There were things you wouldn’t find in a dive, though; like the coffee machines and option of “fancy” coffees—it was surprising just how popular they were. Some people just popped in for a latte while waiting for Dodger and Cade to finish working on their bikes or, in the case of the Mommy Troop, to ogle the bikers.
“Hey, Kensey!” one of the patrons, Henry, called out as I was jotting down someone else’s order. “Yo mama’s so fat, she got baptized at Sea World!”
I almost rolled my eyes. We did this at least once a day. “Yo mama’s so stupid, she stuck a phone up her butt and thought she was making a booty call!”
He threw back his head and laughed. “Classic. Reed, get me another drink, would you?”
Henry was one of the many patrons who was a regular that burrowed there practically all day, treating the place like it was his home and looking for whiskey-themed therapy sessions. He fell asleep in a corner booth at least twice each day, and he’d always wake up looking fresh as a daisy.
I spent the next few hours taking orders, collecting dirty glasses, and wiping down tables. Sherry and Reed took care of the drinks and food, but I was always called on to make the coffee—especially for the Mommy Troop, since they could be fussy as fuck.
Whenever there was a lull in the flow of patrons, I’d find myself zoning out as scenes unfolded in my head. I self-published my horror books under a penname as I didn’t want them to be linked with Michael. Reviews would be tainted by whatever people thought of me, Clear, or him. My penname, Nina Bowen, wasn’t extremely well-known, but I had a nice following of readers and earned decent enough royalties that I only needed to work part-time at the bar. That could so easily be messed up if Nina Bowen’s real identity became public.
The only people I’d told about my books were Clear and the Armstrong clan. People I trusted to never breathe a word of it to others. I trusted Reed to an extent, but nowhere near enough to entrust him with something so personal to me. Clear had told Michael, of course, since she kept no secrets from him.
Snapping me out of my thoughts, Sarah sidled up to me and discreetly tipped her chin toward a couple hissing words at each other in the corner. “God, would it kill them to argue a little louder? I need some backstory at least.”
I chuckled. “Feeling better yet?”
“My head is no longer throbbing, thanks to the wonder that is Tylenol.”
The doors swung open, and Cade walked inside. He tapped Sarah on the nose. “Hey, bitch.”
She sneered. “Go piss up a tree, shithead.”
Cade just chuckled and then turned to me. “Kensey, I need one of your magical coffees. Make one for my dad too.”
“Sure thing.” I went behind the bar and prepared his order.
Reed leaned against the bar, watching me. “What do you do differently than me? They’re the same coffee beans and the same machines, but your coffees taste fresh and rich with just the right tint of bitterness. Not watery or over-roasted. And they don’t leave a burned, acidic aftertaste in my mouth.”
“The credit goes to one of my exes.” The barista had made an art out of coffee making, and he’d taught me how to get it just right.
“Hey, what was that thing earlier with Blake Mercier?” Cade asked. “You were glaring at each other pretty hard.”
I flicked him a glance, noticing he was smiling at a group of girls, distracted. Good. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that his question had made me almost drop his cup. “He doesn’t seem to think that it’s a good idea for the stepdaughter of Michael Bale to be working here.”
Cade’s head whipped around. “What? Fucking asshole. You should have told me.”
“Why? He’s entitled to his opinion, even if it’s a stupid one. Forget about it.” I set the two take-out cups on the bar. “There.”
With a nod of thanks, Cade took them. “If he ever says any shit like that to you again, you tell me.”
I gave him a placatory “of course” smile, but the narrow-eyed look he shot me called me a liar. Still, he left without commenting. That was when I felt Sarah watching me closely. As I rounded the bar, I asked, “What?”
“You got all flustered just now,” she said quietly. “Cade didn’t notice; he was too busy eye-fucking those women. What is it about Blake Mercier that makes you all flustered?”
I hesitated, unsure how to explain. “Let’s just say he’s intimidatingly good-looking.”
“So? Good-looking guys approach you all the time. You don’t blush or anything.”
I bit my lip. “There might have been a little of that chemistry you like to talk about.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up. “How much exactly?”
“God, Sarah, I think I heard a choir of angels.”
She laughed. “Damn, this is precious. So are you planning to do anything about it?”
“Considering he talked about me like I was a piece of shit on his shoe and would probably rather lick the floor than touch me, no.”
“What do you mean?”
“Turns out that Libby filled his head with crap. I’m not only a crackhead, I apparently also once slit my wrists for attention.”
Sarah gawked. “That bitch’s evil streak has no end.” She sighed. “Well, fuck her and fuck him.”
My thoughts exactly.
After my shift was over, I headed straight home. My apartment building wasn’t far from the bar. It wasn’t anyone’s definition of nice—not with the graffiti, crumbling bricks, and dirt-streaked stairwells. Still, the apartment itself was okay. It was small, sure, but there were no stains on the walls, no grimy windows, no threadbare carpets, and no cracks in the ceiling. My neighbors weren’t so bad, either. My landlord was the male equivalent of a crazy cat lady, but he didn’t bother me much.
Still, Sarah regularly suggested that I move in with her, since her building was safer, but I couldn’t live with someone who seemed to collect clutter. Writers were often stereotyped as messy. I wasn’t one of those people. Not that I could claim to be organized. When it came to writing, I was on the ball. But when it came to remembering events, keeping appointments, or even noticing that it was time to eat, I was utterly useless. Honestly, my memory was so atrocious I could arrange my own surprise party.
After I’d eaten dinner and changed into my sweats, I settled on the plush sofa with my laptop and logged into the email account I’d set up specifically for my penname, enjoying the tick of the computer keys. There were a number of emails from people who’d read my books, which made me smile.
I’d never decided that I was going to be a writer. Didn’t have a sense of destiny or a craving for acknowledgement. But I had a drive to create, and I couldn’t ignore it. Didn’t want to. Writing was as therapeutic for me as it was fun. Going even a single day without writing could make me restless.
For me, it didn’t feel like “work.” Not that it was easy. No, it was challenging and exhausting, but that was part of why I loved it.
It was a solitary job, but that didn’t bother me. I wasn’t a person who required social interaction. I never got lonely and didn’t draw energy from being near others, which Sarah thought was awesome, since she couldn’t cope with her own company for very long.
Relaxed, I went through the emails one at a time, warmed by the positive comments. One reader in particular, John Smith, raved about my books before begging me to click on a link that would take me to a review he’d written. Ordinarily, I didn’t like clicking on links that were included in emails, but this person had taken the time to write a review; the least I could do was read it.