We finally manage to kick out the last patrons from the club and the V.I.P lounge vacates shortly afterwards. Kane sends me a cruel glare filled with malice and hate. I just smile at him and bid them goodnight. After they leave I feel all the cold air from the room go with them as the club returns to a normal temperature.
I look around as the bartenders’ finish counting their tills and I start helping the girls clear the glasses from the tables. The mood of the place seems a little somber —the way it always is— after the owner’s visit. We all know what we’ve done to bring us here but no one likes having their faces rubbed in it. I drop the tray I’m carrying on the table with a loud bang. All eyes are on me. I look up at the D.J.
“Mitch my love, we need some wind down tunes.” I call out to him with a smile. He nods and smiles brightly at me holding his thumb up before loading up the deck and jumping down to join us in the pack down. We’re just about finished and we’re all helping each other out before I find Stacey wiping down her tables. I pull her to a corner of the room and I cross my arms in front of my chest.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed in there. They said they were the owners and I had to serve them.” She starts to plead hurriedly. I hold up my hand and signal for her to stop.
“You did know you weren’t allowed in there Stacey. I pointed it out very specifically to you both when I hired you and again when you started training.” I explain evenly. I can see she’s about to start another string of apologies but I cut her off.
“I know what you were thinking. You were hoping that by flirting and sucking up to the owner you could secure yourself a more comfortable retirement.” I explain slowly and pointedly. “You’re not the first girl to try it and you’re lucky that you managed to walk out of their alive. We’re all in the same boat here, heading to the same place. Your best chance at surviving that is to embrace the family we are here.”
“Like I said, you’re not the first girl and you won’t be the last. But what I tell you is for your own safety to postpone your retirement as long as possible. So if I catch you in there again, you’re done here, understand?”
She nods vehemently at me as her eyes glance over my shoulder. I follow her gaze and see the new bouncer watching us curiously. I turn back to her and put on my serious gaze. “That being said, if those bastards so much as look at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable I want you to come and get me.”
“What could you do to stop them if they really wanted to hurt me?” She asks incredulously. I smile wickedly at her.
“I’m very good at what I do Stacey. I look after the staff here; you just have to tell me if you’re having any issues.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I nod at her.
“Now go help Mandy with her station.” I instruct her. She smiles a quick smile before dashing away from me. I look around the club and realize we’re just about down. I start walking back towards the bar with a few more glasses.
“Alright kids.” I call out loudly over the music. “Knock off drinks, call ’em out.” I encourage as I keep walking.
“Margarita.” Nina yells back and I smile at her.
“Fireball.” Luka sing songs from behind the bar. I smile as I make a note of the requested drinks. Two fireballs, a mojito, three Jack Daniel’s and coke, two Bliss cocktails, an old fashioned, Nina’s margarita and of course Vladik will have his usual screwdriver.
“I’ve changed my mind.” Nina announces loudly as she bounces over to the group gathered at the end of the bar. I shrug and down the margarita mix in a single gulp and everyone cheers.
“I’ll have a long hard screw.” She tells me provocatively. I wink at her spying her game as she eyes the new bouncer still standing away from the group of staff. Poor guy has had a big first night, and now this.
“Do you want it up against the wall?” I ask her deadpan and the others laugh at us. She shakes her head.
“Actually I’ve already had one of those tonight. Better make it sex on the beach.” She finally corrects and I down the long hard screw in another sculling effort.
“Hooker make up your mind before I’m too drunk to know what you want.” I order her playfully. She laughs as the others sip their drinks watching our playful interaction. We’ve successfully gained the attention of the new bouncer for her and she bats her eyelashes at him.
“Okay I know for sure. Make it a screaming orgasm.” She tells me with a wink. I smile and shake my head at her indulgently.
“Geez you don’t ask much of girl do you?” I tease her. I place her drink in front of her and take a couple of drinks to make my rounds. I’ve got Gerry’s perfect Manhattan on my tray along with Vladik’s screwdriver and another drink for my reluctant new bouncer. I didn’t hear him order anything but then I haven’t heard him speak at all so I just picked one for him. I knock on the office door before I open it. The sound of the staff laughing downstairs follows me into the room.
