Ten years later
I sat in an empty room with two folding chairs. I sat in one while an middle-aged, bitter woman sat across from me in the other. Maybe she was my age and her bitterness aged her. She introduced herself with a frown as Martha. I crossed my legs to appear professional but kept my hands in my lap to appear open.
“Why do you want to work at this club?”
“I want to sing,” I answered her and she squinted at me. She wrote something down and I decided to specify my answer. “I enjoy expressing myself artistically and there’s not a lot of places to do that in Bayland. I asked around, Foreman’s Club happens to have the only stage in town. I would like to perform on it.”
“Listen, sweetheart, this isn’t some cute little singing gig. Try Broadway or LA. Bayland is a dead-end. Trust me.”
“I love this city and I’d never leave it for anything. I just want to perform. If I can’t, then it was nice knowing you, lady.” She smirked and leaned forward.
“You can rent the stage. We have an opening in three months. We ask for a quarter of the profit you make while you perform. That includes security.”
“Three months? But I need the money now!” I sat back in my chair, blown away by my disappointment. Maybe I would have to leave the only city I’d ever known.
“You could be a waitress. Variety is always a good thing. Maybe if you’re good at that, you can work your way up and find an opening faster.”
“Oh, sweetheart, you don’t know? It’s a not really a restaurant. They pay an entrance fee and our waitresses are trained prostitutes. It’s a loophole. Downstairs is business and upstairs is a private dwelling.”
“What if I just want to wait tables?” I just got out of a waitress job at a rundown diner. I tried to convince my old boss into giving me a chance at entertaining his crowd. He downright refused. If Martha would give me a shot, I’d take it. Even if it brought me back to where I was.
“No one can make you do anything. Just tell them you’re only a waitress and if anyone gets out of hand, scream for security.”
Maybe this wasn’t worth it. Why should anyone have to scream for help?
“Bruce pays well. You can be expecting upwards of a hundred dollars a week.”
My first day on the job, I was nervous. I made the mistake of telling Martha that I was experienced as a waitress and she threw me out to the wolves with no directions other than “Go get ’em!”
I hated the outfit I had to wear. My old job just made me wear a skirt and a fitted blouse. The plain white shirt Martha gave me had brownish-yellow sweat stains in the pits and was two sizes too big. The skirt they gave cinched too tightly at my waist and pinched every time I bent in even the slightest direction. The lights were low and I took solace in knowing that it was unlikely that anyone would notice me.
It was a full house but I hid in the warm kitchen.
“Who are you?” one of the cooks grunted, barely looking at me. He seemed to be entranced by his own food.
“A new waitress. I’m hiding.”
“Make yourself useful and take these rolls out. We give them out on the house.” I distributed a few baskets of rolls but didn’t want to take any orders. I wanted to get up on the stage. The lonely microphone glistened in the lowlight, beckoning to me. That Martha was a filthy liar. The stage seemed pretty open now.
I felt a hand run down my arm. By the time I’d turn to see who’d touched me, he’d grabbed my hand. A young, boyish face chewed on his cigar and contributed to the smoky atmosphere. He seemed too young to be around prostitutes.
“Can I help you?” I asked. I yanked my hand away and he leaned back against his table, saying nothing. “Fine, get your own food, creep.”
“Doll, I don’t pay to serve myself.”
Bad idea. This was a bad idea.
I looked back at the microphone, my dumb dream. I then noticed the security. A tall, heavyset man guarding the stairway. I was fine. This place wouldn’t be so popular if it was dangerous, would it?
My lonely microphone suddenly had a partner. A blonde woman in a red dress started mumble singing in another language. Or maybe she was just that drunk. Either way, I was absolutely dazzled by her. She was everything that I wanted to be. She engaged the audience confidently and her warm, soft singing was easy to listen to.
“You, I like you,” the same voice said, breaking my concentration with the beautiful woman. This time, the hand grabbed my leg and reached up my skirt. On reflex, I smashed my serving platter over his head. It caused the beautiful singing to stop and I only made Handsy mad.
He came at me and I held the platter up to protect my face from any onslaught. It was a big enough platter to cover my face and stomach. I could see the dent his head made when I hit him.
“Joe!” a deep voice barked. I lowered the platter slightly and Handsy was being backed away by the security guy I saw by the stairs. I was taken aback by how tall he was. It was like looking at a giant. “You don’t need to be getting in any more trouble, do you?”
“No,” Handsy mumbled.
“Apologize to this beautiful young lady. She obviously doesn’t want your attention.”
“Sorry,” Handsy mumbled even quieter and turned to the table.
