Short Stories

Raw Fiction Friday. Stories About Love: At the Corner of Mars and Neptune Ch. 1

It’s been some time since I’ve posted original stories (that have nothing to do with the book), so I thought I’d put this one here. It’s nine chapters long and I’ll be posting them every Friday. Raw means no professional editing. Enjoy!

1

Knock knock.
Fuck. My head hurts.
It’s the police. Open the door.
I’m too stoned to even know where I am.
My hands and legs weigh a ton and my head’s about to explode. I roll to my side, the hotness comes up my throat and I hurl.
Open. The. Door.
“Brian.” He can’t hear me. “Brian!” Don’t do that, don’t shout.
There’s a police officer at the door and the rotten smell is coming out through my nose.
Last chance before we throw it down.
Throw? Yeah, throw up. I try to push myself up but my hands skid on it.
“Brian?”
There’s something more on the floor. Making it slippery, denying me of purchase. Something liquid and a bit sticky.
It smells. It smells like…
Blood.
Go away blur I need to see. My fucking god I can’t rub my eyes with my hands full of shit… Shake my head, make it go away and see.
Brian. Lying on the floor. A knife stuck in his chest and now my hands are covered in puke, my puke, and blood, his blood. And the police are knocking on the door and I have nowhere else to go but out. Out, through a window, through a door. Whatever. Wherever I fit through ‘cause I’m small enough. But where? I don’t know this house. This is Brian’s house. A mansion in the middle of nowhere only a man like him could buy, and have, on his own.
We were supposed to be on our own.
We’re coming in.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. I can’t remember a damn thing but I know where’s the door. The backdoor. Through the back. Through the dinning room with the chandelier made of Swarovski crystals. Through the kitchen. Through the parallel lines of granite countertops and expensive stainless steel appliances that are never even turned on.
Push the door open. Don’t have the key and it’s locked and I can’t see straight. A window must be unlocked. The one above the sink, that looks over the side of the house.
Boots. Stepping on the marble floors. Voices. Shouting over each other.
Push the fucking frame of the fucking window, pull the fucking lock, open the fucking window. Quick. Come on. Fuck.
The voices are coming. Getting closer by the second and I wriggle the lock because I’m too fucking nervous and I can’t see. When it let’s go I fall. Face first. The grass like nails on my skin but I can’t let it stop me. Run. Run like the rotten soul you are, as if being followed by the devil.
Run.
It’s dark. It’s still night. I have no idea of the time. My head throbs. Firecrackers going off inside my skull with every step.
Freeze!
Shit. Shit. Fuck.
Don’t hit a tree. Don’t step on its root. Above all, don’t fall. It’s a forest, the easiest place to get lost. Run. Don’t stop running. Let the forest swallow you like it does with all lost souls.
Mist. Thank god.
Cover me. Make me invisible. My head pounds too much. It’s too much to go on. Can’t breathe. Can’t see. Can’t feel my feet. I’m going numb.
My knees weaken and I hit the ground. No, I didn’t step on any root. I managed to dodge the trees. I hit myself. Stepped on my own foot, since I can’t feel it, I can’t see where I’m going. I just fell. And my head hurts. A lot. It’s coming again. I heave. Try and make an inventory of all the stuff I drank, I ate, I sniffed, I injected into my veins in the last twenty-four hours.
Brian.
Fucking dead.
Fucking stabbed.
I can’t go on. I can’t get up. I’m too heavy. The world’s too heavy and it wants me to go to sleep. It wants me to go ZZZzzz.
Footsteps. Running towards me.
Let me go ZZZzzzZZZZzZZzZZ.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left.
My arm is being pulled up. I’m vomiting in my sleep. I’m rolled to my side.
There you go. I don’t need you dying on me.

On how Scarlett got the job (The Caregiver Series vignette #2):

In my first novella, The Caregiver, we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord, Armand Sayer. This vignette is about the day she met with his sister, Helga Sayer, days before the story on the book starts. Enjoy!

