how the night turned out

i get off the bus in a daze, wondering where seb might be. he’s supposed to meet me at the show, but i wonder if like last time, we’ll see each other at the station instead. i turn around to inspect the crowd behind me, and sure enough, he’s walking up the stairs. his head hangs low, perhaps checking his phone, and i call his name tentatively, smiling in a shy smirk as he waves at me. he ruffles his curly mop of blond hair with a sigh and we walk out of the station together.

 

we haven’t been chilling outside of school for long, not like jack and i. but jack and i haven’t really known each other in years. not since maybe the beginning of high school. and i’m pretty okay with that – now, anyway. and i’m pretty sure lisbeth texted him as per invitation, so it ultimately wasn’t my doing or under my control. in a way they’re pretty similar people, but really there’s no sense in comparing them, because they’ve lived differently.

seb moved from england here a few years ago, but only recently transferred to our school. jack’s lived here almost his whole life. moved from south west europe where his parents decided to move after they got married – though they came from denmark. i think they lived in france for sometime before they moved to spain – not that jack would remember much, being so young and all.

 

we walk to the restaurant, and outside i see elric helping ryan and sue. i wave and sue leans in for a hug. seb is left there standing awkwardly, so i smile at him with raised eyebrows and he smirks, knowing this is what he signed up for anyway. we get in and there are chairs missing – i realise sue had taken some for their task outside – but we take a couple and assemble them at the front table despite perhaps feeling like it’d be better to sit farther. there are other groups of friends – and i guess since i recognize no one in particular – sue’s friends, and maybe elric’s have decided to either not show up or to come late (or later than us).

we’ve just sat down, listening to the one girl sing – it’s only been a few seconds and i can’t remember her name already. i ask lisbeth hasn’t texted since this morning, so i content myself in knowing that for now it’s just the two of us, full on knowing i could easily have invite at least two or three other friends.

it’s been one song when i’m proved wrong as lisbeth and jack make their way through the doors. jack is tall and lisbeth is almost short so the way they walk – jack behind her – allows me to the see them both. jack’s hair hangs loosely, some of it tucked behind his ears in that curly, wavy thick mop of black. it looks majestic. lisbeth’s short brown hair is curly too, but it’s thin, and frames her face well in its wildness.

i stand and lisbeth nods at me, and i hug jack, smirking as he bends and i stand on the tip of my toes. jack and seb nod, clapping each other on the back. we all take our seats, seb and lisbeth nearest me.

the lyrics of the next song are imaginative and require audience participation, and i don’t sit and watch as seb smiles to himself in awe as the rest – jack and lisbeth included – sing along. instead i get up to order four waters at the counter, smiling at the man behind the bar and greeting one of sue’s friends. the place is filling more and more, even if it’s still early, but i suspect it’s only because the acoustics will end soon. as i make my way back, i introduce lisbeth and seb, who smile at each other.

 

sue comes back in tentatively and asks for my help to put up some banners around the restaurant. seb is left standing there awkwardly again as lisbeth and jack get up to talk to others. he opts to sit down as i make my way back to the table without lisbeth and jack. this other group is playing a duet on guitar and with violin, which gets me smiling. seb looks somewhat uncomfortable, and i figure it’s just his way of trying to find some peace in this foreign, perhaps overwhelming environment.

he taps my leg and i eye him as he mumbles, “i know those guys.” i shrug and he says they used to go to school with him, they’re older than us. i tell him meeting people, even in this city, isn’t all that difficult, no matter how little you want to see them.

lisbeth and jack opt to go out – for a smoke no doubt – to the front of the restaurant, and while they’re out, the set ends so we join them. jack passes the smoke back to lisbeth and she takes one last drag before flicking it to the ground just as we make it out the door. i smile at the bouncer – a volunteer who was a part of the crowd at the last show. and we catch lisbeth in the middle of a conversation with someone who i also recognize – not that she can be from anywhere else but one of these types of shows. i suppose that’s who she bummed from, but she informs me sue was kind enough to give her one.

while we hover and i watch their interaction without asking her name – as she’s not paying attention to me (or anyone else but lisbeth). she heads back inside and jack mumbles about being cold – which i’m not, as the weather’s cooperative. we’re about to head back inside when i see a few performers from last event. unsure if they’re playing today, i tentatively approach who i recognize as the lead singer. he smiles and tells me they’re just here to watch and introduces himself as skye. i shake his hand, “may,” i mumble and he smiles at me again.

he turns to lisbeth, who’s entered the conversation with a standard question. “which band are you with?”

