Fifteen

☼►twenty-eight◄☼

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I walk through the doors of PermanInk in a daze, and it takes someone literally flicking the end of my nose to draw me out. I blink owlishly at Dray, but I can’t speak. He shakes his head and warns me to get my head in the game. He’s right—I can’t do my job if I’m too wrapped up in my thoughts.

So I give myself thirty seconds to be an utter mess emotionally, then I forcibly take control of myself again. If Bev sees me like this, she’ll send me home. If Trix sees me like this... I don’t even want to think of what her reaction would be. Once my station is set up, I make my way to the front desk to ask Cassie when my first appointment is.

Thankfully, I don’t have any time to dwell on anything other than the steady stream of clients that come to me. Music pumps through the speakers - evidently, it’s Malcolm’s turn to choose, going by the heavy strains of Killswitch Engage—and the longer I concentrate on the ink I’m putting into people’s skin, the easier it is to keep my mind off of everything else.

Harry.

Sophie.

How damn weird it is that he would come back into my life eight years to the day that she left.

“Heading for lunch, Seren, what’cha want?”

I finish wiping down the man’s wrist where I’ve just completed a simple butterfly and quickly give him the after-care instructions. He takes the pamphlet then heads through the beaded curtain to pay. Cassie is one step behind, and she handles the payment as I add my order to the list she’s started.

Once the man is gone, she gathers up her purse and the sheet of paper, disappearing through the door and into the throngs of people on the pavement. I check my schedule and sigh at seeing only two pale green squares on the screen. Two more appointments. Which mean I will be out of here by three at the latest, and the entire afternoon will be spent trying to avoid thinking.

“Girl, get your damn phone.”

I frown but head to my station. Who the Hell could be texting me right now? Travis is asleep, Marley knows not to send messages or calls while I’m on the clock, and my parents usually wait until Saturday to contact me.Trix glares at me without heat as I pass; even in my confusion, I manage to stick my tongue out at her just to be an ornery little jerk.

My phone is, true to her implications, buzzing along my counter.

“Oops. Sorry, Rabbit.”

“Tell your aunt she has a funeral to plan.” She continues in an undertone, most likely to her client, “She’s lucky she’s adorable, or I’d have just thrown the damn thing into the ocean.”

“Be nice to me, I’m cute,” I giggle even as I unlock my phone and bring up the message thread.

From: Q
>
It was wonderful to run into you today
> It was also a complete surprise. I didn’t know you’d moved to California
> But I’m so glad to have seen you.
> We have a show tonight in LA. I’d love for you to come so we can catch up some more. It’s been a long time, and I feel like I don’t know you any more. We should change that.
> Your friend from earlier can come if she wants.

To: Q
<
All those messages just made my coworker mad at me. Are you happy now, Q?
< Jk, yeah. It was amazing to see you, too. I’ve missed your face.
< I’ll talk to Mar about it and let you know

From: Q
>
Good :) I’ll have security know to look out for you, just in case.
> I really have missed you.
> Just let me know, okay?

Sighing, I drop to sit on my stool and toss my phone onto the counter. I hadn’t expected today to go like this. Honestly, my plans were to get through my shift then go home, get my sketchbook and pens, and sit by the pool until the sun went down.

Avoid as much human contact as possible.

But no, now I’ve got today bringing up things best left forgotten, and I hate it. I hate feeling the sting of hurt because of Sophie, the loss and—quite frankly—betrayal at Harry having cut our friendship short without even so much as a “piss off”. I just… I want it all to go away.

Of course Marley freaks out as soon as I tell her about the text messages—and even more so about the invitation. She trails after me when I head to my bedroom, and I sigh, prepare myself for an influx of begging. I love the girl dearly, but she rarely yields when she wants something.

Tossing my jeans into the hamper, I dig through my drawers for a pair of cotton shorts, which she yanks from my hands immediately. I don’t bother arguing with her as she tosses the shorts to the side and bounds toward my closet. It isn’t worth wasting my breath, and she’s very persuasive. I know I’m going to go to the concert tonight; it’s just a question of how much I want to fight the inevitable.

“Ugh, you don’t have anything in here,” she groans, shoving hangers out of the way.

“I have loads of clothes in there.”

“Nothing that screams ‘Fate brought me and my first love back together’! This all says that you have a body in the basement and your hands are itching for more blood.”

“What the fuck.” I can’t stop my incredulous laugh—she’s always been verbose and incredibly metaphorical with her word choices, but this is more than I’d ever expected.

“Seriously, Sare-Bear, you have nothing but black shirts for bands I’m not sure half the population has ever heard of. Like, ten for Dimmu Borgir alone.”

Marley lets out an ah-ha, and a top flies through the air toward my face. I barely catch it in time, but she ignores my snort of laughter as she continues rifling through my wardrobe. Every so often, she curses under her breath and shoves the offending article of clothing further toward the back.

“So how excited are you to see him tonight?”

“Who says I’m even going?”

“I do,” she says in the tone of voice that proves my point—she isn’t going to let me get out of going to the concert.

“Why?”

“Seren, really, what if this is Fate? What if it’s written in the stars for you to cross paths again and fall in love?”

I scoff, fidgeting with the halter-top in my hands. “I left that idea back when I was fifteen, Mar. Fate doesn’t exist.”