If you haven’t read Vignette #1, what are you waiting for?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was rushing around my flat, pulling my jeans on while searching for my nurse uniform. It had been ages since I wore it and, quite frankly, I didn’t even think it would fit me anymore. Cisneros told me to bring it to the meeting in case Helga, Armand Sayer’s sister, wanted to see it. He said she was hard to please. I promised I would do my best.

Take the sniper rifle with you. I reminded myself as I slid inside the shoulder holster and secured my Sig Sauer in it.

Some makeup ― not too much, not too little, ― a jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck… I shoved the uniform into a messenger bag and slung it over my left shoulder.

I hailed a taxi, gave the address to the driver, sat back and tried to relax. I’d been to Cisneros’s place multiple times, but this was something new altogether. The butterflies in my stomach said it was so.

Yeah, yeah, Ferdinand, I better not fuck this one. Blah, blah, blah.

The cabbie dropped me off in front of the gates, giving the rifle case a long hard look while I produced the notes to pay the toll.

“You don’t want to know what’s in it.” I winked at him.

His answer was to drive away as quickly as he could.

Pussy.

I walked up to the gate and smiled into the security camera, waving my hand sheepishly. The gate opened and I made my way through the driveway to find Ferdinand walking towards me, followed by another one of Cisneros’s henchmen, one by the name of Marco.

“Come with us, Miss Lang.” Fer grinned, welcoming me with an extended arm, ready to take my rifle case. “Mr. Cisneros is waiting for you in his study.”

Sure, sure, protocol and shit. I could walk into that house through the backdoor in the middle of the night and no one would give me any trouble. We climbed the stairs in silence and he held the door to the study open for me.

“Scarlett!” Cisneros rose from his comfy leather armchair, a scotch in one hand, a cigar in the other. “Always a pleasure to see you.”

He pulled me into one of his hugs. His, because they were the really awkward kind, the kind some men give to feel you up instead of greeting you. Ferdinand hated them. I just plain ignored it. I’ve known the man since I was a child. He was there for me when I needed him and I had always been grateful for that.

When had I needed a sly git like him? Back when I was eighteen years old and I had gotten on my grandfather’s bad side, with nowhere else to go. He gave me my first job, treated me like a real pro and kept an eye out for anyone who gave me any shit. He was like a father to me, in a dysfunctional kind of way.

“Meet Helga Sayer.” A woman with thin lips and defiant eyes stepped forward.

I tried to smile as I met her outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine.” Her eyes traveled from my face all the way down to my feet and back. I was tempted to ask her how much I ranked after she tallied me, when Ferdinand interrupted.

“Everything’s ready.”

Everything?

Fer took my rifle and led us downstairs, to the backyard. They had set a shooting range for me. This was going to be fun!

They stood inside a bulletproof cabin and not a word was spoken as I laid my weapons on a table and took my time to set my rifle. Helga’s eyes were trained on me and I made a point out of showing her how much of a professional I was.

That’s when I saw someone jumping over the concrete wall to my far right and make a run for it behind some bushes. I didn’t think twice before I pulled the Sig and aimed it at the bush where the figure had apparently halted.

Silence.

Then there was a shuffling to my right, and a masked man was running towards me, gun in hand. Two bullets whizzed past my ears as I ducked, shooting him right in the heart. The one behind the bush moved again, running towards the left side of the garden. I couldn’t see him but I could easily hear his steps on the grass, the light brushing of his boots as he shifted.

Straining my ear a bit more, I could hear his low panting.

A quick mental calculation, knowledge embedded into my subconscious, alerted me when he raised his gun to aim at me through the green thickness.

One shot. His body fell on the ground with a thud.

I trod cautiously on the grass, approaching my victim with my gun still aiming at him, even though I already knew he was dead.

He was on his back, legs bent under him, a blood-gushing hole right between the eyes.

I lowered my gun when a slow clapping rang from behind me.

“She always delivers.” Cisneros and Helga appeared at my side. “Always.”

The woman’s eyes inspected the dead man on the ground, then turned to me. I held her stare and she seemed content to find my breathing was as steady as hers.

“Come with me. We shall rehearse your interview.”

Rehearse? What the fuck?

