”
“Because that’s how it works, honey. If he’ll cheat with you, he’ll cheat on you. Law of physics. Or mathematics. Or the universe.” She grins. “Start at the beginning. Tell me about your new love.”
“It all really started in Scotland,” I tell her. “My husband and I went away to try to fix what was broken.”
“What happened in Scotland?” she prompts.
So I start to tell her my story.