Lyrical: Chapter 12

Pen

“You sneaky bitch! What was that all about?” Clancy asks, her infectious smile like a tonic. It makes me feel like everything that’s just happened between Zayn and me is normal, that I can make out with a guy and then dissect every single part of it with my friend. I’ve never had a female friendship like this, unless you include my sister, Lena, which I don’t because there are just some things that I can’t tell her. I look at Clancy, at the delight in her eyes and the sparkle in her green orbs, then sigh because what can I tell her?

“It’s complicated.”

She raises her brows and cocks out her hip. “Complicated? I bet. Stubble rash suits you.”

Her laughter rings in my ears as I snatch my head around to look in the mirror. “Fuck,” I mumble. Sure enough I have a stubble rash from my kiss with Zayn. I raise my fingers to my lips and cheeks. At least she hasn’t noticed the slight puffiness of my eyes from the tears I shed. I don’t want to have a conversation explaining that.

“How was it?”

“How was what?” I throw back, knowing perfectly well what she’s asking.

She cocks her hip and raises her brow. “Playing tonsil tennis with Mr Hip-Hop Gangster, of course!”

Kissing Zayn was…

Fuck! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and now I’m reeling. “I—” I begin, then fumble. I’ve no idea what to say or do. I need time to unravel what’s just happened. Clancy’s smile drops as she reaches for my arm, squeezing it gently.

“Sorry. Listen, you don’t have to tell me anything. I’m just here if you need me, okay? Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” I say honestly.

She nods. “I thought you two weren’t friends anymore?”

“We aren’t.”

Clancy raises a perfectly arched brow. “No?”

“No.” I sound more certain than I feel.

“Pen. Forgive me. I’m not normally intrusive, I swear. It’s just…” She cocks her head, her pretty red curls falling over her shoulder. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. I’ve seen the way you look at him, at all of them. The tension is off the charts. It’s hot-as-hell, fanny-fluttering, insanity. I could come just being in a room with you all.”

I let out a broken laugh at that, my cheeks flushing at the memory of Zayn’s hand cupping my pussy. Clancy is right, it was fanny-flutter inducing. I’ve not come like that in a long, long time, but instead of feeling fulfilled, I only feel his absence more keenly. Zayn wants to heal what’s broken between us. I do too, but every way I turn I’m fucked. My brother wants information and I have to let them in then fuck them over to get it.

“I mean, all joking aside, you can’t live like this. It’s not healthy, Pen. Something’s gotta give, and I’ll be damned if it’s you. Don’t let them hurt you. Do you hear me?” she asks, her hands grabbing my shoulders before she pulls me into a hug.

My eyes fill with tears at her kindness, and it’s all I can do to hold them back. But I’m Pen Scott and I’m strong. Instead, I hold onto her and whisper vehemently in her ear. “They won’t break me. Promise.”

“Good,” she responds, pulling back. “They give you shit. I give them a shit-ton of trouble back.”

This time I do laugh. She’s so fiery, just like her hair. “What, all five feet, two inches of you are going up against the Breakers?”

“Well, if you can do it at no more than an inch taller than me, then so can I! We might be small, but we’re fucking mighty, right?” I shake my head, rolling my eyes. “Right?” she insists.

“Right.”

“Atta girl!” Clancy looks down at her wrist watch. “It’s almost five. “Fancy a bite to eat?”

My stomach growls in agreement, but my wallet vehemently disagrees. I pull a face and raise my bruised apple.

“You’re not serious?” she asks, unable to hide her disgust at my dinner. Frankly, I’m unable to hide my own disgust, but beggars can’t be choosers. “Come on, Pen. Let’s sort you out.” Clancy puts her arm through mine and pulls me towards the studio door.

“I can’t afford takeout, Clancy,” I admit, my cheeks flushing with embarrassment. I don’t even know if I’m going to get paid to work at Grim’s club. I’m so fucked.

“Who said anything about a takeaway? I’m making you something to eat. It’s nothing,” she says, brushing away my concerns, but pride makes me argue.

“But—” I begin.

“I’ve got this,” she repeats, brooking no arguments.

My stomach growls again, and this time I don’t try and disagree. I follow her out of the studio and back up to her flat. Twenty minutes later I’m sitting on her bed eating a grilled cheese sandwich and slurping a cup of tea. Chewing on the last mouthful, I get up and pop our empty plates and mugs in the sink, washing them up. Clancy flicks through her phone, and clicks on a track in her Spotify playlist before placing the phone into her speakers. It’s Hideaway by Kiesza, a lively song with a wicked beat that makes you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet, or in Clancy’s case, tap dance.