I wrinkled my nose at Cisneros but he wasn’t looking at me.

His eyes were on Helga’s backside as she made her way back into the house. “You’re in,” he turned to me, “just go with it,” patting my shoulder before following her steps.

I walked over to the table, where Ferdinand was waiting for me.

“What the fuck was that?”

“I’ll take that for you.” He took the gun from my hand. “You better go before she changes her mind.”

“Cisneros was the one who told me to bring my rifle.”

“You were brilliant.” He was unloading my gun without looking at it, his sight on me.

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“The smile on your face.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

“Oh, grow up!” I did an about face and stepped into the house to face whatever crazy thing was in store for me.

[Art by Arocho, visit her blog, she’s awesome!]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liked this vignette? Then you’ll love the book!

Check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Or buy it, it’s only 99¢ (£0.77, €0.89)!

The Caregiver book cover

Available here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel

Random Conversation #2

He is trying to talk to me but that darn kid of his is playing with his new helicopter too near us. The thing flies close to us and away, then back, almost hitting Jim on the head before disappearing.

“You see, Kathy, the problem is that we need a better mailing system.” Jim dodges the helicopter by an inch. “Dan! How many times must I tell you what you are doing is rude?”

“Can’t we have this conversation somewhere else? I mean, this is your kid’s birthday party. Nothing to do with work.” I am really annoyed by him talking about work on top of having to endure the little kids playing around us.

“I’ll just say this and nothing else, because it really bothers me when clients call saying their packages haven’t arrived and learning that our messenger is sitting on his ass… DAN!”

I catch the helicopter mid-flight, hold it with both hands and break it in two with my knee. Jim takes a perplexed look at it before handing it to the boy. The kid runs to his mother, carrying the broken helicopter and crying.

“I think that’s my cue to leave.”

“I think you should be our new nanny.”

Random Conversation #1

“Does your child know how to swim?”

“I don’t know.”

“How can you not know? That is a matter of life and death. What if he falls into a river? He could drown.”

“There are no rivers nearby.”

“Or a pool.”

“We have no pool.”

“There are pools everywhere. He could be invited by one of his schoolmates, say, to a pool birthday party. You know how long it takes for your lungs to get filled by water? Seconds. And you are still conscious for a couple of minutes, so you are aware you are dying.”

“He is only six months old, Frank. He can worry about drowning later on. Though, not if it involves drowning by vomit, of course.”

Ghost

I wrote this story for MoJo’s Group Creativity Experiment by fellow tweep writer @MoriahJovan. I can’t remember the exact date it was, but remember how much I enjoyed that experiment and wish it happened again. 😉

For more on Moriah Jovan please visit her blog.

For that week Moriah picked the song ‘Asking us to Dance’ by Kathy Mattea. Watch the video here.

And this was my entry:

Moonlight illuminated the darkened sky, accompanied only by a few shy stars. A soft, cold wind caressed your face and then mine. I inhaled your scent and felt alive again.

I watched you from a distance, silently waiting for you to complete your duty. As you held the rifle between your hands, I walked on the edge of the building. You concentrated on your target, I concentrated on your big brown eyes.

You moved slightly, crawling closer to the edge. I ran to kneel by your side and get a glimpse of whom you were about to shoot, but my hands strayed to your back and the tips of my fingers touched you slightly, sending a shiver down your spine.

Oh how I wished we could…

Your body stiffening stopped my thoughts. Your target was in sight and it was no moment for romancing as your finger pulled the trigger. A perfect shot.

You turned your eyes to the black sky above and whispered: “That one was for you, Vivienne. Wherever you are, I swear I won’t sleep until I kill them all.”

Oh how I wished you knew I was there, watching you, listening to you whisper to the air. I wished you could see me like I could see you and not just feel my ghostly presence by your side.

You picked up your bags, dried the tears in your eyes and headed for the stairs.

I stared down at the street to watch you go, while the cold wind caught me in its arms and swept me off.

Escape From The Tower of Babel

This one’s for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge at Terribleminds. There were six different settings to choose from and I really liked them all, but had to pick one, so I chose ‘The Tower of Babel’.

