The smell of stale beer permeated the sidewalk as I walked down Bourbon Street. I was finally in the place I’d dreamed about for the last six years – New Orleans. I’d never put much thought into premonitions, but there was no doubt in my mind that something had called me to this city. Turning off at Canal Street I walked the back way to Jackson Square and marveled at the street vendors setting up their wares.
The artwork lining the wrought iron gate of the gardens, combined with fortune tellers, musicians, and people even preaching the Gospel made for an interesting layout. I’d never seen anything like this in my little hometown of Verbena, Alabama, and my heart raced in excitement.
The truth is I hadn’t seen much of life at all. Until a few months ago, I was certain that I’d spend my years growing up in the country, hopefully meeting the perfect man and raising babies. I’d never had any grand ambitions of moving away, and if my life hadn’t irrevocably changed, I probably would have done just that. That’s the thing about life, though; just when you think you have it all worked out, something comes in and kicks you in the gut, destroying every preconceived notion you have.
For me it was the death of my grandmother. She was my only real family, raising me from the moment my mother was institutionalized after attempting to commit suicide for the third time. Granny would never tell me what demons in her past had caused her depression, but she’d always reminded me not to judge because whatever my mother had suffered had hurt her in ways she hoped I’d never have to endure.
I always wondered what part I’d played in her suffering because the last time she saw me she attempted to hurt herself again. That was the last visit my grandmother allowed. As a young girl of six I’d needed my mother’s love. Let me tell you, having your mother unable to even stand your presence does something horrible to your self-esteem.
Back to my grandmother, though. She was the kindest woman I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. Her life was centered on me and God, and I’m not sure I could say which of us was her highest priority. I was raised to believe in the bible, and live my life as a humble servant to those around me, but it was always filled with love. It was a great life, and one I will never regret, but God? As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t exist.
I had one stable person in my life and God, in his loving generosity, took her away from me? I’m sorry, but that’s a sacrifice I wasn’t willing to make, and I sure couldn’t believe in a deity that took away the only person in this entire world that ever loved me. Wherever she is now, I bet Granny Louise is probably pretty ticked off that she wasted so much of her life devoting herself to some fairy tale!
Granny died of lung cancer, despite never smoking a day in her life. Define irony. The only positive of that entire situation is she didn’t suffer long. By the time the doctors had discovered the disease, it had spread throughout her body. So, she was already too far gone for chemotherapy. I don’t know much about cancer, or medicine in general, but it seemed like a curse.
I thought about taking my life when I buried that beautiful woman in the earth. I had no idea how to live without her. I blamed God for taking her away, and the only other people I knew were part of the church I refused to ever set foot in again. I was completely isolated. The only thing that kept me sane was the dreams.
I was fifteen when I started having them, and they were unlike anything I’d ever known. I remembered every detail vividly, and have often wondered if we live an alternative reality in dreams, because everything I lived through in mine felt real. The things I’ve seen, I’d never talk about out loud. I often worried I was going crazy like my mom. So mentioning it even to Granny was taboo.
The first one I had was in a beautiful field that looked very similar to the one outside the back of Granny Louise’s house. I stood in nothing but my nightgown, as the light of the full moon streamed down on my body. A large, white orb, brilliant in its brightness began to fall from the heavens until it hovered close enough to touch and was big enough to cover the enter landscape.
My mouth fell open in awe as it sparkled like diamonds, so bright that I knew I should shield my eyes, but couldn’t hide away from the beauty. Reaching out my hand I touched it, and felt a surge of energy move through me unlike anything I’d ever known. That’s all there was to that dream, and I woke up the next morning feeling exhilarated.
The next night I was standing in a dark corridor, at the end was a light just as brilliant as the orb had been. A man’s silhouette filled an open door. His hand was outstretched and he spoke in a deep, molasses smooth voice, asking me to join him. I knew that if I did, my life would change forever, and I was terrified. Instead of walking toward him I stood there staring. I don’t know how long we stared at each other, but I awoke feeling completely unfulfilled, like I’d missed my chance of a lifetime.
From that night on, he beckoned me in my dreams, and it took me months before my dream-self had the courage to walk closer. The first night I did, I remember as clearly as I would meeting anyone in real life. He was unbelievably gorgeous. Thick, raven hair grazed the width of his wide shoulders, his face was sculptured to perfection with these blue eyes that were so intense I couldn’t pull my gaze away. His chest was smooth and rippled with muscles, as was the washboard abs I’d only seen on men in magazines.
