Chapter 7: Just a Normal Day
The noise inside of Crank was unbelievable. The music was loud enough to drown out the conversations of almost hundreds of people. The bass in the music was like a palpable pulse in the place, emanating from everywhere at once.
Lenora felt like she was suffocating.
The hand on her shoulder made her jump, a dribble of her colorful drink splashing onto her hand.
David pulled himself around the side of her and hooked her elbow. He smiled.
“Renee found a table, come on!”
Lenora’s head bobbed in acknowledgment and she let David weave their way through the throngs of dancing people.
David’s head was bobbing merrily to the music. Lenora’s eyes darted around the place, wide with a mix of anxiety and awe.
Crank was nice; really nice. Everything seemed clean, at least hygienically speaking. Even the bathrooms had a pristine newness to them. The entrance opened up and dropped down a few wide steps to the belly of the dance floor, which was dotted with shining silver cages filled with scantily clad, smiling knock-outs. Some of them, Lenora blushed to notice, were very attractive men.
To the right was the sprawling ebony bar, the dozens or hundreds of different bottles glittered like gems on a mirrored backsplash. There were maybe ten bartenders spread along the length of it, smiling and laughing with the clientele, pocketing tips and cashing out orders.
To the left, where she and David were headed, was a cluster of maybe thirty small high-set tables, wide enough across for a handful of drinks and not much else.
Past the writhing dance floor were a series of rounded booths; some obscured by semi-translucent swaths of midnight-blue cloth, others open and revealing elegant, suited figures. On either side of the row of booths were stairwells leading to a second floor landing with some more high-set tables and assorted doorways that disappeared down a dimly lit (yet strangely inviting) hallway.
“There she is!” David leaned back to exclaim to her, his breath a puff of air on Lenora’s cheek.
Lenora followed the length of pointed arm and she smiled to see Renee having claimed a small table and three high-stools.
Renee looked powerful standing there with each hand on a stool and her torso protecting a third. Her jacket and purse were flung onto the table and her drink was nestled safely among them. Standing there like a spitfire, her baleful brown eyes scared off any who would challenge her for those seats, or try to take her perch from her.
Renee was strong enough to back up those unspoken threats, too. She worked in the WRU – Waste Removal Union. Her arms were muscular naturally out of necessity, but they were also cybernetically augmented for strength and enforced structure. It had been a required alteration for the job – one she had taken willingly. But regardless of the metallic curve of both her shoulders, she didn’t look any less pretty.
Renee had done her hair in a neat little twist that rested pinned at the back of her head, the fetching magenta streaks standing out against the sheen of her natural blonde-gold. She looked a lot like her brother – angular face, high eyebrows and thin lips – but her unabashed femininity set her apart from the gangly youth that led Lenora now.
David started waving when they got close enough, and Renee smiled broadly. She jerked her chin in their general direction, unwilling to let go of the stools.
Maneuvering through the crowd was like fighting a current. Eventually with David leading the way, Lenora was able to follow his sure-footedness and soon they were all climbing onto their well-protected stools and cradling their drinks.
“You look really nice!” Renee shouted over the din.
Lenora smiled, and instinctively smoothed down the front of her shiny green v-neck. It was a long sleeve and it didn’t show any midriff, but at least her hands and neck were visible. She also wore a pair of black slacks that she had decided were too snug to wear to work. They were made out of some faux-suede material.
“Thank you!” Lenora shouted back.
Renee reached over and gave her hand a squeeze.
Renee had already seen her before they got to Crank, but their opening conversation had consisted of a brief flood of every-day chatter; Renee’s complaints about her day at work, how boys are stupid, how crazy David was, etc… Then they had inhaled some Chinese Take-out and rushed to get ready. Hardly enough time for compliments.
The familiarity was so comforting.
“This place is crazy!” David exclaimed, eyes shining with excitement.
Renee nodded enthusiastically, and Lenora mechanically followed suit.
For a few minutes they sat and talked loudly to one another. Renee told them funny stories about her job, about the silly things that Mid-Level residents think to throw away, and the great finds she’d been able to take home and repair. David told a few funny stories about strange deliveries he’d made for the restaurant, (Gilda’s Eatery,) and some of the bizarre food-combos he’d had to sort out.
Gilda’s was a staple down in Cellar City. There were dozens of their kiosks all over Cellar City, at least three or four in each Sector, and they delivered everywhere. David delivered for them, which consisted of picking up the food at the closest Kiosk and hauling it to the desired location. In order to keep track of the orders and the routes and the locations, David was able to upload a GPS into his ocular.
Lenora spent a lot of this time listening and laughing. It felt surprisingly good to be among friends, even in this sea of strangers.
Lenora’s reservations about going out were proving to be a moot point, thank goodness. It didn’t bother her that their excited chatter prevented her from saying much; in fact, she preferred it this way. Her life was mostly predictable and that was a security she needed right now.
She was no longer a big fan of surprises. They tended to make her anxious.
When their drinks were finished and instantaneously whisked away by some wait staff, Renee and David spoke among themselves for a moment before Renee turned to her.
“Hey, let’s go dance.” Renee extended a hand to her, palm up as she slipped off of her stool. “Like old times, just you and me!” Renee smiled.
Lenora felt a shiver start in her neck and the fought with everything she had to suppress it. Her friend gazed at her with happy, hopeful eyes; the club was loud and bright and full of energy, and she had even finished a drink.
Don’t ruin it, Lenora. Things are going so well…
Setting her chin in a determined line, Lenora accepted Renee’s hand and allowed herself to be swept away into the throng of people.
