Hummingbird - Read the First Two Chapters
Ready for another extract from one of my latest steamy romance books? I've got not one but two chapters from my spicy sapphic novella Hummingbird to share with you today. It's how the book opens and introduces you to the main characters Dove and Keeley, who also meet for the first time.
Why do I keep looking at her? It's like my eyes are magnets and she is made of metal, which I can plainly see she is not. I can clearly see with my magnetic eyes that she is made up of dark goth make-up, peroxide blonde hair in a cute pixie cut, and soft, full curves encased in creamy pale skin that is scattered with tattoos in a variety of colours and styles. In short, she is very, very cool. That must be why I'm looking at her.
I don't fancy her. I just want to be more like her.
"Are you even drinking that?" Jake bumps his shoulder against mine.
"Yes," I say and then take a large gulp of my beer.
"Some party this is," he says with one of his tuts.
"What did you expect?" Dana says from my other side. "Ministry of Sound? They're second year drama students, not professional party planners."
I’m about to thank my friend for her solidarity but Jake has a quick retort, like he always does.
"Well, if we were throwing a party over in hospitality, you'd know about it. None of these plastic cups of warm beer, someone's iPod on shuffle and one single disco light in a corner of the room. The corner? I mean come on, Dove."
"Hey, I did the snacks,” I say. “Lighting was Craig's department because that’s actually what he wants to be, a lighting technician."
"God help Craig at exam time. As for those snacks of yours, they are rather… beige, not to mention inadequate for a party of this size."
"You are such a bitch." I tap his arm.
"That's why you love me." Jake blows me a kiss.
"So, is he here?" Dana interjects looking at Jake.
"Who?" I ask.
"Whoever Jake’s next victim is!"
"Ha! Funny you should say that. Do you know Ahmad Zane? He does French and mechanics, I think?"
"What a combo," I mutter, and I hate how my eyes are drawn back to the tattooed goth girl. I watch her talking with a taller friend. In fact, all the people she’s standing with are taller than her. I don’t know why that makes something inside me melt. I don’t normally have this reaction around people smaller than myself, which is just as well because at five foot nine, a lot of people are shorter than me.
"It's a killer combo! It tells me he's cultured and good with his hands!" Jake is saying.
"But is he here?" Dana asks. She’s swaying on her feet already. I’m not saying Dana is a lightweight but I’m also not saying I would want her on my team for group drinking games.
"Just walked in. He's heading over to the drinks table. Over there," Jake says even though he seems to be looking in a different direction, revealing just how excellent he is at multi-tasking when one of those tasks is watching a man he is attracted to.
I do see Ahmad actually, but only because the drinks table is next to the group of people that the tattooed goth girl is part of. When Ahmad bumps fists with a few of them, half-hugs a couple of the girls, and then finally reaches for a beer from the table behind them, I see an opportunity.
"Do you know who he's talking to?" I ask.
"Oh, they're townies," Jake says. "I know of a few of them."
"Which ones?" I ask, perhaps a little too quickly.
"The tall lanky bloke is Paul Harrow. His dad is head of security at the Grand." Jake is referring to the hotel where he works part-time. "Next to him is Caroline something. She's a hairdresser down on Broad Street. She's shagging a footballer, apparently. Division One, not Premier League, mind you. And I met the girl who looks like a colouring book once."
"You know, the girl with all the tattoos."
"Oh, her," I say, keeping my voice as steady as I can.
"She's a tattoo artist - no surprises there. She's a bit older, I think, and I met her because she was going out with Gina from your course. I'm pretty sure they broke up last year, but maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe lesbians are more civilised than us gays and they can actually stay friends.”
“I don’t think that’s a gay-lesbian thing,” Dana adds, although I’m not sure how she would know. She’s as straight as I am. “I think that’s a Jake thing. But wait, Gina’s gay?”
“As a rainbow flag made of glitter and bubblegum."
"I didn't know that," I say but the unsettling feeling of heat and tension in my stomach hasn't got anything to do with the fact that Gina is gay. It's more to do with the tattooed goth girl also being queer. She likes women.
Would she like me? That thought hits the front of my mind, loudly.
"Why would you? Gina's one of the cool kids. She doesn't speak to people like you," Dana explains.
"But she speaks to Jake!" I point out.
"Yes, but I'm gay. That gets me a special pass to hang out with cool kids, as long as I don't overstay my welcome or actually do so in public spaces, unless invited to do so. You straight nerds are simply not worthy."
