Chapter One: Lea
Damnit. I looked at my clock and realized I was going to be late…again. Working nights at one of the local clubs, finding time to sleep (and eat), as well as run errands, was a challenging task. Hopefully, Jon was in a good mood today, or already left (that would be even better).
I rushed out of the train and smacked right into someone. My stuff clattering to the ground, I looked up and stumbled back. I was suddenly gazing into the prettiest set of eyes I had ever seen. They were bright green with specks of gold, shimmering like diamonds in the rare Seattle sun. His hair was deep brown, scruffy yet tamed as if he styled it to be that way. He had flawless light olive skin with a slight hint of facial hair covering his prominent jawline. My eyes moved down, scanning his tall, muscular frame. Wearing a white button-down under a forest green sweater, designer pants, a long brown overcoat, and scarf, he even dressed nice. I was at a loss for words. Thank god, he could speak. “I am so sorry!” he blurted, words flowing from his perfect lips, “Let me help you with that.”
As we both fumbled to pick up my bag (and all its contents), I finally snapped out of my enamored state. I managed to squeak out a form of, “it’s ok” (at least I hope that is what I said) and glanced down at my watch and realized I was now even later. “Thank you for helping me. Sorry, I…uh body checked you, I am running late for work, and wasn’t watching where I was going,” I mumbled, eyes diverted to the pavement in abject embarrassment.
He beamed, bearing a row of perfectly straight, white teeth, “It’s ok, don’t worry about it, where do you work?”
“I work at Connect, which is the largest nightclub in Seattle.”
“Oh, I have heard of that club!” he said in his near-perfect tone yet again. “Maybe you just gave me an excuse to finally check it out. Anyway, I don’t want to make you even later. Have a great night at work!” He handed me the last of my stuff and winked.
I smiled (a little too enthusiastically) and replied, “Yes you too! I mean—have a great night, um, not at work, unless you are working…” The words frantically and regrettably tumbling from my lips, I paused.
He grinned yet again, “I shall,” bowing slightly, refusing to acknowledge my feeble attempts at recovery.
My face flushed, I immediately wished I had an escape key. Frantic, I turned to walk away as quickly as I could from this scene of humiliation (ugh, what an idiot).
I hurried out into the chilly Seattle air, half kicking myself for being such a nervous wreck and half hoping I saw the handsome, green-eyed beauty later (although, after my blushing display of flirtation, I wouldn’t hold my breath). I turned my brisk walk into a run and made it to work (finally) a whopping thirty minutes late.
Tired and wind-whipped, I rushed through the door, and of course, Jon was already behind the bar with Hector. Jon glared at me, already starting his lecture before I could even apologize. I decided to let him give his speech and then ask for forgiveness. Besides, my mind was elsewhere (back to those dreamy green eyes…). I finally snapped out of my daze at the tail end of his rant “…I know you have been through a lot these past months, but I can’t keep letting you off the hook!”
“So just fire me then,” is what I really wanted to say but I decided to go with an apology. “I am sorry, Jon. I promise it won’t happen again. I ran a little late seeing my mother and lost track of time.”
That shut him up quick and he just muttered, “Well don’t let it happen again.” As much as I hated using mom as an excuse, it did get me out of some sticky situations. My life story was for another time though, right now I had to get the bar prepped with Hector before we reopened in an hour.
The hour flew by, and I had just finished my responsibilities when the bouncers started letting people in the door. Connect was a more modernized, urban club that tended to attract the wealthy, over-dressed and powerful. Men who came here to drink their money problems away or find a hook-up for the night to escape the wives they no longer loved. The excessively perfumed and dressed women traipsed about, looking to be the next trophy wife or arm candy for the gentlemen. While I hated dealing with the piggish guys and staring at the modelesque women, I had to admit the tips were damn good, and with my mom still in rehab (as well as a host of other expenses), I couldn’t afford to quit.
