I pull myself out of my dark pit determined not to think about almost meeting the eternity waiting for me. I sit through the church sermon with my head bowed in silent prayer as usual. After the service I manage to slip from the church narrowly avoiding the reverend and his concerned sideways glances.
“Bonjour Papa.” I greet my favorite person in this entire world. I lean over to kiss him lightly on his cheek. He’s in his chair by the window watching the sun touch everything else around him. “Well to hell with this.” I exhale frustrated. I take a hold of the handles of the wheelchair and kick the brakes up.
I take the corner around the nurse’s desk fast and he tips slightly over the side. I apologize laughing as I tip him back upright. The nurse on duty shakes her head at me. I shrug at her innocently. “We’re going to go sit in the garden for a little while.” I tell her shortly. She looks like she’s about to protest about the doctor’s orders but I hold my hand up cutting her off as I keep walking.
As we break through the double doors into the tiny courtyard sporting a single park bench I feel the sun blanket us with its warmth. I smile proudly at the sun that has managed to chase away the early morning fog of San Francisco today. I park the wheel chair next to the bench but I lay down on the small patch of grass on the other side of the wheel chair.
I bend my arms up under my head as the morning dew seeps into the back of my dress. I close my eyes relishing the contrast of the cool dampness at my back and the radiating warmth above me. I smile a content smile as I peer out of the corner of my eye to see my Papa lean his head back a little and close his eyes too. “I think the sun has missed you too Papa. It’s unusually bright and strong this morning like it wants to wrap you up in its rays and never let you go.”
I’m met by the usual silence but I know his heart can hear me, despite what they—the doctors— keep telling me. I close my eyes again as we both stay there letting the sun wrap us in a warm blanket. It shines its glow on the small patch of Earth around us as I speak French telling my papa about my week since I last saw him.
I reach up and take his hand in mine as I still lay there on the grass beside him. I open my eyes for barely a second as I take his hand but I see that shadow again out the corner of my vision. It’s like this shadow is my own personal ghost, haunting my happy moment. I scowl in the direction I saw it but once again it has vanished.
I shake off the cold travelling down my spine after seeing the shadow and just enjoy my time with my father as we soak up the rays of the sun, letting it paint our skin with streaks of golden light. I feel a small squeeze in the hand laced through my fathers and I lose a tear of happiness as I look up into his glazed eyes.
I smile and nod at him as I try to blink my tear rimmed eyes back to clear. I quickly dash away a few rogue tears that escaped their prison making a run for it down my cheeks. Then a looming cloud dashes away our warmth and happiness and I flinch at the impressive shadow before I recognize the orderlies face.
“Miss Alvarette.” His stern voice scolds. “You know the doctor’s orders.” He reiterates with his flexed muscled arms sticking out sharply as his hands sit aggressively on his hips. I sigh sadly at having such a beautiful moment ruined by a walking gorilla with a name badge. I nod compliantly as I glare at him. I get to my feet reluctantly feeling each blade of the grass release its kiss on my calf muscles.
I slap away the orderlies hand as he tries to help me up. I grab the handles of the wheelchair gently as I lean down to whisper in my father’s ear. “Je regrette Papa, no more sun for us today.” I swear I can hear his heart sigh in unified disappointment with mine before I add a few choice words about our prison guard escort. I laugh to myself imagining him scolding my foul language but at the same time approving of its warranted use.
He was a professor of literature before his stroke and he loved words in any language. We would sit in his study at night learning new words and their meanings and make a game out of finding context for them. I smile as I share this memory with him as I push him back towards his room slowly enjoying our pace like an extended vacation from his four walls.
Back in the room I roll my eyes dramatically at the orderly as he orders us to stay put or he’ll spank me. I shake my head at him in disgust as he chuckles lightly to himself. Clearly the orderly I’ve nicknamed Igor doesn’t know what he looks like to women. I park my father’s wheel chair as close to the window as possible but it’s a north facing window.