“Then explain why you guys ran into each other today of all days?”

“Because he has something going on in this city. It isn’t that unheard of, really. Huntington Beach isn’t some desolate island full of cannibals.”

“It’s Fate, you stubborn bitch.”

I shake my head, though I don’t try to refute the point any further. She may claim that I’m stubborn, but I have literally never met anyone more pig-headed than Marley Nichole Aster when she’s on a mission. She hands me a pair of skinny jeans then bounces from my room with an order to get dressed.

Once I’m changed—with an added faux-leather jacket to complete the outfit—I join her in the bathroom where she’s already spread out our entire makeup collection. She meets my eye in the mirror and grins brightly, shakes her ass in my direction.

My face is done within twenty minutes. All I’ve felt the need for is concealer to hide the dark circles under my eyes, mascara, eyeliner, and a tinted lip oil. Harry has seen me when I’ve first woken up, so why should I make myself look like a doll now? Stepping back, I give Marley a once-over.

There is no denying that she knows how to make an outfit fit her instead of the other way around.

The white bohemian-style skirt hangs on low on her hips, swirling around her bare feet. Her bright pink bra peeks through the slits in the back of her yellow tank-top, and her vivid red hair is pulled back into an artfully messy bun. As I stare at her, I realise I can’t remember a single time that she hasn’t dressed in such colourful clothings. Her outfits have always made her stand out in a crowd, especially in the bars we frequent for local shows.

She smacks her freshly-painted lips together, makes a kissy face in the mirror, and turns to me. “Are we ready?”

“Ready for what?”

She shrieks as I jump, both of us startled by Travis’s voice right outside the door. I duck out of the way when she lunges toward him. The scowl on her face would surprise me if I hadn’t seen her in the worst moods possible. She punctuates her words with swats at his arm.

“Travis Cole Zimmerman, I should kill you. Stop scaring me!”

“Sorry, sorry! Down, killer, sheesh,” Travis laughs and rubs his bicep. “Where are you two headed off to looking good enough to eat?”

“Yeah? Eat this, Zimmerman,” Marley retorts as she flips him off. Her anger slides away to be replaced by excitement. “Remember dear Seren telling us about how she was practically in love with Harry when she lived with him for that year? Of course you do. Anyway. We ran into him today, and he totally invited her and me to their show tonight, so that’s where we’re going, because we can’t exactly deny Fate what it wants, right?”

“It isn’t—Christ, Mar, can you stop?”

Travis snorts. “She’s right. It’s absolutely Fate that you ran into Harry, and you need to accept that you’re both going to fall sickeningly in love and have a wonderful life together.”

“Not you, too,” I groan, and Travis shrugs unabashedly.

“C’est la vie, mon amie.”

“If you don’t stop agreeing with Mar’s bullshit weirdness, then I will never, ever, ever give you another tattoo on the cheap.”

Travis’s jaw drops, and he stares at me in shock for a moment before giving a vigorous nod. I step around Marley to grab my brush, quickly running it through my hair. I see my friends exchange glances in the mirror, and Travis rolls his eyes and shakes his head at Marley who replies with a shrug.

I let it go, though. Partially because I’m wondering if maybe they might be onto something, but mostly because if I actually go through with my threat, I’ll not have someone to practice my skills on.

After pinning my hair back with a few bobby pins, I make my way out to the front door. Marley finishes putting on her shoes before I do, but that has more to do with the fact that she’s chosen to wear flip-flops while I’ve gone with my favourite Chucks. My phone goes into my jacket pocket, her wallet in my purse; there is no point in both of us carrying a bag when one will suffice.

Travis walks with us down to the car park, and he tells us to have fun before moving on to his car. I blow him a kiss then slide into the passenger seat of the Escape I share with Marley. She shoots me an ecstatic grin and pushes the button on the radio to switch to Bluetooth.

The sound of Flyleaf gets cut off as she changes the Pandora station, and a familiar song starts up in place of Cassie. My laughter escape without permission, bubbling up from me to spill over the music. But I don’t mind. Instead, I merely buckle my belt and start tapping my toes to the beat.

Excitement thrums under my skin, and it hits me, really sinks in, that I’m about to see Harry for the first time in so long. My skin feels tight, as if I’ve suddenly grown too large for it; it’s pleasant, though, tinged with nerves but so warm anyway.

Marley points to me as the guitar and drums come to a swell.

“Her light is as loud as as many ambulances as it takes to save a saviour, oh,” I sing, my voice off-key and slightly crackly. “She floats through the room on a big balloon. Some say she’s such a fake, that her love is made up. No. No, no, no.”

Marley smacks her hand on the steering wheel as she takes over. “Let’s have another toast to the girl almighty. Let’s pray we stay young, stay made of lightning?”

“Am I the only, only believer.”

We sing together, loud and full of enthusiasm, “There’s something happening here. There’s something happening here!”

My giggling makes it impossible for me to continue, so I settle back in my seat and watch my best friend in place while she belts out the words. Between the warmth in my chest and the energy that fills me every time we’re around each other, I don’t think today could ever possibly be a bad day. No matter the negative things I’ve been through.

And even if we weren’t on our way to see the guy I’ve loved for years, I don’t think I’d be any less happy or content.