Hearts of Jade by Mary Crawford
Book 3 of Hidden Hearts series
Genre: Romance, series, multicultural
Length: 262 pages
All her life, Jade Petros, has been known as the wild, edgy artist, who no one could reign in, but her brother Onyx knew a side of her few others ever saw. After her brother committed suicide, Jade felt as if the hole in her heart would never heal. She has allowed family friend, Declan Ailín a glimpse of her dreams, but will he allow his feelings for her to color his judgment and create a barrier between them. Can Declan settle his own issues with his past and become her biggest supporter or will he stand in the way of her dreams?
“BARBARA ANN, WHY ARE YOU being such a drama queen about this? I thought we were going to have matching Celtic friendship knots because I am your best friend. Why did you let her choose the design first?”
The blonde sitting in my chair flips her hair back violently, almost screwing up my line. “Maybe you didn’t get the first shot because you can’t remember what to call me,” she answers sardonically. “The only person who still calls me Barbara Ann is my grandma and even she can remember to call me Lennox most of the time.”
The girl who was whining looks really confused for a moment as she remarks, “Barbara — I mean Lennox — that doesn’t make sense; it’s not like we don’t know your real name. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten. I don’t get what’s wrong with your name, but whatever.”
The blonde in my chair huffs as she says, “Ashley Nicole gets it. It bugs me that you don’t. Maybe you aren’t such a good friend, Allie.”
Oh man! My head hurts too much to deal with this kind of drama today. I hated it in high school. I hate it even more now.
Allie just rolls her eyes, “That’s because Ashley Nicole likes to kiss your butt or make up some drama like she’s gonna cut herself to get your attention. You play right into her game, too. You know she probably doesn’t really even cut herself, right? She just tells you she’s gonna. Maybe I should tell you I’m going to kill myself. Would it score me extra bonus friendship points?” she suggests sarcastically.
“At least Ashley Nicole talks to me about more than how she’s gonna pay for college; you’re so boring that if you killed yourself no one would miss you,” the blonde smugly answers as if she’s scored some sort of verbal blow.
The third girl, a tall, willowy blonde woman with round glasses who had been quietly sitting on the sidelines flipping through our portfolio books seems to realize that a terrible line has been crossed. “Lennox, you shouldn’t say stuff like that, it’s not funny.”
“Yes it is,” she asserts with a loud snort of laughter. “Only losers commit suicide. If they want to leave the planet, why should I stop them?”
I lift my tattoo machine from her forearm and set it down on the table beside my chair as I declare, “You’re done. Get out of my shop.”
I walk over to my purse, pull out three, one hundred dollar bills as I yank the stencil off the light-box and sign and date it. “This amount of money will get this design, three times over in any tattoo shop in this neighborhood. I’m not finishing your tattoo and I’m not asking any of my artists to work on you either. You might be pretty on the outside, but your soul is ugly.”
The blonde looks at me with a blank expression on her face as she asks, “What? What did I do? You don’t like my name?”
Ashley Nicole just rolls her eyes as she remarks, “You dumbass, I’m embarrassed that I ever thought you were my friend. She probably knew someone who committed suicide.”
Lennox-What’s-Her-Face snatches the sketch and the money out of my hand. She takes the stencil, crumples it and makes a big production of throwing it in the garbage. I just shrug; I can’t help it if she’s a little dim. If she knew anything about me, she probably would’ve realized that she could have gotten a few bucks for that on eBay. People are paying a crazy amount for even my signature these days since Over It became a huge hit. It’s hard to say what she could have gotten for a signed and dated stencil. Unfortunately, you really can’t fix stupid.
She motions over her shoulder to her girlfriends as she says, “You coming? Now, we can get ourselves some decent tattoos. I was afraid that our tattoos were going to look like some kid drew them on, so this is pretty sweet.”
Allie and Ashley glance at each other in astonishment as they ask their friend, “Wait up! Do you know who Jade is? This is like, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She’s totally famous, they did a profile on her on E! You know, like on one of those be a celebrity for a day shows? She has some super famous clients — you know people on shows like the Oscars and the Emmys.”