“dragon tapestry.” he says with a laugh. “nice to meet you, lisbeth, may.”

he turns away, and art – another performer for a different, more popular band – smiles at me with a wave. they’re preforming later, and his girlfriend (anna) still hasn’t shown up, or maybe, she’s inside talking to sue and i just hadn’t been paying attention.

 

some time later, i feel seb starting to relax a bit, disregarding his initial discomfort in this space of dimly lit, standing crowd. jack and lisbeth kind of do their own thing, and we stay with sue for a bit too, but she hasn’t been feeling all that well – what with damian performing and dancing with others and pointedly ignoring her, and with charlie around but distant. i keep charlie some company for a bit as lisbeth takes the guys downstairs for one of the bands, and i’m edging for some fresh air, so i take my chances while charlie orders a shot and grimaces bitterly at her friends.

i sit at the edge of the road watching car go by and breathing deeply the fresh air, distantly still able to hear the music and feel the excitement and awe and joy seep from my core. sue joins me and we start talking about work and studies – she mentions how simple it seems to just get a full time job and not have to worry about homework or anything of that sort. we avoided the subject of money, but in passing she reminds me she works for a company that really interests her.

eventually, seb joins me outside, looking cold and smiling shyly. he formally introduces himself to sue, and they exchange a few words before she gets whisked away by elric again. we decide to head back inside, and the downstairs band looks really good, they have good chemistry and play in sync, mops of hair bobbing together with the beat.

we stay down for the rest of the set, and i sway on the spot with a smile on my face as seb joins me slowly, tentative in his movement as we feel the music. lisbeth makes her way back down for the last set, but she stands near ryan and his friends, nodding at me as she passes.

 

i realise in our waiting for the next group, that chances are lisbeth is playing some sort of ‘get with him’ game, purposefully letting seb and i spend more time together. i still have a lot to learn about the guy, but he’s awfully quiet and sets his own pace, which i can appreciate sometimes. we’ve been out for some three hours, and i’ve just noticed now. it oddly isn’t bothersome. i don’t know what his stance on jack is, having hardly ever seen them in the halls together.

 

in the hour that’s left before art’s band, we join forces on the main floor, and sue gets us two beers to share. we make conversation – the ridiculous intentions of school, the worth of long weekends, the fake notion of real life after post secondary or post graduate. jack goes back out for a smoke with art’s bandmates as lisbeth waves and makes conversation with them and tugs him by the arm. i decide, after listening to a couple songs from the band – one of which is an extraordinary cover – that i too feel like more fresh air.

it may not be totally fresh air, seeing as there are people smoking and dancing on the spot in mass, but i hear art talk to sue, his friends pete and iggy talking to lisbeth still. jack and seb look somewhat uncomfortable as we walk toward the park, and i try to ignore them as lisbeth and i make conversation with pete. perhaps, it’s more like lisbeth talking and my nodding along as he looks at us both.

 

we get to the park and there’re some kids there, they look to be in middle school. the distance themselves, and we settle at the swings. i take a swig of beer and art passes some cheap wine around as pete and sue roll a joint. iggy shakes his head noting that we are too many for one joint, so he takes a diy vape canteen out of the bush with a laugh as pete tosses a bag of weed at him. we stand around and blast some music, which almost makes it hard to hear, so sue tutts and lowers it a she resumes her conversation with pete. art and lisbeth are talking, but jack has taken some initiative and turned to iggy. they talk about the band. for a bit, seb and i listen in, but he looks uncomfortable, so i ask, “are you okay?”

“yeah,” he nods. “i’ve never smoked or used a vape before.” he says shyly.

i nod. “you don’t have to if you don’t want to. it’s cool. do as you please.”

sue hears the last bit and smiles at us, “yeah, really, you don’t have to try anything you’re not comfortable with.”

he chuckles, nodding to himself, and i almost feel guilty for bringing him to the park. he takes the hit when it gets passed his way and he smiles uncertainly. art passes me the vape and i nod in thanks. i distantly hear seb trying to hold in a cough. i wonder if this was a good idea. unlike the last time i’d smokes with jack, he doesn’t cough, and lisbeth clapps him on the shoulder as if mirroring my wonder.

 

we get back to the restaurant in time for the start of art’s band according to schedule. this set lisbeth and i enjoy, and seb seems to like it. the three of us swaying as lisbeth and i sing along and jack bobs his head. after pete and iggy leave the stage the crowd demands a few solo songs. art complies and sue joins us in our singing along. the guys look awed by how familiar art is with the crowd, if not amused by the way we sing along with enthusiasm.

