Saturday 20th December 2014
Sitting on the barstool, legs swinging between the props, listening to the music blaring from the stage with Keila bobbing along beside her, it almost felt like the monster argument she’d had with her father earlier was worth it. The band was good; a nice treat – having a group actually in Reich for a change – especially on the first week of the holidays. She was away from the death glares of her father, out from under his judgemental and unsatisfied gaze, so that was a plus.
It was the whole ‘best friend’ thing that put a damper on everything.
For the umpteenth time since they’d arrived, Keila slid her phone from her pocket, smiling broadly at the screen before pattering away at a reply. Marceline tried so hard not to care. She did, really. It was nice that this guy was making Keila so happy (she supposed), but that childish ire kept resurfacing and it wasn’t fun.
Keila tapped her shoulder, mouth working excitedly, but Marceline couldn’t hear her over the din of the pub. She waved a hand at her ear, trying to mime the trouble she was having. When her friend gestured at the exit though, Marceline had a sinking feeling the night was going to end just as badly as she’d expected.
‘Outside,’ Keila mouthed. ‘Talk. Go.’
With a lingering glance at the band and a resigned shuffle to her step, Marceline followed her bouncing companion pressing through the throngs. The proprietor (their good friend and the only reason they were allowed in underage) watched them go, but he didn’t say anything about them leaving early. Slowly, they made their way through the crowded room and stepped outside into the warm summer evening. They stopped at the top of the stairs, doors swinging closed behind them, shutting out the music.
“Are you going?” Marceline asked her, not having to strain to be heard now.
“Yeah,” her friend replied, waving her phone in one hand. “I’m just gonna head home and change. You don’t mind do you?”
For a moment, Marceline was tempted to say she wanted Keila’s company this evening. Just once. But in the end, she shook her head. She was plenty good at entertaining herself after all.
“Fine, yeah, cool,” Marceline said, sticking her hands in her pockets and staring up at the sky. A few dribbles of orange light still resisted gravity at the horizon, but it was mostly dark now, street lamps providing most of the illumination. “Have fun with what’s-his-face.”
Keila beamed. “Hey thanks, Marceline. I’ll see you later.” With that, she ran down the stairs and off towards her place leaving Marceline by herself. Again.
She didn’t really want to hang out alone in town; that would be boring. There was no way she was going home yet… Maybe she could give Bonnie a call.
She didn’t get the chance.
Hunching her shoulders, feeling all the remaining cheer drain away through her toes, Marceline turned to glower at Ash. He was just leaving the pub, smirk smeared across his face, followed by half a dozen of his so-called friends. Lackeys and thugs more like. All in leather jackets and black jeans. Because matching is so cool.
“What?” she snapped, not even pretending at civility with him.
He clapped a hand to his breast bone. “Ouch,” he grumbled, bearing teeth in a parody of a smile (he probably thought he looked awesome). “That’s a harsh greeting. Are you not even a little pleased to see me?”
“Aw, come on now,” he chortled, sliding up beside her. “We can go get a drink, yeah?”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she informed him flatly, arms folded now, defensive. “So just leave.”
Ash tilted his head back, looking at her down his nose. “What? Are you too good for me, huh? Too good to have a drink? Going liquor free?” He sneered. And she made to turn away. “You think I’m going to let you just walk away from me?”
“I dumped your worthless arse ages ago,” Marceline reminded him. “Pretty sure I’ve already walked away. And there’s no way I’m going to take you back.”
He shuffled a few half-steps closer and leaned in, the smell of whiskey burning off his tongue. “Uh-uh,” he purred darkly. “You don’t get to dump me, bitch. I bet you’ve got another guy lying around somewhere yeah? Does he know you won’t put out?” His lips peeled back, exposing teeth in a terrible grin.
“You wish you knew, huh, Ash?” Marceline taunted him, knowing it was stupid. Her eyes darted to the side, noting one of his friends taking a step towards them. Heart thudding painfully in her chest, Marceline took a step towards the stairs, wishing she could find a little courage. Wishing she was stronger than him. “You’re just a jerk who treats others like they’re worthless to cover how pathetic you know you are. It’s not good for building relationships.” Ok… that might have been too far. Maybe a little less courage. Less snark.