Enjoy!

~~~~~~

I was aroused from my sleep in the middle of the night by Enzo’s grave voice shouting “Che cosa?!”, followed by his hand shaking me to attention.

Non capisco!” He handed me his mobile.

I tried to shake the sleep off me before speaking, “Hello?”

Cynthia? Es Alfonso.” His voice quivered. “Hay un problema. Uno muy grave.

What? A problem? A grave one? My mind was still half asleep, my thoughts mixed with the leftovers of the dream I was awoken from.

Che cosa sta succedendo?” Enzo turned on the light, making me wince, and started pacing around the room.

I covered my eyes with my hand, trying to concentrate on all the channels that were suddenly open in my head. Enzo was waiting for an answer, so I switched to Spanish and asked Alfonso –in the softest way I could– what was the problem.

Tenemos una rata en el barco. Creemos que es Fabien.

Oh fuck, someone had filtered information and they were blaming the French dude. Alfonso proceeded to tell me how the police had arrived at the dock when they were about to unload the shipload of cocaine we were waiting for.

WE. That was a funny thing to say. I’d been with Enzo for what? Six months. And this was suddenly a ‘we’ enterprise.

Who am I, you may ask? I’m a translator. I wanted to work with the United Nations and had applied there some weeks before a friend hooked me up with a gig. Sure, some freelancing never hurt anyone. Then I learned the venue was a nightclub and that I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before even meeting with my client. I signed, I needed the money. That’s how I ended up translating a whole drug deal between members of a Spanish mafia and Enzo, the leader of an Italian cartel.

How I ended up in bed with Enzo that same night is another story that, right now, doesn’t even matter. What mattered then was that I had Alfonso in the line and I could tell he was trembling with fear at how Enzo would react.

Problemi con la spedizione, Enzo.” A problem, yeah, that was a pretty general concept.

Che tipo di problema?

I took a deep breath before saying, “Un informatore.

Enzo paused, his eyes bulging like I had never seen them before. Someone had coughed. There was a traitor among us.

Alfonso, ¿sigues ahí?” I needed to know if Alfonso was still with me.

Sí.” He was. Trembling, but he was there. So I pushed him on telling me the details of what happened.

Apparently, the police were waiting nearby until they could get them with their hands literally on the merchandise. Sneaky fuckers appeared out of nowhere and surrounded them. Alfonso sprinted towards the darkness of the trees around the beach and managed to escape, unlike the rest.

Chi?” Enzo pressed for a name.

“Fabien.”

Merda!

Oooooh, he was mad now. Throwing stuff around the room and cussing loudly.

I whispered into the phone to ask Alfonso if he knew any other name.

No.” He breathed.

I said I’ll call him back, that he get himself somewhere safe and call back if anything else came up.

That was when he said the thing that made my blood run cold: that Fabien, the supposed snitch, was on his way to Enzo’s flat with a whole entourage of police officers.

FUCK.

I hung up the call and turned to the frenzied Enzo.

Siate tranquilo, Enzo.” He listened to me, his heavy breathing subsiding as his hands held on to the curtains.

“What else did he tell you?” He changed to English as the anger slowly made its way out of his system.

It is human nature that our brains switch to our native tongues when we are in stress situations. I understood this, since I had seen it many times before. Enzo and his men were from different nationalities and, at times, it felt like I was living inside the Tower of Babel. That was the nickname I used for his place, since it was where they would all come together and fret over deals and such.

A knock on the door startled us both.

“Police! Open the door.”

“Fuck.” I breathed, running around the bed to collect some clothes to dress myself.

Enzo stood in place, as if frozen.

“Enzo!” I shouted at him. “Come on!”

More knocking, more telling it was the police. I needed to get dressed, quick.

Enzo just ran his fingers through his hair.

The front door exploded into a million wooden splinters as I jumped into a pair of jeans and threw a T-shirt over my head.

They wouldn’t get me. No, sir. Not me. I was innocent, I was clean.

I gave Enzo one last glance, he nodded towards the window. I opened it, climbed out of the flat and landed on the cool metal surface of the fire escape in time to hear an officer shout “Enzo Macini! You’re under arrest!”