Since Connect catered to the more upscale crowd—doctors, lawyers, accountants, rich college kids, even celebrities, the who’s who of Seattle—the bar opened almost every hour of the day. We started in the mornings from 6 am to 4 pm and then closed for 2 hours and reopened again from 6 pm to 1 am on the weekdays and 8 pm to 3 am on the weekend. While being closed for a few hours sucked, I felt like Hector and I had the best shift. I always felt sorry for the guys stuck with the 6 am shift, even though they swore the morning regulars tipped better than the evening.
Like clockwork, every night the regulars filed in as if this bar was the golden ticket that got them through the arduous workday or the bleak, freezing Seattle weather. The weekdays were full of regulars or young, rich college kids, but the weekends tended to be our biggest nights, especially when the weather was bad. Since Seattle boasted more dreary weather than not, it seemed most people took to drinking to liven up their lives or lift their spirits. While I was born and raised in Seattle, cold and rain didn’t seem to affect me as much as outsiders who moved here for business. In my world, the sun was a foreign concept.
Walter, a local regular with more money than sense, strolled over and took a seat. Walter was a middle-aged lawyer who handled all the top cases, and after three wives and three affairs later, he still hadn’t learned how to keep it in his pants (or the courtroom for that matter). I knew what he ordered and had it ready before he could open his mouth.
“Here’s your vodka soda Walter.” I pushed the glass toward him.
Walter smiled and said, “Thank you, darling,” in his charming, good ole boy accent, tipping the brim of his cowboy hat. I smiled. Walter was like a foreign commodity. Dressed like a cowboy who had just come from church, mixed with his rugged, weathered looks (reminding me of a slightly younger Robert Redford), I had to admit, I could see why the ladies swooned over this guy. I took the card from his outstretched hand and watched with amusement as he swaggered off to do his usual philandering with women half his age.
I glanced around and busied myself by helping other regulars, flirting when necessary and putting on my best fake smile. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if that guy I bumped into on the train was going to show his face. What would I say if he did? I had embarrassed myself enough for one day. Besides, he probably wasn’t even interested (at least that’s what I thought when I met any attractive guy). My self-esteem issues could use some work, or therapy, take your pick.
As usual, around 11, the regular nightcrawlers started to pour in, the slightly younger wealthy businessmen who could still survive on little sleep, and the rich college kid’s old enough to drink. The DJ picked up the music pace, so the now liquored crowd could use the music as an excuse to grind on one another. While I may only be twenty-five-years-old, I had grown tired of the one-liners, drunken hookups, and all the pressures that came with growing up in society today. What happened to chivalry or being courted? I mean, we still produced romantic movies, plays, and songs, were they all fairy tales or dreams? I suppose I would never have the answers to these questions, especially since I notoriously attracted and fell for the world’s worst guys. How does that saying go? Like mother like daughter?
My mom had sex with some guy when she was twenty and wound up pregnant with me. Surprise, surprise, he wanted nothing to do with me and bolted before I was even born. After that, my mom went through a series of drug addicts one after another until she became one herself. I had to quit school to pay my bills and hers, and her most recent debacle made my life even worse. Recently busted for possession and use of narcotics (for the third time), the court sentenced her to attend rehab prison for one year. While the state paid for most of it, I had to front the rest. Sometimes I felt as if I skipped childhood and went straight to a twenty-five-year-old adult, or mother in some cases.
Damnit. I did it again. I promised myself I wasn’t going to think about this anymore. Thinking about it never helped, and I made a New Year’s resolution to try and change my present and make amends with my past. The first step to transforming my present was the “no dating” rule (since that seemed to get me in the most trouble). Why was it the bad boys were so enticing (or girls for that matter), and not the good ones? Was it the danger, or the challenge? (I guess If I had the answer to that question I would be a psychiatrist and not a bartender). Like a starry-eyed sucker, I still loved romantic comedies and even poetry. I wanted to believe in the romanticism, fairytales depicted in movies, songs, or even poems. The idea of being courted, swooned, and having someone so infatuated with me, who said the right things, and better yet, did the right things, was the epitome of my fairytale. Ugh, well, a girl could dream.
