Tina’s ears were still ringing when Ashley introduced her to Jesse after the Pearl Jam concert. He looked way older than the both of them, but then again, they were only fifteen. Anyone with a driver’s license was way older. Jesse didn’t seem to mind. He gave Tina a big smile when she told him her name. With her braces and flat chest, she wasn’t used to guys looking in her direction.
“Come on. He has beer.” Ashley pulled her outside the arena to the parking lot. Her blond ponytail bounced with her steps as she looped their arms together.
A couple other kids from school also joined them. Nearby, a car radio was blasting Pearl Jam’s new song “Jeremy.” Thanks to their music video with the kid shooting himself in front of his class, Tina knew her parents wouldn’t have allowed her to go to their concert, so she lied and told them she was spending the night at Ashley’s place to work on a school project.
When they got to Jesse’s van, Ashley bolted over to another group, leaving Tina alone with him. Her stomach knotted as he opened the back door to his van and handed her a Budweiser can from a case. She hated the taste of beer, but she accepted it anyway because Jesse was cute. When their fingers touched, she didn’t think it was an accident.
He pulled his hand away, almost like he was embarrassed. That made him even cuter. He ran it through his dark shoulder-length hair. Long lashes outlined his brown eyes. He wore baggy jeans, a pair of tattered black Converse sneakers, and a black T-shirt that clung to his chest, probably damp from crowd surfing and jumping around in the mosh pit.
When he lifted his beer to take a drink, Tina saw the number 1667 tattooed in black ink on the inside of his right wrist.
“You looking at this?” he asked.
She quickly turned her head away. “Sorry.”
“What does it mean?” Tina cracked open her beer and the yellow foamy liquid soaked her hand. Jesse jumped back, laughing. She giggled and took a sip, then took an even bigger gulp since he was still watching her. When she swallowed, she had to stop herself from making a face.
Jesse leaned forward and whispered, “I’ll tell you.” Tina held her breath as she waited for his request. “But first, you have to let me do something.”
Her heart pounded. “What?”
His wet mouth skimmed her cheek. “Let me kiss you.”
“I’ve got a better idea.” She smiled at him as the alcohol fueled her courage. “Let me kiss you.”
She turned her head and pressed their lips together. Even when Jesse pried her mouth open and jammed his tongue inside, she didn’t gag. She couldn’t believe this was really happening. She was kissing a guy who drove his own car and bought his own beer.
“Whoa, Tina!” Ashley hugged her from behind. “You little slut!”
She pulled away from Jesse, warmth spreading to her face.
He grinned and took a joint out from his pocket. “You guys want to light up?”
Beer was fine, but drugs?
“I don’t know,” Tina said with a frown.
Ashley was already climbing into the back of the van. “Don’t be a baby, Tina.”
The other kids from school were only a few feet away, smoking cigarettes and laughing with another group of fans.
“Okay, I guess,” Tina said with a shrug.
Jesse leaned close to her. “Be careful, or I might kiss you again.”
Another giggle escaped her lips. Her mother always said she giggled at the strangest times.
Jesse climbed into the van first and held his hand out for her. She entwined their fingers together. His hand didn’t feel like her father’s, rough and dry from working on a construction site all day. Jesse’s soft hand felt like fire, but she felt if she let go, the fire would leap out and burn her, so she held on and followed him inside the van. It smelled like cigarette smoke. The floor was covered in beige carpet, and she wondered about the handful of dark stains. Maybe he had a dog. A photo of Madonna with her platinum blond hair and cone bra dangled from his rearview mirror. If that was his type, Tina was definitely not it.
After Jesse shut the doors, Tina sat next to Ashley in the backseat and took another long drink from her beer. This time she didn’t care that it tasted gross. As long as it calmed her nerves and helped her relax, she’d drink the entire can.
Jesse sat beside her, sandwiching her in between himself and Ashley, and lit up the joint with a lighter. He took one long drag, and then passed it to Ashley. She reclined on the seat and inhaled the smoke.
“Damn.” She exhaled and handed the joint back to Jesse. “That’s some good stuff.” She smiled as her eyes closed.
Jesse took another hit before giving it to Tina.
She suddenly felt woozy. Was it her guilt or the beer?
Jesse placed his hand on her knee. Through her faded blue jeans, his too-hot fingers lit a fiery trail up her legs. Tina’s throat went dry, so she took another drink from her beer, but her mouth still felt like a desert.
“Go on.” He nodded at the joint she was holding.
Tina placed the joint in between her lips and inhaled. The smoke burned her chest and her eyes began to water. She tried to hold it in her lungs for as long as she could, but the smoke erupted out in an explosive cough.
Ashley’s eyes flew open. “What the hell, Tina?”
“Sorry.” She lowered her gaze, but Jesse lifted her chin up. She expected him to make a joke or laugh at her. Instead, his dark eyes studied her as he calmly took the joint back.
“You wanna listen to some music?” he asked.
She licked her lips and tasted the residue of beer and vanilla lip gloss. “Sure.”
