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Losers [A Ghost Town Side Story]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Cutlerine, Dec 25, 2018.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    This holiday season, I bring you the greatest gift of all: the single gayest thing I've ever written. It's not ambitious, or even very good, honestly, but it is at least that. Anyway, it's a side story/prequel thing for Ghost Town, in which we go back in time twelve years to check in with Sam and Gabriella when they were Jodi and Tacoma's age. If that means nothing to you ... it doesn't really matter, honestly, because this has precisely zero Ghost Town spoilers; you could read this and then that, or that and then this, or neither, it's all good whichever way. Finally, content warnings for: homophobia, emotional and physical abuse, strong language, smoking, drinking and some implied sex that happens offscreen, so to speak.

    And one additional thing: this is a story about two people who do a lot of things wrong because they're really desperate, and who are fortunate enough that things turn out okay for them anyway. That it's written from the perspective of one of them doesn't make it an endorsement of their behaviour. Don't do the questionable things these two do, is what I'm trying to tell you. With all the preliminaries said and done, then, let's get on with the story!


    LOSERS

    Friday, 22nd May, 1964

    I really need to go home. Get some rest before work. But if I do that, I'm going to have to talk to my parents about what I just did, and I'm … really not sure I'm up to that right now.

    Maybe the marina will do for the moment. It's beautiful this time of year, just as summer starts to build; I love the way the light turns the waves to jewels and the gulls above to blazing white notches in the sky. And all the boats. I know their names by heart: Suzanne, R.G. Bargey, White Tide, Golden Hind, Girl Friday. The Hind is my favourite. Like one of those old-fashioned chariot-ships that you harness lapras to, except scaled down to a little yacht. Sometimes the lapras is here too, when it wants to visit its human partner, and it pushes through the boats to put its head on the dock and make eyes at people until they feed it.

    But it's not here today. Nobody is. Just me and Jack, counting boats and scaring the birds.

    “Jackie,” I call, as he launches himself at another group of seagulls. “That's enough, now.”

    He never learns. Herring gulls are big and mean, and they're not intimidated, even by a pokémon. The day we first met, back when I was eleven, he was trying to fight six of them at once and ended up losing so badly I had to catch him in my jacket and take him to the Pokémon Centre. He bit the nurse, spat water in the doctor's eye, and opened a cut in my arm that needed six stitches; you could say it was love at first sight.

    “Jackie,” I repeat. “Back here. Now.”

    He peels away reluctantly, swoops back down onto my shoulder. Honestly, he's a bit big for this, and his giant wings always smack me in the face, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Mostly because if he doesn't ride on my shoulder, he's usually making trouble.

    “Thank you.” I run my hand over his head, let him snap at my fingers. It's okay. He doesn't mean any harm; if he did, I'd be bleeding. “Let them do their thing.”

    The gulls bunch together on the tarmac and the mooring posts, screaming and glaring. Jack glares back, but he stays put.

    “Come on,” I say. “Let's keep going, dirtbag.”

    Onwards, through the honey-coloured light. It's so quiet out here; three hours from now, when school's out and all us teenagers let loose to roam the streets, it will be different, but for now there's really nobody here but me and Jack. One guy in the Coast Café across the way, watching me unsubtly over his coffee cup. Jack, or my face, or the uniform that says I should be in school? Impossible to tell. I keep my eyes fixed on the water and walk on by as if he isn't there.

    I shouldn't have started thinking about school. Now it's all I can think about. Hello, Gabriella, said Mr Macaulay. What can I do for you? And I said … I said what he could do for me, and he tried to talk me out of it, and I refused, and, well, now I'm wandering down the waterfront and avoiding going home to tell my parents that their selfish daughter has ruined things again.

    I count boats: Arianrhod. Johto Princess. Lady Luck. I can't decide how I feel about that one: it has a huge mural of a reclining sea-nymph down the side, her modesty preserved by some fortunate waves and seaweed. On the one hand, it's easily the most tasteless boat here; on the other, the nymph is … very pretty.

    Jack nips at my ear, and I turn away with a sigh. He's right. I shouldn't be standing around gawking. (Remember Veronica.) I shouldn't even be here at all. I should be at home, resting; I've got a long shift tonight and I need to be ready.

    Waves at my back. Gorgeous light. That guy, still staring at the pretty girl and her verminous pokémon.

    I take a long, slow breath of the salty air, and start walking back to my bike.



    Old Bark House is a twenty-minute bike ride from town, down the narrow country roads that twist through the hills and forest like they're trying to shake you off. There's nothing left of Old Bark itself – depopulation from the war; all the young men died, and everyone else moved to New Bark – but the manor is still there. As if anyone cares.

    There was something here once, as my parents never tire of telling me. Once upon a time, before everyone looked east to Kanto and decided they wanted in on modern times too, this was a fiefdom: there was a Lord and Lady Kendrick, and they owned everyone and everything for miles. Now there's a Mr and Mrs Kendrick, and they have nothing except a house that's crumbling into dust and a daughter who likes them exactly as much as they like her.

    We're probably going to like each other quite a lot less when we're done, but I guess if they wanted things to be different, they'd probably be the ones with jobs, not me.

    I'm at the gates: twenty feet of rusting iron, our family crest at the top. Beyond it, the drive slopes away, between banks of overgrown grass and rose bushes that have long since degenerated into brambles, and beyond that is the house. Four floors, one tower, an empty larder, seventeen leaks across six different roofs.

    “Home sweet home,” I say, luxuriating in the freedom to sound bitter, and push my bike in through the wicket.

    Jack swoops over the gate to join me on my shoulder and ruin my hair with his wings. I let him ride there for a while as I walk down the drive, then send him up to my open bedroom window. Better not let him get involved in this, or things will get ugly. My parents have never stopped being angry that the one partner I brought home from my journey was a wingull, and he in return has never stopped being angry at them for their inability to recognise that I'm his and not theirs.

    Okay. Front door. Seven feet tall, ugly brass lion glaring at me from the middle. He used to have a door knocker in his mouth, but it fell out while I was away on my journey. I glare back, trying to summon up some of the courage I had when I had the talk with Mr Macaulay, and turn my key in the lock.

    Inside, it's cold and dark and empty. There were paintings, and for a while Father said that they'd hang there forever, but in the end he sold them. Just like the vases, and the furniture, and my aunt's music box which was mine and not his, and every other bloody thing in this mausoleum of a house. I head carefully down the hall, aware of how loudly my shoes click on the chipped parquet, and make it all the way to the grand staircase before I manage to make myself stop. What are you doing, Gabbi? You can't just sneak upstairs and hide this. You could try, but they'll find it out. Your education is the one part of your life they actually take an interest in. That and all the ways in which you diminish the Kendrick name.

    If this was ten years ago, Esther would probably come out to meet me. She'd ask why I was home, the way I imagine a real mother might, and I'd have to tell her that I start a new job at the department store in town on Monday, that I can no longer manage school as well as work. And she'd be upset, but she'd understand. And I could take her understanding with me into the conversation with my father, a talisman to clutch tight against his anger.

    But even Esther needs to be paid. She stuck it out for a long time, out of misguided loyalty or just because she was watching over me, but she couldn't stay forever. The day I left for my trainer journey, when I finally fled this giant tomb of a house and found the asshole seagull I'd been dreaming of since I was six, she took her azumarill and left too.

    I suppose she wanted to be sure they would let me go. Lots of people missed their journeys during the war, setting a precedent that I'm sure my parents were tempted to make use of; it was never a certain thing that they would let their daughter out into the world to pick up bad influences.

    All right. No more distractions, Gabbi. I fix my hair in the hall mirror, check round my eyes to see if there's any kohl still visible (that muck cheapens your face, girl; remove it at once), and, finally out of ways to put this off, head down the passageway towards the drawing room. I'm nervous enough that I forget about the draught from the middle window, and almost jump when I feel it touch the back of my neck.

    My fear makes me angry. I'm in the right here, I know I am. We have to eat, after all. And sitting around complaining about the fall of the aristocracy doesn't put food on the table. So yes, I'm angry, right up until the moment when I enter the room and all at once I'm just terrified again.

    It's lighter in here: broad windows, mostly unbroken, and a little less in the way of dark wood to absorb all the light. Father is standing ominously by the open window, looking out at the messy remnants of the herb garden with our ninetales, Monty, at his side.

    Sometimes I wonder if this is what he and Mother do all day, stand around dramatically like they think they're characters from Wuthering fucking Heights or something. I remind myself of this thought now, in case it helps, but it doesn't, really.

    “Gabriella,” he says, without turning around. “You're home early.”

    His intonation is somewhere between observation and question. This I can handle.

    “Yes,” I say, in the same manner. “I am.”

    Still no reaction. Something isn't right here.

    “I suppose you have a reason?” he asks.

    Deep breath.

    “I've … Father, I've dropped out of school.”

    One impossibly long second. I tense, expecting to see that hard light in his eyes – but no. He just stands there, looking out.

    “Is that all?” he asks, unmoving.

    I pause, taken aback. This is absolutely not what I'd expected. When I told him about Nero's, I got a ten-minute rant about blackening the Kendrick name and a slap across the face.

    “I'm sorry?”

    “You heard me, girl.” He turns then, and I see absolutely nothing in his eyes but that deep, limitless cold. “Have you anything else to tell me, or will that be all?”

    “I … that's all, Father. I, um – I was simply anticipating a different reaction.”

    His face moves at last, the usual nameless discontent thickening into a sneer. Monty (I refuse to call him Montgomery) limps slowly away from him, evidently picking up on his hostility. His psychic powers have weakened severely in his old age, but they're more than sufficient to notice this.

    I knew Father was holding back. But I still don't see why.

    “Of course you were,” he says. “That's what you'd like, isn't it? A reaction.” He shakes his head. “I don't know where your crass desire for attention comes from; God knows we tried to raise you with a sense of modesty. But whatever its root, I refuse to indulge it.”

