Fifteen

☼►thirty-two◄☼

Image


I drop my pen to the surface of my desk, stretching out my back. I’ve been working on this damn sketch for over three hours, and I’m no closer to finishing it. The proportions are all wrong. Nothing I do seems to make a difference—in fact, it gets worse the harder I try.

My phone lights up next to me. Debating on whether to ignore it, I ultimately tilt the device toward me to see the screen better. Marley’s text tells me to get my rear to bed before she comes in and forces me. I chuckle quietly, typing back that I’d like to see her try.

It’s been three days since I returned home from my parents’. I can’t stop replaying in my mind what my mother said, and the words still send twinges of pain through me. The distraction is evident in my art.

Bev knows something happened while I was gone, but she hasn’t brought it up. She’s learnt since I moved here that I don’t talk about my feelings. The last person I spoke so honestly to was Harry, and even then, I lied by not telling him the truth. I never told him how much I loved him as a teenager.

Little does my aunt know, there is only one person who can always get right to the centre of my thoughts. All he has to do is ask one question, and everything spills from me. But I can’t talk to Harry about this. Anything but this.

I glance back at the drawing then push it away. I won’t be able to work on it any longer tonight without giving into the urge to toss it into the bin. The quiet click of the lamp sounds absurdly loud in the silence of my bedroom, and I tiptoe carefully through the dark to my bed. An gloom settles around me, fills the spaces between the atoms of my being, as I crawl beneath the sheets.

Shadows creep further along the ceiling, taunting me with their existence. I should be sleeping. Instead, I’m watching time ooze by. Drawing in an unsteady breath, I struggle to calm my heartbeat as it races. My mom’s voice floats through my brain; her warning only compounds the heavy weight in my chest.

A sob forces itself up my throat, out of my mouth, and I gasp against the hurt. It makes no sense—this sudden, chilling ache—and I try my damnedest to not give in. The longer I think of the conversation, the harder it becomes to pretend it didn’t bother me. That it doesn’t bother me.

It does.

It dredged up doubts about Harry, who he truly is despite the public persona. I’ve never doubted him before.

When it becomes evident that I’m not going to be able to sleep, I push myself out of bed and make my way across the room to sit at my desk once more. The moon shines in the sky outside of my window, and I stare up at the tiny pinpricks of light speckled across the stretch of midnight-blue. My hands tremble as I reach for my phone, but I manage to type out a message.

To: Q
<
I can’t sleep

His response comes quickly.

From: Q
>
I’m sorry to hear that
> What’s wrong?

To: Q
<
Nothing really. Just can’t sleep. What are you up to?

From: Q
>
That doesn’t matter. Stop trying to change the subject. Star, be honest. What’s wrong?

To: Q
<
I promise, Q. Nothing is wrong.
< Ugh fine. I miss my parents even tho I just saw them, like, a week ago. I miss Sophie. I miss your family. I miss you.

From: Q
>
Oh, love… I’m sorry. I know they all miss you, too.

To: Q
<
Yeah? What makes you so certain?

From: Q
>
Because I miss you.

To: Q
<
Thanks.
< How do you always know what to say to make me feel better?
< ARE YOU A MIND-READER?
< HAROLD!
< DID YOU BECOME PSYCHIC WITHOUT TELLING ME?!

From: Q
>
Of course not. You would be the first I told if I ever developed psychic powers.

To: Q
<
I better be. Well, after you told your parents, of course. They deserve to know first. But I better be the second!

From: Q
>
No, I’m pretty sure you would be the very first.
> Do you think you can sleep now?

To: Q
<
Probs. I think a hug would be the only thing that would make me feel better. You always give the best hugs. And cuddles. Thanks, Harry xx

From: Q
>
Sleep well, Seren. Dream of me hugging you like I wish I could. x

I smile down at the screen and toss my phone aside. I wasn’t lying—I really do feel less like the dark cloud inside of me is going to swallow me whole. Harry has proved he’s still the same as he was back when we were fifteen: Sweet, caring, gentle, and kind.

It should scare me, I know it should, that Harry and I have been so easily able to pick up right where we left off. Terror should flare up every time I think about how important he is, even after all these years.

But instead of the fear, all there is in my heart, my very veins, are the security and comfort and peace he always brought me before.

Morning comes far too early, and—as usual—I wake before my two friends. The rich aroma of coffee spirals up from my mug, and I pad quietly across the apartment. The rug tickles the bottom of my bare feet on the way. A small squeal of hinges when I pull open the door. It doesn’t seem to wake Marley or Travis.

Settling into the patio chair, I take a sip of my coffee and stare out at the horizon. Black-blue bleeds to pink, warning of the impending sunrise, and already birds sing in the trees. Someone swims laps in the pool below, and I listen to the cacophony of water splashing and cars already trudging their way through the streets.

I only managed to get three hours of sleep last night. I still couldn’t sleep in.

