“...Girl, you seen your face?”
Having literally just walked through the back door, Marley managed to squeak out a “Huh?”, hands still fumbling to tie back her ever-expanding afro. She really enjoyed her natural hair but u g h, the effort. Even with all the magic at her disposal, she hadn’t yet found a guaranteed way to get it to stay in place for the trip to Back Street without turning it into, like, a rock, and so she suffered this routine at the start of every shift. Sometimes she’d take a minute between Apparating to Union Station and transferring to the enchanted subway line to at least get it started and then re-adjust upon arrival, but nothing good could come of trying to raise her elbows against the Christmas crowds now stuffed in every corner of her commute.
In her peripheral vision she saw Frankie Collins drawing closer, and out of sheer willpower she managed to pull her hair through the elastic and tug it into place before raising her head to face the greying woman. “Don’t huh at me, girl. Clean that mess up ‘fore you go out there.”
“Yes, totally,” Marley agreed blindly. “Be right out!” Grabbing a crisp blue apron off the waiting rack, she looped it around her waist, smoothing it down before side-stepping to size up her reflection in the chrome fridge. She looked fine at a glance. A bit wonky from the curved appliance, but honestly it made her own curves even better, so-- oh. Oooooh.
It was that visible, just from the fridge? Not even a real mirror?
Marley poked her cheek experimentally with one painted nail and winced. Yeah, coming into work with a black eye sure explained Frankie’s greeting. Probably also explained the look she’d gotten from that family on the subway. And the teenagers on the street corner. And the mailman outside their Toronto townhouse. Look, she was normally totally attentive but she had a ton going on these days!
Compared to RMI, university was a Lot. Obviously she’d expected it to be a Lot, because even though her time at RMI had been filled with an intense weekly schedule of classes and extracurriculars and sometimes her best friend getting mad at her and sometimes her best friend’s brother getting stabbed, university meant going to school with real adults and she knew the intensity was gonna get ramped up both in academics and social life-slash-draaaama. These had both so far been very true.
On the academic side of things, her final project in Spellwork plus her Healing internship had apparently impressed someone enough to admit her into the nursing school at Queens, or specifically the magical program, which thank goodness was still called nursing instead of something archaic like “mediwitch” because that saved her a lot of time petitioning against exclusionary gendering. Of course she wasn’t quite lucky enough to be able to be a student alone, hence her side job at the diner; the bursary she’d been granted had helped save her meagre bank account but the inevitable promise of student loan repayments already loomed over her head like the literal worst type of mountain. Some of the others in her cohort seemed happy to put on blinders for the next four years and deal with it later, but Marley had never been good at ignoring things.
At least she wasn’t at an American school. Her mum had gone to college in Boston on international tuition rates, and joked that there was a good reason why most of Marley’s childhood had been spent living in a truck trailer - not that there’d been anything wrong with the trailer, in fact she missed it sometimes, but houses were nice too.
On the social life-slash-draaaama side of things, well, first of all she was still living at home for now (in a house, not a trailer) and it seemed pure fluke that her living situation so far hadn’t lived up to its full potential to ruin her social life, although it did mean there was also less draaaama so that was a small win. Her grandparents had been in an assisted living home for a couple years already but they officially transferred the townhouse to Dad over the summer, and while Mum & Jaime couldn’t be on the title too since Ontario wasn’t progressive enough to recognize common-law throuples, they were all contributing to the outstanding mortgage now including Marley because, even though they told her as long as she was a student she didn’t have to pay rent which was 80% of the reason why she was still living at home, she still felt guilty not putting something in the pot. (The other 20% was because she’d spent long enough at boarding school and wanted some quality family time. Also, Kingston was great and all, but she preferred Toronto.)
Because her social life at RMI largely circled around her extracurriculars, Marley had decided to try a similar approach at Queens as it seemed the best way to meet people. She’d joined an improv group with mostly Muggle students, and added her name to the theatre department’s mailing list in hopes of auditioning for something eventually, and did karaoke at the campus nightclub which led to making out with a dude who had a beard - that had been a first and also surprisingly off-putting - but unfortunately she hadn’t made it onto the Quidditch team or even the reserve team. It was a bit disappointing, but honestly not much more than a bit. It was pretty clear within minutes of talking to the others at tryouts that most of them were hoping to use university Quidditch to, like, get their name out and be recruited to play professionally one day, which Marley herself was approximately negative-twelve interested in. So her mum’s old Beater bat was now sitting on top of her bookshelf, serving as a reminder of all the good times and occasionally a paperweight.
She was still playing a sport, though, something totally new: roller derby.
It was sorta weird how she’d gotten into it. Marley had bumped into a girl on the train one day and then offered to get her coffee, and while that hadn’t exactly turned into the freshman love story of her imagination, she’d learned in the Tims lineup that the roller blades hanging from her backpack were (1) actually roller skates, something the blonde had vehemently corrected her on, and (2) used for roller derby, and related to that (2a) the bloody handprints painted all over her skates were a reference to her derby name, Lady MacDeath. Tasha had suggested she tag along for a free skate event with the Hogtown Roller Derby League and before the night was over, Marley had signed up for derby training.