Ash’s face darkened, his knuckles cracking as they fisted at his sides. “I’m gonna find this guy and I’m gonna stick him like a pig, you cow. I’m gonna hurt everyone you care about.”
For some reason she couldn’t quite explain, that threat made Marceline very angry. The possibility that Ash would hurt someone; that he’d hurt Keila or Bonnie to get to her… That was too much.
He didn’t see her fist coming.
His nose made a satisfying crunch as her blow landed, the burning in Marceline’s heart now throbbed an echo through her knuckles. Ash’s hand flew up reflexively to cover his nose (the gesture was accompanied by a rather girlish squawk that she’d probably laugh about later) and came away bloody. His other hand jabbed out, a defensive movement, which hit her square on the sternum and sent her stumbling back a step. She almost lost her balance and tumbled down the stairs, but one arm cast out rocked her back just enough to stay upright. Her free hand clamped down on the spot where Ash had hit her, the pain there aching along with her hand and heart.
Her gaze finally returned to her ex-boyfriend after probably too long distracted. He was prodding a tooth experimentally and her wolfish grin as it wobbled was definitely not good for her immediate well-being, but it was satisfying to know she’d loosened one of his pearly whites.
Ash hacked a gob of blood out of his mouth. “Get her,” he spat around more blood.
So… being outnumbered was a bad thing, but she lowered her centre of gravity anyway, bracing for the first punch. She missed it, something looming up at her from the side. The world tilted, spun and went black.
A god almighty cracking sound was the last thing she heard.
When her phone beeped, Ellen let out a rather unnecessary squeal and snatched the remote up to pause the movie. It didn’t bother Bonnie; she just kept her attention focused on her book. Reading might completely defeat the purpose of a movie night, and yes, the writing was awful, all clichés, bad characterisation and confusing analogies, but it was better than the film she was being forced to sit through. All she could think was that Marceline would never have suggested a movie as trite as this one.
“Ten bucks it’s her boyfriend,” Hayden called from the couch she was curled up on.
“I’ll take that,” Jake replied. “I reckon it’s Melissa calling about her breakup.”
“Don’t waste your money, Jake,” Pippa requested from her spot beside him. She arched an eyebrow at Ellen who was now beaming massively.
“It’s Brad,” she gushed (the only way she had when speaking about her sometimes-boyfriend). “He wants to go out tomorrow. After church. He won’t say where, apparently it’s a surprise.” Her fingers tapped away at the screen, spelling out a response.
“See? You would’ve lost your money,” Pippa consoled, patting Jake’s arm. “Oh, hope you guys don’t mind, but I took our study group form into reception today.”
Finn’s brow knitted. “Gregory mentioned that. I wasn’t paying attention though. What’s it about?”
Hayden rolled her eyes. “Compulsory study groups for everyone next year,” she explained. “The form was basically a list of the people in your group.”
“It means I’m out of a job, Finn,” Bonnie added. “They’ve implemented this so they don’t have to pay tutors.”
“I didn’t know you were being paid,” Ellen commented quietly.
Bonnibel didn’t answer the unspoken question. She hadn’t been paid, but the other tutors were. Her reasons were not among the things she needed to tell her friends though.
Jake sighed. “So they decide to change things and don’t give us all of the information? Typical. Alright, so what was the go? Who didn’t get included?”
“Groups of six to eight people, Jake,” Pippa said. “Do a head count for me, sweetie.”
He lifted an indignant finger to do as she said and then dropped it. “Oh,” he grumbled. “Shut up.”
Pippa laughed at him, kissing his cheek. “It’s alright. Hit play for me, Finn. Ellen’s not paying the movie a single iota of attention anyway.”
