A/N: So much writers block! So sorry for the long wait. But, please let me know what you think! Hope you enjoy :D
"...That never shared before
From my mouth to yours
And then it's dark again
Just like a spark
And then it vanishes..."
Sparks by Beach House
"I'm not cleaning up that shit again. These guys have no sense in aim. Literally."
"But…but, it's a part of your job. I mean, I don't want to force you to do anything but it's a part of your responsibilities"—
"You can't tell me what to do, Moblit."
"I'm your boss!"
"Oi!" Zoe whistled as she snapped her fingers at her two bickering friends. Face flushed, Berner spun around but Nanaba simply crossed her arms, answering with a raised eyebrow. "I'll do it!"
Not only was it Zoe Hanji's job as a bowling clerk to clean grimy bathroom stalls, spritz worn bowling shoes, and announce birthdays on the intercom but, also, diffusing the tension between her warring friends. While Berner was her cousin, she's known Nanaba since she arrived to the town of Maria a few months ago. Technically, sure, it hadn't been that long but somehow it felt like the two had known each other for ages. So, when Nanaba dropped the cleaning supplies on the ground with a loud smack—bleach spray, paper towels, and gloves jostling—before promptly leaving, Zoe didn't take it personally. Instead, she grabbed the crate and mock saluted her cousin as she headed to the public restrooms.
Because Zoe was never one to shy away from a challenge.
Clatter rang throughout the Colossal Bowling Alley, the sounds of pins knocking onto slick wood and polyester bowling balls shooting through channels. The alley wasn't too busy—a few stragglers of bored truckers and smokers lightly littered throughout as it was a Tuesday night. Zoe glanced at the clock as she made her way down the aisle, bucket of cleaning supplies in one hand. It wasn't that she was tired of working at Colossal Alley because, for one thing, Zoe never grew tired (she barely even slept).
But, she always grew restless.
"Hmm…" she whistled once she swung open the doors to the men's public restroom. Toilet paper checkered the sticky tiled floors as the sinks were clogged with water and soap. A challenge indeed. "This ought to be interesting!"
The bowling clerk was never one to complain, which always seemed to annoy Nanaba—"You need to learn to be a bitch, bitch!"—but she also was never one to stay somewhere for too long. Her stint at Sina City had caused her to rethink things in her life…well, more like her parents had rethought things for her by kicking her out.
Zoe blew her bangs out of her eyes as she hummed loudly to herself, the broom in her hands swaying back and forth against the tiled floors. It didn't seem to be making much of an impact, as the dust simply wafted around, but she didn't mind. In fact, she was oddly content. So, the Town of Maria wasn't Sina City, but it as something. An old song blossomed into her head, the words vaguely tumbling from her lips. "Sunshine…never had it so good…in my childhood…"
Who had sang this song to her when she was younger—a grandmother? Oh, no wait, maybe it was Aunt Chika. Then again Chika could barely sing, much like Zoe now, whose rough voice wobbled through each word, mumbling here and there. The bowling clerk cleared her throat. She really should hurry up with work, what with all the other stuff she had to do. Finishing applications and starting a lot more applications, which Zoe detested because they'd always ask to describe herself. Where would she even start? It'd be easier if it asked to describe someone else (she was good at that, observing others). Like the mailman with the gimp, the old lady down the hall that smelled like fish, or the that guy staring at her at the bathroom entrance—
"You're making a mess."
Zoe blinked, eyes darting at the broom stick that suddenly sprung to life in her hands and tumbled to the ground. "Oh! Sorry! I didn't see you there…"
A stack of papers hung from one hand as he leaned against the doorframe, a frown etched into his face. Dang it, he seemed familiar. Zoe racked her mind but, unsurprisingly, came up empty. She sucked at names. Slowly, he crossed his arms. "Are you listening? You're just spreading around shit everywhere."
His cold blue eyes narrowed. Perplexed, Zoe glanced down at the floor and shrugged. "It looks fine to me. Unless you mean there's actual shit that I unknowingly spread around? I mean, it's happened before. Some people here just go ahead and"—
He didn't seem to be listening as he walked inside, setting the stack of papers on a dry section of the sink counter top. Eh, what else is new? Sometimes Nanaba would feign death, dramatically flopping to the floor but Berner had always been too polite to express any irritancy at his older cousin. Instead, he'd simply just ask if she could kindly "please quiet down, Zoe, you know I love your stories but please?" But, this kind've-familiar-looking-guy could definitely hear her, which was all that really mattered, so Zoe continued.
