#51 This is my fight
“Hollister,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm. “Let go of me.”
He steps back, much to my relief, but when I swivel around on my stool to face him, he’s still way too close. I can already feel the panic surging up in me, but I try to keep it at bay for now.
“I’m not your baby,” I tell him sternly. “And you have no business putting your hands on me.”
He doesn’t seem fazed. In fact, he’s smiling. “I broke up with Jane,” he says with bright eyes. “For real this time. I can show you the texts if you want.”
I swat away his hand when he tries to push his phone into my face. “I don’t give a shit. Wait… did you break up with Jane by text?” I grunt. He didn’t learn anything, did he? He’s still the same asshole that made me feel like a cheap, dirty whore. “Hollister, just get the fuck out.”
“You’re finally talking to me again,” he says, closing the space between us to pull me against him. No matter how hard I struggle, it’s no use. He’s stronger. “You smiled at me again. You’ve been easing up on me these past weeks, slowly but surely. And after tonight… We saved this place. Together. I heard what you said to Gio. You told him how great I did.”
“Let go of me!” I try to yell, but the sound gets muffled because my face is pressed into his shirt.
“I know you’re with that black dude with the weird name, but I don’t give a shit,” Hollister says. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since that night we slept together.”
I’m still struggling, but it’s futile. Why isn’t anyone here right now to see what’s keeping me so long? My breathing is speeding up, working toward a panic attack. I know I can’t afford one right now, but I can’t help it. I’m powerless, just like I was when Melchior threw me around his apartment.
Finally, Hollister leans back and I try to take a deep breath to calm myself down. Before I can even get the tiniest bit of air into my lunges. His lips are on mine, his tongue demanding entrance.
“What the fuck!” I hear someone yell behind me, but I’m too far into my panic attack to register whose voice it is. My body is frozen, unable to stop whatever Hollister is planning on doing to me. The only part of my body that’s still working are my lungs, pushing air in and out so rapidly that I’m sure I’m going to faint soon, especially since Hollister is still trying to kiss me.
“Get the hell off my girlfriend!”
Finally, Hollister is pulled away from me and I slide off the stool. A strong set of arms saves me from falling. They slowly lower me unto the floor. My vision is spotted, not allowing me to see much.
“In and out, baby,” a deep male voice says in my ear. “In… Out…”
I try to follow his instructions, matching my breaths to his voice.
“In… Out… That’s is, honey. You’re okay. In… Out…”
Finally, after God knows how long, I finally manage to get my body back under control. It takes a few blinks, but then my vision is back as well. Dshawn’s face is close to mine, his brown eyes worried.
“H-hollister?” I stammer.
“Aston took him outside,” Dshawn says, his hands on my face, holding me gently while he studies me.
“I-I didn’t…” I take a deep steading breath, trying to get out the words. “He just... I didn’t want to…”
“I know, honey,” Dshawn assures me. “Trust me, I know. I’m not mad at you, just at him. I’m with you. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.”
Thank God. I was so scared that he would think that I was cheating on him, but I should have known better. Dshawn may be insecure sometimes, but he knows me. He knows I wouldn’t do that to him. Especially not with Hollister.
“Let’s get you home,” Dshawn says, helping me to my feet.
We walk into the dining area, but I realize something and I force him to stop trying to get me outside.
“We need to clean up,” I say softly, looking around at the others who are all looking at me like I’m crazy.
“We’ve got it,” Francesca assures me. “I’ll stay here and run things, okay? You need to go home, Shaughna.”
I shake my head. “No, Gio trusted me with this, I need to-”
It’s Marcus who steps up and gives me a hard look. “You’re going straight to bed,” he says, sounding so much like his mother that it’s almost funny. “No discussion.”
When I wake up and turn off my alarm, I immediately jump out of bed. It’s barely even 5 o’clock, but I need to be at the restaurant at 6 am to make sure that the breakfast shift runs smoothly, so there’s no time to lose.
“Honey?” Dshawn asks with a yawn, sitting up in bed. “What are you doing?”
“Breakfast shift,” I tell him, pulling some clothes from the closet. “Go back to sleep.”
“Are you insane?” he gets out of bed and steps in front of the bedroom door so I can’t leave. “You’re not going to work right now. You only had a few hours of sleep and you were assaulted last night!”
I shiver at the memory, but try to push past him anyway. “Look, I promised Giovanni. It’s not his fault that Hollister is an asshole.”