“Put on some Nirvana,” Ashley said.
“Nah. I got something better.” He moved away and turned the keys in the ignition. The van filled with the sound of guitars, drums, and screaming vocals coming from the tape deck. He grinned at the sound. “Pan-fucking-tera.” His head bopped up and down to the beat. “You know this song?”
Tina did. She had spent many hours listening to her older brother play “Cowboys from Hell” on repeat from his bedroom. But she shrugged, deciding to act dumb because she knew guys didn’t like it when girls knew things.
“It’s only the best song ever,” Jesse said. “They are the best, man, simply the best. Dimebag rules!” His hands played an air guitar as he rocked out with the metal band.
“This music is giving a headache.” Ashley headed to the door.
“Wait, don’t go yet.” Tina grabbed her arm. She wasn’t sure if she could handle being alone with Jesse in the back of his van. What if he wanted to go all the way with her?
“Yeah, the fun’s just starting.” He handed the joint back to Ashley. “You don’t want to miss out on that, do you?”
She accepted the joint and joined them again.
Tina breathed easy and took another sip of her beer. “So, Jesse, you never told us about your tattoo.”
He smiled, looking down at the number on his wrist. “You really want to know?”
Both Tina and Ashley nodded.
“Okay.” He lifted his arms and removed his T-shirt, revealing more permanent ink. Red-yellow blazes of fire circled his torso. Black-eyed demons with horns and long tails looked back at her. Covering the front of his chest, a red devil sat on a throne. He held a golden scepter and on his head a jeweled crown hung crooked from one of his horns. The muscles on Jesse’s arms were painted with screaming human faces as though they were falling into the burning abyss on his stomach.
“That is so cool,” Ashley said.
Jesse grinned with pride. “Yeah, I know.”
Delicately, Ashley reached over and traced the fire on his washboard abs. Tina swallowed hard as she watched her friend touch Jesse’s stomach. Why couldn’t she be more like that?
“Looks like hell, right?” Jesse said. “But to me, it actually looks peaceful.”
Peaceful? Yeah, right.
Filled with dread and discomfort, Tina continued to stare at the tattoo, but Ashley’s fingers followed the flames up toward Satan’s throne. The demon rose and fell with each breath Jesse took.
“What does the number mean though?” Ashley asked.
“I’ll show you.” Jesse placed his hand over Ashley’s and pressed it over Satan’s emotionless face.
“Hey…” Ashley flinched as a tiny drip of red blood slid down her arm as though something had pricked her skin. She tried to free herself, but Jesse held her hand in place. “You’re hurting me!
Tina’s heartbeat began to race. Something bad was happening. “Let her go!” She tried to pull her friend away, but Ashley wouldn’t budge.
The loud rock music played over their pleas. Tina’s eyes widened as the illustrations on Jesse’s chest came to life. Flames flickered and burned bright. The screaming faces on his arms howled. The devil’s scepter moved as the creature’s clawed hand wrapped around Ashley’s small wrist. She tugged back. He pulled harder. Jesse’s eyes turned black, and a sneer twisted his once attractive face.
“Tina, help me!” Ashley cried.
Tina pulled with all her might, but the devil creature gave Ashley one more forceful tug toward Jesse’s open chest. And just like that, Ashley slipped from her fingers. Breathlessly, Tina could only watch in horror as her friend tumbled into the fiery pit inside Jesse’s body. She scrambled to the back doors, but they wouldn’t open. On the other side of the window, her school friends smoked and laughed, unaware of what was happening inside the van. She pounded on the glass to get their attention, but no one noticed her.
“See, I told you the fun was just starting,” Jesse’s upbeat voice said behind her.
She turned around, tears streaming down her face. His eye color had returned to brown, and even though his chest was no longer on fire, the images of Hell still danced like a movie playing on a screen. When her gaze fell to the tattoo on the inside of his wrist, the number inked over his blue veins had changed.
Jesse made his way toward her, but Tina kicked him in the groin. As he doubled-over, she jumped over the backseat to the front of the van. She tried the doors there, but again, they were locked. She pushed the car horn repeatedly, hoping that someone outside would come over to investigate.
Tina waved her hands through the windshield. “Help me!” But the music continued to drown her voice. She reached for the gear shift next, prepared to drive the van into traffic. Anything to get away from Jesse and his tattoo from Hell. But she didn’t get a chance.
Tina screamed when Jesse’s fiery hands pulled her back to the floor. He hovered over her with a hungry expression. She tried to push him off, but something sharp stabbed her in the middle of her chest. When she looked down, the devil creature pulled away his bloody scepter and retreated back into Jesse’s flesh. She clutched her wound as the carpet beneath her became soaked. Soon, she would become another dark stain, another number on Jesse’s wrist.
He lowered himself to her, flames rolling off his body and onto her. “Now,” his eyes glazed over black, “how about another kiss?”
Nu Yang is a writer and editor from Southern California. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the Writing Popular Fiction Master’s program at Seton Hill University. She has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Find her online at nuyangwriter.wordpress.com.