“Hey, no wait,” Ellen burbled. “Listen to this.” Her gaze was strangely serious and that uncomfortable glint she often wore when she found juicy gossip sparked in her eyes, a shiver of excitement lacing her words. “There’s been a brawl in town, at the pub. Ash lost a tooth. That’s so good.”
“Cool,” Finn cried. “Who else was involved? Did any of his goons get a drubbing?”
“Hang on,” Ellen snapped as she scrolled through the rest of the message. “Aha! Excellent. Someone pushed Marceline down the stairs. She’s been hospitalised. Awesome. Apparently she’s got some broken bones.”
Bonnie’s heart stopped.
“That’s the hospital above the police station, yes?” Bonnibel asked her softly.
“Yeah, that’s the one. Hey, where are you going?”
But Bonnie had already bounded to her feet and out the door. “The clinic!” she called behind her anyway, panic surging through her. She fumbled her phone from her pocket, lighting up the sidewalk so she wouldn’t trip, trying to ignore the way her blood seemed to run cold through her veins.
“Wait! Hey, Bonnie, wait!” someone yelled behind her. “I’ll drive you.”
She whirled to see Jake climbing into his truck, motioning for her to join him. Bonnie hastened over, stumbling on a join in the pavement and clambered up into the passenger seat, buckling herself in. Jake glanced at her, concern written sharply on his face, even in the low light. Thankfully, he didn’t speak, and he didn’t dawdle, inching a little over the speed limit as he drove across town. The trip still took far too long for Bonnie’s liking. It gave her too much time to imagine all the possible scenarios, all the things that could’ve gone wrong, all the ways Marceline could be hurt and it twisted her insides into painful knots.
The medical clinic (fondly called the hospital by locals) consisted of the second and third floors of the police station (although the third floor was mostly storage and office space). Two big signs hung out the front with lights shining up at the words to inform people of the dual nature of the building. Inside, the place was lit up, not the sterile white of a hospital in Ormeau, but bright enough to hurt her eyes if she stared too long.
“Do you want me to come in with you?” he asked gently, pulling on the handbrake in the lot in front of the station. She was so glad he asked that and not one of the other questions hanging in the air between them.
“No, thanks,” she muttered, sliding out of her seat. “Go back and watch the movie. I’ll be fine.”
He still looked concerned, but bobbed his head just the same. “Be safe, alright?”
She offered a wan smile, too tight with worry for Marceline to look right. “I will. Thanks for driving me.”
He gave her an equally pallid grin. “No worries.” Jake looked as if he wanted to say something more, maybe ask one of those questions still lingering around. He didn’t though, holding in his curiosity and pulling away.
Not wanting to waste any more time, Bonnie darted inside, the light momentarily blinding her after the dark outside. Finding the reception desk, she hastened over, trying to remain calm. That was no easy task.
An older lady sat at the table, typing away on her keyboard. Noticing Bonnie, she stopped and looked up, smiling. Bonnibel couldn’t stop fidgeting.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked pleasantly.
“Um, yes… I’m looking for Marceline Abadeer?” Bonnie queried softly.
The woman clicked at something on her screen and pursed her lips, scanning the document. “Mmn,” she said. “Oh yes, she’s upstairs in room two-oh-eight. Can I mark you down in the visitor’s log?”
“Bonnibel Banner,” she replied, feeling a little anxious. “Thank you.”
It didn’t take her long after hurrying up the stairs to find Marceline’s room. It was the one with people outside talking in hushed voices. A nurse was conversing with Father Hansen and a police officer. That visual did absolutely nothing to stop her dread from circulating. Despite being worried beyond belief by what they might have to say, Bonnie stepped cautiously over to them.
“Bonnibel, dear,” Hansen said, solemnly, the first to notice her.
“Is she alright?” Bonnie asked, her voice creaking with worry. Her eyes flicked between all three faces, eventually settling on the nurse.
“She’s going to be fine,” the nurse told her reassuringly. Only it wasn’t quite reassuring to Bonnie. It sounded like a false platitude. “She has a concussion, a sprained wrist and ankle, a broken radius and three cracked ribs. It’s nothing too serious; she’ll be fine after a few months.”