Dshawn grunts and pulls me against him, his strong arms holding me in a forceful hug. I know I could break free if I want to, because he would never force me to do anything, but I just sigh and lean against him, enjoying his comfort. Last night was rough. Only Dshawn and Aston saw what happened to me, but they told the others – they had to, since my panic attack lasted for twenty minutes, apparently – and they all worked together to make sure the restaurant was spotless before they went home. In the meantime, Dshawn drove me home, taking Marcus with us. His younger brother passed out on the couch, spent from the intense night, and Dshawn took me with him into the shower, cleaning me with the softest of touches before carrying me into the bedroom. I didn’t need that much help, honestly, I could walk and talk by then, but he insisted. Admittedly, it’s nice to have someone taking care of me for once. And Dshawn is the only person I would ever let me do that for me.
“I need to go,” I say into Dshawn’s chest.
“No,” he argues. “Stay.”
I pull back to look him in the eye. “I need to live my life,” I insist. “If I stay home now, he wins. I already let Melchior win once. I can’t let Hollister get the better of me too.”
“Okay,” Dshawn agrees. “Fine. But I’m coming with you.”
“Your brother is here,” I reply. “I’ve already ruined his weekend enough by putting him to work and subjecting him to my panic attack. You need to say here.”
“No,” he grunts. “No way.”
“Hollister is going to be there,” I say, touching Dshawn’s face softly. “I know I can face him, but not with you there. He will go off on you, or you on him, and this is my fight, okay?”
“At least let me call Aston to come with you,” he pleads, worry swirling in his eyes. “I can’t just let you walk in there without backup.”
“Okay,” I agree. “Aston. Fine.”
And that’s how I end up walking into Giovanni’s a few minutes before my shift starts, with Aston right behind me. The waitstaff is wiping tables and pouring the first cups of coffee of the day. The new girl is present, even though she wasn’t originally on the schedule. Good girl. She’s a keeper. The others weren’t there last night, but judging by the way they look at me with huge smiles, they heard about the way I helped save this place. There’s nothing in their eyes that suggests they know about what happened after. Thank God.
I walk into the kitchen to see who’s working this morning, and I immediately end up face to face with Hollister. His long curls are even wilder than normal and he looks like he hasn’t slept at all. He’s sporting black eye that is a little gift from Aston, who is already balling his hands into fists beside me.
“Shaughna,” Hollister says, his eyes on me. “Are you-”
“-okay?” I finish for him. “Hell no. Not even a little.”
Before I can say more, Giovanni walks into the kitchen, smiling widely. I haven’t seen him in six months, so I greet him with a hug and a smile. He’s a short Italian man with a round belly from eating at his own restaurants a little too much. He’s tough as a nail, but his smile is contagious.
“The hero of the night!” he exclaims, his hands on my shoulders. “Get out there, girl. Take some orders, manage this place for me. We’ll talk more later today. I’m going to talk to every single staff member today and I’m going to end with you.” His eyes move to Aston. “Who’s the tall muscle?”
“My bodyguard,” I say, more as warning to Hollister than anything else.
Giovanni laughs, thinking that I’m joking. “See you later, Shaughna. And thanks again for last night. Hollister, come with me, I’m starting the morning with you.”
Hollister looks over his shoulder at me as he follows Gio out of the kitchen and into the office that used to be James’. I’m relieved to see him go, but I also know that he’ll be back in a few minutes. I wonder why Gio is talking to every single member of the staff… Probably trying to fix James’ mess one person at a time.
“I’m going to sit right here,” Aston says, pointing at a stool in the far corner of the kitchen. It’s the stool I was sitting on last night when Hollister… No, don’t think about that.
“Okay,” I tell my friend, squeezing his arm. “I’ll be up front.”
The next few hours, I work my butt off to make sure everything runs smoothly. Gio calls in everyone working today, and I hear him making phone calls to the rest of the staff. Hollister keeps trying to talk to me, but Aston’s menacing presence shuts him up every time he so much as looks at me. Taking him with me was a good idea after all.
Finally, two minutes after the end of my shift, Giovanni calls me into the office. I sink down onto the chair in front of the desk, smiling at him even though I’m worn.
“Shaughna,” he says with a wicked grin, “you’re a godsent. I’ve been talking to every single person who works here, including the people James fired, and they all agree: you’re the perfect person to replace him. I would like to offer you the position of manager.”