 

by the end of the set, i’ve had some wine, some beer, and a couple shots, but mainly i’m just tired and overwhelmed. skye makes more conversation with me when i decide to go back outside, and ryan joins us asking if i’m okay.

the bouncer is more than comfortable around me now, having seen me step out a number of times over the hours. he simply nods at me and assures ryan that everything seems fine. skye excuses himself and i’m left feeling the breeze from the car that pass by. “hey,” a voice says behind me, and i turn to find seb.

“hey,” i answer, smiling shyly.

he hovers, unsure whether to sit with me, but crouches at my level to tie his shoe, “you okay?”

i nod, “yeah. i just like the air.”

“you look you’re edging for an actual walk.”

i shrug. “i’ve seen like twenty cars pass by since i sat down. the artificial construct that is time has me wondering if i should’ve gotten up after the tenth.”

he chuckles. “we’ve all the time in the world.”

“that’s my line.” i argue.

he smiles, “did i miss my cue?”

“you’re supposed to yell ‘line!’” i say, smiling when he rolls his eyes.

“who’s the shadower?” he asks.

i shrug. “that’s not important.”

“did i focus on the wrong bit of information?”

“the data doesn’t change-”

he sighs, “it’s all about the variables, i know.”

i raise my eyebrow at his smugness, to which he chuckles and looks away. i glance at his ears, smiling to myself as they colour slowly. i watch him, waiting for him to say something while pretending he isn’t flustered. he turns to me, eyeing me, but shakes his head, which has me smiling again. “shall we go back inside?” i ask as he drops closer to me, arm brushing mine as he scratches his knee.

he shrugs, and i shrug back. “whatever you want.”

“you good?” i wonder, leaving the question to be interpreted. he shrugs again. “not allergic to anything, right?”

“no,” he shakes his head. i nod, knowing i should’ve checked sooner. “yeah. i’m fine. thanks though.”

i nod again, and he breathes deeply. “let’s go back inside,” i mumble tapping on my own knees. he nods and follows me back in, nodding at sue when we pile behind her before more of a crowd can settle.

lisbeth pops up behind them and i sway toward her, forcing our heads together to say, “you’re smooth like crunchy peanut butter.” she smiles and bows, eyebrows raised as she shoves me toward the crowd again, effectively knocking me into seb.

he catches me, steadying the both of us with a smirk as i dance to the beat of the drums with a shy smile. unlike most often, he doesn’t shove his hands back into his pockets, and i resist the urge to crowd him more than i already am. our hands accidentally brush, and he shifts as if allowing me to choose to have more personal space, but our shoulders brush when i sway a bit more generously while feeling the music and magnetic giddiness. he looks down and bites his lip, hands fiddling with the hem of his shirt – though our shoulder brush again when i move to give more room to a girl joining her friends – and he stays put, allowing our contact as the song ends and i whoop loudly with a laugh. after two songs of contact, i wonder if i was initially wrong about his comfort.

he surprises me with a, “well, what’d you say we show them how it goes?” request when the band announces a slower song.

 

i scoff, smiling slightly as i realise neither of us really know what we’re doing but it’s to the music and it’s fun. sue has taken to watching us as we move together, his hands on my waist and mine on his shoulders. i wish our roles were reversed and i could feel his waist and tentatively hold him, but soon the song ends. the moment’s not over, though. we file further into the space and take a seat in the unused chairs. practically pressed up against each other, he smiles at me and drums his hands to the beat of the song and i focus on the vibrations around me with a lazy smile. he bends to say something to me and i lean closer at the same time. this happens fast enough his breath ghosts over my cheek for a second. “these guys are good.” he notes over the loud brass. i nod and he laughs. “the lighting here sucks.”

“ambiance,” i snicker, “c’mon we should dance if these guys are good.”

 

we eventually head back out, and sue is there with skye, art and his girlfriend. anna makes conversation with lisbeth, hugging her and laughing when art eyes jack uncertainly, smiling shyly as they ease into the conversation. anna sees me and smiles, hugging me sweetly. i introduce seb again, who smiles and waves.

“art was wondering where you two had gone.” anna says.

i shrug, pointing toward the front of the restaurant. “music. people.”

 

we decide – since there isn’t another well known set till much, much later, and the place feels stuffy – that we’d walk to the nearest park or maybe farther, for sandwiches or ice cream or something. the eight of us walk in twos or threes. technically, skye is leading, but we don’t really have a destination. seb listens in as i talk to art about the importance of discovering yourself. he notes that being aware of others is something a lot of people disregard when they’re so focused on themselves. instead, we agree that there should be a balance. when art gets hailed by anna, it’s just seb and i.

