#10 All is not lost
“Hey lovely,” Khiêm says when he slides into the backseat, winking at me. Marcus is behind the wheel, and I’m in the backseat, since it’s torture sitting next to Marcus when he drives. He won’t allow you to fiddle with the radio, you can’t put your feet up on the dashboard, or open the window, or do anything, and he always tells me that I need to sit differently because apparently my hair blocks his view. Whatever. I guess Khiêm knows Marcus’ weird habits as well, since he doesn’t seem to want to ride shotgun either.
Khiêm looks the same he did last time I saw him. Baggy jeans, a black hoodie with the logo from Pink Angels on it, and simple blue sneakers covered in dirt. He slumps down in his seat, pulls up his hood and winks at me as he buckles in.
“Don’t call my sister lovely,” Marcus says, glaring at Khiêm in the rearview mirror.
“Jesus, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” he replies with a grin. “I’ve got three sisters. You can call them all lovely if you want to.”
“Don’t they all have boyfriends?” Marcus asks, pulling out of the parking lot of Khiêm’s apartment complex and starting the long drive to Jagger’s new town where we will meet up with the others who are going to the concert. I don’t know anyone but my brother, Khiêm and Jagger, but that’s fine with me. There’s only one person I will be focused on anyway.
“Yes, they do,” Khiêm confirms. “Phuong even got married last year. She’s two months pregnant. Call her lovely all you want, Marcus. She is.”
“How many sisters do you have?” I ask, angling my body in Khiêm’s direction. He sounds proud when he talks about Phuong, and his smile light up his entire face.
“Three,” he says, holding up one finger. “Phuong, 25, married with her first kid on the way. She’s the manager of a shopping mall.” He adds a second finger. “Ngoc, 23, who just started working at a law firm after finishing college. She’s wicked smart, that one. She’s been with her boyfriend for four years or something, he’s a lawyer too, few years older than she is.” He holds up three fingers now, and his smile widens even more. “Mingmei is 21, she’s the baby of the family. She’s in college.”
“What does she study?” I ask, unable to stop myself from smiling along even though I don’t know his sisters and I hardly know him. He talks about them the way Marcus talks about me, Creed, Pierre and Aliyah. Like a proud older brother.
“Accounting.” He grins. “She wants to be rich and wear a suit to work every single day. She and I are nothing alike.” He gestures to his outfit. “I much prefer to work in this. Or even better: my pajamas.”
“You work in your pajamas?” I ask, raising my eyebrows at him. “Oh right, you play videogames for a living, right?”
“Yeah, I’m a streamer,” he confirms. “I’ve also got a few podcasts, I narrate audiobooks, and I recently started my own webstore for merch, but my logo sucks, so I’m not selling much yet.”
“You narrate audiobooks?” I ask, surprised. “I didn’t even know that was like… a real job.”
“Oh yeah, it is,” he says, nodding. “Got into it in college when I needed some extra money, and I love to talk and read. I’ve got like the world’s most soothing voice ever, so I keep getting requests. It’s nice to have some extra income, not that I need it with streaming. I’m doing pretty well for myself.”
“Stop bragging,” Marcus says from the front seat.
“That’s okay, let him brag,” I say, not minding it one bit. It’s kind of cute how proud he is of himself. Since I don’t have any ambitions or clues on what to do with my life, it’s refreshing to hear him talking about his unorthodox jobs. He’s not exactly a charming guy with the way he’s scratching his balls right now, but he’s easy to talk to.
“Don’t encourage him,” Marcus warns me. “He can talk about his hundred jobs for hours if you let him. In that so-called soothing voice of his, of course.”
“You know it’s true,” Khiêm says, not offended at all. “My voice is the bomb.”
“I think I should judge that for myself,” I decide, handing him my phone. “Look up one of those books you narrated for me, will you? We’ve got a three-hour drive ahead of us, so I might as well give one of them a listen while you and Marcus catch up.”
“Sweet.” Khiêm types away on my phone and then he hands it back, with an app installed and three books added to it, all with his name popping up as narrator.
“Erotic novels?” I ask, laughing at him. “Really? You narrate sex books?”
“Oh God, Khiêm,” Marcus grunts. “Seriously? Don’t make my little sister listen to your dirty smut books.”
“Hey, I didn’t write them,” Khiêm says, his grin so wide it must be hurting his face. “I just read them out loud. Besides, they’re romance novels with a few sex scenes now and then. Nothing too smutty.”
“You only narrate romance novels?” I ask, reading the blurb for the first one, which is about a young nanny meeting a millionaire with a dark past and a panty-dropping smirk. Cliché as fuck, but I actually don’t mind that.
“Nah, I narrate all kinds of stuff, but I didn’t peg you for the type to want to listen to a historic novel about a Greek war.”
“True,” I agree immediately, pulling my Bluetooth earbuds out of my purse so I can connect them to my phone and start listening. I take off my heels to get more comfortable and slump down in my seat a little, careful not to let my tiny little red dress ride up too much. I went all out tonight, wanting to look my best for Jagger. That means high heels, a tight dress, carefully styled hair, and a face full of make-up. Annoying for a three-hour car ride, but it will be worth it when I see him.
The next three hours, I listen to the audiobook, and I have to admit Khiêm wasn’t kidding about having a soothing voice. It’s deep and gravely, which is accentuated when he’s all serious narrating the book instead of joking or bragging. The story is cliché yet entertaining, and the sex scenes are hot as fuck, which is a little weird since I’m sitting next to the guy who is whispering the dirty words into my ear during especially raunchy scenes.