    He returns to the window, hands clasped behind his back.

    “Your mother and I are in agreement,” he says. “You may do as you like. You can't very well ruin our name any further.”

    I should take this. That's the easy way out: yes, Father, I understand, and walk away. But I can't do that, because I can feel my fists tightening and my jaw clenching, and just like that I've flipped back from fear to anger again.

    “You aren't even asking why I'm doing this?” I ask, voice rising. “Do you think I wanted to―?”

    “What other motivation have you ever had?” he snaps, finally losing his cool. “You do as you please, Gabriella: that's all you ever do. That bird, your meddling with the accounts, your base obsession with money―”

    “I'm doing this because I'm taking a second job!” I'm marching over now, sending Monty shuffling for cover behind the sofa. “Father, this isn't spite, it's because we don't have any money. We can't last this way. And if you won't work and you won't sell the house―”

    “Sell the house!” He pulls away with a shake of his head and a sharp, ugly bark of a laugh. “Gabriella, have you forgotten everything we ever taught you? We are Kendricks. This is our land.”

    I have to take a moment then. I'm never quite prepared for this, for the cartoonish unreality of Father's faith in class. He and Mother go to town only rarely – but I'm there every day, and have been since I started school. I've grown up with people who know what decade they live in, whose eyes contain nothing but pity for the Kendrick girl, part of this cruel, idiotic family who refuse to acknowledge that the modern world has arrived and Johto will never be the same again.

    “I am aware that our circumstances are not what they were,” says Father, and it's the same words, the exact same bloody speech as ever. Like he isn't even a person, just a broken record player in a worn-out suit. “But there can be no excuse for permitting our circumstances to coarsen us. We must maintain the Kendrick name.”

    He looks at me triumphantly, as if he can't possibly imagine how I can trump this. And I suppose he's probably right. I can't, because he's already decided he'll believe it until they put him in the ground, and in the face of that kind of determination there's nothing that anyone can do.

    He and Mother must have been real people at some point. They had to be, right? Weren't they ever kids? Didn't they have trainer journeys, didn't they ever go out there and learn that the world they lived in now was not the one that their parents grew up in?

    It scares me. Not because I care, because I swear to God I don't care anything about these two, but because I can't think of anything worse than if this happened to me too.

    “I can't deal with this,” I tell him, a little more honestly than I meant to.

    “Of course you can't,” says Father, lip curling. “You never could stand the fact that your actions might have consequences.”

    It's a damn good thing Jack isn't here, because at this point I'd be encouraging him to go for the throat. I stare into Father's eyes, making him feel the two inches I have on him these days, and say:

    “Well, I know where I got that from, then.”

    There we go: his hand, my face, a heavy gold signet ring. It's fine. It hurt when I was little, but I'm seventeen now, and I've spent over six years with a partner who bites, and it barely even stings. I tell myself this not because it's true, but because I refuse to reach up and touch my stinging cheek in front of him.

    In a strange sort of way, I'm satisfied. He's right: I did want a reaction. Maybe I am just a child. But if I am, I'm a better child than he is an adult.

    “You do not talk to me like that,” he says, in a voice as cold and unforgiving as the north wind.

    “As you said, Father, I do what I want.”

    We glare at each other for a few moments more, then all at once he turns away, throwing up one hand in a gesture I've come to know well over the years since my trainer journey. It means something like my fucking daughter, for people who are too high and mighty to admit they know how to swear.

    “I always knew no good would come of sending you away,” he says. “We have nothing further to discuss, girl. Get out.”

    I wait three seconds, just to piss him off, and then I go.

    Honestly, as terrible as that was, it went slightly better than I expected.



    It's a long way to my room: all the way down the west wing and up two more flights of stairs to the tower. Yes, I know. Princess, tower, draconian parents. Sometimes I make that joke to cheer myself up, but right now I think if I open my mouth at all I might cry.

    Jack is waiting for me on my desk, next to the stack of homework I haven't had time to complete and now never will. As soon as I walk in, he shrieks and flies over to fuss and make sure I'm okay.

    “It's fine,” I tell him, bolting the door and letting him try to preen my hair with his beak. “It's fine, Jack, it's …”

    It's not fine. I'm crying, just as I knew I would. For thirty seconds I let it happen, sink down on my bed and drop my stinging face into my hands, and then I wipe my eyes and force myself to sit up again. There's no time for this. I'm at Nero's till one o'clock tonight, and it's Friday: everybody and their mother will be out looking to get drunk or high or both. I need at least some rest if I'm going to make it through to the other end.

    Jack mewls, runs his beak back and forth over my forehead. In moments like these I love him so much, this big mean bird who thinks that maybe if he strokes his human the way she strokes him she'll feel better, and I really have to struggle not to cry again.

    “Thank you, Jackie,” I say, stroking him back. “I promise we'll be okay. All of us. You, me, Monty, Mother, Father … all of us. I'm making sure of it.”

    He presses himself against my head, silent for once. I keep my hand on his neck and look around my room, at the ancient, peeling wallpaper and the heavy black frames of the windows. From the posters, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie look back. It felt like a risk, putting them up, but only Esther ever came up here. Now it's just me, and my interior desecrations are safely hidden away from my parents' eyes.

    I stare into their printed eyes and wish I was home. But of course I already am.

    “Okay,” I sigh, shifting Jack to the nightstand. “I need a nap before tonight. You go do what you want. Make some trouble or something. Just stay away from Mother and Father, okay?”

    He shrieks and beats his wings once without actually going anywhere. I smile, reach out to run a thumb over his sleek white head.

    “Or you can stay here,” I agree, as he squeezes his eye shut in delight. “I don't mind.”

    I draw the curtains – on the windows; the ones around the bed don't work any more and I can't be bothered to learn how to fix them – and take off my school uniform for the last time. Forget the shades prowling around downstairs. I have a life to get on with.



    I don't see either of my parents again today. I'm sure Mother has found out, but she prefers withering silence to heated argument, and she doesn't come looking for me.

    This suits me fine. In the evening, I put on my least worn-out blouse and do my make-up, then slip quietly downstairs to Jack and my bike without anyone ever noticing I was there. Forty minutes later, I'm walking into Nero's and sending Jack up to the top shelf behind the bar, where he knows he has to stay if he doesn't want to be thrown out to find his own way home.

    “You're late,” says Todd, without preamble.

    “I'm sorry,” I reply, carefully arranging my face so that none of my irritation makes it through to the surface. “Flat tyre.”

    “Don't let it happen again.” He flips up the end of the bar and beckons me through, impatiently. “Come on. We open in five.”

    He just likes to complain, I think; I'm pretty sure he doesn't actually care. Still, no sense pushing my luck. I give him my best smile and head back to fetch some glasses to stack behind the bar.

    I was right: it's going to be a busy night. Just half an hour after opening, Cindy and I are almost rushed off our feet; there are the regulars, of course, people like Mark Fontaine and Nat Vandemar who are always here the moment quitting time rolls around, and on top of that we've got the workers ringing in the weekend and the people from the New Bark Herald who always come here for an hour at the end of the week. And after that I stop being able to categorise them: they're just people, from somewhere, looking for something wet to go down their throats.

    It's hell, honestly, a welter of heat and shouting voices punctuated by the clink of glasses and the raucous cheers of the guys playing darts in the corner. But there are a lot of men here who've had a couple of drinks, and lots of them want to believe that the pretty girl with the vivid auburn hair and the bright eyes really cares about them, you know, really wants to make sure that they have a good evening, and so I keep smiling and transmute their weakness into tips like the world's most heartless alchemist.

    I used to do this at school: pick a boy, make him fall in love with me, watch him go to pieces trying to get me to notice him before he eventually gives up and moves on, broken-hearted. It was self-defence there, mostly – it stopped people noticing that I wasn't actually interested in boys at all – but it was useful practice. Part of the reason Todd hired me, in a sense. In the end he asked if maybe I'd left my ID at home or something, in a pointed way that meant don't give me any proof that you're underage, and I said yes and he said that's a shame, isn't it, can you start tomorrow?

    It doesn't always work. Even when it does, it doesn't add up to much: nobody has that much money to waste on an empty smile. But if I do this now, and tomorrow, and the day after, and then combine it with days at Coleridge's … well, if I can do all that, we might just make it through the month. No repairs, of course, and maybe no gas either, but at least we'll eat.

    There's a lull just after seven, when some of the post-work people leave (the editor of the Herald leaves me two shillings by his glass; I've been working on him for weeks and it looks like it's paying off). Todd disappears into the back then – probably to check on his sunflora, who's been sick with some kind of horrible leaf decay thing for months now – and Cindy takes advantage of his absence to lean on the bar and chat to her friend Rachael about TV and a new boyfriend. I watch them indulgently for a moment, feeling older than I am and liking it, and then turn away to fix some Cianwood peach brandy for a guy who seems familiar but whose name I can't even slightly remember.

    He smiles at me like he remembers me, though. And I smile back, like I'm flattered by his interest, and this time it doesn't really bear fruit but that's fine. There will always be other orders, other people to fleece.



    Cider. Scotch and soda. IPA. Five pints, please, and don't go makin' it all head like that Cilla girl does. Laphroaig and water. Martini for me and a white wine for the lady here.

    I lose track of time for a while after things pick up again, and the next time I'm fully aware of where I am and what I'm doing is about half eight, when two guys in ugly shirts come to blows over the pool table. Their partners, a growlithe and a pinsir, are eyeing each other up on the sidelines, clearly only seconds away from a fight of their own. Todd catches my eye, and I know it's time to do the other thing he hired me for.

    Here's the thing, see: we're kind of a package deal. You want the pretty face, you also get the bird who got me disqualified from three gym challenges for excessive force. I give Jack the signal and he screams loud enough to silence the whole bar; the two guys let go of each other's shirts, look up in alarm, and see me with my arms folded and Jack on my shoulder.