Shaking my head, I snapped back to reality amid mixing Walter’s second vodka soda. I tended to zone out or “daydream” a lot when I worked behind the bar (well anytime for that matter), it made dealing with the drunken idiots a little better, and the night move a little quicker.
As I mixed and handed Walter his cocktail, my attention diverted to a familiar face. The beautiful green-eyed specimen from the train walked over to the bar with two rather attractive guys in tow. I diverted my gaze and pretended to throw some empty beer bottles away until they reached the end of the bar. Looking up as if I had just noticed them, I ignored the four women flashing their credit cards in my face (as if that would help) and walked in their direction. With a little more courage, I smiled, leaned over the bar, and half yelled, “Glad you could make it!”
He smiled, exposing those pearly whites once again, and leaned in. Yelling over the music he replied, “Me too! And I forgot to mention my name earlier, I am Liam, and these are my friends, Jeff and Sean.”
I could barely focus on the names as I stared into his eyes. I managed a smile and shook their hands. Forcing myself to look away from Liam, I diverted my gaze to—shit, what were their names—well the others, and I noticed that one of them had striking green eyes much like Liam’s, while the other had bright stormy gray eyes.
Staring into their eyes, Liam finally broke the slight silence with, “And your name is…?”
I let out a little laugh (However, on the inside I was punishing myself for being so stupid yet again) and shakily said, “It’s Lea.”
Liam grinned, “Nice to officially meet you, Lea.”
I lowered my gaze for fear Liam could see the heat rising to my cheeks. I swallowed and smiled, forcing myself to meet his stare, “Nice to meet you too. What can I get you guys to drink?”
“Right to business. I like it,” Liam smiled and rubbed his hands together. “We’ll take three top-shelf bourbons on the rocks, and I would like to start a tab.” I returned the smile yet again, poured their drinks, and made sure to be extra generous with the bourbon. Liam gave a wink, handed me his fancy, black credit card and then followed the other two to a secluded booth across from the bar. My insides lit up as Liam walked away. I could make an exception for my “no dating” rule for him, right?
I shook my head yet again back to reality, turning to attend to someone else. Before I could talk to anyone, however, Hector appeared out of nowhere and brusquely grabbed my arm, “Who are those delicious looking gentlemen?” He shrilled in his high pitch, over-excited tone.
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “That is the guy I told you about earlier! The one I bumped into on the train!”
Hector gave me a wink and whistled, “Girl, we will finish this conversation later. They are so cute! I have my gaydar on, and they are definitely on my team!” With that, Hector strolled away to continue serving the masses. My smile turned into a slight frown. I hoped Hector’s “gaydar” was wrong. I mean, Liam did wink at me, and he did show up here after running into me on the train… I smiled a little, picturing Liam’s wink and billboard worthy smile, which was quickly consumed by Hector’s dire revelation.
Despite Hector’s disheartening opinion, I still loved working with him. He was a middle-aged Asian man with perfect hair, smile, style, and sense of humor. I would have to say that out of everyone in Seattle; I would consider him to be my best friend (even though we rarely hung out outside of work). When times were tough with my mother, school, and finances, he was always there for me. He knew how to make me laugh and smile even when I didn’t think it possible, and he listened when I had my rare extroverted moments.
“Um excuse me! We have been waiting twenty minutes for a drink.” Snapped back to reality….
Closing my eyes for a second, I took a deep breath, exhaled and turned, “Sorry about the wait, what can I get you, ladies?” Rolling their eyes, they waved their flashy gold-adorned hands and grasped their worn credit cards and spat, “We would like four shots of tequila please.” I quickly poured their shots before they gave me anymore attitude and set them down in front. Grabbing the tall blonde’s credit card, I turned and sped away; I had had enough fake and rudeness for one evening.