I ran down the ladder as fast as I could without looking back.

Chaos broke loose inside the flat and I could hear the gunshots getting farther as I took off towards the main street.

“Maybe the UN still has an opening for a translator,” I thought as I hailed a cab.

And that was the day I made it out of the Tower of Babel.

On how Scarlett learnt about her mission (The Caregiver Series vignette #1):

In my first novella, The Caregiver, we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord, Armand Sayer. This vignette is about the day she was assigned the mission, days before the story on the book starts. Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was morning. A cold, gray London morning to be precise. I was crossing Lambeth Bridge to meet Ferdinand at the Albert Embankment. I remember how I had studied every possible map before coming here, anxious to start working in the field again…

Then I was sent to an office, filling forms and filing papers.

Fuck yeah, the Interpol agent life!

I pushed my gloved hands further into the pockets of my leather jacket, feeling the gun concealed inside, praying it wouldn’t turn into an ice cube. Thing is, I grew up in Miami, spent summers in the Caribbean or Southern Spain. Nothing as cold as this. Nothing.

I got off the bridge and turned right on Albert Embankment, down the steps, and soon enough Ferdinand’s smile came to sight. Always bright, always inviting. I often found myself dodging it as if it were throwing daggers at me.

“Scarlett.” He kissed my cheek and offered his arm to me.

“Fer.” I nodded. “I’m freezing.”

“Oh come on! You’ve been living here for how long?”

“The two most boring years of my fucking life.”

He sighed. “Let’s walk.”

So we did. I walked on his left, thinking that maybe, if things got funny, I could just push him into the water and make a run for it.

“Did anyone follow you here?” He was eyeing me out of the corner of his eye.

“Nope. Nobody.”

“Good.”

“You said you needed to talk to me. I don’t have all day. I have papers to file.”

“Moretti asked me to call you.”

“Moretti? He sees me every day at the office. Barking orders and making me brew his coffee.”

“Have you been in contact with Cisneros lately?”

I waited until a man jogged past us to answer that, taking my time.

“Maybe.”

They often tell you not to stay friends with your ex-boyfriends. But Ferdinand was my colleague and his ranking was higher than mine so, yeah, I was stuck with this one.

“Every time they use a sniper to kill some drug dealer I pray it wasn’t you. Then I dig up the details and see your name all over it.”

He didn’t mean that literally, of course. I knew how to do my job. In and out, quick, nothing that could be traced back to me. Then I was back to kicking the copy machine and dragging my boots on the rug, just so I could give someone a nice jolt.

“You gonna turn me in?”

“You know I won’t.”

“Then?”

“Are you hungry?”

“Starving.”

“Let’s go grab a bite.” There it was again, the smile under those gleaming brown eyes. Ugh.

He liked the pub on the corner of Tinworth Street, so we went there and, to my dismay, sat at one of the tables outside.

“Tell me when my nose falls off because I won’t be able to.”

“I don’t want anyone eavesdropping on us.”

A waiter gave us the menus and I asked for a cup of coffee. Really hot coffee.

“It’ll ruin your appetite.” Ferdinand said, matter-of-factly.

“Better for me, maybe I’ll lose some weight. I should, really, I can’t carry a gun between my thighs since they rub together. There are some agents that have this huge thigh gap. One could stick an Uzi between their legs.”

He chuckled. He knew it was true. Fer never bullshitted me. I was no femme fatale, no eye candy. That’s how I liked it, though. I was a Plain Jane. I’d blend in without any difficulty.

And I wasn’t asked to fuck anyone either.

The waiter brought me a steaming cup of coffee. I took off my gloves and held it as if it was a baby chick, feeling the relief of warmth in my hands, at last. I inhaled its aroma and forgot where I was while Ferdinand ordered food for both.

“I was talking to Romulus,” he brought me back as soon as the waiter was out of sight, “we’re giving you another chance.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“I’m being serious, Scarlett. We’ve decided to give you the Sayer mission.”

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I had to set the cup back on the table gently. “You’re not kidding?”