“I’m not a nerd. I’m a slut. There’s a very big difference,” Dana says and swigs back the last mouthful of her beer. Apparently, room temperature lager is her favourite kind tonight.
"I fucking hate the cool kids." I glance briefly at the group of students from my course that have perfect bodies, perfect clothes, and perfect hairstyles I have no idea how they pay for. I haven't been able to afford cutting my hair since I started uni almost two years ago, which is why it falls to nearly my waist, and the only updates my wardrobe has had in that time have been hairbands and socks.
Except I don't really hate the cool kids. I would love to be one of the cool kids. I would love to move around campus with the confidence that carries them through life. That's why I can't stop looking at this tattooed goth girl, I tell myself again. Because she's so cool and that's what I want to be. I want to be just like...
"What's her name?" I ask Jake and I know it doesn't sound casual. I also know perhaps I shouldn't ask. But I can't help it. I want a name to put to that face, and that full body, and the slightly lop-sided smile she's giving the girl called Caroline who is now dancing to the music.
“The girl with the tattoos.”
"Keeley, I think," Jake says before emptying his cup in
his mouth. "Come on, we can go and find out properly. I need another drink.”
“Oh, no, I’m okay,” I say quickly.
“Well, Dana needs another drink.” Jake nods at her.
“No, I’m heading out now,” Dana says as she applies a thick coat of sparkling lip gloss.
“Really? Where are you going?”
“Simon Telford’s dorm room.”
“Oh, Dana!” Jake complains. “Tonight was supposed to be all about us. A long overdue night out with my Double Ds!”
“Well, I’m here, aren’t I? I’ve showed my face. But to be honest it’s a little boring and you’re about to go sharking for Ahmad anyway.”
“What about me?” I press the tip of my index finger to my chest.
“You’ll be yawning and making your excuses to go to bed in about twenty minutes,” Dana says, and I don’t respond because I have no argument for it.
“Anyway. Simon should have finished football practise by now. God, I hope he doesn’t shower,” Dana says as she fiddles around with the V of her top. “How are my tits looking?”
“Fabulous!” Jake declares.
I’m still cringing from the shower comment but I nod in agreement. She does have fantastic tits.
“Okay, see you later, bitches,” Dana says as she pouts out two loud air kisses.
My hand hasn’t even dropped from waving goodbye to Dana when I feel Jake’s fingers wrap around my arm. Before I know it, I'm being dragged across the room towards the tattooed goth girl who gets even prettier, no, I mean cooler, the closer I get to her.
"Paul! Mate!" Jake holds out his hand and I have to hide my snicker at his very unconvincing attempt at a straight voice. "How's your dad?"
"I dunno," Paul says as he gets pulled into Jake's handshake. "You probably see him more than me."
"Jesus, Paul, I hope you're not insinuating there’s something between me and your father," Jake quickly snaps back into full-on camp mode, and I know exactly whose benefit that's for as Ahmad watches the interaction.
"No," Paul says stonily. "I simply meant I haven't seen him in weeks. He left my mum a month ago."
Jake's face freezes in a grimace that looks like it might be a bit painful. "Oh, shit, sorry to hear that. Me and my big mouth. Anyway, we just wanted to get another drink. I don't suppose there's anything better on offer? Any French wine, peut-être?" Jake levels this at Ahmad whose brow crinkles in what could be curiosity or confusion.
"Do you want another drink?" A voice comes out of nowhere. A female voice, and for some reason, I know exactly who it belongs to, and that it’s directed at me.
I glance at my half-full cup. "Still going, thank you," I say and only once the words have left my mouth do I let my eyes land on the woman with the tattoos.
She is captivating in a way that startles me, and it’s not just because of the bright bleach blond hair or the sporadic tattoos that climb up her neck and arms. Her face is beautiful, accentuated by make-up I can tell she’s a master at applying. The point of her chin is almost cartoon-like, as is the upswing at the end of her nose. Her almond-shaped eyes are accentuated with thick eyeliner and a bright shade of blue eyeshadow that illuminates the azure swirl of her pupils, even in the dim drama studio light. Her white-blonde hair contrasts with her dark eyebrows, both of which are pierced. I also notice the septum piercing she has and don't have time to count how many earrings each ear holds. I want to say my favourite thing about her is that crooked smile, but I know already it's the tattoo of a hummingbird on the right side of her neck, just below her ear. So colourful and so detailed, it’s a true work of art.
"Caroline's got some vodka in her handbag if you want some of that," she says to Jake then, as Ahmad didn't take the bait.
"I'll make do with the lukewarm supermarket beer," Jake says with a sniff. "Ahmad, do you want another?"
