Chapter 3

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"No way. Never in a million years."

I shot Alex a look, one I hoped had the right mix of disappointment and puppy-dog eyes. He was lounging on my bed, head dangling over the side so his hair fell toward the floor in some kind of crazy electrocuted fashion. His reflection stared back at him from the mirror on the opposite wall, and he chose to pull a face at this rather than me.

"Why not?"

"Why not?" he echoed. "I can think of a fair few reasons why not, actually. But I'll stick with the main one: however much money it raises us, this dare thing is not supposed to leave a permanent impression that'll last for the rest of my life."

I stuck out my lower lip even further. "It's only a tattoo."

"Only," he repeated, with a kind of half laugh to himself. "Not exactly the word I'd use."

"Didn't we always used to talk about getting matching tattoos?" I reminded him, thinking of the many conversations we'd shared over lunch in lower school – before we were even old enough to set foot in a parlour. But that had just been part of the appeal. The illegality of the whole thing made the idea so much more exciting, even though the three parents we had between us would've all killed us if we'd gone ahead.

"Only as a joke," he insisted. "It was never a serious thought. Who even wants us to get tattoos, anyway? I thought people wanted to see us embarrass ourselves, not get something we'll regret for the rest of our lives."

"So there's no way you'll agree?"

He drew his attention away from his reflection, pulling himself into a sitting position so his face was the right way up. "Absolutely no chance."

"What if..." My voice trailed off. There had to be a way of convincing him, and I was determined to find it. But what did I have that Alex wanted? We spent so much time together, both at school and outside of it, that there wasn't much left to lead separate lives. Then, suddenly, an idea struck me. "What if I get you a date with Hayley?"

Just as I'd expected, this got his attention. "What?"

"You heard me," I said, relishing the way he was now hanging off my every word. Hayley was, of course, the girl he'd been crushing on for two years straight: the freckled redhead on track for all the same ultra-smart universities, who ultimately refused to date any of the typical loud-mouthed lads that dominated our sixth form. And the girl I happened to sit next to in History class. "I'm working on a project with her this term. And if you agreed to do this... I'm sure I could make something happen."

I could see him playing with the idea in his head, turning it over and over to inspect the intricate details. Figuring out, no doubt, if I was trying to mess with him. But after a couple of seconds, temptation got the better of him, and he nodded in resignation.

"Fine," he said. "On two conditions."

"Which are?"

"Nothing big," he said, "and nothing on my butt."

"Got it," I said, and in that moment, I couldn't wipe the grin from my face.

***

Never before had I set foot in a tattoo parlour, so I didn't really know what to expect. Perhaps in my head it had been a darkened lair, a collection of threatening guys covered head-to-toe in ink, and the inability to leave without getting at least one body part tattooed. The place on the high street, tucked away between the 24-hour convenience store and charity shop, turned out to be more than a little different.

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