Valentina Bound - Book 1

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Intervention

In my fantastical mind, I failed to think that Jodi might be watching me, not in a spooky Single White Female kind of way. But she was clocking my behavior for sure. For those who know me, which is a very small number, you don’t really know me.

My walls can give the Great Wall of China a run for its money. Jodi, my dorm mate of two years now, is the one person who knows me best here at Berkeley. And even then, I am not sure how much she knows. She drags me out as often as I will let her. When Benji and I were together, we double dated a lot with Jodi and Wynn. Shooting pool or catching a movie here and there. She is kind of my best friend by default, she is really my only friend.

The gang from dance class is my crew, we party, and dance together, but we don’t really know each other. Well, they may know each other, but I am happy to be the listener versus the sharer of the group. And this group has no issues doing all the talking.

Growing up, I didn’t have time for friends. I didn’t think anything of it because the bar and family gave me a false social life. Ask anyone at my dad’s bar and they will all tell you that I am witty and fun to talk to. Maybe that’s why my parents didn’t ever worry about my social skills or lack thereof.

Stella had a lot of friends from school, it was usually my job to watch them all when they came over for a play date. Which meant no one in my class was excited to hang out with me and my kid sister and her kiddy friends. I was fine with that, I loved reading, and with Stella distracted with her friends I was able to lose myself in my books. I never knew that I was lonely because back then I never was alone.

Now, moving through my nights without Benji to talk to or touch, I understand that I have lived in lonely. It's wasn't something I felt, it was just what I was always.

Tonight is a lonelier than usual night. I need to get out but not to my usual spots. Not another room full of strangers. Tonight I need some familiar faces. One of my favorite local spots is Triple Rock, a classic bar with a pool table and jukebox. At this hour on a Monday night, it shouldn't be too busy. I can easily get lost in the music and a few games of pool. Jeans and a t-shirt kind of night instead of one of my, “I am on the prowl” outfits.

“Hey, Mikey!” I great the bouncer.

“Sweet lady Val! To what do we owe the honor on a school night? You never come here unless it's the weekend or school holiday.”

“Am I really that predictable?”

“I like to think you are devoted to your routines, what was it you like to say? That you have your eyes on the prize, graduation. All studying and no playing.”

“Isn't it normal to be focused on one’s goals?”

“I wouldn't know. I have bills to pay for me and my momma. No time to dream.”

“I keep telling you, Mikey, you are smarter than you think and college wouldn't be such a bad idea, you know?”

“Doesn’t fit my bad boy persona.”

“You don’t fool me my teddy bear.”

“I only have a soft heart for you.”

“Lucky me!”

I walk up to the bar to find Jojo behind the bar.

“Hey, girl! When did you start working here?”

Jojo runs from behind the bar and gives me a big hug, squealing in excitement.

“I can’t believe you are bartending!”

“Gotta make that money girl. We all know that a career in dance is NOT a dime a dozen. I want to move to New York City after graduation if I don’t manage a spot in a great dance troupe.”

“You are too talented not to, but I get it. I have been thinking about finding a job too.”

“You should work here!”

Jojo pops a bottle of champagne.

“Oh, it’s going to be one of those nights.”

“Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.” Jojo quotes.

“Oh, I like that one, it’s a new one for us.” We love to find new ways to pay tribute to our favorite beverage.

“Madame de Pompadour.”

“Cheers to Madame de Pompadour!”

“How do I get in on this toast?” Jodi’s voice strikes me from behind.

My first fear is, who is with her? Me second is, why is she here? Jodi does not party on school nights ever. She is more devoted to being a good girl more than I am. Chinese parents don’t allow for any give. Her parents expect nothing short of perfection from her. It’s why she is such a partier on the weekends, she needs an outlet.

I watch as Jojo pours Jodi a glass, handing it to her, my hand shakes a little. Why am I so nervous? I wasn’t nervous when I walked in to find Jojo here. With Jodi here, I feel like a kid that has been caught with her hands in the cookie jar. I am, however, relieved that she is alone.

“What brings you out on a school night?” Jodi asks.

“I was just about to ask you the same.”

“Looks like you both are under a considerable amount of stress. That’s why I am glad I am a dance major. Other than watching my weight, I don’t nearly have the stress you two have.” Jojo tries to cut through the fog.

Neither Jodi or I know what to say. She is as uncomfortable at this moment as I am. This makes me even more uncomfortable, like my mom is about to give me a lecture. For what? I have no idea. Yes, I am an underaged drinker, but I have my I.D., that she helped me get. And she is too.

“Val is here inquiring about a job.” Jojo comes to my rescue. Not knowing really why she needs to, it was just the feeling in that moment.

“Job hunting in jeans and a t-shirt?” Jodi questions, obviously doubting the story.

“It’s a bar." Jojo chimed in.

I can’t seem to get myself to talk. Suddenly I am feeling so guilty about the night. This is why I go hunting for playmates in bars where I am guaranteed to not meet anyone I know. More specifically, Jodi or Wynn, and most of all, Benji.

“Anyways, pool?” Jodi attempts to change the subject.