She jumps up grinning, grabs her tap shoes, stuffs her feet into them and then starts to dance around me in the tiny space between where her bed lies and her kitchen ends. Her feet move like lightning, her tap steps in time with the deep club music, the tune harks back to 1990’s dance. I fucking love it. I fucking love her infectious positivity.

“Come on, girl!” she shouts over the music, grinning crazily at me.

“We’ve just eaten!” I retort, laughing.

“What are you, my mum? Move your damn feet!” She dances over to her speakers and turns the music up until my ears are ringing with the sound.

I dance.

Wildly.

Freely.

With a full belly and friendship in my heart.

We jump up and down and wave our hands in the air like a bunch of ravers with no rhythm. She laughs.

I laugh.

We hug. We spin. We sing along to the song.

And I feel her friendship like a warm, comforting hug.

This girl’s a keeper.

By the time the song’s finished we’re both lying on the bed, breathing hard and grinning. I feel a thousand times lighter. She turns her head to face mine, her pea-green eyes sparkling.

“Those boys are stupid for not seeing how amazing you are. I’m here, okay? I’m here when you need to talk, when you want to vent, when you want to dance like a drugged-up nineties raver.” She giggles at that, and I smile back. We’re totally on the same wavelength.

“Thank you,” I mouth.

“So, how’s your sister?” Clancy asks, propping herself up on her bent arm as she looks down at me, the music still blares out and I can barely hear her over the sound of some dubstep.

“A perfectly obnoxious teenager,” I respond, not wanting to openly lie to her again. Guilt wraps around my heart. I told Clancy I was visiting Lena this weekend and the fact that I haven’t doesn’t sit well with me. I feel guilt for not seeing my sister and guilt for lying. I make a promise to go and see Lena as soon as she’s back from her school trip to the Isle of Wight.

“Yeah, teenagers suck,” Clancy responds grinning, giving me a funny look.

“What?”

“You know, strictly speaking I’m still a teenager…”

“Wait, what? How old are you?” I giggle.

“I’m nineteen, bitch. My birthday is in a couple of weeks.”

Laughing, I sit up, pulling her up with me. “Well then, we got to make some plans, right?” My words run away with me before I’ve had time to really think about what I’m saying. I can’t afford a night out, not to mention the fact I don’t know what nights I’m supposed to be working for Grim… as a goddamn stripper. The thought of taking my clothes off for other people’s pleasure pisses me the fuck off. I don’t know Grim but after our brief chat, I thought I understood her, but clearly she’s fucking me over too.

“Yesssssss, girl! We are going to partaaaayyyy!” Clancy exclaims, unaware of my inner turmoil. Her infectious excitement makes me smile despite my predicament. “I want to dance, I want to drink, I want to let loose, but most of all I want to find a nice man to fuck the rest of the night away with.”

“Clancy—” I begin, about to be a party pooper again and explain I may have gotten ahead of myself, but I’m rudely interrupted by banging on her door.

“Who is it?” Clancy yells over the music, pulling an ‘oh shit, we’re in trouble, but I don’t really give a fuck,’ face.

“Clancy, you little shit. No one wants to hear your crappy music! Turn it the fuck off!” Tiffany shouts through the door.

We look at each other again and burst out laughing. “Fuck you, Tiff!” Clancy shouts back. She swings her feet off the bed and strides over to her phone that’s still attached to the speakers and turns the music up. Tiffany’s curses are lost beneath the sound as we jump up and dance like ravers high on ecstasy once again. As she dances around the room without a care in the world and full of sunshine and smiles, I vow to myself that I’ll make Clancy’s birthday special somehow. It’s the least I can do.


Later that night, I pull out the card Zayn gave me with Grim’s contact number on it. Sitting on my bed, I glance at my mobile phone. It’s almost ten pm and normally I wouldn’t be so rude to make a call this late, but fuck that. If Grim and Jeb can make a deal about me without my consent, she can take a call from me now.

Punching in the number, I wait for her to pick up. I don’t have to wait long.

“Yes?” A gruff voice answers. It’s Beast, not Grim.

“I’m calling to speak with Grim. It’s Pen.”

“Pen?”

“Yes, I was at Grim’s club Friday night with the Skins. A deal was made,” I say, unable to hide my disgust.

“Ah, that Pen. You caused a lot of shit. Quite the little badass mover, aren’t you? Not to mention full of spunk.” He chuckles, his gruff tone replaced with a warmth that surprises me.

“I didn’t cause any shit. I was just dealing with the crap thrown at me,” I reply, feeling more than a little prickly. I clamp my mouth shut, cursing myself for not being level-headed enough to realise I’m dealing with a man who’d sooner put a bullet in someone’s brain than listen to attitude. Thankfully today he appears to be in a good mood.

“Grim, Feet of Flames is on the phone. She’s cranky,” he chuckles. I wince at the nickname, Grim must have told him what Malik Brov had called me. I swallow down my very cranky response as Beast passes the phone over to Grim.

