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Family is what you make of it

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It took her a dubious amount of time to gather her courage.

“Lady, do you want to get off or do you want me to drive you somewhere else?”

The bored voice of the taxi driver made its way into Adriene’s consciousness and she forced her eyes away from the small, uncanny looking door of the house right outside. Embarrassed, she cleared her throat and quickly got her credit card out of her purse.

“Sorry. No, I’m getting off. Sorry again.”

The car door fell close behind her, and she took a deep breath. This was it. If she was to take that leap, it would be now. With another deep breath, she stopped chewing her lip and went inside the tattoo shop.

It was surprisingly light inside, colorful walls covered with pictures and sketches, light spots at several places. Two tattoo tables with a divider between them stood at one wall, a coffee table and sink at another. In the middle of the room, there was a work desk with a computer, and several pieces of paper and pencils were strewn over it. Sitting at the desk was a tall man in a sleeveless, black top. His white hair was cropped short at the sides and long at the top, bound back from his face. His muscular arms were covered in white and blue lines, nearly shimmering on his dark skin. When he heard the door, he looked up from what he was doing, his eyebrows raising as he took her in.

“I think you have the wrong door,” he said slowly, and Adriene quickly took off her sunglasses and put on her most winning smile, trying to cover up her nervousness.

“Actually, I haven’t. Hi. I’m… I’m here about the, uh, the ad? You’re looking for a roommate?”

The look of absolute astonishment on his face was priceless, and she chuckled, some of her nervousness falling off her. She put her glasses away and went over to him, putting her hand out.

“I’m Adriene. Unless you already have found someone, I’d really love to move in with you.”

Nearly automatically, he took her hand and gave it a careful shake. “Fenris.”

She gave him another smile and gestured towards the chair next to her. “May I…?” she asked, and Fenris blinked.

“Oh, of course. Sure.” Again, he just stared at her, his eyes slightly narrowed.

Adriene sat down, but the silence between them stretched, and slowly, she started to get uncomfortable.

“So…” she eventually started hesitantly, “have you? Found someone else already?”

“What?” he asked, then he shook his head. “Oh, for the flat. No, actually, I haven’t. I’m just not sure whether you’re… well, to be honest, I don’t know whether you’re the right person for… that.”

This time, it was Adriene who drew her eyebrows up. “Why? I can pay, promise!”

That made him chuckle, a deep vibration back in his throat as he leaned back in his chair. “Lady, if there is one thing I don’t doubt, then it’s that you have money.”

Adriene opened her mouth to protest but he just looked pointedly at her outfit and she looked down, blushing slightly. “Oh. Uhm… yeah.” She still wore the little black dress and high heels from the dinner she had been at, a blazer over it and just the right amount of jewelry. She had even put on the pearls her mother had given her for her birthday, all in a vain attempt to please Leandra. Of course, it had blown back in her face. Again. With a sigh, she rubbed a hand over her forehead. “Well, if it’s not the money that bothers you, what is?”

Fenris leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Alright, well, for one, you look like you could just buy an apartment in the fancy part of the inner city for yourself, so why would you share a flat with a tattoo artist? I do alright, but I certainly don’t play anywhere near your league, so, unless you’re fleeing an abusive rich husband…” He paused as he saw the look on her face. “Oh shit, that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it.”

“What?” Adriene’s eyes widened, then she shook her head, quickly hurrying to say, “No! No, no, no, I’m not… I’m not married. Geez, no.” A shudder went over her. Not that her mother wouldn’t be happy if she were, but that was a bullet she had managed to dodge. So far. And if this went as she hoped it would, she would dodge it indefinitely. “But you’re not wrong either,” she sighed. “Well, you are about the husband part, but I am trying to get away from something. Or maybe someone.”

He frowned at her and shook his head. “I still don’t know why you wouldn’t just go and get your own place. You can obviously afford it.”

“Actually, I can’t,” Adriene said bluntly. “Okay, listen. My family is well off, yes. And I have enough savings to get me going a year or so, maybe two if I’m very, very careful, but definitely not if I rent a place by myself. Because, you see, my family is actually the something I’m trying to get away from. Or rather, my mother. She has this…”

Adriene interrupted herself, taking a deep breath. She could still see the skepticism on Fenris’ face, the slightly raised eyebrow, the look that said ‘this better be good’. But she needed a room. And the sooner she had one, the sooner she could leave home and focus on whatever would come next. However, she also had the feeling that Fenris needed more than her assurances. Leap of faith, wasn’t that what she had thought it would be? She might just as well take it now.