“Rack ‘em.” I say over my shoulder as I walk towards the pool table. Realizing my legs are shaking too.

“How are you doing?” Jodi asks.

“Good, you?”

“Good.”

I break, getting in a stripe and a solid. I call solid. Hoping it helps me stay solid at this moment. Happy to be on a good run, focusing on each shot keeps me from having to talk.

The bar starts to fill up a bit. Busy for a Monday night for sure. The crowd is filled with unfamiliar faces. Probably locals and tourists. Most of the students are recovering from the weekend. Maybe a few are here testing the theory of “hair of the dog.” I scan the room, almost a knee jerk reaction.

“See anything you like?” Jodi asks accusingly.

“I like that my roommate and I are finally getting some alone time. Funny how we live together and never really get time just you and I.”

“It is nice. We could have more of these moments if you didn’t sneak out alone.”

Jodi has never been one to beat around the bush. I hate confrontation, I do avoidance well. Jodi, she is the queen of problem-solving. Find the problem and fix it. Apparently, I am the problem. Or at least my late-night adventures.

“Didn’t think you noticed.”

“We live in a 12x12 room, I notice everything.”

“Sorry.”

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I don’t know, I just feel like I need to apologize.”

“You sound like Wynn.”

“You have a way of making people feel like they fucked up somehow.”

“Learned it from my Mom.”

“Did I fuck up? Are you mad at me?”

“I’m not mad at you. I am worried about you?”

“Well, as you can see, there is nothing to worry about.”

“Where are you going when you go out?”

“Places, I don't know. It depends on my mood.”

“Do you hear yourself?”

“I just don't get what the big deal is. You are the one always giving me shit about getting out more.”

“I was referring to social gatherings with your peer group. And I can't imagine what you are doing is safe.”

“Oh my God! Did you follow me here tonight to try and catch me doing what? What did you expect to find?”

“Look, we both know you aren't here looking for a job.”

“I was actually talking to Jojo about a job here when you walked in.”

“But it’s not the reason you came here tonight. Or the reason you go out all those other nights. It’s really making me worry. At first, you went out a night here and there. Going straight to the shower, by the way, gives you away. I’ve known you for almost two years now, you only shower at night after sex. You prefer to shower in the mornings to wake you up.”

Wow! Do I know HER that well? Suddenly I feel like a bad friend. What else does she know about me? Am I that obvious.

“It’s your shot.” Jodi snaps me out of my head.

I focus back onto the game, eager to clear the table so I can have an excuse to end this conversation. Maybe tonight is a good night to ask Boss for a job here. Anything to avoid the direction of where this conversation is going. On cue, Jojo shows up with more champagne.

“Let me know when Boss is ready to talk to me about that job.”

“Will do babe!” Jojo winks at me.

“You know I am not going to let you get off that easily.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Val, as I was saying, you started going out a few nights here and there. Now, you are out at least one or two nights a week. I am really worried about you.”

“Jodi, it’s not like I am sneaking out to score crack.”

“It’s excessive Val.”

“So, you and Wynn can have sex every night, but I can’t?”

“It’s a little different.”

“How?”

"Val, it's not safe.”

“What’s not safe, you don't even know what it is that I am doing. Just because I shower when I get home. Maybe I am out at the gym?”

“At 2 am and wearing the outfits you do?”

“Dancing is a great workout.”

“Oh, so you are out dancing.”

“Actually, she comes out dancing with us a lot.” Jojo to the rescue again. “Boss says he can talk to you now.”

“Great!” I shot the 8 ball into the pocket on purpose to lose the game.

“Now I know you are bullshitting me, you never lose a game,” Jodi screams at me.

As I follow Jojo back, I polish off my champagne. Liquid courage and to wash away the dirt that Jodi just threw at me.

“Take a seat,” Boss says without looking up.

I look around the room, a sense of home comes over me. Boss’s office is so much like my father’s. Suddenly I feel calm.

“So, Jojo says you are looking for work. Have you ever been behind a bar before?”

“Yes, grew up behind one. My dad owns a bar back home?”

“Great. Can you start this Friday?”

“Sure.” I am a bit shocked at how fast this is going. “That’s it?”

“That’s it. You know how this rolls then, minimum wage plus tips. We pool tips here. Don’t steal from me and all will be great.”

“I can only work weekends and holidays.”

“So what else is new with you college kids. That’s fine because the rest of us prefer not to work the weekends and deal with a bunch of drunk college kids.”

Wow! I haven't been here a lot, but I didn’t expect Boss to be so cold. Is this how my dad is with his potential hires?

“You still here?” Boss looks up at me, his face softens a bit when he sees the bewilderment on my face.

“Sorry, see you Friday.”

“Jojo will show you the ropes.”

I hear Jojo squealing from behind the door. She is really one of the nosiest persons I know. This will be good for me. Maybe working here on weekends will help curb my cravings. A more active social life may just be what I need.

I hug Jojo as I walk out of the office, she is going on and on in my ears excitedly. I look around the bar, Jodi is gone, but her words stuck like glue, hot glue.

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