“Okay nevermind, try that again.”
Ten-thirty at night. Patches of blue and black drifted along the countryside skyline. Clara threw her arm out. Stopping Dane from leaning any further to the shisha pipe that sat awkwardly balanced in front of them. Save for Dane’s botched coughing, the garden was almost quiet. Party music simmered from his parent’s house a few hundred feet away. A house he’d been left in charge of for a weekend.
By their feet Bob Dylan wailed through a bad Bluetooth connection. Talking of wolves and trees. His voice stuck in a cheap speaker and surrounded by wet grass.
“Your posture is still all whacked out.” Clara continued reaching over to the small of Dane’s back. Shifting his torso forward like misaligned toy bricks. As this action was performed, one of her sleeves rolled up. She was so focused (and stoned) that it escaped her notice. The design of Clara’s long-sleeved shirt was simple and striking. Largely white with pink trimmings around the corporate logo in the middle and trailing to the sleeves. But the ink on her forearm stuck out more, catching Dane’s breathe in a lethal chokehold. Thick vapour snaked out from his nostrils.
At first Dane’s train of thought had stopped at the station of oh a quirky tattoo. But looking at it properly with the extra details that jump out to an excessive weed user scrambled his mind a bit. It sat as a nasty blotch on her skin, shaped and red like pulsing blood. A crude outline of a square flanked on two sides by lines that looked like L’s. All outline, no fill. Such a shocking image combined with Dane’s state of mind it send him standing up. Bolt upright in shock. He barely noticed Clara recoil from her own shock. In doing all this Dane knocked over the small ramshackle table they’d been using to balance the shisha pipe in front of the garden bench. But all this was background icing to Dane’s glazed eyes and brain. That image on Clara’s inner forearm was an old favourite of true-crime forums and urban legends. It was a symbol of a rumoured cult, or "movement".
Two things swam to the surface of Dane’s immediate concerns. Number one, what did the mark signify? Was she a member of that group of druggies turned freedom fighters? Or worse some kind of victim? V.E.I.L had never openly killed anyone. But so much of them was a mystery that anything definitive was hard to say. Number two, what did this mean for the present moment. Them. Right there and right now. Both loaded to the gills and on paper at least, in charge of a large country home at the height of a party. Dane realised he very much regretted standing up as soon as the blood rushed to his skull.
Impatient air raced a breeze through the garden. It overpowered the permanently on-shuffle playlist. Dylan was done it seemed. Was this the Chilli peppers now? Dane scrunched his face to pick out the baseline but was reminded with a startle about the whole other human sitting next to him.
“You okay? You’ve barely had two hits.”
Dane looked to the girl, her amber eyes circled by an all too familiar space cadet glow.
“You can talk…” Dane said to Clara, his tone unsure of itself as the words came out. He let it trail off.
She gave an awkward giggle, but stopped when Dane didn’t join in. Sensing a gap in his silence, Clara pushed on. “Oh. That mark on me… I’m not-”
Dane’s annoyance cut her speech off. The way he said the word did not phrase it as a question. It left no room for weasling out or any trickery. Not even a corner to back herself into. Dane had her dead to rights. Surely.
Dane blinked. Having fallen quiet, the two of them seemed to be locked in a kind of chess game.
Who speaks first? Moves first? Ends it. First?
“What does the word veil mean to you?”
“You don’t believe me.”
Hunching over he began walking. Best bet to draw the information out of Clara. Or at a worst-case scenario, make some space.
“I left my coat at the house.” As icy and subdued as the night air. He made a special point to step on the glass pipe. It crunched.
Knowing she could not see. As he got closer music attacked in spikier waves from his house. Flashing strobe lights and the winks of lit cigarettes greeted Dane from upper floor windows. It was a large old house. Ugly but practical for the kind of party he liked to throw on a Friday night. Tonight was one of those Friday nights.
And things were going so well. Dane sighed. But that was the risk you ran when inviting friends of friends. Every now and then one would turn out to be part of a kooky terrorist ring. Even the pretty ones.
“Veil, it had to be veil didn’t it?” Dane ensured his voice rang out so Clara would hear it as he walked into the house. The oak door let out a soft glow of salt lamps from the living room. He slammed it shut behind him. Just hope she doesn’t take my speaker.
Standing in the weird shoe cupboard room that every house in the neighbourhood had, gave the teen some clarity. Everyone inside was too busy to notice him. So it was time to think things through. What to do next. His internal answer arrived on schedule, a smooth steam train of realisation.
Have so much fun you forget about her. It’s worked before, why not now.
With that thought, Dane shuffled into the living room.
Music hit him hard, stifling Dane’s internal monologue. All those pesky and as of recent, far too fragile emotions were dead weight to Dane. The last seven hours the equivalent to having his brain be held underwater.
Whoever was in charge of the living room playlist was devoid of shame, early 2000’s pop sat at centre stage. Whining guitar riffs bled from a stereo system strategically placed around the house. Dane looked around at all the washed-out and scruffy faces. Those faces had meant something to him once. But in that moment Dane was far too sulky to appreciate anything. He didn’t stop to say hello to anyone. Preferring to drift unknown over to the open-plan kitchen, then fish out a cold beer from his fridge. All I need to do is ride this party out. Clean up tomorrow. Yeah, it will be a new day. None of this will last.
