Anticipation(6)By: Sarah Mayberry
She was okay. The indomitable force of nature that was Blue Sullivan would live to fight another day.
Thank the universe.
Thank whoever was in charge of small, very important mercies, because he never wanted to know what life would be like without her.
Someone exited the hospital, and he heard their steps falter as whoever it was registered the grown man sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. He didn’t look up. Screw it. So what if he was a blubbering mess? Blue was okay.
After half a second, the interloper moved off and he heard the snick of a cigarette lighter. A faint hint of smoke wafted his way, and a memory washed over him, dragged from some deep, dark corner of his brain by the sensory trigger — Blue delivering a lecture on Big Tobacco to a six-foot-six, tattooed hulk of a man who’d dared to light up in her vicinity.
It was an old memory, as old as their friendship. From the day they’d met, in fact.
He’d been sitting in the tattoo parlor where she’d been doing her apprenticeship, waiting to get his second tattoo, ink-fever having already made its mark on him. She’d had long blue hair then — he’d never seen it any other color — her makeup gothic-dark and heavy on the mascara and kohl, her jeans so tight it was a wonder she could breathe. Every guy in the shop had watched as she moved around the studio, cleaning workstations, answering the phone and sharing her unsolicited opinion on smoking with the bearded bear Eddie had later realized was her boss.
Typical Blue, never short of an opinion and never shy about sharing it. She’d hovered nearby when the artist got to work on the tattoo on Eddie’s bicep, her gaze eagle-sharp as she watched the artist’s technique. She was the one who cleaned him off afterward, her touch impersonal and brisk as she applied antiseptic cream to his angry-looking skin.
“I like this design,” she’d said. “Where’d you find it?”
“I drew it.”
“Yeah?” He could still remember the way she’d looked him over as though she was mentally recalibrating her opinion of him. “It’s good.”
She’d said it simply, absolutely confident that her opinion counted for something in the world.
“My brother and I are studying at the Victorian College of the Arts,” he’d explained, trying to flick it off casually.
“La-di-da-da. They give you a free polo pony with your degree?” she’d said.
He’d been so used to getting what he wanted when it came to women that it had taken him a moment to realize he’d been shot down in flames.
“Don’t waste your time with Blue,” one of the other clients had told him. “She doesn’t do men.”
Eddie had glanced at Blue to get her reaction to the comment, catching the sly little smile that curved her lips for a bare fraction of a second before she schooled her expression. Later, when he was handing over the money for his tattoo, he’d checked that no one was listening before leaning closer and lowering his voice.
“Your secret is safe with me.”
She’d glanced at him, and their gazes had locked for a long beat. He’d known without her saying a word that she understood exactly what he was referring to.
“Let me guess what you want in exchange for your silence,” she’d said.
“A drink after work. That’s all.”
She’d crossed her arms over her chest and given him a look that was dark with knowledge. “For starters, you mean.”
There’d been so much world-weary cynicism in her expression he’d felt insulted.
“You think I need to blackmail women into bed?”
“Oh, no. I’m sure you’re used to them falling like nine-pins, pretty boy like you with your fancy accent.”
It was so close to the truth that he’d shifted his weight onto his back foot.
“One beer,” he’d said, even though a part of him wondered why he was bothering.
She’d messed around with something on the register for a long moment before nodding curtly. That night, they’d bellied up to the bar at the local pub, cold glasses of beer in hand, and she’d confirmed his suspicion that she’d started the lesbian rumor to protect herself from being hit on by clients. She’d been different away from work, less guarded, but also wary in a new way. As though she was waiting for him to make a move again, maybe. As fascinated as he was by her small but very perky body, he’d resisted the urge to try his luck again. She was too prickly, and he wasn’t sure he was up for the challenge. He’d never really had to work for sex before. Then Rafel had joined them, and she’d lit up as she realized they were identical twins, and the great formative friendship of his life had taken off in earnest.