Rain is coming down even heavier now. With the way it burns my skin, they may as well be fireballs falling from the heavens on the no-good, low life that is me–reminding me of just where I’ll end up when I die. The roads are becoming nice and slick. It’s getting darker, and the cooler weather is breezing its way in.
Before I know it, I am idling in front of Charlie’s, a hole-in-the-wall bar just outside Ludowici. The large yellow neon sign is blinking; a small group of women are dressed in clothing that leaves little to no imagination huddling together smoking cigarettes.
My boot kicks the stand down, I switch off Layla and pad my way to the doors. A small brunette stops me in my tracks, trying to coax me into a “fun night” through her puffs of nicotine. I politely refuse her company; she doesn’t seem too upset. On any other night, I would have taken her up on that offer–hell, I still might, depending on how much I drink.
I open the old wooden door to the bar and inhale the musty smells of fellow patrons. The dim lighting, stained alcohol on the wooden floors mixed with old peanut shells, and the loud country music filling my ears, it’s like coming home. If I didn’t have ties here, I probably would never step foot into this shithole.
There’s an isolated seat at the bar and Dave, the overweight, bald bartender, knows exactly what I want–Jim Beam. I need something to burn down my throat after leaving her there in my driveway. She didn’t deserve that. But she shouldn’t expect much from me - I think to myself as I grip the glass with the warm liquid inside. He filled it up to the brim. Thank you, Dave. I bring it to my lips–it stings a bit–taking a long swallow, I can feel the fire travel all the way to my stomach. I needed that after the hell I went through today.
Going back to school was something I didn’t expect. Of course, I am only pretending to be a transfer student, but just being around all the drama and teachers with no clue reminds me why I scarcely went to school in the first place. Thank God I graduated six years ago. Even though the curriculum hadn’t changed much, I am glad that I don’t even have to try for a grade. I never even brought my books around with me. No point. None of it counts. I’m just there to keep an eye on her. To be her bodyguard, I snort. Some bodyguard I am.
She won’t listen to me about that shit-face, Declan. He’s trouble, and I know it, ever since I saw him get nice and cozy with two other girls in the hallway before he found Elena. That darn girl is so stubborn and on this high from the ‘I am a woman, hear me roar’ kick. I swallow another fiery burn from the bourbon.
How can I get her not to go on that dumb ass date? Or any other date–at least until we get this whole Marcus thing taken care of. It’ll be hard to monitor her if she dates. I will end up coming across as a jealous asshole, trying to keep her away from all the other boys. Which, I guess, is what I’m doing now...
I pinch the bridge of my nose. Her dad clarified repeatedly that I am not supposed to pursue her, but how else can I keep her from going out with fucking Dylan?
Taking another swig of the bourbon, I groan into the glass. This whole bodyguard thing is harder than I thought it would be. I expected her to be this little girl with nothing but trust and curiosity in her blue-grey doe-like eyes, and she would just do what I say, but no. She’s a spitfire and has a mind of her own. I won’t be able to play the nice guy here. She’s going to loath me. Perhaps that will make things easier.
“Red! Hey man,” a familiar voice calls out.
With a glance over my shoulder, I see Paul. I can’t help but smile at the lad walking up to me. I stand from the stool and embrace him in a bro hug. “Hey brother, how are you doing?” I motion towards his chest.
“I’m doing better. Sometimes it hurts, and I have flashbacks, but I’ll be okay.” I am glad that Detective Cobra carried through on his word. He made sure that Paul would make it through; he even paid for his physical therapy.
I pat him on the back and ask for him to join me at the bar. He does, even though he’s nineteen, Dave knows he’s a part of my crew - so we don’t worry about the legalities. He asks for a Coors Light, and I laugh.
“What?” he asks.
“Only you would order such a weak drink,” I tease.
“Hey, I was shot a few months ago, give a brother a break.” He nudges me with his shoulder. A more serious tone takes over his voice as I stare into my half-empty glass, swirling the dark liquid around. “How is... How is your deal going?” Dave places the Coors can in front of Paul.
I told him. I told all my men. They’re good at keeping secrets; the whole crew was a part of my deal. All were ecstatic, to say the least, except for Paul. He thought it was a bad idea. He couldn’t help but feel for the poor girl; she has no clue who I am, who her father really is, and the cyclone of a mess she’s in the middle of. He has a big heart, and a part of me is unsure why someone with such a big heart would want to be a part of a motorcycle club, but here he is.
“Hell, I don’t know. I’m already screwing it all up,” I confess.
“What do you mean?” He lowers his head with his voice.
“She doesn’t listen to me.”
“What won’t she listen to?” He’s trying to pry, it’s his way of helping.
