“He’s staring at you again.”
Camilla Graves looked up from the drink she was pouring to her friend Tessa, and then to the guy at the end of the bar. She knew exactly who Tessa was talking about. Cami had felt his eyes on her all night. Usually guys staring at her whilst she worked the bar creeped her out, but he was cute in a mysterious I-only-say-three-words-at-a-time kind of way. Right now, he was looking down at the whiskey she’d poured him ten minutes ago.
She looked back to Tessa, “someone should tell him staring is rude,” Cami said as she handed some girl her whiskey and coke.
“Maybe you should go tell him that,” Tessa suggested as she put away the tray of clean glasses she’d just fetched from the kitchen’s dishwasher.
Cami rolled her eyes at her friend. Tessa was always trying to get someone laid. Tessa’s beauty and personality meant that she was usually getting herself laid, so she didn’t have too much time to pester Cami. Tessa’s brown skin, bright amber eyes, and brown curls was a lethal combination with both men and women. She wasn’t necessarily skinny, although she was toned with an amazing hour glass figure. But it was Tessa’s personality that usually sealed the deal. She was everyone’s friend, funny and completely care-free. It was how Cami had become friends with her so quickly and so permanently.
“Aren’t you going out tonight with one of your sisters after this shift?” Cami asked, hoping to distract her friend.
Tessa shook her head, her tight curls shaking with her. “Nah, they all bailed on me.” She looked at Cami with pleading eyes.
“Coooooome on Cami! It’s Friday night.”
Cami shook her head as she helped Tessa with the last of the glasses. It was past one in the morning and the bar was starting to wind down from being stacked out just a couple of hours ago. There were still a lot people milling around, sat at tables, but not as many as before when her and Tessa were rushing around one another to get the drinks ready for lines of people at the bar.
“It might be. But you rolled out of bed around five this afternoon for your shift after being out last night, whilst I’d already been working the lunch shift. And I told Helena I’ll work it again tomorrow.”
“I can get you out of working tomorrow, Hel will understand.”
Cami didn’t doubt she would. Helena Deveraux was the kindest woman Cami had ever met. She was Tessa’s older sister and had apparently raised Tess and her two other sisters after their parents had died. She’d also taken in her nephew after one of her sisters died. Cami knew first-hand how well she took care of people in need.
Cami had been travelling for a while, she hadn’t wanted or been able to settle anywhere, and so, had been living out of her car whilst waitressing across the country. That had been until she had rocked up to New Orleans. Her car had been out of gas and had also been making a weird clunking noise for the previous hundred miles. Her day had gotten that little bit worse when Cami had gone into her bag to call recovery and found her phone was out of battery too. She’d cursed a few times and gotten out of the car. Her t-shirt had instantly stuck to her back from the humidity even though the sun had set a few hours ago. She’d walked mindlessly for a couple of hours until she had wandered into the French Quarter. The place had been so alive and vibrant, so amazingly magical. Music had been drifting out the different bars and restaurants, all merging together into a mess of notes. The tourists had all still been out in mass, the restaurants teeming with people, chatting and laughing. Cami had mingled in and out of people, looking in shop windows, she had listened to a live band in the square. She’d found herself smiling, something she hadn’t been doing a lot lately. Eventually she’d found Bourbon Street, and as she’d been walking down she’d come across a bar called Black Magik. There’d been a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window, Cami had already decided she had wanted to stay for a while so she went in to enquire.
Tessa, Marissa and Talia Deveraux had been whizzing around behind the central island bar with people three deep all around it. But the three women had been dealing with crowd remarkably well, each flair was subtle but entertaining as they passed bottles between them and quickly got drinks made. They were like a less in your face and way subtler version of Coyote Ugly.
The place was decorated simply but had individuality. None of the chairs and tables that were dotted around the bar matched. There was not a single one free though, and more people were mingling around stood up or leaning on the higher bar tables. As Cami stepped in further and looked around she noticed a mural on the back wall painted with bright colours, the patterns interwoven with the city’s landmarks. The modern pop music didn’t match the classy style of the bar, yet the patrons didn’t seem to mind.
