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LIMITS // lrh

CHAPTER FOUR

"Wow, I can't believe you actually made it! Jules and I were taking bets as to if you'd actually show or not." Casey's boyfriend, and my long time friend, Calum smirked, bringing his glass of frothy beer to his full pink lips and taking a hearty gulp. Juliet was standing next to him at the bar, slapping me on the shoulder in greeting before downing a shot of tequila with a straight face.

"Yeah, we were almost positive you were going to bail on us again!" She snickered as she flipped her long hair over her shoulder. I caught Michael shoot her a warning glare, he must have warned them not to talk about my absence the last few months. I just rolled my eyes, hiking my purse further up my shoulder and looked around the packed club. The dim lights in the club made it almost impossible to see ten feet in front of me, and the air was thick with the sweet smell of cigarette smoke and stale liquor. Everywhere I looked, sweaty bodies were pressed up against each other in sinful ways, stealing touches and kisses as they swayed to the loud bass of the DJ's electro mix.

"Yeah, well, you know..." I shrugged, looking everywhere but at my friends. I didn't want to give them any opportunity to start asking questions. "I was free, and it's been a while since I've seen Ashton anyways." My friend Riley giggled, pulling her kinky hair into a low ponytail. The contrast of her white top against her mocha colored skin was beautiful in the dim lighting. Jules and Calum took the opportunity to walk away from where we were all standing by the bar to go grab an empty table.

"Yeah, we all remember last time went so well for you." She giggled again and nudged my arm. I had always gotten on the best with Riles out of all of my girl friends, and besides Michael, was the only one who knew about the slight crush I had been harboring for Casey's older brother. At the mention of my last meeting with Ashton, I blushed as I recalled accidentally spilling my diet coke all over his pants and Riley and Mikey snorting with laughter at my mortification as they watched on.

"Shut up..." I mumbled with a small smile myself as Michael cackled behind me.

"Well, let's just hope it won't be a repeat of what happened last time." Michael clapped me on the shoulder before leaning over to steal a sip from Riley's glass.

"Oi, get your own drink won't ya?" She reached her long red talons out and snatched the drink from where it sat on the bar as Mikey pouted.

"I just wanted a sip." Riley snorted as she sipped at her vodka cranberry.

"Yeah, well, I know you too well Mike. One sip turns into five and then before I know it I'm paying your bar tab and dragging you home covered in your own vomit. No thank you."

"Hey now, that was only one time!"

"One time too many for me!" I laughed lightly to myself as I leaned back against the bar and scanned the room for any familiar faces. It had been awhile since I'd been at The Frequency, but it was nice to know that the atmosphere hadn't changed much. It was still full of rowdy college kids looking for a good time and hipster wannabes looking for the next big hang out.

"Oh look, speaking of the devil," Michael whispered in my ear, and I whipped around to see Casey and Ashton walking towards us from across the bar. Ashton was a few years ahead of us in school, and he looked it. He attended the same community college as the rest of us, studying to be a high school teacher. He was slightly taller than Casey and muscular. His light brown hair was pushed up and away from his forehead, and a dark blonde stubble had begun to grow out since I last saw him. He was wearing a pair of tight black jeans and a white tee shirt over a faded jean jacket. A hint of black ink swirled around the collar of his shirt and you could see the faint black outline of tattoos through the thin cotton shirt. My eyes roamed over every inch of his stocky chest and I felt my breath hitch as I caught sight of the silver rings adorning his long fingers. I felt my stomach tighten at the sight of him, and I just knew a slight blush was beginning to creep up my neck.

"Em, you made it!" Casey squealed, rushing over to me and throwing her arms around my neck. I wasn't sure how to react as I made awkward eye contact with Ashton, and I patted Casey's back lightly.

"Yeah, I was able to sneak away for one night." I gave her a friendly smile as she pulled away and I readjusted my bag on my shoulder. I could feel Ashton's eyes on me as I scanned the crowd.

"Oh my gosh, how rude of me, Ashton, you remember my friends Emily, Mikey, Riley, and Jules and Calum of course are saving us a table over there." Casey gestured to each of us and I gave a small wave as Ashton smirked at me. I felt my face flush and I stared at the ground, suddenly becoming incredibly interested in the sticky residue on the floorboards. I could hear Casey in the background droning on about something or other, and when I looked up again, I was standing face to face with Ashton, everyone else having made their excuses already to go sit near the table up front they had saved for us. I looked around in panic, spotting Mikey with a smirk on his lips mouthing the words 'get some' across the room to me and I felt my cheeks heat up once again.

"I seem to recall the last time we were together I ended up with sticky pants." Ashton grinned at me and I could practically feel my lower jaw disconnect and hit the ground as a blush rose from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.
"E-excuse me?"