“i never took the discovering part as a huge deal. i kinda just wanted to figure out some things, but at the same time, i wanted to stay open to the rest.” he mumbles.

i shrug, “yeah, but people change and so there’s always this open element, this possibility of change. even in a few months, even when you don’t expect it, things will change, whether it’s you or your surroundings, or the people you interact with every day, it still changes. fluidity is so human, it’s incredible how many people waste their time trying to control everything and everyone they can possibly get a grasp on.” he chuckles, nodding as i pause, shaking my head and motion a sweep over the head. “way over the top. rambling.”

“it’s okay. i like how much you’ve thought about this.” he says, and i laugh. “it’s very interweaved. i feel like you use it as a motivation. like you try not to influence too much, but you have enough passion that your attempts are meaningless.”

“well, people influence each other without meaning to all the time, whether it’s ‘cause of negativity or the influence they place on someone you hold dear or any of that.”

“kinda makes me feel like people trying to live by influencing someone or many people before they die is pretty endless and like you’re trying to value it – value the influence – too much because ultimately people will be influenced in some way, so there’s no sense in glorifying it.”

 

we eventually make our way into a school playground. we’re just standing around occasionally snickering to ourselves around the silence. skye and jack take a seat, so sue sits in the sand. art takes a swig of beer with a sigh, and anna sets up her speaker for some nice music.

we decide to head off again when art’s fag drops to the ground. i crush it with my heel, and anna passes me the joint, eyebrows raised. i take one last puff and let the ember simmer to a stop, before joining the group as it walks ahead. jack and seb actually seem to be talking, which is almost surprising. i walk to lisbeth, who walks quietly, pensive and observant. sue eventually fades from the rest of the group, and stands with me and lisbeth. i ask which way is back to the restaurant, roughly, and she notes we’re kinda walking in that direction, but the guys really want ice cream.

we wind up stopping at a corner store. after a vote, and some loud persuasion that no doubt annoys the owner of the store, we pile out with two boxes. we all pitch in a bit for a box of four oreo ice creams and six cones. happily munching, we slowly make our way to the restaurant. skye stands with jack and anna, and art walks with lisbeth, and sue, seb and i walk together. lisbeth offers some of her oreo to jack, who has a cone, and they swap for a bit, and sue, seeing my eyes drawn to the exchange, offers her cone to me, shaking her head when i smile and offer her my oreo.

 

we get to the restaurant, and art has eaten two cones already, and he stays outside when pete asks for some of his cone in between his smoke. the place is more full but the new performers have just started playing, so we file at the back, and lisbeth goes to the bar with skye. sue and jack are still talking, so i content myself in just watching and trying not to feel like i’m eavesdropping while enjoying the music and the feeling that comes with this group.

 

as i relish in the night, and as the group disperses on both floors and the front of the place, lisbeth realizes how tired she is, and she starts wondering when she should head out. but after this type of night, she doesn’t really want to go home, or feel particularly tired. she and jack end up leaving not soon after, and i figure i can just crash at miles’s when i decide to leave.

he lives pretty close-by which is convenient if i’m needed at the house. chances are i may not be available till the afternoon, just due to lack of sleep and the slow and relaxed transition from asleep to awake and social.

after the set ends, seb figures he should probably head on home before the buses stop running. we set out together after saying bye to whoever we can find, since there’s still one more performance till their night is over. sue and skye are still talking with a few people, and she hugs me and waves at seb, and at the door we find art who waves as anna hugs me tightly.

 

we go in the same general direction, and he offers to see me out safely as we walk onto the transfer bus north. i tell him he won’t make it home if he does, as kind as the offer is. he rubs his face tiredly and mumbles about biking or driving, next time. i smile to myself and trace a pattern on my jeans, and he shivers, sighing to himself. it’s quiet and i resist the urge to mumble something tiredly or close my eyes to feel the lull and hum of the bus on route. he’s kind of given up on a sizeable amount of personal space, which i don’t mind. if anything it’s reassuring and keeps me awake.

i get off first, heading west as he continues north. i mutter something about texting me when he’s safe, and he smiles at the habit, nodding reassuringly.

it takes five minutes of trying not to stare around or eavesdrop before i get off the bus with a tired nod to the driver. i text miles, and receive a text from seb announcing his arrival.

Music from a Stubborn Law Student

“Dude, I don’t know him well enough,” Penelope said stubbornly.