Wait… what? He’s kidding, right?
“Me?” I ask. “Manager?”
He nods. “From what I understand, you and Kieran have been running this place the past few years, and James was just a nuisance. You’ll need to learn a few new things, but you’ve been handling about 80 percent of the tasks of a manager already, so you’re perfect. The title comes with a raise, of course.”
I shake my head, shocked to my core. Of course I’ve known for a while now that James was shit and that Kieran and I were basically managing the place together without being paid to do so, but to get the title… I don’t even want to work here, not really. What I want is the club and the restaurant that I wrote a plan for with Dshawn, I realize. I want to be his business partner. And now this… this new role at Giovanni’s…
Part of me wants to say no, but I also know that I’ll need a job until Dshawn and I finally get that loan. And that might take years. At least if I’m the manager instead of the waitress, I get paid for all the stuff I’ve been doing for years.
“Three conditions,” I tell Giovanni. “Firstly, I want two days a week off, and one of them has to be during the weekend. We’ll have to find an assistant manager as well. Kieran is already head chef, so not him. It needs to be someone up front. I think Annie would be a good fit.”
“Done,” he agrees. “I’ll promote her right after we finish this conversation.”
“Good. My second condition is that you stay here for two full weeks to get me up to speed on everything I need to know. Hands-on training.”
“Done,” Giovanni says, his eyes sparkling. “And number three.”
I take a deep breath. This is the one that really matters. “My first act as manager will be firing Hollister.”
Gio is stunned. “But… but you said he did great! I already gave him a raise this morning!”
“I don’t care,” I say, trying to sound calm. “If Hollister keeps working here, I’m going to quit right here right now. I won’t even keep working here as a waitress. I recently stopped working at Animals and my last shift there will be in a week, but I can ask my boss there to take me back if need be. I can’t work alongside Hollister. And I want to be the one to fire him.”
“You better have a good reason for that,” Gio says, not amused. “He’s a great cook and he’s Kieran’s second-hand man. I want you as my manager, but not if you make stupid decisions.”
“He assaulted me,” I say, my voice cracking even though I try to sound cold and emotionless. “Last night, he kissed me even though I told him to let go of me. And… it’s not the first time something like this happened.”
“Oh shit,” Gio curses. “I’m sorry, Shaughna. I have to ask though, why not go to the police?”
“I am going to the police later today,” I say, knowing fully well that Dshawn will drag me there even if I don’t want to “But he’s never going to get convicted. It’s my word against his,” I say, shrugging. “My friends saw him kiss me, but I wasn’t fighting him. I was frozen at that point. There’s no proof.”
“Okay, consider him fired,” Giovanni agrees. “Are you sure you want to do it?”
I nod. “This is my office now, right?” When he nods, I smile. “Would you mind telling him that the manager wants to see him in her office? And tell my friend Aston – the bodyguard – to tag along.”
Gio does as I say, and sure enough, Hollister and Aston walk into my brand-new office. Aston is grinning, already catching on. He may act like a little kid sometimes, but he’s not stupid. He knows me. Hollister is obviously not in the loop yet, frowning.
“Sit down,” I tell him, pointing at the chair I was in a few minutes ago. “Or wait… no, save yourself the time. You’re fired.”
Hollister gives me an incredulous look. “You can’t do that.”
“Oh, sure I can,” I sneer. “I’m the new manager, boy. And Gio already signed off on my first official act as your manager. I’m firing your ass.”
“You fucking whore!” he yells, leaning over the desk to intimidate me. “You can’t just take my job away from me! I was here before you!”
“And I’ll be here after you.” I shake my head at Aston. I’ve got this. “Now get the fuck out of my office. I don’t have time for this shit, I need to get down to the police office to press charges.”
“Press charges?” he shouts, slamming his fist on the desk. “Like hell you are!”
“Are you going to walk out of here, or are you going to add another crime to the list?” I ask snidely, acting braver than I feel. It’s exhilarating to stand up to him, but also frightening. Thank God for Aston backing me up. “Bye, Hollister. Don’t show your face here ever again.”
“This is not over!” he roars as he storms out, slamming the door behind him. “Mark my words!”
“Badass,” Aston says, moving around the desk to hug me. “You’re my personal hero, Shaughna Elmore.”
I don’t feel like a badass or a hero, but I do feel like I’m finally taking steps to feel like I’m in control of my life, to cut the influence Melchior’s actions still have on me out of it. Finally.