I smile affectionately at the sound before placing Vladik’s drink on his desk and handing him the till reconciliations for the evening. He looks up at me slightly devastated when he spies my free arm wrapped around my ribs for support.
“Are you hurt badly?” He asks guiltily. I shake my head and offer him a small smile.
“I can still dance, so I’m good.” I offer in an attempt to deflect. He shakes his head disbelievingly at me. I almost reach the door to leave before his voice stops me.
“You’re stronger than the rest of us McKenna. You may be the only one to make it out of this alive.” He says quietly.
“Vladik.” I say solemnly. “None of us get out of life alive.” I tell him before closing the door to his office. I make my way back downstairs using the staircase close to the exit. The new bouncer has resumed his guard pose by the door. Nina probably scared him back to his post. I shake my head and smile at the thought as I descend the stairs. I feel his eyes watching my approach cautiously.
When I reach him I hand him the small tumbler of amber colored liquid and ice. He crooks an eyebrow up like he’s never been offered a drink before. I have to suppress a laugh at his expression and I school it to a kind and encouraging smile.
“I know you didn’t ask for it.” I tell him softly leaning a little closer. “Doesn’t mean you don’t need it.” I add. He takes the glass carefully and I nod at him before walking away. Nina studies me for a moment as I reach her and I shrug. “He did pretty well for his first night. Especially following me into the V.I.P room.” I explain gently. Nina gives me a sympathetic smile as everyone finishes their drinks and jokes.
Mitch kills the music and the club falls strangely quiet as the staff make their way out in a small group. Nina stops and turns back to me. “You coming? We’re going for breakfast.”
I shake my head at her. “No I’m going to head home.” I tell her placing my hand back over my ribs. Her eyes follow my hands gentle assessment over my ribs and her face falls. I smile reassuringly at her. “But you could bring me a bagel if you really want to take out that best friend of the year award.” I tell her playfully. She smiles at me and nods.
After the door closes I see the new bouncer standing there quietly. He starts to walk over towards the bar and hands me the empty glass. I smile at him knowingly.
“I knew you were a rusty nail kind of guy.” I tell him smiling. He doesn’t smile in response but his eyes seem to smile and this close under the fluorescent lighting I can see that his eyes aren’t black as I originally suspected. They’re a deep midnight blue with shards of ink black piercing them. They’re fascinating. I realize I’m staring and I flush embarrassed before I turn away from him.
“You know you don’t really have to man the door after the club’s closed.” I explain gently. “Has Vladik explained what your job here is?” I ask. He nods at me as his eyes study me. “Do you speak English?” I ask curiously still dumbfounded by his lack of speech. I ask if he speaks Russian in my mother’s native tongue and I get no response. “French?” I ask doubtfully. I shrug helplessly at his lack of acknowledgement.
“I also know Aramaic if that works?” I ask in Aramaic. It’s an old language that I made a point to learn when I realized that most of the Daemon population speaks that or Latin. He tips his head to the side like a confused puppy and I exhale in defeat. I turn to grab my bag and the bend down makes me hiss in pain as I take a sharp inhale. Suddenly I feel strong hands on the top of my arms as he turns me around to face him.
I didn’t even notice him jump the bar. He picks me up by my arms like a toddler and sits me on the bar in front of him. My hand is too busy clutching my ribs to reach out and slap him for manhandling me like a child. I feel his warm finger tips at the hem of my shirt trying to pull it up and I react instantly slapping his hands away from me. He looks into my eyes with an intensity that has so much depth I fear I could fall in and drown in it. He makes a noise that sounds like frustration as he moves away from my angry glare.
