Fifteen

☼►twenty-seven◄☼

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“Mar, hurry up, or we’re gonna be late!”

Marley’s muttering echoes down the hall from behind the closed bathroom door—most likely mocking me. Huffing out a laugh, I gather up my phone, stuffing it into the back pocket of my dark denim jeans, and make sure my wallet is safely in her purse. Travis hands me a reusable to-go cup of coffee, peppermint and light roast swirling from the hole in the lid. I take a sip before pressing a kiss to his cheek, and he gives me a sleepy, smug grin when I assure him he’s my favourite.

Marley finally emerges from the bathroom; a cloud of vanilla follows her, this month’s “signature scent”. She scowls at the sight of me near the door.

“Why are you so excited to go to work?” she grumbles. “Don’t you know that’s not normal.”

“Probably because I’m not a manager at a boutique and don’t have to deal with the general public. Instead, I get to stab people over and over. Like serial killing, just without the murdery bits.”

She sticks her tongue out at me, sliding her feet into a pair of flip-flops. I tuck her favourite heels in her purse and pass the bag over. Travis wishes us a good day then disappears into his bedroom. Seconds after the door slams behind him, we hear the muffled, telltale thump of him falling face-first onto his bed. Last night must have been a rough one for him.

I shake my head affectionately then pull the door open, sweeping my arm grandly in front of me. Marley breezes past first, long skirt swishing around her feet. With an order for Travis to re-situate Nemo and Squeaks, I close and lock the front door.

It’s been almost two years since I moved in with the two weirdos I claim as my best friends, and it’s been great. The flat is closer to work than Bev’s, which means I can walk to work most days. The only time I don’t is when it’s raining or if I have any errands to run during lunch. The constant exercise has kept me in pretty decent shape, even if it gives me too much time to think.

My schedule has gotten fuller since I completed Trix’s strict training to become an actual tattoo artist - and since Lucien left the shop to pursue other employment. I still don’t trust myself to do anything too detail-oriented, but I have done plenty of smaller, more basic ones. Which means my portfolio is finally fleshing out.

I have Travis to thank for most of the pieces in my portfolio. He’s been a wonderful guinea pig when it comes to me experimenting with different methods and designs. Of course, this means he gets free - or severely discounted - ink whenever he wants, so it benefits him as much as it does me.

I step out into the early morning sunshine, already hot on my skin. Blinking rapidly, my vision slowly adjusts to the abrupt brightness after the dim corridors of the building. Marley laces our fingers together, shoves a pair of sunglasses onto her face.

“So how are you doing today?”

I pause, frowning down at the ground, and think about the question. She isn’t asking how I feel, not so superficially. “Today” is the eighth anniversary of the day my life drastically changed, the day I lost my sister and got left with the scars of that pain. Wounds that still haven’t healed properly, ripping open at the most inopportune times.

But—

“I think I’m okay. I mean, there’s still pain, y’know? But it’s easier to handle now. Like, it’s been eight years.” Shrugging, I fidget with the hem of my band T-shirt and scrunch up my nose. “I still fucking hate her for this.”

Marley huffs out a laugh, shaking her head. “And how are Bev and Wayne doing?”

I shrug. “Good, I guess. Don’t really see much of him. He’s still trying to get back into the swing of schooling and stuff.”

“Well, boo. Hope he comes this weekend! I made this amazing suit I think will look fantastic on him.”

“I wonder how Bev feels with you dressing her boyfriend up as your own personal Malibu Ken.” Laughing, I shake my head and rest my head on her shoulder. “So what’s on the playlist for today?”

She cocks her head to the side, eyes narrowing as she thinks. “How does some Flyleaf sound?”

“Mmm, love me some Lacey. Hit it.”

“I… will…”

“Mar!”

Break!”

A couple on the footpath ahead of us startle at the sudden scream, shooting us dirty looks over their shoulders. I call out an apology, but I don’t think they believe me at all. Maybe they would have if I hadn’t been laughing so hard - seeing a grown man jump two feet off the floor is humorous, even if a bit cruel to find amusement in it.

I should be used to Marley and her ability to not give a damn about what people think of her, but I still find myself in awe of how little she actually cares for strangers’ opinions. She will willingly kill for her friends, but people she doesn’t know don’t even seem to register to her. I shrug off the discomfort that comes with people staring at us, singing along with her to I’m So Sick.