“Don’t mind him. He’s just a spoiled brat. If he ever gives you any trouble, just holler.”
I had no idea why someone like him was even allowed in this place if he caused this much trouble. I nodded, still trying not to react strangely to how tall he was. My chin was the same height of his mid chest.
“Big Jack!” a voice screeched. Big Jack smiled as a waitress leapt into his arms. She had long black hair and bleach white skin. The contrast was haunting. He spun and dipped her, kissing her cheek and then bringing her back up to her own feet. “You aren’t trying to make me jealous, are you?” she asked. Her playful eyes glanced at me once before returning her complete attention to Big Jack.
“No, Stephanie, I’m just breaking up a fight.”
“I’m only a waitress,” I sputtered. Stephanie raised an eyebrow.
“And I’m only a barrette wearer. Looks like we’re all saying stupid shit.”
I couldn’t handle anymore confrontation. I panicked and sped walked back to the kitchen. The cook explained in rushed words that he was making cheap bisque for everyone. He handed me a fresh platter with gray soup and ordered me out again.
“Are you afraid of sex?” Stephanie asked me at the doorway of the kitchen. She made me blush at the unabashed way she said it.
“No,” I answered, laughing it off and placing a bowl in front of someone.
“Some people just want company. Lonely travelers. Widowers. Lonely people in general. It’s a club. Not a whorehouse.”
“And upstairs is…”
“Upstairs is if you feel comfortable with a more private setting. Only if you feel more comfortable. Okay?” She gave me a tight hug and kissed my forehead. She wasn’t old enough to be my mother, but I felt mothered by her. It made me hate her. I dropped off my last bowl of soup and sat down. Working for a paycheck instead of tips gave me a lack of motivation.
“How are you?” I asked the man across from me. His hair was cropped short on one side and cut to his ear on the other, wavy and a little frizzy.
“I am well, how are you?” a French accent responded with a despondent voice. My jaw dropped.
“Are you from France!” I whispered and gripped his arm, doing a poor job of hiding my enthusiasm. He turned to me and smirked.
“Paris. Pourquoi, chérie?”
“Yeah.” I had no idea what he was saying but watched him as the dazzling singing sung in the background. He laughed and leaned back in his chair. I did the same, getting comfortable.
“Quel est votre nom, mon cher?”
“Fais-moi une branlette, eh,” he said and reached for my hand. I could only stare in lost amusement. “I’m only teasing you, sweetheart. Thank you for the soup.” He took one spoonful and discretely spit it out in a napkin.
“Yeah, I’m starting to think this place is more about entertainment and not food. Sorta like baseball that way, I guess.”
“More of a pleasure on the senses than baseball this is? Hm? You never told me your name.”
“Beautiful name. So warm and nonthreatening. Pierre. I’ve been coming here every night just to watch MaryAnn sing. She’s so beautiful and hearing my native tongue is such a comfort to me. Obligations here in Bayland keep me from going back home.”
“I could never imagine leaving the city I was born in. What’s that like?”
“Immeasurably painful. I don’t think I’ll ever recover,” he answered sadly. I felt for him. It had to be difficult moving to a new land and learning a new language and culture. Poor guy.
“Bruce!” Joe burst into the warehouse. I was surprised he didn’t have a gaggle of his friends with him. “Foreman’s has gone to shit!”
“What’s wrong? The food not to your liking, little brother?” I asked with a chuckle. He did this about every other week. Either he lost a fight with another man or a woman turned him down. Judging by his unbeaten face, it was the latter. I used to hope he’d grow up to be a man of class. Instead, I got Joe.
“Jack always takes their side. Without even listening to me!”
Now I was concerned. “What did you do?”
“I go and compliment a lady and she gets all offended and hits me with a metal plate. I try to defend myself and Jack intervenes and tells me I’m in the wrong. You need to fire him and burn that place to the ground!”
Knowing him, he was in the wrong. Every time I went to investigate something like this, it only made me think less of my brother. When I was finished counting the money the next evening, I went to Foreman’s and sat with him.
“Bruce! So good to see you,” One of them said at me. I rolled my eyes as she jumped on my lap and kissed my cheek. She had to be new. Most of them learned their lesson and didn’t approach me and schmoozed on Joe instead.
“I’m not giving you a raise. Or special treatment.”