I chuckled, shaking my head. “You spend your lunches with him every day, and you’ve been over to each other’s houses like ten times,” I argued, and she rolled her eyes. “Ten times each, even,” I added.

“Yeah, and like half the time we were studying.”

I laughed openly now, “Whatever floats your boat, hun.”

She blushed, scowling when I snickered. “I’m not denying anything,” she assured me, although she sounded like she was talking to herself. “Let’s back to this stupid assignment.”

“I stopped helping like an hour ago, and we have ample time to do that later, you’re staying right?” I said, getting up to grab my tea. The room was a mess; food, papers and laptops scattered. We’d drifted to talk about music, as she had brought a new stack of CDs.

She nodded, grabbing my guitar. “Where else would I go?” She asked as she absentmindedly strummed.

“What ever will you do while I’m gone?” I teased, and she stuck her tongue out. “Go to Peter’s, probably.” I said with a laugh as she glared, and I was thankful for the guitar that prevented her from slapping me.

“It’s been like two months since we met,” she countered, shaking her head, “stop bringing it up.” she warned, strumming louder now.

“Sorry for trying to spare you of agonizingly slow processing and admittedly in denial thoughts until you deal with it, or ignore it entirely.” I muttered, pulling my ukelele out before she could comment, ignoring her as she chuckled darkly.

 

Together we strummed simple strings, before Penelope chose a song to sing, taking the liberty to chicken out behind said song as it played softly in the background, hardly relevant over out duet. She sung quietly, shy almost until we hit the next few lines, and I listened quietly before joining in. Her voice was almost gravely at times, especially when she was nervous, but now it was a strong alto. I smiled as she nudged me, obliging with a smile as our voices harmonized. Working mindlessly with the music, I was able to focus on her, and how I had missed this. I’d been gone for a while, on and off all year. But for once as we played song after song, taking turns to pick, I was able to distance my thoughts to us performing with Philip and Tom. God, we hadn’t done that in a while.

“Wait, wait,” she urged, as I strummed to Radiohead, “I don’t remember the chords,” she added as she played with the strings, attempting at the song alone as I nodded approvingly. “Get my guitar,” she said, “Uke is in no way acceptable for these guys, unless you’re strumming to his voice.” She mumbled with a laugh as I got up.

 

After our (admittedly fun) shenanigans, she advised she get a bit of work done, and I begrudgingly put our guitars away. She had to do a laws assignment, and we spent some time discussing the specifics, describing each task and ideas to each other in very “unacademic ways,” as Tom liked to call it, and I was glad that Penelope was able to repress our habits in the lecture halls. A laugh in the kitchen warned me of guests. “Enter,” I called.

“Hey there, sailor.” Philip greeted, and Tom snorted. “Always so academically inclined in an unorthodox way,” I stuck my tongue out and hugged him, “music to my ears, as always.”

“Hey, Noah,” Tom called, “we should do a show tonight. I know a place that has openings.”

Penelope smiled, “For once that you’re actually in town,” she added with a teasing smile.

“I’ll agree to it if you agree to invite Peter.” I said snidely with a glance toward Penelope.

Philip groaned, “We’re still on this?” He wondered, and she raised her eyebrows, slapping his arm. He feigned pain, grimacing at her playfully as he slumped on my bed with a sigh.

“It appears so.” I concurred as she rolled her eyes.

“You can roll your eyes all you want but we are doing this,” Tom said, “dial up, child.”

“I hate you guys,” she said as it rung. “I’m going over there.” She added, pointing out the door. Philip giddily got up, grinning like a fool. “Alone. Don’t even think about it, mate.”

 

We all pressed our ears at the door and Tom shook his head after a moment, opening the door a crack. “Hey Peter,” she greeted into the phone, and I pouted as I realized she had lowered the phone’s volume. “Yeah, I’m just doing the Laws assignment at Noah’s, but you know her, can’t focus for shit.” She laughed, “No, I got some done. Not much, but that’s cool.” His voice came out a little bit clearer then, and we all perked up, but it was mostly cracking vibrations. “So, yeah,” she laughed, “no, we actually just watched a movie and played random songs.” She hummed in agreement, smiling brightly, and I could assume they had gotten to the topic of music. “Yeah, we have like an impromptu gig tonight, since she’s in town.” She laughed, “sure, that’d be cool.” She nodded to herself, “Sure, yeah, I’ll text you what I know,” she said as turned away from us, “Yeah, meeting up is something I can do, maybe you can save me from their infinite presences.”  She laughed, and my mouth fell open as Tom and Philip reacted by staring at each other, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, I’ll see what I can do.” She chuckled, “Yeah, later. I’ll text you. Okay. Bye.”  She hung up with a laugh, “You fuckers,” she said, turning back around, “go back in the room. Nosy asswhipes.”