I smile sadly at him as I push the window open slightly to allow some fresh air into the confined space. I apologize about not being able to house him somewhere nicer. I’d love to have him live with me, but I could never afford the private nurse I’d need to leave him with while I go to work. My heart breaks inside my chest as I look at him sitting there in his wheelchair watching the outside world go by.
After my days off I’m back at the club sporting a brilliant bruise on my hip from the safety harness that dug into me as I hung from the ceiling the other night. I shake my head as I try not to think about just how much worse my injuries could’ve been. Everyone seems happy that I’m okay as I shrug off their concerns as we set up for the night. I spy Max coming down the stairs from Vladik’s office and I move to intercept him.
“Hi.” I say sheepishly as I lose my nerve. How does someone really say thank you for saving my life without sounding like a complete tool? He looks at me curiously for a moment as he remains silent. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” I ask gesturing towards the side door of the club that opens into the alley. He nods once as I move past him to lead.
I feel him close behind me as I open the door. I’m overcome with a strange nervousness as I recall the other night in vibrant detail. The way I was cradled like a baby in his arms as we sat out here just breathing together. I exhale in frustration as I try to find the right words. He’s looking down at me apprehensively like I’m about to chew him out about being late for work or something.
“I just wanted to thank you for the other night.” I lead off pathetically. He takes a seat and breathes out a sigh that sounds like relief. His broad shoulders shrug.
“I was just doing my job.” He responds flatly. I shake my head at him sharply.
“How can you shrug it off like that? You saved my life, twice.” I exclaim exasperated. His eyes lock onto mine.
“I was just playing better attention.” He replies enunciating the words. I swallow audibly as I recall my chewing him out earlier in the night about paying better attention. I start to get my back up, annoyed at his attitude about this. Yeah I may have been on a bitch roll that night but he saved my life anyway. Why is he now acting like it was nothing?
I take a deep breath as I realize that he’s gone right back to that silent dismissive brick wall I’ve been dealing with since that awkward moment in the bathroom together. I shake my head refusing to get angry with him. Maybe he just doesn’t appreciate the attention or praise. Like me waving off everyone’s concern over me nearly falling to my death.
As his eyes find the ground and his elbows find his knees I smile sweetly at him. He’s so much easier to deal with when I can’t see his gorgeous eyes that are a maelstrom of ink black with ocean blue right now. “You can shrug off letting someone go ahead of you at the supermarket checkout Maximus, but not saving their life.” I tell him softly.
His eyes don’t look up but his shoulders rise and fall exaggeratedly. I lean down slowly and my hand rests on his shoulder. I feel his entire body tense instantly but I don’t care. If he won’t accept words perhaps actions will have better luck. I close my eyes as I let my lips press affectionately to his cheek.
My lip molds softly into the small indentation of muscle and flesh. It feels warm against my lips like he might be blushing. My lips curve into a small smile as I break away from him and release my grasp on his shoulder, letting my fingers gently caress his bicep. I turn away quickly then I rip open the club door and practically dive back into the dark to hide my enflamed cheeks.
Back inside Nina looks at me curiously but I wave her off as I start to ascend the stairs to see Vladik. “Come in.” His command is short in response to my knocking. His eyes look up to see who has intruded on his solitude. His stern glare fades to apologetic in a flash. “McKenna. How are you feeling?” He asks trying for concerned but coming off anxious.
I smile indulgently at him as I shake my head slightly. I’ve been here for two hours already setting up and I didn’t hear a word from him over the last three days. Not even a phone call to check that I was still alive. “I’m good Vladik. How are you?” I ask obnoxiously. He crooks a confused eyebrow up at me.
“Well Sunday was crazy without you here.” He admonishes sounding annoyed. I drop my lip dramatically to mock him.
“Poor Vladik. Did you have to wrangle all the kids here by yourself?” I ask teasingly. He cracks a rare smile as he snorts.
“You know I hate people.” He retorts and I laugh at him.
“Perfect career choice.” I laugh at him. “Just like Maximus hating people and deciding crowd control was a good career choice.” Vladik’s face turns dark and serious at the mention of Maximus’s name. “That’s it.” I exclaim annoyed. “What is your problem with him? I keep watching your two freeze each other whenever you’re close and you won’t even address him unless you have too. I mean you did hire him.”