"They just treat this place like they live here, which is cool I guess—I'd never want anyone to be uncomfortable. But, it's so interesting! The people here just have this, like, letsay far attitude and…"
He had picked up the broom and started gently brushing the ground in a methodical sweeping motion, eyes so focused on the task that Zoe almost jumped when he spoke. "Laissez faire. Not letsay far."
"Ooh, you speak French?"
"I speak words. Not made up shit."
"Can you say anything else? I only know a few words." Zoe tapped her chin in thought as she now sat on the edge of the sink counter, the water faintly seeping into her pants, swaying her legs. "Oh, I think…comment kaa vayy. That means, hello, right?"
But, his only answer was a brief frown at her pronunciation. He continued dusting the small restroom, muscles flexing in the grey shirt he wore as he efficiently moved the broomstick into corners. "Quick motions. Not just flopping crap around."
Zoe only chuckled. So he was one of those, I'm-big-and-bad type of guys? But, he was so short! All the men back in Sina City looked the same (urban chic wear and strategically tousled hair) but apparently the Town of Maria had more of a variety. A few moments passed, and the bowling clerk sighed as she tapped her lap impatiently. Her eyebrows raised as she noticed the stack of papers next to her and quickly grabbed one. "…Ahh, now I know why you looked so familiar! You're in that band. You guys play here once and a while, right?"
The broomstick nudged Zoe's foot and that's when she realized the guy was standing in front of her. "I'm not going to do your job for you, you know."
Scarlet splotched her cheeks as she scrambled off the counter top, practically falling onto the floor. "Woops! Umm, but t-thanks." Zoe clutched the broomstick hastily. "And, yeah, I know. I wasn't planning on you to do everything but…oh, wow the floor looks great! You're really good at that."
A soft snort escaped him as he took one of the posters and began tapping each edge onto the mirror. Shrugging, Zoe grabbed a cleaning spray and spritzed the dark blue stall doors one by one as the man smoothened out the edges of the poster. TITANS GOODBYE TOUR: ONE WEEK. Her thoughts drifted again as she wiped down the doors, bouncing from college applications to cat food to—ohh, crap, did she leave the iron on in her room again?
"We are kicking your bowling ass, Levi!" the door flew open, revealing a tall shaggy blonde man in a long sleeved shirt and jeans. His small grin quickly widened once his eyes landed on Zoe. He cleared his throat. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything…"
Zoe burst out laughing, hiccups and snorts, but the other simply scowled. That seemed to be his only expression. "I know you can barely see anything with that hair in your eyes but I'm about to punch you in the throat if the next thing you say is equally stupid."
The blonde only chuckled, seemingly used to the other's insults, and headed towards the urinals. "I'm just saying you wouldn't want Petra to get any wrong ideas or anything." He winked at Zoe. "You know how it is."
"Uhh-huhh…" she nodded, playing along. The only people Zoe had really interacted with these past few months were Nanaba, Berner, and Berner's doorman. Back in Sina City, she had an array of people that were a part of her life, but it was all about new beginnings now. The bowling clerk was determined for a fresh new start. She adjusted her glasses. "Of course!"
The other (Leo, was it? Dang it, he just said it) only ignored the pair as he took the papers back into his arms. But, a flicker of emotion finally emerged from his face once his friend started unzipping his pants at the urinal. "Mike. Seriously."
"Huh? Oh, woops," he cleared his throat and fumbled with his pants, "there's a lady present, I daresay." The two paused, staring at her for a few moments until that broken-but-flickering lightbulb went off above Zoe's head.
"I bet you want me to leave. My mistake! I'll just, uh…" she clambered back to the cleaning supplies, gathering everything into her arms. "Get my crap. No pun intended, well, since we're in a bathroom and everything."
But, when she bent down to pick up the broom, of course her cheap spectacles slid off her nose, hitting the newly cleaned floor. Her vision went fuzzy and she mumbled a swear under her breath because really that was the last time she was buying her spectacles from a corner store. Her fingers reached around only to brush up against someone else's.
Slowly, the plastic legs slid back behind her ears as the dark-haired man placed her glasses onto her face. Zoe blinked. His face was clear now: light eyebrows, a faint scar under his left eye, and an undercut. He blinked.