To put it simply, I was instantly infatuated with his almost sinful body. He was the embodiment of everything I thought a man should be. I knew at that moment he could only be an angel. There was no man in this world that could compare in reality. As tempted as I was to take his outstretched hand, I was just as afraid. I’d never dated, or even thought about men in the way I considered him.
“Never fear me, Cara. You and I were meant to be.”
His lips never moved as he spoke, and I wanted to agree. I’d never wanted anything as much, but I was still terrified. I knew that even a simple touch of his hand would change me in ways I wasn’t ready for. Instead of accepting what he offered, I ran back through the tunnel and awoke. My chest ached in longing when the world became normal again, and I knew that being separated from him was causing me pain.
During those days I lived two separate lives. I went to school, started a part-time job at the local diner, and Granny Louise took me to church functions. In sleep, I was with him. Months of dreams had passed before I finally had the courage to take his hand, but when I did, he opened my eyes to a brand new world.
Each night he would take me through the corridor and it opened into his reality. I knew these times we spent together were nothing other than dreams, but as far as imagination goes, I have to say mine truly was incredible. I discovered his name was Rafael, but he preferred Rafe, and the place he called home was Singe Tsigan.
The sun never rose in his plane. Instead, three moons gave an almost purple hue to the night landscape. It was breathtaking there, the scent of roses, my favorite flower, filled my senses each time I arrived. He resided in a castle that I could only describe as being pulled straight from a storybook. It was lit with candles and torches, no electricity anywhere. We always ended up there, and during our time together it was if nothing else existed.
For six beautiful years I was courted by my angel in dreams. No real man could compare to his illusion, so he became my only male companion. During those nights he taught me passion beyond anything I’d known to exist in the world I lived in. The only deviation to visiting his world were the nights we visited New Orleans.
Walking these streets now, was nothing like it had been with him in dreams. During our nightly visits the French Quarter had been abandoned, and it was only the two of us. It was almost like he’d rented out the space, which I knew in reality was impossible. I knew every street, the names of stores and restaurants which should have terrified me, but to me it felt like coming home.
I’d sold my Granny Louise’s home, and moved into a small apartment here on the basis of a dream. Maybe my mother’s mental issues were becoming mine, because I know a rational person would have never done something like this. I left nothing behind in Alabama, though, and for the first time since her death, I finally felt like I could breathe again. Call me crazy if you wish, but at least I’m still alive. If all you have to live for is a dream, then I guess at least it’s something.
The sound of a saxophone playing its sultry tune finally pulled me out of my reverie, and I turn my attention to the musician. So many talented people surround me and I wonder if I’ll ever find my destiny. There’s a huge part of me that thinks I don’t have one, and I attempt to push that thought to the back of my mind. Without this, I’m not sure what there is for me, so I need to focus on forgetting the person I was raised to be.
Giving in to that temptation, I walk over to one of the fortune tellers. I’ve only been out of the church three months, but the brainwashing I lived under is still hard to set aside. They taught me that people who do this kind of thing are evil, but I’m wondering if maybe they were just trying to keep us from ever discovering the truth.
Handing over a twenty dollar bill, I’ve decided I’m ready to find out. Sitting down in the metal chair, I force a smile for the elderly, caramel-colored woman beside me. Her smile seems much more relaxed, and I instantly like her. I’ve always believed, the eyes are the window to the soul, and her dark expresso-colored ones are filled with warmth.
“What question do you have for the cards?” She gazes into my eyes and I’m suddenly afraid. What if she tells me New Orleans isn’t the place I should be, or that my dreams are just imagination? I’m not sure I’m at a place right now where I can accept that honesty.
“Maybe this is a bad idea.” I’m not talking to her, even though I speak the words out loud. The fear of having my world turned upside down again, is just too much.
“You’ve suffered great loss. I can feel your pain, child.” Her wrinkled, worn hand, covers mine and the warmth in that touch, brings tears to my eyes. “You weren’t meant to be alone.”
“Is he here?” I know I shouldn’t buy into any of this, but my heart hurts so badly in that moment, that I’m willing to believe anything.
“Yes, child, but walking that path will lead you down a road that requires much sacrifice. There is a darkness in him, but also light, and a war rages between both.” She squeezes my hand with her own, and her eyes roll back in her head showing only the whites. I’m spellbound and unable to look away.
