#79 Epilogue: The Palace and The Stables
Five years after the not-a-proposal
“Get your lazy ass in here!” I yell as I throw open the back door and spot my head chef having a smoke. “I don’t pay you to get lung cancer on my pay! Start flipping burgers, boy!”
Michel rolls his eyes and follows me back into the small kitchen where he and Billy are working tonight. I poached Michel from Giovanni’s years ago and that still makes me proud. I would have preferred to get Kieran to follow me to my new business, but he didn’t want to work such late shifts and he loved his job too much to come and work in a glorified fast food joint like The Stables. I respect that. At least he slipped me his meatball recipe the morning I handed in my resignation to Gio. Best parting gift ever.
“I told you that she’d find out,” Billy tells Michel when he skulks back in, his cigarette put out in the bin outside. “She’s got a nose for these things.”
I wink at Billy and yell at Michel one last time before I head back into the restaurant itself, smiling at a few of our regulars. They’re a bunch of college guys who eat here at least three times a week. I motion for a waitress to get them a pitcher of beer on the house. The beer is cheap, and they tend to eat more when they are waisted.
“Thanks, Elmore!” one of them yells as I wave goodbye, exiting the restaurant and inhaling the fresh cold air outside. One last whiff and I’m heading into our business next door, that just opened its doors for the night a few minutes ago. Already, people are lined up outside, but I just greet the bouncer and he lets me in, nodding at me respectfully. It’s so great being the boss.
I spin around and frown at Marcus, who is grinning like a madman. “Who the fuck let your underage ass into my club?” I ask, trying to sound menacing.
“I did,” Dshawn replies, popping up behind his younger brother. “Hi, baby.”
I may be busy, but I can always take a break to kiss my man. He grunts against my lips before remembering that his little brother is watching. Marcus may be 18, but our masked party tonight is 21 and over only, so we don’t have to be so careful with serving booze. Plus, neither of them are wearing a mask, while I did slip one on the moment I walked in.
“How many times do I have to tell you that even when you’re the boss, you need to blend in.” I roll my eyes and him and yell at one of the bartenders to get my boyfriend a mask. “You are leaving,” I tell Marcus sternly. “We already got fined last time Dshawn snuck you in. I am not closing up shop just because you want to get laid, young man.”
“Please,” Marcus begs, his wide brown eyes just as gorgeous as his older brother’s. “Bee dumped me last night and I need to get my mind off of her.”
“She dumps your sorry ass every other month,” I grunt. “She has been doing this for years, Marcus. Cut her loose.”
“I love her,” he says with a dramatical sigh.
“Then go over to her house and make her take you back,” I suggest. “You’re not staying here. End of story.”
Marcus turns to Dshawn, but he just shrugs. “You heard the boss, bro. If I want to live to see another day, I’d better escort you outside.”
Disobeying me is in their nature, so I walk them to the back door, making sure that Marcus is driving away before I turn back to Dshawn and push him inside. He grins at my angry expression and smacks my ass as I walk away from him.
“I’m the boss too, you know!” he yells as my retreating figure.
“Then act like it, you big baby!” I scream back, winking at him over my shoulder.
Truth be told, I would never be able to run this place without him. The restaurant The Stables next door is all me, he hardly ever sets foot in there except to score some food, but The Palace is mostly him. I hire the staff and train them, but he makes sure everything runs smoothly. He books DJs, comes up with theme nights, gets celebs to swing by and keeps the website up to date. I take care of marketing, but even that is half his. He’s just at good at it as I am by now.
The place in our third building is our communal project. The Party. It’s something we didn’t originally plan, but we both love it. It’s the Walhalla of kid’s birthday parties. The top floor is laser gaming, the second floor has everything from princess dresses to a disco dance floor, and the ground floor is a large space with an adjacent kitchen where we serve out the birthday cakes and where kids can open presents and just hang around with friends. We may not have kids of our own, but we sure know how to entertain the kids other people pop out. People like Caroline, who already has two: Daisy and Ash. And her stepdaughter Rose, of course, who is already thirteen.
“Miss Elmore, we’ve got a problem!”
I turn around to see one of my bartenders standing there with a panicked look in his eyes. Oh, how I live for these moments. I’m never more alive than when I need to slip into problem solving mode. He talks me through the issues – something about the supply closet not opening and the toilets overflowing – and I immediately pull out my phone to call my staff, yelling at them to get on the problem asap.