If Ahmad is surprised Jake knows his name, he doesn't act it and I don't hear his reply as he steps closer to Jake. I’m swiftly left alone with the rest of the group as he and Ahmad move closer to the table we’re standing near and then gradually drift away. But a second later, when I brave another look up, I realise that I'm not left with the group at all, but rather just with the tattooed goth girl, because Paul and Caroline have also separated themselves and are now dancing in earnest to a song I don't know. A song that is probably too cool for me.
"Are you a drama student too?" Tattooed goth girl steps closer to me. There's still plenty of distance between us, but nonetheless, I feel the temperature change after she's closed the gap.
"Yeah, second year," I say.
"Cool, I'm Keeley."
She holds out her hand to me, and I stare at the black nail varnish and the word LOVE written across her knuckles. God, she is so cool. I fear she can read my mind when her lips lift, hooking at the right side of her mouth, sending sparkles to her eyes, and tingles into my belly.
"Dove," I say taking her hand and telling myself how perfectly normal it is to enjoy the warmth and smooth softness of her skin. She must moisturise a lot. That’s all it is.
“That’s a beautiful name,” she says after blinking once, twice.
“Thanks, my mam’s a recovering hippie.” I give her the explanation I give anyone who seems surprised by my name, which in my experience is nearly everyone I meet. It is the truth after all.
"Nice to meet you, Dove." I smile back when I hear my name in her locals' accent.
"Are you a student too?" I ask, hoping I sound more uninformed than I am.
"Fuck, no," she says, her body reeling back a little with the idea. "Sorry, I don't mean any offence or anything but no, studying, college or uni, all that shit. It's not for me. Besides, I'm too old."
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-seven," she says and I am surprised. Not that it's old, but it seems so much older than me. I turned twenty a few days ago but I still feel very much like a teenager. A lost, uncertain and deeply uncool teenager.
"You don't look twenty-seven." I’m unsure if that's the right thing to say. And then I just feel uncertain about my worrying about saying the right thing. That familiar tight feeling in my chest sets in as I tie myself up in mental knots once again.
"It's the shit lighting in here," she says with a wink that only emphasises her wonky smile. I want to write a whole play about that smile.
"So, what do you do? If not studying, I mean."
"Tattoo artist," she says and holds out her arms straight in front of me.
"Very cool," I say like the completely uncool human I am.
"It pays the bills." Keeley shrugs.
"I like the hummingbird... On your neck."
She places a hand to where the tattoo lies, and again she smiles but this time it's smaller, shyer. "That's a special one. I got it for my daughter. The first time I heard her heartbeat it reminded me of how quickly hummingbirds' wings beat. It's not the same number, by the way, not even close, but it was what I thought about, so I got a tattoo to always remember."
"Your daughter?" I say and sound as stunned as I am.
"Yeah, she's three," Keeley replies and of course, this is perfectly logical and reasonable. Lots of people in their late twenties have kids. Lots of people in their early twenties have kids. I am just not lots of people.
"What's her name?"
"Marianne," Keeley says and that tentative smile returns to her lips.
"Do you have a photo?"
"You want to see a photo of my kid?" She looks genuinely shocked.
"Of course," I say. "Why wouldn't I? Oh, God, is it weird I asked. I promise you I'm not a weirdo or a pedo."
Keeley's hand comes down on my forearm and her wonky smile is back. "Relax, I don't think you're being weird. I'm just not used to girls taking an interest in my daughter."
That sentence is so loaded with potential hidden meanings I can barely see clearly. Am I a girl like the girls she pulls are girls? Or am I just a girl like the girls she chats to platonically? Does she think I'm flirting with her? Is she flirting with me? I really don't want to give her the wrong idea, but I’m also rather clueless what the right idea is.
"Here she is." Keeley has pulled out her wallet and is showing me a small photo of a child with the same sparkling blue eyes as her mother.
"She's adorable," I say, noticing her impish smile too. "She looks just like you."
I pull my lips back in my mouth after saying that.
"Thanks," Keeley says and tucks her wallet back in her pocket. "She's my world. But, you know, it's also nice to have nights off. She's with her dads tonight."
I have far too many, far too nosey, questions so I don't ask any of them.
"So, drama, hey? What do you plan on doing with that after you're finished with college?" Keeley asks when I don’t respond.
I blink a few times, unprepared for her question. The gap in our conversation is filled by some whooping and giggling by Caroline and Paul behind her as the song changes. We both turn to smile at them and over the top of their heads, I see Jake and Ahmad are deep in conversation sitting on the stage. Looks like I may as well stay here and talk to Keeley as he won't want me getting in the way.