She knew it hadn’t been the time to ask about the job vacancy and Cami was just about to put the sign back in the window, when Helena came flying out of the kitchen with a tray of bar food piled high and held perfectly with one hand almost impossibly.
“Oh, you’re here about the job?” Helena had asked as she handed over a plate of potato skins and nachos to a couple. She was perfect southern charm with her silky-smooth Louisiana accent and wide smile as she served the customers. “Give me a shout if you need anything. I’ll probably won’t be able to hear you over the noise but give it a try.” She looked over at Cami. “The job?” She asked.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I’ll come back if you want?” Cami had said as she followed Helena, who was weaving in and out of the tables to drop off more food for customers.
Helena turned back to face Cami and shook her head. Up close you could see the sweat beading on her black skin from working in the kitchen and running around in this heat. She was wearing a simple blue cotton dress under a white apron. “No, it’s okay. You free to start now?”
Cami’s brow shot up. “Uh yeah?”
“Good. If you can keep up you’ve got the job.” Helena had declared, before going through the beaded curtain that hung in the doorway. Cami was confused as to what to do when Helena came back two seconds later with a bar apron and a tray. “Good luck.”
Five hours later, all the customers had left and the music had been turned way down until it just background noise. Helena was cashing up the register, Tessa was sat cross-legged on the bar whilst Talia had been trying to clean around her. Marissa was sat on one of the barstools next to Cami. As soon as they closed up Helena had offered Cami a cup of tea. It had smelt beautiful and tasted even better. Cami took another sip.
“So where do you live?” Marissa asked her.
Cami had noticed the four sets of eyes were looking at her and she realised she needed to lie. She’d done it many times before when various people at the different places she’d worked had asked. 'Oh, I just got a place across town’ or ‘I live with my parents in Insert-Nice-Part-Of-Town-Here’.
“I haven’t got a place yet. I was just planning on passing through.”
There were a few beats of silence before Tessa had spoken up and taken the pressure off:
“New Orleans tempt you in?” Tessa remarked as she released the bandana that had been holding her brown curls up in a bun on the top of her head. Cami now knew that Tessa tied her hair up every-time she worked.
Cami had smiled. “You could say that.”
Talia had now abandoned cleaning the bar. “So where are you crashing right now? A motel?”
And once again came the opportunity to lie; ’yes I just rented one before I came here’ or ’no but I’m going to go now to get one, see you tomorrow’. But for some reason she couldn’t lie to these women. They had been kind to her that evening. When Cami had struggled or couldn’t find something, they had taken the time to teach her, they joked with her, fed her as soon as they closed up. Cami had felt safe with them, safe enough to tell them the truth.
“I’ve been living out of my car for the last year and a half,” she had admitted. Cami remembered she had felt instant relief from sharing her secret with them.
Helena who had started counting the money again after Cami’s first admission, now stopped again with notes in both hands. “And where’s your car now?”
“Broken down a few miles out.”
“Well you can’t stay there anymore,” Tessa argued, “right Hel?”
Both Talia and Marissa exchanged a look that Cami couldn’t make out, before glancing at Helena.
“No, no, it’s fine.” Cami reassured. These women had already been so kind she didn’t need anything else.
Helena slowly collected the cash back to one hand and then placed it back in the register. “Come with me.” She had simply said.
Tessa had given her a reassuring smile before Cami had followed Helena through the kitchen and out the back into the alley beside the bar.
“Is this where you take me out to kill me so you don’t have to pay me?” Cami said dryly.
Helena laughed. “I can’t kill you. You’re a natural waitress, it’ll take me months to find someone as good as you,” she said as she started up the circular metal staircase.
Cami naturally hesitated.
“You coming or not?” Helena asked, standing with one foot on a higher step, a hand on the railing, the other on her hip. Cami had tried to see the family resemblance between Helena and the other women back in the bar. But other than the colour of their skin and their brown hair there were none. Maybe they were half-sisters?