"If I buy you another drink this time, promise you won't pour it in my lap?" I felt my face flush in embarrassment when I realized what he meant. I was a complete and total idiot.

"Oh, ha, yeah um right, sorry about that, uh, by the way..." I pulled the end of my braid over my shoulder and began threading my fingers through it in nervous habit.

"Don't even worry about it, I'm just messing with you. So what will it be?"

"I'll just have a Diet Coke?" Ashton moved next to me, flagging down a bartender on the other side of the bar.

"Are you sure?" I nodded my head and Ashton ordered me a Diet Coke and a whiskey straight for himself.

"Yeah, I don't drink." I had seen the negative effects of alcohol ravage my father enough in this life to not see any joy in it. Ashton simply shrugged, tossing back his shot and grinning at me.
"Suit yourself." He patted me on the shoulder and peered over to the stage where a short guy with jet black hair and gauges was motioning for Ashton to join him. "I gotta go set up, but I'll catch ya later, yeah? Try not to spill that on anyone's lap this time." He sent me a playful wink and took off in the direction of the stage, leaving me standing there with embarrassment written all over my face.

"Oh my god he was practically eye raping you." My heart leapt into my throat and I jumped out of my skin as Michael appeared next to me.

"Jesus, Mikey, give me a heart attack will you?" I sipped my drink lightly and glanced over to where Ashton and the short guy were fiddling with some chords next to the stage.

"Sorry, sorry." Michael mumbled, throwing his hands up and swiping his light green locks out of his eyes. "But you know I'm right." I rolled my eyes and bit my lip to hold back my grin.

"No he wasn't, he was just messing with me."

"Get with the times, Em, that's how guys flirt nowadays." I scoffed and rolled my eyes again at my best friend. "Anyways, they're about to start, I came to get you to sit down." Mikey grabbed my drink for me, taking a big sip before his eyes widened and he cringed as he swallowed.

"Should've assumed your lame ass would order a Coke."

"Diet Coke." I corrected with a giggle as I swiped the glass from my friend. "Maybe that'll teach you to stop stealing other people's drinks." He chuckled, adjusting the collar of his floral button down and throwing an arm over my shoulders casually.

"Eh, probably not." I laughed, lacing my fingers through his that hung off my arm and leaned my head against his shoulder as we took our seats. I took another sip of my soda as I glanced around. The bar was starting to fill up even more now. I knew that Ashton's band was just the opening act, so I'm sure that the majority of the people here were for the main performer later on tonight, but the energy in the club was still buzzing.

I watched as Jules, Casey and Calum talked animatedly among themselves. Even though we were friends, I had never been quite as close to them as I was to Michael and Riley, probably just because I had known them the longest. I had met both Mikey and Riley in sixth grade when we were forced assigned seats in the cafeteria and we ended up having to sit next to each other. Every since then the three of us have been nearly inseparable.

"What'd I miss?" Riley asked as she plopped down in the seat next to me, wiping her wet hands against her light jeans. "Fucking blow dryer in the bathroom is broken, just my luck." She grumbled as she continued to wipe her hands on her jeans.

"Oh, you didn't miss much, just Em getting eye fucked by Ashton at the bar." I ripped my hand away from Michael's and slapped him lightly on the chest. "Aye, watch it, I have fresh ink there!" He pouted as he unbuttoned his shirt a bit to peak at his new tattoo.

"Wait, what?" Riles' eyes practically popped out of her head and her pouty red lips formed a small 'o'. "Em oh my god. Did you at least get his number?" She glanced over to where Ashton was tuning his drum set. "Shit he's cuter than I remember. You better hop on that before I do, Em!" I scoffed, pulling my eyes away from where Ashton stood and twirled my straw in my glass as I felt both Riley and Michael's eyes trained on me.

"Would you both just keep it down." I whined out as I turned to face our group of friends, making sure none of them overheard. "And, for the record, I never said I liked Ashton," I could hear both Riley and Mikey snort at this, but I pressed on, "I just think he's cute... He's not really my type, I just, I can't see myself dating someone... like that." I glanced once again over to where Ashton was preparing for the show and found my face heat up as he shrugged off his jean jacket to reveal the black ink that littered his arms. I could practically feel Michael rolling his eyes next to me.

"Someone like us you mean?" My friends always joked around saying that I didn't quite fit in with our group. While everyone else was covered in tattoos and piercings, I had kept my skin ink free, and besides the two double piercings in my ears, hole free as well. I never really appeared to fit in with the band of misfits I hung out with, but I didn't really care. We had all practically grown up together, so image hadn't really mattered, and we'd all evolved our own look over time. I just happened to be the only one who didn't follow the same trends as the others.

