Bubblegum’s place smelled like incense and perfume when I walked in. This usually meant that Aprajita was cooking something up and masking the smell to keep everything fresh. It smelled amazing, strong but also delicate, and not so intense that I felt my sinuses burning.
“Yo, I’m here!” I called out.
“One minute!” came Bubblegum’s reply.
The apartment was decorated with all sorts of pictures of Bubblegum and her partner. I picked one of the frames up, gazing at it absentmindedly as I waited. Bubblegum and Aprajita were sitting together on a boat off the coast of Malaysia, according to the inscription on the back. The former was decked out in all pink, per her usual style, with a grin so wide it almost took up the whole picture. Next to her was Aprajita — or as their girlfriend like to call them sometimes, “Api” — wearing a blue blazer that looked way too thick for the weather they must have been in. They had a tiny smile on their face — a momentous occasion, all things considered. The two expressions you most often get from Aprajita were usually “neutral” and “slight frown.”
Bubblegum came bustling through the door, an orange box in her hands.
“Alright, here it is!” she said, passing the box off to me. I nearly buckled under the weight of the thing, surprised by how heavy it was when it reached my hands. Bubblegum clasped her hands together, smiling.
“They’re not that far from here, so it should be quick!”
I gave an exasperated sigh.
“Bubbles, I know we’re band-mates, but that doesn’t mean I’m also your delivery girl!” I said, putting the package down next to me and placing my hands on my hips.
“Of course Mint, of course! Buuuut shipping is expensive, and if it’s a local delivery, me and the customer get a discount when you do it!”
“Yeah, and all I get is a sore back,” I muttered. “What’s in this thing anyway?” I asked, tapping the box with my boot. Bubblegum crossed her arms.
“I can’t tell you that, obviously. It’s against the law.”
“From what I’ve heard, the law isn’t a thing that’s stopped you before.”
“I will neither confirm nor deny the truth of those statements,” Bubblegum replied. It came out so quickly and rehearsed that I was almost worried about the sort of crap she got into before we met. But she’d never tell me, so it was never worth dwelling on.
“Ask them yourself!” she continued.
“That…would be weird,” I said, scrunching up my face.
“From what I’ve heard, being weird isn’t a thing that’s stopped you before.”
“Touché,” I said. I lifted the package up and slung it over my shoulder.
“If nothing else, this courier gig is going to get me jacked,” I said as I made to exit Bubblegum’s place. “Tell Api to save some food for me, please!”
“Will do! If they’re feeling extra generous, they might even throw some curry in on the house.”
“But…only if you get that package there quick. Ciao!” The pink-haired woman shut the door behind me before I could protest.
“Well, curry’s a suitable enough bribe,” I said to myself. “May as well get to it now.”
My skateboard was waiting for me on the porch. I kicked it off of the wall and hopped on, kuh-kunking down the two stairs that led to Bubblegum’s home before getting onto the sidewalk. My friend wasn’t lying about her customer being close — they were only a block or two away. And the weather was perfect for a ride on my board. A breeze was running through the summer sun, preventing it from scalding the neighborhood with its heat. Clouds assisted in the endeavor, only letting the yellow orb peek through them now and again as they passed above me.
I lazily pushed myself left and right on my skateboard, mind elsewhere as I let muscle-memory kick in while I rode. I had been across these paths so many times before when coming to Bubblegum’s house for band practice, I could probably ride through them with my eyes closed. It was incredible to think that our little garage, grass-roots effort had gotten so popular so quickly. People were even starting to recognize me while I was out skating! I had no idea how I was going to deal with it if we really blew up…
Before I could ponder the effects of potential fame any further, I found myself standing in front of the client’s place. They were on the third floor of a narrow apartment complex, nestled between houses on either side. It looked to be a little cramped. I shrugged, hopping off my board and making my way through the lobby and onto the elevator. It spit me out where I needed to be, with the client’s apartment being only a few paces away.
I gave the door a swift knock, and waited.
I gave another quick rap with my knuckles, louder this time.
“Hello?” I called out. It was then that I realized I could hear a faint sound on the other side of the door. I put the box down and leaned close to the door, ear pressed against the cool, black-painted wood.
It was music!
And not playing from speakers, either. A guitar was shredding somewhere inside, completely drowning out any sound of my knocking. While I admired the thing’s aggressive style, I had places to be. This just wouldn’t do.