“Alright. My mother has this plan for me. Study something, anything really, marry one of the rich guys she keeps pushing at me, ignore everything I ever learned to be a trophy wife, maybe have a child or two, not more so it doesn’t ruin my figure, of course, and be a part of high society.”

“Sounds awful.” The dryness in Fenris’ voice was unmistakable, but when he saw the desperate look Adriene gave him, a small smile twitched in the corner of his mouth.

“It is! It is when you want to actually do something with your life. I mean, I’m not as smart as my siblings, I’m no lawyer or doctor, but I’m not stupid. My work is just as important, but I can’t keep doing it if she keeps dragging me away from it at the most inopportune moments for a fucking lunch to be the eye candy for her fucking business partner just so her deal gets done and tells me to get over it when he starts touching me under the fucking table!”

Adriene realized too late how loud her voice had become and how agitated she actually was. The way the hand on her thigh had slid higher and higher was still etched so clearly in her memory, and how dirty she had felt, how disgusted by that man, by herself for not jumping up immediately. She blinked quickly and forced herself to relax her hands which were balled into tight fists. The smile had disappeared from Fenris’ face and got replaced by a mix of worry and anger, and he looked like he was short of jumping up. “Are you okay?” he asked carefully.

She nodded, taking a shuddering breath and rubbed a hand over her face, wiping the treacherous wetness from the corners of her eyes. “Yeah, thanks. I punched him in the nose and left him bleeding all over the table as I stormed away, actually. Mom’s gonna scream bloody murder at me once she comes home.”

“So you decide to go move in with a stranger instead?” There was still a hint of worry and skepticism in Fenris’ voice.

Adriene frowned. “What do you mean, stranger?”

He tilted his head, frowning as well, and she shook her head, actually laughing a bit. “Wait, you don’t know who I am? I’ve been here nearly every week for the last half year!”

Fenris narrowed his eyes, his gaze wandering over what he could see of her skin. “I am absolutely certain I would remember tattooing you.” It could have been a lewd comment, but there was no innuendo in his voice at all, and Adriene relaxed even more.

“No, you didn’t. But my kids!” The confusion was written only too obviously on his face, and then she knew what it was. “Oh, come on. It’s the hair, isn’t it.”

With a chuckle, she pulled out a few hairpins and a rubber band and shook her head. Her dark tresses came loose from the high business bun she had worn and tumbled down over her shoulders, falling in long waves down her back. With a practiced grip, she loosened them even more and his eyes widened as he saw the green and blue streaks hidden beneath the black top layer of her hair. Again, Adriene smiled at him and now she saw recognition dawn on his face.

“You’re the social worker! Wait. You’re the social worker from the shelter?”

The astonishment on his face was priceless and Adriene laughed. When she had left the restaurant in a hurry, she had thought she wouldn’t laugh for a week at least, but somehow, Fenris made it easy to. “Yeah, I am. Normally not dressed like this, so I don’t blame you, actually. Oh no, wait. I do blame you! I am devastated and the only way you can make up for it is to please let me rent the room?”

Fenris opened his mouth, then closed it again. For a second, he just looked at her and she gave him her best pleading look. After what felt like minutes, he smiled, shaking his head. “Well. Don’t you want to look at it first, see if it’s even your kind of place?”

She dismissively waved her hand. “I’m sure it’s lovely, and I actually know the street, and your ad already said how big it is and all, so…”

“Wow, you really desperately want somewhere to stay, huh?”

Adriene somewhat sank into herself under Fenris’ gaze, his eyes seemingly looking directly into her very thoughts. But there was nothing to it but to be honest, so she nodded. “I do. I can crash at the shelter for a few days but definitely not more.”

“Okay, how about that,” he said slowly. “You can have the room - “ When she let out a little squeal, he held up a hand. “For a month. Let’s start with a month, alright? And then we see whether you still want to keep it or look for something else. Deal?”

Her whole face lit up and for a second, she struggled with tears of relief. Quickly blinking them away, she nodded. “Deal!”