    “You need to leave now,” I tell them. And one of them asks how're you gonna make us, girlie, and then Jack gathers blue light in his beak and knocks him over backwards with a Water Pulse to the chest. “How about like that?” I ask, as his growlithe heroically takes cover beneath the pool table, and as one the two guys decide that maybe they do want to leave after all.

    For a few moments, the silence lingers, and I luxuriate in the knowledge that all these people are suddenly a little afraid of me – but then I whistle, send Jack back up to his perch, and move on to the next order like nothing happened. The wound in the atmosphere scabs over, and within a couple of minutes everyone has forgotten that anything even happened.

    Or no, not everyone. There's this girl nursing a beer at a table in the corner. Biker, going by all the leather. Couple of years older than me, I think, with short hair cut like a man's and pale grey eyes. Eyes that are currently very much focused on me.

    I can feel my cheeks heating up, my heart kicking in my chest. God, Gabbi, a minute ago you looked so cool and now this? Come on. She's only even looking at you because she's startled that you and your partner have so little compassion for your fellow man.

    Oh shit, she's seen me looking back. I look away hurriedly, move down the bar to make a gin and tonic for an older woman I vaguely recognise as on the town council, and by the time I'm done and risk another glance in the direction of the biker chick, she's gone.

    Thank God. That was nearly awkward. Honestly, I'm hopeless. I've spent all night manipulating people and now I'm falling to pieces because a cool girl looked at me. I heave a mental sigh of relief, turn to the person who just leaned on the bar, and freeze.

    “Hi,” says the biker chick, smiling at me. “I'll have another beer, please.”

    I seem to be standing on the other side of the room, watching myself through the crowd. I look so young and stupid, blinking at her like a fish at the humans on the other side of the glass.

    “Um,” I see myself say. “Sure. Any preference?”

    “Silver Scale,” she replies. North Johto to the core. They brew that stuff in Blackthorn, and I'm not sure anyone ever drinks it anywhere else. Is that where she's from? She has the accent, I think. Or something similar.

    “Coming up,” I tell her, mouth moving automatically, and go to blow the dust off the bottles of Silver Scale on the bottom shelf. I mean to take advantage of the break to get my head back together, but instead I just have a moment of profound self-doubt staring into the eyes of the dragon on the label. What are you doing, Gabbi? Just give her the beer and take her money. It's not hard. Or it wouldn't be if you weren't such a bloody freak.

    Remember Veronica, I tell myself, and straighten up to open the bottle and put it down next to her glass.

    “Cheers,” says the girl, giving me quite a few more coins than are necessary. “Here, have summin yourself. Think you've earned it, after showin' that guy what's what like that.”

    “Oh, I'm afraid I couldn't possibly,” I reply, my voice going all posh and unbearable again with nerves. “My boss is just over there.”

    “Ah.” Sheepish grin. It doesn't seem right on her face; she looks to me like someone who's too cool to be embarrassed. But maybe no one is, really. “Well, save it for when he's gone, then.”

    She starts pouring out her beer. Not going back to her table, it seems. I look around to see if there's someone else who needs serving, but it looks like Cindy and Todd have it in hand. Apparently there's no escape.

    “What's your name?” she asks.

    “Gabriella. Gabbi,” I add quickly. Gabriella just sounds so formal.

    She takes a long drink, then smacks her lips and puts the glass down.

    “Pretty name,” she says, which almost literally stops my heart. “Mine's a bit more borin'.”

    I suppose this means I have to ask.

    “What is it?”

    “Sam,” she says, with a grin. “Sam Spade.”

    I frown.

    “Like The Maltese Falcon?

    “Mum and Dad love Bogart,” she says. “Not sure I get it myself.”

    Right. I got the novel out of the town library once, but there's a movie as well, isn't there? Forties thing.

    “Liked Mary Astor in that, though,” says Sam. “She's a good-lookin' girl.”

    She says this without taking her eyes from mine. Does that mean – or could it – but no. No. No one means it like that. Remember Veronica, Gabbi. There's nobody else. Just you.

    “Um, certainly? That is, um, I mean to say, that picture's a little before my time.”

    “Right,” she says. “Course. Parents showed it to me, you know. Took me to Ecruteak when it got revived.”

    A moment. Two. I'm sure people want to be served, but I just can't seem to take my eyes off her.

    “So anyway,” begins Sam, but just then Todd grabs my arm and pulls me away.

    “What're you doing?” he asks, annoyed. “Cindy's swamped over here.”

    “Right,” I say, trying to arrange my face into something less embarrassing and not quite getting there. “Sorry. On it.”

    Back to it: a huge number of loud guys who must be students with the research labs, all of them dying for a pint. It takes a while to serve them all, and I refuse to look back until I'm done; when I finally do, Sam Spade is gone, and there's another sixpence on the bar by her glass.

    It really shouldn't bother me, but for some reason I almost want to cry.



    I take my break at little after nine, unable to concentrate a moment longer, and cadge a cigarette from Cindy to smoke in the courtyard behind the bar where the suppliers park their trucks. Cold night, for such a warm day. Only May, I remind myself. Summer's not quite ready for us yet.

    I keep thinking of Sam, of course, but I don't want to, so I think about Father instead. It's a little easier now that a few hours have passed and I'm back out here in the real world, where nothing he said to me means anything at all. He'll come around, I think. He was livid when I told him I'd got a job here, too. Swore he'd come down here to tell Todd I wasn't eighteen, and I said if he did I'd leave home, because it had taken me three years to gather the courage to defy him and Mother and find work and I wasn't going to back down now I had it. And then in the end, he never showed up. Too scared of meeting the hoi polloi, I suppose. Or maybe, deep down, he knew we needed the money.

    Yes. It will be fine. He'll be angry, and then less so, and maybe he'll hate me but we'll probably all have something to eat. That seems a decent compromise to me.

    Jack bites my ear, demanding affection, and I turn my attention to him gladly. Everything else about today is rather stressful. Mr Macaulay, Father, unbearably cool biker chicks who take an unaccountable interest in teenage barmaids.

    “Hey, dirtbag,” I tell him, blowing my smoke away from his face and reaching up to scratch his neck. “Nice work earlier. We really impressed some people.”

    Most pokémon will defend their partners with violence, if they need to; considerably fewer will attack unprovoked. Jack is something of an outlier. A very useful outlier, if you work in a shithole like this.

    Jack mewls his approval and leans into my hand, beak gaping slightly in satisfaction. I keep scratching, keep smoking, and then I tread out my cigarette and head back inside.

    It's fine. Everything is fine. And my parents have accepted my choices, and I'm not crushing on a girl I'll never see again and who would probably beat me up if she knew what I was thinking, and everything is absolutely, positively, unquestionably fine.

    *​

    Saturday, 23rd May, 1964

    Friday is payday, although it's Saturday by the time we close up and Todd shells out. I take my envelope of cash home, bolt my door and sleep till half eleven, when I wake with aching legs and a guilty conscience. I want to stay here in bed all day, after last night and with another long shift on the horizon, but I need to go into town before the shops close. So: drag myself out of bed, unbraid my hair, and cycle wearily back down the road to New Bark, Jack trailing behind like a great glossy kite.

    I see Esther in town, as I sometimes do, with her azumarill scurrying along at her heels. I try my hardest not to look at her, but I fail, and of course she doesn't look back. She never does. If you worked for the Kendricks for twenty years, I suppose you have to distance yourself afterwards, just in case anyone thinks you might still like them.

    I understand. We're poison. But I still feel dirty and alone.

    Hours later, I'm back, with enough weighing down my handlebars to keep us going for a little while at least. We're going to run out of candles – this place was never converted to electric light – but that's fine, I suppose. The days are getting longer anyway.

    Monty is waiting for me in the kitchen, his tails swishing back and forth across the flagstones. I have to smile, despite everything. Living symbol of the Kendrick arms he may be, but sometimes he really is just a dog.

    “Hey, boy,” I say, dumping my bags and digging out the can of dog food. “Right on time, huh?”

    He's a little more interested in his food bowl than he is in me, but I don't hold it against him; I'm hungry too. I kneel beside him for a little while, straightening his greying mane the way he likes, and then leave him to it and start on my own lunch.

    This is why I do it, I think. I can't decide if I care about Mother and Father enough to want to save them, but Monty chose us, right? His family is partnered with ours, generations upon generations of ninetales who have put their trust in the fact that we would care for them the way they care for us. That bond is sacred. Betray it and I really will be the selfish ingrate my parents think I am.

    I put the bread away, slip the chocolate bar I bought into my pocket – an extravagance, I know, but joylessness will kill you just the same as starvation if you let it, and I need something to help me through this stupid, exhausting weekend – and eat at the kitchen table, watching Monty lick the crumbs from his muzzle. There isn't really anywhere else to take my food; I only really have the time or energy to keep this room, my bedroom and the tower bathroom clean. Sometimes, when my parents are elsewhere and so won't bite my head off for acting like a maidservant, I sneak in and dust the drawing room, but that doesn't happen often.

    Monty yawns, stretches and falls asleep so fast he seems to just keel over. The first time he did that, I thought he'd had a heart attack, but I'm used to it now.

    “At least he's low maintenance,” I say, tossing Jack a sliver of cold meat to stop him stealing my food. He snaps it out of the air with a short, vicious movement of his head and hops up onto my shoulder. “Come on. Chocolate time.”

    It's nice; I'm still smiling when we run into Mother in the main hall. She gives me that look, the one that used to mean stop slouching and which now means a whole lot more, but I keep smiling anyway out of spite, and she walks off without another word.

    How very Mother. She hasn't said more than ten words to me since I started at Nero's; her idea has always been that a mean look can be far worse than any number of harsh words. I'm content to let her believe it. I have more than enough arguing to do with Father without adding her into the mix.

