Chapter One & Chapter Two from upcoming NA Romance book

December 31, 2015 Writing  2 comments

*Not finalized version, apologies for any incorrect spellings or grammar. 
psst. Prologue not included 

 

Chapter One

Collin

December 31st

            There was just something about her.

            It struck me when I saw her; pulling into the small back parking lot of the bar my three roommates insisted I got to early to secure a table for tonight.

            Fuckers were lucky I had the day off and was bored out of my skull by the time seven o’clock rolled around.

            I pressed lightly on the breaks of my truck when I saw her slam the driver’s door of an old Jeep Cherokee shut and start walking towards the door, her dark hair blowing out behind her.

            She looked up at me and paused when she realized I was there. For a moment, her eyes looked clouded, like she was lost in her thoughts. But then they went clear, sharp; gleaming back at me in the beam of the headlights.

            Although the moment only lasted a second, I could’ve sworn I saw a spark of fire and vulnerability in those deep brown eyes.

            She turned her gaze toward the door and continued to walk forward, her black Moto boots coming down in the snow. It was like once she knew what she wanted, nothing could distract her from getting it.

            I saw her, and I knew, in that way you know something deep in your bones, that I wanted to know her. But something more than that, like I wanted to shield her, protect her, be safe for her.

            Which was odd, because she didn’t look like the kind of girl that needed anybody to do anything for her.

            I watched as the back door slammed shut behind her, trying to catch my breath. Above the door was a worn and battered awning that read: Charlie’s Place— Liquor Spirits & Good Times.

            I pulled into one of the last remaining spots and parked; drumming my fingers against the steering wheel.

            Damn. This was not like me. At all. Maybe I was just restless from a day of playing Assassin’s Creed and eating cold pizza; starved for human connection, reading too much into things.

            I shook my head, trying to clear it, then shut off the engine and got out. She was just a girl, and I was just a guy. And whatever the fuck had just happened…

            I tried to brush the intensity away, but it hung around like a dream you knew you had, but couldn’t remember.

            The back door of the bar opened to a hallway. I followed it, passing an office with the door cracked halfway open, and then the bathrooms.

            I was about to pass by the kitchen when I heard a voice.

            “Hey.”

            I stopped suddenly, my heart jumping like I’d been caught doing something wrong.

            I looked into the kitchen, my body hidden from view against the wall. The girl from the parking lot was leaning against the metal prep table in the middle of the room, her arms folded across her chest, her legs crossed at the ankles in front of her.

            She was wearing tight jeans and a blue sweater.

            “Yo,” I heard a younger male voice answer. He had turned around from the sink to face her, wearing a large plastic apron over his black work clothes. He was tall and lean, and where his face was angular, hers was round, but there was a similarity between them. They had that same flame of gentleness in their eyes.

            They had to be related.

            “What are your plans for tonight?” She asked him.

            “Trying to get rid of me already?”

            “No, I just figured you’d have plans,” she quipped, sounding amused. “Being New Years Eve, and all.”

            “Don’t worry, Jamie—,”

            So that was her name. Jamie. I liked the way it formed in my mind.

            “—Dad already told me. I’ll leave by six, like a good little boy who always does what his big sister tells him.”

            Ah ha! They are related. Ten points for Gryffindor, I thought, satisfied. Wanting to respect their privacy, I started to move away from the door towards the bar.

            As I walked away, I heard her speak, her voice soft like she’d had this conversation a million times before. “Is it such a horrible thing that I want you to have some semblance of a regular life?”

            The main room of Charlie’s looked like pretty much every other bar I’d ever been to; dim lights, the mirror behind the bar surrounded with liquor bottles and white Christmas lights, the floor a gray concrete. Brand new flatscreen’s and neon beer signs were spread out on the brick and wood-paneled walls.

            Some Christmas decorations were still up: strands of multi-colored lights hung across the ceiling and a lit evergreen wreath-looking-thing lined the length of the bar. A few metallic New Years decorations sat on the tables and hung from the walls.

