Chapter 1: A Girl Walks into a Bar
Look pretty and act dumb.
That’s what my mother told me when I was ten. It was easy for her to say that, considering she had an IQ of zero and plenty of bad Botox to go right along with it. She looked more constipated than pretty, but I would never tell her that. I may have killed a handful of people, but I wasn’t that mean. I did have a conscience, even if it was guilty most of the time.
My mother was always whispering those five words into my ears whenever she found the opportunity to. Look pretty and act dumb. She thought that was the only way to get ahead in this godforsaken world. If you have a pretty face, you’re already one step ahead of everyone else. Unfortunately, no one ever told my mother that there will always be someone prettier and better than you. No one can win forever. We all have to take a loss at some point.
My mother was right about one thing, though. People like looking at nice things, but even more than that, they like feeling like they’re superior to the rest of the world. It all comes down to money, intelligence, and appearance. If you’re not chasing one thing, it’s the other.
Instead of chasing a paycheck, I was blowing the last one I had... at a strip club in New York City. I figured that since I was lacking on the intelligence part of the equation, I might as well balance the rest of it out. I was blowing money left and right on things I didn’t need; all the while ruining my appearance day in and day out.
It started off with a few bad tattoos here and there. Eventually, that turned into me getting a few piercings. And now, my hair was drowned out in cheap blue hair dye from Hot Topic. My mother would’ve had a heart attack if she saw me looking this way. Her perfect, little daughter wasn’t so perfect anymore. Not that I ever really was.
The only thing perfect about me was my perfect tendency to screw things up. I wasn’t capable of much, but there was one thing I was always capable of. Disappointing people. Disappointing myself.
I guess that’s why I ended up in a place like this. A cheap strip joint where the only clientele were creepy old men and drug addicts looking for a quick fix. It was stereotypical really. Druggies looking to snort coke off a stripper’s tits. Unfortunately for them, there was a strict no touching policy here. You could look, but you couldn’t touch. Unless you paid a lot of money. Everyone knew what was going on behind closed doors. I mean, there were beds in the VIP rooms for a reason...
If I’d been just a little more risqué, I would’ve tried my hand at stripping. My itty-bitty titties probably wouldn’t have fetched much anyway. Not with every blonde bombshell that had bazooka boobs in this place. They looked like blow up dolls and I was hoping they would pop like a deflated balloon. Pop! Goes the weasel... I mean, their heads were probably full of air anyway.
I couldn’t help but think that I looked pretty dumb too; sitting alone by myself in a place like this with no one to talk to. I didn’t even have the company of a friend to keep me busy. All I could do was sit in silence in the uncomfortable bar stool, shifting to find a position that didn’t hurt my boney ass.
I probably didn’t even look pretty anymore. Maybe pretty pathetic, but that’s about it. I felt like Miss Pitiful, throwing myself a pity party, albeit I was the only guest at this sad little gathering. I couldn’t even stand my own company anymore. I just wanted to get away from myself and alcohol was the only vessel capable of taking me away.
After everything that happened, I went on a downward spiral. I dyed my hair blue, got a tramp stamp, got a couple facial piercings that made my mother severely disappointed, picked up a smoking habit that would probably lead to lung cancer at some point, and developed quite the taste for alcohol. I was going down the wrong path, but I never had the guts to stop and turn around. It was easier to drown my sorrows in alcohol then it was to wallow in them sober.
This was the fourth bar I’d been to in one restless night. I was getting tired of my drunken rendezvous, but thinking about going home made me sicker than the alcohol ever did. Home was hell and I knew that I would get burned if I ever went back. I couldn’t handle it then and I sure as hell couldn’t handle it now. I needed to keep my distance from there, before something or someone pulled me back. I’d escaped once. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it again.
People in small towns always have something to say. They always talk and they never stop talking. You could put a gag in their mouth and they would learn sign language just so that they could keep talking shit. It was enough to make me stay away, but sometimes I felt guilty for packing up and leaving.
“Maybe I should send my friends a postcard or something.” I thought to myself as my eyes swept across the dirty floor. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid any possible scrutiny from the bartender that stood adjacent to me. “Maybe I can get one with the Statue of Liberty on it…”
I quickly rejected that idea when I realized that it wasn’t 2005 anymore and I wasn’t on vacation in the Bahamas. I doubted my friends wanted a postcard from me anyway. A text message would do just fine.