I hear Marcus and Khiêm chatting about videogames, Beatrice, their families, a movie they saw recently, but it all fades into the background as I focus on the story and the deep, sultry tone of voice Khiêm uses when he narrates the story like a professional. The voice sounds like it belongs to a huge hunk of a man, someone who would look good on the cover of one of these romance novels. It doesn’t fit the chubby nerd next to me, laughing so hard that he’s snorting.
“Hot, huh?” Khiêm asks when we Marcus pulls up in front of a large house.
“The book, yes,” I admit. “Your voice? Not so much.” That’s a complete and total lie, but I’m going to tell my older brother’s nerdy friend that I wouldn’t have minded listening to his husky voice for another hour.
“Liar,” Khiêm says, grinning. He’s so cocky for a guy that looks the way he does. He acts like he’s a six feet four professional athlete who has women swooning over him every single day, instead of a mousy gamer with greasy black hair that is in desperate need of a haircut.
Khiêm gets out of the car first, followed by Marcus. I need another moment to pull on my heels, fix my hair and adjust my dress. When I’m confident I look my best, I get out of the car, smiling when I see that Jagger and his brother are in the driveway as well, holding stacks of pizza boxes. Jagger looks gorgeous as always, his messy hair looking so soft that I wish I could knot my hands in it and kiss him.
His eyes move over my body as well, and I can’t help but smirk when I notice he seems to like what he’s seeing. He lingers on my cleavage, and stares at my legs much longer than appropriate.
“Hi Jagger,” I say, trying to sound as seductive as possible.
“Nia,” he replies, his gaze snapping back up to my face.
“Hi, I’m Yoah,” Jagger’s brother says, introducing himself to Khiêm and me. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nia, Marcus’ sister,” I explain, gesturing at my brother.
“Khiêm, the most interesting person you will ever meet.”
I can’t help but grin at him, and he throws me and Yoah a wink before following Marcus and Jagger to the front door. Before anyone can knock or ring the doorbell, a girl opens the door, moaning at the sight of the boxes of pizzas. She doesn’t introduce herself, but grabs half of the pizzas and runs back into the house.
“That’s Rose,” Jagger tells us, his eyes trained on her ass. “She’s Nate’s and Caroline’s kid.”
My heart sinks when I hear him say her name. He might as well have introduced her as the girl he’d like to fuck. It’s written all over his face, and her name rolls off his tongue in a way I’ve never heard him say anyone’s name but Celeste’s.
Fuck. I’ll have to up my game.
The house is big and pristine, making me scared to touch anything for fear of staining something. The living room is filled with people, and it’s a little overwhelming to meet so many new people all at once. Rose is the oldest daughter of the family Jagger is working for as a live-in nanny, and she introduces us to her boyfriend Tommy, her friends Pooja and Gracie, and Gracie’s boyfriend Sebastian. All ten of us will be going to the concert together, and we’re invited to sleep here, at Rose’s mother’s house, since she’s out of town.
There is no denying the obvious chemistry between Jagger and Rose, which pisses me off. Rose has a boyfriend, for crying out loud. I’m single, she’s not. Fuck off, bitch.
“Do you see what I see?” Khiêm asks when we’re both in the kitchen to grab another beer to have with our pizzas.
“Jagger and Rose?” I ask, rolling my eyes. “Yeah, you’d have to be blind not to notice.”
“Yeah, that too, but I was talking about two other lovers,” he says, nudging me. “Look again.”
I glance over at the living room and take in everyone. Gracie and Sebastian are making out like a couple of horny teenagers on the loveseat, Marcus is on the floor while scrolling through Instagram, probably trying to see if Bee has replaced him with some random guy already. Yoah is on a chair next to the one Khiêm was on earlier, and I notice Yoah keeps glancing up every few seconds, looking at Rose’s boyfriend Tommy – who is staring right back, his cheeks flushed.
“Oh my,” I murmur, smiling slightly.
“Exactly,” Khiêm replies, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Yoah has been proud and out for a few years now, but I’m pretty sure Tommy is with Rose, so…”
“Drama,” I finish for him.
“Yup,” he agrees. “Drama to the max. I wonder what happened there.”
“Maybe Rose, Rommy and Yoah had a threesome, and Tommy sucked Yoah’s dick. He liked it so much he can’t stop thinking about it, and now he wants another taste to figure out if it was all just in the heat of the moment or he’s actually gay.”
Khiêm laughs so loud Pooja and Rose look at us in surprise before returning their attention to their pizzas. “Or maybe they’ve just got a secret crush on each other and they both think they’re being subtle about it.”
“Nah, I like my theory better.”
“Me too, Nia,” Khiêm agrees, clinking his beer bottle to mine before walking back over to the others to resume his heated discussion with Rose about Star Wars. Nerd to the max for sure, that guy.
I sit down next to Jagger and go back to what I was doing before taking a beer break: eating my pizza as seductively as possible while giving Jagger sex-eyes. I lick tomato sauce off my index finger, moaning softly at the taste, and I smirk when Jagger looks over at me, which in turn causes Rose to frown at me. It’s obvious she wants him as much as I do, but I’m single and she isn’t.
He’s mine, bitch. You go and enjoy your gay boyfriend.
Jagger doesn’t shy away from me when I move even closer, rubbing my leg against his and offering him a piece of my pizza. He eats it right out of my hand, and I make sure to touch him as often as I can without coming on too strong. The fact that he’s not pulling away even a little tells me all I need to know. I’ve still got a chance at getting with him. All is not lost.