“You sly dog.” Tom said, laughing as she galred. “We’re that little to you, huh?”

“Sometimes,” she agreed, and Philip punched her, “Hey, you’re the ones who opened the bloody door, and ridded me if my minimal privacy like hawks.”

“So dinner, huh?” I stated. she she nodded with a smirk. “when’s the gig?” I asked turning to Tom.

“Eight, I think.” He said, “let me contact the guy.”

We all settled the bed as Tom made his own phonecall, entering with a sigh, “Yeah, so it’s at eight, but we should head out at seven-thirty. The van’s out front, we just need your stuff.”

“I’m leaving at six, maybe sooner.” Penelope said, eyeing her phone as I got up.

 

Tom replaced my spot on the couch, grabbing the bag of twizzlers as I sat on the piano bench. “Are we over this denial, then?” I wondered.

“Possibly. We’ll see.” She muttered, laughing as I rolled my eyes.

Philip grabbed the Uke from on top of the dresser, “chances are, we’ll see at around eight,” he murmured not-so quietly. “Need a ride?”

“Not after that, thanks. I’m pretty sure he’s picking me up anyway.”

I snorted, “You smooth fucker.”

She rolled her eyes and played with the guitar, matching my distant tune. “Where are you headed next anyway,” she asked.

“Good question. I was visiting family for some time, but maybe I’ll tour the states, I don’t know. You guys should join me. We can make a name there too.”

“We don’t even have a name here.”

I frowned, “What are you talking about? We have an EP and like seven hundred likes on facebook.”

“We’re so indie,” Philip said with a laugh.

Penelope was getting sick of the food, and went to the kitchen to make herself something substantial, as she called it. As she chewed, we continued to play, cause time seemed to pass quickly that way.

And indeed it did, because what felt like less than ten songs later, Penelope was packing. “I’ll unlock the truck to that you can put this guy in,” Tom said about about her guitar as she hoisted the uke over her back. “See you at eight.” Philip and and I called as they headed out the door. “Don’t be late. Don’t think too much.” I added as she edged the door shut.

“She’ll be fine. She just needs to let go. The gig’ll do it.”  Philip muttered beside me as we watched Tom hug her and wave as she got into the car.

We Do This My Way

Esther watches me from across the loft, grinning wickedly. She flips the eggs, innocently as she chuckles to herself. I frown, putting my paint brush down, waiting for her to explain herself. She laughs, “I was thinking. My family has no idea that when Ash moved out, you stayed.” She starts, and interrupts herself in a fit of giggles.

I frown at the mention of my ex-girlfriend. Ash had been Esther’s roommate for five years, and since I spent most nights, I decided to fill her positions as “Esther’s roomie” once she declared she was moving to Oxford without me. Esther took my offer with great enthusiasm, noting that it had essentially been the three of us the entire time. “And since they’ve all been paranoid about the fact that they couldn’t control my dating life, and I could hide it more effectively, I think-”

“Esther- what’s this really about?” I interrupt.

She laughs again, shaking her head as I glare at her. “Nothing. just that I’d pay you to help me fuck with them.” She tells me, placing the eggs in a plate before cracking three others into the pan.

“And why do you wish to get their panties in a twist?” I wonder, eyebrows raising.

She bites her lip, grinning. “To observe the great effect I have on them, of course.”

I sigh, throwing my head back in frustration. “Why now?” I question, glancing back at my painting. She flips one of the eggs, fiddling with the paddle as if to stall in order to get a rise out of me. Her forearms and hands are full of faded ink from all the fiddling she does when she works. Her tapping the pen on her own hands and clicking it in concentration while working ensured that she always had ink somewhere.

“Cause I’m not sure it’d be as fun to go to the family diner alone. Especially not if the other option is to see eyebrows shooting up to the hairline.” She says, grin stretching as she imagines it. I roll my eyes, smiling slightly at how excited she is.

 

“You look dangerously pleased with yourself.” I comment cheekily. Her eyebrows shoot up as a teasing smile replaces her grin. I shake my head and continue painting.

“You’re not gonna think about my offer?” she asks, feigning offense. I scoff. “You and I both know it’d be bloody fun.” She exclaims, ignoring my annoyed expression. Esther stops leaning against the counter to place the eggs into a plate and sighs, placing the plate on the edge of the table nearest to me.

