Getting to the second casino was easy enough because Michael knew exactly where it was and led me there in silence. A few left turns, a few right, and we were in front of the Pulchritudo. In the lobby, he asked the attendant sitting behind the desk if the bartending job for the woman was still open, nodding to me, and the attendant’s eyes swept me before grabbing a phone, dialing, and softly talking to someone on the other end.
“May I have your name?”
He repeated it into the phone. “And what sector do you live in?”
“Yeah, the bartending position is still open. The boss wants to see her and ask a few questions. Go up to the 23rd floor and he’ll meet you at the bar.” He pointed to the elevator and we did as we were told.
“Nervous about this, Seph?”
“Not so much, no, though I’ve never had an actual job in my life. I think the champagne and bourbon helped me out with that.”
The floor we ended up on was a blackjack floor, this casino’s layout similar to the one before, yet themed differently. The party had been held in a very modern casino, yet this one was historical: Grecian marble sculptures, Roman columns and mosaics, and Renaissance-like paintings and vast frescos spanning entire floors. I spotted the bar and Michael followed me. A very sleek and thin man, dressed in a suit and looking of Asian descent, was standing behind the bar but wasn’t getting anyone drinks. He saw me come closer and asked, “Are you Persephone Flemming?”
“Yes, I am. Are you the boss?”
“Indeed, I’m Mr. Zakari.” He paused to sweep his eyes over my body and grin appreciatively. “My, you’re dressed up.”
“My friend and I were at a party prior to this.” I patted Michael’s shoulder. “He’s the one who told me about the opening.”
“Right, so, why do you want this job?”
“I think it’d be fun.”
“Do you have any bartending experience?”
“Uh…” I faltered.
“She’s a natural at it. I’ve had some of her mixed drinks and they’re good.” Michael stepped in.
The truth was the best approach. “Honestly, I haven’t had any real bartending experience but if training is provided, I’m sure I wouldn’t disappoint you.”
“I see, but why don’t you find an opening in your own sector?”
I glanced at Michael. “Is that a thing? Am I not supposed to look for jobs in different sectors?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“I’m assuming you’re fairly new here, then.” Mr. Zakari deadpanned. “Usually, only the older souls look for employment.”
“Yes, but being placed in Sector Pride was only one of my choices, another was this sector.” I offered, hoping that would persuade him.
“Oh,” His eyes lit up. “You’re that Persephone?”
“Yes, I am.”
“And the last sector you could have chosen was…”
“Interesting.” He mused and seemed to ponder over ideas. “But I’ve also heard you have a problem with authority.”
One glance at Michael revealed he was doing everything in his power to keep from bursting out into obnoxious laughter. I shot him a look to keep him silent.
“I wouldn’t say that. I just think respect should be reciprocated from both parties and if it isn’t, that’s a problem in itself.”
Mr. Zakari nodded and seemed thoughtful. “Would you be willing to work on nights of the welcoming party? Very few people are. It’s usually slow until very late when the welcoming party is over and people want to continue their fun.”
“Yes, if you should need me to. I don’t care much for attending the welcoming parties anyways.”
He didn’t take long to decide. “Very well. I offer you this position and training will be provided.”
“And I accept.”
“I think you’ll be a lovely addition to this establishment, Persephone Flemming.” He held out his hand and I gave him mine to shake, but when he grasped it firmly, I hissed. He looked surprised and turned my hand over lightly, holding it closer to his face. “You’ve severely bruised your hand, my dear. How come?”
“I don’t take kindly to unwanted advances.”
His dark eyes glinted again and he chuckled. “I see that. Hopefully not by your friend here?”
Michael’s eyes widened and he leaned backward, not knowing how to respond.
“No, no!” I interrupted. “I wouldn’t consider him a friend if he tried anything with me.”
“Of course.” Mr. Zakari grinned. “I like a woman who can defend herself.”
“What day do I start training?”
“How about tomorrow?”
“That’s perfect,” I smiled. “May I ask what the dress code is?”
“For women, it’s black pencil skirts, ending above the knee, and jewel-toned blouses. Black dresses are acceptable as well.”