That absolutely did not sound like ‘nothing serious’ to Bonnibel. No it did not. She felt sick. “Can I see her?” she asked, trying not to think about throwing up.
“I’d like to speak to her first, if you don’t mind,” the officer said. Bonnie rocked forward to read his name tag. Ah, it was Deputy Gunter then. Finn had told her about him. Weird fellow.
“She was in a fight with Ash Kelly,” he explained. “Do you know him?”
“I’d like to get her side of the story,” he told her, calmly. “That’s all. Ash wasn’t there when we arrived and given his history, I doubt we’ll find him for a while. But I would like to know what happened from her rather than from other witnesses.”
“It might be good for her to see a friendly face first,” the nurse chimed in. “She does have a concussion.”
The door to Marceline’s room opened and Bonnie spun so fast to see who it was she nearly fell over. From the white coat and the clipboard under his arm, she assumed it was the attending doctor. He meandered slowly over to them, clearly not in any hurry.
“She’s awake,” he said softly to them all. “A little dazed, but conscious. Her recollection of events might be a little hazy, deputy, given her concussion. I’d advise you to return in the morning after she’s rested. I know you’re probably anxious to get her account now, but I promise you’ll have better luck in the morning anyway.” He passed the clipboard to the nurse who wandered off to… do something with it.
“Can I see her?” Hansen asked.
The doctor nodded. “Keep your voices down, if you would.”
If only because he was her father, Bonnie let Hansen in first, despite the itch in her feet demanding that she run inside. Of course, there was a part of her (deep down) so utterly terrified of what she might find, that she was more than happy to let him go in ahead. It was a little cramped with them all in the room, but the doctor didn’t stay. He just muttered again about keeping a low volume and being gentle moving around her cast, then left.
Hansen stood with his hands in his pockets at the end of the bed, staring down at his daughter. Her face was swollen and purple in places, her bottom lip had a cut and she was covered in white plaster casts from elbow to wrist on her right arm. Her right ankle was wrapped in bandages too, no doubt to help the sprain settle. In short, she looked awful and it made Bonnie’s trembling heart crack.
“Hey, dad,” she croaked, not seeing Bonnie still lingering in the doorway. “Wassup?”
He frowned. “I thought I told you not to hang around with those low-lives. What did you do?”
Her face scrunched up. “You know… I don’t remember. Unlucky.”
Hansen half turned away from her, brow still furrowed. “You should’ve known better. Spending time with those… those people… This was bound to happen.” He sighed as if he’d predicted this and Marceline had simply not listened to his warnings. “Get some sleep. We’ll discuss this later.” With that he left. Just like that. Bonnie was speechless.
Marceline exhaled, shuddering with the pain of it, all of this stress visibly leaving her body. Closing her eyes, she mumbled, “Jerk.”
As silently as she could manage, Bonnie sat in the chair on the left of the bed. For a while she just stared at her friend, even paler than usual, lying there. If it weren’t for the crease on her forehead and the inconsistent way she was breathing she could’ve been asleep.
“Hey,” Bonnie whispered, reaching for her wrist.
At the touch Marceline’s eyes flew open, her head whipped around and she gasped from pain. “Bonnie? What are you doing here?”
“Ellen got a text saying you were in hospital,” Bonnie told her gently. “So I came to see you. Are you okay?”
Marceline laughed quietly and then regretted it, evident in the way she closed her eyes and sucked in a short breath. “Um… no. I have a lot of broken bones, Bon. I’m the very definition of not okay.”
“Sorry,” Bonnie sighed. “Where’s Keila? Didn’t she go with you tonight?”
“She went on a date instead,” Marceline said flatly, trying to conceal the hurt.
“You could’ve called me.”
Marceline shook her head slightly. “Tonight’s movie night, yeah? Didn’t want to interrupt your nerding.”
“You’re an idiot, Marceline,” Bonnie told her bluntly, squeezing her hand. “You should’ve called me.” She waited a moment, but Marceline didn’t have anything else to say it seemed. So she asked, “What did he do?”