“I’ll have a Manhattan.” I glanced over the cocktail menu, getting an inkling that I’d probably try them all before the night was over with. I was always a bit indecisive. Unfortunately for me, even when I tried to make a decision, it always seemed to be the wrong one. “We are in New York after all.”
“Can I see some I.D?” The bartender gave me a quick once over, not too impressed with my appearance. If I didn’t think I was ugly before, I definitely did now.
“Of course.” I nodded in his direction, fishing through the black leather handbag I had flung around my shoulder. I rummaged through several lip glosses and a pack of mint gum before I found my wallet. It was at the bottom of the bag, hidden underneath a bottle of perfume.
I opened the small wallet, giving him a good look at my I.D. It was fake, just like my vibrant hair color. I hoped the dark shadows of the club would help mask any discrepancies he might notice. Unfortunately, there were plenty of them. The person who made the I.D didn’t spell my name right and the picture of me was slightly crooked. It didn’t have a very high success rate. I was turned down more often than not.
“You look different.” He stared at the blonde version of me, shaking his head in disappointment. I’d seen that same kind of disappointment on my mother’s face when I told her I was leaving town. “What happened?”
“Life happened.” I said underneath my breath, tightening my grip on the wallet. I flipped it shut quickly, grinding my teeth together. “Can I get that Manhattan now?”
“The only Manhattan you’re getting is across that bridge.” He shook his head back and forth, rolling his eyes. “Order a soda or get out. I don’t serve minors.”
“Save it for the next guy, kid.” He grabbed a white towel from under the bar, wiping the counter top with it. He tossed it over his shoulder when he was done with it, giving me one last look. “Do you want a soda or do you want kicked out?”
“A soda it is.” I mustered a forced smile, sighing through my clenched teeth. That was the last thing I wanted.
“Good choice.” He reached for a clear glass, running it under a soda tap. He didn’t even bother to ask what kind I wanted. Once it was filled, he flung the drink down the bar. It nearly toppled over the side, drenching my white t-shirt in a sticky mess of sugar and artificial flavoring. I caught it in the nick of time, before it could stain my clothes.
Bringing the glass to my mouth, I reluctantly took a sip. It wasn’t alcohol, but it was better than nothing I guess.
“Gross! What the hell is that?” I spit the drink out, soaking the bar he’d just cleaned. “It tastes like piss.”
“It’s a Shirley Temple minus the grenadine syrup.” He shrugged absentmindedly, grabbing a new towel to clean up the mess I’d just made. “It’s Ginger Ale obviously.”
“It might as well be called Ginger Hell.” I shuddered with a sigh, pushing the glass away from me. “Can you just serve me something that doesn’t taste like urine?”
“Not until you’re twenty-one, kid.” He replied hastily, giving me an irritated frown. The swirly mustache that was above his top lip contorted with his grimace.
Call me a bitch, but I wanted to knock his teeth down his throat every time that he called me kid. I wasn’t a child and God forbid anyone treated me like one.
“Only two more years.” I reminded myself, trying to keep my composure. “Only seven hundred and thirty days until I can legally drown myself in alcohol and choke on stale bar food.”
“You’re excited about that?” A man from the other end of the bar inquired curiously. His voice was a blunt and guttural growl that pierced my ears, capturing every ounce of my attention. It was haunting and masculine all at the same time, sounding like an eerie symphony, composed of organs and grand pianos. That was the only thing I could compare it too. In few words, his voice was beautiful but powerful.
It echoed in the back of my mind, while I contemplated whether or not I wanted to look in his direction. Making small talk in the bar was totally against the rules. It only leads to someone getting hammered and fucked in the back of a car or in a cheap hotel room. So not romantic.
Although, I’d given up on my dreams of finding Prince Charming a long time ago. Chivalry was dead as fuck. I didn’t know what I was holding out for. I wasn’t cut out for marriage and every guy I’d ever met left me severely disappointed. I wasn’t even sure if I even believed in love anymore. If I couldn’t love myself, why would anyone else love me? Maybe my standards were just a little too high…
I had an internal debate on whether or not I wanted to look at my drunken neighbor. He had to be pretty out of it to talk to me, considering I looked like the personified version of death itself. Teased hair, black eye shadow that made me look like a Panda bear, arms covered in jelly bracelets, and a leather jacket around my back.
I probably looked like a fourteen-year-old who was still stuck in their scene phase. Reminder: If you have to say that it’s not a phase, then it’s definitely a phase.