“I’m not kidding. He was attacked, a single gunman surprised him as he was leaving a restaurant with his wife. Two shots to his left leg, another one to his right arm. He’s house-bound, recovering, and his sister is looking for a caregiver. It’s not just because you actually went to nursing school. She’s looking for someone that can act as a bodyguard in case anything unusual happens.”

“Aaaaand?” Something in the way he drawled on the last sentence made me think there was more to it.

“She wants someone that wouldn’t cause too much of a stir, if you know what I mean.”

Ha ha! Being the Plain Jane does pay.

“When do I start?”

“You’ll meet with his sister, Helga, tomorrow at Cisneros’s place. He’s recommending you. They’re friends.”

I picked up the coffee cup again even though I didn’t think I needed it anymore. I was going to the field again, and with no one else but Armand Sayer, London’s number-one drug lord.

“Oh,” I breathed, trying to suppress the giddy smile from my face.

“Now, Scarlett, I must warn you–”

“Here we go.” I rolled my eyes. Fer was always lecturing me. “That I better not fuck it up this time?”

“Yes.”

“I haven’t fucked anything up. The Gibraltar mission was a fail because Cisneros couldn’t stand his ground. That deal went sour the moment we stepped out of that plane.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Neither do I.” I sipped the hot liquid, wishing now it was whiskey or something set aflame.

“What about the wife?”

“Rumor is she left. He’s alone.” He was looking at me from under his eyebrows.

“Who do you take me for?”

“You keep yourself safe, you hear me?”

His bare hand reached out for mine over the table. I set mine in his and let him squeeze it.

“I will.” I grinned, letting some of my excitement out.

Then the waiter brought our food and I tried to indulge on the flood of emotions going through my system. It had been too long since my last mission and, truth be told, there was no other place I felt more like myself than out there with my gun or my rifle aiming at a nice head, and then watching it blow up.

We wrestled for the bill and I let him win, or he’d never let it go.

“I’ll send you the details later.” He waited for me to put on my gloves, “please, be careful.”

“I always am.” His sly smile told how little he believed that. Really, who did he take me for? “Love turns people so bloody soft.”

He hugged me tight. I wrapped my arms around him, not too tight, and held still until he released me.

“Don’t fuck it.” He pointed a finger at me and gave me a peck on the lips before turning to cross the street.

Bastard.

How could I fuck what could be the most important mission in my entire career?, I thought as I threaded my way in opposite direction, towards Spring Gardens.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liked this vignette? Then you’ll love the book!

Check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Or buy it, it’s only 99¢ (£0.77, €0.89)!

The Caregiver book cover

Available here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel

 

The Dance

It was a bar like any other bar, though it wasn’t as crowded as they get during the weekends.

Richard was there, lulling over his whiskey and feeling like shit. He was tired, not physically tired, but mentally. He took the glass to his lips and swallowed the burning liquid, sucking it to the last drop. A businessman on a business trip like so many before him.

The bartender raised his eyebrows at Richard, waiting, until the latter nodded for him to fill the glass once more.

“Feeling lonely tonight?” A tall blonde slid to the bar stool next to his and flashed a smile.

He had seen her up on the stage dancing some minutes before. She was pretty and graceful, yet he sat with his back to the stage and preferred to sink his sight in the vastness of golden fluid inside his hands.

“No.” A hiss would have been more accurate.

The young dancer snorted at him and scurried away.

“Now, now, Jacky, your number is about to start.” A man’s voice came from behind. “Agh. What to do with these young girls?”

The man it came from, a guy Richard calculated was in his fifties, just like him, sat on the bar stool Jacky had vacated, facing the stage. Leaned back, his arms stretched on the bar behind him, he seemed to be pretty comfortable.

Richard gave a chuckle, not wanting to be rude. The man gave out a gasp when Jacky started dancing again. This time Richard was looking.

“Can I get you anything, Ralph?” The bartender asked the man.

“No.” Right after saying that he flinched, Jacky had missed a step. “Make it a Gin and Tonic. I can tell this won’t be a good night. That girl will ruin me and my business.”