    I probably shouldn't have annoyed her, now that I think about it. But I did, and that's another brick for the wall we've built between us.

    Like I care.



    Nero's again. I keep looking up every time someone enters, just in case it's Sam Spade, but it never is. Stands to reason, really. I've not seen her before, and I really have no reason to think I'll see her again. Despite the flutter in my chest when the door opens.

    Anyway, I have no time to be infatuated tonight. Saturday is busy, as usual; people are out with friends or lovers or family, looking for a little liquid assistance in forgetting how utterly awful it is to be alive. I apply myself to helping them achieve it, and though I get the impression that I'm being a little less charming than usual, I am at least getting the job done.

    So loud. After a while you lose yourself in the noise, as if the sound could crowd you out of your own body. I stand and smile at people yelling orders a foot from my face, and wonder how hoarse my voice will be by the time I finally step outside into the crisp night air.

    And then, a little before eight, she arrives.

    I almost don't notice, at first; I'm busy making gimlets for two severe-looking men whose lanyards say they're technicians at the pokémon labs. Returning the lime cordial to the shelf, I glance down the bar and see Cindy opening a bottle of Silver Scale; at that point I know, of course, but I still almost drop the cordial when I look properly. Sam is looking right at me, because this weekend has apparently been divinely ordained to be the most difficult one I've ever had, and when she sees I've noticed her she smiles and raises her eyebrows.

    God, but she is so bloody cool. I try to nod in a nonchalant kind of way, but I'm fairly certain the effect is undercut by how red I've gone; my cheeks are burning like I just got slapped again. Sam's smile broadens, just for a moment, and then she takes her beer and disappears into the crowd.

    I feel weird. I don't even know how to describe it; like drunkenness, I suppose, the world and I moving at a slight angle to one another, except that I also feel almost painfully sober. Cindy looks at me and frowns slightly, puts a hand on my arm.

    “Hey, Gabbi, you okay?”

    I blink, and slide back into myself, heart suddenly pounding.

    “Yes,” I tell her, with a smile. “Just fine.”

    She looks like she wants to say more, but just then Todd comes out from the back and we both reapply ourselves to the bar, pretending that nothing at all could come between us and liberating petty cash from drunks.

    I track Sam down in bursts, between each pint I pull: she's over there at the shitty table in the corner by the dartboard, where the players are always in your face and at which nobody sits who can find a seat anywhere else. What bothers me is that I can't quite figure out what she's doing here, unless she likes sitting alone in an incredibly loud bar and drinking subpar beer. Is she waiting for someone? I imagine a biker boyfriend, his muscles making his tattoos ripple, and feel a jagged shard of hate stabbing at my heart.

    But she was here alone yesterday. And I'm being mean, aren't I? I shouldn't judge her. I bet people decide she's trouble every single day, with that hair, those clothes. She doesn't need some stuck-up posh girl judging her as well.

    I think she knows I'm looking; she keeps looking back at me, too. Like she's working up to something. After a while, she finishes her beer and starts making her way towards the bar, and my heart leaps into my mouth with the sudden thought that I was right last night and she's going to hit me―

    “Evenin', Gabriella,” she says, leaning on the bar. “Beer, please.”

    I swallow, hard, and just about manage to cram my heart back down into my chest.

    “Silver Scale again?” I ask.

    “You know me,” she says cheerfully.

    Jack is watching us intently, head cocked on one side the way he does to compensate for the missing eye. I can't quite see him, but I can feel his attention, like I have my back to a roaring fire.

    “H-here you go.” The movements are familiar. Cap off, bottle, glass. My hands don't shake, even if my voice does.

    “Cheers.” Long drink. Making me wait. Is it deliberate? “We was just gettin' to know each other last night,” she says, looking past my shoulder at the rows of bottles. “Was wonderin' if you wanted to pick up from where we got interrupted.”

    This can't be happening. It can't. Remember Veronica, Gabbi, remember the hurt and fear in her eyes. It doesn't matter what you think you're hearing now; it's all in your head, your freakish, pretty little head.

    Should cut this short right here, but I don't know how to refuse her. So I um, and I ah, and I say:

    “Oh, um, okay.”

    Sam grins.

    “Cool,” she says. “You live round here, then?”

    “Yes. I haven't seen you here before, though.”

    “Just got down from Blackthorn yesterday,” she tells me. “Long trip. Stopped here for petrol, but then it was dark and I figured, eh.” She shrugs. “Might as well see what New Bark's all about.”

    A drifter, then, wandering Johto on her motorbike. Imagine that. No ties to anywhere. No wilfully obtuse parents, no crumbling mansions. Just the road, and the wind in your hair.

    “You didn't mean to come here?” I ask, trying to crush my romantic flight of fancy before it gets too elaborate and I start imagining myself riding pillion.

    “Nope.” God, that grin. I wish she'd stop; I can't concentrate at all when she's doing that. “Started out in Mahogany. Spent some time in Blackthorn, but it weren't for me.”

    “Is New Bark?” I ask, hoping against hope that she might say yes, and I can keep bringing her Silver Scales.

    “'S not bad, actually,” she says, winking. “Nice people here.”

    I'm saved from having to come up with a response to that by the fact that someone else wants a drink. I go and pour it, take his money without even remembering to be charming, and hurry back to Sam, nursing her beer at the end of the bar.

    “Sorry,” I say. “Saturday's always busy.”

    “Course,” she says. “So you're local?”

    “Yes. I live, um, a little way outside town.”

    Please don't ask please don't ask please don't ask―

    “Cool,” she says. “Is that Old Bark? I heard there was an Old Bark.”

    “Well,” I begin, but someone else wants a drink now, and Todd's coming out from the back, and though I keep trying to circle back to Sam there are just so many people who want to be served. By the time I manage to return, her glass is almost empty.

    “You're not jokin' about being busy, huh,” she says. “When's your break, then?”

    “What!”

    It comes out without the question mark, loud and shrill and utterly unbearable. I screw my eyes shut for a moment, willing myself to have a heart attack and die right now, and then when fate refuses to oblige open my eyes again to apologise.

    “Sorry,” I mumble. “I didn't―”

    “Oh no, 's okay,” says Sam, looking a little worried. “Just you're busy, right, and your boss seems like a prick. Don't want him givin' you shit for talkin' to me.”

    A prick. I haven't heard that word used that way before, but I think I can guess what she means by it.

    “Right,” I mutter. “Yes, of course. I … I'm sorry, I think …”

    I have less than no idea what I'm trying to say. Sam watches me struggle, her brows knitting closer and closer the more I ramble, and offers a hesitant interruption:

    “You know you can tell me to sod off. If you're busy, like. Probably got better things to do with your break than talk to some drifter with shit taste in beer who won't stop buggin' you.”

    Is she going? Oh, but she mustn't! I mean – no, she probably should, that's for the best, but – but wouldn't it be okay? I don't have to make things weird; I could just enjoy talking to her. That would be nice. Not as nice as― but nice. Yes.

    “It's okay,” I tell her, and, after some fumbling around inside myself, finally find my smile again. “I'd like that. Um – fifteen minutes? Round the back? You can just go down the side on the left.”

    She smiles back, pleased and relieved. Did she want this too? I suppose she must have done, or she wouldn't have asked.

    “Fifteen minutes,” she repeats. “Gotcha, Gabriella. And, uh, there's your boss, so I'm gonna pay for this beer and bugger off before I get you in trouble again.”

    She gives me the money and takes her beer away, and I turn to put the coins in the register just as Todd taps my arm and tells me to take these lagers over to those guys over there.

    “Sure,” I say, taking the tray. “Over there.”

    I head over. My mouth starts talking by itself, clearing the way with a barrage of excuse mes and mind outs, but my brain is still stuck there behind the bar, staring at the place where Sam was standing.

    Fifteen minutes.

    Look, I know I shouldn't expect anything, but it's like I said earlier: joylessness will kill you the same as starvation, just a little slower. And hey, a girl can dream.

    Right?



    She's there. God. I half expected to come out here and find nothing at all except my bike, but no. She's there, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. Like a film star, except I don't think I've ever seen a film star as cool as she is.

    She's not alone, either. There's a pink, silky little creature poking at the trash around her feet with stubby paws: a clefairy. For a second I'm taken aback – the hard-as-nails biker chick is partnered with a fluffy moon fairy? – and then it looks up at me with cold, wary eyes and I understand completely. It doesn't know humans think it's cute, does it? As far as it knows, it's just a wild animal with dangerous magic powers.

    I ought to have known, really. I know all about deceptive appearances.

    “Eh?” Sam follows its gaze, and then she notices me and her face cracks into an unexpected grin. “Oh hey,” she says. “Gabriella. Gabbi, sorry.” Crooked smile. “I know how you feel. Wouldn't want anyone calling me Samantha. Anyway, this is Morgan,” she adds, nudging the clefairy with her boot. “She's a little shit, so I'd tell you to watch out around her, but I reckon your boy there's one step ahead of you.”

    “Jack?” I glance at him automatically. His eye is locked on Morgan, in that intent avian way he has. “He's not really my … I mean, he's his own man, so to speak. I think if I ever tried to put him in a ball he'd pull out my brain through my nose.”

    Sam's grin broadens.

    “I like that,” she says. “Know where you stand. Cigarette?”

    “Thank you.”

    She gestures at Morgan.

    “Morgan, do the honours.”

    Morgan waves a paw, sparks flaring from nowhere all around it, and an answering light pops into existence at the end of my cigarette.

    “Thank you,” I repeat, just about managing to not say wow like a startled child. “So, um, how does someone like you end up with a clefairy, anyway?”

    Sam rolls her eyes.

    “I dunno, how does someone like you end up with a wingull?”

    She catches me by surprise, makes me laugh.

    “Fair point. I suppose I just like vermin. Plus,” I say, feeling reckless, wanting her to know that I can be rebellious too, “he's good at terrorising my parents, so that's another point in his favour.”

