Stuck

No one wanted to be there; work there; live there. It was never their choice. But everyone ended up there, running away from something. They were offered protection. Safety. But it only lasted for as long as they did.

This was a dangerous business, after all.

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1. Harley

"Why are we here?"

Surprised by this question, which broke through the comfortable silence in the locker room, I looked up from lacing my combat boots and met Jey's slightly vacant gaze. She had been in the middle of pulling on her leather jacket when this thought struck her, as thoughts often did, and so the sleeves were only pulled halfway up her arms, her hands lost behind the dark material. Rolling my eyes, I leaned over and tapped her nose - an action which I'd previously discovered pulled her out of her confusing thoughts - before waiting for her to return to reality. When she did, blinking and shaking her head, a small frown appeared on her lips.

"What did I say?"

"You don't remember?" I raised my eyebrows when she shook her head. Memory loss? This was new. "You said 'why are we here?', then went all weird."

"Oh. Well. It's a valid question." She looked back into my eyes. "Why are we here?"

"Because this is where we work, perhaps?" I suggested, returning my attention to the laces of my boots. "If we weren't here, we'd probably be fired for not turning up on time."

"But why did we choose here? Why did we choose this?"

"I don't know why you chose it." Shrugging, I didn't bother to look up. When Jey started with her questions, it was best to keep answers short and logical. Joining her in her theories and questioning of the world usually didn't end well. "Only you know that."

"Why did you choose it, then?"

She wasn't going to give up. This was annoying. I looked up, avoided her eyes, checked the clock on the wall. We had half an hour to kill. Looking around, there was only the usual early-comers: Sylv, Seb and Seth. They probably couldn't hear our conversation over the sound of their own idle chatter, and, even if they did, the trio weren't the type to gossip. It would be safe to have this talk with Jey, and it would stop her questions, so that was a plus. But where to start? Hm...

"Do you really want to know?" I asked, looking back into her eyes. Eye contact governed most of our interactions. It could mean anything, from 'this is serious' to 'give me attention' or even 'save me'.

"Not really." I smirked at her honesty. "But we're both bored. You want me to stop with the questions. There's only one way to stop a question." Her voice was almost taunting. She knew I was caught. If I didn't answer, the questions, which she knew bored me, would continue. If I answered... well, then I would have to answer.

"You know me too well, I swear. I need new friends." She giggled at this, pulling on her jacket and sitting cross-legged on the bench - a sign for me to continue. Cross-legged meant business. It meant she was prepared to sit and listen. "Fine. I'm here because I need the money. End of."

"Not satisfactory..." She was enjoying this. Maybe, under her airhead facade, she was actually a sadist. Hm. Her voice was almost musical - it was the one she used just with me, when she knew she had forced me into a corner, or had something over me. I really did need new friends. Another glance at the clock - only five minutes had passed. Damn. This half hour was going slow.

"I'm here because I'm an alien." For half a second, she believed me. I could tell. Then the moment passed, realisation dawned in her eyes, and she reached over to slap me, shaking her head, but laughing a little. I flinched at the sudden hand movement, and she stopped, biting her lip and looking down.

"Sorry. I... I forgot."

"It's ok. I'm sorry. Stupid nerves." I smiled, semi-sadly, reaching out for her hand. She let me take it. Cold, as always. We remained quiet for a few moments.

"I'm here because I don't have anywhere else to go." That was the honest answer. She nodded her head, not meeting my eyes, but squeezing my hand. That meant 'go on', or 'I understand, but elaborate'. "If I leave this arena, sooner or later I'm gonna get thrown in a jail cell, and they're gonna throw away the key."

"If I leave, they're gonna lock me up." She was so quiet, I thought I misheard my small friend, before going over the words in my mind and realising that I hadn't.

"I didn't take you for the violent criminal type." It was meant to be a joke, but I found myself unable to laugh, or even smile. Jey didn't either, just sighing before moving over to my side of the bench and sitting next to me, leaning over to bury her head in my chest.

"They're not gonna lock me in a prison."