            Most of the tables were still open—I had time before I had to claim one—so I sat down at the end of the bar. The bartender, a wiry older guy with long black-gray hair and goatee, leaned against the counter at the other end, laughing with a group of men who looked to be around his age.

            I cupped a handful of peanuts out of the bowl in front of me and popped one into my mouth, content to wait.

            A few minutes later, I was watching an episode of Bones on the TV screen above me, reading the subtitles, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that she was walking behind the bar, a black apron around her waist.

            My heartbeat picked up, shallow and flighty.

            She made her way down the bar to me. “What can I get you?” She asked, her voice nice, but authoritative. So, I was right: she was a no-bullshit-kind-of-girl.

            I could dig it.

            “Bud Light. Draft. Thank you.” I smiled at her, trying to act like I was just some guy and she was just some girl, and that that lightning bolt of whatever-the-fuck hadn’t hit me earlier and left me so… confounded.

            Really, that was the only word for it.

            “Can I see your ID?”

            I dug my wallet out of my back pocket, took out my license, and handed it to her.

            She took it from me with delicate fingers. Her clean, neat nails—coated with a clear gloss—made me look down at my own as she studied my license.

            My hands were clean but my fingernails were lined in dark grease. No matter how hard I scrubbed or what I used—and I’ve tried everything from Gojo to Goop to Lava—I couldn’t get the fucking stains out to save my life.

            Occupational hazard, I guess.

            “No obnoxious accessories tonight?” she asked, handing my ID back to me.     I shot a quick glance down my body, shaking my head as I put my license and wallet away. “Not a fan of New Years, I take it?”

            “You could say that,” she said, glancing over at me, as she filled up my glass from the tap.

            “Why’s that?” I leaned forward.

            “Trust me when I say you don’t want me to answer that question and ruin the rest of your night,” she laughed, and that feeling inside me squeezed at my heart.         Before I could respond, she asked, “Waiting for someone?”

            “Someones,” I emphasized the plural. “I was nominated to get here early and hold a table.”

            “Lucky you.” She placed a napkin down in front of me and placed the beer on it.

            “Well, I get to start drinking earlier, so there’s that.”

            “Fair enough. Well, you’re best best is that table over there.” She pointed to the corner. “I know it’s kind of far from the bar, but you’ll be right next to the TV and the bar is going to get a bit crazy tonight anyway. You probably want to steer clear of it when you can.”

            “Thanks,” I said, picking up my drink and heading towards the table after I opened a tab. Simultaneously relieved and crestfallen to be walking away from her.

            I sat down with my back to the wall, facing the TV. With a slight turn of my neck, I could see her working up and down the bar, pouring drinks and chatting with some of the customers and the other bartenders.

            That feeling from before was still there, clinging to me like mist. And it was really starting to freak me the fuck out.

            I drank my beer and ordered the hot wings appetizer from the other bartender when he stopped by my table—he was younger than the guy behind the bar, but older than I was, and built like a tank.

            By the time my roommates Steve and Dan showed up, I was working on my second beer. “Where’s Luca?” I asked of my other mysteriously missing roommate.

            “Said he had to—and I quote—‘secure a package.’ Whatever that means,” Steve answered.

            Knowing him it was probably just pot; most-likely special Pineapple Express worthy pot for the holiday.

            “Typical Luca,” I said, shaking my head.

            “So how does a guy get a drink around here?” Dan asked, taking off his coat.

 

 

Chapter Two

Jamie

            Fucking New Years Eve.

            It was that time of year again. And I just really felt like I couldn’t handle all the accompanying bullshit this year.

            Because I didn’t just hate the holiday; in every fiber of my being I loathed the actual day—December 31st, specifically—and the whole misguided idea that just because it was a new year, new numbers on the calendar, that things would suddenly be different. Better. Not by actually having to take any responsibility and make changes.