“I don’t care who she is, she thinks she’s too good for me. I’m outta here,” the blonde chick says, with a dismissive wave.
Ashley Nicole gives me her best pleading puppy dog eyes as she insists, “If we’re not like her, can we please stay? I would love to have a tattoo by you. I’ve watched your shows on TV, and I love the charity work that you do. I even helped out on a Habitat for Humanity house that your partner did. I was part of a crew that helped out when I was in high school. I swear I’m not like her.”
Allie nods in agreement as she responds, “Yeah, I’ve always thought that Karma was going to bite her in the butt someday. She’s kind of a bitch.”
I think about it for a few moments before I answer, “You guys are welcome to stay. I’m assuming you’re going to want to change your design. Given what you just said, I doubt that you’re going to want to pledge undying friendship to Ms. Barbara Ann.”
Ashley Nicole just shakes her head eagerly. “Hardly. In fact, I’ll be finding a new ride to school on Monday. It’s probably going to be an interesting day, full of drama.” She looks directly at Allie as she comments, “For the record, I don’t do half the stuff she says I do, she just tells people that I do that stuff so she can look all heroic.”
Allie studies Ashley carefully before she asks, “For real?”
Ashley Nicole holds out her pinky as she pledges, “I swear, I’m not kidding. She makes all this stuff up to make herself look like an indispensable friend. She’s so popular around school that nobody really questions what she does because if she’s on your bad side, she can make your life hell. We’re in college now and I honestly don’t really care if she is my friend. I’ll just catch a ride with somebody else. I don’t have to put up with it anymore.”
Allie nervously twirls her hair through her fingers and then seems to reach a decision as she offers, “I don’t know if our schedules match, but I don’t think I live very far from you if you want to catch a ride with me. I wouldn’t mind the company; the commute is pretty boring. Listening to the radio drives me nuts in the morning because they’re always so freakishly cheerful.”
The blonde girl pushes up her glasses on her nose as she giggles and commiserates, “As long as you don’t mind stopping for coffee every morning, you’ve got a deal. I’ll text you and we’ll nail down the details.”
I finish cleaning my tattoo equipment and dry off my hands. “Great, it sounds like we got that all worked out. Now, does anybody have any idea what direction you want to take your tattoos?”
Allie slumps in her seat. “I have an idea about what I want, but it’s not within my budget. Maybe I should wait. If I’m going to get a tattoo done, I want to make sure that I get it done right. I don’t want to look like Justin Bieber.”
It’s not often that I have to do this, but I take back my initial assessment of Allie. Clearly she’s got more common sense than I initially thought. “I’ve got a little extra time because I’m not giving your friend her tattoo. Why don’t you hit me with your idea and I’ll see what I can do with it within your budget?”
Allie looks around the tattoo shop to see if there is anyone within earshot before she asks me quietly, “If I tell you my story, you won’t tell anybody, right?”
“Of course not, everyone’s tattoo story is very personal to them. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I started talking smack about people’s personal business based on what they told me. If you don’t want me to share, I won’t,” I explain.
Allie relaxes a little bit as she takes a deep breath. She starts to speak but then has to take another breath before she can begin, “I don’t know why I always expect that this is going to be easier every time I tell it, it’s just not.”
Her words strike a chord deep within me. I don’t even know what she’s going to tell me, but I know that feeling well. Every time I have to explain about Onyx, I feel the same exact way. Somehow, it doesn’t matter that it’s been eight of the longest years of my life. It seems just like yesterday. Whenever someone brings him up, it’s like I need stitches in my soul again.
I hold my fingers up in the air in a T formation to indicate I need a break and then I go into the back room and grab a couple of cans of pop; on impulse I also grab a bottle of water and one of Marcus’ ever present energy drinks just to be on the safe side.
When I return from the back room, I dump all of the drinks onto the side counter where I usually have the portfolio books and announce, “I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I talk about emotional stuff, I need to have caffeine and sugar to get me through. I didn’t know what you guys liked so I brought a little bit of everything.”