"I'd really like to be a playwright. Write plays. But I know the chances of me doing that with any kind of success is minuscule."
"Define success," Keeley says with narrowed eyes.
"I mean like, financial success. Making enough money to live off."
She wrinkles her nose. "But is that really success? Don't you think there's more to it? More to life?"
Taken aback by the philosophical direction of this conversation, my reply comes out as a splutter. "There's a lot more to life, but if you can't afford to eat or pay your rent, there's not much chance of you enjoying all that life has to offer."
Keeley holds my eye contact as she speaks. “That sounds like an excuse.”
Her words burn and the tightness in my chest increases. “I’m just being practical.”
"It sounds like you’re giving up before you've even started."
"I'm... I'm not giving up." I feel a heat in my eyes and I swallow hard.
"What you just said... You sound like you already have."
Part of me wants to shout at her. To tell her to mind her fucking business and that she doesn't know me. But I would never do that. That's not who I am. I'm Dove, the quiet mousey girl who sits in the front of my classes because my glasses prescription is long out of date and I can't afford a replacement pair. I’m the dedicated student who always turns her essays in on time. I'm Dove, the girl who does that because she never goes out unless it's a faculty party like this, where part of the budget comes from the department. I'm Dove who has never been kissed properly. I'm Dove, the twenty-year-old virgin.
I am definitely not Dove who stands her ground with the coolest girl in the room. A girl who is in fact not a girl at all, but a woman. A woman who is twenty-seven, a tattoo artist and has a kid. I am not Dove who is thinking about how soft Keeley's full lips would feel on my mouth. I am not Dove who can’t stop looking at Keeley’s thick curves and thinking about how juicy, how generous, how enticing they are. I am not Dove who is wondering what that hummingbird tattoo would taste like under my tongue.
"You're cute when you're all flustered," Keeley says. "It almost makes me not sorry for making you flustered, but I am, you know. I am sorry."
"I'm not gay.” The words spill out of me.
"Okay," she says after a beat, her expression only a little alarmed.
"I'm really not," I insist.
"Okay..." she says again, slower this time. "Do you want me to stop talking to you?"
"Yes, no. No, I don't want that. I'm not trying to be rude. I just don't want you to get the wrong idea and—"
"You're not the first girl to tell me they're straight," Keeley says with a level stare.
"Of course, many of them were lying."
I open my mouth but there are no words. As it happens Keeley's mouth is also open and out of it tumbles warm, deep laughter. "Jesus, I'm messing with you."
"Yes, I'm teasing you. And I probably shouldn't. I apologise."
"I'm sorry for sounding homophobic. I'm really not." My body temperature seems intent on swinging from hot to cold and right now I feel frozen, ice cold.
"I believe you," she says.
"If I were gay, I'm sure—"
"Don't say it." She presses a finger against my lips, a move that silences me instantly. "That's literally the worst thing you could say right now."
"Okay," I say, moving my mouth as little as possible because I don't want her to lift her finger off my lips. When she does it anyway, I hope to God my features don't reveal how disappointed I feel.
"You want to run away from me now?" Keeley asks me.
"No," I say, but it’s not the complete truth. For every part of me that longs to stand next to this woman and look at her longer, there’s a part of me that wishes I could run away and hide.
"But you probably will, right?"
It is the worst possible time for me to see Jake waving at me from across the room, beckoning me to him.
"I'm not running away," I nod at Jake. "But I do have to go. My friend needs me."
Keeley seems to find this amusing, which deepens my discomfort while also irritating me a little.
"Go be with your friend," she says, her eyes dull and her lips downturned, and then she turns and walks over to her dancing friends.
It's not until I'm standing in front of Jake in a dark corner of the room and he's giving me a lengthy debrief on how Ahmad touched his thigh for all of three seconds that I realise Keeley had been into me. Keeley fancied me. Whatever it was, Keeley had seen something in me that not many other people do, including myself.
And I have no idea how I feel about that.
Ugh. Straight girls.
I had been so convinced she wasn't one. The way her eyes kept landing on me. The way she smiled coyly. The way she couldn't stand still, shuffling from one foot to another the whole time we talked. Adorable.
Ridiculously, annoyingly, addictively adorable.