“I’d wondered when you’d call,” Grim says, conversationally.

I bite the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from going off on her. Despite what she said Friday night about ever needing a friend, she’s already proven I can’t fucking trust her. “When do I start?” I simply say, my voice tight and filled with gravel.

“That’s it? I’m surprised. I expected more of a reaction than that.” Her voice is even, cool, and it pisses me off. I can’t help it, I bite.

“What do you want me to say? Thanks for making a deal with the Skins without my fucking permission?” I respond angrily, my fingers wrapping tightly around my phone.

“Ah, there she is! Don’t stop fighting, Pen. The minute you give up, they have you. Got it?”

“What are you talking about?” I retort, thrown by her response.

“I promised that you’d never be touched by any of the Skins whilst in my club, and I will keep that promise. Being a performer affords you that protection. The alternative would’ve been far, far worse. Jeb was willing to sell you off to Malik Brov. Zayn stopped that. He impressed me actually, the way he stood up for you.”

“Wait, you know that Zayn was playing Jeb?”

Grim chuckles. “Yeah, I knew. Jeb has a lot of enemies. The bastard will willingly put his own flesh and blood in the line of fire to protect his arse. I knew it the moment he arrived that night. I played along until we were behind closed doors.”

“I see.”

“I’m not sure you do. Look, Pen. I don’t know for definite how the fuck you got mixed up with the Skins, but I have a fair idea. No one who throws themselves in the line of fire does it without love. There’s history between you and Dax, am I right?” I remain silent, not willing to give anything away. She’s still a criminal after all. I don’t know her. “Right?” she persists.

“We were friends once,” I admit.

“Once?”

“We were kids. It’s different now.”

“Just you and Dax?” she pushes, seeking more.

“No, not just me and Dax. The others too. Xeno, York, Zayn. The Breakers…” I almost say my Breakers, but stop myself before I can.

She goes silent for a moment. “I won’t profess to be an expert in relationships. Beast is the only man I’ve ever loved. I would die for him, as he would for me. That’s the kind of relationship I know. But it wasn’t always that way with him. We were enemies once.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask, confused as to why she’s opening up this way with me. We’re strangers. She’s some shit-hot, badass, criminal businesswoman and I’m a girl who can barely keep her head above water, just trying to survive in a world I never wanted to be a part of.

“Because, Pen, I see a little of me in you. I see the fight you wear like a badge of honour, and beneath it, I see the hurt…” her voice trails off as she swears under her voice. “Look, I’m gonna level with you. I have a vested interest in this. You get protection at my club. You get to dance—”

“Dance?” I scoff.

“Yes, dance.”

“I have nothing against strippers, but that’s not the kind of dance I want to perform.”

“What? No!” Grim barks out a laugh. “Jeb might have agreed for you to be a stripper, but I only agreed for you to be a performer. If he’s too thick as shit to understand the difference, then that’s his problem, not mine. We shook on it, he can’t break the deal now.”

“What are you saying?”

“You’re going to dance, Pen. There’ll be no stripping for you. Like everyone else Friday night, I was mesmerised. It’s a rare feat to be able to command attention from a room full of violent gangsters without resorting to bloodshed or sex, but you did that. I want you dancing in my club. You are the best. I want the best.”

“Wow,” is all I can manage to say. I hadn’t expected that. I thought I was fated to strip and bare my skin for a bunch of unruly bastards to salivate over. This was not what I was expecting.

“You will be paid a good wage. I treat my employees well. Does four hundred pound sound reasonable to you?”

“A month?” I question. It’s less than what I was earning at Rocks, but I guess I could make it work. I only really need it to buy food and I can make do without all the fancy dance gear anyway.

Grim laughs. “No, Pen. I’m not Jeb. I actually appreciate my employees. Four hundred pound a weekend.”

“A weekend?!” I blurt out, incredulous. “You sure I’m not stripping?”

“Positive. You dance at my club every Friday and Saturday night. You get to choose the songs. Dance solo, with other performers, whatever. I give you free rein. My girls have never danced as well as they did with you in the cage with them. If you want to use them in your performances, then go for it. If you want to bring in others, then do that too but I want to check them out first. I can’t just let any old Tom, Dick or Harry into my club.”

I swallow hard. Is she for real? This is too good to be true, surely. “Are you serious?”

“Never more serious in my life.”

“So what does Jeb get in return…? I mean, it’s none of my business, but I don’t understand why you would make a deal with someone you said you hate in order to stop me from being sold to Malik Brov. Why would you do that?”

