Wearing twisted ropes of mutilated skin on his back, Matt struggles with a profound hindrance-the scars that deaden his soul. However, on the night he meets lively Vedie Wilson, a local restaurant busboy who expresses his gender by wearing lipgloss and eyeliner along with his three-day beard, things change.
Gradually, Vedie and Matt unite in friendship. Through a series of awkward encounters, the pair learns each other's secrets. Vedie learns that an angelic face can front for a scarred soul. Matthew learns that the line between one's masculine and feminine sides is blurred. Can they embrace the painful stories behind each other's scars if they're to find everlasting love? Or will surrendered love come to be yet another blemish on their souls?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.49(d)|
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By ten, I'm sweaty as a deckhand from bussing tables on the beach, and I'm sorely in need of a brew or six. But seeing as I've got no cash to burn, I'm gonna have to leave my coworkers — who're revving up over by the tiki bar — to their night of hard partying. I grab my leopard-print backpack from the hook on the back wall of the bar and head to the men's room to turn into the other me.
And just as I figured, Joey's waiting on me there. "You gonna come party with us tonight, sweet Vedie?"
"No can do, Joey, much as I want to." Safe inside a stall, I pull off my sweaty green The Only Tiki Hut on Placida Island work T-shirt. As soon as I replace it with a dark red, stretchy lace off-the-shoulder number, I can breathe easy. Next, I strip off my khaki shorts and yank on my favorite black velvet pair. Even though I've gotta ride my bike home, I kick my high-tops into my backpack and slide on a pair of jeweled flip-flops. After taking a quick piss, I head out of the stall and plant my ass in front of the mirror beside Joey, who's standing there like he's got nothing better to do than count the drips of water leaking from the faucet.
"Lookin' good, pretty Miss Vedie ... mmmhmm ..."
No matter if I'm dressed like a dude or a lady, Joey always stares at me like I'm a juicy bowl of strawberry shortcake — he licks his lips, and I know he wants to take himself a nice big bite of a flavor he can't get at home. Then he slaps his hand hard against my thigh, and creepy-slow, it climbs my leg. It's headed for my ass cheek, or my name ain't Vedie Wilson.
"Hands out of the cookie jar, Joey, my man." I don't appreciate it when any dude gropes me without asking for permission first. But the sad truth is I'm never gonna want Joey's hands on me. While he gawks, I pull a shimmery hairband out of my bag and wrap it around my head to hold the damp dreads off my face. "Got yourself a sweet tooth, looks like, Joey. You'd be wise to get your ass home to your sweet wife, not that you asked me for no words of wisdom."
"Not gonna even think about goin' home 'til I had me some fun," Joey replies, jamming his hand in his pocket — probably to keep it from curving around my ass.
When I bend to rinse the sweat off my face, he stays quiet and doesn't goose me. Maybe this time he heard what I told him about getting his ass home to Mrs. Joey. But more likely he's checking out my butt.
"Baybeee ... uh-huh ... mmmhmm ... nice ass you got there in them sweet little shorts ..."
I sigh real loud, "I've got some shit to do here, big dawg, so if that's all you wanted." The only way to get this guy to take a hike is to tell him point-blank that he's gotta head on out. "Catch ya on the flip side."
He leans in so close his scratchy beard brushes my neck, and I shiver in the bad way. He takes a deep sniff — I guess he likes the smell of sweaty dude — and then finally bails. And right about now, I sorely wish the tiki hut restaurant had one of those one-person anything goes restrooms — for a dude, a lady, or whoever you feel like at the moment — but at least now I'm finally alone in the men's room.
I pull out my makeup bag and quickly powder my nose so it doesn't shine in the moonlight, and I glide a deep shade of maroon over my lips. But I take the time to be an artist with my eyeliner and mascara because I figure eyes oughta say something. When I look good enough that I'd wanna do me if I got hot for ladies, I figure I'm looking good enough for public viewing. And my new perfume smells like the freedom I've got down here on Placida Island — coconuts and wildflowers and the ocean and honey. I spray it on heavy all over my neck and chest.