“It was so nice to see you,” she said with a disingenuous smile and moved onto my more eager brother. He’d probably end up giving her a ten percent raise. He probably spent most of his money here. God, I hated this place
“Couldn’t Martha trouble herself to hire an American singer?” I leaned over and asked Joe. He snickered and I shook my head. The only “waitress” that I noticed who didn’t throw herself at me was giving out bread. As if that was what people came for. She made it a point to glare in our general direction. I couldn’t remember wronging her specifically although it was easy to lose track.
“Her! It was her” Joe pointed at the glaring girl and she put her hands on her hips.
“Big Jack! He’s back at it again!” she hollered. I hated it when people called him Big Jack. It was just annoying and childish.
“Bruce? What are you doing here?” Jack asked pleasantly and took a seat across from me. Glaring girl seemed put out.
“Dealing with business. Jackass here can’t stay out of trouble. Can you?”
“I knew you’d take their side!” Joe spat, his teeth ground together.
“Martha and I can run this place on our own pretty well. If only we could put a permanent ban on this idiot,” Jack said playfully and ruffled Joe’s hair.
“Touch me again, and I’ll shove the platter in your mouth!” she burst into our conversation, slamming a hand down on our table. In the light of the table lamp, I could see her eyes in all their color. They were a golden yellow encompassed by black rings, like nothing I’d ever seen. My own eyes had to be playing tricks on me. Joe’s face was lowered in shame so I wasn’t able to ask him if he saw what I saw.
When she left, I felt the need to get up and follow her. To demand why her eyes were the way they were. But I was paralyzed. I watched her as she walked to a table. Her long legs accentuated by heels. I caught my brother staring and was about to get up and leave, blame the eye incident on a lack of sleep, but noticed who she sat next to. A Patrick. In my club?
“Why are we allowing rivals in here?” I asked Jack. I added a threatening layer to my voice.
“He’s just Pierre, a regular patron. Don’t be so dramatic. He’d never do anything fishy here. Believe me.”
“What do I hire you for,” I muttered under my breath and walked to their table. They were deep in conversation. “Waitress… I would like a water.” I wanted to speak smoothly, but I was distracted by her eyes. Somehow, they seemed to be emanating their own light. I couldn’t be the only one who noticed. Was I losing my mind?
She sighed and got up, presumably getting me my water. The Patrick looked at me with his ugly face and smiled, up to his tricks. I didn’t know him personally, but his family’s reputation proceeded him and I knew them all too well.
“Why are you in my club?”
He smirked and lowered his eyes. I wasn’t sure what was so funny.
“The beautiful women. Not much else would bring me here. You don’t know much about putting on a show, do you Bruce?”
“A show would be a waste of time.”
“Wastes of time make all the other times meaningful. This place is fine enough.”
She came back with my water and he uttered some French nonsense and kissed her. I almost forgot that she wasn’t just my special eyed girl and she was shared with everyone else.
“Chéri, je dois y aller,” he whispered, holding her chin. Part of me hoped he’d take it upstairs and be done with it, rather than drag it out in front of me but most of me just wished he’d drop dead on the table. I smiled to myself, picturing his head crash down with his tongue fallen out.
“Why don’t you leave?” I blurted. I didn’t care if he was a loyal patron or not.
“I was on my way out. See you after work?” he asked the waitress. She nodded. I looked away as he stalled, kissing her extended arm but finally leaving.
“What’s your problem!” she yelled at me and snapped her finger in my face. Did she have any idea who I was? I was tempted to fire her there on the spot. I’d done worse for less.
“Tell me, how do you get your eyes to that color? They’re beautiful, but I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Why should I tell you? All you do is be rude to people!”
“You’re new, aren’t you?”
She crossed her arms and pouted. If she was such a disagreeable person, I wasn’t sure why she was in this business. She must’ve enjoyed being miserable. Or at the very least, enjoyed being perceived as miserable. She’d make a good hitwoman. Assassins were always moody.
“Whatever my little brother did, I feel like I should apologize for it. He’s an idiot. Only sixteen and thinks that because he’s my brother and I run this place, he can get away with anything. He can’t.”
“Maybe you should teach him how to properly respect a lady,” she said. The tone she used was still disrespectful. Even though I just got through explaining to her that I was the owner of the club.
“I just want to apologize. Deep down, he’s a nice kid.”
She got up and I impulsively grabbed her hand. “Let Go!”
“Stay away from Pierre. If you knew half the things I knew about him, you’d keep a good fifty feet away.” With her hand still in mine, she sat down apprehensively.
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” I tried to think of a Patrick’s tale that didn’t also make me look like a villain. “They’re cruel to animals. Poaching them for their skin and selling exotic ones for profit, ripping them from their habitat.” I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about animals and their habitats, but she seemed like the type. The only reason I didn’t get involved with exotic pets and furs was because it seemed like more of a hassle than it was worth.