“Her?” Richard nodded Jacky’s way.

“Yes, her, Jacky. She can’t give two steps without tripping. I can manage stilettos better than her.”

Richard choked on his whiskey. “Excuse me?”

“I’m kidding. I’ve owned this place for twenty years and have never seen a disaster quite like her. Fucking economic crisis.”

“You own this place?”

“Yes.” Richard’s skepticism took Ralph by surprise. “Inherited it from my father. It has seen better days, I can assure you that. Lately it’s been a struggle to make it to the end of the month. Bar by night, dance school by day. Ralph Donovan at your service, bar owner, dance instructor.” He stretched out and inviting hand.

“Richard Wayne, non-interesting businessman.” He shook it with what could be called a smile.

“Is that empty?” Ralph pointed at Richard’s glass which was, in fact, empty. “Sean! A whiskey here for Mr. Wayne.” He leaped to his feet. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put an end to this.”

Ralph strode to the stage, stopped the music, and informed Jacky that, since that very moment, she no longer worked there. The girl did what they all do, she got angry, then begged, then got angry again, then she did the unthinkable, at least for Richard it was.

She called Ralph a ‘faggot’.

Everyone went silent except for Jacky’s panting.

Ralph stood there like a freeze frame, arms crossed over his chest, his lips pressed into a thin line. The rest of the dancers dared not to approach him, so they took off through the back of the stage.

“You have five seconds to disappear from my presence or not even God will forgive what I will do to you, you little scoundrel.”

The girl’s eyes filled with rabid tears, her body trembled all over. She ran away to the dressing rooms without considering an apology.

Ralph remained there, standing, a long sigh escaped his chest before he turned to the bartender.

“Early closing, Sean.” It sounded more like a grunt.

Sean hastened to tell everyone to finish their drinks while Ralph went back to his bar stool next to Richard and stared into his gin and tonic.

After a moment of silence, during which they sat awkwardly next to each other, Richard stirred on his seat.

“I am sorry you had to witness that.” Ralph’s voice traveled slowly, as if echoing inside his glass before heading Richard’s way. “You can stay for another drink if you want to. Even after everyone’s gone there’s inventorying, cleaning…”

“Maybe we can have them somewhere else.” It was the weirdest thing for Richard to say, not that he wasn’t saying it from the heart.

“I can manage, boss.” Sean was eavesdropping, rubbing an inconspicuous cloth on the bar. “Go out and get some air. You’ve been here all day.”

“I’m staying at a hotel a block away from here.” Richard said to Ralph’s hunched back. “There’s this small bar at the lobby, it seems nice and quiet.”

Ralph raised his eyes to meet Sean’s and, after getting a wink, turned to Richard.

“I’ll get my coat.”

Both men strolled to the hotel dressed in black coats, sharing jokes, laughing.

The hotel bar was small, covered under a blur of smoke, and the jazz music playing on the jukebox gave signs of having been played too many times.

Ralph seemed to be recovering the color on his face already.

“People tend to have the wrong impression about me. I’ve been going through the train wreck of a divorce while my business is falling apart before my eyes.” Richard started spilling his truths at Ralph, who listened attentively.

“Times are rough, my friend.” Ralph took his beer to his lips, glancing at the rest of the patrons as they left.

The song playing on the jukebox ended and Ralph was quick to get to it, take some quarters from his pocket, and select a song. Richard watched from his seat as Ralph leaned over the jukebox, his foot tapping on the floor to the beat of the song.

“I…” Richard’s voice startled Ralph, he didn’t know he was standing behind him. “I’m not much of a dancer, but being no one else here, I thought…”

“That is very nice of you, but don’t worry. I’m fine. It’s something one doesn’t get used to, not even with time, but I’m okay.”

“Oh, come on! I never, ever, dance. Do you have any idea how much courage it took for me to get up and ask you to dance?”

Ralph chuckled, a smile breaking through the darkness of the place.

They danced, well, Richard followed Ralph’s lead until it looked as if they were dancing. However, his mind was somewhere far, where the lines drawn by society faded, taking everything he thought he was with them. He was in a land where there was no she, or he, just us. Where Ralph’s hand felt just right and he could smile even through the fog. A place he hadn’t been to before.