“Hey!” I shouted, now finally pounding on the door. “I have a package for you, fam!”
The sound cut off. I let my hands fall to my sides, tapping them impatiently while I waited. I was just about ready to leave the package in front of the door and bounce when it finally swung open.
A taller girl stood in front of me. She had striking pink hair that swept forward, nearly obscuring her eyes. and shaved on one side. And she was dressed in a casual grey jumper that looked like something a mechanic might wear. The sleeves were rolled up to reveal chain-patterned tattoos on either of her arms. My eyes widened, a thought exploding through my head unannounced.
Holy shit she’s cute!
“C-can I help you?”
I gaped at the girl.
“O-oh! Hi! Um, I…” I was sputtering. I was already screwing it up! Aprajita would roast me if she found out. I could already hear her words echoing in the back of my head. “Some top you are.” Noooo!
I tried to stick the landing as best I could. I gave a small wave. “Hi, I’m Haruko! My friends call me Mint.”
“Um…cool,” the girl replied. “I’m Queen. My friends call me Queen.”
“Oh, cool, cool…” So much for sticking the landing. I shot up straight.
“Oh right! I have a package for you. From Bubblegum? The Etsy lady?”
The girl — Queen — lit up at the realization. “Awesome! I’ve been super excited for this stuff.”
I passed the box to her, putting my hands behind my back afterwards. Queen gestured towards her apartment.
“You wanna come inside? It’s hot out, I can give you a glass of water or something.”
My heart shot up into my throat.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude…”
“You aren’t. I’m here alone, so if anything, you’ll be brightening the place up. Come on in.”
I stepped into the apartment and past Queen, trying not to look too eager all the while. I caught the smell of metal coming off of her fingers from playing her guitar. When I walked through the hallway into the apartment, I let out a small gasp.
The apartment was filled end-to-end with all kinds of fancy technology. A lot of it I couldn’t even describe to you. Stacks of computers were lined up like battle-stations, and multiple desks were strewn about with monitors on them displaying all kinds of information that I definitely did not understand one bit. Cables snaked their way pretty much everywhere — past monitors, coiled around desk legs, under tables and scattered on the ground. Queen stepped through the jungle of tech with ease, not bumping into a single thing as she walked from one end of the living room to the next.
“Sorry about the mess,” she said as she headed into the kitchen. “I don’t usually have guests over, so I’ve never had to clean up. It’s a bad habit of mine.”
“You’re good,” I said. “Do you work with all this stuff?”
“Yeah.” The kitchen was separated by the living room with a counter, so the tall girl was able to continue talking to me while she accessed her fridge. “Most of it is just diagnostic stuff, but the rest is for one kind of project or another, even if I’m never actually working on them as much as I’d like.”
I sighed in understanding. “I feel that. I have like three or four songs on my mind at any given time. Nine times out of ten I don’t work on any of them and veg out on the couch instead.”
“Oh, you play?” Queen asked, stepping over to me with a glass of water and gesturing towards a couch that I hadn’t noticed amidst the sea of electronics. I nodded.
“My friends and I started a band a couple of months ago, actually. Minty Fresh. I didn’t pick the name, by the way!” I quickly added as I sat down, waving a hand. It was Bubblegum’s idea. I promise I’m not that conceited…”
Queen seemed to have stopped listening to me. Suddenly she put her hands on her head, gasping.
“You’re the singer of Minty Fresh? What the hell?”
“Um…yes?” I replied, acting as a question more than an affirmation. Queen shot her hands out towards me, palms upward, as if I just broke one of her computers.
“That’s amazing! I was at one of your shows, like, two weeks ago, at Future First! You opened for Kanon!”
I gave a sheepish grin. “Yep, that’s me…”
“No wonder you looked so familiar! This is so cool! I always wanted to start a band, but the guitar has always been kind of a hobby for me. But you’re like, out here! Doing it!”
I laughed. “Don’t sell yourself short! You were shredding pretty hard just now from what I heard.” I was trying to turn the subject away from me, still unused to the fact that people were starting to recognize who I was. We were in a small enough town, but still…it was weird.
Luckily, Queen seemed fine with moving on. “Thanks. It’s a nice break between projects. Ah, speaking of!”
I sipped at the water Queen provided me while she jumped to the parcel I had delivered, pulling out a pocket knife that she used to swiftly cut the thing open. I sat up on my chair to look over her shoulder while she pulled everything out. It was more advanced-looking technology, as well as some sort of shiny block.