We’re only a block away from PermanInk and the neighbouring Silver Bell Boutique when Marley yanks me to a stop, her fingernails scratching my arm in her rush. I nearly trip over my feet at the abrupt halt and shoot her a wounded look. Before I can ask what the Hell her deal is, she gestures ahead with her chin.

I follow her gaze, and my world stops. A roaring takes up residence in my ears, head spinning on my shoulders. It can’t be...

A group of men are heading our way. The man in front has ridiculously broad shoulders under the stretched fabric of his black T-shirt, but my attention is solely in the tall, slender man behind him.

“Isn’t that—?”

I try to swallow, to speak, but my throat is too tight and my mouth too dry. So I do the only thing I can - I nod silently. We step to the side as the cluster nears, and I shiver, though it isn’t the breeze that’s affecting me. When it’s obvious I won’t be able to speak, Marley rolls her eyes.

“Hey, Harry!”

Sir Broad-Shoulders barely looks at us even as he says flatly, “Sorry, ladies, we’re in a rush.”

Marley nudges me, giving me a pointed look, and jerks her head toward the group that is now walking away. My heart races, my vision swims and goes black at the edges. Clearing my throat, I open my mouth. It takes four tries for the words to come out, and they flutter on the breeze, almost inaudible but so loud in my ears.

“Hey, Q.”

His body goes tense, head snapping up, the instant he hears—and registers—what I’ve said. I would laugh at the way the security guy almost falls over Harry with how abruptly he’s stopped, but I’m too terrified and in too much of a daze to find humour in it.

Harry turns around slowly, brows furrowed and expression guarded. And god, how I missed looking into his eyes. Pictures could never do them justice. Sunlight catches on the hints of golden, makes the green that much brighter.

Of course he doesn’t recognise me. The Seren he knew had long dark hair that she kept in a braid. Current-me looks vastly different: No longer to the middle of my back or plain brown, my hair stops at my jawline in gentle waves, with platinum bleeding into pastel-pink. My style of clothing has changed drastically in the last five years, tight jeans and low-cut tops and heeled ankle boots.

“What did you just say?”

I chew on my lower lip and decide to go all in. No point in backing out now. “What, do you actually prefer Curly Sue?”

Recognition floods his face, and his jaw drops before he grins widely, a startled chuckle bursting from him. My eyes burn with tears as he embraces me tightly. I melt into his arms.

He smells much the same as he did when we were fifteen, and that alone is far more comforting than it has any right to be. I breathe him in, my arms instinctively tightening around his waist, and he seems to feel the same.

His fingers curl into my back, pull me even closer, and I bury my face into his shoulder. Everything comes rushing back as we stand there - all the comfort and security he’s ever given me, along with the love that has followed me around for the last six years of my life.

Unfortunately, a hand - one that isn’t Harry’s - rests against my lower back, and I pull away to look back at Marley. Her apologetic smile tells me it’s time to go. Over Harry’s shoulder, I can see the other members of One Direction and their security watching us; all of them wear matching puzzled expressions.

I stifle a giggle, staring up at Harry. “Holy fuck, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. But I, I have to go to work, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise. It’s fine, love.”

“We could, uh, exchange numbers or something?”

His lips curve into the same sweet smile, the one that comforted me and filled me with pride at making him smile like that. The desire to kiss him slams through me with the force of a typhoon, but I push it away, focusing on the present and not all the things that are being dredged up by seeing him. By being so damn close. By watching the smile that hasn’t changed since I last knew him.

Harry unlocks his phone quickly and hands it to me; Marley plucks mine from my back pocket, inputting the PIN with ease and passing it over to Harry. As I type my number into his contact list, I can hear the others muttering amongst themselves. Harry promises the Security Bros that he’s almost done, just be patient.

One final hug, then he’s walking away. I watch him go, an aching in my chest that is eerily reminiscent of how I felt that cursed July day. He glances back at us, lifts his hand in a short wave. Marley tugs on my hand after a moment, and I reluctantly turn and follow her.

She chatters a mile a minute about something, but I can’t pay attention. There’s too much stuffed into my mind already, all of it coming up Harry. Blowing out a breath, I try to push all my feelings back into their box—it’s ridiculous, after all, how easily he can still affect me after literal years.