He may not understand my words but he understands my actions and my deathly serious glares. I watch him grab a cloth from the cupboard and make his way to the ice machine. He scoops up some ice before tying the cloth up to make an ice pack. I drop my angry glare immediately feeling like a heel. I scold my mistrustful nature internally. He was only trying to help.
Back in front of me he holds out the ice pack tentatively. I take it appreciatively as I pull up the hem of my shirt. I can already see the bright violet coloring painting my lower ribs from the Kane’s kick earlier. I bite my lip to stay my tears as I press the ice pack to my skin. The color looked so much brighter against my milky complexion. I look back at the new bouncer and his eyes seem to now be ink black with shards of midnight blue.
His jaw is set and rigid like if I hit it with a chisel it would break off from his face completely. I lean back a little from his intenseness and the movement makes him snap out of his momentary focus. I watch on curiously as the primary color of his eye changes back to midnight blue. I gasp in shock, then in pain at the action that caused me to take a deep breath into lungs pressing against my bruised ribs.
His eyes fill with worry and it’s the first emotion I’ve seen him express clearly. I smile a half smile at him. “I’m okay.” I tell him nodding. He shakes his head at me in disagreement. “Yes I am, see.” I tell him pulling the ice pack away pointing to my ribs. His eyes look down assessing me. Not like a guy would trying to observe more than he should. His eyes still look worried as his fingers come up to assess the damage.
I watch the journey of his hand and I freeze at the sight. He locks eyes with me pleadingly before I nod subtly. I close my eyes until I feel the most feather light touch against my skin. His rough calloused fingers have a care unlike anything I’ve ever experienced when being touched by a man. They travel along the rib lines, as he studies the marks thoroughly. He applies a little more pressure and I don’t make a sound.
I’m too scared I may moan in pleasure rather than pain at his touch. I bite my lip to stop any sounds from escaping it, positive or negative. After a few more moments or hours of his fingers exploration of my abdomen he steps back and nods at me. “I think they’re just bruised. Thank you for the ice.” I tell him as I slide off the bar top. He nods at me again. He must be able to understand me. Perhaps he’s shy around new people.
Not so shy that he lets his fingers roam freely over their body, but shy enough not to actually talk to them.
“McKenna. What are you still doing here?” Vladik’s voice calls from the top of the stairs. I quickly grab a beer bottle from the fridge below me and hold it up to show him.
“Just grabbing a traveler.” I tell him with a fake smile. I crack open the top of the beer then move past the bouncer out from behind the bar. I take a sip of the beer and look back to catch a peering glance from the bouncer. He doesn’t say anything to Vladik about me being hurt and I give him props for minding his own business.
“Goodnight.” I call out over my shoulder as I reach the door. I pull up sharply when I see that the bouncer is right behind me. I turn on him and look at him questioningly.
“Let him walk you to your car, it’s late and you know what kind of cretins hang around here.” Vladik orders and I shrug as I huff out an exhausted breath. My breath causes my hair to fly up a little before falling back over my eyes. I giggle softly at the hair tickling my nose. I remember being a child and refusing to have short hair because it was too hard to restrain.
I reach up and tuck my black hair —littered with streaks of violet—behind my ear. I can feel the bouncer walking silently behind me as we walk towards my car parked on the street the next block down. I almost forget he’s there, he’s so quiet. I let my head fall back as I walk and I find my eyes searching the sky fruitlessly for stars. All I see is blackness with glowing street lights trying to poison it.
A scuffling noise to my right snaps my attention and I look around until I come face to face with the bouncer. He seems alert but not alarmed. Then I realize embarrassingly that I’ve walked too far and my car is behind him about twenty yards. I laugh as I shake my head at my own ridiculousness. The sound seems to startle him and that makes me laugh harder.
I reach out and gently caress his bicep before nodding my head in the direction of my car behind him. He turns to see what I’m looking at, then looks back at me confused.
“That’s my car.” I explain still chuckling. “I must be more tired than I thought.” He looks back in the direction we’ve come and starts walking beside me. He still doesn’t make a sound but I see the faintest trace of a smirk at the corner of his lips. Just great, he thinks I’m an idiot. I admit ruefully inside my head as we walk. I smile at him and thank him as I jump into my beetle with the sunflower yellow paint.