“That’s lovely, very doable.”
A tall man came out of the back and spoke softly into Mr. Zakari’s ear for a brief moment. Mr. Zakari, my new boss, turned to me when the man disappeared and smiled again. “Well, Persephone and friend, I have business to attend to. I shall see Persephone tomorrow.” He shook my hand, softly, and disappeared through the door.
“That went well,” I smiled brilliantly at Michael, who was frowning. “Why so pensive?”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing.”
“Michael…” I tried to prod him for further information.
“It’s just that I won’t be able to walk you to your job every day.”
“Yeah, I have to grow up sometime, right?” I winked and pulled him towards the elevator. “I think I can manage.”
“But I’ll worry about you,” Michael said softly.
I stuck my tongue out at him. “Okay, Dad.”
Due to my good mood, I practically skipped home, with the gloomy Michael dutifully following me, much to his chagrin. The streets were practically empty and we made it back to Sector Pride without incident. Michael didn’t follow me up to my apartment like usual, getting off on his floor. That was fine with me, though.
Once I was home, I turned on my stereo and played soft classical music loud enough to hear as I took a bath and relaxed, still very much awake. I scrubbed off my makeup and the sweat, washing my skin with richly scented soaps. I sat with the jets on for quite some time, icing my sore hand on the edge of the tub. After eating a snack and shutting the blinds, I flung myself into bed and shivered when I made contact with the cool silk sheets. I lied in bed for awhile, unable to sleep, occasionally brushing my fingers across my lips. I could still feel Luca’s lips on top of mine, and goosebumps erupted across my bare skin when I thought about his mouth on my throat, along with his hand. A faint smile snaked its way into my features in the darkness.
“What the fuck did he do to me?” I whispered to no one, hating myself for the way Luca had invaded my mind. I flipped over onto my stomach and hid my head under my pillow even though my blush was hidden in the dark. For good measure and to cover all my bases, I started praying to God and the Devil, if they were even real, that I would be able to fall asleep tonight without dreaming about the violent and beautifully dark Lord Luca.
* * *
When I woke up, I was excited to start training. I quickly found a black pencil skirt and a dark blue silk blouse, throwing them both into a bag. I got ready quickly, eating a nutritious breakfast and heading out right away. I was determined to get there without incident and because I didn’t want to depend on Michael for the rest of my afterlife. Ironically enough, I found brass knuckles in one of my drawers and decided to put those in my bag, just in case. I flexed my right hand a few times before leaving, the bruises had disappeared but it was still slightly sore. I figured I had broken a few bones in my hand when I punched Luca but seeing his shock and his split lip was worth it.
Maybe he learned not to touch me anymore, I thought to myself as I walked through the streets of my sector, grinning at my little victory. Another part of me hoped he hadn’t and would touch me again, but I silenced that part quickly.
I kept my head held high as walked through the different sectors, smiling. Obviously trying to stay under the radar didn’t work, so let the predators come. I had brass knuckles with me and some ingenuity. I’d kill them, or nearly, like the other one. I think my smile unnerved the men walking because none really bothered me. A few came up to me and tried to convince me to go with them, asking who I was, but as soon as I told them my name, their eyes widened and they immediately ran off. I thought that was strange, but maybe the man I had beat to death had spread a rumor.
I showed up at the casino I was newly employed at no worse for wear. I walked up to the front desk and told the attendant I was hired by Mr. Zakari.
“Yeah, I was told. Congratulations,” He waved me off.
“I’m supposed to start training today. Do I go to the bar?”
“And is there anywhere I can change?” I shook my bag at him for emphasis.
“Mhmm. Down the hallway, make a right, then a left, and the employee locker room should be the last door on your right.”
I repeated those directions softly to myself and went in search for it, finding it quickly. After changing and smoothing down my hair, I went upstairs to find Mr. Zakari and a woman sitting at the bar.
“Ah, there she is!” Mr. Zakari waved to me and shook my hand lightly, careful not to hurt me this time. It was a surprisingly thoughtful gesture.