    Now I've caught her by surprise, I think. She gives me an amused look, which might be condescending if I wasn't so desperate for her to like me.

    “Nice,” she says. “Morgan's like that too. Mum and Dad got her for me when I was a kid, you know, see if summin cute and fuzzy might make me a bit more of a girl, but they didn't know they'd picked out the meanest clefairy on the bloody peninsula.”

    “You've always been, um … like this?”

    I wince to hear myself putting it like that, but Sam seems fine with it.

    “Always,” she says. “Not that there's anythin' wrong with all that girl stuff, but it ain't me. Suits you, though.”

    “Um.” At this point, my cheeks are so hot I'm pretty sure they could stick me on the point and use me as a lighthouse. I take a shaky drag on my cigarette, force myself to sound calm. “Thanks. You … the biker thing suits you too.”

    “Cheers.” Her voice has gone strangely gruff. I risk a glance at her, and see that she's inspecting the end of her cigarette with a curious kind of determination.

    Is she nervous too? That barely seems possible. But maybe. And if she is, what would that mean?

    Nothing, I remind myself. It means nothing. You are alone, Gabbi. Remember Veronica. Enjoy talking to Sam, sure. But don't kid yourself about her motivations.

    “So, um … you're travelling, right?” I ask. “Any particular reason?”

    She hesitates. Morgan tenses, looks up at her with those hard black eyes, and for an awful moment I think I've offended her – but she just sighs, shakes her head.

    “Got into some trouble,” she says diffidently. “I mean I guess I never really fit there – might actually be the first woman in Mahogany ever to own a motorbike, you know? – but I was never really plannin' on leavin'. 'S home and all.”

    Pause. I glance uneasily at Jack, but of course there's no help there. He just keeps staring at Morgan with that same old vacant hostility.

    “You don't have to talk about it,” I begin, but Sam shakes her head again.

    “Nah,” she says. “'S fine. I had this … this friend, yeah?” Her eyes dart up to mine in time with her words. I get the impression she's trying to tell me something, but I'm not quite sure what. “And she got murdered.”

    Shit. What? I have no idea what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

    “Oh my God,” I breathe, fumbling for words and finding that I just don't have any. “I'm so sorry …”

    Tight little smile. It breaks my heart a little to see it.

    “Yeah, well, it's over now.” She raises her cigarette to her mouth, then seems to think of something else and takes it away again. “Sorry. I meant thanks.”

    “It's okay,” I assure her. “It's okay.”

    “Mm. Not really.” Sam takes a deep breath, eyes closed, then turns to face me again. “Anyway, I got in trouble tryin' to find out who killed her. Got told I should probably leave town, though I don't reckon I had much choice about it. So, well. Got on my bike, and here I am.”

    A pause. We look past each other, at the worn brick walls of the yard and the carpet of cigarette butts. In the sudden quiet, I can hear the noise from the bar, seeping out through the walls like damp.

    Why did she tell me? She didn't have to. But then, maybe she needed to. Maybe she hasn't talked to anyone at all since she got run out of town, and maybe she came here, saw the friendly-looking barmaid and was desperate enough to think she could find a confidante in her.

    The thought makes my stomach turn. That friendliness is a sham, there for the sole purpose of pulling money out of pockets. I don't want my stupid play-acting to be all she sees in me.

    On the other hand, says a selfish little voice inside me, if she wants a shoulder to cry on … but no. No, I'm going to be good here. If she likes me, it has to be for the right reasons.

    “I'm sorry,” I tell her again. I think about touching her arm, the way Cindy touched mine earlier, but I can't seem to find the courage. “That must have been awful for you – must still be awful now, in fact.”

    “Mm.” She sniffs deeply, claps her hands together, and I understand that the topic is now closed. “Anyway, you didn't come here to listen to me moanin'. What about you?”

    “Sorry?”

    “You know the line,” she says. “Girl like you, place like this.”

    “Oh.” And now I'm blushing again. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Jack reaching for my hair with his beak, starting to preen. I must really seem desperate if I've distracted him from death-staring Morgan. “Well, um … to be frank, my family needs the money. My mother and father aren't willing to accept that we don't own the whole county any more.”

    “Ah.” Sam nods like she understands. “Similar thing up in Mahogany. Old manor's converted into a boardin'-house now. Lord died in the war, Lady's … well, she ain't a Lady no more, is she.”

    “That sounds familiar,” I admit. “Both of my parents survived the occupation, though. Unfortunately.”

    I don't know if I mean that, but I do know that I want to sound cool and rebellious. Sadly, I suspect I just sound like I'm trying too hard.

    “I get that, believe me,” says Sam, puffing on her cigarette. “Don't get on too well with my parents, either. Least, they weren't very unhappy that I was leavin' town. Anyway, 'scuse my manners,” she adds, pushing the bitterness out of her voice. “Didn't know I was in the presence of nobility.”

    This seems like it might be a joke at my expense, but I can't take it badly, not when she's grinning like that.

    “Ugh,” I say, pulling a face. “No. You're in the presence of a barmaid.”

    She laughs, in a loud, vaguely mean sort of way that reminds me of Jack.

    “Probably for the best, eh?” she says. “Doubt nobility would want anythin' to do with the likes of me.”

    “Oh, I don't know,” I reply. That feeling is coming over me again, the one that isn't quite drunkenness. I want to reach out and steady myself on the wall, but I'm worried it might look weird. “I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want the pleasure of your company.”

    “Guess you need to imagine a bit harder, then, don'tcher?” says Sam, clapping me on the shoulder. “Like―”

    Jack flares his wings and screeches, not sure what just happened but certain that his tame human is under threat; at our feet, Morgan hisses at him and bounces forward, gathering light around her tiny fist. Sam and I move as one to grab our partners, both gabbling apologies, and a moment later our eyes meet over our respective armfuls of angry pokémon.

    “Uh, yeah,” says Sam sheepishly, pushing Morgan's paw firmly back down to her side and making her hiss in frustration. “Might not have thought that one through.”

    “It's all right.” Gingerly, I let go of Jack's beak. He glares at me, but doesn't immediately go for anyone's face, which is encouraging. “I'm sorry. Jack means well.”

    “Oh, so does Morgan,” says Sam, giving her a stern look and letting her go again. She falls eerily slowly, like a puff of down caught on the breeze, and bounds off in a sulk to investigate the bins. “Don't mean she ain't trouble, though.”

    “Yes,” I say, shoving Jack back on my shoulder. “I know what you mean.”

    This moment. The night chill. Sound of drunks in the street, a distant car. Us, sharing in the experience of our partners being utterly unbearable in ways we wouldn't give up for anything.

    I wish it would never end. But I think I might already have overrun my break.

    “Well, anyway, I meant what I said,” I tell Sam. “About you being good company.”

    “Yeah?”

    I'm expecting a joke, I suppose, some more of that odd, kind mockery that seems to characterise everything she says, but she looks serious. Almost worried.

    I don't like it. I have no idea what this is, but I know I don't like it.

    “Yes.” I hesitate. “Sorry, my break's over.”

    She nods, runs her tongue nervously over her lips.

    “Okay,” she says. “Okay, I …” She takes a breath. “Gabbi, can I tell you summin? Before you go, like?”

    Her words hit me like a kick to the chest; it takes everything I have to not step back. What is this? I know what it might be, what I want it to be, but that can't be what it is.

    “I should go in,” I mumble, but I'm not sure Sam hears.

    “Gabbi,” she says, half embarrassed and half terrified. “You, uh … you know I got eyes, right? I seen you lookin'. And I got to admit, I been lookin' too.”

    She reaches out, slow, uncertain. I imagine her fingers on my jaw, imagine leaning into her hand and letting her guide me closer―

    “No,” I say, pulling back. “No, this isn't …”

    It hurts to say it, as if the words are stuck deep inside me and need to be torn out through my throat. But I have no choice, because there's no one like me and none of this is even possible, so I say it and I turn and walk back towards the bar.

    “Gabbi?” I hear. “Gabbi! Wait, I―”

    Jack buries the rest in a screech, twisting around on my shoulder to make sure Sam doesn't follow, and then I hear her curse and kick the dustbins as the door closes behind me and everything is finally over.



    I am fine. I am perfectly fine, and Cindy asks me if I'm all right again but I smile because I'm fine. I make drinks and take money and smile, and keep smiling, and keep on bloody smiling, and I am fine.

    I had one friend at school. Most people kept their distance from the Kendrick girl, naturally, but I did have the one friend. Her name was Veronica. It isn't what her parents called her; she learned quite early on at school that it's easier to have a name that doesn't sound so foreign, even if people look at you and know right away that you're not from around here. She wouldn't tell anyone what her real name was, not even me. Not that I asked. I was too afraid she'd stop being my friend to ever upset her.

    We gravitated towards one another, I suppose, because we had no one else to talk to – but we stayed because we liked each other. The only problem was that I liked her an awful lot more than she liked me, and so when we stole a bottle of her father's homemade blackberry wine, back when we were fifteen, and ended up drunk in her room, I thought that her laughter, her hand on mine, was a sign. And I tried to kiss her and she threw me off with a kind of terrified panic that sobered me in an instant.

    What the fucking fuck, she said, looking at me like I was an ursaring or a tyranitar, something big and predatory. Get out of here.

    Veronica, I tried to say, but when I moved towards her she scrambled backwards over her bed, and in the face of her fear all my words left me entirely.

    Go, she said – yelled, really, her voice thin and shrill. Go!

    So I went, and that was the last time I ever spoke to her. Because there's nobody else like me. Because I'm just broken. I always suspected, of course; it doesn't even make sense, two women together like that. Look at the way the world works: there's a man and a woman, and they have children, and then the children grow up and do it all over again. In a sense, I was glad to have my suspicions confirmed.

