Fifteen

☼►twenty-five◄☼

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The four pieces on my body kickstarted my desire to do what the others did. I spent all of March working up the courage to ask and a week to convince Trix this was something I wanted to do. She eventually gave in, mostly to make me shut up, and I was allowed to watch her work - as long as I wasn’t busy with my duties as receptionist. By the beginning of April, I’d upgraded to practising on fruits.

Trix admitted that she was surprised at my determination. “Most people ask to be taught, but they don’t ever really stick with it. Not when they realise it isn’t a cakewalk to embed ink into someone’s skin without fucking it up or giving the client an infection. Now go practice on live bait. Mal!”

Malcolm was an utter doll. He already had his leg bare and stretched out by the time I entered his cubicle. I giggled even as my hands trembled, and he whistled sharply at me. Swallowing down bile, I glanced up at him.

“You got this, kiddo. It may be your first, but I have faith in you.”

“That faith might be misplaced,” I huffed.

The lines were shaky, uneven, but I was proud of it nonetheless. Bev took a photograph of the small snail on his calf, and I knew exactly where it would go once I printed it off. My skills would most likely get loads better, and this would all become second-nature. That didn’t mean I couldn’t have evidence of my first achievement hanging on my bedroom wall.

<b>{;~;}


I pushed my way to the front of the crowd, stood next to the security railings, and scream-sang along to the band that was playing. I’d gone to the last three shows the group had done, and they were quickly becoming my favourites. Local and relatively unknown outside of our city, they had the gritty rock sound that I had grown to love after a year of working at PermanInk - even Bev loved the hard, pounding beats that usually came from the stereo system.

A warm force shoved against my side, nearly knocking me to the floor. My grip on the rail tightened, and I steadied myself before turning to make sure the girl next to me stayed on her feet. Grinning brightly at me, she mouthed a thank you, then we both turned back to the band.

My body tensed as she threw her arm over my shoulders, but this was the community. We loved and received love back. So I let her lean her head in against mine as we sang at the top of our lungs.

“Marley.”

I looked up from where I was texting Trix about the show, frowning at the girl who stood a few feet away. Her yellow hair was even brighter in the glow of a street-lamp instead of the dim lighting of the club.

“I’m sorry?”

“My name is Marley, and I super love that outfit.”

I glanced down at my tight red jeans, black halter-top, and heeled ankle boots . “Oh. Thanks. Hi. Uh, I’m Seren.”

“Well, Seren, you seen a loser around here? About twenty feet tall, dark hair and eyes? Tattoo of a bottle of Jack on his neck?”

“Nope, sorry, can’t say I have.”

“Fuck. The bastard knows I hate when he runs off like that.”

“And you know I hate when you call me a bastard. My parents were married when they made the mistake that was my conception, thank you very much.”

The man seemed to melt into existence from the shadows, all-black outfit and skin made paler by the darkness of his hair. I instinctively took a step back in surprise, swallowing down a squeak when my back hit a pole. He didn’t seem to take offence to my reaction. Instead, he smiled, the sharpness of his cheekbones smoothing out with the action.

“Hey. Sorry, Marley likes to glomp onto randos and force them to be her friends.”

“It’s… it’s okay.”

And it was. It really was. Something about her personality had immediately put me at ease, even though she got into my personal space within seconds of laying eyes on each other. I hadn’t had that sense of okay that quickly after meeting someone since I met Harry.

Marley bounded closer, rested her elbow on my shoulder, and cocked her hip. “I love me some randos. Especially if they’re weird. Are you weird, Seren?”

“All right, that’s enough. You’re gonna scare the poor girl, and you’re drunk. We can’t afford you getting arrested for underage drinking again, so let’s go home.”

“Travis, you are interrupting me making friends.”

Travis huffed out a laugh but continued trying to pull Marley off of me. She refused, planting her boots solidly against the pavement and tugging backwards against his grip. He sighed, stared at his friend with a flat, unimpressed expression on his face.

“Compromise. If you and - Seren, was it? - Seren exchange numbers, will you please just come home so I don’t have to deal with the fucking cops for the tenth time since we met?”