Vladik’s pointed gaze finds mine and a chill travels over my skin. “You didn’t hire him did you?” I ask confirming my suspicions. Vladik nods weakly.
“Technically I did. However, my choice in the matter was, well let’s just say about the same as the choice the rest of us have around here.” Vladik hints mysteriously. I look at him curiously. The man is usually like a twelve-year-old girl at a slumber party, gossiping and spilling secrets all over the place. Yet trying to get information— about the silent brick wall of a gladiator downstairs— from him is like pulling teeth.
“He’s not a good person McKenna, be careful around him. He’s more dangerous than you know.” Vladik warns then seems to think better of it as his eyes dart around nervously to see if anyone else may have overheard him. I actually feel sorry that a man could live in the state of fear that Vladik does.
“I’ll be careful.” I reassure him and he breathes a small sigh of relief at my declaration. Now I’m beyond curious. I want to know more, but my chances of getting any further with Vladik are slim. As for talking to Maximus himself, that kind of reminds me of that ‘blood from a stone’ proverb.
I did come in here to ask if Maximus should be working at all tonight. Before outside he looked like he was in pain. I remember Nina describing his injuries to me and I was concerned about him being hurt at work tonight, especially if anyone got rough. After listening to Vladik I opt for not expressing my concerns.
Back downstairs we’re just about to open so I make my way over to the entrance to ask the man himself about his injuries. I’m met with a viciously dark glare of warning as I approach him. My body responds physically demanding me to retreat from his sight, but I push forward. He turns his head away from me to outright ignore me and I brush it off as his closed off personality.
I try to see his eyes but they’re downcast as he looks towards the entry trying to keep his back to me. Justin observes the strange behavior and eye’s me curiously. I smile at him playfully.
“He’s still mad because I messed up his hair when I fell from the ceiling the other night.” I tell Justin playfully. Justin laughs out loud and cops a sideways glare from Maximus that shuts him right up. I shake my head in exasperation. “Justin, I need you to keep an eye on him tonight.” I explain thumbing in Max’s direction.
At this Max spins to face me with his withering stare still in full force. He crosses his arms across his chest defiantly as he stands a little taller. I try to suppress my smile at the macho display before turning back to Justin. “I know he’s hurt, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.” I say casting him a sideways glance daring him to argue with me. “So you have to tell me if it gets too much so I can send him home to rest his injuries properly.” I finish.
I risk looking back at Max who looks like I physically slapped him. “I mean it.” I scold him teasingly. He schools his face back to its menacing glare as Justin loses a snort trying to stop his laughter. Justin turns away to hide his face from our view and I use the privacy to let my eyes plead with Max’s. He looks defiant for a second longer before giving me a curt nod. I take it as a victory and I smile proudly all the way back to the bar.
The rest of the week has dragged on uneventfully. Even for a Saturday night, it’s boring. Max has spent the entire week ignoring me—but after Vladik’s warning—I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I resolve myself to stop thinking about him, I try to drown my curiosity with my commonsense. We haven’t done the angel salvation performance this week, and I’m grateful for it.
I wonder how long Vladik will let me off the hook before I’m ordered back up there again. Poor Gerry was devastated about the whole incident and hasn’t spoken a word to me since then. He won’t even look me in the eyes. I’ve decided I’ve had enough of that shit as we pack up from the night and I make my way into the rafters with his favorite drink in hand. I’ve also brought my own with me, determined to wait him out.
I find him at the end of one of the catwalk’s changing a light bulb in a colored spotlight. He sees me in his peripheral and freezes before focusing intently on his task. I shake my head at his ridiculousness. I move silently to his side and hold his drink out towards him. He shakes his head trying to refuse it. I shake it around letting the musical notes of the ice cubes clinking the side of the glass invade his senses along with the delicious scent of whisky.