Ashley turns to Allie, “I can leave if you need to talk to her privately. I totally understand.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard all about it at school, or at least you probably thought you did. People never actually bothered to ask me what was true. People assumed they knew what I was going through and if they didn’t know something they just made it up and it became like a sporting activity to spread nasty rumors,” Allie responds with a small shrug. “Finally, I just stopped fighting.”
Tears start to flow down Allie’s face as she digs around in her oversized tote bag and hands me a notebook. The notebook is dog-eared and torn. There are dark, rust colored stains on it. While I’m carefully holding this fragile item, Allie reaches across my hands and opens it. I’m confronted with a drawing of a pencil erasing a terrorist holding an assault rifle. As far as political cartoons go, this one is poignantly beautiful. I don’t know why she’s showing it to me. My confusion must be clearly conveyed as I look to her for an explanation.
Allie looks haunted as she responds, “Callum drew it for me after the newspaper attack in Paris. Of course, I didn’t know he was going to die in another terrorist attack — all he did was go to a concert.”
My heart breaks for her. I have my own secret piece of art like this. A scrap of paper turned into a memorial that I look at every time I take a shower. It’s my own reminder of a life cut unbelievably short.
I can’t stop myself, I reach out to hug her as I remark, “Memorial tattoos can be remarkably healing. I usually suggest inviting several members of the family. It’s like a little celebration of life event. How does his family feel about this since they’ll have to look at one of his drawings every time they see you?”
“I haven’t actually spoken to them. Callum and I couldn’t exactly be honest about our relationship because I didn’t turn eighteen until October, and we had actually been seeing each other for several months before Callum died. If anyone had found that out, he could have gotten in trouble, really big trouble. I don’t know that they even know that I exist, let alone that Callum and I were planning to get married as soon as he finished his degree.”
“Maybe you should tell them. Families are often desperate for tidbits about the last feelings and thoughts of their loved ones and that he stood up for something so worthwhile would make them so proud,” I suggest.
Allie wipes away a tear as she responds, “Yeah, being dead kinda makes the three year difference seem like not such a big deal, doesn’t it. What are they going to do? Punish him after he’s dead?”
Allie reminds me so much of myself. I felt the same way about Onyx. I knew so much about him that no one else knew but after he died, I never knew which secrets I should keep and which ones were safe to tell because nothing was going to happen to him even if the whole world knew — because now he was finally safe. “There’s a certain logic to that,” I acknowledge.
“I’m afraid. I haven’t told anyone, no one knows — I mean officially. People talk crap, sure. Nobody knows the real story. Even my parents don’t know anything about Callum. I don’t think anybody from his family knows. He might have told his brother, Mark, but I don’t know. Where do I even start telling people about our whole relationship history? People are going to think that I’m making it all up or that I’m lying to hurt people. That wasn’t our story at all. We just did it to protect our relationship. My oldest sister got pregnant when she was sixteen. I knew that my parents were not going to be okay with me dating an older guy. They would have never understood what I saw in Callum. Not to mention that he was everything my parents would absolutely hate on sight. He was an artist and a photojournalist. As much as he loved taking incredible pictures — and make no mistake, his photographs were spectacular; he even won some national awards for them — drawing political cartoons was his passion. One day, he wanted to make the cover of the New York Times. I want to be able tell his family all about the sides of him they didn’t even know about.”
Oh yes, I know all about the world of crushed dreams never realized because of a life cut too short. It is the saddest part for those of us left behind. We have to live with the knowledge of what should’ve been, could’ve been — what would have been possible if we could only go back and change that one split second in time.
Impulsively, I make Allie an offer, “Allie, you know at Ink’d Deep, we do memorial tattoos for free for service members and fallen police officers. Since your boyfriend was killed in a terrorist attack, I would like to extend that offer to you. If you want, I can go with you to meet his family. I have had a little bit of experience being the one left behind.”
“Why?” Allie asks me bluntly.
“Why what?” I clarify. “Doing memorial tattoos is just our way to give back to the community, we’ve done this for a really long time. It just seems like the right thing to do.”