I knew my friends had never cared much for my previous boyfriend Liam, he was too cookie cutter for them. He had been a state university-scholarship lacrosse player from a clean cut family, no tattoos, no colored hair, and no piercings, but that is what had attracted me to him in the first place. He was safe, and I always knew what to expect from him. I had been with Liam for so long that I had never had the chance to date casually or 'hook up' before, so the idea of moving on, and with someone like Ashton, scared the hell out of me.

I rolled my eyes at Michael, taking another sip of my drink as I watched another guy with long brown hair and a goatee carry in a bass guitar. "You know that's not what I mean. I just, I don't think he's the one."

"I know, I know, we just love to mess with you. And I wasn't suggesting you marry the guy. But one date couldn't hurt, right? Don't knock it till you try it." Michael leaned over and kissed the side of my head before downing another shot. I suppose one date wouldn't be the end of the world...

As if reading my mind, Mikey clapped his hands and Riles squealed, throwing her arm over my shoulder and planting a wet kiss on my cheek. "So it's settled, we're setting you two up." Riley said with conviction, nodding her head as if to confirm it as fact. I simply laughed, swirling my straw in my glass once again and pulling my purse up to my lap to check my phone.
"You two are ridiculous." I chuckled, finally reaching my phone and unlocking it to see no new messages. Michael looked over to Riley and she simply smirked and fiddled with her septum piercing.

"Never said we weren't." Jonah quipped with a shrug and I chuckled, throwing my phone back into my bag and peering at my small silver watch. It was almost eight. Ashton's band should be starting soon.

As if on cue, the lights slowly dimmed and the small crowd that had gathered began to clap and holler. The stage lights came up and soon five silhouettes walked out on stage. I immediately recognized Ashton's stocky frame as he strutted on to the stage and sat down at his drum kit, lightly tapping each drum with his worn drum sticks to make final adjustments to the pitch.
I glanced at the other four men, recognizing the one with the black hair and gauges from earlier along with the bassist with the long dark hair and goatee.

A shorter, scrawny guy with sandy blonde hair and glasses approached the keyboard. His large black hooded zip up hung off of his slender frame and dirty white converse covered his feet.

The last figure on the stage had his back turned to the front as he tuned the cherry red electric guitar strapped around his chest. One of his leopard print boots was perched up on the stand where the drums were set, and a pair of tight black jeans clung to his long, long legs. It felt like a scene from a movie as my eyes slowly scanned from his feet to the top of his head, and I squirmed in my seat as I felt my stomach flip uncomfortably. His broad shoulders were covered by a thick black leather jacket and his long blonde curls tickled the tops of his shoulders.

"Who is that?" Jules screeched out, as if reading my mind. For some reason hearing the desperation in her voice made bile rise to the back of my throat. I had no idea who this man even was, and yet I found my chest bubbling up with some very strong emotion just at the sight of him.

Fear? Excitement? Intimidation?

All of the above.

"The one in the Chelsea boots?" Casey snorted, rolling her eyes and perching herself in Calum's lap. "That's Luke." She drew out his name as she enunciated it. "He's something alright."

I didn't know why, but something in the way Casey spoke about him made me want to know more, as if she had just recited the opening lines of a mystery novel and I was the hooked reader. The blonde boy named Luke turned around to face the front and my eyes were immediately drawn to the heavy purple bags that hung under his eyes. I couldn't help but wonder if he had trouble sleeping at night. I studied his serious expression, examining the almost permanent looking frown lines around his mouth and eyes. He bit at his plump, glistening lip, and I immediately pondered if he did that often, if it was a nervous tick. A small glint of metal caught my eye and I noticed a silver ring pierced through his left nostril. I watched as his fingers expertly plucked at the strings of his guitar, and I couldn't help but shift slightly in my seat.

"Christ, I'm soaked just looking at that boy!" I gasped as Riley's voice carried over the crowd and Luke looked up for the first time. I gasped as his ice blue eyes met mine, and I quickly looked away as I felt the heat rising up my neck for the millionth time tonight. I panicked and flung my arm out, smacking Riley directly in the chest. "Damn, Em, boob shot? Really?"

"Shut up!" I hissed at her as I glanced up again, catching the smirk on the blonde boy's face as he turned back around to double check his equipment. Mikey simply chuckled, turning back towards Casey.

"What do you mean by 'something'?" My best friend pressed, quirking an eyebrow as he too gawked at the good looking guitarist. Casey huffed and pretended to be disinterested in the subject of conversation as she brushed the dark fringe out of her boyfriend's eyes. She shrugged her shoulders and turned back to face all of us.

"You know the saying 'loaded god complex'?" We all nodded, and she leaned in a bit closer as if she were about to tell us some sort of juicy gossip. "Let's just say he embodies it."

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