“Ash. What did he do to set you off?”
Marceline blinked at her. “You… You don’t think it was my fault?”
Bonnie tilted her head, smiling softly. “Of course not. Why would I think you started it? He’s a right dick.”
A slow smile flickered to life then on Marceline’s face. “He uh… might’ve threatened some people I kinda like. So I punched him. Then I got pushed down the stairs. Now here we are.”
“You know, I really don’t like him,” Bonnie murmured. “Scoot over.” She waved her free hand.
“Shift your butt over a bit so I can sit on the bed,” Bonnie explained, chuckling.
Frowning, Marceline did not even attempt to move. Bonnibel sighed, sliding onto the bed beside her, wriggling beneath the sheet. She lifted Marceline’s arm, draping the appendage across her shoulder as she settled.
“You’re useless,” she told her friend.
“This is… why?” Marceline stammered.
“Because it’s late and I want to sleep. Plus you need a hug and I don’t really want to touch your ribs,” Bonnie replied, turning her head into Marceline’s shoulder. “And you’re cold. Why are you cold?”
“Because it’s cold in here,” Marceline whispered tremulously.
Bonnie just hummed, trying very hard to ignore the way her heart was stuttering. “Your heart is going really fast,” she muttered.
“It’s probably the painkillers,” Marceline spluttered. “Or a belated adrenaline rush or something.”
That was most likely the case, but it didn’t stop Bonnie from wishing it was something else.
“Can I ask you something?” Marceline asked after a moment.
“Anything you like.”
There was a beat of silence before the question. “You’re not… Are you going back to Ormeau after you graduate?”
“Almost definitely,” Bonnie whispered, opening her eyes again. “I’ve been set on going to Driscoll since I knew what a tertiary education was. Plus I’d like to visit my parents, see my friends… Why?”
Marceline turned her head, staring at the ceiling. “Just wondering. I figured you wouldn’t stay. You’ve got no reason to.” She blinked, then looked back down. “Did you say Driscoll?”
“Hum… yes,” she mumbled, winding her fingers into the fabric of Marceline’s shirt across her stomach. “I’m going to put in my application in January, most likely, so I can make plans.”
The arm around Bonnie’s shoulder tightened and Marceline sighed, looking away again. “That’s funny,” she mused.
“Driscoll has the best music facilities in the country,” she breathed. “Ever since my piano teacher told me about their courses, I’ve been dying to go. Even if just to see it. Kinda lame, really. More of a pipe dream. They’d never let me in.”
“They’d be stupid to turn you away,” Bonnie yawned. “Just put in a competency application. It’s like sending them a portfolio of stuff and if they like what they see or hear they’ll accept you. That way, you’ll know what you’re doing before Easter.”
“They do that?” Marceline asked in a much higher pitch than usual.
“Mmhmm. I’m sending in all my extra research papers, plus a few experimental theories I drafted.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“I Googled it.”
“Huh.” Marceline was quiet for a while, so Bonnie closed her eyes again. Then, “I could move out of this place,” she whispered. “I could stop living with dad; stop listening to him harping on about how useless my skills are. I could live with Marshall.”
“Or me,” Bonnie added. “I’d need a roommate. Plus it might be awkward, you living with your brother and his girlfriend.”
Up to that point, Marceline’s heart had been pretty steady – a tad too fast for her liking – but at least it was consistently so. It skipped a little bit then though and she opened her eyes, almost saying something about it. The look on Marceline’s face stopped her.
“What?” she asked instead.
“You’d live with me?” Marceline asked in a strangled voice.
“Sure. You’re not so bad.”
“Will… Will you help me put together a portfolio to send them, then?”
“Definitely. Do you have recording equipment?”
“No problem then. Now go to sleep.”
Marceline chuckled, the vibrations shivering through Bonnie. Of course, it faded into a wince and a sharp intake of breath, but at least she’d laughed. Bonnie smiled.