I moved to the side with a sigh, turning to see who the man was. My curiosity always got the best of me. I couldn’t be faced with the great unknown without getting myself tangled up in it. It was impossible for me to turn my back on these kinds of things. I had to know what I was dealing with through and through. That’s why I always got myself into the shittiest situations. I was a magnet for sin and disaster, a walking catastrophe if you will.
It didn’t matter that he was probably an ax-murderer and I was the perfect victim. I was far away from home and I was all by myself. Good thing I took a couple Krav Maga classes when I was younger. I knew some self-defense techniques, even if I wasn’t going to be the next Bruce Lee.
Boom! Boom! Pow!
Yeah, I still had it. I could totally take someone out if I had to— like take them out on a date! I couldn’t fight to save my life. I wasn’t badass enough to be one of Charlie’s Angels, despite how desperately I wanted to be. I wanted to kick ass and look sexy while doing it, but I was too lazy to commit to any proper training. Exercising wasn’t my forte. I preferred being a couch potato.
When I turned to look at him, I expected to see an old man wearing a stained t-shirt who reeked of alcohol. That’s not who was sitting beside me. Not in the slightest.
His light hair was the very first thing I noticed about him. It was as white as the first snow in December and it looked as soft as silk fabric. It was pushed away from his angular face, tucked neatly in place. I wanted to run my hands through it and fuss it up until it wasn’t so perfect anymore. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would try to stop me. Hell, he would probably break my hand. He looked like he was strong enough to do it. Honestly, he looked like he was capable of doing anything and everything he wanted. He had a center aura surrounding him. It was like confidence and poise oozed out of every pour on his body.
I couldn’t help but notice how the color of his white hair was such a contrast to the youthfulness of his face. He had a sharp jawline and hollow cheekbones that gave him an exotic appearance. His eyes were a shocking baby blue mixed with specks of gold and green. They different shades stood on their own, but when they came together, they made a beautiful kaleidoscope of bright colors. They coaxed and taunted me, urging me to get lost in the ocean that was his eyes. An ocean with waters so deep and cold. It felt like I was already drowning in them. Truth be told, I didn’t mind it one bit.
He glanced at me with raised eyebrows, like he was waiting for a response, but I’d already forgotten what he’d said. I couldn’t remember how to breathe, let alone how to talk. I stared at him wide-eyed, mouth open to say a sentence I couldn’t form. I sat there flabbergasted, taken back by the fact that a man had actually taken my breath away. I thought that only happened in the movies.
“I-I-I... um...” I stuttered shamefully, looking toward the ground to hide the redness in my cheeks. I had no idea what I was doing or saying. I felt like I was going back to my awkward preteen years.
“Breathe.” He said calmly, as his lips twitched into a weak smile. God. He looked even better when he was smiling. “Can you do that for me?”
I nodded slowly, knowing that I hadn’t taken a breath since I’d laid my eyes on him. He was so beautiful and all I could do was stare at him like a complete idiot. I couldn’t even comprehend what it would feel like to actually touch him. He was like a piece of fine art that you wouldn’t dare lay a hand on.
“Can you breathe for me? It’s really easy, turchino.” His voice was as soothing to my ears as his face was to my eyes. He had a slight accent that I couldn’t quite place. It was foreign. Maybe European. “You inhale and exhale. Just like that. Do it with me.”
I nodded again, feeling apprehensive all of the sudden.
A moment later, we began taking heavy breaths together. I felt like I was at a doctor’s office, but instead of having a stethoscope over my heart, there was a warm hand there instead. His palm rested on my chest, ensuring that I was breathing properly. He didn’t move his hand until he saw my chest rising and falling again. Somehow that seemed like such an intimate act, even more so than hugging or kissing. Surprisingly, I felt an errant stab of disappointment roll through me when he moved his hand away. It was like he had electricity buzzing at his fingertips, sending sparks flying through the air. I didn’t get burned when he touched me, though, I just felt warm inside. When he let go, I felt a sudden coldness wash over me. Adjusting my leather jacket, I swallowed the lump that had taken over my throat.
“What does turchino mean?” I finally asked once I remembered how to breathe properly. “It sounds like cappuccino.”
I didn’t dare look up at him. My head was cast down to the littered ground. I didn’t particularly want to look at all the trash that marred the floor, but I couldn’t handle looking him in his gelid eyes again. He was beautiful in an intimidating way that made me feel completely unsettled. It was like he held the power to the universe. The power to nurture it and the power to destroy it.
