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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 16

COOPER

On Sunday afternoon, I’m in the garage when my uncle calls to say he’s stopping by. Every time my phone buzzes in my pocket, there’s a second or two where I think it might be Mackenzie. Then I look at the screen and remember that I blew it. Read her all wrong.

Goodbye, Cooper.

Yeah. It must’ve been fun for her to slum it with some townie trash, make believe she was living dangerously. And then, the second it got real, she split. I was stupid to think it would end any other way.

But goddamn it, I can’t get the taste of her off my tongue. For the past week, I’ve woken up every morning with a hard-on from imagining her legs wrapped around me. I can’t even jerk off without pictures of Mac forcing themselves into my mind. This chick is slow-acting poison. And all I can think about is getting more.

Today, thanks to Evan, I have to build a new coffee table. The one I “sold” to Mackenzie is still sitting under a drop cloth, because it doesn’t seem right to take it in case she decides to come back for it. I tell myself it’s for the money and leave it at that. Anyway, this one’s going to be a quick and dirty piece. Fucking Evan. Last night during a sudden party that broke out at our place, he got into it with some guy we went to high school with. I don’t know how it started, only that it ended with one of them slamming the other through the table and leaving a bloody trail out my back door. Evan insists he’s fine, but I’m starting to worry about him. Lately, he’s been finding more excuses to start fights. Always in a pissy mood. Drinking more. This shit’s getting old.

When Levi shows up, he hands me a cup of fresh coffee he picked up on the way and I dust off a couple stools for us.

Levi is our father’s brother. Tall, rugged, with a short brown beard and square face. Although he bears a resemblance to my dad, the two of them couldn’t be more different. Where Dad never missed a chance to fuck himself up and pass it on to us, Levi actually has his life together.

“Your brother around?” he asks.

“Left a little while ago.” Probably picking up a greasy hangover cure from the diner. “So. What’s up?”

“Nothing.” He shrugs. “Just wanted to stop by and say a quick hello. I haven’t been to the house in a few months, so I wanted to check in.” Levi eyes the table in progress. “Working on something new?”

“Nothing important.”

“When are you going to get serious about that, Coop? I remember you talking about trying to make a go of it sometime back.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s kind of on the back burner.”

“It shouldn’t be. You’re good enough. Much as I like having you on the jobsite, you could be doing more for yourself.”

Levi gave us our first full-time jobs out of high school. He’s done well at it too. Not rolling in dough by any means, but he stays busy. Like a lot of people, the storms gave him more work than he knew what to do with.

Shrugging, I take a sip of coffee. “I got a few pieces in some coastal furniture shops in the tri-county area. Maybe about ten grand saved up, but that’s still nowhere near enough for all the overhead I’d need to start a real business.”

“I’d give ya the money if I had it,” he says, and I know he’s being entirely sincere. He’s always been there for us since our dad died. When our mom was strung out or missing, when the fridge was empty, when our homework was due. “Everything I’ve got is tied up in the business. I love having the work, but it’s expensive to keep up with demand.”

“It’s no sweat. I can’t take your money, anyway. You’ve done more than enough for Evan and me.” I’ve never in my life asked for a handout, and I’m not about to start now. I make fine money working for Levi. If I keep at it and save up, I’ll make my own way. Eventually.

“What about a bank loan?” he suggests.

I’ve always resisted the idea. Not the least of which because I dealt with the banks after our dad’s death—and every one of them are filled with nothing but bloodsucking suits who would sooner grind us into food pellets than help us succeed.

“I don’t know,” I finally answer. “I don’t like the idea of going into more debt. Or having to leverage the house.” I know I sound like a whiny bitch. At some point, I’m gonna have to make up my mind. Either get serious about getting my business off the ground or stop moaning about it.

“Well, that’s true. It costs money to make money. But give it some thought. If this is really something you want to build a business out of, I can help. Co-sign the loan for you.”

It’s a generous offer, and one I don’t take lightly. Even if I’m not thrilled about the idea now, I’m not about to throw his graciousness in his face, so I nod slowly. “Thanks, Levi. I’ll think about it.”

Levi doesn’t stay more than a few minutes. After we finish our coffee, he’s off to meet with a client about another job, and I’m back to measuring a plank of cedar. My head’s not in it, though. It’s never a good idea to operate power tools when your concentration is shot, so I call it quits and leave my workshop. Whatever. Evan can eat his dinner off the floor tonight like his precious girlfriend Daisy.

Speaking of Daisy, she’s nipping at my heels when I stride back in the house. For the next ten minutes, we practice her sit-stays, but my head’s not feeling that either.

Goodbye, Cooper.

I feel … heavy. Like I’m being dragged under the surface by a hundred-pound steel anchor wrapped around my neck. It’s not a foreign feeling for me. My whole life, I’ve felt weighed down. By my parents’ debts, my brother’s bullshit, that sense I get sometimes that I’m trapped in my own head.

“Sorry, girl, I gotta get out of here,” I tell the dog, reaching down to scratch beneath her silky ear. “I’ll be back in a minute. Promise.”

That’s a lie. It’ll take more than a minute to do what I’m itching to do. Daisy’ll be fine, though. Evan will shower her with love and attention when he gets home. Same way Mackenzie did every time she is the dog. I wonder if she’ll come back to visit Daisy sometimes.