    I told myself it was going to be fine. All I had to do was stay away from everyone – grow up to be an eccentric old spinster, like my aunt Lucinda who kept a dozen half-wild sandshrew and refused to leave her rooms. Nobody has to know I'm a freak. And then in the end my secret can die with me.

    This is how it has to be. No matter what I think gorgeous women who hang out in terrible bars are saying to me. Because I'm wrong, she's just lonely and grieving for her dead friend, and all I am to her is someone with a plausible smile and fake-kind eyes.

    Same again, love, says someone, and I get him and his friend another couple of pints.

    It's going to be a long night. But I'll make it, because I always make it and if I don't then everyone at home will suffer, and tomorrow I'll come back here and Sam Spade will be gone and everything will still be intolerable but I will, at least, be fine.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2018
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Eventually, it's over. Cindy tells me to go, that she'll clean up tonight, and though I try to argue with her for a little while, I'm far too tired not to do as she says.

    “Go on,” she says, squeezing my hand. “Go home and sleep, okay? You don't look well.”

    Sometimes I feel the four years between us more keenly than usual. I suspect she feels them all the time, and I'm just naïve, but that's all right. I like that she thinks she has to look after me.

    “I will,” I say, squeezing back. “Thank you.”

    Back outside, Jack settling sleepily onto my shoulder. He hates staying up late, but he tries anyway, for me.

    Chilly air on my face. Yellow glow of the streetlights. They'll turn them off soon. I need to hurry if I want to save the battery on my bike lamp.

    God. I just want today to be over already.

    “Come on, Jackie,” I murmur, running my fingers along his flank. “Past our bedtime.”

    I go around the back to get my bike, and stop dead.

    “Hey,” says Sam, straightening up and tossing her cigarette away.

    I don't say anything. I really don't think I can.

    “Wanted to apologise,” she says. Behind her, Morgan shifts on her feet, glaring up at Jack, and he wriggles back into wakefulness to glare right back. “Didn't mean to upset you.”

    I hate her so much for doing this. For not just fucking off and leaving me alone to get over her. I would tell her this, but I still can't speak.

    “Look,” says Sam. “Maybe I got it wrong, and if I did, I'm sorry, yeah? And you just have to say and I'll go, you never see me again. Thing is, I ain't sure that's what happened.” She takes a careful step closer, and God, but the kindness in her eyes just kills me. “I get it. I was scared too. My friend I mentioned? She weren't my friend. Or, well, she was, but she were summin else as well.”

    “No.” There's my voice. It's quiet, so quiet I can barely hear it, but at least it's there. “No, you're …”

    She frowns.

    “Sorry? Didn't catch that.”

    “I said no.” I step back, arms folded tight across my chest. “There's no one else.”

    “That ain't true, Gabbi,” she says, her voice quiet and serious. “There's me.”

    She looks at me, and I look back.

    I know how this ends. I ask her to leave me alone, and I get on my bike and go home, like always. And maybe one day I let myself think about a biker tearing up the highway to Cherrygrove with the wind in her hair, and maybe I even let myself think about a girl riding pillion – but that will be okay, because it's just a thought. Just a silly daydream that nobody will ever know about.

    I know how this ends. I do. But somehow I find I've grabbed her hands anyway.

    “It's impossible,” I murmur, her face blurring through the water in my eyes, and in the next instant she's much too close to see anyway because she's right there, tilting her face up to meet mine.

    Remember Veronica, I think, but it's too late and I've already kissed her.



    “I'm really sorry,” I say, dabbing at my eyes. “I mean, I don't even know you, and …”

    “'S okay,” replies Sam, holding me a little tighter. “I cried too.”

    I raise my head from her shoulder, surprised.

    “You?”

    She laughs.

    “Yeah, me. Look, uh, I know I … I know what I look like, but I ain't that mean.”

    I have to smile.

    “No,” I agree. “You're really sweet.”

    “Are you flatterin' me?”

    “Yes. Absolutely.”

    She brushes her lips lightly against my cheek, making me shiver in her arms.

    “Nice,” she whispers. “Keep doin' it.”

    “You just try and stop me.”

    I pull away from her, wiping away fresh tears, and as her hands slip from my shoulders they linger for a moment on my arms. What do we look like, I wonder? Two … whatever we are. Is there a word for it? There must be, if there are others. I could ask Sam, I suppose, but I can't bear to spoil this moment.

    Behind her, I can see Jack and Morgan sitting side by side on the dustbin, looking awkwardly away from one another. I suspect neither of them really expected tonight to work out the way it did; I certainly didn't.

    “Look at them,” I say, glad of the distraction. “All confused.”

    “Yeah, well, I don't blame 'em.” Sam grins. “Reckon I'm punching pretty bloody far above my weight.”

    “Funny. I could say the same about me.”

    I can't keep it up. It's fun, talking like this, flirting – like we're something that makes sense. But it's still so hard to believe.

    I think Sam can see it in my face. If nothing else, the fact that I'm still crying probably gives it away.

    “I know,” she says. “It's weird. But I'll help you figure it out. Promise.”

    I'm not sure if I believe her. She never even wanted to come to New Bark; one day soon, she'll get bored and ride away again in search of more exciting towns and less pathetic girls. That's okay. I think she means what she's saying, even if it won't happen.

    And besides, she gave me this moment. She could leave right now and I'd still never be done with thanking her.

    “Thank you,” I tell her. “I'll try and make it up to you.”

    “Hah. Think you already have, Gabbi. But, uh … thanks.”

    We stand there for a moment, hands clasped between us. My face is freezing from the tears, but I'm definitely not letting go to wipe it again.

    “I guess I should go,” I say, reluctantly. “Cindy – um, the other barmaid – she'll be out soon to get her bike.”

    “Right. Be pretty hard to explain this, eh?”

    She's so good at making me smile. I don't think it's what she's saying, exactly; I'm sure she's no funnier than anyone else. But still. She says these things, and I smile at her with some instinctive delight that goes deeper than I know how to delve.

    “Yes,” I agree. “It would.”

    Another pause.

    “Y'know,” says Sam, not quite meeting my eye, “instead of you goin', we could both go. Somewhere. We could go somewhere else, is what I mean. You and me.”

    I can't say for certain how red I've gone, but I'd be willing to lay money on my cheeks now matching my lipstick.

    “It's well past midnight,” I mumble. “Everywhere is closed …”

    Sam takes a deep breath. Part of me loves her for being nervous, but the rest is impatient, wanting her to say it so that I don't have to.

    “My hotel room ain't.”

    Her hands tighten unthinkingly on mine. I squeeze them back, because I seem to have temporarily mislaid my voice, and, mistaking my silence for reluctance, she carries on:

    “I mean we don't have to – don't have to do nothin', right, but it's – it's gettin' cold out, and I – I mean we kinda – it would be cool to – to talk to you some more, and … uh, anyway, yeah, okay, you probably just wanna get home, so forget I said anythi―”

    “I'd like to go with you.” It comes out in a mortifying squeak, but at least I said it. “I, um … yes.”

    Sam stares.

    “Yeah?”

    “Yes,” I confirm, trying to bring my voice back to normal and not getting very far. “Yes, I would.”

    God. All these years, all these desperate, ugly, sordid little thoughts, and suddenly it's actually happening. I've dreamed of this, in unguarded moments when I forget to police myself: long bike rides, sleepless nights, double History. But I never, ever expected it to be real.

    It's incredible. And yet the mean, cynical thing in my brain won't stop running the calculations, even now: she thinks I'm eighteen, doesn't she? Old enough to work in a bar. Old enough for her.

    This is wrong of me. But I'm not going to tell her the truth just yet.

    “You sure?” asks Sam, like she can't quite believe it. I understand. I'm having some trouble with it myself. “And you, uh, you'll be okay with your parents and all?”

    “They won't notice I'm gone. Not if I …”

    Hang on.

    This is a terrible idea, but I have to admit, after all they've done, I can't deny that it would be satisfying to put one over on them like that. And really, what's the worst that could happen?

    “Actually,” I say, catching Sam's eye, “have you ever been in a mansion before?”

    “No …?”

    “Would you like to?”



    Holding tight to her waist as the night screams past. Jack soaring overhead, half asleep on his wings. The roaring of the bike between my legs. Wind whipping at my face, my hair.

    I try, but I really can't think of a single moment in my life when I've been happier.

    *
    Sunday, 24th May, 1964

    I dream about riding bikes down a long, wooded road. I dream about smoking a cigarette in Mr Macaulay's office while a girl in a leather jacket talks to me about staying in school. I dream about Jack falling out of the sky, and no matter how fast I run I can't seem to catch him before he hits the ground and splatters it with red.

    What time is it? So bright. I needed to get up early today for some reason, or I think so anyway, but I have a sneaking suspicion I might have reached out and turned my alarm clock off while I was still half asleep. I lift my head from the pillow to look: 10.12.

    I did oversleep, then. Oops. But it's Sunday, right? Whatever it was I meant to do, it couldn't have been that―

    “Mmph,” someone grunts, and I freeze as last night crashes down on me like a skarmory on a deer.

    Oh.

    That … no, it was a dream, right? The specifics of it are melting in the sunlight like ice in an unattended cocktail, but I remember her face, looking at me from the other side of Mr Macaulay's desk. A dream. Definitely a dream.

    I take a deep breath, and turn over, and then I freeze all over again because as it turns out it wasn't a dream after all.

    She's just. She's there. And the gorgeous May light has caught the edge of her cheek, turning a handful of half-visible hairs to gold threads; and there's a scar on her forehead that I never noticed in the dark; and her hand is tucked under the pillow, showing an unhealed tattoo of a snake twined with a rose on the inside of her wrist.

    I can't even be worried about how I'm going to get her out of the house. She's here. She's here, and I rode home with her last night, too excited to be nervous about abandoning my bike in town, and we talked till half three and I set the alarm so I could sneak her out before anyone gets up and we blew out the candles and she showed me in no uncertain terms that no, I'm not the only one after all.

