Reece broke the awkward sauce though. “So I saw that Thomas added another piercing to his arsenal.”
Moving one hand to fiddle with the cool glass, I nodded. “Yeah, he got the eyebrow piercing last week. Every time I see him, I want to take a chain and connect the piercing above his eye to the one in his nose and then to the one in his lip.”
He chuckled lightly. “I’m pretty sure he’d be down with it. Your dad was calling him ‘Metal Face.’ ”
I shook my head. “Thomas is turning eighteen in a few months, and he has our parents convinced that he’s going to get a facial tattoo. Something to do with a zipper on the back of his head that starts at the nape of his neck and ends between his eyebrows?”
His eyes widened. “He’s not serious, is he?”
I laughed. “I don’t think so. He’d have to cut off all those pretty curls, and I don’t think he’d do that. I think he’s just messing with them. Well, for the . . .” I trailed off as a loud thunk traveled across the diner.
Leaning against the red cushioned seats, Reece tossed his arm along the back of the booth as he glanced over at the college table. Someone had spilled a drink, and apparently it was insanely funny to the entire table, because they sounded like a pack of hyenas. My gaze darted back to Reece. He gave great profile. It was the jawline, I decided, that really just made his face exquisite. Capturing the hard line would be so easy with a stroke of a paintbrush or with charcoal. Ah, I could totally do his portrait in charcoal! Wait. I was pretty sure I’d added the whole “stop painting his face” to the priority list.
I really sucked at that priority list.
Reece’s gaze slid back to mine, and I felt my cheeks heat. Because I was totally staring at him, and he totally caught me. The grin that tipped up his lips was full of boyish charm. There was a flutter in my chest. “You’re still taking graphic design, right?”
Huh? It took me a moment to realize he was talking about college. “Oh, yeah. I’m doing online classes. Only two this semester.” I shrugged. “Those damn classes are expensive.”
“How much longer do you have?”
“A couple of more years.” I took a drink of tea. Ah, sugar. “Since I’m only taking two classes a semester, it feels like I’m taking the scenic route, but when I’m finished, I’ll . . .”
I opened my mouth, but then I frowned. “You know, good question. I really have no idea. Guess I need to figure that out.”
Reece chuckled again as he dropped his arm and placed his elbows on the table. “You’re twenty-two, Roxy. You really don’t need to figure anything out at this point.”
My expression turned bland. “You make it sound like I’m still in diapers. You’re only twenty-five.
Maybe he was right, but there was a niggle of panic in the center of my chest. Once I graduated college, would I keep working at Mona’s? Doing web design on the side? Or would I get a “real” job as some people, especially nosey people, lovingly advised? “I like working at Mona’s,” I announced.
“Why wouldn’t you? Jax is a great guy to work for,” he said, head tilted slightly to the side. “And you’re good with people.”
I grinned. “I make some damn good tips.”
His gaze dropped to my mouth and then slowly rose. “I bet you do.”
A pleasant buzz trilled through my system at the light, almost offhand compliment. Was I that desperate for praise that if I had a tail, I’d be wagging it? Or was it just because it was coming from Reece?
Thick lashes lowered, shielding cobalt-blue eyes momentarily. When he looked up again, his eyes practically burned with the intensity uniquely his.
Oh yeah, it was because it was coming from Reece. Who was I kidding?
I shook those thoughts right out of my head as I grabbed hold of the paper the straw came in and started tearing it up into tiny pieces. “But how bad is it that I graduate with a degree in graphics and still work at Mona’s?”
“How bad is it for you to stop doing something you enjoy for something you don’t?” he countered.
My lips formed a perfect O. Well, when one summed it up like that, it really didn’t make sense.
“Look, do you remember how badly my stepdad freaked when he realized that both my brother and I had no plans of ever going to college?”
I nodded. Colton, his brother, and Reece never had any aspirations of being a college grad, something their stepfather, Richard, was not too keen on, considering he’d been all about higher education and law school.
“And not to this day do I regret never stepping foot in a college. I’m glad I joined the Marines and came back to this,” he said, shrugging one shoulder. “I’m satisfied with being a cop, even when there are moments when it’s . . .” A shadow crossed his face, and I held my breath, thinking he was going to talk about what happened—the shooting that had spun his life out of control for a little while.
Peeking up at him, I thought about how . . . how cut up Reece was after he was involved in the shooting a year and a half ago. Who knows what he faced at war, and I did know that he’d taken quite the hit while over there, something I didn’t like to think about . . . it was why he came home, but the shooting he’d been involved in as a cop had rocked him hard. While Reece hadn’t pushed me away at that time, it had been Jax who’d pulled him out of the downward spiral.
“Even when it’s fucking difficult, I don’t regret my choice.”
For some reason, I was disappointed that he hadn’t mentioned the “difficult” situation. Even though Reece had allowed me to get close to him while he was dealing with that crap, he’d never talked about it, and I guessed he still didn’t.
“Not everyone has to do the same thing to be happy,” he continued. “It took Richard a while to get over it, but he did. And he’s fine, because he knows Colton and I are happy.” He paused. “And I know your parents wouldn’t care if you kept working at Mona’s or whatever. They just want you to be happy.”
“I know.” And that was the God’s honest truth.
Reece reached across the table and wrapped his long fingers around my wrist. Slowly, he pulled my hand away from the pile of paper I was creating. “You know, you don’t have to live Charlie’s life for him.”
My jaw hit the table.
“Just because he can’t go to college, doesn’t mean you have to do it for him.” Turning my hand over, he smoothed his thumb along the inside of my wrist. “Charlie would never have wanted that for you.”