Then Dane shut the fridge. Revealing Clara leaning on the kitchen island with cucumber coolness in her eyes.
“Are you following me now?” Dane asked.
Clara was adjusting her nails, and kept her eyes glued on them as she responded.
“Any girl who’s following you clearly has no brains. That’s me by the way, I just wanted to have fun tonight. Get your attention, have a laugh y’know…”
That earned a laugh. Sensing Dane relaxing a smidge, Clara added. “Docile and dumb, true feminism.”
He fished out another beer, keeping the original tucked into his side with a stubborn elbow. Once opened, two beers grew to more for both Clara and Dane himself.
Dane at some point by the fifth bottle opening, made the subconscious decision to if not forget, put aside the fact this essential stranger had creeped into his house and was at the very least hanging out with the most wanted criminals in the last five years. Maybe it was her legs. Dane resisted the urge to ask the about the brand, about the mark. Letting himself be lost.
They moved as one, swerving from the kitchen counter side. With all momentum being carried by their slurred conversation. Dane dodged a clumsy drunk and nabbed a blue bowl of crisps. Clara raised a judging eyebrow. In response Dane lifted the bowl in a mockful shrug. “Too high and mighty for snacks then.” A smirk formed. Clara said nothing, instead she conceded by groping around in the bowl. Standing on tiptoes and taking her time in a painfully slow way. Her fingers scuttled at the bowl’s bottom. Dane still held it with outstretched arms.
Despite grim house party lighting, it was clear too see past thick blue glass. After apparently growing bored of playing it slow, Clara fished out the smallest crisp. She placed it on the tip of her tongue and chewed with thoughtfulness.
“Depends on the snack I ‘spose.”
All Dane could saw was – “Hmm.”
Spiteful thoughts flashed to Dane’s soul. She’s good, fair play.
Despite the hormones his inner logic managed to chase away another one. Maybe it doesn’t matter if she’s…
“No. It does matter, zero questions asked.”
That’d caught Clara off-guard. “What’d you say.”
Dane took stock of the party. Music had been cracked, the atmosphere weighed down by grooved vibes. Looking toward the back revealed two big speakers. And more than one broken table. As the chorus vocals of Purple Rain kicked in Dane turned back to logic for reassurance.
Okay the party’s growing some balls now, she didn’t hear properly
But he was far too correct. Clara hadn’t heard him. But that meant she was still hearing nowt. Dane realised he’d been standing with his brain both in the clouds and between his legs. Lost in thought that’d dragged him into a silent spell. As if to confirm this notion, Clara’s face curdled sour and both her shoulders shot up in a violent shrug. The body language equivalent of…what gives?
Dane smoothed the waters of his mind, with the body following its example. His own shoulders, slinking down to a less tense and more nimble manner. “Sorry, zoned out for a sec.” Dane finished lamely. Clara’s eyes never left his as she rocked and rolled on the balls of her feet. With a hair tussle and head shake like a witch doctor banishing a headache.
“So then, a veil tattoo. That’s the elephant in the room.”
“It is.” He said.
“Does it actually matter?”
“But you want to know more.”
“One thing at a time.” She snatched a drink from some dimwit tripping over his own feet, Its content as red as the plastic straw jutting out from crushed ice. Music continued to thump at the foundation of the house. Dane narrowed his ears and listened to her sip. A final gulp and the glass was placed shakily down.
A kiss happened.
The both of them expected a quick peck with smuggled aftertaste. Instead they both pulled back after a good few seconds. Clara’s mouth sat open in cold self-shock. From the height of her bangs downward, ice lingered like slow rain. Melting as seconds ground down to the speed of minutes.
“Shall we get some fresh air.”
Clara nodded, eyes wide and bright. “Yeah seems about right.”
As one unit they drifted back out. Stopping short of the bench they sat on the doorstep facing the grass. As Clara reached into a rucksack Dane had failed to notice before, she hit the ground running with her words.
“I’m not part of veil. Hardly my thing. I’ve ran into them though, you hang around enough and they’ll cross your path. Or you’ll cross theirs.”
Dane kept quiet.
Distractedly, Clara muttered “Found it.”
She pulled out the now half-damp, half-drying speaker. Pressing a thumb down softly. A blue light whirred to life with a beep. After some quick phone scrolling music faded out from the speaker. Their speaker?
“You have stories then.” Dane prodded.
The girl with amber eyes laughed. “Of course. Want to hear some?”
“Yes.” Dane said honestly.
“One thing at a time remember.” She reminded him with smugness. Clara turned the music up. Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks warped their weed-drenched senses. A first of many songs to jam to as Clara filled Dane’s head with stories of the Veil gang. Some true, some exaggerated. Most were both. They smiled as the stars drifted through the night’s sky. Dane and Clara talked until the sun came up, and they came down off the clouds to sleep in the grass.