Ralph was good, he was a good dancer, a good partner. Exactly what Richard needed to breathe better and unwind to the melody that was now a distant whisper. Because nothing else existed but them.

When the song was over, their lips found each other’s and it was perfect. A hint of beer that mixed so well with the whiskey and the gin, like musk and leather.

As if by instinct, Ralph stepped back, his eyes suddenly resembling the famous deer in the headlights cliché.

“I’m sorry.” He started to apologize. “I got carried away.”

“No, no, you didn’t.”

“I’ve embarrassed you. I know you are not…”

“It was perfect. To the point of wanting to thank you for it.”

That brought laughter to both men, who stared at each other, each one holding back some invisible object.

“It’s late. I should go.” Ralph turned on his heels and went for his coat, but Richard intercepted him midway.

“It doesn’t have the end here.”

“I’m not up for experiments.” Ralph slid his coat on, gracefully rearranging its collar.

“Neither am I.” Richard took his coat from the rack, threw it over his arm and strode to the elevator.

Ralph stood there, stunned, and, at the last moment, he rushed to stop the elevator door from closing.

On Pride

I proudly bear your fingerprints as scars on my skin. Scars of a war I didn’t know I was fighting, and couldn’t win. Your essence wrapped itself around me like a cloak, tied me in a thousand ways, with knots no one could ever undo. And yet, I wasn’t trapped, I walked freely.

Now you are sitting here, in front of me, sip by sip drinking your coffee, and I envy the way your lips touch the foam cup. I envy it to the point of wanting to rip it from your entwined fingers and throw it away into the loneliness I am sitting on. I want the cloak back on me, I want the knots to be tied again.

You sneer at me like I’m a stray animal you want to scare. I’m not a child, I know you too well. You sneer when you are uncomfortable, when someone is reading what is inside your mind. You sneer at me because you want me back, yet it is your pride that is building the wall between us, brick by brick, until I have to climb to get a peek of you down there, on the other side.

Climbing, a rope between my hands, pulling my weight upwards to get to the top. When I make it, you are casually sitting on the edge, one leg hanging, a burning cigarette in your hand. But there is no place for me on the ledge because your pride is already there, and it sneers at me, and it takes its foot to my head and pushes me down. You take the cigarette to your lips, like the coffee cup, and take a sip. Meanwhile, I’m kicked numerous times by your pride. I lose my hold on the rope and fall.

“Are you going to finish that?” You ask.

I feel the cup and learn my coffee is already cold.

You grunt. “We are finished. Get it in your head.” You sneer at me once more.

I nod, tears welling up, and watch you take off while your pride holds the door.

Myself

My knees shake as I enter the place reeking of cigarettes. The strappy stilettos that hold my feet don’t match with the black that repeats itself on every surface, contrasting with the colorful tattoos on everyone’s arms and necks. My fluttery silk skirt stays stiff, as if fearing its surroundings. I am not scared, not inside at least, because I am determined to do what I’m going to do.

I approach the pair of dark eyes framed by glinting silver piercings waiting behind the counter. He eyes my long hair from the top to the bottom, where it meets my hips.

“I’m here to get a haircut.”

“This is a barber shop.” He says reluctantly as his eyebrows meet each other on the bridge of his nose, which also has a piercing through it.

“Exactly what I need.”

He escorts me to a chair, crossing through the sea of estranged looks shot my way. I sit down and see myself on the mirror. Myself, something I had lost a long time ago and was here to reunite with. The chubby barber stands behind me. Everyone around freezes when he asks:

“What would you like?”

I think about it for a moment and remember why I’m here. I’m here because of him, the man that made my life a nightmare.

I throw my hair back on the chair for the barber to see it clearly. That part of me I loved so much, that he loved so much but also used to yank, to pull, to torture me with.

“Shave it.”

A collective gasp goes through the place like a wave.

“Excuse me?”

“Shave it.”

Because I want to be myself again.