“He tipped you 1500?! Who the hell just walks around giving people that kind of money! Especially after putting out a perfectly competent tender!”
Dante placed the tip money from Vincent in his jar along with the pile of twenties he’d made at the floor bar. “It wasn’t 1500, Nichelle, it was 1200. Made the rest on my own.”
Nichelle scoffed and flicked her long brown hair over her shoulder as she finger-combed the curls tiredly. “I don’t get it. That guy reeked of fucking hetero! I should’ve been a shoo-in! You barely talked unless they talk first and you don’t even flirt! You’re like the only kid in this place who didn’t understand the assignment yet you always make more money in the VIP rooms than me!”
Dante sealed the jar and stuff it in a trash bag before putting it securely in his backpack. Professionalism, I guess. Some of those big business types don’t like being distracted from their money. That very amazing boob job you got going on, while very nice, won’t be cared about much until business is over. You need to be more patient.”
Nichelle huffed and touched her perfectly shaped bosom. “These get me plenty of tips, kay thanks.”
Dante smiled. “I think your charisma gets you tips, not just your boobs.”
“Yeah, but they help!” she argued.
“See, that’s why he pulls more money than you!” Dominic said counting their jar. They were the only other male barkeep, though they played very much ambiguous when it came to their gender. Sometimes they dressed very much like Dante. Others, much like Nichelle except somewhat more modest. Tonight they were in full makeup and gorgeously done up hair, making them appear as a beautiful woman. Though it didn’t take much on that point with their plush lips, high cheekbones, and sweet honey-tinted skin. They were quite entrancing to Dante, having seen them in and out of makeup. They looked at Dante with their kohl-lined brown eyes, a smirk on their face. Their voice was smooth like the bourbon Dante served. “You care too much about how they think you look when Dante doesn’t care at all.”
“it’s easy for him cause he’s got those pretty eyes and pouty lips and way too fucking plump backside,” Nichelle teased.
“See, Dante, if we actually started doing a bit of fan service ‘round here, we’d be unstoppable.”
Dante shoved Dominic. “KT keeps you on the dance floor for a reason, Dominic.”
“I thought it was because I was incredibly gorgeous and sexy,” Dominic curled a finger in their hair.
Nichelle scoffed, her greener side showing. “I’m pretty sure it’s because you pretend to be a girl. Not their fault though, the alcohol makes them too blind to tell.”
“Nichelle, that’s fucking rude!” Dante snapped at her.
“It’s alright Dante. That would be like faulting you that no one knew your tits used to be bite-sized, you caked up whore.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. Very funny. At least mine is a nice poundcake, I don’t need much icing,” she sneered sticking her tongue out. “So, what was Mr. De Pazzi like! He didn’t talk much to me when I was around; barely batted an eye on me. A man that hot not being interested is fucking insulting. What did you do to get him to talk? Sit in his lap?”
“I don’t do that sort of thing, chill.”
Dante’s tone made her back down.
“I uh, just kinda stood there. Was seen and unheard and eventually, they included me in the conversation. After Dorian left, he asked me to stay. Ain’t talk much then either. I worked.” He rested his chin on his hand, pensive and still very confused by the whole encounter. “Felt like he was laughing at me or, like, spying on me the whole time. He seemed… I dunno, pleased by me if that makes any sense. It was kinda weird.”
“Obviously he wants to get in your panties!”
“Dante, if he shows up again, we can make sure he doesn’t have you again,” Dominic said with concern. “Fuck whatever KT says, you shouldn’t subject yourself to someone potentially dangerous.”
“Huh? Oh no! No. Don’t worry. It… it wasn’t that kind of weird.”
“Ooh, it sounds like you liked the attention.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Dominic spat. “He’s probably just one of those playboy types that get easily bored with their partners. Bet he just has a thing for young men or something.”
“I mean, the jerk threw me out so he must be a lil’ on the weird side.”
“Yeah,” Dante said wistfully. “Though… he was really, really polite. Didn’t really say anything unprofessional. I guess he was respectful about the whole thing. Didn’t even try to make a pass at me but, I dunno. His stare still made me feel cornered, like I couldn’t get enough air…”
Dante trailed off as he realized his coworkers were staring at him. Dominic and Nichelle shared a look and then both smiled at Dante.
“Uh-oh, what’s this?” Nichelle sung.
“Isn’t obvious Dante. You’re interested in him.”
“What? No I’m not.”
Nichelle giggled. “Oh my god! Cold fish Dante who could turn down a million-dollar dick got sparked! He lit your ass up; you’re even still thinking about him.”
“Shut the fuck up. He didn’t spark me or whatever. The only thing he did was offer me a job and that was it!”
“For what? Be his bitch boy for a night?”
“You’re just the worst type of person Nichelle.”
“I’ll wait for Dante to tell me I’m wrong!”