“It means blue… like your hair.” He brushed his cool fingertips through my hair and down along my jaw, persuading me to look back up at him. His touch was fleeting but smooth. Reluctantly, I tilted my head upwards at an angle. His smoldering gaze was at eye level with me, sending a chill down my spine. I wanted to turn away, but I wasn’t so sure he was keen on letting that happen. There was something about him that told me he was used to getting what he wanted. And for the slightest moment, it appeared as though he wanted me. “It means blue… like how you’re feeling. You’re the saddest person in this city tonight and there’s over eight million people here. What has fucked you up so badly? Who?”
“Is it that noticeable?” I stifled a laugh, rolling my eyes. “I guess concealer can’t conceal emotions.”
“Maybe you’ll stop wearing it now, turchino.” He waved at the bartender, trying to get his attention. “You don’t need it. You don’t need to paint over what is already a masterpiece.”
I hid the redness in my cheeks by resting my palms against my face. As I tried to hide my embarrassment, the man with the swirly mustache came back around to our end of the bar. He looked like a Parisian with the groomed mustache and the fancy apron that was tied behind his back. I felt like we were in the middle of France instead of New York City.
“More scotch for me.” The white-haired angel looked at me. God, he was so beautifully rugged in a way that was more treacherous than a mountain. It was simple: he was dangerous. “And a Manhattan for the girl.”
Had he heard me earlier? A man that listened and remembered? Now those were rare qualities to find in a man in this day and age. The last guy I’d been with forgot my name entirely, swapping it for one of his ex’s.
“She’s not twenty-one.” The bartender shook his head in disapproval, standing his ground firmly. “I don’t serve kids. It’s against the law.”
“She’s clearly not a child.” The man next to me cracked his knuckles, clearing his throat loudly. He didn’t have to say anything else. He’d gotten his message across with the glower that was etched onto his face. “Get her a Manhattan before I kick your ass all the way to Manhattan.”
“I can’t.” He quipped nervously, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. Judging by his tense posture and trembling hands, he was on edge. I couldn’t blame him. I felt uneasy too; like something bad was about to happen. “I could get fired.”
The mysterious man whose name I hadn’t gotten raised his eyebrows, giving the bartender the death stare. There was no mistaking the look in his eyes. It was all business.
“If you don’t serve us, I’m going to leave a very negative review for this bar online.” He said calmly, although the dark look in his eyes was anything but. “Then, I’m going to make sure this place gets burned to the ground, while you’re still in it.”
“I could call the cops—”
“Do you know how long it takes to start a fire? Not long.” He tapped his fingers against the bar slowly. “A small building like this would be engulfed before the police got here, let alone the firefighters. Do you really want to take that chance?”
They looked at each other for an eerie amount of time. Neither of them said a word. Unable to hold eye contact with him any longer, the bartender went scurrying in the opposite direction. I expected him to call the police for the drunk man’s threat, but he went to work mixing a bunch of drinks. I guess they were all for me to make up for his lack of hospitality. I wasn’t going to complain. They were free drinks, no matter where they came from, or who they came from.
“I hate bad service.” The man beside me bit his lip, looking at the clock on the far side of the wall. Was he late for something? Did he have a wife to return home to? Children? Probably. A man as attractive as him couldn’t possibly be up for grabs. Not that I’d ever be able to hold onto a man like him for long. He had a temper. One that was obviously easily triggered.
“You were joking, right?” I arched an eyebrow, smiling sheepishly. “You wouldn’t really torch this place, would you?”
“You mean, this fine establishment?” He asked sarcastically, shrugging his shoulders slowly. “Of course not. Torching is so overrated. I’d probably just bomb the place.”
“Seriously?” I pushed him in the shoulder playfully, laughing underneath my breath. I could tell he was kidding for the most part… or I hoped that he was anyway.
When my hand landed on his shoulder, he instantly tensed up. It was like I’d punched him, but I’d barely laid a finger on him. He looked like he was in a severe amount of pain. A part of me wanted to offer him pain pills to ease his agony.
I quickly moved my palm from his shoulder, feeling just as uncomfortable as he looked. As I repositioned myself away from him, I noticed a couple tribal tattoos snaking up his arm, disappearing down his shoulder blade and up his neck. They were all connected in some way or another.
One of them went down the side of his throat and curled behind his ear. It was a black and white wolf, battling between good and evil. It was a mesmerizing piece of art and beautifully done. A part of me wanted to touch it, but I refrained from doing that. Talking to strangers was bad enough, I didn’t need to feel them up too. Besides, he wasn’t too thrilled about me touching him the last time. I wouldn’t make the mistake of doing it again. I’d keep my hands to myself from now on.