Cami followed after Helena up the stairs and then through the green wooden door. Inside there was a simple studio apartment, the floors were bare wood and the wallpaper aged by the sun. But it was clean, the kitchen was made up of simple light wooden cabinets with pretty floral designs on the drawers. There was a small table and two mismatching chairs, like downstairs in the bar. In the corner furthest away by the windows was a made bed with a metal frame. Close by there was a small white wooden dresser with a matching bedside table, atop of which was a simple lamp with no shade. The windows were classic white with green shutters that were half closed just as all the buildings on Bourbon Street had.
“You can stay here,” Helena had said, letting Cami have a look round. She pocked her head through the bathroom door and saw a toilet, sink, and bathtub that doubled as a shower.
Helena followed as Cami walked further in, towards the kitchen. “I brought some groceries up from the kitchen and stocked the cupboards with some essentials.”
Cami went to the window and found whilst there wasn’t a door onto the balcony she imagined you could climb out easily through the large windows. Out there was a foldable table and pair of chairs sat in the corner, along with pots of plants hanging on the balcony railings. Cami could just imagine herself sitting there in the morning, the early bustle of people down below, her breakfast and a book. The image was so enticing that she felt a pain in her chest knowing it couldn’t be real.
“I don’t think I can afford the rent, never mind the security deposit.”
Helena came over and shrugged. “I’m sure we can work something out. This place is sitting empty and I don’t need the money. You can live her rent free for all I care.”
“I don’t want to be a charity case.” Cami muttered. “Please don’t pity me.”
Helena put a hand on her arm and had given her the kindest smile. “Cami. This is not charity. I like you. Plus, you’re going to be working for me now, it only makes sense that one of my employees is looked after, well rested, and not worrying if her home is going to be towed away or stolen every night.” She had said. “Look, I’m guessing you’re not used to someone being kind and having friendship. But this is all this is. You rocked up here looking like you haven’t had a shower or a good meal in weeks. I think you’ve been running for a while, right?”
Cami had just nodded, unable to speak.
“I’m not going to ask about your past, it’s your business. But let us help you.”
For some peculiar reason Cami’s eyes had clouded with tears. It was odd mainly because Cami wasn’t a crier, she hadn’t even cried at her parent’s funeral. She tried to say something but the words had gotten stuck in her throat. Helena had seen right through Cami. She was right in knowing it had been so long since Cami had seen anyone as a friend. And it turned out she needed some kindness, it was shocking how much it was affecting her.
That night Cami had cried out years of pain by the window, whilst Helena had silently comforted her with just a hand on Cami’s arm.
That had been a whole year ago now. And that friendship and kindness that Helena had offered back then had been paid over and over again. Usually Cami had spent only a few months at a time in a certain place but she had found her home here in New Orleans.
“So, what do you say,” Tessa asked again, “are you going to come out with me?”
“I’m going to pass tonight, Tess.”
Tessa let out a defeated sigh before picking up the empty pallet now that the clean dishes had been cleared. “I’m going to make a round and pick up the empties, why don’t you go chat to tall, dark and handsome over there?” Tessa said gesturing to the same guy that she’d pointed out had been staring earlier before leaving to clear glasses.
Cami rolled her eyes at her friend’s insistence at pursing him. Although she did give the guy a glance and couldn’t deny how attractive he was. As she looked at him, the guy decided to stop staring at his glass of whiskey and looked at her. His stare sent an injection of lust straight to her groin. Cami quickly looked away and stared down at the glasses under the bar so that her bangs hid her face – and her blush. She was breathing heavily. God, she hadn’t been that turned on in a while, it was a shock to the system. She chalked down the severe reaction to him as horniness. She was convinced it was just because she hadn’t had sex in a long time. A really long time.
Cami was gearing herself up to look at him again – she could feel his stare burning into the side of her face, the fire spreading all over her body – when a customer came over and she had to get back to work.
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