“Stop,” Dante said blandly. “He needs a bartender this weekend and asked me to call him if I was interested.”
“Oh my gosh! You should take it! If you get a big tip like this for a few hours, imagine that it would be for a real party!” Nichelle clapped her hands. “Imagine all those fucking drunk rich assholes throwing money at you!”
Dominic frowned, more cautious than Nichelle. “KT would kick your ass for even thinking about it, especially without telling her. We don’t do side jobs.”
“I know that, Dom. KT won’t find out because I’m not gonna take it. All I have to do is not call and moneybags will forget I ever existed.”
“Mm. Just be careful Dante,” Dominic touched his shoulder, getting him to look at them. “Nichelle was bullshiting, but… he might really be trying to get in your pants. How he gets in them may not matter to him.”
Nichelle frowned actually being serious. “Hate to agree with this asshole, but they’re right. Those rich types don’t care about the rules of normal people. They just have to pay enough money to get their way, be careful.”
Dante sighed. “Guys. I’m literally the last person to preach that too. I’m never seeing Vincent De Pazzi again. Alright?”
“Hmm, such a damn shame. He was so good looking too.”
“I gotta go. Nicky goes to school in a couple hours and I want to see him before he heads out.” Dante shouldered his bag. “I’ll see you bitches later.”
“Pussy whipped,” Dominic teased.
“If only it were that,” Dante muttered.
“Does that even work for you guys?” Nichelle asked her brow raised.
“I’m sure my cunt’s tighter than yours, Nichelle. Give it a rest.”
Dante rubbed his face. “You’re both gross. Leaving!”
Dante’s modest apartment was not very far from the Playground. He couldn’t afford a car yet so he often rode his motorcycle to his night job and rode the train to his day job. He walked up the stairs of his building to his door, passing by people just heading out for their normal jobs. He unlocked it quietly as he could and went inside, taking his shoes off at the door. He put the backpack on the table, making his way toward the cracked open bedroom door. Smiling he peered inside where he saw his reason for all this hard work lying across their queen-sized bed.
Nicholas “Nicky” Park had been Dante’s boyfriend for nearly nine years. High school sweethearts all the way through. They had graduated together and got put out of their family homes together, and no lived together. Nicky was exactly six-foot jock type, which surprised most people when they met Nicky. They thought Dante was more into punks due to his style. Nicky was a blonde-haired, hazel-eyed wondered who had big dreams that were very expensive for Dante. Not that he minded. Having no real academic goals, Dante enjoyed working so that Nicky could complete med school and become a doctor. After all, the promise was that after everything was all said and done, Nicky would begin his residency and Dante would quit the job he hated the most. Dante didn’t hate either job but having the option not to work was appealing. He could focus on other things, like finding his own passions. Nicky was full of dreams and promises that Dante wanted to see come true and the last thing he wanted to do was jeopardize his job for a little extra cash.
“Nicky?” he whispered, poking the man in the side. “Nicky?”
“M’whaaat? Nicky groaned, face down in the pillow.
“Come on, get u. You got class in an hour and a half!”
“Nooo,” Nicky fussed and turned over so his back was to Dante. “You’re late.
“I got held up by a surprise Patron.”
Nicky looked over his shoulder. “Which one?”
“No one in particular.” Dante climbed into bed with Nicky, pressing against the warmth of his back. “Dorian and his business partner.”
“Dorian?” He spat. “You let that asshole keep you ‘til sunrise.”
“Actually, no,” Dante said, kissing Nicky’s shoulders. “It was his business partner. He was kinda old and wanted me to stay until he was done drinking. He barely even talked to me, but he tipped damn good. “I want you to see my tip jar. Come on, get out of bed.”
Nicky groaned but sat up and stretched. Dante watched the covers fall off his shirtless torso and smirked. He loved looking at Nicky.
“Fuck you! Come on, want to show you my haul.”
Nicky rolled out of bed and followed Dante to the backpack. Dante unzipped it and pulled out his jar that was loaded to the top with a fat wad of hundreds on top. Nicky’s eyes bulged, reaching for it.
“No shit! How much is that?”
“Ah! Hands off mister. This is going straight to the bank. I’m paying rent a month ahead and I’m putting the rest on what’s left of your fees this year.” Dante popped his hand away. “Dorian tipped me his usual three hundred then his partner sweetened the pot with 1200 right in my hand. The rest was working the floor as usual. I came out with almost 5,000.”
Nicky’s smile faded. “Those rich fucks didn’t make you do anything did they?”
“You say that like I would let that happen. Fuck no. All I did was stand there and serve him drinks, which is my job.”
“Don’t trust a man who throws that kinda money at a bartender. Especially at one who doesn’t flirt or do anything. He say anything?”