His pleading eyes find mine and they’re swimming with regret. I shake my head at him. “For the hundredth and absolute last time old man.” I scold sternly. “It was not your fault.” I enunciate slowly letting each word hit him with my full sincerity. He looks at me hesitantly before reaching out and taking his drink.
I smile as we clink glasses. He gives me a small half smile. I take a sip of my drink as we both lean over the catwalk watching the empty club below us as the rest of the staff finish cleaning up. “I couldn’t pull you up.” He pleads softly next to me in the dark recess of the club ceiling. I turn to smile at him reassuringly but he shakes his head at me and points towards the end of the catwalk.
I follow his gaze to the empty spot. “Kane was standing there. I knew he’d done something, but I couldn’t move.” I turn to look at him sympathetically and I nod.
“I know Gerry.” I explain sadly. His eyebrows shoot up as genuine shock fills his face. “I mean I figured. After the V.I.P room stunt. Then I couldn’t scream, my lungs felt like they were filled with liquid nitrogen. They froze and lost all air at the same time.”
His beefy ginger haired arm falls around the top of my shoulders and I lean my head against his shoulder for a moment. We take a deep breath and exhale; I finally feel the release of my confession. I suspect Gerry feels the same. I smile warmly at him knowing he would never tell a soul what really happened.
To everyone else here it must remain an accident. If the staff thought that Daemons were actively trying to kill us now to hasten our internment there would be panic. A shadow appears in my peripheral causing a strange sense of déjà vu. Immediately Gerry places his body between mine and our intruder. I look around Gerry’s shoulder to see Maximus looking furious and defiant at the end of the cat walk.
“You’re needed downstairs.” He huffs before turning on his heal and disappearing into the shadows again. I let out an exhausted sigh as Gerry looks at me confused by the interaction. I shrug at him noncommittally. “That’s tomorrow’s problem.” I admonish thumbing in the direction Max left in. Gerry offers me a small smile before shaking his head in disapproval.
As I make my way down the stairs into the bar I notice Gerry following me. Strange, he doesn’t usually like to descend from the rafters while the staff are still here. “What’s going on?” I ask concerned as Luka looks sideways at an enraged Maximus. His dark glare is so foreboding that I feel myself take a small step back away from him.
Not out of fear, out of sheer self-preservation. I feel Gerry step to my side and take my elbow gently as he blocks Max’s view of me. Luka follows his own preservation instincts and bounces away from Max towards me. “It’s raining.” He announces with a dramatic pout. I laugh at him.
“In San Francisco? You’re kidding?” I ask sarcastically. I hear Gerry chuckle beside me. I turn and throw my arm around the top of Gerry’s shoulders. “Did you hear that Gerry? It’s raining, but I don’t know if we should believe him. I mean we should probably see it for ourselves.” I joke as Luka puts his hands on his hips stubbornly.
“Are you done being a bitch?” He asks dramatically. I laugh as I wink at him and nod.
“I’m sorry princess, I forgot you melt in the rain.” He shakes his head at the joke as Gerry chuckles again. I let go of Gerry and reach for my handbag under the bar. I pull out my car keys and throw them to Luka who drops them.
He bends down and snaps them up like a shot. “I just wanted a ride, how are you going to get home?” I roll my eyes at him and tip my head towards the wall of liquor bottles.
“It’s stock take tonight. I’m sure it will have stopped raining by the time I’m done so I can walk.” I explain gently.
“No.” The chorus of Gerry, Maximus’s and Vladik’s voice chime together at different levels of aggression. I don’t even know when Vladik came out of his office but he looks angry. Luka looks at me worriedly as he holds the keys out towards me.
“Hey I can call a cab.” He surrenders worriedly turning to walk towards the door.
“Hey Luka, wait up.” I call out to him. “I’ll give you a ride, the stock take can wait until tomorrow afternoon.” I smile at him as we link arms. I turn my head back over my shoulder to bid them all goodnight. Gerry, Vladik and Maximus seem to be having a three-way standoff.
Luka and I both look between them curiously before shrugging it off and walking out of the club. Like I said, that’s tomorrow’s problem.