Chapter II | All I Had
❈ Two ❈
Music Companion: All I Had - Zack Gray
You are still at the bar long after closing time.
It took you two whole hours to clean up all the mess from tonight’s shenanigans. A little bit longer from your usual clean up which would have only taken you about an hour to finish up. But with tonight’s patronage that had grown nearly out of control right before the club was shutting its doors, there were bound to be more mess happening than usual.
Sure, there were no traces of unidentified liquid stains on the seats or overturned tables you need to flip back up, all the things that you had to endure on the first year of bartending. Though perhaps you shouldn’t be comparing this fancy strip club to the shady pub across town where you had first gotten thrust into this line of job, where drunkards, motorcycle clubs, and other shady men would come as patrons. Still, there is nothing like the mess created by drunken cougars and newly matured women with thirsts for both alcohol and naked men.
All the mess aside, you also had to spare your time and energy guiding the newbie to make sure he knows what he is doing. The sweet boy is still all smiles and bright eyes as he mops the floor from spilled over food and trash, while you are doing the final check-ins on the supplies at the bar’s storage.
After taking a quick look at your watch and noticing the time, you walk around the bar, making your last round with Ten and the night’s bouncer to make sure they would be doing all the lock-up before going to the staff room to change.
Once you are relieved from your tight and exposed work clothes, the set of miniskirt and thin blouse with a low neckline that falls right at your cleavage, changing them into your comfortable set of jeans and sweater, you walk out through the staff exit, ready to head home. You stop at your tracks when you find a figure leaning against the doorway, welcoming you with a smile. He looks peculiarly beautiful beyond the exhaustion that is clear on his face and you simply cannot deny that you are pleased to see him there.
“Jimin?” you call out as you walk over to him, still in shock of seeing him there. “What are you doing? Why are you still here?”
The man has the audacity of looking sheepish as he shrugs. “I was waiting for you. Figured that I could walk you out since it’s really late.”
“I have my car.”
“So do I,” he says while reaching out for your hand. “But it’s always better to walk together instead of just walking out alone in the dark.”
Parked at the staff area at the back of the club, you are sure that the place would be safe enough for you to walk out alone. You know this from leaving the club at late hours, sometimes even close to sunrise, on almost every night of the week. But you decide that it would be best not to argue with Jimin about his offer of walking you out to your car.
It seems silly to do it anyway now that you think about it, with his car being parked exactly right next to yours and knowing that he had actually waited for you to finish your chores even if he had gone through a long night just as much as you did.
No words come out of him as he leads you to your car. But his presence stays strong. You feel it from the warm touch of his palm at the small of your back and the faint sweet scent of cologne he is wearing.
As you reach for your car, Jimin tugs gently at your elbow to stop you.
“So, about Friday. Is there a way to change your mind?” he suddenly asks you, though his voice sounds soft enough that you would have missed it if you weren’t by his side.
You hadn’t noticed that he had come close to you until you turn to face him. He fills up the space just by standing right in front of you, and with your back somehow pressed against the side of your car, you find nowhere else to go. Yet you also find yourself not wanting to push him away, with your body is still secretly craving for his warmth, you choose to revel on it while you can.
His gaze falls on your lips as he waits for you to finish up your sentence, while you are stuttering, unable to find the words to say when you literally have no clue how else you are going to refuse him. Honestly, a part of you wants it so badly to just say fuck it and go on that date with him. But there will always be that bigger part that keeps on screaming at you, reminding you to keep putting up the walls that have done such a good job of keeping you from getting hurt.
And men like Jimin would only get you hurt.
“Is there a reason why you never want to go out with me?” Jimin asks again, his voice suddenly sounds terribly defeated. “Didn’t we have such a good time when we got together back then? Or am I the only one who just can’t get that night out of my head?”
You have tons of reasons for continuously pushing him away. Not only him, but every single prospect of getting too close with someone else. And when he reminds of the night where you had ended up getting into his bed with your limbs tangled with one another while insinuating that you feel nothing out of it, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Because you can never forget that night no matter what you do. You still remember everything, from his touches to his kisses, and how good you were together in bed, that you relive every single moment of it every time you close your eyes at night.
“That’s not true,” the words come out of you before you can stop it. Then you bite your lips to stop yourself from telling him more. No matter how bad you want to admit it.
Yet it seems that he can already read between the lines, without you even saying it out loud. You can hear it when his breath is caught in his throat, and you raise your eyes to meet his, once again feeling like your heart missing a beat as you do so. He is staring at you so fiercely, the look of hope and desire both evident in those pretty eyes of his that you feel as if he wants to eat you up.