            Because that would just be crazy-talk, I thought, as I drove through the salt-stained roads of Harper Woods to the bar. My shift started in fifteen minutes, but when your dad was the boss, and you lived in a city that totaled two and a half square miles—nicely situated between the urban war zone of Detroit on one side and the Prohibition-era Old Money wealth of Grosse Pointe on the other—a handful of minutes was hardly something to get worked up about.

            I pulled into the lot behind Charlie’s and parked in the back row, casting a glance in my rearview mirror at the whitewashed brick wall behind me.

            Everyone was sure to be in exceptional spirits tonight as they drank to excess and put on those rose-colored glasses that made everything seem brighter.

           And how could it not? With all the alcohol flowing through their veins; with all the people, laughing and dancing and merrymaking? How could they feel alone with all these people surrounding them?

            For tonight they would be full. They would forget the emptiness and desperation of their lives. They would forget their regrets and failures and burdens. They would cheer and toast to the new year.

            But come next New Years Eve, they would still be here. In the same. Exact. Place.

            Not me.

            Just seven more months, I reassured myself again, getting out of the Jeep and slamming the door shut. And I can leave this place. Start my own life somewhere new. Somewhere that wasn’t tainted; drenched with the weight of condemnation and baggage.

            I stopped, realizing I was about to walk in front of a vehicle—a dark F.150—and glanced up. Momentarily blinded by the headlights, it took me a second to realize he was stopped, waiting for me to go. So I continued, passing the front row of beat-up old trucks—including my dad’s old cherry red Ford pickup sitting in it’s usual corner spot—and walked into the bar.

            The stale smell of musty drop-ceiling tiles and old leather barstools filled my senses; stirring up the usual mixture of comfort, familiarity, and yearning inside me.

            “Dad?” I called as I walked through the back hallway and into his office, but he wasn’t back here. Jack Daniels, the cat, glared at me from his post on top the filing cabinet, not bothering to lift his head from where it rested on the edge of his bed.

            I put away my things, keeping a two-foot minimum distance from Jack, glancing at the schedule on the wall as I did. It was a force of habit because it wasn’t like I needed to check it. It was the same week in and week out: I was here everyday except Mondays and Fridays.

            After checking my reflection in the small mirror next to the office door, I left to go check in on Nate in the kitchen.

 

            “Don’t worry, Jamie, Dad already talked me. I’ll leave by six, like a good little boy who always does what his big sister tells him.”

            God, he was being a particular little shithead tonight, I thought, studying him from behind as the din from the bar filled in the silence. Where I got Mom’s looks, he got Dad’s—all sharp angles and agility. You could see Mom in his eyes, though; that warmth she had.

            He wore black gages in both ears and a black bandana to keep his long brown hair from sweeping forward into his face as he bent over the sink. I couldn’t see his face, but I could almost guarantee it was set into the hard lines of a scowl.

            He wasn’t allowed to work more than ten hours a week—usually working back in the kitchen, dishwashing, prepping, cleaning up, sometimes busing the tables out front. It was a limit I’d set with good intentions when he started working here two years ago; not that he ever saw it that way.

            “Is it such a horrible thing that I want you to have some semblance of a regular life?”

            His voice was hard. “Is it such a bad thing for me to want to make some money? Save up for this college idea that you’re always on top of me about?”

            “This argument is getting old Nate. I already told you that Dad and I are going to figure out tuition.”

            “Right because trusting me to figure out my own shit would just be ridiculous,” he muttered, turning back to the dishwasher. After a moment of sullen silence, he spoke. “I was planning on going out to the movies tonight with Cary and Issac. Probably end up at Issac’s for the night.”

            “No party tonight?” I asked, a hint of smugness in my voice.

            “There are a few. We just haven’t decided if we’re going to grace anyone with our presence yet.”

            “Oh, good Lord.” I tried rubbing the tension out of my forehead. “Nate, promise me you’ll be safe. And tell me where you’re going.”

            “Yes, Master,” he said turning, bringing his gloved hands into a prayer position and mock-bowing his head.

            His antics were nothing new. “How’re you getting around?”

            “Cary’s car.”