As I saunter out of the men's room, I don't miss that it's funny how I went in here looking all-dude, but coming out, you could mistake me for a lady. Ha! More like a red-hot, sexy mama — smooth and silky everywhere except for the four-day beard.
I'm a guy, though, even when I'm dressed this fine. And in my opinion — not that anybody gives two shits what I think — the combo of smooth legs and a stubbly chin says, in your face, assholes! I don't have to choose how I show myself to the world anymore.
"HOT DAMN! WHO be dat fine lady?" Joey knows I'm no lady, and I wish he'd shut his trap. I turn my head away and roll my eyes twice as I head past the bar. "Who's the lucky guy who's gonna get some of dat tonight?"
"Not gonna be you, Joey." And sure, I say it out loud, but not loud enough for him to hear, because I don't want to piss him off. Pissed-off dudes can be dangerous.
I've only been working here a week-and-a-day now, but I'm pretty sure my coworkers are cool with how I dress. At work, I have to wear my green Tiki Hut T-shirt and tan shorts, just like everybody else. But I don't hide my ladylike side down here on Placida Island; I'm never gonna hide her again. The world thinks the way I show myself is all fucked-up, but I've come to understand that it is what it is, and it's why I'm never going back to Boston. I can't go back up there and be me — not if I want to live to see another day.
"Haven't you people ever seen a boy dressed up nice and pretty before?" I shout it back over my shoulder, flashing a big grin, knowing my lips look good, all shiny and red.
"Vedie, have yourself a good evening!" one of the ladies calls out. I smile inside because I think some of my coworkers like the real me, and I'm not used to being liked just the way I am. Maybe the rule truly is "anything goes" on this tropical island in the middle of nowhere.
I glance around to see if Crazy Matt is lurking around the bar. Crazy Matt — that's the name all of the waiters at The Only Tiki Hut gave to this gorgeous but pissed-off-looking customer I made a play for earlier tonight. I actually leaned down and whispered into his ear, "Take me home tonight, Mateo." I like how Mateo sounds way better than Crazy Matt, and it's pretty much the same damn name, at least it is in my neck of the woods.
I didn't stop and wait for his answer because I know it doesn't work that way with guys like him. If Mateo wants to hook up with me, he'll make it happen. If he doesn't, there's nothing on God's green earth I can do to make him change his mind. So I pointed out real clear that I was one of his options, and then I moved on.
I TOSS A piece of gum in my mouth and head out to the back of the restaurant so I can grab my bike. Picked up an old BMX at a pawn shop as soon as I landed down here on Placida Island, and it's been my set of wheels ever since. It's pretty as a picture — lime-green and white. Soon as I get some extra cash, I'm gonna pick up a hot-pink bike seat. Bonus on the bicycle situation: pumping this baby around the island keeps my ass nice and tight.
I bend over to unlock it, glad that Joey's not around to feel up my ass, because sure as shit, it's what he'd do. I toss the chain into my pack and swing it onto my shoulder thinking I'm looking too fine tonight to head straight home — a total waste of hotness — but, oh well, that's the way it goes when you're broke.
It's funny, but with just this one-word greeting, I recognize the voice.CHAPTER 2
Mateo stands in the dark shadows close to the building and somehow looks hot, not creepy.
"Mateo, why're you here?" I don't sound too friendly, but then, me and him aren't friends.
"Guess I'm in the mood for dessert."
The dude's studying me like he's never seen a boy dressed in girl's clothes. When he's done gawking, he tilts his head and asks in a cool voice, "You in drag tonight?"
"Nah. I'm not in drag." I stare him in the eye and add, "This is just how I feel right now." And I wait to see if me being dressed like a lady might be a deal breaker.
