Fifteen

☼►thirty◄☼

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Waking up the next morning is hard. I don’t want to leave the dream I’ve been having, one in which Harry and I are talking again. A peacefulness surrounds me, securely wrapping itself around me, and every molecule of my body is relaxed in the fantasy of having my best friend back. It’s a serenity I’d long forgotten existed.

Seagulls squawk among a background of waves crashing against a shore, and I reach out blindly to snooze my alarm for the third time. Unfortunately, silencing the noise won’t allow me to fall back asleep - I’m awake and that’s how I will remain until tonight. I roll onto my back and peel my eyes open, staring blankly at the ceiling.

“Hey, loser, you wanna shower first?” Marley steps into my room, and I turn my head in time to see her planting her hands on her hips, her head cocking to the side. “Why aren’t you up yet?”

“Didn’t wanna wake up.”

“Yeah, we got in kinda late last night, didn’t we?”

Her words force something to click into place in my brain, and I sit up abruptly, lunging for my phone. The proof is there in my inbox, all the texts between Harry and me. He responded during the night, but I don’t waste the time to read it. Not right now.

Marley takes a large step back with wide eyes when I grin maniacally up at her. “Sare?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“Uh… no, it wasn’t. Sare-Bear, you okay?”

“I’m wonderful. Now, shoo. I have to get ready for work.”

She gives me one last confused look before doing as I asked. I bite back a giddy giggle at the knowledge that not all is lost, that Harry and I are actually in contact again. It’s pathetic, I think, how thrilled I am with this; I’m an adult, I shouldn’t be letting a newly-revived friendship affect me like this.

Dressing quickly in my usual skinny jeans and band T-shirt, I twist my hair into a braid across the top of my skull, from temple to temple, then dig out my favourite pair of ankle boots. Thinking about last night’s events brings about a warmth in my chest, and I reach for my phone to read Harry’s texts.

{From: Q
<} I promise I won’t think that’s as creepy as it sounds. I’m glad you’re doing well, too, Star. You deserve to be happy.

Marley gasps when I pinch her side playfully then duck past her into the hallway. She follows after me at a much more leisurely pace, but I can’t calm down. I can’t care. My bones are hollow things, marrow replaced by a lightness that sends me floating into the stratosphere. Stepping out onto the pavement, I shove my sunglasses onto my face and inhale deeply, breathing in the scent of our city and the hopes that have blossomed to life in my soul.

This time, I choose the morning playlist and start the song off. She graciously allows me to lace our fingers together as I sing “Have mercy, baby, on a poor girl like me”. Marley is concerned, I know she is, judging by the way she keeps glancing at me out of the corner of her eye. I don’t let it bring me back to reality. I just keep dancing and belting out the words to Say That You Love Me.

The buoyant feeling in my chest lasts through the first two appointments on my schedule. I’m grateful that the clients both wanted smaller designs, though I start to hope that someone will ask for something more detailed. I need the challenge. Cassie knocks on the wall to my area, flashing me a sympathetic smile when I spin in my chair to look at her.

“Hey, there’s someone out here who wants to know if you’ll do a walk-in. You don’t have anything scheduled until after lunch.”

Sighing, I shrug and turn back to my desk. Walk-ins aren’t always bad, but there have been too many times that I have had to get Bev involved because the customer wouldn’t accept I wouldn’t do their piece for whatever reason. Please don’t let this guy be a dick, please don’t let this guy be a dick, please don’t let this guy be a dick. Footsteps shuffle outside my cube, and I draw in a steadying breath before turning to greet them.

“What the fuck.”

Harry grins widely, shrugging innocently. “Hi.”

“No, seriously, what the actual fuck.” I stand and cross my cubicle to hug him tightly. “Hi. I didn’t expect to see you! Oh, hey, Niall,” I add as I catch sight of the blond behind Harry. He waves, shifting awkwardly on his feet. “What can I do for you guys?”

“This wasn’t my decision,” Niall rushes to assure me, shaking his head vehemently. “I don’t do tattoos.”

I giggle quietly, settling back in my chair, and Harry frowns as he thinks for a moment. His expression doesn’t clear even while he sits on the cot in front of me. I watch in confusion as he stretches his left arm out, points to a bare spot right below the crook of his elbow. Raising my brow, I nod slowly.

“Okay, so we’ve figured out placement. What do you want?”

He rolls his eyes, digging through his pocket, and passes over a small slip of paper. A shiver runs down my spine when his fingers brush against mine, but I ignore it. Instead, I unfold the paper and stare down at the plain bedroom. My throat grows dry, aching blooming in my chest, when I look up at him.

“Are you serious?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” At the pointed look I give him, Harry sighs and scuffs his shoes against the floor. “I just, I wanted to be able to remind myself of how amazing of a friend you are. How important to me you always will be. I don’t want to let myself forget, y’know? Not again.”

Tears prickle in my eyes at his words, and I blink against them, dipping my chin shakily. My hands tremble as I set the drawing to the side and ready my equipment. Thankfully, practice and experience take over.

I’m able to keep steady once I put needle to skin. Harry sits completely immobile while I work, only the tiniest of twitches in the muscle beneath flesh, but his gaze is heavy on me. Awareness pricks in every inch of my mind. I want to squirm under the scrutiny.

My professionalism keeps me from doing so.

