I wince at Raquel’s high pitched squeal. Technically the party is just getting started but Raquel has been pretty aggressively pre-gaming most the afternoon. She was tipsy when she met us to check in to the hotel and I don’t think she has paused. That was four hours ago. I’m worried if she keeps going at this pace she’s not going to make it back to her room without spraining an ankle. The girl likes her stilettos.
She’s currently leaning over the front counter of Vanished on Halsted attempting to flirt with the rough giant standing behind it. He’s being gracious and engaging with her but I can tell he’s not really that in to it. I’m sure he’s gotten used to drunken bridesmaids attempting to add him to the bachelorette party favors on a fairly regular basis. At least I’m assuming that’s the case based on what I’ve learned about this place.
Shockingly this is the first time I’ve ever been in a tattoo shop. It’s almost what I expected. I mean, considering I really had no idea what to expect. They’ve rehabbed one of the old industrial warehouses in the neighborhood. The space also includes a brewery, coffee shop and a couple cute indie stores. It’s spotless with enormous windows and explosions of color everywhere. It’s a space for people far cooler than I am but I still like it. I like color. When it’s done well. And everything here is done well.
“Gabby,” Raquel doesn’t even turn as she calls out, keeping her blurry eyes and exposed cleavage firmly focused on her target. “You need to check in with the guy… Jax.” She touches his chest, covering the Vanished logo on his shirt and purrs, “Hi, Jax.”
I glance around the lobby. They’ve closed shop for the night, staying open just for our party so I quickly realize Gabby, my best friend and the guest of honor is not here. I roll my eyes slightly but can’t help my smile knowing damn well she’s slipped out to call her fiance Tim.
“I’m on it.” I step up to the counter and hold out my hand for the clipboard Jax just grabbed. He smiles at me and winks playfully. I return the grin and then laugh out loud as he inhales sharply and dodges Raquel’s wandering fingers. Jessi comes over to join her and I see a tiny flare of panic in Jax’s eyes as he’s surrounded. I focus on filling out the intake form with Gabby’s vital information relieved to have a task to occupy me for a few minutes.
I love Gabby but this whole night is not really my scene and – I’d never admit this to her – I’m feeling a little awkward and disoriented. Gabby and I have been friends forever but half of these women I hardly know and the other half I inevitably lost touch with after college graduation – first with med school and then being out of the country the last three years. Gabby was the one I’d held onto, keeping me connected and grounded.
And laughing. Gabby is goddamn hysterical.
I’ve been back in Chicago, back in the States, for only a week. I’m still crashing at Gabby’s and Tim’s apartment. The most exciting part about this Bachlorette Party for me was the hotel rooms we rented for the weekend. Two whole nights on a real bed in a room that doesn’t double as Tim’s home office. Luxury.
I might even take a bubble bath. I’m definitely ordering room service. I haven’t taken a relaxing bath in years. Or ordered room service. Neither had been available where I’ve spent the last few years. I was lucky to have a luke-warm sponge bath or cold shower on a daily basis.
Adjusting back to life in Chicago is trickier than I expected but it’s only been a few days. I do love this city and I’ve missed it. I’m excited to be back. Really I am. Besides, if everything goes to plan this won’t be permanent. A year tops.
If everything goes according to plan.
I shake my head and refocus. Tonight is about Gabby and having some fun. Or at least pretending to have fun until I can get in to that bathtub.
The bell above the door tinkles and I turn smiling at Gabby as she re-enters.
“About time! I need your help with some of these questions. And how is Tim?” I tease.
Her eyes are legit twinkling as she accepts the clipboard and pen. “Practically perfect, thank you.”
“Well no more sneaking off for calls with your groom! You’re ours for the rest of the night.” This from Gabby’s little sister Camilla.
Laughing Gabby agrees. Despite me being the Maid of Honor, the others have done most the planning for the weekend. I have only a vague sense of our agenda partly because Skype calls to Cameroon aren’t incredibly reliable but mostly because Camilla didn’t trust me not to spill the secrets to Gabby. Which – fair.
Vanished is one of the few events everyone knew about well in advance – a special request from the bride herself. A tattoo celebrating her love. Apparently the owner is a crazy talented artist and won some reality television tattoo competition a couple of years ago that he managed to parlay into his own reality show and now he’s a celebrity that puts his art on other celebrities. And bridal parties if they pay enough. Which Gabby’s family is happy to do.
According to the other girls he’s also insanely gorgeous. I have dozens of emails in my inbox right now from the others gushing about how hot all the artists here are and gossiping about what’s happening on the show that now focuses on Lucas Abbott post his Top Ink championship but I hadn’t bothered to Google any of it. I figured I’d find out eventually and since I wasn’t planning on getting a tattoo myself it didn’t seem necessary to look at their designs. Besides, there’s an insane amount of pop culture to absorb after three years and I’m still getting my time zones adjusted after my 30 hour journey home. This week I slept. Next week I’ll catch up on my celebrity gossip.
I’ll be honest, if Jax is any indication of what to expect they weren’t exaggerating. He’s rough around the edges not polished like most of the men I work with at the hospital but the man is gorgeous. And pretty adorable when he’s flirting but trying to keep a distance at the same time. Watching him walk that line with Raquel has certainly been entertaining.
Suddenly he straightens, all teasing gone as he looks at something over my shoulder.
“Luke. This is Gabby, the bride to be. Camilla, Jessi and,” he checks the papers in front of him, “Sofie are also getting tattoos.”
Luke, Lucas Abbott is The Guy. The reason we’re all here tonight. I can tell he’s already gotten the attention of all the other women in the room and I feel myself getting excited right along with them. I turn to face the voice behind me and meet the man everyone has been not-so-secretly fantasizing about over our group email chain.
His dark blue gaze meets mine for a hot second before he focuses on Gabby, giving his congratulations and discussing his sketches for her design. I stand there immediately debating if I should get a tattoo after all.
Because fucking hell that man is gorgeous. No wonder he was able to pivot a reality competition win into his own reality show spin-off. I can’t imagine any straight woman in America turning off their TV set if he was on it.
“Hi. Lucas.” He holds out his hand, introducing himself. Those blue eyes are back focused on me.
Determined to play it cool and not fan girl out – considering I’ve never seen his show this seems doubly inappropriate for me to do – I clasp his hand. “Ash.”
He holds my hand a beat longer than is polite. Or is that just my wishful thinking? “Are you interested in getting a tattoo?”
“No. I’m just here for moral support.”
“Ash is going to let me hold her hand,” Gabby interjects and Lucas finally releases our handshake.
He grins at me. “Let me know if you change your mind. I’m pretty good.”
I laugh. “That’s the rumor anyway.”
His smile deepens and one eyebrow quirks. My stomach flips and I realize I am interested in this man in a way I haven’t been interested in years – maybe ever. Jax is attractive, any idiot would notice that and I’m pretty smart, but I hadn’t really cared he was attractive just acknowledged it the way I would note a patients symptoms. Factually. Impartially. Indifferently.
But my body’s reaction to Lucas is the opposite of indifferent.
“Ladies.” His voice raises as he takes in the full group. “You all want a quick tour before you get some ink?”
Cheers go up from around me and we all follow Lucas and Jax through the shop.
Two hours later I’m back in the lobby of Vanished pressed tightly against a well muscled body.
It would be a better kind of exciting if there wasn’t a gun to my head.
I hate it when people pull guns on me.
If interested in Gabby’s perspective you can find that here.
If you want to learn more about Lucas click here.
If you’re interested in more of Lucas and Ash’s story you can find that here.