    Shit. I have a horrible feeling that this might be more than a crush.

    Very slowly, just in case I wake her, I lower my head back onto the pillow, and feel around under the covers for her hand. When I grasp it, she grasps back, mumbling in her sleep, and I wince at the answering pangs in my chest.

    Yes. Definitely more than a crush.

    This is going to be a problem. Maybe we could just keep the door locked and stay here forever? That seems reasonable. Jack can go out and get us food via the window. What else do two whatever-we-are need?

    She stirs then – fortunately; I think my absurd fantasy has gone far enough – and opens her eyes. They take a moment to focus on me, and then they light up in a way that makes my heart flutter like it did when she first spoke to me on Friday night.

    “You again,” she says. “Can't keep yourself away from me, eh?”

    “No. I can't.”

    The corner of her mouth turns up, just for an instant.

    “Judgin' by that godawful brightness, I'm guessin' we overslept.”

    “Yes. By, um, nearly four hours.”

    She twists her mouth up, lets it go again.

    “That gonna be a problem?”

    “I don't know. I suppose it depends how sneaky you can be.”

    “I dunno if you noticed,” she says, grimacing, “but subtlety ain't exactly my strong suit.”

    “Then we might have a tiny little issue. But it's okay,” I add, unable to bear the thought of worrying her, “we'll figure something out.”

    “Could climb out the window.”

    “If you had a death wish. We're in the tower. Right at the top.”

    She blinks.

    “How many floors is that, did you say?”

    “I didn't. But, um … six.”

    The window bangs, and I look up gladly to see Jack coming in, something awful in his beak. Morgan jumps up from wherever she was hiding – somewhere at the end of the bed, I think – and skips over to the desk to investigate.

    “Leave him alone,” says Sam warningly. “Man catches his own breakfast, he's entitled to eat it in peace.”

    Morgan casts a lingering look at Jack, tearing bits off his horrible meal, then flounces off dramatically to sulk in a corner.

    “Diva,” snorts Sam. “Okay, look. I think … I think we're gonna have to make a run for it.”

    “Yes. I'm … sorry. I should have thought this through.”

    “Don't make any difference to me. 'S you I'm worried about. I know how it is, yeah? Dealing with parents, like.”

    I know already. Her parents featured largely in last night's conversation, as did mine. But, well. No matter what I'd like, we can't lie here all day.

    “I'll survive,” I tell her. “They already hate me.”

    “Not like this,” she says, eyes serious. “Trust me.”

    I do trust her. And she's probably right. There's a world of difference between being an ungrateful daughter who frustrates all her parents' plans and being the freak that I am. That Veronica saw in me, I mean.

    I'm going to start making that distinction now, I promise.

    “Look,” says Sam, in that hesitant way that is slowly coming to seem more natural in her. “I, uh … if we do get caught, and you need to get outta here for a couple days … well, I know we just met, but I got a room in town.”

    “Oh.” Blushing again, like the neophyte lover I am. It's not often that I really feel my age, but this weekend I've been nothing so much as an idiot teenager. (An idiot seventeen-year-old, to be exact, but I still haven't told Sam about that part. Too scared.) “Um, thank you. Let's – let's see if we can make this work, first.”

    “Right.”

    We lie there for a moment, looking at one another and listening to Jack eating.

    Are we going to hell because of this? I suppose we probably are. But that's a question for later. Right now, the light is beautiful, and so are we.

    “Five more minutes?” suggests Sam.

    “Oh yes, absolutely.”



    The house looks much less appealing by daylight. If I wasn't so worried, I'd be embarrassed, showing Sam down all these worn-out corridors, with their threadbare carpets and moth-eaten curtains. Turning that horrible corner by the blue bedroom, the one where Jack extracted a dead ariados and a two-foot egg sac from beneath the plaster and where there is now a gaping, mouldy hole, I have to suppress the urge to turn to her and apologise.

    “Fancy digs,” says Sam, staring up at the crumbling decorative cornice. “Couldn't see any of this last night.”

    Oh. Right. Still a mansion, Gabbi.

    “Yes. Sorry. We don't have electricity.”

    “'S all right.” Sly glance at me. “Candlelight's romantic and all.”

    “Mm,” I squeak, absolutely destroyed by the gleam in her eyes, and take her down the west passage.

    This is where it starts to get risky. At this time of day, my parents are probably around this part of the house. And, well. It's been two days since we last fought. This is usually the point at which Father likes to have the follow-up argument.

    We reach the grand staircase without incident. I can hear Monty now, claws scratching on the parquet downstairs, and the low murmur of crackly voices, half lost in the usual symphony of groans and creaks and drips. Radio. The one part of the modern world that my parents like. They complain about it incessantly, deplore the way in which it seems just anyone can get on it, but whenever the house is quiet I can hear them listening.

    “Stick to the edges,” I whisper. “The stairs creak in the middle.”

    Sam nods and turns to Morgan.

    “Ball or piggyback?”

    Morgan tilts her head on one side for a moment, thinking, then lifts up her ball, a heavy brass thing with a cable connecting the two halves. Early fifties, I think. They've started putting red and white enamel on the new models; I saw some in the Pokémon Centre when I took Monty for his last check-up.

    “Okay.” Sam takes the ball, returns her in a flash of light. “C'mon.”

    Down the stairs, keeping close to the banister. Treading lightly. Around the corner, past the carved ninetales atop the newel post.

    We aren't that subtle. There are creaks, here and there; it's unavoidable, in a house like this. But nothing too loud, nothing that they'll hear over the radio. I've done this a hundred times before, after all. This is exactly the same.

    It's not the same. But we get down to the hall just fine anyway, and now it's just twenty-five feet to the door―

    Claws on the parquet. And a happy little bark.

    Oh, God damn it, Monty.

    “Ssh!” I hiss, as he comes bounding over. “Please, Monty―!”

    He barks again, bumping his head against my hand, and now I can most certainly hear footsteps down the hall.

    “Shit,” I mutter, pushing him away. “Okay, Sam, just make a break for the d―”

    “Gabriella.”

    It's like stepping out from the shelter of the buildings onto the marina in January, when the wind tears across the open water and drives its icy fists deep into your gut. I can't move; I can barely even straighten up. Because if they hated me before, then now―

    Sam touches my hand, just for a second.

    “They don't know yet,” she mutters. “Okay?”

    Yes. Of course. See a strange woman in the hall, you don't immediately jump to the conclusion that she slept with your daughter last night. I give Monty a quick head-rub, feigning indifference, then stand up. There they are: Mother and Father, emerging from the passage like a pair of ageing Furies from the shadows of Erebus. They look – actually, they look a little less angry than confused.

    “Who on earth is this?” asks Father, brows knitting together. “And what is she doing in my house?”

    Deep breath. You can do this, Gabbi. Even if Monty is currently running off to the kitchen like the fair-weather friend he is, you have Jack on your shoulder, and Sam at your side. That's more than enough to handle whatever they throw at you.

    “Good morning, Father,” I say, as cheerfully as I can. “This is Sam. I invited her to stay last night.”

    “You invited her,” he repeats, incredulously. “To my house.”

    “There's plenty of space.”

    “Which belongs to me.” He takes a measured step forward. Mother drifts along at his shoulder like a disapproving ghost. “I was not aware that we were running a boarding-house for the benefit of every passing drifter and ne'er-do-well.”

    I want to be cross at him for talking about Sam like that, but given that she's currently stifling her laughter at the fact that he just used the word ne'er-do-well unironically, I'm mostly just embarrassed.

    “You don't need to be rude, Father,” I say, cheeks flaming. “Sam is my friend.”

    “Is she, now,” he says, nostrils flaring in the faintest suggestion of an incipient sneer. “I must apologise for my daughter, Miss … Sam. She has brought you here under false pretences.”

    “What're you on about?” she asks. My parents absolutely love the accent, it seems; Mother tightens her grip on Father's arm, and Father himself draws his head back as if he's smelled something bad.

    “Gabriella has an ugly habit of feuding with her betters,” he says, enunciating each word with a fussy, spiteful clarity. “She has brought you here simply to vex us.”

    Sam clicks her tongue. Her breath comes deep and heavy; for a second I don't understand, and then I realise: she's angry. For my sake.

    The thought almost takes my breath away. I don't think anyone except Jack has been angry on my behalf since … ever, actually.

    “Don't see as how that's my business, mate,” says Sam, playing up her accent even more and making Father shudder with distaste. “But maybe it ain't all about you. Be a pretty miserable life if everythin' she did, she did to spite you.”

    His lips compress to a tight, angry line. I can feel Jack shifting his grip on my shoulder, claws digging deep into my dress. Taking up a Water Pulse sort of stance.

    I don't make any move to stop him. I'm angry too, now. I'll take whatever shit Mother and Father sling my way, but Sam doesn't deserve any of this.

    “You're quite right,” says Father coldly. “It's none of your business. Now, if you'd kindly leave, I believe we have a few things to discuss as a family.”

    Sam takes a step forward, her jacket creaking as her arms tense; as much as I would love to see her flatten Father's nose across his face, I have to intervene here, and put a hand out to stop her. She looks at me, takes a breath, and steps back again, jaw clenched.

    It's fine, after all. Father won't hit me. Not with Jack around. If he did, I wouldn't be able to stop Jack hitting back, and even Father's not bull-headed enough to risk that. So he won't hit me, and it will be okay, and then maybe I can just get my bag and stay in town with Sam for a bit.

    Or I could just tell Jack or Sam to get him. And then I suppose I could never come back home again, but wouldn't it be satisfying? To see Father lose for once?

    “Of course, Father,” I say, taking hold of the thought with both hands and shoving it away. “Sam was just leaving anyway.”

    Sam glances at me, her eyes full of questions.

    “That okay?” she asks. “You'll be all right?”