Without saying a word to confirm your thoughts, he leans down to actually do it.
He presses his lips to yours, giving the first kiss against your mouth lightly while one of his hands moves to grab the back of your neck and tilts your head towards him. As his other hand moves to wrap around your waist, he pulls you into a tighter embrace, his mouth straining against yours as you slowly give in.
You open your mouth in a breathless gasp and he takes the chance to deepen the kiss, sucking and biting at your lips with slow, deep grunts slipping out in between. He does it ever so gently, yet still enough to have the warmth in your body rising with every nibble, every soft contact of his lips on yours. That is when your body starts to react and you begin to kiss him back, every bit of your own inhibition goes right out the window as you instinctively open your mouth a bit wider for him, your lips folding into the lines of each other’s as you move in the same rhythm, chasing and welcoming one another with pure desire.
His hand finds your hair, balling it in one hand to pull you close to him as he possibly still could, pressing your heaving chest to his own.
A moan slips out from the deepest pit of your throat when he presses his tongue forward, pushing against the seams of your lips before sliding in, dancing with your own tongue as you taste him in your mouth. His gentle kisses feel warm before they grow hot, the heat runs down through your body, pooling down right between your legs that you simply cannot resist letting another soft moan and a painful whimper to slip out to each pulse you feel at your center. You feel his own desire pressing against your lower body before he grunts deeply, the sound comes rumbling from somewhere deep inside his chest and pulses against your body.
“Fuck,” he breathes out after you finally manage to pull away from each other, despite reluctantly.
“I missed you,” he whispers. “Please go out with me. Even if it’s just for one night, baby. I can’t stop thinking about you after that last time.”
Neither could you. But you choose to say nothing about it as you have done so for weeks after that one night you shared with him.
“Let me show you how good we could be together. If even then I still can’t convince you to try it with me, only then will I stop trying and leave you alone.”
You bite the insides of your cheeks, holding back from saying the word, ’Yes’, that is already hanging at the tip of your tongue for the sweet promise that his words carry. A promise for something good in the future. For both of you.
With a long sigh, you open your mouth, ready to give in when every part of you is starting to feel tired of fighting it, to fight this pull that you feel whenever you are with him. It is just the same attraction that had pulled you into his bed that one night and had only been getting even stronger ever since.
But right the moment you close your eyes, you are reminded to the one little secret waiting for you back home. The one single thing you treasure most in your life and yet you still kept hidden from the world, from him, and your fear returns. The same fear that had you running off from his place the morning after spending the night in his bed before he had a chance to wake up and greet you with his lovely kisses.
Pressing both palms against his chest, you gently push him away, even if you have to hold back the pain in your chest that comes the moment you are apart.
“Jimin,” you start, raising your eyes to meet his hopeful ones, and your chest tightens. In the end, you cannot find it in you to say no. “I—I’ll think about it.”
The look he is giving you in return for your answer is one that you simply unable to read. His eyes look cold for a brief moment, before his lips curl into a small, hollow smile.
“Right. Okay,” he says with a whisper, as if he is trying to hide the strain hanging in his voice. “At least it’s not a no,” he quickly adds, forcing a smile as he speaks, even if his own eyes are betraying him.
Before you could manage to say a thing, he leans down and kisses your temple, hiding his disappointment away from you, though you can still feel it coming out of his body with that one single touch he gives you. “Drive safely,” he whispers, moments before letting you go.
After giving him a quick nod, you manage to slip into the driver’s seat while avoiding his gaze, feeling the urge to be as far as possible from him before you finally give in completely to the rushing heat in your body which keeps calling for him. Even if you can still feel the electric tingles on your body where it was pressed against his and on your skin where he had touched, also the small sparks that are dancing across your lips where he had laid his kisses to.
It would be a complete lie to say that you are not enjoying the feeling he gives you, which becomes the more reason why you need to stay away.
As you pull away from the parking lot, leaving him standing there beside his car with his eyes following you, you start feeling like you are breaking apart, as if every part of you that had been awakened slowly dies down again, bits by painful bits. The moment you look up at the rearview mirror, you instantly regret it when you can see the look he is giving you. It takes everything in you not to drive back and run to him, to hold him, to wipe away the pained look you see sparkling from those bright, beautiful eyes of his as he watches you getting further away from him.
The drive home from the club has never felt as long as the way it feels tonight.