In my subconscious I hear my Granny Louise telling me to run away. As much as I love her, I can’t do what I know is right. I need to find him, and nothing will stop me from doing just that. If there’s any chance that Rafe is real, I know he is my fate.
“Be careful in following your heart, child. You want answers, but the ones you might find could be worse than the sorrow you’re feeling right now.” My gaze is riveted to the older woman and she seems to be confused as her eyes return to normal. Reaching into the metal box where she’s placed my money, she pulls it out, pressing it into my palm. “I can help you no more, go.”
I’m staggered as she stands up, taking her money box, walking away quickly. It’s almost as if she’s afraid of me, because I’ve never seen a person walk so fast, and she has to be at least seventy years old. All I can do is stand there, watching her leave with my mouth hanging open. There are so many questions I want to ask her, mainly about where to find him, but something tells me running after her would be a mistake.
I find my feet, look around and feel a sense of fear. The vendors stare, until they notice me looking, then they quickly look away. It’s the strangest feeling, and I have no idea why I’ve suddenly garnished so much interest. Unnerved, I leave the square, and walk away quickly back to my building. I’m not sure if you can call what I live in an apartment, it’s more like a row of shotgun houses and I’ve rented one.
A plump red-head is standing outside one of the doors, in conversation with a petite blonde woman. Normally I’m reserved around strangers, but the incident in the square has me a little ramped up, so I decide to introduce myself. Gathering up my nerve, I walk over the few feet, and they both glance my way.
“Hey, I’m Cara Donovan, I just moved in.” I hold out my hand, hoping that the women aren’t stuck up and attempt to smile warmly.
“I was wondering who our new tenant was.” The red-head has a gorgeous face, and is a real looker, even with the extra weight. “I’m Roxie, and this is Angela. I live here.” Her smile makes me think of Granny Louise, and instantly I feel a connection with her.
“Nice to meet you. I hope I’m not interrupting?” Maybe it’s my past mommy issues, but I’ve never felt very comfortable around people.
“Of course you’re not. Aren’t you just the prettiest thing?” This is from Angela, who reminds me of some perky cheerleaders I’d seen at school. Like her friend, she’s gorgeous, and of course, I feel dowdy standing there in my sundress from last summer.
I scoff, and play off her words as a joke, because I’ve never found myself remotely attractive. “Thanks for the compliment.” Now I’m at a loss for words, and get ready for the lull in conversation which normally happens when I meet new people.
“You’re welcome.” Angela’s smile seems genuine, and she shifts from foot to foot, like it pains her to keep still. “So where did you move from?”
“Um, Alabama.” That’s all I planned to say, but the expression on her face tells me she wants to know more, and I’m a little surprised. I guess I should mention that back home, everyone knew my mother’s story and I was treated like I was one step away from a straight-jacket myself by my peers.
“I’ve met a few people from Alabama during football season, always great tippers.” Roxie grinned and went into a story about the club where they worked and how having Alabama football fans in town always made for a great weekend.
The two women talk animatedly about some place called Tears of Crimson, and it’s easy to decipher it’s a nightclub from their conversation. I’ve never met anyone who worked at a bar, mainly because there aren’t any in the city where I lived and to say I was sheltered would be putting it lightly. I’m fascinated.
“You should come down tonight, Caleb Love’s bands playing and it’s like music from the gods.” Roxie gets a dreamy look in her hazel eyes as she talks about it, and all I can think is he must have a great band.
“Like it’s the music you’re talking about. The man is walking sex appeal. I don’t think there’s a woman on earth who could resist an invitation.” Angela giggles, and I’m reminded again of the cheerleaders in high school. She’s like this little bubbly ball of energy and for reasons I can’t explain, it makes me feel like laughing for the first time in months.
“I’ve never been to a club, so, yeah, not sure that’s really a great idea.” They turn to look at me like I’m an enigma, and I instantly regret I’ve saying anything. Like I said, I’m not a people person.
“Well, honey, you just haven’t lived then. That settles it, you’re coming with us tonight. You’re in the Quarter, it’s all about the nightlife here!” Roxie, wraps her arm in mine, and starts leading me toward her front door, with Angela attaching herself to my other arm, I have no choice but to walk with them.
The first thing I notice when I walk into her living area is her crazy sense of style. Nothing matches, and the colors are so vibrant they should clash, but it all seems to come together. I guess you would call it eclectic, not that I’m a fashion designer or anything.