“Oh,” the bartender says, blinking when he remembers something else. “Your husband told me to send you up to the karaoke room when you have a moment. It’s urgent.”
“Boyfriend!” I yell after the young man, rolling my eyes. Even though Dshawn and I are still blissfully unmarried, our staff constantly calls us husband and wife. I guess I should take it as a compliment, or at least get used to it. No such luck.
Leaving the masked party that is in full swing by now, I head upstairs. We’ve got three stories in total, all with a different purpose. Downstairs is the night club that has a theme night or special performance at least twice a week. On the second floor are the toilets and the wardrobes. Yes, we’ve got a whole floor for that. We actually received an award two years ago for having the shortest lines in front of our ladies’ room. We’ve always got two or three staff members on this floor, making sure that everything remains clean, and that no one is having sex in one of the stalls – ironic considering the fact that Dshawn and I loved that back in the day. The thought of his hot semen dripping down my face still has me clenching my thighs together.
The third floor is where I’m headed. The karaoke floor. On theme nights like this it’s usually not busy, but it’s a steady source of income. People have to pay a buck to sing a song and the bar in there sells so many cocktails that it’s ridiculous. I’m pretty sure that the karaoke floor alone is enough to pay for our vacations in Bali.
Hmm… Bali… I smile to myself remembering how Dshawn fucked me right up against a wall to wall window in our last escape to a fancy resort. Fuck, I can’t wait to our upcoming vacation in a month. Next time we screw abroad, it will be in France.
When I walk into the large space, my eyes go wide. Is this really happening? Are all those people really here?
It’s… everyone. Caroline, Nathan, Francesca and her guy, Aston, Annabel, Tiffany, Hillary, Asia, Terryl, Marcus, Nia, Creed, Pierre, Aliyah, even my dad, my mom and goddamn Walter.
“Happy anniversary!” Dshawn yells, grinning at me. “How long has it been?”
“Six years?” I reply, trying to keep myself from crying. “Little more maybe, or a little less, but-”
“Who the fuck cares!” all of our friends and family member yell.
Just like he does every time he decides that it’s time for another anniversary, Dshawn drops to his knees. This is the fifth time this year, but who the fuck cares, right? That’s the beauty of our relationship. We don’t have to wait a whole year to surprise each other. We can do this whenever we feel like it. Usually it’s just the two of us, though, so tonight is quite special.
“Shaughna Elmore,” Dhawn says, looking up at me with nothing but love in his eyes. His long curly hair looks beautiful in the dim lighting, making me want to touch it. Thank fuck I managed to convince him to grow it out five years ago. I love his wild mane of curls more than anything.
“Dshawn Davis,” I reply, making our audience laugh.
“Will you do me the honor of staying with me until we die?” he asks. “Will you please keep yelling at me and all of our staff members every single night? Will you keep me on my toes and never give me a moment of peace? Will you stay my girlfriend and never my wife?”
“Only if you will promise to stop smoking, even when you’re drunk,” I chastise him with a grin. “Because I want you to live long so I can keep my promise for years and years to come. And only if you will stop snoring and start putting the goddamn lid on the peanut butter. I swear to God, Dshawn, if I catch one more fly in an open jar I will cut off your balls.”
“No you won’t.” He laughs. “Just say yes, will you?”
“Fine!” I roll my eyes. “Yes, I will stay your girlfriend. And I will keep you as my boyfriend and never my husband.”
“Big fucking surprise,” I hear Nathan mutter to Caroline, rolling his eyes.
“Shut up, old man!” Dshawn and I yell at him in unison, making him and Caroline laugh.
“Congrats, my babies,” Asia says, hugging both of us with tears in her eyes. “This will never get old, I swear. I wish Terryl was romantic like you are.”
“Yeah, yelling about flies in the peanut butter is so romantic,” he says sarcastically.
The rest of the night is filled with laughter, booze and a hell of a lot of karaoke. Franny and Aston belt out I will survive just like they always do when they find time to get their busy asses over to our club. Annabel sings Don’t stop believing, Nathan and Caroline do a duet, and even my mother and Walter get up on the stage to do an awful version if Hey Ya!
The best part of the night is when Dshawn grabs the microphone and does a killer impersonation of Michael Jackson. My man can dance and sing like there’s no tomorrow.
I may be 30 now, but when I look at him I still feel 25. He will never stop making me feel like a powerful, strong woman and a giggling girl at the same time.
That man is magic.