I needed a drink. A strong one.
One that could possibly knock me on my ass and make me forget what I had done just 20 minutes ago. This was always the hard part. The guilt, the self-loathing. Sometimes it strangled me. I hated what I did. I hated the pain I inflicted but it was part of the process, part of what came with being me.
I hurt people, and it wasn’t something I was proud of.
Pulling into the parking lot of the first bar I spotted after leaving the scene of the crime, I punched in a number on my cell phone, speed-dialing Angel. “It’s done,” I announced, not even bothering with a cordial greeting. Those were reserved for days when I didn’t feel like locking myself away from everyone and everything. For days when I didn’t feel myself breaking into a million pieces.
Angel sighed on the other end, feeling my pain through the receiver. “You okay, baby?”
“Yeah. I will be. Down to get shit-faced?” I chuckled though I truly couldn’t find the humor in my own request.
“I’m always down. Where are you?”
After giving Angel the address, I fixed my smeared mascara in the visor mirror. I could have just stopped at a liquor store and gone home to drown my troubles, but I needed an excuse to hold it together. A distraction. In public, I’d have no choice but to plaster on a phony smile and ignore the immense guilt I felt. I’d be forced to pretend.
I started the mental countdown ritual. I could do 10. Twenty was reserved for extra shitty days. Fifty was for all-out hellish catastrophes. Today felt more like a 10: a craptastic situation.
“You can do this,” I whispered to the reflection staring back at me. “It’s ok. You’re ok. It had to be done. You have to keep going. You can do this, Kami Duvall. You will not break. Not today.”
The bar’s marquee stated Dive, though it only slightly resembled the traditional, hole-in-the-wall dive bars I was accustomed to. As I scurried into the air-conditioned building, seeking refuge from the relentless Charlotte summer sun, I could tell it had been recently upgraded with modern furniture and a fresh coat of paint. I liked it already though ambiance was not a requirement for what I had planned for the rest of my evening.
I settled in at the bar and ordered a shot of tequila along with a Long Island Iced Tea chaser. When the bearded bartender raised a questioning brow at my request, I diverted my eyes to a bowl of peanuts a few seats down. I didn’t need his misguided judgment.
“Damn, baby. Sure a pretty little thing like you can handle a drink like that?” a voice laced with a southern drawl called out to me. I looked up to spot a smiling onlooker across the bar. Great. Judgment and an asshat with my beverages.
I smiled sweetly before grabbing my shot of tequila, downing it, tossing the slice of lime to the side, and slamming the glass on the bar. When I looked back up, Asshat was already making his way towards me, obviously intrigued with my shot-pounding capabilities. Unfortunately for him, that’d be the only thing getting pounded tonight.
“Hey there, honey. I’ve never seen you ‘round here. You must be new. I’m Craig,” he smiled, extending his hand. I looked at it, scanned the length of his body and turned my attention back to my drink. It was much more exciting. Craig took the hint and pulled his hand back but still settled in the seat beside me. I rolled my eyes; he was a persistent little prick. Normally the southern charm was endearing to a California girl like me, but after what I had just been through, it was annoying as hell.
“Craig, right?” I asked after a long pull from my Long Island. He nodded and flashed a hopeful smile. I couldn’t wait to wipe that dumb look right off his face. “First off, calling the wrong person ‘honey’ could very well get you cut. And second of all, how would you know if I was new? Do you hang out here on a regular basis?”
“Easy there, darlin’,” he chuckled, holding his hands up in defense. “Just making friendly chit-chat. And yes, actually, I do come ‘round here often. This happens to be my family’s place.”
I eyed Craig disapprovingly. With his wavy, chin-length brown hair, light brown eyes, and the bit of scruff on his chin, he wasn’t exactly bad to look at. He was actually pretty cute in that young southern gentleman kinda way, but I was too far gone on the self-depreciation train to even fall for his charm.
“So what? That gives you a right to harass all the paying patrons?” I replied with a raised brow before downing the last of my drink. It was strong, but not strong enough to stow my bitchiness.