“So how old are you, Cara? I have to say I’ve never met anyone that hasn’t been to a bar?” Angela plops down on a bright yellow couch, and pats the spot next to her.
“I just turned twenty-one a few weeks ago.” Instead of the usual rush of nerves I get when talking to people, I find myself enjoying the opportunity.
“I had a fake license at the age of sixteen, but I guess that makes a little more sense.” Angela is laughing again, and the sound is almost infectious so I can’t stop the grin that finds my face. “We definitely need to break you in, though. Have you found a job yet?”
“Um, no. I’ve only been here a few days, so I haven’t really started looking yet.” I knew eventually I’d have to find something, but I had a nice little nest egg put away from the sale of my grandmother’s house, so I wasn’t in dire straits by any means.
“Laurie just left us a waitress short, maybe Rafe would give her a job?” Roxie is speaking to Angela but turns back to me. “She got married, leaving us high and dry.” Rolling her eyes, she attempts to look upset about it, but the smile never really leaves her face.
“That’s a great idea. Rachel loves training people without club experience, so I’d say she fits the bill perfectly.” Angela fidgets in her chair, excitedly, and I feel my heart race from Roxie’s words. Not about the job, but the name of the man she spoke.
Rafe. There’s no way on earth he’s the guy from my dreams, but still, hearing the uncommon name gives me chills. “I’ve waited tables at a local diner.” It’s crazy that I’m willing to even consider their idea, because me in a bar? That’s just nuts, but what if he is the one?
Angela claps her hands in glee, then grabs mine, squeezing lightly. “See, its karma! We were meant to be friends.”
“You’re going to love the club.” Roxie plops down beside me, joining us on the couch. “I should probably warn you that it has a vampire theme.” Her smile makes me wonder if I’m missing some inside joke, and the way she looks at Angela, tells me I’m definitely in the outer loop.
“Don’t let it freak you out, though, just imagine people playing dress up and pretending to be goths.” Shaking her perfectly shorn head, she does her own eye roll, and I get the impression she’s not impressed much with the setup.
“Vampires? I guess it makes sense with all the television shows about New Orleans and the walking dead.” Personally that type of fantasy thinking never appealed to me much, and I preferred classic fiction books over television.
“Don’t get me wrong, if someone like Klaus walked into the bar, I might change my opinion, but the whole blood drinking thing is kind of gross.” Roxie scrunched up her nose in disgust and I had to agree with her sentiments.
“They don’t drink blood at the club, do they?” The thought of sharing another person’s bodily fluids made me want to gag, and I’m sure the horror showed on my face.
“Rafe doesn’t forbid it, but for the most part, it’s just a theme. That being said, a few of our customers take it a little too seriously. I just ignore it.” Angela waved her hand like she was attempting to take the conversation off bloodletting.
Unconsciously, I lifted my tensing shoulders. “I couldn’t imagine letting someone do that to me. What if they had a disease?”
“Well, if they were truly immortal, then it wouldn’t be a problem, now would it?” Roxie laughed, and I couldn’t stop from joining in. I’d read Dracula, and I have to admit that I found it fascinating, and okay, a little sexy, but real vampires? That was too farfetched to even consider.
“I’ve come to suck your blood,” Angela’s mocking of the well-known vampire line, had me laughing even harder. “Yeah. I think I’ll keep my neck fang free. I’m with you on the whole disease thing, no manner of hotness would tempt me to get AIDS.” She shivered dramatically.
“On a serious note, the staff’s really great. You’ll love them.” Roxie’s eyes got a dreamy look in them and Angela shook her head with a grin.
“Just a warning, Michael is Roxie’s dream man, though she won’t tell him.” Angela stuck out her tongue and giggled when Roxie’s eyes shot daggers at her.
“Who’s Michael?” It was easy to see these two had been friends for years, the way they related to each other. I wondered in the back of my mind, what it would be like to have a girlfriend to hang out with.
“I guess his official title is bar manager, but he works as a bartender during the day, as well.” Roxie’s eyes seriously warmed up when she talked about him, and even I could tell she had a serious crush. “Easily one of the sexiest men you’ll even meet.”
“So have you two dated?” I guess it was a little forward of me to ask that, since I really didn’t know her yet, but she had such a warm disposition, I felt like I could ask her anything.