There is a weight in your chest that you carry since you left the club, one which you had felt since you exchanged that last gaze with Jimin before driving away. You have tried to ignore it, using the loud music blaring from the speakers to drown the voices in your head that keep calling for his name.
Yet all the voices and the yearning you feel of wanting to be close to him again seem to refuse to leave you alone.
You had blamed it all to your loneliness at first. It had been many years since your last relationship and sex had been the last thing on your mind when your life had been spiralling out of control in more ways than one. It had been more than a few months of living without sex when you came home with Jimin, and you had blamed it on your libido and unfulfilled needs. You had even thought it would mean nothing for both of you but a night of fling, a simple meaningless affair, and you would both move on from it.
But while you have been convincing yourself that it was all true, Jimin had been showing you the opposite in more than one occasion where you cross path with him at work.
The time shows exactly at 5 AM when you pull into the parking lot at your apartment complex. The moment you turn the car engine off, silence instantly comes to engulf you. Both exhaustion and relief come flooding through your body as you sit back in the driver’s seat, looking up at the building right in front of you.
You are blessed to have found this place a couple of years ago, to be able to find a home with a safe neighbourhood that you never have to worry about coming home on your own so late at night. Or on today’s case, so early in the morning. Even if you still have to deal with all the side eyes you are receiving from a few of your neighbours who had found out about your job.
All the scrutinising looks and gossips you can deal with easily, however, for they are nothing compared to all the hardships you had to endure before you got to this point.
From dropping out of college to abruptly dealing with the hard life of adulthood, moving from the dingy basement you rented then to sleeping in the car when you were suddenly homeless, until you finally found a way to earn some money and started living on the upper floor of the shady bar you once worked at, before ended up finding your way to this apartment. You also remember walking on foot from one part of the city to another because you couldn’t afford to buy gas for your car, until you finally got a more decent job, with good pay and nights without coming home rubbing your skin from any faint traces made by drunken men trying to grab you.
You probably would have been either stuck in that dark part of your life or ended up worse if only you had been dealing with them on your own all those years. But you were not. Having a huge responsibility of another was the only reason why you had been strong enough to keep on trying your best to be better.
To have a better home, a better job, and to be a better mother.
Your chest feels tight when you grab your purse and step out of your car. Even if your mind is numb at this point, defeated by the urge of crawling on your bed that suddenly feels too strong, you can still feel your guilt rising so deep in your chest.
Reaching to your floor, you make a stop at your next door neighbour before finally getting to your place. The guilt thickens as you gently knock on her door. It takes her only a few minutes to open it for you, and the kind woman appears from the other side of the door, welcoming you with her sleepy smile which accentuates the lines on her face.
“Hello, Mrs. Shim, I’m so sorry for waking you up at this hour,” you instantly begin to apologise while keeping your voice low enough to a whisper.
“Oh, hush—I’m always awake at this hour anyway. And you already told me you were coming late, so I already had everything prepared for you,” she says with a similarly low voice to yours, before widening her door to let you come inside her small apartment.
You place your purse on her coffee table and wait until she closes her door shut behind you. Turning around, you have your eyes wandering off to her guest bedroom while you ask her, “How is she?”
Mrs. Shim gives you a gentle smile, her eyes sparkle with admiration as she answers, “The little princess has been an angel, as she always is. She fell asleep watching her favourite cartoon show after dinner. I had it recorded just for her since she loves it so much.”
Mrs. Shim starts to walk ahead towards the bedroom while you follow behind. “Did she ask for me?”
She nods, still looking ahead. “She did, but I read her your text message and let her hear your voicemail when she started crying for you. She must have missed you a lot,” she says, and your heart feels like it is about to burst. Holding back your tears, you listen to her as she keeps talking before she opens the door. “I replayed the voicemail a few times for her until she calmed down, then I turned on the cartoon for her to watch, and she just fell to the bed like a leaf while holding the phone.”
You say nothing to respond to her, worried that if you ever try to open your mouth and say something, your emotion might come flowing out like a river.
All the lights in the bedroom have been turned off. And for a moment, you worry about your sweet baby daughter panicking if she had woken up in the dark, until you recall seeing how Mrs. Shim had left the door slightly ajar to let the lights from the outside in. Then, as you look up at the bed, right there at the center and tucked under a blanket with her thumb snugged between her lips, is your three-year-old baby girl sleeping soundly with a small frown on her face.
“There’s the princess,” you hear Mrs. Shim whispers beside you.