“I don’t think messing with your family is a smooth way to assert our friendship in the future.” I mutter, shifting my stool closer to the table. I nod in cheers before I start eating, and she smiles at me as she chews.

“Friendship,” she mumbles thoughtfully with a smile, “what friendship?” she teases. I hum in acknowledgement, going along with her jokes. “Well, you are gonna have to get used to that mentality if I do convince you to help con my family.” She tells me with a hint of a smile in her voice, and I nod again, too absorbed in the food in front of me to argue.

 

Once I’ve scarfed the eggs down, and successfully ignored Esther’s teasing smile and prodding comments, I get up with a sigh. I scratch the back of my head as I get up to put my dish in the sink. “Thanks for the eggs. I’m going to take a shower before you can shower me with more reasons for going along with your ruse.” I say, narrowing my eyes at her as I back away toward the bathroom. She laughs, rolling her eyes at the pun. “I won’t be in cahoots with a damn slytherin, not today.” I add, knowing in this case she’ll ignore my “house stereotypes,” a common topic for someone who was a huge fan of Harry Potter, even in her twenties.

She laughs. “You can’t escape me for long,” she tells me, voice getting louder as I shut the door behind me. On my way out of the bathroom, I shamelessly walk around with my towel wrapped around my waist. She nods at me from her spot at her desk, smiling when I raise my eyebrows at the lack of whistling. She chuckles, and shakes her head as she looks back down to the pile papers and fiddles with her pen. With a smile, I note that there are almost twice as many accidental pen strokes on her fingers and palm.

 

Not long after Ash had moved out, and even before that, I’d gotten used to Esther’s teasing. At first, she mostly teased Ash about me while I was in the room, but that quickly changed. At first, I wondered why Ash did nothing to stop her, but I soon learned they both thought quirky unnecessary things weren’t to be addressed in an unsupportive way. Times where Esther and I waited for Ash to get home got us spending more time alone, which meant I got used Esther’s unsocial and studious self, as well as her easily entertained and overly-enthusiastic self. There were many days where I’d be with Ash while Esther was around; this got me used to her neutral self. Neutral as in “being sloppy and lazy in all ways possible.” After about a year of having me around, she didn’t care that I saw her come out of the bathroom after the shower, or that if I was already there when she woke up, she’d be a mess of ruffled hair and loose baggy clothes. Ash had hardly cared about it either, and most weekends the two of them were beyond lazy and rumpled.

Ash had been gone for more than six months, but the flat had hardly changed. If anything, there were more books and video games. Ash’s study area had been rearranged to fit my needs; a stack of canvases and paint supplies along with other assorted art supplies surrounded the desk. The flat’s windows were open a lot more now that Ash was gone, since Esther prefered sunlight over pot lights too. Things were nice.

Esther’s parents hadn’t been to the loft since before Ash had left, and she often had them host her instead. I’d met them a couple times, but Esther and I had agreed very early on that minimizing our being under the same roof would be ideal.

 

I sigh as I sit back down on my stool, unsure how to go about continuing the painting. After being so rudely interrupted by Esther’s maniacal thinking, I realized there was no going back to calmly painting, not until I fully made up my mind about the offer. I can’t say I know why I’m still considering it.

 

Esther stays at her desk even after I sit on the couch and set up Netflix. I’m supposed to cook tonight, so after an episode, I set up on the counter. Esther finally gets up as I’m getting the pan out of the cupboard. “I’m going for a bike ride. Call me when dinner’s almost ready if I’m not back yet, okay?” I nod her way, and she shrugs on her jacket, saluting me with her hat as she opens the door.

When she comes back, she looks more refreshed, sliding into her place at the table easily. She wolfs her food down, and taps her fingers on the table as she watches me finish eating. I sigh as she smirks. “What now?” I ask.

She scratches at the nape of her neck, and I narrow my eyes suspiciously at the nervous habit. She shrugs as if to dismiss my staring. “You haven’t stopped thinking about my offer, despite the fact that you think it’s not a good idea.” She tells me, pleased smile ignoring my expression. It’s not a question. She chuckles as I roll my eyes.

“Yes, your devilish thoughts have been mincing in my brain.” I reply. “Happy?”

She smiles. “Extremely.”

“The only thing they’ll think is ‘Why the fuck is she dating her roommates’ ex?’ Followed by a bunch of judgmental thoughts and crude questions. Why would I agree to that?” I mumble, stabbing at the crumbs in my plate. She sighs. “What do you want me to say?”