I wrapped my arms around her - 'You don't have to say anymore'. The trio were still chatting; they hadn't heard a word we said, I guessed. That was good. Resting my chin on Jey's mess of copper-red hair, I took another look at the clock. Another five minutes had gone. We still had twenty. People only really started arriving when there was fifteen, maybe ten, minutes to go. The trouble-makers and 'I-can-barely-be-bothered-to-do-this-anymore' club rolled in at five minutes to twelve. Anyone who didn't show up could be safely dismissed from everyone's minds. No-showing was considered terms for immediate 'dismissal'. If you got here late, or didn't turn up at all, you'd be fired. Removed from the timetable; your bed stripped; belongings packed and left in the lobby; it would be like you'd never been hired in the first place.

Just then, the 'Perfect Squad' arrived. Jey had given them that nickname. As they strutted in, she pulled back from me, hurrying back to her side of the bench and starting on the near-impossible task of lacing her boots. Honestly, her laces looked more like a hundred spider's webs put together and stuck onto the front of a boot than laces. I knew the reason for the sudden retreat - Jey didn't like the Perfect Squad. No, correction: she hated them. And she didn't want them to see her vulnerable, clinging onto someone or seeming to have formed an attachment to another human. It was weak, she had said once before, and she didn't want to show them weakness. I didn't really think that much of them myself - they were like the popular girls from high school, covered in makeup and designer brands. Not to mention that horrible perfume. I don't know where they got it from, but they were obsessed, and they sprayed it everywhere... including on me, sometimes.

Jey hated them for how they acted, towards her, and me, and everyone, really. There were four members, nameless to me, with blond hair, painted faces and colourful nails. They snubbed whoever they could, as much as they could, and any complaints against them weren't taken seriously. As Jey put it: 'they're too hot to be fired'. That being said, if they turned up late, I could guarantee that their jobs would be gone in an instant. Heh. Jey would really love that.

They walked straight past us, going over to their corner of the locker room. Seb wolf-whistled as they passed the trio, Seth chiding him and Sylv giggling, in his annoying way. The Perfect Squad didn't even pause to acknowledge them. If someone wolf-whistled at me, I would punch them. Hard. Jey might blow them a kiss back, but I wasn't Jey. She liked attention, on the rare occasions on which she got it. Maybe because she was too shy to ask for it.

Reaching for my deodorant, I sprayed the black canister quickly, trying to rid the air of the Perfect Squad's putridly strong scent. Of course, our mixed locker room meant that conflicting stenches of perfume and aftershave often melded together, creating a confusing cloud of overpowering stink. It was awful. Jey had some sort of feminine deodorant, which smelled of roses. Mine... I wasn't too sure what mine was meant to smell like, but, whatever it was, it was strong enough to guard me from the Perfect Squad's perfume.

As Jey finished picking her way through one pair of laces, people started to appear. I checked the clock - fifteen minutes. Tonight, everyone would be here. It was the last Sunday of May, and everyone knew what that meant. I grabbed my wrist tape and started winding it around my pale hands, throwing it to Jey once I was done. Unfortunately, 'everyone' really meant everyone. The locker room would be full to the brim. We really needed at least two to fit everyone, but no one ever listened when we complained.

"It's the big night! You excited?" Sylv had wandered over to my bench, and was now sitting next to me, combing his hair and checking it in the mirror on the wall. "Seth's been antsy all week. Management's got something big planned."

"Yeah, I heard tales." Seth, on cue, came over to sit by Sylv, stealing the comb. I nodded at him, and he grinned back. "You been buttering up the higher ups, Sethy?"

"I have my ways, y'know." Winking, he went back to where his bag was and pulled out some hair gel. "Gonna work on getting Sylv and Seb pushed next."

"Who you working on?" Jey asked the question so innocently, even though we all recognised the second meaning behind her words. "Con Con?"

"He will murder you if he hears that nickname." Seth warned, before shrugging. "Anyway, maybe it's him, maybe it isn't. Who says I have to tell?"

"It's him." Seb confirmed, taking both the hair gel and comb off Seth and turning to the mirror. "And it's disgusting."

"Shush, you're just sheltered and innocent." Seth waved a dismissive hand at Seb, who, even though he shouldn't have been able to see the motion, responded with a raised middle finger, without even turning around. "Don't you want your push? You deserve it more than most people in here."

"Keep saying stuff like that and you're gonna start a fight." I warned him, as Jey finished lacing her boots and moved over to sit by my side again.

The clock said we had ten minutes to go. And, a little early for once, in came the I-can-barely-be-bothered-to-do-this-anymore club, which consisted of a couple of goth-looking guys and girls, who I nodded to civilly. A few of them huffed and tossed their heads to move their fringes out of their faces, which was the most of a greeting I could ever get from them. They were friendly enough when you gave them enough coffee, but could be described as almost zombie-like before work.