“Yes! This’ll do nicely.”
I kicked my legs idly on the couch as the girl examined all of her new toys. “What’re you gonna do with all that stuff?”
It seemed like Queen had to struggle to tear herself away from her present to focus her attention on me. “I’m trying to make a helmet. I want it to have a HUD, and maybe even interface with a couple of my other things.”
“Oh, I see, I see. A HUD, huh? Pretty cool.” I had no idea what a HUD was.
“Where does Bubblegum even get this stuff?” I asked. Queen laughed.
“It sounds like we shouldn’t ask. She was selling it for pennies, too, she may as well have been giving it away for free.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of her MO. I assume it’s a middle finger to…something.”
I shrugged. “Oh hey, what’s that at the bottom of the box?”
Queen turned beet red. “This is, uh, just an extra thing that I got.”
“Can I see?” I was curious, but I didn’t want the girl to explode, which seemed very close to happening if you got a good look at her face.
She passed the thing to me. I could tell just by feeling it that it was made out of crocheted yarn of all sorts of colors. I ran it through my fingers and turned it around.
“Oh my God.”
It was a sweater. Emblazoned on the front was a cat hanging on a branch with text above it that said “Hang in There!”
Queen couldn’t meet my eyes as I looked up from the sweater and at her.
“Did Bubblegum make this for you?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible. The girl nodded. “I knew I recognized the handiwork. This makes more sense to put in an Etsy shop, anyways.”
“This is so embarrassing…” Queen muttered. “But I guess I won’t see you again, so…”
I gave her the most innocent smile I could. “Oh, you won’t?” I asked.
Queen looked like she was about to faint. I almost felt bad for teasing her so much, but enjoyment beat out whatever little conscience I had.
“I mean…if you want to…oh, actually, I remembered something. At your concert, I saw you were struggling getting some of your equipment working.”
This time it was my turn to blush.
“Was it that obvious?” I asked, tapping my cheek.
“Oh, no no, it’s not your fault!” Queen was up and about again, moving to grab a sketchbook off of her desk. It was clear that she was always in her element talking about tech, which was, like everything else about her, extremely cute. She flopped onto the couch next to me, flipping the book open to a page with what looked like a pair of headphones, striped red near the top.
“That stuff is always really difficult to work with, especially in the moment. But see, I had this idea for a headset that sort of unifies everything it connects to, and lets you control it with minimal effort.”
“That’s…awesome.” I wasn’t even trying to flatter her at this point. It’d actually be really helpful for concerts too.
“Right!? So I was wondering if you’d wanna try it at your next show?”
I beamed. “Sure!”
“Awesome.” She was up again, pacing back and forth. “So I’ll need to get a look at all your instruments and amps and stuff, and definitely anything wireless you have on stage. Hmm…and I’ll need your measurements too.”
I crossed my arms, giving a sly smile.
“Measurements, huh?” I asked, coupled with an exaggerated eyebrow raise.
Queen stuttered yet again. “O-of your head, I mean. I don’t need, like, other measurements.”
I crossed one leg over the other. “Sure, but do you want them?”
She pretended not to hear the question. “Alright, so I definitely don’t have enough space to do this here…is it okay if I come to you?”
“Yep!” I replied, hopping from my seat. “It’s a date!”
“It is? I mean, it is. Right.”
I grabbed a marker off one of Queen’s desks and gently took her hand to scribble on it.
“Here’s my number. Call me whenever you wanna swing by, Q.”
“O-oh. I could have just put it in my phone.”
“I know,” I replied, grinning. “Well I won’t be taking any more of your time, and I have to get ready for practice.” I made for the exit, Queen following behind me. I turned to the girl as I kicked my board, letting it slide under my arm as I grabbed it from the air. I was absolutely trying to flex, and was very happy the thing didn’t slap my face, like it did pretty much every other time I tried to pull that move off.
“Feel free to order from Bubblegum again. I certainly wouldn’t mind,” I said as I waved my goodbye. As I left the apartment, Queen called out to me.
I turned. “What’s up?”
The girl had a hand in her pocket. “Oh, nothing, I just…I like your hair, that’s all. It suits you.”
“Oh! Thank you!”
“Yeah. Alright, see you later.”
The girl closed the door. I was able to contain myself all the way to the elevator, where I couldn’t stop myself from hugging my skateboard and squealing in excitement.