“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long.” I grimaced in embarrassment.
“Nonsense. Time is an illusion here.”
“I’m still trying to get used to that.”
“Yes, well,” Mr. Zakari turned to the woman. “This is Selene. She’s going to be training you. I shall leave you two to it, then.” He smiled briefly and left briskly, probably having something to attend to. Managing a huge casino like this must require a lot of responsibilities.
“It’s nice to meet you, Selene.” I held out my hand, finally looking up to see her. She was far taller than me, with straight black hair and brown eyes that were several shades darker than her brown skin. I was a little stunned at how beautiful she was.
“A pleasure, Persephone. So, Mr. Zakari says you have no real experience and I was wondering why he even wasted his time hiring you but now I see why.” She mused, glancing down at me. “He likes to surround himself with beautiful women.”
“Most men do unless they aren’t into women at all,” I grinned. “But anyway, I’ve always been interested in bartending and always wanted to learn the trade but I never got the chance. My friends tell me I’m a natural, though.”
“Basically, what I’m going to have to do is teach you how to mix and make general drinks, the techniques, then you’re going to need to memorize all the drinks we serve, and then I’m going to teach you how to make those as well.”
“How long is this going to take?”
“A couple weeks, at least.”
I paled, less excited about the training now that I knew it was going to take so long.
“Don’t look so thrilled, will you.” She laughed playfully. “You signed up for this, remember?”
I did remember and I wanted to do this, so I pushed through training and did my homework and studied the lists of drinks every single night, practicing mixing them at home. A couple weeks turned into three, marked only by the welcoming parties I didn’t attend. Once I finished training and became a full-fledged bartender working at the casino, I showed up nearly every day, occasionally bumping into Selene in the locker room. I began to know the growing number of regular customers by name because they already knew mine. My people skills improved vastly because I needed to be nothing less than a psychologist. Drunk people really liked to talk about their problems sometimes. On some days, Michael would come to visit me and see how I was doing, but seeing him was becoming a rare occurrence.
I think Mr. Zakari began to boast that I was working for him as a bartender because people started coming to the casino specifically to come to my bar. What I liked most about this place was that if anyone was harassing me, I only needed to mention it and guards would throw them out immediately. That didn’t happen often anymore. My boss would check up on me every now and then, seeming very pleased with how I had brought more business into his establishment.
His motto seemed to be, “Nothing goes better with gambling than alcohol and pretty girls.”
When Michael stopped by, I finally remembered something I’ve been meaning to ask him. I finished mixing drinks for my other customers and then moved down the bar to speak to him, getting him his usual glass of whiskey. “Hey, Michael, how are you doing tonight?”
“Fine. I’ve been tired lately.”
“You? Tired? Not possible.” I winked.
“I know. I’ve just been really busy. My job has been a little more demanding lately.” He swirled the whiskey around in the glass before taking a sip.
“You never told me you had a job.” I was surprised he had never even mentioned it. I got out a rag and started wiping down the bar to appear like I was busy to any other customers.
“Oh, I know. Barely considered a job, really.” He seemed all too bitter about it.
“So, I’ve been meaning to tell you about something.” I said softly.
“I haven’t been having much trouble walking from sector to sector at all.”
“That’s great, Seph, really.” He gave me a tired smile.
“If people do bother me, all I have to do is tell them my name and they run off. What do you think of that?”
“Maybe just word of you beating up that one guy to a pulp has gotten around.” Michael said quickly and then was busy finishing his glass.
I narrowed my eyes and leaned closer to him. “Cut the shit, Michael. I want to know the truth.”
“Hey, Persephone, my glass is empty!” One of my customers yelled from the other side of the bar.
I gave a heated look to Michael and said, “I’ll be right back, and when I am, I’d like some honesty for once in your godforsaken afterlife.” I made quick work of making this obnoxious man another drink, being rude to him myself, and returning to Michael. “Well?”
Michael sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “I’m not supposed to tell you anything, Persephone. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, I’ve realized. No one likes to tell me anything,” I said dryly.