"Zoe, hot damn how long does it take for you to clean up a bathroom?" Nanaba flung open the door with a sandwich in one hand. It took her only a few seconds to raise a pierced eyebrow at the sight of Zoe with some guy holding onto her face and another standing at a urinal. "Uhh…there was a party and I wasn't invited?"
She shot up. "Sorry, sorry, I know! I hope you gave Berner a good excuse."
"Said you're probably sleeping in one of the stalls."
The bathroom door swung close as the two left and Zoe made sure to not glance back to see if those guys were staring at her like she had grown a second head. She knew she could be a bit of a spaz and, contrary to popular belief, she really did tone it down. But, whatever happened back there with Levi (that had to be it) was another episode of Zoe Hanji Makes a Fool out Of Herself as She Interacts with Humans. Part 2.
The Alley had apparently grown in the past few minutes that Zoe had been gone. More of the lanes were filled with younger people, laughing and talking, a stark contrast to the depressed earlier ones. Zoe hopped over the counter, sliding on the surface and dumped the cleaning supplies behind the desk.
"Zoe, I don't want to be a bother but I know I said that you should probably stop doing that." Berner hadn't even looked up from the clipboard he was scribbling on. He sat behind the side computer desk, legs crossed with his other hand faintly tapping the surface. "It looks unprofessional to the patrons."
"Oh, yeah," Nanaba scoffed. "Gotta look all tidy for those truckers and preteens in the corner. Better put on the bowties and take out the business cards so"—
"Sarcasm duly noted."
"Yeah, but is it appreciated?"
Sighing, Zoe propped her feet up on the desk as her friends' bickering faded into the background, accompanied by the steady rhythm of the bowling alley. Sure, Zoe was never one to overthink things but that strange encounter back in the men's bathroom inevitably got her cluttered mind reeling back to friends in Sina City. Her life was a collage of changes: different jobs, different friends, different housing…but it had always been on her terms. Because, in the end, Zoe saw her life as one giant experiment. Once she tested the people and places, she'd always move on to the next one. After three months, Zoe still was unsure of what to expect from the Town of Maria but, for once, she was okay with the idea.
At least she thought so.
"Hey, do you mind if we put this poster over here?"
The high-pitched voice snapped Zoe out of her thoughts. "Huhwha? I mean, yes, sorry—go ahead!"
It was a young woman, short with strawberry hair and green eyes. She held the small poster in her hand—the same one that Levi had carried about the Titans and their goodbye tour.
"Oh, I saw that in the men's bathroom," said Nanaba as the young woman smiled and began tacking it on the nearby bulletin board. "Who are we gonna book for our Thursday and Sunday shows now? I mean, you guys were never the greatest but"—
The girl simply giggled softly and shook her head. "Don't worry. We know we have…creative differences, which is why we're doing this in the first place, y'know? New beginnings." She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Speaking of which but are you guys busy later? We're having a small party at our place tonight. Bean dip totally included."
Zoe's eyebrows scrunched together briefly at the invitation. She remembered seeing her a few times before at the alley but never before had they actually spoken—and the bowling clerk normally spoke to everyone. At least attempted to. Her brown eyes glanced behind the redhead, finally landing on aisle where the other band members lingered. The tall blonde was up to bowl while Levi lounged on the chair next to another with silver hair. She adjusted her glasses.
"Nothing's ever going on in this town so, yeah, we'll definitely come," Nanaba said with a sly grin as she nudged Berner. "I can tell you want to."
He frowned. "Huh? Oh, no, wait, I don't think I'll"—
"Perfect!" the girl clapped her hands and then spun around. "Hey, guys we're having a party at our place tonight!"
But, her words travelled throughout the alley to the few other patrons around who seemed to flicker at the news. Zoe observed the curiosity on various faces and bit her lip in thought. News could travel fast. The band members briefly shrugged at the news, a whatever sure tossed as a confirmation.
The girl texted directions to Nanaba, the two hunched over the glow of their smartphones as Berner exhaled.
He glanced at his cousin. "I don't know if I'll tag along with you guys. The last time we all hung out, you tried to make me get a tattoo." Berner rubbed his hands together. "And, don't you have those applications to do? I thought…you know. Things were different."
So far, Zoe had been a Big Kid—staying focused on work and waking up on time...kind of. But, her parents would be proud if they were on speaking terms. The Town of Maria was a new chapter in her life and she knew she needed this change. "Oh, I'll just check it out for a little while, I think. I won't be out for too long! Trust me."
Because life was one big experiment.