I take another sip of the bourbon. “There’s this dick named Declan. Something’s not right with him. Can’t put my finger on it, but he wants to take Elena out on a date sometime. I told her not to. Told her I don’t trust him. She only met him a couple of days ago, and she already decides to go on a date with him.” A grumble escapes from my chest.
My drink is almost gone. A need for another one is in order to help me get through this conversation. I signal for Dave, and he preps me another one. I like Dave.
Paul laughs. “Hey, like you have room to talk. This is coming from a guy that fucks women within minutes of meeting them. At least he’s planning on taking her out first,” he takes a drink, and I lower my head–he’s not wrong. A shiver washes over me at the thought of Darren touching her.
“Did you go all caveman on her? Tell her what she should and shouldn’t do without actually trying to form a friendship?” I glare at him. Letting out a sigh, I bring my hand up and position my thumb and index finger an inch apart. Paul rolls his eyes.
“Look, you gotta take this all in her perspective. You know stuff about her from her dad when he gave you information for this deal. She knows nothing about you. You have a leg up here, you’re just a stranger to her,” Paul says. “She needs to trust you. Put effort into being her friend.” Dave gives me another glass.
I gather that Paul’s only trying to help, but I can’t be friends with her. Even if I try to pretend to be her friend, I won’t be able to control myself. She is beautiful, way more beautiful than her dad led on. Of course, when we were going over the deal, he showed me her freshman year picture; she looked like a little girl. The girl I saw that first night was all woman.
Of course, she’s not eighteen yet, so... It’s just a week away–she’s practically eighteen. I take another drink. Damn, this shit hits the spot. I was proud of myself that night. Although I was drunk off my ass, I still perceived the notion not to sleep with a seventeen-year-old- who’s- practically eighteen.
“I can’t be her friend, Paul. If I try to be her friend, I know what will happen. It will be a mess.” I take another drink, finishing the glass this time, and like clockwork, Dave comes in for the rescue and gives me another. I gotta give him a very good tip.
Or maybe give him a raise. Yeah, that’s right, I own this shithole.
Paul brings his Coors Light up to his lips and takes a swig. “If you’re going to keep your end of the deal, you’re going to need to try harder. Can’t you be friends with a girl without sleeping with her?” He nudges my shoulder in an attempt to joke.
“Ha,” I snort. “Never.” I smile to myself -I’ve had my fair share of women... How many boys has she been with? A pang of jealousy chisels its way into my chest at that question.
She is gorgeous. I lost my shit in that kitchen a couple of days ago when she walked down the hallway in those painted-on black jeans and a sweater that hung off her one shoulder. I got to her too. It was like her body was begging for me to touch it, kiss it, and...
“Well,” the voice next to me says; I frown as the memory evaporates by Paul’s words. “There’s a first time for everything, Red, think about it.” He finishes his beer and places it on the bar top with a light thud. “I gotta get going. Don’t drink too much, okay?” He places his hand on my shoulder, and I half nod in his direction. I plan on drinking all night. Stupid Jace, he got me into this mess.
Finishing my third... maybe my fourth glass of bourbon, I look around this ridiculous bar and spot her. She has blue eyes, blond wavy hair–shoulder length, and pouty pink lips. I shake my head; it’s not her. I ask for another, and good old loyal Dave obliges.
Paul’s words are echoing in my mind like an itch I can’t scratch. Get her to trust you and try to be her friend. These concepts are foreign to me, I trust my men, and they trust me, but outside of that? I think my mom trusts me. She trusts me to always protect her, but trying to get someone to trust me because of a job–a job the girl doesn’t even know about–feels wrong.
If this were a different situation, and I was undercover for something illegal–I can handle that, no one would be innocent in that scenario. But this job? She is innocent. It’s as though I’ll be gaining her trust in vain. When this whole Marcus mess is over and done with, I’ll never see her again–it was a part of the deal. I’m not supposed to have any ties with her when all this shit is said and done. I take another sip–gulp, actually.
How can I be friends with Elena just to be ripped away from her later? I don’t take friendships lightly; they are a bond. No one can get through life without friends. They see things that others don’t. Friendships are intimate and fragile. If I try to be her friend, even fake it, I’ll be dragging her trust through the mud while earning it at the same time.
I should not be caring about this - I’ve turned into a pussy. She is a job. I finish my drink with one swallow. She is a job. She is a fucking job. I need to think about my men and myself. She is our ticket. I need to remove myself from the situation. Be the man she can trust, then turn it off, and she’ll be safe.
She’ll hate me when I flick her away like a dead fly on my countertop, but she’ll be safe, and I’ll feel less of an ass for it... maybe. I look back over at the girl with the pouty lips. She smiles at me; I wink at her. It’s not her, but she’ll do - I need a distraction, and by the looks of her loneliness, she does too.