His voice dropped to a low whisper. “So, really, what I’m about to tell you could get me in trouble and I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anyone, or even hint at it.”
“The reason why people run off when they found out your name is because Lucielle put out this kind of PSA about you. If anyone harms you or bothers you, they’re done.”
“Done, meaning what exactly?”
“Punishment done. Never seen again done.”
My eyes widened. “But why? I mean, I thought people could do what they wanted here, like grab me in the street and take me into an alley.” I was bitter. “No rules, you know.”
“Apparently Lucielle decided that wasn’t applicable when it came to you.” Michael shrugged. “I absolutely cannot tell you that. You’ll have to brainstorm reasons why by yourself. Whatever you do, do not contact Lucielle about it. If she finds out you know, she’ll be able to figure out who told you and then, they’d be done as well.”
“Thanks for finally telling me something, Michael. I appreciate it.” I said grudgingly, wishing he could tell me more.
“I have to go now. I’ll see you later, Persephone.” Michael stood and pushed away from the bar, leaving me to attend to the rest of my needy customers.
I wanted to leave with him but I was working and I couldn’t. Mr. Zakari was nice, but he wasn’t known for letting employees randomly leave their stations once they started their shift. I was in an off mood for the rest of the night, thinking about why Lucielle could possibly care so much about my well-being.
Michael had always said that I was her favorite, which I didn’t understand, just because she gave me the penthouse. It was just an apartment. I would’ve been happy with a normal one. What really shocked me was when she stood up against Lady Callista for Michael and I. We were just souls, and all the sector leaders have made it clear that we are replaceable. Now she was trying to protect me from harm?
It was several hours before the bar was vacant and I was replaced with another bartender. Working turned into my afterlife, working nearly every day for six more weeks. On my days off, I would go out to eat, go to a spa, stay at home, or hang out with Michael. The dynamic of our friendship had changed because of my knowledge that he was withholding secrets from me. I told him it didn’t bother me, and he assured me he would tell me when he could, but secretly, it did very much bother me.
Of course, Hell was a place full of secrets. I wasn’t surprised by that fact but I was surprised that there were so many secrets about me.
After the ninth week of working, Mr. Zakari pulled me into his office and said he was giving me the next welcoming party off because of my impeccable work ethic and contribution to the Pulchritudo. I thanked him vigorously, even though I really didn’t care that I had the chance to go to another welcoming party. On my way home, I debated telling Michael that I could go, knowing he would be happy about it, but decided against it. I’d show up there and surprise him. I immediately showered and went to bed after I got home, exhausted from work. I woke up several times during the night, all from my regularly occurring dreams of Luca. I forced myself back asleep and I must have slept a long time because I woke up the next day feeling extremely refreshed.
I decided that it was going to be a lazy day today, mostly eating food, listening to music, and lounging about in my apartment. When it started to get closer to the welcoming party, I must have had an internal clock for it or something because I didn’t know how I knew, I started looking for something to wear. This time, it turned out to be a short, little black dress with one sleeve made out of sheer lace. I paired it with dark eye makeup and classic black pumps. I twisted my hair into an updo and called it good.
I checked if Michael was home before leaving, and he wasn’t, so I raced over to Center Sector and arrived before the welcoming ceremony even began. I went to the bar and ordered a flute of champagne from the bartender I had flirted with last time I was here. He chatted with me, not having many customers yet, and we made small talk.
“I haven’t seen you around here in awhile.”
“I’ve been busy with a job. I usually work on welcoming party nights.”
“What kind of job?”
“I’m a bartender actually.” I grinned, sipping my champagne.
His eyebrows shot up and his smile turned playfully suspicious “Hopefully not trying to steal my job, are you?”
“Here? God, no.” I waved him off. “I work at the Pulchritudo in Sector Greed.”
“Nice casino, if I remember correctly. What’s it like working over there?”
“I enjoy it. If you need help tonight, I can do the basics.” I finished my champagne. “Mimosa, please.”
The bartender obliged, filling my glass with one part champagne and one part orange juice. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He smiled, but then the lights on the stage turned on and the sector leaders appeared.