“You are an exotic little thing, aren’t ya? Yes, in-deed,” Craig appraised, ignoring my jab. He finished his beer just as our empty glasses were quickly swiped from the bar. “Let me guess– you’re one of those moo-lot-toe girls.”
I nearly choked, and probably would have spit my drink right in his face just for shits and giggles if I’d had a mouthful. “Excuse me? Are you trying to say mulatto?”
“Yeah! That chocolate and vanilla swirl! I’m right, aren’t I?”
Wow. Craig was a bigger asshat than I initially assumed. I had played this game with guys before. The whole, “What are you? Let me guess…” bit was not new to me. Usually I shut it down, but since I had nothing else better to do than stew about my predicament, I thought I‘d humor Craig and eventually make a fool of him. I didn’t think it would take long anyway.
“No, I’m not moo-lot-toe, jackass. Chocolate and vanilla? Do I look like an ice cream cone to you?” I snickered. Craig’s eyes widened with glee at my choice of words, instantly making me regret them. Thankfully, the bartender returned with our drinks, so I could get back to the task at hand: getting stupid drunk.
I looked up to say thank you and was met with a hooded pair of chocolate brown eyes and a boyish grin. His hair was covered in a worn baseball cap, and he had just the right amount of scruff on his chin and upper lip to give his baby face an edge. His hands and arms were covered with intricate, colorful tattoos. He was different from what usually attracted me and absolutely beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I had to tear my eyes away before I used Jedi mind tricks to undress him. I wanted to see what else those tattoos covered. Badly.
“CJ, I hope you’re not botherin’ this young lady,” the younger, much more enticing bartender smiled, his deep voice laced with a touch of southern drawl. His large hand (yeah, I noticed) clapped Craig on the back as he shook his head, a lock of brown hair escaping his cap and falling into his eyes. His gaze came back to me, and he winked.
Under normal circumstances, the move would have probably made me blush, and/or flash a flirty smile, but my mind and heart were still heavy with grief. I returned the sentiment with a nod and a nervous half-grin. Sure, he was attractive, painfully so, but that thought would be all I could allow myself to enjoy.
“Aw, you know me, Blaine. Always makin’ friends,” Craig snickered before taking a sip of his fresh beer.
Even his name was sexy as hell, and I resisted the urge to try it out on my tongue. He placed his palms against the bar, and leaned in, looking at me expectantly. Shit, I really didn’t want the attention. But he looked at me intently, his head cocked to one side, with his mouth curled up, and I couldn’t think of anything witty or even rude to say to make the guys go away.
It made me nervous. Like, really nervous. So I tore my eyes away from his and nodded towards a HELP WANTED sign propped up on a high shelf. “You guys hiring?”
Blaine turned and looked at the sign before bringing those brown eyes back to me. “Yeah. Waitresses, line cooks. A bartender. Looking for work?”
“Maybe,” I shrugged before taking a sip of my drink while I surveyed the room. It was a good-sized place, and it was centrally located. But, it was virtually empty aside from a few bar patrons. “Did this place just open or something?”
“Nah,” he responded with a little shake of his head. The lock of hair fell farther into his line of vision, and much to my dismay, he swept it to the side, tucking it back into his cap. “Just got new management.”
Craig snorted and rolled his eyes before taking a chug of his beer. He turned his attention back to me and waggled his eyebrows. “So darlin’, where were we? Oh right…how about Puerto Rican? Mexican? I have to be close. Did I get it right? Or are you just gonna keep me guessing all day?”
Ignoring Craig completely, my gaze fell to Blaine’s hands. They rested on the bar, just inches from mine. On one hand, he had a letter written in some type of old script on each finger. The other had a design on the back that fused into the piece crawling up his arm. My eyes followed the vibrantly detailed pattern slowly, studying every line and curl. Even shrouded in ink, I could tell his arms were magnificently cut and defined with muscle. Muscles that flexed and quivered as he leaned against the bar, causing his biceps and shoulders to strain against his fitted, plain white t-shirt.
“So are ya?” Craig asked, intruding on my thoughts and pulling me away from the splendor of Blaine’s arms.
“Huh?” I sputtered, looking up with a doe-eyed expression and praying that neither of them had noticed my shameless gawking. They both chuckled, making me believe that my prayers had gone unanswered.