“Listen, Pen. I’m a successful businesswoman because I know how to spot a good opportunity. After your performance Friday, every damn crew were asking when you’d be dancing next. They come to my club to see a fight, to bet, to fuck, to get high and drink. But if I can get them in my club to watch you dance, then you can bet your arse I’m going to cash in on that.”

“Right,” I reply.

She sighs heavily. “I’m also a woman of my word, Pen. I made you a promise. I kept it.”

“How much did you pay?” I ask, holding my breath. I appreciate what Grim has done, but just because she’s allowing me to dance instead of strip, doesn’t mean I’m not owned by her now, and if I know Jeb well enough, it definitely doesn’t mean he’s relinquished his ownership of me either. I’m not stupid.

“Believe it or not there are things that are way more valuable than printed paper and coins.”

“Like what?”

Information. Jeb wanted information. I gave it to him. Well, what he wanted to hear, anyway.”

“What information? What do you mean by that?” I ask, realising I’m pushing my luck, but asking anyway. David’s devil voice murmurs into my ear, reminding me that I’m still beholden to him too.

“And that really is none of your business,” Grim responds, ending that thread of our conversation. “Look. I got you out of a sticky situation. You get to dance at my club, you get a level of protection being an employee of mine, and I get a new arm to my business. I’ve been looking for a way to make my club more upmarket.”

“Fair enough,” I respond, not really knowing what else to say.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, old-fashioned, vicious cage fight like anyone else, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of class thrown in too.”

“Are you saying I’m classy?” I can’t help but laugh, shaking my head at the bizarreness of this conversation.

“I guess I am. So, are you okay with my terms?”

“In all honesty, do I really have a choice?”

Grim snorts. “Well, no, but I’m trying to make this as palatable as possible. I might be a woman, but I’m not a cunt. Jeb is. I’m the lesser of two evils.”

“I’m not sure that makes me feel any better. I’ve grown up knowing bad people. I’ve lived amongst the wolves my whole life, just because you didn’t attack the moment we met doesn’t mean I can trust you not to hurt me in the future.”

“You’re wise to keep your head, Pen. I admire that…” Her voice trails off as she mulls over what I’ve said. “Listen, you do right by me, I’ll do right by you. That’s the only guarantee I can give you.”

I think for a moment. Grim is an unknown, but so far she’s proven to be a woman of her word. At least while working for her, I’ll be earning money doing something I love. Four hundred pounds for two nights of dancing is better than I could’ve hoped for. Drawing in a shaky breath, I nod my head. “Okay.”

“Good. Your first performance will be in three weeks right after Dax’s fight against Beast. I intend on getting the punters’ blood pumping with violence and then woo them with your dance moves. I want you to show those motherfuckers what it truly means to be a performer.”

Shit, Dax’s fight with Beast, I’d almost forgotten about that. “Is Beast really as fierce as he seems?” I ask, when really all I want to know is if he’s capable of killing Dax.

“Yes, he is. He’s every bit as monstrous in the cage as his name suggests.”

“Fuck,” I whisper.

“Fuck indeed. Beast won’t hold back. He fights to win, every time. Dax is a great fighter, but he has no control. If he wants to survive Beast in the ring, he’ll need to focus.”

“I can’t see him hurt,” I admit.

“I get it, but there’s no going back now. This is out of my hands. All I can assure you is that Beast won’t kill him. That punishment is only reserved for his enemies. Dax hasn’t stepped over that line. He just needs to be taught a lesson.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be. I don’t tolerate anyone abusing my rules. The only reason Dax wasn’t shot was because of you. He’s not lying in a morgue right now because you stepped in. That boy owes you his life, but I get the distinct impression he’s too fucking stupid to realise that.”

I sigh heavily. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Not maybe. Absolutely. You saved him. End of. Let’s hope Beast knocks some sense into him.”

Wincing, I don’t respond to that. Instead I steer the conversation back to my new job. “So what time do I need to be at the club on my first night?”

“We open at nine. You’ll be on at midnight, but I expect you to be there at seven. In fact, if you need to rehearse before then you’re welcome to come any night of the week before. Just drop me a message and Beast will open up for you.”

“Will I be dancing in the cage?”

“In the cage, around the cage, on the fucking table like you did Friday. I’ll leave it up to you. If you want to work with the girls, let me know. I’ll make sure they’re available.”

“Okay. I’ll figure out a routine and let you know if I’ll need them, or anyone else.”

“Good. Talk soon,” Grim says, cutting off my reply.

I flick off my phone and flop back onto my bed, my heart beating wildly. Part of me is excited about the prospect of being able to dance and earn money whilst I do what I love, but a bigger part is fucking terrified. Instead of getting away from this criminal world I’ve tried so hard to keep out of, I’m getting pulled further into its depths. I feel like I’m treading water in the ocean with a bunch of sharks circling me, just waiting for the moment when one of them attacks.

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