The conversation I held with Harry has imprinted itself to the back of my eyes, and I can see every message coming in. Every one going out. The same love, despite it not being the way I want it, I felt from him before and now. It’s all I can think about as I soak up the morning rays of light.

I finish off my coffee, breathing in one last breath of salty-air, then head back inside. Mar and Travis will be awake soon, and she gets grumpy without breakfast. My Pandora seems to know who’s on my mind, who has been on my mind since we ran into each other again: The first song that comes on is Once in a Lifetime. I sigh, heart clenching in my chest.

Of course.

Despite the pain, I sing along anyway.

Travis’s voice comes from behind me as he joins in for the chorus. His dark eyes soften while he perches on the countertop. I always say the man missed his calling—with sharp cheekbones and lithe build a model would kill for, he should be strutting down a catwalk during Fashion Week. Unfortunately for him, he’s settled for a job as a night manager of the swankiest hotel around and living with two eclectic women.

Marley stumbles out of her room as Travis and I set the food on the table. I watch with a raised brow when she bee lines for the coffeepot; maybe today will be the day she finally drinks straight from the carafe. She doesn’t, despite my expectations. She does refill my mug before pouring her own.

It’s an unwritten rule in our home that whoever is awake first gets to choose the soundtrack for our otherwise silent breakfast. Well, whoever is awake first after me. I’m the only one who actually enjoys waking before the sun is even fully up. Passing over my phone to Travis, I take his and scroll through the news headlines.

We don’t speak as we eat to the screaming of Cradle of Filth, and Marley cleans up the dishes when we’re done. I head to the bathroom to get ready for the day. I don’t bother with doing more than brushing my teeth and pinning my fringe out of my face before making my way to my bedroom.

Maybe Mar is right, I think, considering the rows of dark T-shirts and skinny jeans that hang in my wardrobe. I mentally make a note to let her drag me shopping one of these days and grab the nearest band shirt and jeans.

Red bottoms with an Avenged Sevenfold top will have to do for the day—I’m too lazy to change again.

Three days later find me leaning over Malcolm’s abdomen, carefully inking the square of skin. He’d already asked Trix to do it, but she said no. Dray had a date; he even left early to get ready for it. So now here I am tattooing a drawing Mal’s son made. I even make sure to trace over the squiggly lines Cooper made.

As I work, Malcolm tells me about the piece: His four-year-old had to draw his hero for preschool, and he chose to draw his three parents. Lana and Malcolm are amazing parents. They refused to make the divorce difficult on their children, and Malcolm even went to Lana’s wedding two years later. I tell him he’s a better man than most, but he waves it off.

“No point in fucking up the kids, right?”

My phone vibrates across the surface of my workstation, and I glance at it to see a text from Harry. My fingers itch to respond, though I ignore it. Malcolm’s tattoo is more important at the moment. My hand instinctively yanks back when Malcolm speaks.

“So what’s going on with you and Harry?”

“What are you talking about?” I grumble before leaning forward again.

“Something’s gotta be there, kid. That reaction tells me so. You’re constantly texting him and smiling whenever you talk to or about him. C’mon, it’s me.”

“There’s nothing there, Mal.” My heart aches at the words, and I swallow against the pain. The truth hurts. “He’s literally just my longest friend.”

“Long, eh?”

I look up in time to see the exaggerated eyebrow-wiggle he sends my way. “Oh, Christ, don’t make me laugh, or I’ll fuck up Coop’s art. You know I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know, but you were starting to look a little sad.”

I snort and use my left hand to punch his hipbone. “No, I was looking like I was concentrating. Because I am. Unless you wanna explain to your child why his art looks like Bigfoot decided to stomp all over it?”

He laughs, apologising like the angel I know he isn’t, then settles down so I can work in peace. His words echo in my brain, louder than the buzz of the machine in my hand. I have known I’m transparent when it comes to how thrilled I am to have Harry in my life again. But if Malcolm is mentioning, what I feel for Harry must be painted in the sky somewhere.

Thankfully, Malcolm can get up half an hour later, and he crosses to the mirror to check out his new tattoo. I halfheartedly give him the usual aftercare instructions, though he doesn’t need them. It’s just a habit I can’t—and shouldn’t—break.

By the time I get home, I have been awake for fifteen hours. Marley and Travis look up from where they sprawl across our couch, legs entangled as they watch The Parent Trap. Mar frowns, big blue eyes narrowing in concern, when I only grab a banana on my way to the bathroom. I sit on the counter and eat the fruit as the water heats up.

While I shower, all I can think about is what Malcolm said when I was tattooing him. He was right, even if he doesn’t know the extent of it. I am happier. I smile every time I get a text from Harry. It doesn’t even matter what the message contains—just seeing his name on the screen is enough for me. The pain of saying goodbye to him still lingers, but it’s more a pinprick of negativity instead of a thick blanket smothering me.

Sleep comes quickly tonight.