“Oh no,” she muttered. The soft hand I was holding covered her mouth instead. I wanted to hear an official declaration, that she was abandoning that bastard. Instead, she ran outside, most likely to hear it from him. I didn’t even find out what was wrong with her eyes. I’d just have to come back again.
I sat next to Joe the next evening, knowing that someone had to keep an eye on him. He was better behaved and spoke to me instead of drooling over some girl. I couldn’t be bothered by him though. I kept my eyes peeled for her but couldn’t for the life of me remember if she gave me a name. I was sure I could recognize her in an instant. Long, silky, brown hair; miserable but youthful energy; and glowing eyes. Was she hiding?
“Are you even listening to me!” Joe yelled. When I turned to him, he was sulking in his chair like a toddler.
“Something about some girl, right?”
“The CAR might need new TIRES!”
“Oh. Which car?”
“I hate you.”
Rather than deal with my melodramatic brother, I went in search for her. I knocked before entering the changing area but only saw the same old eyes. I was shoved out before I could even ask about her.
I went to the kitchen. If I was here, I might as well let the cook know I was disappointed in his work. I might be able to run a real resturaunt instead of a brothel if people came in for the food alone.
My plans fell to the wayside when I found her hiding there.
“The hell are you doing in my kitchen?”
“I just need a breather, that’s all,” she replied, putting a cigarette between her lips.
“You’ve been on a smoking break for an hour? Is that what you’re telling me? I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
She exhaled a cloud of smoke and tapped her foot. She was wearing flats instead of heels, breaking the dress code.
“Why does Martha always end up hiring these goddamn useless slackers!” I yelled. All she could do was blink at me with eyes so mysterious that it was frustrating. They weren’t glowing, in fact, they were dull and lifeless. Maybe Someone slipped something in my drink. But her eyes watered and her miserable face fell into her hands. It made my stomach fall deep in my gut to see her cry. Crying didn’t normally affect me like that.
“I-I didn’t mean it. You—”
“You’re a jerk! I don’t even want to work for someone like you, asshole!” She pushed me against the wall and tried to storm out but I grabbed her arm.
“I’m sorry! I’ll give you a raise if you want.”
“You want to give me a raise?” she asked. Her brows furrowed and she sniffed, wiping her nose and looking at me with eyes I swear were starting to give off a low glow.
“Tell me one thing. Why are your eyes glowing?”
She forced her arm out of my hand, not that I had a death grip on her or anything.
“If I explain to you what I know about my eyes, you promise you’ll give me a raise?”
“I swear it. I’ll give you anything you want,” I answered her seriously. She leaned in close to me and cupped her hand to my ear.
“You know as much as I do, bud. Some weird birth defect,” she whispered and I recoiled away. That had to be the most unsatisfying answer she could’ve given me. “I want to sing on your stage,” she said quickly. She gripped my shirt and stepped closer to me as I backed away. I didn’t know anything about her singing ability, but I wanted to needlessly throw everything she wanted at her. If she was a terrible singer, either I’d have to tell her, or she’d have her heart broken in front of an audience and I didn’t have the guts to do either. “Please, Bruce.”
“I’ll give you a 50% raise,” I stated and looked up at the ceiling rather than her damned eyes. My brother constantly gave out raises. Why couldn’t I?
“I don’t want money. Give me a chance. I’ll do anything.” She lifted off her shirt before I could get another word in. Her pink bra was plainer than I expected. I stared down at her and she seemed awfully proud of herself.
“The stage. I want it to be mine.” Her hands started to unhook the back of her bra. I knew I would regret it, but I stopped her.
“Don’t. This might impress my brother, but it doesn’t impress me. If you want it that bad, the stage is yours tomorrow.”
“Really? Oh, thank you!” She wrapped her arms around my neck in a tight embrace. Moody and manipulative. The perfect assassin. She was truly wasted here.
With Bruce’s permission, I went home and practiced all night long. I wasn’t expecting to get my chance so easily and soon. Pierre dropped by but I couldn’t let anyone distract me. My neighbors had to have hated me singing late at night. I didn’t think I was that loud though.
Bruce didn’t give me anything specific to wear so I wore what I wanted. Bellbottoms with a nice, unstained blouse. I wore a flower crown to top it off and then I was ready.
I kept my hands in my pockets to hide the fact that they were shaking. I wanted to ask everyone if they were feeling alright, but I got so nervous, I just started singing. At the moment, I was still into the Beatles. Who wasn’t?