And then there’s her face. Long like her physique, it’s dominated by her big brown eyes which take up far too much space behind those round-framed glasses. Their warm walnut colour selfishly kept pulling my gaze into them as I stared up at her, and after a while, it felt like looking away was an impossibility. Her straight nose is covered in light brown freckles, her lips are an almost unnatural pink, and I’m only partly ashamed that it made me wonder if her nipples were the same rosey shade. Likewise, I’m nowhere near embarrassed enough that the first thing I thought when I saw how long her hair fell down her back was what it would look like wrapped around my fist. My impure thoughts were somewhat subdued by her clothes as uninspiring as they are, with her ripped jeans and a saggy well-worn baby blue cardigan, but still they failed to hide the curve of her waist, the slight flair of her narrow hips and the long, lean flanks of her thighs.
So she's not my usual type, but my usual type hasn't exactly worked out for me so far. I spare a quick glance at Gina who has the curves, dark features and overtly sexual aura I normally go for. She was fun while she lasted, but exhausting at the same time with her extroverted personality and tendency to always be performing a little. Then I stopped dating women completely so I could focus on raising my daughter, which seemed like such a good idea but in practise was incredibly boring. Well, Marianne is getting older now and Caroline and Paul were right to drag me out tonight. It has been a long time since I've socialised with people who have cultural references more sophisticated than the names of the Teletubbies. I love being a mum, but I also love not being a mum now and again and wasn't that the whole point of having a child with Nick and Ivan? To ensure I had time to myself while Marianne also gets to have more adults and love in her life? But since Gina, I've been reluctant to even think about dating again. It's also possible I've used my daughter more as an excuse than a reason.
That's why when I saw Dove's flushed cheeks beneath the wide rims of her glasses and the long hair that draped far too teasingly over her breasts when it fell there as she talked, I dared myself to find out more about her. Not that it felt like a dare. It felt like an invitation I'd been waiting for a long time.
But it seems the looks she directed my way were likely more because of my appearance than anything else. My hair, my piercings, my tattoos, my make-up. To me, they're just me and I'm not a big deal. Not something worth feeling intimidated or even especially curious about. But to others I know it's not that simple. My tattoos alone give out negative messages I can't control. I just didn't think they were being received by Dove. At least I’d hoped they weren’t.
I give her only half a glance now as I shuffle on the spot next to Paul and Caroline who I can tell are both about one drink away from snogging, which will pretty much be my cue to leave.
I know Dove’s friend - Jack is his name, I think - was waving at her and I can somehow tell she's the kind of person who will always go running when a friend calls for her, but she didn't have to do it so eagerly, so quickly.
Dove did make it clear that she's straight and not interested. I've learned the hard way that I need to listen to women when they do this. But as my eyes find their way to Dove again, much to my surprise they lock in with hers. She's leaning back against the wall as her friend talks, his hands busy, and she looks... wistful, sad, maybe even a little ashamed.
I offer her a small smile and I know she sees it because she drops our eye contact immediately and turns to the side so her shoulder is now against the wall.
I'm about to moan about long-haired mousey girls into Caroline's ear, but when I look at her, I see her mouth is fused with Paul's and she's virtually humping the thigh he has wedged between her legs.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," I mutter and then walk away. I ditch my drink on the first available surface I find, take my coat off the hook on the wall, and then I keep walking, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" A voice stops me before I reach the double doors.
"Home," I say before I turn and see Dove standing a few metres away.
"Don't go," she says and I wish she'd repeat it because I can't tell if her tone is as desperate as I want it to be, almost begging.
"We could have another drink together?" She offers. "My friend is now back talking to his latest crush and I don't really know anyone else here so..."
"So, I'll do as a stop-gap, to keep you company while your friend is busy?" I argue, my words heavy with spite.
"That's not what I meant," she says quickly and I don't miss how her bottom lip plumps up in a pout.
I step closer to her. "Are you straight?"
"Are you still straight, or did your sexuality magically change in the last ten minutes? I have to ask."
"I'm still straight," she whispers.
"Then, no, thank you."
She straightens up a bit then and lifts her head. "You know, that's kind of rude."
"I am kind of rude," I spit back. May as well live up to the reputation my tattoos and piercings give me. I put my coat on and ready myself to go, confident she doesn’t have a response to that.
"No, you're not,” she says, her shoulders held high. “You were really friendly with me earlier."
I take another step closer. "Well, that was when I was hoping to find out if you taste as sweet as you look," I say slowly, deliberately like the bitch I am.
I'll give her credit, she barely flinches. It's more of a shiver, in fact. But still she doesn't respond, her wide eyes finally fleeing from my glare.
"Go write your plays and be that amazing playwright you should believe you can be," I say to Dove before I turn my back on her and walk away.
Frances M. Thompson
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