Nix Nightingale hated celebrating his birthday. This was usually due to the fact that, as a member of the nobility, birthday celebrations usually involved his parents throwing a large party, to which they would invite many other nobles either much older than him or all young ladies looking to be married off. Now, Nix might be a caring soul and might like people well enough, but he had a very low tolerance for the airs and lies that constantly ran from the mouths of the nobility.
It should have come as no surprise to him that his parents would decide to do something so extravagant for his twenty-fifth birthday as to rent out an entire cruise ship for an evening. He was fairly certain that they were just trying to impress people, because they even invited some “new money” to attend the festivities.
“That girl over there is Delilah Carter. Her father owns a security company,” his mother lectured dispassionately. “Genevieve Thorold is the daughter of one of the Big Oil executives, and Felicity Downly in the blue cocktail dress is the heiress of that new jewelry company your father buys all his cuff-links from now.”
Nix rolled his eyes. “Mother, I honestly couldn’t care less.”
“Oh, I’m sure you would much rather be off galavanting with that little friend of yours, but you’re twenty five now. The fact that you’ve gone this long without so much as courting a lady frankly disturbs me.”
“First of all, Mother, his name is Mostyn. Second, what he and I do in our spare time is none of your concern. Third, as I’ve told you at least a hundred times now, he’s straight.”
“And fourth, you’re completely uninterested in getting married or giving us grandchildren, I know. You’ve told me all of this plenty of times before. But listen here; either you go and find a nice young lady to court tonight, or your father and I are setting up an arranged marriage which you will have no say in or over. Do I make myself clear?” Her tone left no margin for doubt, and Nix was left cringing to himself as his mother left to greet more guests.
Looking around, it was basically a sea of unfamiliar faces. Nix rarely knew anyone his parents invited, and even more rarely deigned to remember anyone who came with any regularity aside from what common courtesy dictated he must know. A glass of champagne sat in his hand, fizzing away, untouched. It had been handed to him by a more inebriated patron who’d insisted they do a toast; he hadn’t noticed when Nix did not drink. If he were more honest, Nix would have preferred whiskey, but that was kept tucked away in another room filled with old men smoking cigars and chortling about whatever might have caught their attention at the time.
Everyone at the party looked more or less the same, when things came down to it. Fine jewelry, fancy tuxedos or dresses either far too tight or far too voluminous to be of any practical function, and natural-coloured hair pinned up or slicked back in whatever was considered the latest fashion. It was only natural his eye would suddenly be drawn to one particular young lady near a wall on the opposite side of the room with bright blue hair shaved into an undercut on one side of her head, several more piercings than was usually considered appropriate in this social context, and wearing a denim jacket over a plain black shirt.
Nix found himself drawn to her, partly because she looked so different from everyone else and his curiosity had been piqued, and partly because he suspected that the flask she kept sipping at might just contain the stronger alcohol he was currently craving to make it through the rest of the evening with his sanity intact.
“You look about as miserable as I feel,” he commented, coming up beside her and depositing his unwanted drink on a passing server’s tray.
She eyed him warily for a moment. “Mebee. Least you look like you fit in ‘ere.”
Nix shrugged and leaned against the wall next to her, silently asking permission first. “My parents would probably kill me for not doing so if I wasn’t the only heir to their estate, save for my cousins, but Heaven forbid they should inherit all that money” He rolled his eyes skyward and sighed. “How did you get your parents to let you come dressed so casually?” Now that he was closer, he could see that she was also wearing a dark red pleated skirt and black boots.
“My da’s not so stuffy as most folks ‘ere, I guess.” She took a sip from her flask. “I would ‘ave worn jeans if it were all up ta me, though. Hate skirts.”
“Why’s that?” Nix asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Because I can’t do half the stuff I wanna do without somebody seein’ my underwear. Too girly for me, anyhow.” She took another sip.
“Would it be too much to ask for a bit of whatever you’ve got there?” Nix pointed at the flask for clarification when the girl turned a mildly accusing look his way.
She scrutinized him for a moment, swishing the liquid around in thought. “Wot’s your name, first?”
“Nix Nightingale. I’m the supposed reason behind my parents throwing this godforsaken party.”
“Aah, so you’re the one that fancy lady at the door was talkin’ about. M’name’s Trixie Hatter. My dad got a last minute invitation from your folks right after his watch company got featured in one of those frou-frou magazines.” She extended a hand to shake his and Nix could feel a mutual understanding pass between them as she handed over her flask. “I snuck this in because I figured I’d need the strength. I was right.”
Nix took a heavy swig and grinned in satisfaction. It certainly wasn’t the best brand of whiskey, but it was one of the better ones. “Much appreciated.” He handed the flask back to Trixie with a smile.
The pair stood where they were in silence for a while longer. They went completely undisturbed. While Nix was easy enough to pick out of a crowd by virtue of his height alone, Trixie seemed to grab everyone’s attention first and scare them off by virtue of her existence. It was nice, for a change.
“Wonder if’n we could sneak off with one o’ them lifeboats they got outside,” Trixie mused aloud.
A wry grin played across Nix’s face. “We probably could. At this rate, I doubt anyone will notice we’re gone.”
“Woah, hold up! I ain’t suggestin’ we go off playin’ Titanic’s star-crossed lovers in there, if that’s what you’re thinkin’!”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Nix replied cooly, “because neither was I. I can’t stand these parties my parents throw for me. I decided it might be a better use of both our time if we row ourselves back to the dock and find someplace else that doesn’t require us to act overly polite.”
Trixie spent another minute eyeing Nix. She shrugged, apparently having decided to believe him for the time being, and grinned. “I know a great pub by the water,” she suggested. “The owners are friends of mine, an’ we can get cheap drinks and watch the show.”
“Thursday’s wrestlin’ night. Anyone what can beat Bella in an arm wrestling match gets a free drink.”
“Sounds like fun. I’ll row.”