He's checking me out, but his eyes are spooked, just like they were when I brought him his first drink at the Tiki Hut. I've seen eyes like his before — right off the bat, they make me think of Mrs. Diaz, my downstairs neighbor back when I was in middle school. She had the exact same look in her eyes on the day of the drive-by shooting near Ryan Playground ... the day her little Rosita got shot in the back of the neck.
It's nighttime, so I can't tell if his eyes are dark or light, but they're as hollow as an empty cardboard box dumped on a city sidewalk. And it's like there should be blood smeared on his chin or sprayed across his forehead, because the look on his face screams, "I got jumped!" But there's no blood and no city sidewalk and no Mrs. Diaz hollering in the alley and no shiny black car peeling away with a screech. I can't see anything around us except for the pretty tropical, nighttime sky and palm trees blowing gentle in the breeze — the shit I came down here to no-man's-land for.
I'm lying ... That shit's nice, but it's not why I came here.
Warm sun and clear skies dotted with tall palm trees and smiling vacation faces — all fine in my book — aren't the true reasons I went south. The real deal is I'm here to get away from up there. And I'd bet my sorry life that handsome, broken Mateo here, with his "I've been through hell" eyes, came to Placida Island for the same damn reason.
His white ass is hiding — same as my black one is.
Anyhow, I don't look away while he's thinking me over, and when he finally nods, I figure he gets it. Or he kind of gets it, because who the hell really gets shit like Vedie Wilson being a dude who likes to dress like a lady?
"You got a bike?" I'm an official shit-for-brains. Of course the dude didn't come here on a freaking bicycle.
"I've got a truck." He turns around and looks toward a dark-colored pickup in the corner of the parking lot. Not a pimped-out rig with fancy-ass tires, just plain and clean.
"Cool." If we're gonna hook up tonight, I have to go in his truck. There's no way his ass would fit on the back of my wheels.
"Let me grab your bike and stick it on the truck bed." He steps forward, looks at my bike for a second — I swear he shudders — and then makes a move to grab it.
But I stop him, remembering in the nick of time not to touch him because the dude might snap my hand off. "No, man. I got it."
He steps right up close. He's tall, way taller than me, even though I've been called a tall glass of water a time or two. And the man smells good — I so hope not better than me. "I'll get your bike ... you look ... well, I-I don't want you to get your outfit messed up."
Heat rushes to my face as quick as tears flood my eyes. I'm not exactly a princess waiting on some knight in shining armor to do my bidding, and his politeness wrecks me. I blink and blink until I've blinked all the wetness away, and of course, I say another something totally dumbass. "Gonna get a hot-pink bike seat one of these days."
Shit. For. Brains.
He grabs my bike and tosses it onto one of his big shoulders, and I follow him across the parking lot to his truck, thinking that if you'd asked me an hour ago, I'd never have figured this sweet shit would be going down between us. I watch as he places my wheels real careful in the truck bed, but when he comes to the passenger side, unlocks the truck, and opens the door for me like a gentleman ... I lose it for real.
Seeing this kid cry slices easily through my thick skin, and I don't appreciate it one bit. There's a heart somewhere under all the armor I wear, but I like to keep it under wraps. What's most fucked-up about this situation, though, is that less than two hours ago, we were complete strangers, not exactly enjoying a friendly interaction.
When he came to my table, he asked, "Yo, man. What're you drinking?" I guess I must have looked at him cross-eyed because I didn't recognize the kid as a regular worker at the Tiki Hut. And I should know; I've eaten dinner here several nights a week for the past decade. But he got right on my case. "What's your friggin' problem? I asked you real nice, seeing as it's my job and shit!"
It was as if he'd read my mind when he sized up my expression, which made me shiver because nobody knows what I'm thinking, and I like it that way.
"Just water," I told him, and then I stared out over the beach, craning my neck like I was watching for somebody even though there's never been anyone for me to watch for.