Moving carefully and making sure not to create any sudden noise, you walk over to the bed. You sit at the edge of the bed and lean down. Ever so gently, you pull her thumb out of her lips and tuck away her hair from her forehead before tidying the tight bundle of blanket around her body, just to be able to touch her, to convince yourself that your little angel is safe. You want so badly to reach down, to hold her tight in your arms and give her kisses all over her face, but you hold yourself back. She seems so peaceful that you would hate waking her up.
You finally lean down to her, however, unable to resist when you have missed her so badly after leaving her to work after lunch hour the day before. Giving a light kiss on her forehead, you look down on her and whisper,
“Mommy’s here, Suri. I’m so sorry for being so late, baby girl.”
“Have you thought about what I said to you the other day?”
You had initially planned to grab Suri and go, but Mrs. Shim had another plan in mind. Perhaps she saw something when she looked at you, either it was your droopy eyes that were close to shutting to sleep or the unshed tears in them, only she would know. Or perhaps she had planned it all along to keep you here a bit longer.
You were ready to carry your little girl back to your apartment when Mrs. Shim patted on your shoulder and tilted her head towards the dining room. She had prepared two cups of steaming hot tea and a few crackers when you followed her. The hot drink made your tummy feel a whole lot better while the crackers managed to fill up the hunger that you had neglected.
Then, just when you felt comfortable in your seat, it was time for her to speak her piece.
She had been constantly trying to convince you to look for another job. At one point, she had even tried to arrange a meeting between you and one of her sons so you could try to work with him, only for you to refuse before trying. What could you offer for a running business when you couldn’t even finish school? When the only experience you have ever had was to mix up drinks? Unless talking to people and managing a whole bar would be a nice enough resume to get you somewhere, you still believe that you are way under qualified to have a nice job with a steady salary while sitting behind a desk all day.
Right as you are thinking about it, Mrs. Shim confirms your thoughts by finally talking about it. When she says all the things that she had told you so many times before.
“You really should consider taking another job, something different, something—safe. With regular working hours so you can spend more time with her instead of leaving her every night.”
Not every night, you inwardly wonder, wishing that you could remind her that you still have a few days off each week which you use to spend time with your daughter. Yet you keep it to yourself, not wanting to sound like an ungrateful brat in front of the woman who has been so kind to you.
“I know,” you answer her, swallowing hard when you think about Suri who is sleeping so soundly at the other room, regretting that at least a few of the things she said is absolutely right, after all.
To think that you have left her behind in the hands of your neighbour so you could work at night. To think that you have missed a lot of things while she is growing up so quickly, and you are bound to miss many more.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, but there is nothing else out there that could give me good pay like the club does. And I need this money for us, for her. So I could give her a better life and a better future than the one I had,” you continue to tell her everything that you had told yourself a lot of times before. Looking up, you meet her eyes, returning the concerned gaze that she is giving you when you speak, “She is all I have, Mrs. Shim, and I will do everything in my power to provide for her as much as I can while she only has me.”
Mrs. Shim says nothing to you, but you can feel her worries when she sighs. Leaning forward, you reach out for her entwined hands and hold them in yours. “I will consider changing careers if I find any chance to. I promise.”
“Don’t you go promising these things to me,” she scoffs. Chuckling lightly, she squeezes your hands for a moment before letting you go so she could take a drink. “Make that promise to yourself and your sweet daughter. It’s the two of you against the world at this point. I’m not anywhere part of it aside from being an old babysitter.”
The sullen air turns lighter when you share a laugh at her comment. She knows how grateful you are for her being there, for willing to watch over Suri while you are gone. You have made sure to always let her know how much.
But after taking a quick drink on her tea, Mrs. Shim looks down on her cup with a frown.
“Uh oh,” you quickly make the comment the moment you see it. “I know that look.”
Once again, the older lady scoffs. “And I know you won’t like hearing what I’m about to say.”
You don’t even need to hear it. You already know what had crossed her mind in her silence, all because she had told you this once before. Rolling your eyes, you quickly speak your mind before she does.
“I’m not going to find myself a husband only to be dependent on them. I can get my own money. I’m still healthy enough to work and earn my own pay for both of us.”
“Oh, I know—” she says, waving her hand at you. “I don’t need convincing if you really are not thinking about it. There is no use on depending on men all your life anyway. Trust me. I learned it the hard way.”
You say nothing to respond to that. Because after the terrible decision you have made in the past which had caused you to being thrust into motherhood all on your own, so did you.