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“It’s a Valkyrie,” Tina said.
“Huh?” Justin looked at her in confusion.
“My tattoo?” She looked at her arm, where something peeked out from under her t-shirt. “I thought you were looking at my arm.”
In point of fact, he had stared into the middle of nowhere and wished he was literally anywhere else.
He hadn’t wanted to come on this date. His past experiences with dating hadn’t exactly inspired confidence, and there was something hopelessly awkward to him about striking up a conversation with someone he didn’t even know as if there were a simple, easy way to get from Point A to Point B.
Point B, of course, being marriage, babies, and a house with beige carpets.
Unfortunately, after several weeks of browbeating from his mother and dark comments from his father about how someone who couldn’t even afford his own apartment shouldn’t ignore simple requests from his parents, Justin was there and he did have to find something to say.
The amusing part of this was that however his parents had pictured Tina Castro, he was fairly sure it wasn’t anywhere close to reality. There was no way they would have gone from almost constantly getting on his case about his job, his prospects, and graduate school to setting him up with a woman who had worn ripped jeans and a sweatshirt out on a first date. They would expect…
Pearls, probably. And a nice sweater.
He could not imagine Tina in pearls and a sweater. He could imagine it even less when she waved her hand in front of his face. “Hellooooo?”
“Sorry.” Justin took a sip of his beer—which he’d forgotten was beer—choked, and pounded his fist on his chest a few times. “God, this sucks. I’m sorry you’re out with me.”
She gave him a curious look and took a sip of her beer. She spun the bottle in her hands as she looked at him. “You’re not what I expected,” she told him.
“I know,” he said with feeling. “Trust me, I know.”
“My mother made such a big deal of you on the phone,” she said and rolled her eyes. “‘Senator Williams’s son, Tina.’” She adopted a mocking falsetto. “Honestly? I pictured khakis and a polo with the collar flipped up.”
“Yeah, well.” He found a shred of humor. “So were my parents.”
Tina almost spat out her mouthful of beer. “So, it’s like that, is it? Interesting.”
Justin shrugged and hunched his shoulders. “I guess. Why’d you come out with me if you thought I was gonna be a tool?”
“I hadn’t planned to.” She looked around. “Then you suggested an arcade for our first date and I thought, ‘Huh. I wonder what’s up with this dude?’ So here I am.” She wiggled her fingers. “Of course, I kind of expected that if you intended to disappoint your parents, you’d really go for it.” One eyebrow arched.
He opened his mouth, realized he had nothing to say, and closed it.
“Oh, come on.” Tina shifted in her chair. “I should have—” She leaned back as the waiter set plastic baskets of jalapeno poppers and fries on the table. “Thanks,” she told him. When he was gone, she picked up a jalapeno popper and contemplated it before she took a bite. “I should have known our parents would only set us up if they were having trouble with both of us,” she said around the mouthful of food, “but I don’t get why you’re a problem.”
“Do you see khakis?” he asked, not entirely sure what was going on. He had no idea what she meant by going for it.
“No, but…where’s your mohawk? Where are your tattoos?” She squinted at him. “Did you knock up a gold-digging girlfriend or something?”
“So, not that.” Tina tapped her chin and made a show of looking skyward as she thought. “Ohhhh, you got high and crashed their car—nice, shiny Porsche SUV, right?”
“Lexus, actually.” He raised an eyebrow. “But no. I haven’t done either of those two things.”
“You haven’t gotten high? Jesus Christ. Okay, are they disappointed because you’re so boring?”
“Hey!” He had been having fun but he was now genuinely annoyed. “I’m not boring, okay? I do stuff. It’s simply that they don’t care about my stuff. I stream games. I’m damned good at it, too. And—” He saw the look on her face. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m a huge nerd, okay? So, why don’t you leave and think of something to tell our parents. Don’t worry, mine will be all too willing to believe I screwed it up.”
“Dude.” Tina set her beer down and looked at him. “I won’t walk away because you’re a nerd, okay?” She cleared her throat. “Look, I was…uh, making a joke. It didn’t work. My bad.” She held her pinky finger out. “No more bad jokes, pinky swear.”
Justin ignored her finger and took a sip of his beer. He merely wanted to be home. “Look, I’m not a drug-snorting, failing-out-of-school, bankrupt disappointment. I’m simply boring, okay? I never liked playing football and I didn’t bring home girlfriends with the hair and the nails and the purses and whatever. Honestly? My parents would probably be happier if I’d knocked up some chick.” He swirled his beer in the bottle.
His parents wouldn’t be happy, of course. They’d be furious. He’d get a huge lecture on how he was letting his father down and endangering the family’s livelihood. How a senator couldn’t afford to have that kind of thing going on in their family.
But at least they’d understand it. This—the streaming online, the video games—they didn’t get that at all.
“I know how it is,” Tina said after a moment. “I think…well, that my parents wish I was a little more boring. No drugs. No tattoos. No piercings.”
“You don’t have any piercings,” he said distractedly.
“Not that you can see.” When he looked up, she had a very smug look on her face.
Justin hoped it was dark enough that she couldn’t see his expression.