“Take it off!”
I didn’t pause but threw my flower crown like a frisbee into the audience of tables. Bruce, I saw, had a front row seat. I didn’t see Pierre anywhere. It was so dark and the stage was so bright, I really couldn’t see much of anything unless it was right in front of me. Maybe he was somewhere in the back.
“Interrupt her again and I’ll arrange to have your organs arranged in alphabetical order. Understood?” Bruce yelled with a gun in some poor guys face.
“Whoa, calm down, bud. We’re just having fun, right guys?” I asked. I got a few cheers. The first real positive reaction since I walked out. He put his gun away and swept his sweaty black hair back. He was probably stressed. I heard running businesses was stressful and if I ran this place, I’d be stressed too. But it was a little awkward after that. Like he sucked the fun out of the room.
I still couldn’t believe it when the night was over though. Bruce shook my hand and thanked me for my work.
“Since you didn’t strip and get tipped, I won’t make you pay me anything. Here’s your crown.” He gave me the crown. It’d been stomped in half. I thanked him anyways. Paying someone my own hard-earned tips seemed stupid. I would probably fight him if it ever came to something like that.
I was still looking for Pierre and instead got a few numbers on my way to the door. He was supposed to be my ride so I walked home.
He came out of the shadows, startling me. The wide grin on his face, I think that was his intention.
“Where were you! Did you even watch me sing?”
“Mon cher, I listened through the walls.”
“What did I sing?”
“My English… it is no good. I can’t remember the name…”
“The Beatles? You can’t remember The Beatles?”
“Ah! Yes! You sang so beautifully,” he told me. He stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist.
“Drive yourself home. I don’t want to be near you right now.” I elbowed my way out of his hold and kept walking. He was still chasing after me, playfully tugging at my shirt, trying to get a hold of me.
“Autumn,” he whined. He ran ahead of me and stopped abruptly in another attempt to catch me. “I want to be with you again. Two lonely souls? We belong together. J’ai envie de toi.”
He knew to get me where I was weak but it wouldn’t work this time. I was still mad at him. I tried to push him out of my way while he was going in for a kiss. He was holding me too tight for me to get out. I screamed and pounded him with my fists.
A rush of black and Pierre was body slammed against the alley wall. I fell back and tried to make sense of it all. His face made a horrible crunching sound with the impact. It was Bruce? Again with his gun, this time digging into Pierre’s back.
“If her face is so much as contemplated in your stupid little Patrick head, I’ll shove this gun so far up your ass, you’ll need dental work!”
What kind of a threat was that?
Pierre didn’t even look back. He just took off running. Bruce seemed unshaken, calm even. As if he didn’t just attack someone. He straightened his hair and reached his hand out to me.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“No! And he wasn’t going to. I could’ve handled that on my own.” If anything, the fall from Bruce’s intervention was what caused the most pain. Not only that, it was embarrassing. Who else was watching me?
“I think a ‘thank you’ would be appropriate at this moment, darling.”
“Thank you for pushing me on the ground and giving me a heart attack. It seems as though everyone just wants to scare me today.”
“Oh My GOD! How have you managed to survive in a city like this! If I didn’t step in, he’d have raped you right here on the spot. Knowing the Patricks, he might’ve even killed you! Actually, since he is a Patrick, he would’ve knocked you unconscious, dragged you to the car, raped you, bludgeoned you to death, and then dumped you off in some construction site.” How did he know so much about the Patricks? A bit disturbing.
“He wouldn’t have killed me,” I said in a small voice.
“You are so ignorant of how the world works! How could anyone be stupid enough to fall in love with you?”
I slapped him, through with his bullshit. I would probably lose my stage time, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t even as fun as I thought it would be. His dark eyes were still intimidating and I couldn’t hold my ground, taking a step away. But he didn’t react, only staring at me.
“I quit!” I shouted in the dark backstreet.
“Good! I’d hate to see you in there getting hurt!”
“You know what? I retract my quitting. Hire me.”
“No. You’re fired. I’ll give you a glowing reference if you’d like.”
“What’s your deal? You corner me in a kitchen and ask me about my eyes, you give me what I ask for, offer me raises, harass the men I’m around, follow me, but refuse sex. I’d guess you had a crush on me, but you’re too insecure to do anything about it. Aren’t you? How’s that for being ignorant about the world around me?”
“I do not have a crush on you! I’m just protective of my employees. That’s all. Shutup, bitch.”
“I quit and I never want to see you again.”
“I’ll double security. Come back. I’m sorry,” he said with lonesome eyes. I loved being right.