“Don’t apologize.” He cut me off, shaking his head back and forth. “I should be the one apologizing.”
“So why aren’t you?” I furrowed my eyebrows, feeling confused by his sudden change of mood. It dawned on me that I didn’t have the right to be surprised. I didn’t know anything about him. Any preconceived notions were simply that. I didn’t know this man at all and I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to.
“I don’t know how to.” He shrugged absentmindedly, glancing at the clock once again. He was definitely late for something… or someone.
“Who are you?” I asked out of nowhere, fidgeting with the frayed part of my jeans. It was bothering me that I didn’t know what to call him. It was bothering me that I didn’t know him when the darkest parts of me desperately wanted to. For better or for worse, I wanted to know the man sitting next to me. Like I said, I was too curious for my own good. It was going to get me in a bunch of shit one day, probably sooner than later.
“I’m whoever you want me to be.” His lips curved into a smirk, but the darkness in his eyes contradicted his amusement. “Your savior. Your worst nightmare. Your best friend. Your worst enemy.”
“Can you be my ride home?”
“Call an Uber.” He replied flatly, narrowing his eyes at me. “I’m not a taxi driver.”
“Fair enough.” I laughed underneath my breath, shaking my head in bemusement. “So, you’re whoever I want you to be?”
“I can be.”
“That’s mysterious. I’ve never been any good at riddles.”
I leaned away from him, but I neglected to get up. My curiosity wouldn’t let me. He was drawing me in just like how the moon drew in wolves. I was enthralled.... entertained… enchanted… and enamored.
“I’m not The Joker, turchino.” His voice deepened to a growl, as he moved forward to close the distance I’d put between us. My heart was racing, but I still hadn’t gotten up from my bar stool. He rested his hand on my thigh through the fabric of my torn jeans. His grip tightened and then he released me. “I could be anything you want; everything you want.”
“I was hoping for a name.” I narrowed my eyes in his direction, quickly getting lost in his own. They were so blue that even the shadows couldn’t dim their vibrancy. I was jealous of their saturation, wishing my dark eyes could be that bright. My eyes were hazel, and even when they were at their lightest, they were still dark.
“Everet Nico-Giovanni Santoro the second.” The accent that reigned over his voice became prominent and thick when he pronounced his name. It hadn’t been that strong before. Now, it was all I could hear.
“What happened to the first?” I couldn’t refrain from asking. I hoped that my curiosity wasn’t coming off as desperation. I was desperate for someone to talk to, but I didn’t want anyone to know it. That would be so embarrassing.
“What happens to everyone....” Everet replied darkly, downing his Scotch in one big gulp. “He died.”
“Wow.” I said underneath my breath, feeling the hairs on the back of my next stand up. “You’re blunt.”
“No, I’m honest. There’s a difference.” He ran a hand through his perfect hair, finally fussing it up. It looked better when it was a disheveled mess; like me. “Now, tell me what’s got your pretty little lips turned upside down? Do you need to be kissed? Loved? Fucked?”
Even when he spoke those vial words, there was a certain charm to his voice. There was even a hint of innocence there.
“Are you offering?” I smiled sarcastically, sipping at the Manhattan the bartender had finally delivered. I wasn’t so sure it was worth all the trouble I had to go through in order to get it.
“Not tonight.” His fingertips brushed against the inside of my palm, caressing it softly and slowly. It was the smallest of touches, but somehow, I could feel it deep inside my bones, like he was embedding his DNA into my very own. I felt connected to him in some weird way, like we were more than two random strangers sitting in a bar. “Quite frankly, I’m too drunk and you’re too beautiful.”
He placed a white business card in my hand, before standing up slowly to gather his things. “Come see me if you ever want to talk about what turned you so blue. Maybe I can change your colors.”
I twirled the business card in my hand, pretending I wasn’t disappointed by the fact that he was leaving so soon. I glanced at the label that was printed decoratively on the front of the card. The calligraphy was a nice touch that added an air of sophistication to it.
Everet Santoro - Vice President
505 Sixth Avenue
Burlington, VT 05405
I reread the location a few times to make sure that it was correct, before looking back up from the card. When I did, he was gone, only an empty shot glass left in his place. He didn’t leave me with a goodbye. He left me with a pit in my stomach.
What were the odds that we were both from the same hometown? And why was I suddenly thinking about going home? After all this time?
“Home isn’t where the heart is! It’s where the hurt is!” I thought to myself, shaking my head back and forth in defiance.
I’d never go back there. Not for him. Not for anyone.