“Other than ‘fuck yeah, I’ll totes be in cahoots with you, dude.’?” She wonders, sighing when I scoff. “I just want to have a little fun thinking like an annoyed teenager,” Esther explains.

 

I roll my eyes. “Alright fine, if you’re going to call bullshit every time I defend myself, I’ll just be crude instead.” She tells me. I sigh, gesturing for her to continue. “Yeah, I wanna see if I can get a rise out of them. Why the fuck wouldn’t I? I’m just out of Uni, what the hell else am I supposed to be doing if not proving to them that I’ve got this,” she exclaims. “I’ve got to go full frontal, like fucking huge sign and pickaxe with a mob behind me and shit. In a total, thanks but I can handle it from here.”

“I think they’ll just think you’re giving them the I-told-you-I-could-handle-it point of view.” I rebutted with a shrug.

“That’s not my problem, now is it?” She replies, cocking an eyebrow in satisfaction.

I get up, collecting the dishes and sighing when she chuckles to herself. “Yeah, family can be fucking annoying, but tone it down on the cunning slytherin act, would you?”

“Request denied until further notice.” She mumbles pushing her chair in as she joins me at the sink. “I might be making shit arguments about why to do this, but you’re not even trying to convince me not to.” She tells me.

I scoff, scrubbing the dishes. She laughs as I ignore her. “They bloody might as well see I’m handling a job and a steady relationship. I mean, sure, they’re all pleased if they see me with a job, and that’s great, but,” she laughs, “a relationship, fake or not, gets them all worried and chaotic. It’s fucking beyond enjoyable to watch, especially now that they can’t do squat about it.”

“Not that they could do much before, as Ash often told me.” I mutter bleakly. She beams.

The rest of the night, I avoid the topic by bingeing on TV shows and listening to music as I paint. She joins me on the couch until I go back to painting. The music is eventually replaced by her own music as she softly strums on her guitar. She hums quietly until she’s plucked up the courage to sing, and I smile at the familiarity of this moment.

 

The next morning, I’m already up when Esther comes out of her room, blinking slowly as she groans and contorts as if to stretch. She steps slowly toward the counter, yawning and staggering as she grunts and sighs tiredly. Her hair sticks out at all angles and her eyes are hooded by thick stands of wavy hair. “Morning,” she mumbles almost inaudibly, waving her hand awkwardly as she stretches again. I nod, smiling as she scowls and yawns until her jaw cracks. “Ow,” she whispers, scoffing as she turns back to the fridge to get the cold coffee. Her free hand stays on top of her head, petting the hair in order to flatten it.

I ignore her as she goes about her morning routine – one that I’ve seen often enough to know in my sleep and wait until she’s hunched over her cup of rice krispies before addressing her. “What time are we commuting to your parents?” I ask as she looks at me. She chokes on her sip of coffee, grin spreading wide as she hacks and her eyes water. I laugh then, going to my room before she can catch her breath and start gloating. “You won’t get rid of me that easily, Q.” She says loudly, her voice muffled by the door.

 

It takes less than ten minutes for her to walk in. She wears one of her most worn shirts under a loose button up. The sleeves are rolled, exposing her forearms. “Nice to see you in the clothes you wore five days ago,” I say, chuckling as she scowls and slaps my shoulder. Esther had at least twenty shirts, but wore the same five almost every week – not that she didn’t use the rest of them up by layering, of course, as she had rebutted many times when I’d teased her about it. “I’m going to go paint, if you’ll follow me out of my own bloody room.” I mutter, and her mouth closes (she’d been about to say something) as she rolls her eyes and gestures for me to lead the way.

 

We do our own things to kill time, and I wind up almost finishing the painting before Esther talks me into playing video games with her. The tips of her thumb, as well as a few other fingers have ink spots, and there are faded marks from yesterday. Esther laughs as she notices my counting the marks, “It’d be cool to get rid of those with hand sanitizer,” she mumbles thoughtfully, scratching the back of her neck. I continue counting despite her fidgeting. “Stop.” She whines, chuckling as she pushes my face away. “It’s not like you don’t always have paint at least somewhere,” she tells me, poking at a spot near my elbow and tracing a line that approaches my forearm.

I frown and touch at the spot, only to find dried paint there. She pokes at my wrist, drawing another line, and I roll my eyes. “Alright, alright, I got it. We’re both sloppy workers.” I say, getting up and checking my watch. “Time to play couple.” I say cheekily, smiling when she grins. I put my shoes on and open the door to our loft, waiting for her just outside.

“As you wish,” she mumbles, locking the door behind us.