“I wish.” Angela smirked. “She won’t tell him how she feels, instead she walks around all googly-eyed, singing his praises.
“Look at him, then look at me, Ang, no way a guy like him would want me.” She sighed in longing, and I understood how she felt. Then again, my guy was only a dream.
“Roxie Ferguson, I will kick your ass if you talk that way about yourself again. You’re absolutely gorgeous, and if he can’t see that, then he’s a blind fool!”
Angela was right. Roxie was a full-sized woman, but she was beautiful with her copper hair, hazel eyes, and creamy skin. She wore her weight well, and it seemed to fit her personality.
“You’ve seen the stick women he dates. I’m just being honest.” Her lovely face turned sad, and I thought this Michael person had to be a real jerk to judge someone because of their stature.
“Personally, if he can’t see you for the incredible person you are, then you don’t need him.” I didn’t know her well enough to say that, but just being with her these last few minutes, even I could tell she was a genuinely kind woman.
“I like you, Cara, I think I’m keeping you.” Angela made a fist and I grinned and soft-punched with my own before taking it back and opening my hand. It was something I’d seen the kids in church do and I almost tinkled my pants from laughing so hard.
“You’re so in trouble now, Ang never lets go of her friends.” Roxie grinned, and for a moment it felt like everything was right in my world.
“Don’t you forget it, either, Rox. I think me and Mikey need to have a little talk.”
“You promised to stay out of it, and I’m holding you to your word.” Roxie stood up and glared down at Angela. “I’ll let him know how I feel, if I ever decide to.”
“Wait. You never told him? How can you know what he thinks unless you take the chance?” I wasn’t one to be giving out advice in the romance department, but judging from her words, she was seriously infatuated with the guy. I guess he wasn’t a complete jerk, yet.
“He thinks of me like a sister. We’re friends and I don’t want to ruin that.”
“Trust me, you won’t win on this one. I’ve been riding her ass for months. Enough of the chit-chat, ladies, we need to get Cara down to the club so she can meet with Rachel.”
“Rachel’s the head waitress. You’ll love her, but I have to warn you she’s a little bossy.” Roxie went on to explain they were all good friends, and that Rachel was a perfectionist. From the way they spoke about her she was almost like a mother figure, even though I discovered she was only a few years older than Roxie, who was twenty-three. Angela was twenty-two.
My entire life I’d never had girlfriends, and now these two women, seemed excited to welcome me into their group. It was a heady feeling, even if I was afraid of actually getting a job at their club. I knew nothing about alcohol, serving or drinking it, and the only reason I even considered applying for the job was because I felt like I had a chance to not be alone.
We talked for another half hour, and I learned that Angela didn’t live in the apartments. She lived in a one of the villas that her boss owned, and Roxie was moving there in a few weeks. I hated the idea of Roxie moving when I was just getting to know her, but decided to keep that thought to myself. If I got the job, it wouldn’t matter.
I left them long enough to go home, take a shower, and change into more appropriate clothes for an interview. I had no idea what one wore to a bar, but decided on a pair of black dress pants, paired with a short-sleeved white butterfly-necked shirt and my short pumped heels. Makeup was something I didn’t use much, and thankfully the one thing I was blessed with was clear skin. A touch of coral-colored lipstick, and some mascara, that was it for that routine. I combed my thick chestnut hair, out until it hung half-way down my back. It never had held curls, so straight and boring was the only option I had besides pulling it up.
Glancing back in the mirror I stuck my tongue out at my reflection. The girl I saw staring back was just average. Chocolate eyes, brown hair, how much plainer could you get? Oh well. I wasn’t auditioning for a modeling role, and at least my five foot six height was complemented by the few inches given by my shoes. My body wasn’t bad, not that I paid much attention to it, but I’d never had to exercise to keep in shape, so that was definitely a plus.
Leaving my reflection behind, I grabbed my purse, and locked up my apartment before walking next door. Roxie and Angela looked sexy as sin in their work uniforms, and I felt about as dowdy as could be walking the few blocks to the club beside them. As much as Roxie seemed to have a hang-up over her weight, she pulled off the short skirt and black matching shirt, like she was born to wear it. I wasn’t sure I’d feel comfortable showing off that much skin. The T-shirts they wore dipped so low in the front that it showed off ample cleavage.
“Tonight is going to be a blast!” Angela chatted excessively until we stood in front of the doors of the club.