I moved to the side of the room and stood against the wall in the shadows as Lucielle began the excruciatingly long and dreadfully boring process of introducing all of the fresh souls. I kept my eyes out for Michael but didn’t see him anywhere. It was hard to look for him when every single time, I found my eyes sneaking glimpses of Lord Luca upon the stage. I don’t think he saw me and I would have rather kept it that way. When the ceremony was over and still no sight of Michael could be found, I decided to try to make the best of tonight and have a little bit of fun. I pushed myself into the crowd of people and started dancing with both men and women. It didn’t last long before I was jerked away by my arm so hard I cried out.
Even without looking, I knew it was Luca. He dragged me into the rounded hallway and pushed me against the wall, crowding into my personal space like usual. I could feel the heat of him through the fabric of his pants against my bare legs. I raised my hand up to punch him, but he caught it and pinned my arm down, smirking.
“Luca, I fucking hate you. Let me go! Leave me alone!”
“Where the hell have you been?” He demanded angrily, ignoring my statements completely. I could smell no alcohol on his breath.
“None of your damn business, that’s where.”
“Everything is my business here.”
“No, it isn’t. Fuck off.” I glared at him.
“I’ll let you go if you tell me.”
“I’ll tell you if you let me go,” I retorted.
When he realized we were at a stalemate and I wasn’t going to budge, he removed his hands from me. I tried to make a run for it, but his well-muscled arm circled around my waist and pulled me back only to press my body against his. I hissed at him and he laughed. He made no move to remove his arm from around my torso. “Why haven’t you been at any of the welcoming parties?”
I struggled against him, but that only made my dress ride up and I had to bend over his arm to reach and pull it back down. “I’ve been too busy.”
He was amused at my antics, probably wishing my short dress would ride up further. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I have a job, for your information. I’m usually required to work on the nights of welcoming parties.” I huffed. “It’s not really my scene anyway.”
“None of your business.” I repeated. “Luca, please. I’m not in the mood for this with you. Just let me go.”
“I noticed you looking at me earlier.” He grinned at me.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I grumbled and blushed. “You were probably just imagining things. Must be those bright lights or something.”
“I’m sure.” He didn’t sound the least bit convinced but ducked his head closer to mine. “Okay, I’ll let you go if you do one thing for me.”
“And that is?” I asked, desperate to get him away from me. I couldn’t think straight with him so close to me. His very fingertips were sending incredibly addicting and distracting sparks racing under my skin. Nothing good comes from him being this close.
“What?” I faltered.
He didn’t answer or repeat himself, instead pressing his lips against mine firmly and his tongue sneaking past my lips to slide against mine. With his free hand, he cupped my face and softly stroked my cheek with his thumb. I melted into him and his kiss, my fists slowly tangling in his dark hair instead of pounding against his chest and trying to pull him closer to me. He walked forward so I was pressed against the wall again and his hand dropped from my face to my thigh, racing down my skin to my knee and pulling my leg up so it wrapped around his waist. Despite how heavy the moment was getting, he pulled away slightly, glancing down at my lips. “You taste good.”
“Mimosa,” I whispered, swallowing from nerves. I ran my nails down the back of his neck lightly.
“I don’t think that’s quite it.” He kissed me again quickly. It didn’t last long. “You always taste good.”
I brought my lips to his of my own free will with the direction of my hands on his shirt collar, a soft and slow kiss, something I don’t think Luca had ever experienced before.
Hell was always about the now, the experience, and the next rush. I had become much more knowledgeable about Hell lately, after hearing the stories from my customers at the bars. Love was not a word uttered here, no. It was about being better, faster, hotter, less meaningful, and easier. I think Luca and I both decided when we first saw each other that this, whatever it was, was not going to be easy.
I broke away, calmly removing his arm from around my waist and my leg from his, and I laughed. “Now, goodnight, Luca.” I walked away and left him gaping at me in the hallway. “You said you’d let me go if I kissed you!”
It was a great feeling, leaving the infuriating and dominant Lord of Violence speechless and in awe. In that moment, I was more powerful than even him.