He hadn't liked being ignored, so he started to play the smart-ass, a part he's quite good at. "Sorry, big dawg, your lady's a no-show. You're gonna have to fill your bed with somebody new tonight, looks like." He'd actually waggled his eyebrows.
"Guess today's not my lucky day because I'm planning to sleep alone," I told him and meant it.
"It can be your lucky day if you play your cards right." He let go of the tray with one hand, dropped his palm onto my shoulder, and squeezed. "You don't have to be lonely tonight if you don't — what the fuck, man!"
I'd already jumped to my feet and practically stomped on the guy. "Hands off, asshole."
"I hear you, big dawg, so chill." The kid pulled back his hand and released a long sigh, like he knew he'd broken one of his own rules by grabbing me. "I'll get my dumbass hand off of your badass shoulder, if you sit your ass back down on that chair and chill." And after another sigh, he said, "Not gonna push the issue, man ... Just offering you some company on a long, hot, lonely night." Then he'd turned so fast his short dreads flew, and as he walked away, he grumbled, "If I wanted to get slammed for being a faggot I'd go right back up north where I came from."
This is the brief and stormy history of our relationship. And so, with regard to the boy standing before me now, looking damned cute in a lacy shirt and short-shorts, I'm still in full-out fuck-you mode. Nonetheless, I'm here, hoping to take him home for the very same reason. But this sobbing dude in girl's clothes is the polar opposite of the wiseass I met in the restaurant.
Once again, my mind is drawn to what passed between us in the bar. When he'd returned to my table, he told me off quite effectively. "Here you go, sweetness," he delivered this line with a Mona Lisa smile and placed a glass of ice water on the table in front of me. He looked so smug — I wondered if he'd spat into it. "And with this water, my job here is done. Your waiter tonight's gonna be Sheila. I'll be sure to mention to her that you're a friendly sort of dude, who enjoys a nice shoulder massage while placing your order."
"Sheila knows me."
"Then she knows she oughta put on body armor if she plans on brushing your shoulder with her elbow?"
For the record, I try not to ever look anybody directly in the eyes. There's no reason for it. I live alone and work online, with four cats to keep me company, and besides that, I always have someone to talk to because I talk to myself all day, every day. But I glared right into his light eyes and informed him, "She already knows how I am."
Then the guy grinned.
And for some crazy reason, I smiled back.
God knows I didn't want to smile. In fact, it'd been so long since my lips formed the unfamiliar shape, I was afraid they'd get stuck that way and never go back to the straight line I always wear. I wouldn't be able to scare off the whole damned world while wearing a stupid, shit-eating grin, now, would I?
But our unexpected grins had opened a door, and when he said, "Keep this in mind, Mister So-sha-bull — my offer still stands. If you decide you want something sweet and warm and chocolaty brown for dessert, I get off work at ten." I took him at his word, so here I am.
But he's not smiling right now. "Listen ... uh ..."
"My name's Vedie ... and I ain't crying." It takes him five deep breaths to make sure of this.
"Yeah ... um, Vedie, if you want to come to my place with me, you know, it would be good. But if you want me to drive you home, that'd be fine, too." My pick-up line isn't smooth. In my defense, I'm extremely rusty in this department. Still, I hold open the car door and wait for him to slide his ass onto the leather seat.
The kid wipes his nose with a stretchy lace sleeve and shakes his head. "Don't wanna go home, Mateo."
I make a quick decision, because if he's coming with me, he's going to need to calm down. I don't do well with drama. So I reach past him to the center console, grab a tissue, and tell him in a firm voice, "Dry off your face."
He takes the tissue and dabs at his eyes. "My mascara's probably all over the place by now."
I glance at his face and shake my head. "No. You still look good."
"Mama always told me honesty is the very best policy, though it didn't do me too much good when I tried to explain to her that sometimes I get into dressing like a girl."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scarred"
Copyright © 2018 Mia Kerick.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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