    “Yes,” I say. There's no choice: I have to keep things calm. Be reckless, and someone gets hurt. “Yes, I'll be fine.”

    “You don't sound too sure―”

    “Perhaps I didn't make myself clear,” interrupts Father. “Get out. Now.”

    God. I hate him. I hate him so bloody much―

    “Oh, don't you worry,” growls Sam. “I'm leavin', all right.”

    She puts a hand on my arm. Jack's head twitches around to face her immediately, but I think he understands now that she's an ally; a moment later, he turns back to Father, glaring like an arbok.

    “Ashton,” says Sam. “Clarence Street. You know it?”

    Of course. The Ashton may well be the worst hotel in town, but it's cheap, and honestly it's probably still nicer than this rotting tomb of a house.

    “Yes,” I reply. “I know it.”

    “Gabriella,” says Father, in that warning kind of voice, but it's all right; I can ignore it. Just about.

    “Go,” I say, keeping my eyes determinedly on Sam. “I'll, um … I'll see you.”

    She hesitates, then nods, touches my hand again.

    “Hang in there,” she murmurs, and heads for the door. I watch her, wishing I could follow, and then Jack screeches again and I look back hurriedly to see Father approaching, face like thunder.

    “Now Gabriella, I am aware that our circumstances are not what they were,” he says, snarls really, that same old speech infused with brand-new hatred, and just like that I feel something snap inside me.

    Why am I wasting my time wishing? Sam's right there, and I'm right here. I don't need to stay in school to know how to solve this equation.

    “Oh, fuck off, Father,” I say, exhausted, furious, and as his eyes pop and Mother gasps I turn and walk out the door.



    “Sam!”

    She's at the other end of the drive, opening the wicket to get her bike out. At the sound of my voice, she stops, looks back.

    “Gabbi?”

    “Sam!” I pause for a moment as I catch up with her, feigning breathlessness to put off the moment when I say the words, and then I remember how much I hate this place and interrupt myself: “Sam, let's go.”

    She scowls, perplexed.

    “What, back to mine?”

    “No,” I say, and though I'm afraid my voice will tremble I find it comes out as clear as anything. “You're going to Cherrygrove, right? You only stayed here to speak to me.”

    Her eyebrows shoot up towards her hairline.

    “Well, uh … yeah, but―”

    “But nothing,” I say. “Let's go.”

    “You've known me all of one day―”

    “Technically two. I met you on Friday.”

    “Okay, but …”

    “Please,” I say, gripping her arm. “Please, I … I can't do this any more.”

    I can see the hesitation in her eyes. She wants it too, I think. But she's got experience on me and she's trying to be the sensible one.

    But there's nothing sensible about this. Because we are two impossible people, and somehow we found each other, and in the face of that anything as ordinary as common sense just burns up like a moth caught in a candle flame.

    “Please,” I repeat. Clutching her arm too tight now, I think, but she doesn't shake me off. “I know I'm an idiot and none of this is going to work, but please, Sam.”

    “Well,” she says, and the tone of her voice makes my heart leap in my chest like Jack taking wing. “Well, I guess if―”

    Gabriella!

    Father again, the fury in his voice tearing the air apart and touching my heart with long, cold fingers. I look back, see him marching down the drive towards us, Mother drifting in his wake.

    “Gabriella,” he repeats, eyes blazing. “Don't you dare walk away from us like this! If you think you can run from the consequences of your …”

    It goes on. I stare at him, unhearing, a thousand contradictory urges battering at my insides like wasps trapped under an upturned glass; I see Jack kick away from my shoulder, circling, screeching; I feel the world twist and shudder beneath me, everything about it fighting this gross, brutal instant.

    I'm going, aren't I? Well. Let's make it bloody count.

    I kiss Sam, and Father's voice dies in his throat.

    As a kiss, it isn't very good: I'm too angry, too aggressive, and Sam is so startled she almost forgets to reciprocate. But as a fuck you to my parents? Utterly bloody perfect. When I pull back, triumphant, terrified, I see them crumbling like ash, their fury blanked out by the sheer force of their shock and horror, and the sight fills me with the same unstoppable drunken energy as that bottle of blackberry wine two years ago.

    Except this time it isn't Veronica. Except this time it's Sam, and maybe I'm a freak but I'm not the only one, and I am so bloody tired of working myself to the point of collapse just to support these two in their close-minded isolation.

    “Goodbye,” I tell them. My voice is so quiet and intense, like nothing I've ever heard. It barely even sounds like me. “Come on, Sam.”

    For once in his life, Father has nothing to say. He and Mother just stare, dumbfounded, as Sam pushes her bike out onto the road and I climb on behind her. I think about giving them the finger, decide it's too cruel, and then on the spur of the moment do it anyway, one hand wrapped around Sam's waist and the other high above my head as we tear away down the road.

    This isn't going to work. I'm a bloody child and I probably don't love Sam as much as I think I do and everything is going to fall apart in a week, three months tops; and she'll abandon me in whatever town we're in then and I'll have to find a room, a job, a life all my own, with no one at my side except Jack.

    I know this. I can see it, stretching out before me like the road to Cherrygrove.
    If nothing else, we won't make it past the revelation that I'm not as old as she thinks I am. But I thought I could see what was going to happen last night too, and I was wrong then, so maybe, maybe, I might be wrong about this too.

    Even if I'm not, I honestly don't bloody care.

    Someone's screaming my name, their voice twisted painfully with desperation. After a moment, I recognise it as Mother.

    Too little, too late: I don't look back. Instead, I glance up to see Jack soaring overhead, shrieking his exultation, then lean over Sam's shoulder and yell through the wind and the roar of the motor:

    “What's the word for people like us, anyway?”

    “Is this really the bloody time?” she yells back.

    “I mean, I've committed, haven't I?”

    She glances over her shoulder at me, rolls her eyes. It's so maddeningly beautiful that I almost forget to hold on.

    “Lesbians!” she shouts.

    So we exist, then. We really exist, because we have a name, and if there's a name then we're something with a history, something that people recognise when they see it.

    I'm sorry for ruining things. I really am. But I'd rather be a lesbian than a Kendrick any day.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2018
  3. TheAlpar

    TheAlpar Journey Enthusiast

    aaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    Sorry sorry.... but DAMN!!!! NOW THIS IS WHAT I CALL A HOLIDAY MIRACLE HELL YEAH!!!

    God I was really expecting we'd get something like this, even if it was just a snippet I wanted a look into Sam and Gabbi and how they met... and you gave us more than just a little snippet. Bless you and your thoughtfulness, I hope you've had good holidays and that you'll have a good year. This is wonderful.

    Man, that whole Kendrick thing... I actually relate a little big. A few generations ago my family owned a bunch of **** including castles but my great-great grandpa gambled it all away. No one in my family is as stupid as Gabbie's dad is but sometimes I do hear them complain about it. As if it matters. A last name is just a word so who ****ing cares.

    I love that Jack was always a little **** like that; I love him. And that Ninetales... gosh, it's so precious. Too bad for Gabbie's parents though, they're pieces of **** and they think they're too good to have a job, ugh.

    Looks like Gabbie took her experience in bartending to Mahogany, huh? That first meeting with Sam was perfect and I love them both so much. And when we actuall got to see what the whole deal with Veronica was... man. That blows so much. It pains me that Gabbie doesn't even know the word lesbian, I know this is in the past so it totally makes sense but it's really heartbreaking. At least it's good that we've come so far, eh?

    Oh my god... their second meeting... that kiss... you spoil us so much, this is amazing <3 as good and interesting as all the drama and death and suspense are, little moments of fluff like this make it all so much better. And of course Gabbie would be overwhemled but would also be brave and go all in during their first night. What a trooper. I can only imagine how confused Sam must be that this girl she just met who looks like she never even kissed a girl before took her to her mansion to sleep with her. Relationship goals.

    And the ending... man, that's perfect. The perfect **** you to Gabbie's parents and all people like them. I've been in her shoes before, I felt like I knew things would fall apart as soon as I made my decisions and that the happiness wouldn't last. And sometimes it didn't. But a few times it did, and that made it all worth it.

    Perfect gift for these holidays. Thank you so much for writing this <3 it was great.
     
  4. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    ****'s cute.

    ...Ok, ok I'll give you an actual review.

    Much like the Halloween one, it's a fun-ish side story to Ghost Town. Nothing much is learned that we couldn't infer before, but it's a good excuse to hang out with these two more. It's got the same nice prose that the rest of your works have. I can get a good sense of what the world feels like from your descriptions. I like how you give New Bark Town its own vibe distinct from Mahogany despite their both being small towns. I get more of a "small town between where you are and where you want to be" feeling from it.

    I guess my only gripe is that Gabbi seems a little too okay with just leaving with Sam and riding off into the distance considering how responsible you've depicted her in this story. I mean it makes sense that Gabbi would want to leave her abusive household, but it seems a little too fast. Like maybe if they'd met a few times over the course of the week, it'd feel better.

    Also, I have mixed feelings about the fact that Gabbi, who is 17, has sex with Sam, who should be 19 in this story IIRC. It's not the most egregious thing, honestly it feels like an oversight of just aging a 29-year-old & a 31-year-old backwards, but Sam definitely comes off as more "adult" and more aggressive of the two, which just makes it worse. I had a short think about it and if I knew a high-schooler was dating a mid-college-aged person, I'd be creeped out. Just something to consider.

    In summation,

     
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Hey, thanks both for your responses: I really appreciate it. I love that you enjoyed this, and I think your critiques are fair and valid; I've gone back to try and make some of the things I wanted to do with this story clearer as a result. This is a little less of a response than normal, for which, my apologies, but I didn't want to let you go completely unanswered. So yeah, thank you! I won't be posting here any more, but you can totally still find my stuff, including things I never posted here, in the other usual places. The Canalave Library forums, mostly. Maybe somewhere else too, if I find another place I like.
     

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