“My parents freaked when they saw my first tattoo,” she said, apparently taking pity on him. “And it was so basic, too.” She held one hand up to show a tiny infinity symbol on the inside of her wrist. “I thought I was sooooo deep.” She paused. “I was sixteen. I probably don’t have to tell you that.”
Despite himself, he laughed.
“So, what about you?” She gave him a look. “Why haven’t you done any of that stuff?”
“What do you mean?”
“I meant what I said before. You’re a huge disappointment, apparently—so why not lean into it? Do all the shit you want to do that they wouldn’t approve of.” She raised an eyebrow.
Justin shrugged. “Like what, though?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned at him. “I mean…what’s the thing you’d do if there were no consequences?”
“Uh…” Justin tried to think of something and came up blank. “Buy a nice gaming setup? Oh, there was a chair I looked at a while back. It looked so damned comfortable. For real, this thing was amazing, all leather—”
“Oh, my God,” Tina said. She looked into the middle distance for a moment and seemed to come to a decision. “Okay, finish your beer.”
“Right now. One drink. Finish it.” She folded her arms.
He was about to scoff at her but looked at his beer. It occurred to him that he’d never gone to any of the big parties at his prep school—those everyone snuck off-campus to. He’d heard stories, though, and always kind of wondered what was so fun about them.
Maybe this was his chance to find out. He tipped his head back and drank the beer in one gulp, wiped a stray drop from the corner of his mouth, and looked at her. “Okay, now what?”
“Now finish mine.” Tina pushed hers across the table. She gave a delighted laugh when she saw his face. “It’s gonna be good, I promise. Finish it—go on.”
It was easier to do the second time around. Justin drained the glass and put it on the table so hard it tipped.
“Okay,” she said and leaned closer. “Now you gotta choose.”
Justin looked around at the games. “Sega Rally Championship.”
“Maybe on the second date,” Tina said. “You know, depending on how this one goes.”
He flushed and hoped she wouldn’t notice. “So, what do I have to choose?”
“You’ll decide which beach we go to.” Tina pulled a twenty out of her pocket and put it on the table before she beckoned to him. “Come on.”
“I downed two beers and you want me to drive—”
“I’ll drive, come on.” She took his hand and towed him away. He hadn’t realized before how short she was. “So, which beach?”
“Why are we going to the beach?”
Tina stopped so suddenly that he collided with her. She stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “We’re going skinny dipping.”
“What?” Justin straightened abruptly.
“Yup.” She gave him a grin and yanked him out into the spring night.
“I can’t—wait—” He stopped. “Are we doing this?”
“What are you worried about?” she asked him, her arms folded.
“Uh—I don’t know. Getting arrested?”
“That’s what makes it fun,” Tina retorted. She caught his hand again and towed him to a car in the corner of the lot—a beat-up turquoise vehicle that might very well have been made before either one of them was born. “Get in.”
Justin was about to protest until he thought it through. Really thought it through.
Both of them.
He got in the car.
“Ha,” Tina turned the car on and backed out. “I knew you had a wild streak somewhere.”
“We’ll see about that.” He grasped the handle above his seat as she pulled out onto the empty street at high speed and the tires squealed. “Hang on a second. I still need to put on my seatbelt—”
She grinned, turned the radio up, and danced in her seat as she drove. “So, which beach?” she called over the sound of the music.
“I don’t know.” The beer was beginning to hit. Justin leaned his head back against the seat. “You choose.”
“Okay.” She made a sharp turn, so close to oncoming traffic that they left a series of angry horns in their wake. “God, people are so stuffy,” she commented and laughed.
“Holy shit,” Justin muttered.
“Oh, come on. You didn’t get hurt, did you?” Tina grinned at him and stretched her hand to take his. “Just you wait, preppy boy. You’re gonna find out how awesome it is to get a little wild, and our parents will regret ever setting us up.”
She turned the wheel and the car skidded around a corner. The tires squealed again. She cast a glance at him and laughed. “Now you’re getting into it. Choose some music.”
“Right.” He leaned forward and pressed the radio. “Uh, rock?”
“Whatever you want.” She drummed her hands on the steering wheel. “Wait, shit—”
His head jerked and his gaze immediately focused on the puppy. A ball of fluff that couldn’t be more than a couple of months old stood scared and frozen in the middle of the street.
Only for a moment, though, because Tina had jerked the wheel to the side in a desperate effort to avoid it. Justin’s head had begun to turn to make sure it wouldn’t run the wrong way—not that he could do anything about it, of course—before a massive bang shattered conscious thought and something hit him hard all across his body.
In the street, the puppy cowered, stared at the smoking pile of metal, and whimpered. It could hear its name but didn’t know where to go. The world was too big and full of fast things and loud noises. When at last footsteps stepped close behind it, the animal looked at its owner and knew something was very wrong.
“Oh, no,” she said. She scooped it up and cradled it against her chest, but her hand was over her mouth. “Oh, no. Sam—Sam! Call 911!”
Hmmm, Maybe drinking and driving isn't the way to go, but wait until you see where Justin ends up! It might all be worth it in the end. And don't worry, no puppies were injured in the making of this book.
Too Young To Die in on pre-order now and goes live tomorrow! Get your copy reserved now, and when you wake up you can pick up where you left off to find out how it all ends!