Roller derby was nothing like Quidditch, for all of the really obvious reasons, but also the player demographic was super unique. The league was mostly women with a couple enbies, ranging from eighteen-year-old students like Marley to people her mum’s age or maybe even older. It really welcomed anyone who wasn’t a cis man, which sounded kind of sexist when you said it out loud but according to the league manager no cis men had ever asked to join, which suggested they were too intimidated to play with such boss babes and that was super appealing to her.
She was now two months in and had finished her training. After trials last night, the drafter for the Debu-Taunts had come up to her and in summary Marley was now an actual derby player on an actual team in the league. Soon she’d start joining them for weekly practices, and then games, and eep she couldn’t wait! She was already testing out possible derby names, at least in her head until she had something good enough to try on the team... which was probably gonna take a while. A lot of players had really cool unique names, like Shock Ness and Dear Stabby, and it really made her second-guess her ideas, although according to Tasha it wasn’t just about coming up with your own name but the team had to second it too, so if they’d overhaul it anyways maybe she shouldn’t worry too much about having the perfect idea. Besides, clearly she wasn’t a perfect person anyways. If she was, she would’ve remembered to clean up before coming into work.
Marley swiped her finger lightly over her cheek again, whispering a spell, and watched her reflection in the fridge as the swollen lump faded back to her normal medium-brown. Glancing at the clock, she grabbed a waiting pot and pushed through the swinging doors, where her attention was immediately seized by James waving her over. “Marley here’ll get you settled,” he told the white couple standing at the counter, and she flashed a wide grin as they turned to her.
“Hey! Welcome to Frankie’s Diner. Come right this way.” It was still the tail end of the lunch rush, the background scratching of Thelonius Monk’s piano through the speakers only starting to make a dent against the noise of conversation, but a booth against the window was free and she led them over to it. As they took off their winter robes and got settled, she leaned over to rap the tablecloth with a knuckle, activating the menu. “Double tap to zoom in or click-and-drag to focus, just like a tablet,” she explained cheerfully, demonstrating as the text scrolled past on the table. “The tech kind, not the cursed kind. Can I get you something to drink while you look over the menu?”
“I’ll take a coffee, and she’ll have water,” the man requested.
“That right?” she casually asked, still smiling, brown eyes sliding over to the woman. The fact her tone didn’t carry a whiff of challenge was proof of how often she’d seen this kind of disappointingly patriarchal behaviour.
Waitressing fit great with her class schedule, but it’d been a nightmare when she started. Her first gig out on the Muggle Front Street had lasted a whopping four days before she walked out in protest over being forced to wear heels (not that she minded them - she had on her favourite ankle boots with glittery heels right now - but like, being a fashion choice was literally the whole point of heels). Her second attempt had gone about the same except replacing heels with miniskirts (which, again, she was totally a fan of and was wearing one today, but lining up female employees to prove their skirts were shorter than their fingertips was humiliating and sketchy and made her feel gross).
Thank gosh she’d found the diner. Frankie had never told her that ‘you signed up for this’ or ‘if you don’t appreciate this job, you can leave’ but instead treated her like an employee of value and recognized they could talk through any workplace concerns like, y’know, the grown adults they were. She didn’t want to generalize, but in her experience, white dudes sucked as bosses. Working for a Black woman with a sense of decency made it a lot easier to get through her shifts and actually enjoy herself along the way.
The woman nodded, tucking a stray blonde hair behind her ear. “With ice, please. We haven’t been here before - what can you recommend?”
Pouring out strong black coffee into a mug, she toggled the button on the pot’s handle and soon a glass of ice water followed. “The lunch special’s chicken and waffles, with your choice of a side of slaw or corn chowder. And we’ve got a great tofu substitute if you’re meat-free!” she added, her smile widening. She always got the tofu herself. Frankie’s husband had a knack for crisping it up just right; she’d asked once semi-jokingly if it was a secret recipe or if he could share and he’d returned totally-not-jokingly that it was no secret but then didn’t elaborate. He was a man of few words, but Marley knew she would crack him eventually.
Apparently the couple wasn’t meat-free, but she wasn’t the type for judgement, at least not on that kind of thing, and soon enough she was headed back to put in a double order. On the way, she doled out a few refills of mugs and glasses, retrieved a pack of pencil crayons for a restless toddler, flashed a beaming welcome as the door’s jinglebells announced one of their afternoon regulars. She mouthed a quick charm and then snapped her fingers for the #aesthetic, sending dishes flying; by the time James had greeted him and looked over, the senior’s usual table was spotless save for a mug of steaming coffee. Marley dropped him a wink and followed the hovering stack of plates into the kitchen.
Yup, life was chaos, but she was a queen and totally on top of it, at least right now.