            Instantly, and without my consent, my body pulled in; the muscles of my face freezing, my knuckles turning white as they gripped the counter behind me, my stomach clenching at the thought of Nate driving around at night, in the dark, with a bunch of drunk assholes on the road; all the things that could go wrong flashing through my mind.

            He must’ve noticed my reaction. “Jamez, don’t worry so much. Cary’s a good driver. We won’t be stupid. We’ll be in by ten or eleven.”

            I tried to relax, letting out a pent-up breath. “Okay. But seriously, contact me, like, hourly.”

            “Would you like us to drive by with an air horn or will a text suffice?”

            “Don’t be an asshat. Just text me. You got enough cash?”

            “Dad already gave me money.”

            “Okay. BE SAFE,” I said, getting my apron off its hook on the wall and tying it around my waist.

            Nearly six hours later, I was busting my ass at the bar: pouring drinks, cashing out tabs, collecting tips, cleaning, all while trying to stay somewhat friendly and amicable.

            On any other night, I could pretend just fine. But tonight, I was just plain-old pissed off. As I wiped down the rich mahogany of the bar and opened more bottles of beer than I could count, Jacob came up besides me to fill his order.

            “How’s it going back here?” He asked.

            “No worse than out there,” I said. “Thank you for taking the floor tonight. I think I might’ve actually committed homicide by now if the bar wasn’t separating me from the masses.”

            He laughed. “Ain’t no big deal, J Junior,” he said, calling me by his nickname for me in his deep voice.

            Jacob was one of my all-time favorite people in the world and made working on nights like this bearable. He was probably in his late-thirties, after knowing him for over ten years, I’d never actually known his real age. But he was like an uncle to me: he always covered for me when I needed him to and he always manned the floor for me when I didn’t want to. He’d been here when Mom left. He’d been here through everything.

            My phone buzzed in the pocket of my apron. In the age of iPhones and Androids, it was the most basic phone out there. I could text, but because it didn’t have a separate keyboard, I had to use the number pad. And I could make calls. Besides for that, I think I could maybe play Solitaire. I couldn’t take pictures or receive them, couldn’t email, or go on the Internet, but it suited me just fine.

            It was a text from Nate.

                        Checking in again, Master. At a rager at a drug house in Detroit.

            Haha. You’re hilarious, Smartass.

            Into my phone I typed:

                        So Issac’s house?

                        Yup.

                        Staying put for the night?

                        Yup.

            And that was it. In this family, we operated on a need-to-know basis only.

            The countdown was about to begin. The bar was full: locals mixing with newbies, women in sparkly dresses wobbling on the linoleum-tiled dance floor adorned with metallic, glittering hats and feather boas.

            En masse, they were a hot, drunk mess. And even in my current mood, it was mildly entertaining.

            The countdown began and the conversations stopped as everyone looked at the televisions and began to count. I leaned against the back bar, stretching my lower back, and braced myself, planting my hands on the counter behind me.

            Ten. Nine. Eight…

            Another year come and gone.

            Seven. Six. Five…

            My eyes grazed across the room until they landed on another pair, looking directly at me. The soft blue eyes of the guy from the bar earlier. His sweet, easy smile replaced by an intensity that wasn’t there before. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.

            Four. Three. Two…

            I should probably look away now before this gets any more awkward.

            One. Happy New Year!

            Too late. His gaze held steady on mine as everyone around us paired off to kiss and cheer to a new year. Chills ran up my arms and back.

            The stare was broken by Jacob. “Happy New Year, J Junior.” He said, picking me up in a bear hug. I couldn’t help it, I laughed a little bit.

            “You too, J Senior.”

            When he set me down, the guy across the bar had moved on to talking to someone next to him. So I looked around the bar. I looked at the Christmas lights, the dark bar, the sticky floor, my dad—with a hit of guilt—laughing with Todd and Joe at their regular table, the jukebox in the corner, the glasses lined up in rows under the counter.

            I always knew I would leave this place. Just like she had. It was only a matter of time. Seven months, to be exact.

 

 

That’s all for now, folks 😉

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