He just nods before walking back towards the club. I’m halfway home before I begin to wonder why I even care what he thinks of me. I pull into the small driveway of my old Victorian style home and hit the button to raise the garage door. I got lucky with this place. It was a real fixer upper—still is—so I got it on the cheap. I added a couple of modern conveniences to it but I’ve maintained the rest of the integrity of the house.
I walk out of the garage and through the small garden up the stairs to my front door. As I put the key into the lock I spot a shadow out of the corner of my eye the next block down. The shadow ducks into the alley out of sight as I turn to see it more clearly. I quickly let myself into my place and turn and bolt all the locks on the door.
I grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator in the kitchen before turning out all of the lights on the lower floor. I double check the window locks and reset my alarm before heading upstairs to take a shower before bed. The hot water beating down on my skin feels heavenly. I tip my head back under the stream and the irony isn’t lost on me that my body feels like it belongs in heaven and my soul is destined for hell.
Most people are already damned whether they know it or not. I suspect denial plays a big part in their lives. How could someone not feel the tainted blackness of a condemned soul residing within them? I do envy those people sometimes, but I make up for my having the inside knowledge by living life the way I want to. I appreciate the beauty in every little thing from the rusted bucket I drive around in to the Lilly’s on my bedside table.
Those of us who work at the club don’t talk about the reasons behind why we work there. I figure that it’s enough to torture yourself with the knowledge and there’s no need to spread that torture. Nina being my best friend knows how I earned my tagging and I know her greatest sin as well. While most sins wont earn your soul a one-way ticket to the eternal pit of fire, there are one or two that guarantee it.
Unfortunately for me and Nina we’ve both committed the one sin that has no forgiveness or repentance. The taking of a life. So many priests will tell you that all sins can be forgiven if you repent completely and utterly for your crime. Which is complete bullshit. You can be as sorry as you want for killing someone, but your soul is forever marked by the act.
I knew the instant my soul was claimed. Lucifer himself appeared to me and told me that my soul now forever belongs to him. Then he smiled a cruel smile and told me that he can’t wait to spend eternity together finding delicious ways to entertain him. I start to tremble uncontrollably at the memory.
The hot water of my shower does nothing to stop the shaking of my body. While we’re all bound for Hell and its eternal tortures, not many of us are claimed specifically by one Daemon or the other. Even rarer does the Prince of Darkness himself take an interest in a single soul. I haven’t heard of anyone else being claimed by him before or since that day.
I told Nina about it a long time ago and that fact scared her more than the fact of our destined afterlife. She’s a good friend and I know she worries about me and what Lucifer has planned, but I just can’t afford to think about it. If I let myself, it’s all I will think about and I’ll shut down completely. I step out of the shower and pull my towel around my body tightly. I can see the mauve tinge to my ribs but the hot water has pounded my skin into a jelly like substance.
I fall down on top of the covers and quickly correct myself pulling the covers up over my naked body as I shimmy down into my warm bed. The soft sheets caress my skin in a soothing hug, which is sorely needed after my night. I sigh as I regret for a moment my resistance to have a long term companion in my life. To be able to be held by a strong pair of arms tonight would almost make everything okay.
I smile as I wrap my arms around my pillow. I know why I don’t get into serious relationships with guys. How could I ever let myself fall in love with someone knowing I was doomed to lose it? Nina is constantly shooting down my rules to limit the collateral damage my life will create. Her method of dealing with our reality is of course to gain as much human connection as possible.
She’s always in pursuit of some new guy and she’s never alone. I don’t think she likes being alone with her own thoughts, and right now I can see the value in that logic. I’m not a nun by any means, but I just refuse to allow emotional connections. So far it’s been working for me. So why with all the dark thoughts in my head is the memory of the new bouncer’s fingers on my skin the most prominent thought?