“Are ya a spicy Latina?” Craig asked as he leaned in closer, hoping to steer my attention to him.
I could feel my lips curve into a grimace, and I swallowed down the disgust I felt at that very moment. Without knowing what to do or say next, I looked up at Blaine, whose eyes were still trained on me, an amused grin on his face. Initially, my eyes widened as if to plead for help then settled into a dreamy stare. They wanted to continue their study of Blaine’s physique and I really couldn’t blame them. And who was I to deprive my peepers of the sexiest piece of man-candy they had seen in years?
Noticing the flash of desperation in my expression, his smile broadened, and he turned to Craig, releasing me from his compelling gaze. “As always, you’re way off, CJ,” he said, as he turned his body sideways to rest on an elbow. The move allowed me a better inspection of his torso, and revealed a chest and abs under the thin fabric that just begged for a tongue to trace each defined cut. The weight of his body supported by his elbow caused his bicep to stretch his shirt even more. I envied that damn t-shirt.
“How so, cuz?” Craig asked, pausing before bringing his beer bottle to his lips.
Blaine looked away from Craig to meet my eyes again, however, his gaze was different this time. Less playful and curious, and more… intense. Almost lustful. It held me on my barstool and refused to let me look away or even blink. It burned right into me, marking me in an uncanny way. His expression both disturbed and aroused me, and I couldn’t decide which I was more upset about.
“Well, first off,” he finally said, “she isn’t mulatto or even Hispanic. Look at her eyes…perfectly slanted and sexy. Soulful. And her hair… so dark and thick, slightly curled. Hair that beckons you to run your fingers through it from root to tip. Maybe even pull a little,” he smiled crookedly. “And then there’s the shape of her lips…how they dip and curve into a full pout. Lips that you can’t resist staring at for hours. Lips that beg to be kissed.”
Blaine chewed his bottom lip and narrowed his eyes, as they continued to scan every part of me that he had just so eloquently described. I was nearly dizzy from the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding.
“Asian. You’re part Asian, right?” he asked simply, no trace of seduction in his voice. His eyes no longer smoldered or emitted the fiery passion he had displayed just seconds before.
The switch in gears nearly made me fall flat on my face. Luckily, my roommate/girlfriend/savior strolled in and successfully diverted the attention from me. Every eye turned to witness the grand arrival of Angel Cassidy, dressed in too short cut-offs, a red tank that was suggestively torn and cut to reveal her plump br**sts and lace-up black platform heels. She was the quintessential blonde bombshell that filled every guy’s fantasies. With her heart-shaped cherry lips, milky white skin and curves for days, she easily resembled a younger, edgier Marilyn Monroe.
I masked the disappointment of losing Blaine’s attention and gave Angel a wink. She strutted over to me, a hand on her hip, and gave me a wicked smile. She clutched the back of my head, tangled her fingers in my dark brown hair, and crushed her glossed lips to mine. A moan rumbled her chest as I pulled her body into mine.
It was the kiss heard ‘round the world. Well, ‘round the bar, anyway.
Other than a few audible gasps at seeing Angel’s pink tongue dart out of her mouth, Dive was completely silent as she flicked my upper lip before pulling away. The two guys before us each wore amused grins that screamed of lustful possibilities.
“Oh, hell yeah!” Craig exclaimed, breaking the deafening silence and smacking Blaine’s chest with the back of his hand. “Lesbians! Now that explains it!”
“How are you, baby?” Angel cooed, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear while gazing at me adoringly.
I matched her soft smile and placed my hands on her narrow waist. “Better now that you’re here.”
“Wow! Can you believe this, B?” Craig still rambled excitedly.
I turned back around on my barstool to assess Blaine’s reaction, which was unreadable if not indifferent. Good. Better for him, and everyone else, to see that there’s no chance with me. Not that I thought he was thinking that.
“Can I ask you ladies a question?” Craig chimed in. For once since meeting him twenty minutes before, I was glad for his intrusion. I had to stop looking at Blaine. I had to stop giving him the impression that I was interested. Because I wasn’t. I couldn’t be.