It doesn’t take long to finish the tattoo. After all, it’s a simple five-point star that any child could do with no discernible difficulty. I avoid meeting Harry’s eyes while I clean up his arm and the work area. He waits until I’ve removed my gloves to reach out, his fingers brushing against the back of my hand. I let out a shuddering exhale, electricity shooting up my arm from the touch, and meet his gaze. His lips quirk into a crooked grin - the one I know so well.

“It’s just what I wanted. Thanks, Star.”

“No problem,” I croak before clearing my throat. “Thanks for not being the type of person who can’t quit squirming while I’m stabbing you repeatedly.”

Harry makes a production of looking at the ink already embedded in his skin then chuckles in amusement. “I’d probably not have all of these if I couldn’t sit still.”

“You have a point.” I glance over at Niall, bite my lip to stifle my giggles. “You sure you don’t want anything? I promise I’m quite capable at my job.”

“I’m certain, thanks,” he says, words tumbling over each other in his rush to say the polite equivalent of ‘hell no’.

I giggle and lead the guys up to the reception desk. Through her door, I see Bev looking up from the paperwork in front of her. Cassie scoots out my way as I search for a pen, unsuccessful and growing more irritated with my failure. A hand comes down on my shoulder, stopping my movements, and I look over my shoulder to see my aunt giving Harry an appraising look.

She smiles suddenly, waves a hand, and tells him there is no cost. Harry and I exchange glances. I know he’s trying to ask me what she’s going on about, but I know just as much as he does. I don’t argue with her announcement, though; it’s her shop. She can choose who pays and who doesn’t, even if the client can afford tattoos by the hundreds.

I take a second to grab a bottle of water from the mini-fridge at Cassie’s feet before rounding the counter. Harry doesn’t hesitate, just wraps his right arm around my shoulder and tugs me in against him. It feels right to be held like this - by him, anyway - and I will never understand how he can smell like home when we’ve spent years apart. No contact has kept us together, but my heart still settles with the slightest touch. I struggle against the urge to never let go.

“Thank you again,” he murmurs into my hair. “Really, it’s perfect. I’ll… I’ll do better at the whole ‘keeping in touch’ thing.”

“You damn well better, mister.”

Niall raises his phone, showing us the screen, and Harry sighs and nods. One last tight squeeze, and then they leave the building. I stare after them, after Harry even after they’ve disappeared into the crowd of people walking past outside. When I turn back to Cassie and Bev, my aunt raises a brow and pins me with A Look. All I can do in response is shrug helplessly.

“I don’t even know, man.”

Harry keeps to his promise over the next few weeks: At least once a day, there is a text waiting for me to respond to. Our schedules don’t always line up, but it works for us. Well, at the very minimum, it’s enough for me to be content with. The conversations start off stilted, awkwardness born of not talking for five years.

It makes me wonder if he is even as invested in rekindling our friendship as he proclaimed. But the more we talk, the easier it becomes. He always asks how my days are going, remembers thing I’ve told him and mentions them at the appropriate times, and I soon find myself entranced in everything he is the same as I was back when I was fifteen.

Marley notices. Travis notices. Everyone in the shop notices.

They’re all aware of just how often I reach for my phone to respond to a text and the smiles that cross my face whenever I see his name on the screen. Hell, just thinking about the fact he’s back in my life is enough to make that light, floating feeling take residence in my chest.

Nobody mentions it, not even Bev, though I know they all have been worried about my lack of dating since Marc. I can’t help but wonder what the others, especially my aunt, think is going to happen between Harry and me. Because it certainly isn’t dating, of all things.

I go about my routine as normal, even with the added text conversations: Work, home, call my parents on Saturdays. I don’t tell them about Harry’s reappearance in my life until the third weekend after the concert.

My mom’s voice is full of a smile, a genuine one, as she tells me how happy she is for me that I have my friend back. My father only says “Good for you, kiddo”, but I expected nothing less of him.

His personality changed permanently after Sophie ran away, and I have zero hopes of things going back to how they used to be - when he laughed and smiled, and we were close. Sophie stole the light from his life. Without her, we will never get it back.

“So when are you going to come visit us?” my mom asks lightly; there’s a clatter in the background, and I recognise the sound of the cast-iron skillet being placed on the stove. “It’s been a while. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, Mom. I should be there the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, then you’ll have me for a whole whopping four days.”

She laughs quietly. I close my eyes against the sound, something loosening inside of me. “I suppose I can make do with that. Just make sure my sister knows she isn’t allowed to call while you’re here. She gets you the rest of the year, the least she can do is let me have time with you for one holiday.”

I end the call after another hour. Marley’s come home, and while my mother and Mar adore each other, I can never keep up with the conversation when it’s all three of us. I’m not in the mood to even try. I do promise to pass on messages of love and staying safe before I hang up, which placates my mom enough.

Marley plops down onto the couch next to me, reaching for the bowl of popcorn in my lap. I take the television off mute, settling into the cushion further as my best friend drops her head to my shoulder, and we munch on our snack as reruns of Friends play one after another.

Ross annoys the Hell out of me - seriously, how did this dude make it to his thirties while being such a whiny, entitled, insensitive piece of crap? - but Phoebe and Chandler make up for the annoying Geller brother.

As we watch the antics on-screen, I wonder what Harry is doing right now.