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From Ashes (Heathens Ink #3)
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“When the broken man with scarred skin walked into Heathens, asked for a job, and showed me a sketch of a phoenix, it felt like fate.”~ Adam
It started with an anonymous post by someone who didn’t want to live anymore. I read it over and over again, unable to get it out of my mind. What if my brother Johnny had posted something like this before he’d taken his own life? Would someone have been able to save him?
I’ve been living a lie for 16 long years and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep it up. And when a beautiful, broken man walks into my tattoo shop asking for a second chance at life, I know I’ll never be able to turn him away.
“When I was so far down I couldn’t even see the light, a stranger reached in to save me”~ Nox
**From Ashes is the third book in the Heathens Ink series, each book in the series CAN be read as a standalone.
CAUTION: this book contains graphic descriptions of domestic violence and drug use that may be disturbing to some readers.
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My birthday was yesterday,
I just turned 21.
I don’t think I’ll live to see 22.
I don’t want to.
Two minutes ago I flopped down on my couch, after a long day at Heathens Ink, intent on relaxing. I’d pulled up the Confessions App on my phone with the intention of finding someone to text dirty, nasty with for a few hours. It’s great for some kinky sexting because it’s completely anonymous. This leaves people open to some interesting chats. And it lets me feel comfortable enough to explore the long-hidden aspect of my sexuality, namely my attraction to men.
I’m not sure why I clicked on the Most Recent Secrets tab instead of the NSFW tab like I usually do. Fate maybe? Because now I can’t stop staring at this post with my heart in my throat.
This post by a user with the name Phoenix who posted less than five minutes ago about not wanting to live to see his next birthday. In the back of my mind the question worms its way in. Did Johnny tell anyone he planned to take his own life? If he had, could anyone have stopped him? Can I stop this stranger?
Without another thought I click on the whisper chat icon attached to the post.
I hold my breath and watch the little dots bounce across the screen, waiting to see if I’ll get a response.
Inked: happy birthday
Phoenix: not that happy, but thanks anyway
Inked: I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about that or would you rather talk about something else?
Phoenix: yeah, not about to sob all over you about my shitty life. So if you messaged me to throw me a pity party kindly fuck off.
Inked: I wanted to say happy birthday
Inked: And that things get better
Phoenix: Thanks. That’s nice of you. I wish I could believe things could ever get better.
Inked: What about all the people who would miss you if you died?
Phoenix: No one would care. Sorry not to be all emo on you, but it’s true. No one will notice if I’m gone
Inked: I’ll care
Phoenix: you don’t even know me
Inked: so tell me about yourself, then I’ll know you
I wait, holding my breath as minutes tick by without a response from Phoenix. Is he ignoring me because he doesn’t want to get personal? Or, is he too busy to respond?
Phoenix: sorry about that. My boyfriend…
Inked: your boyfriend? I bet he would care if you died
Phoenix: haha, if anything he might be my cause of death
My heart jumps into my throat as I read the words over several times. I don’t even know this person, but the urge to climb through the phone and rescue him from an abusive relationship and a life that feels like a prison overwhelms me.
Me: You don’t have to stay with someone who hurts you
Phoenix: it’s complicated. I’d better go
Me: Wait! I’m worried about you…
Phoenix: don’t be
Don’t be. Those two words haunt me all night. As if it’s that simple. Don’t be. I don’t know why I’m so worried about Phoenix, but fuck I can’t stop wondering if he’s okay right now.
Maybe in the back of my mind if I can save Phoenix I’ll be able to make up for not saving Johnny, for not even knowing he needed saving.
“You’re staring at your phone awfully hard. Are you doing that freaky anonymous sexting you love so much?” Gage, my best friend and roommate, asks me with an eyebrow waggle.
“Yeah,” I lie.
That’s a much easier explanation than telling him I’m obsessing over some random suicidal person who only exchanged a few lines of text with me.
Gage has been my best friend since we were kids. When my brother, Johnny, died he was the only one who understood the pain I felt over it. I can still remember the funeral like it was yesterday. We only stayed as long as necessary at the cemetery before driving to Johnny’s favorite overlook with a bottle of Jack and our sorrows to keep us company.
“I feel like it’s my fault,” Gage admitted between swigs of whiskey. “Johnny and I were… close, I should’ve seen the signs. I should’ve known. I mean, he had his dark moods, but I never thought…”
“It’s not your fault. I’m his brother, if anyone should’ve known it was me.”
“We were together,” Gage blurted out. “I’m in love with him…I was in love with him,” he corrected himself in a choked voice. “With the age difference I was worried you’d be pissed so I was making him wait for us to tell you until he turned eighteen.”
“The age difference? You’re only four years apart.”
“But, he was sixteen, I’m twenty, it seemed fucked up or something.”
I took a deep gulp, trying to wrap my head around the new information. It made sense, but it was a bit of a shock to learn that your twenty-year-old friend was secretly dating your sixteen-year-old brother. Any other time I might have been stunned,outraged even, to find out they were hooking up. But I was too numb to feel anything in that moment. None of it mattered anymore.