After helping the impatient snobs who were “feigning for” another alcoholic beverage, the night flew by. I had so many drink orders I didn’t even have a chance to breathe or escape to my usual dreamland. I gave Liam and his friends a few more bourbons, and while smiling every time, Liam became less and less engaging as the night passed. I was puzzled since he seemed flirty and attentive in the beginning, but now he appeared disinterested. These types of mind games were why I hated dating, the guessing involved, and the assumptions were too much. Did he assume I was easy and didn’t need to put any more effort in, or maybe Hector’s right? My mind spun with all the different possibilities; however, not too long after, my questions were answered.
In one of those moments of weakness when I found myself “eye stalking” Liam in the club, I saw him dancing rather provocatively with another attractive young man. My eyes glued, I saw Liam go in for the kiss. Great. Hector was right. Liam was a wealthy, attractive snob who preferred men over women. At least now I knew where Liam stood and didn’t need to fret or wonder anymore. Good thing I was in the “no dating” phase of my life, maybe this was a sign. Ugh, why did all the attractive guys turn out to be assholes or gay? (Yet another question I wish I had the answer to).
The rest of the night went by in a blur. Liam came to me for two more drinks before closing his tab. I was busy serving other customers, so I didn’t get to talk to him; however, when I went back over to remove his empty glasses and grabbed the receipt, my mouth dropped open. He left me a three-hundred-dollar tip! That was the biggest tip one customer had ever given me. I began to look around the bar for him, so I could at the very least tell him thank you or talk him out of it, but like Cinderella with her glass slipper, he vanished.
Shortly after, the DJ beckoned for the last call at 2:30 am, and the final stragglers were ushered out by 3. After I had seen Liam kissing a guy, I made it a point to try and avoid Hector at all costs. I was so giddy and sure Liam was into me and telling Hector, that I was slightly embarrassed that I could be so wrong and Hector so right. If today was “national embarrass yourself day,” then I was surely doing it right.
I busied myself with closing duties and headed straight for the liquor cellar to count inventory in peace. Halfway through the count, however, I heard Hector’s probing, sweet voice behind me, “So, Lea, did you get his number?”
Still facing the alcohol, I closed my eyes and deeply exhaled—the peace didn’t last long— “No Hector, he would be more likely to ask for your number than mine.”
Finally turning around, Hector’s eyebrows raised, and his mouth fell open, “Oh girl, why didn’t you tell me? I am asking next time he comes in! Where has he been hiding all this time!? I have never seen him before.”
A little crestfallen that Hector had more potential with my green-eyed McDreamy, I pasted on my best fake smile anyway and said, “I don’t know, but you should ask him! From the looks of it, he is single.”
Hector’s Cheshire grin spread from ear to ear as he gazed into the mirrored walls of the liquor cellar. Adjusting his bow tie and perfectly slick back hair, he swooned, “Liam and Hector, I like the sound of that.” I laughed a little too hard at that. Hector gave me a smirk, and with a playful wink, strolled out of the liquor cellar pretending to whip his hair to the side like a woman and sashayed away with his best model walk. I shook my head and laughed again. Once again, Hector always had a way of making me feel better.
I finished the inventory count slightly more cheerful than before and bade Hector, Jon, and the rest of the crew (that was still there) good night. Typically, I stayed and had a drink with them before heading home, but I had had enough socializing. I didn’t want to see or hear Hector’s reenactment of how he and Liam were perfect for one another and how he would ask him out, and how Liam would bashfully say yes, blah, blah, blah.
As I stepped out into the chilly night air, I looked left and right to make sure the coast was clear of any crazies, to my surprise, Liam was leaning against the wall, his head drooping, barely upright. I eased over. He bobbed his head up and attempted to rise but stumbled. I rushed over to help him up, put one limp arm around my shoulders, and tried to guide him. Man, was he heavy.
As we began to walk (rather painstakingly) he started slurring something about Jeff and Sean (apparently those were their names) and never loving again. I didn’t know what to do with him, and I didn’t think he should be alone, so I set out towards the train.