“Sure!”

Marley dug through her rainbow-printed purse until she came up with her phone, and I stifled a giggle at the pastel pink case dotted with cartoon unicorns eating ice cream. She unlocked the device and passed it over quickly, making grabby hands for mine, so I did the same.

A teeny, tiny part of me wondered if I was making a mistake giving out my number so soon after meeting her, but a louder voice told me that Bev would be proud of me. She would have actively encouraged me to make friends.

Once I saved my contact details in her phone, I handed it back to Marley. She blew me a kiss as she graciously let Travis lead her away, and her voice echoed down the block as she yelled out a goodbye and a demand that I text her or she would hunt me down. For some reason, I didn’t doubt she would.

My aunt was already in bed by the time I tiptoed quietly through the door of the dark flat. Though I’d promised to be home by midnight, she and I both knew that I would be late. I always was when I went to shows - mostly because I always stopped by the nearest greasy diner for a milkshake before catching a cab home.

I crouched down to untie my boots and left them by the door. As I made my way to the kitchen, excitement bubbled up inside of me. I’d finally made a friend that didn’t involve work. Or at least the start of one, anyway. Only took a whole damn year, my brain whispered, and I let out a soft snort. That voice wasn’t exactly wrong.

“Ooh, birthday cake,” I whispered after opening the fridge door, blinking in the sudden light.

And indeed, the remnants of my double-chocolate cake sat on the middle shelf, practically begging to be devoured. I rummaged through the silverware drawer for a knife and cut off a small square. I made sure to grab a sheet of paper towel on my way to my bedroom.

The door closed behind me with a quiet click, and I inched through the room to the lamp on my bedside table. Stuffing the last bit of cake into my mouth, I tapped the base of the lamp and tossed my phone onto the bed. Film posters and ticket stubs decorated the lilac walls, along with the faces of my favourite musicians and the photo of the tattoo I gave Malcolm.

I didn’t bother changing into pyjamas, just stripped off my clothes and dropped onto the mattress. Cold seeped into my skin from the thick comforter, a much-needed reprieve from the heat of the night. My body ached in the way that told me I’d have bruises tomorrow from bodies slamming against me all evening.

It took me a solid five minutes to think of what I could possibly say to Marley before I decided on sending a wish that she and Travis made it home safely. Once the message was delivered, I switched to the thread with Gemma.

She and I had talked via email since the day I left Holmes Chapel. The messages had been awkward at first; while I considered her a friend, I wasn’t as close to her as I was with her brother. Her being off at university made it impossible to really bridge the gap, and then I’d had to go and fall in love with Harry, which made it even more uncomfortable. But the emails had helped, the longer we sent them back and forth.

Even though she was older than I was, she never held it over my head, and she never judged me for anything I told her. Gemma was the older sister I lost; our friendship was a bittersweet thing. On one hand, I was thankful that I finally had someone who was acting in that capacity. On the other, it hurt that Sophie wasn’t doing it.

The last message I’d received from her was two days ago - it was just a quick How are you? Sorry, life is so crazy right now!! But I couldn’t begrudge her the lack of elaboration or extensive communication. We all had our own lives to lead, and hers was bound to be more hectic than mine ever would be.

Blowing out a breath, I typed out, I’m okay! No worries, I understand. Made a friend- woo! I miss the hell outta you, Gem. Give my love to the family xx. I knew she would understand. She always did.

I tossed the phone aside and stretched out on my belly, tucked my arms under my head. The worst part about going to gigs for undiscovered bands was they always made me think about Harry. Music had been something we both had in common, and each time I stood in the crowd, singing along, I wanted nothing more than to be there with him.

I hated how much he dominated my thoughts, how I was still this hung up on him after three years of not seeing him. Bev was worried; it was in the little glances when she thoughts I wasn’t paying attention, the not-so-subtle remarks about how cute a client was. And I understood why.

I hadn’t shown interest in dating since I moved in with her, and rarely did I speak about anyone who wasn’t a mutual friend. There was no point, really. I couldn’t shake the feelings I’d been harbouring for Harry.

And honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to.