"Ten minutes." Jey commented, drawing my attention back to her. Seb turned away from the mirror and handed the comb and hair gel back to Seth, who passed it to Sylv, who climbed over the bench to put it back in his bag. "Who you got?"

"One of the goth kids." I sighed, messing with my hair. "We planned something, but it could easily go wrong."

"How wrong?" Now she was curious. I almost smirked.

"Very wrong. Who you got?"

"Miss Perfect over there." She rolled her eyes. "I don't even know which one it is. If she screws up, it's gonna look bad on me, but if she doesn't, it'll make me look inferior, so I'm just going with it."

"Five minutes, guys, everybody ready?" A suited man appeared at the door to the locker room - Connor, the general manager. One of our many bosses. His dark eyes searched the crowd, before stopping on Seth. He smiled. Seb made quiet throwing up noises. "Seth, you're the main event, remember to act like it. They love you anyway, so your job isn't so hard."

"Hey! I'm also in the main event!" One of the troublemakers stood up and protested, as he slid his brass knuckles into the pocket of his ripped jeans. "Don't I get a pep talk?"

"Don't fuck this up. Or else." For a moment, Connor's eyes darkened, and the troublemaker squirmed, sitting back down on a bench. "Harley," I looked up at the mention of my name, "Reese? You're up first. Don't fuck this up either. Tonight is a big night for us, and you're their first impression of us."

"Got it." I responded quickly, knowing that the goth kid - Reese, apparently - wouldn't respond. The I-can-barely-be-bothered-to-do-this-anymore club didn't like talking, not even to each other.

"Great. Everyone else, if you need a reminder, go outside and look at the timetable. If anyone asks me when their slot is, I will personally fucking murder them. Ok?"

Nodding and murmurs of assent ran round the locker room, as well as one 'do you kiss your mother with that mouth?'. Satisfied, Connor left. I checked the clock. Five minutes. It was time to move. As I stood, Jey did too, and we both walked out the locker room door, followed by Reese. Tech guys and crew members ran around us - we stood out by being the only ones not in black polo shirts with 'AUTHORISED PERSONNEL' printed on the backs in white. Jey quickly checked the timetable pinned up on the wall next to the locker room door.

"I'm up second. Hey, right after you!" She smiled, before frowning a little and turning to me, with a serious look in her eyes. "Be careful, won't you? I... I get scared sometimes. The stuff you do... you know..."

"Yeah. I'm sorry." I looked down, not wanting to meet her eyes. "But I gotta get paid. That stuff is the only thing keeping me here."

"One day, we're not gonna be here." The change in her tone made me look up, check her face. She was gone again - vacant. "We'll be somewhere else, doing stuff we want to do, living by ourselves. We won't need this."

"Hey, Jey." I snapped my fingers in front of her face - no reaction. Taking her by the shoulders, I then tried a gentle shake. It worked. Reality slowly flickered back into her eyes.

"Sorry. Did I do it again?"

"It's ok. Don't worry about it." Instinctively, I looked for a clock - no clock. I needed to get going. Jey understood.

"Did they get your new music downloaded?" She asked, as casually as she could, taking my hand as we walked over to a large curtain, with many wires running out of it and crew members scurrying around it.

"Yeah. I hope they use it. Connor can be a prick with giving us creative control sometimes."

Jey nodded, squeezed my hand, then let go, stepping back. I breathed in, and out. Closed my eyes. Heard the voices, hundreds, maybe thousands, just outside that curtain, just out of reach. Breathed in, and out. Felt the tingling of adrenaline in my fingertips. Stepped closer to the curtain. Breathed in, and out. Then, finally, the deafening voice which ended my waiting:

"Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in-between, welcome to Mayhem! Tonight's first event - our Extreme-Fight champion Harley versus Reese of the Renegades!"

The music hit - the new music. Connor had listened for once. I breathed in, and out. Bounced on the balls of my feet. Waited for the right moment - it was just in a second. There - opening my eyes, I almost launched out of the curtain, into the blinding bright lights, as explosion sounds mixed with the screams of the crowd - and the boos. I didn't care. This was my moment - I had never felt more alive.

Grinning, I leaped through my pyro, and let all my thoughts fly away.

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