Doubt it. She’s probably already forgotten about the both of us.

Gotta admit, I didn’t expect her to be so cold. I guess in the end she is just like all the other Garnet clones. Cold-blooded to the core.

Honestly, it serves me right. I went into this with bad intentions, treated her as a means for revenge against Kincaid.

Karma’s a bitch.

I forcibly shove her out of my mind. Ten minutes later, I’m parking my truck near the boardwalk. The tattoo parlor is empty when I enter, save for a frazzled-looking Wyatt sitting at the counter with a sketchpad in front of him.

“Yo,” he greets me, his expression brightening.

“Yo. Got time for a walk-in?”

Wyatt’s been tattooing me since I was a sixteen-year-old punk requesting a tombstone on my left biceps. ’Course, he was only a year older at the time, with a tattoo gun he picked up from the pawnshop, so my first ink wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. If I have kids, first thing I’m telling them is to never let their dumbass teenage friends poke needles into their flesh. Fortunately, it turned out all right in the end. Wyatt honed his craft and now co-runs this joint with another artist, and my shitty tombstone was skillfully camouflaged within a full sleeve featuring a watery graveyard among the crashing waves of Avalon Bay.

“Depends,” Wyatt says. “What’s the piece?”

“Simple, small. I want an anchor.” I rub my fingertips over the back of my neck. “Right here.”

“What kind of anchor? Stockless? Admiralty?”

I’m not a boat guy, so I roll my eyes. “How the fuck do I know? A fisherman anchor—you know the one I mean.”

He snickers. “Admiralty, then. Come to the back. It’ll take less than an hour.”

In no time at all, I’m straddling a chair while Wyatt preps his workstation. That’s how it works in the Bay. If you’re good to your friends, they’re good to you. Wyatt probably won’t even charge me for this new ink, no matter how much I insist. Instead, he’ll show up at my place in a few months or a year from now asking for some random favor, and I’ll happily oblige.

“So what were you looking all bothered about when I got here?” I ask.

He releases a frustrated groan. “Ah. Yeah. I was trying to design a piece so fucking sexy that Ren’ll have no choice but to take me back.”

I smother a laugh. “She dump you again?”

“What else is new, right?”

He’s not wrong. Wyatt and Lauren aka Ren break up at least every other month, usually on account of the most random nonsense you can imagine. They’re a great source of entertainment, though.

“What happened this time?”

“Lean forward,” he orders, nudging me so that I’m bent over the chair, the back of my head at his mercy.

A second later, I feel a cool spray at my nape. Wyatt cleans the area with a soft cloth before reaching for a razor.

“Okay,” he says as he starts shaving the short hairs on my neck. “I need you to imagine something. Ready?”

My snicker is muffled against my forearm. “Sure. Ready.”

“You’re on an island.”

“Deserted or, like, a resort island?”

“Deserted. You were in a plane crash. Or your boat capsized. Not important.”

“How is it not important?” I object. “If I was on a boat, I’d probably be more familiar with islands and tides and shit, which means I’d have a better shot at survival.”

“Oh my God. That’s not the point,” he grumbles. “Why you gotta complicate it, Hartley? You’re on a deserted island. The end.”

“Cool story, bro.”

“You realize I’m holding a razor near your neck right now?”

I swallow another laugh. “Okay. I’m on a deserted island. Now what?”

“Want me to stencil this out or freehand it?”

“Freehand. I trust you.” Besides, if the tat is trash, at least it’s somewhere I can’t see it.

Wyatt keeps jabbering as he preps the ink. Black only. I’m not fancy. “So you’re stuck there. This is your life now, this island. But! Good news. You’re about to get some company. Two boats appear—”

“Sweet, so I’m rescued?”

“No!” He sounds aggravated. “I just said you’re stuck there forever.”

“But there are boats.”

“The boats explode in five minutes, okay? There are no boats. Jesus.”

It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t be antagonizing the guy with the needles. But damn, it’s fun to annoy Wyatt.

“On the first boat, there’s your girlfriend, or partner, or whatever. But just them. Nothing else. The second boat has nobody on it. But it’s got all the supplies you need to survive on the island. Fire kits, building materials, food, weapons, I’m talking everything.”

My lips twitch. “Did Ren pose this thought experiment to you?”

“Yes,” he says glumly.

I twist my head to peer at him. “You stupid bastard. Did you pick the supplies boat instead of her?”

“Like you wouldn’t,” he accuses.

Laughter rumbles out of my chest.

“It’s a matter of life and death, Coop. I need food and shelter! Sure, it’d be great to have Ren there, but we’ll die in five seconds flat if we don’t have the tools to live. And anyway, with all the stuff at my disposal, I can build a raft and make my way home to her. It’s common sense.”

“Ren really dumped you because of this?”

“What? No. That’s insane. She dumped me because I was an hour late to her sister’s birthday dinner. I was out with Tate telling him about her dumb thought experiment and lost track of time.”

I stare at him. How are these my friends?

On the other hand, I’m getting a free tattoo out of him, and his nonsense did succeed in helping me forget about Mackenzie.

Goodbye, Cooper.

Or not.


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