Renee was sure to stay close by, and whenever Lenora had the nerve to open her eyes, she saw her friend smiling brightly at her and singing along to the song.
At first Lenora did little else then sway back and forth. But as the song continued, she found herself moving along with it, a ghost of a smile peeking out at Renee from under the shy curtain of black hair. Soon, she was plunged into her own happy little world where nothing but this little patch of dance floor and the music existed.
She danced with her friend among strangers and barely noticed that they were there. Sooner than she thought she would be able to, Lenora was smiling and laughing. Barely above the roar and thrum, she could hear Renee’s laughter too, and it only made her happier.
To think that a place called Crank would be able to give her peace of mind! For once she didn’t feel afraid! Everything was alright again with her broken little world, and as she let the pulsing bass of the song move her, she allowed herself to try and patch the brokenness inside her.
“Hey sexy, wanna dance?”
Suddenly the stench of liquor and hot breath drove a spike through her daydream, and a hot hand on her elbow froze her in place. Her heart jumped and her eyes shot open with surprise. The illusion shattered like glass and was immediately crunched underfoot.
She was face to face with a stranger, lanky and drunk with a disheveled, sloppy appearance. Her blood ran cold as she stared into the eyes of lust.
Lenora’s world began to crumble around her as she stared in stunned silence.
“Keep goin’ sweetheart, don’t stop!” The man shouted over the music and pressed himself towards her, hips gyrating out of rhythm.
The contact was brief and scorching. A renewed and irrational terror gripped Lenora’s heart and she found she was unable to budge. The touch lasted no more then a second before strong arms pried the stranger off her, but it was too late. The pleasant dream was gone.
“Get lost!” Renee shouted. She shoved him easily away and put herself between Lenora and the stranger. Instinctively, Lenora pulled herself closer to Renee’s elbow and forced herself to start breathing again.
Speckles of light danced in her vision.
“I wazzn’t talkin’ to you, ya crazy cyb’rnetic bitch.” The man slurred, lip curled as he saw Renee’s hands clenched.
Lenora grasped Renee’s hand and found comfort in the metal rings around each finger. “Please…” She breathed certain that Renee couldn’t hear her plea. She could barely hear herself past the rushing of blood in her ears.
“What are you going to do about it?’ Renee challenged. Lenora felt Renee straighten, topping her height out at an imposing five-foot-seven.
The man looked like he was going to speak, but then his foot gave out from under him and he was sent sprawling to the dance floor in a heap.
Lenora caught the sway of dozens of people in the background; purple silk blouse, blue leather pants, long black coat, sequined tube-top… But they each disappeared into the crowd.
Renee quickly pulled Lenora from the dance floor as soon as the man hit the ground. She wove her way through the people towards the bar in a determined line. Lenora couldn’t see her friend’s face, but the tension in her shoulders was plain enough, as was the way she firmly held her hand.
Lenora cast one look back as she was whisked away, and watched the freedom fade into unconcerned faces that were entirely unfazed by the encounter. Part of her wanted to run back and dance again; as if she knew deep inside that she could get the feeling back if she just tried again. Maybe the hope and the happiness would come back to her if she could find the rhythm…
But the hopeful child within her was dwarfed by the jaded and scarred adult that mournfully accepted that nowhere would be safe and happy. Not for her.
“I am so sorry, Lenora.” Renee shouted as she pushed her way to a freshly vacated stool at the bar. She helped Lenora sit and took her friend’s hands. “Are you Okay?”
Lenora nodded robotically, breathing in slow, even counts. “Thanks, Renee.”
Renee half smiled and then frowned, looking down at their joined hands. “God, Lenora your hands are freezing.”
“It’s okay.” Lenora responded automatically, giving her friend a weak squeeze. “I’m okay.”
“Bullshit. What an asshole.” Renee scowled out over the dance floor, as if looking for the man who ruined their night out.
Poor Renee. Lenora knew she was just trying to help, and the efforts didn’t go unappreciated… but how could Renee help to fix what she didn’t fully understand had been broken?
“My jacket…” Lenora started the sentence, and then took a moment to breathe.
Renee turned her attention back to Lenora. “Sorry?”
“…My jacket is at the table. Go get David.” Lenora offered.
She knew that David would be worried if he didn’t see them on the dance floor for very long. Not to mention Renee’s protectiveness of her brother. They were all they had left, and if something were to happen to either of them…
Renee gave Lenora a measuring look. “David will figure it out; I’ll stay here with you.”
Lenora shook her head stubbornly and slipped her trembling hands under her thighs. “I’m okay. Really. Go get him, I’ll order us some more drinks.” Lenora painted a smile onto her face to reassure her friend.
Lenora knew that Renee didn’t believe it for a second, but Renee knew better then to push it. It was one of the things Lenora loved about her.
Renee gave her one more look that said, ‘you better be okay,’ then patted her friend’s knee. “I’ll be right back.” Renee half smiled again, and tugged a piece of pink behind her ear.
The gesture was comforting and familiar, and it made a lump rise in Lenora’s throat.
They deserved a better friend.
Lenora watched Renee disappear into the crowd, and she slowly wrapped her arms around herself as she sat there. Hundreds of people and in this moment she felt utterly alone.
Don’t fall apart Lenora, hang in there…
Lenora shut her eyes and breathed for a minute. She remembered the last time she had felt so alone – and found those blue eyes staring back at her. She let them hang there in her mind, daring her to survive.
When she was sure her breathing had leveled out, she opened her eyes and turned towards the bar. She was immediately tended to and through the determined line of her lips she ordered herself and her two friends more drinks.
She could do this.