With one foot in front of the other (and a set of stairs that was rather hard to help carry him up), we finally made it to my front door. I managed to get it open and guided Liam to my couch. After I had gotten him situated, I went to the kitchen and grabbed him a glass of water and a trash bin to be on the safe side. When I came back into the room, he was already sprawled out on the couch—mouth wide open—comatose and snoring. I sat the water and bin on the floor and plopped down in the seat across from him.
Looking around my small yet cozy living room, I suddenly became a bit self-conscious. Liam probably lived in a mansion or a million-dollar condo with a stunning view of Seattle. While my apartment was tiny, I had put a great deal of effort into fixing and sprucing it up. The living room boasted a petite fireplace, with one wall the old solid brick structure of the building. I loved the rustic feel, especially with the fireplace; it never failed to put my mind at ease.
The living room walls were painted by yours truly, a light earthy gray color, matching perfectly with the second hand, black leather sectional that I bought at my favorite thrift store. Above the couch hung my favored large, bizarrely colorful abstract painting of Buddha I also found at a thrift store. I loved modern architecture and colorful paintings and artists, and thrift store bargains for that matter. Beside the couch was a black papasan chair (which I was currently sitting in) and a simple rectangular metal coffee table in front that held three of my favorite collections of poems.
In the corner of the living room facing the brick wall was a mini desk, which rested my ancient Mac computer, and next to that was a side table that sat my “mini bar,” which mostly consisted of bourbon and whiskey. Adjacent to the desk and bar was my kitchen bar. The bar served as a divider between my kitchen and living room and had three swanky black and metal stools resting underneath.
Surveying my apartment, I couldn’t help but smile. I loved it. I had lived in this apartment for a few years now. The old landlord, Russell, had become like a father to me. He always understood when I was a little late on rent, and he let me paint the walls whatever color I wanted. In the kitchen, he even helped me add tile to the walls and refinished the counters and countertops. I had put so much sweat and heart into this apartment; I hoped I never had to leave.
Liam suddenly stirred. I snapped out of my moment of reflection, realizing I was sitting here across from him like a complete psycho or creep. Practically holding my breath so he wouldn’t see me or hear me, I waited to see what he was going to do. He didn’t open his eyes, but he twitched and mumbled as if he was having a nightmare. “No! No… I can’t do this anymore— (indistinct mumbles) not another—I don’t want to turn anymore.” I moved closer, peering at him, trying to make out what he was muttering. He bolted upright as I stood over him—eyes wide—irises blazing of green and gold—he grabbed my arm hard with one hand and I let out a yelp, yelling, “Liam Stop! It is just a dream! Wake up!”
He fell back down on the couch, still asleep and unaware of his actions. As his hand released my arm, I couldn’t help but notice his nails retracted (or am I seeing things?). Looking down at my arm where his hand had left, sure enough, there were five distinct nail puncture marks indented into my skin (not to mention I was now bleeding). I waited a few seconds with bated breath to see what he was going to do, and when he didn’t move, I eased back a little closer.
Looking at his hands, they appeared normal; his nails were short, incapable of inflicting these marks. Inspecting his arms, I saw a pair of matching marks on my couch identical to the ones on my arm. I backed away from the sofa, suddenly awaken to the fact that I had no idea who this guy was. I ran to my room and locked the door. Exhaling sharply, I leaned against the back of the door to reassess. Did I really see his nails get longer? His eyes get brighter? Rubbing my arm across the puncture wounds, there was no denying his nails became sharper and longer than they previously were. Debating on whether I should wake him up and tell him to go home, I decided against it. Mind whirling, I decided to take a quick shower and check on Liam one more time before barricading myself in my room.
After my shower, Liam hadn’t moved, so I felt it was safe enough to try and get some sleep (try being the keyword). I put a large band-aid over the puncture marks, relocked my bedroom door and crawled into bed. Staring at my ceiling my mind was racing, who was this guy? Better yet, what was this guy?