The drinks continued to flow as Dodger filled us in on how long he’d known about the pregnancy and how far along she was. He was clearly so excited at the knowledge that he was going to be a father, and we were all overjoyed for him. After a while, Pixie dragged him off for what she called a ‘celebratory dance’, and after some gentle persuasion, the rest of us managed to convince Cain and Sam to vacate their seats and join in.
The group of us danced and laughed, enjoying the celebrations and each other’s company. Given there were only two girls and six of us guys, Pixie and Rosie switched between us now and again. Rosie had just spun away from Cain and landed in my arms, as another guy moved in close, trying to get a hold of her for himself.
“Hey, back up buddy.” She warned, looking over her shoulder and stepping closer to me.
“Alright love, just thought you might want another guy in on the action.” He drawled, his eyes roaming over her in a sleazy way that made my blood boil and my fists clench.
“Well you thought wrong.” Rosie added firmly, turning to fully face him, her hair flicking over her shoulder and flashing the rose tattoo that sat between her shoulder blades.
He moved forwards, and as if on autopilot, I stepped forwards, coming between them and glaring at him. Picking up on the situation, the others all flocked forwards, gathering around us and facing the idiot. It was clear from his stumble as he then retreated a step, that he was a bit worse for wear.
“Just walk away man, go back to your night and we’ll go back to ours.” I said cooly.
He looked around at all of us and then slowly nodded, turning away and disappearing through the crowd.
The mood now a little dampened, we all moved from the dance floor and back to the VIP section, Dodger disappearing for a moment to talk to his mate who owned the club, appearing again just as we were preparing to leave. We made our way to the exit, then began splitting off to share cabs.
“You wanna come with us Bane?” Will called, climbing in behind Dodger.
I shook my head, a strong food craving making my stomach roll with hunger. I looked down the street, and saw the sign for a kebab shop a way up ahead.
“Nah, gonna grab a bite. I’ll see you later.” I called back, waving them off.
“You know what, I’m pretty hungry myself.” Rosie added, stepping back from the other cab and closing the door.
“I’m always hungry,” Jax said, on the other side of that same cab. “But that’s what delivery is for.” He winked, ducking inside and shutting the door.
We watched them go, and started walking towards the shop, the sound of our footsteps on the pavement being partially drowned out by the thud of the music from the club. Out in the fresh, night air, I caught a trace of her sweet scent, a delightful combination of fruity and floral, and something warm and sweet in there too.
“How long have Dodger and Emilia been together?” She asked.
“Seven years now. They met on a night out, and it just went from there.” I replied, remembering the story that Dodger had told me of how he met the ‘love of his life’.
“What’s she like?”
“Em? She’s great. You’ll probably meet her for yourself soon enough, but she’s an amazing girl, and perfect for Dodge.”
They made a wonderful couple, everyone could see that. She fitted right into the family, and got on well with everyone, especially Eva, Sam’s wife, and Cindy, Alex’s ex wife. Rosie nodded to herself as we carried on forwards, a comfortable silence stretching between us. We were about halfway there when the image of her tattoo swam in my mind and I found myself too intrigued to not ask about it.
“Your tattoo, the rose has fallen petals… why?”
She tilted her head to the side slightly, a small sigh passing her full, blood red lips as she contemplated her answer. Aware that I may have asked a difficult question, I slowed down, coming to a stop and turning towards her.
“You don’t have to answer, I was just-”
“The petals are for everyone I’ve lost.” She interrupted.
I remembered the two that were falling from the rose, and there was something like four of them beneath it. I immediately wondered who they were for, but I knew it wasn’t my place to ask. Although, I didn’t have to, as she carried on walking, answering my unanswered question as she walked.
“My family. Chris and Ali are the falling petals. My parents and foster parents are the other four.”
A whole bunch of questions rushed into my mind upon that announcement, but I couldn’t ask as we reached the shop, and entered the small space inside.
After our order was placed, we waited in silence, able to leave about ten minutes later, each of us now clutching a polystyrene container with kebab meat and chips inside. We continued along the path that we had begun, neither of us paying much attention to where we were going as we ate in silence for a few minutes. The occasional car drove past, and I could see that the whoosh of cold air from it whizzing by was making Rosie shiver a touch.
“Here.” I said, coming to a stop again and sliding my jacket off, balancing my food container in one hand as I shrugged the sleeves from my arms, and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Thanks.” She replied gratefully, snuggling into the warm fabric.
Our eyes met for a brief moment and I felt a rush of heat through my chest, my heart speeding up for a few seconds. I caught sight of a strand of her hair that was tucked into the collar of my jacket, and I reached for it, untucking it and brushing it away from her face, my finger lightly catching her soft skin on its way past. Her eyes darkened, the silvery grey becoming stormy with a flare of something that I couldn’t quite place. My eyes drifted south, resting upon her luscious lips. I felt a desperate desire to kiss them, I couldn’t understand how this woman was affecting me so much, especially after just a few days, but it took all my will power to refrain from pressing my lips to hers, and continue walking. My food had lost its taste and appeal as my mind remained enraptured in the idea of kissing her.
“I grew up in care, an orphan from a baby,” She explained, following after me.
I felt my heart sink hearing those words. A surge of affection coursed through me.
“I was in there until I was fourteen, then I was taken in by an elder couple. They were really great actually.”
We passed a bin and she ventured off to the side, dropping her container inside and tracing a finger across the cuff of my jacket. As she looked up again, her face was blank, emotionless, cold.
“They died just after I turned sixteen. Housefire. I was pulled out of there. The petals are for them, it’s all I have left of them.” She explained.
She’d been through even more heartbreak and pain than I’d thought. She didn’t look broken or fragile from these events though, instead, she looked strong. I admired her strength and courage. After being pulled from a fire that took her second chance at family, she could have broken down and retreated into herself, but instead, here she was today, standing tall, a beautiful young woman with courage and strength.
“So that’s why then?” I asked, part of her story clicking into place. “That’s why you joined The Brigade.” I half asked, half stated.
She nodded and gave a small shrug.
“I owe The Brigade my life, I wanted to do something worthwhile, and this was a way of repaying my debt, and making a difference.”
I nodded, understanding what she meant. We all had a reason to be who we were, and to have made the choices that we’d chosen, and now that I knew hers, I saw more of who Lacey Rose was, and I was in awe of her. I stared, fixated at her, my heart leaping in adoration, and yet, my mind racing in terror. This was a dangerous line, and I had no idea how to stop myself from crossing it.