Dante sighed and plopped down in the chair. He supposed he couldn’t blame Nicky for being suspicious. He’d spent half that encounter waiting for things to go bad. “Nicky, just accept the good luck. Nothing happened and with this, the rest of your fees will be paid off. Be happy.”
Nicky passed his hand over his face and his smile returned. He went to Dante and leaned over him.
“My little working husband,” he teased and kissed Dante before he could make an indignant remark. Dante relaxed and kissed him back with a happy sigh. He was tired, his feet hurt, but this made it all worth it. Nicky pulled back and moved down his neck, Dante’s head falling to the side. Though he averted his eyes a bit, uncomfortable. It felt good… it really did, but there was a skip in his heart and broke any daze he could’ve been allowed.
“You know,” Nicky said between kisses. “I could always miss class today. We could…”
“No.” Dante pulled back and gently pushed him back. “Not today.”
“Seriously?” Nicky rolled his eyes. “It’s been almost seven years. We literally sleep next to each other every night. When are we going to be past this?”
“W-we are past this but… I just don’t.,,” Dante shrugged with a hard sigh. “It’s behind you. It’s always been behind you. But it’s right behind me. Just give me time okay. Focus on school.”
Nicky stood up straight, thought Dante could see the crease in his brow as he tried not to look angry. “I’m gonna go shower. You should go to bed. You gotta go to work at three.”
“I love you, Nicky,” Dante whispered.
“Yeah well, making it hard to believe, Dante,” Nicky muttered, going into the bathroom.
Dante lowered his head, glancing at the jar of money with a dead stare. Wasn’t that proof in itself. The proof that Dante worked his fingers raw to cover the expenses grants and loans couldn’t cover. They were so close to living the way they wanted to, but… they weren’t closer to each other. Not anymore. Dante leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and carding his fingers. He stared at nothing, wondering what to do. It wasn’t Nicky anymore really. It was just him wasn’t it? He was the only one still suffering and he didn’t know how to fix it.
After a long nap, a trip to the bank, and a grueling warehouse shift later, Dante returned to his apartment once again to shower and change for the Playground. Nicky was already in bed studying, as usual. He pressed a chaste kiss to Nicky’s temple, which was acknowledged by a brief brushing of his cheek. He showered and changed, putting on a dressy button-up shirt and a vest combo with slacks. He toed on a comfortable pair of dress shoes and brushed his hair back into a low but tight ponytail. Grabbing his backpack and coat he kissed Nicky’s temple.
“Don’t wait up.”
“Never do,” Nicky said distractedly. “Oh yeah, Dante. I might be gone when you get back. I got an early study group in the morning before class. We’re all getting breakfast together. I’d invite you but I rather you stay and get some sleep so I’ll head out early.”
“Oh, yeah, have fun, hun. I’m glad.” At least Nicky could still socialize.
Dante took a slow drive towards the upscale part of their neighborhood. Despite wanting to move out of their dumb, he enjoyed the fact that it was only a few steps between his lower-class living space and the high-end schoolyard for the rich. It made life easier and crime wasn’t too big of an issue. He could hear the booming music before he’d even rounded the corner and the line was out the door. People were driving up in classy cars and limos where Chucks, their head bouncer inspected them for firearms. KT didn’t play that OK Corral shit and Chuck was an ex-marine. He and his team (mostly ex-military and ex-cons looking for a way to get by) kept a close eye on the escorts and barkeeps, both ensuring their safety at the door and making sure they made it back to their vehicles with no problems.
The place was packed as always. Everyone was done with their workweek and ready to spend some money on booze and people they would never normally sleep with. However, Dante wasn’t to be part of the frivolity tonight. No, he was scheduled to work in VIP room 4. KT Had said the patron would be there soon and he needed to get set up. He made sure the glasses were clean and sparkling and the booze was cold He was just adjusting the temperature on the cooler when the door opened. He stood up from his bent position to greet them with a professional smile, but the words died in his throat when he saw the hostess come in with Vincent De Pazzi. They stared at each other for a long while, Dante’s mouth agape in shock that the man even came back. Vincent gave an amused chuckle and waved the hostess away. They were silent until the door shut, and Vincent chuckled louder at Dante’s expression.
“We meet again, Mr. Milan,” He said.
It took Dante a moment to find his words. “Good evening, Mr. De Pazzi. What brings you back so soon?”
“Well, at first it was because of a meeting, but now I believe it’s just to enjoy your good services. How good are you at making a Kiss on the Lips?”
“Uh, that’s a… very… you like sweet drinks?” Dante asked furrowing his brows. Didn’t seem like the type.
“My client tonight is a lady of few alcoholic beverages. The ones she enjoys are sweet and that so happens to be her favorite.”
“Ah,” Dante nodded. “You must know her well then.”
“Hardly. I just met her yesterday,” Vincent said with a dismissive edge as he took a seat at the bar.
“Oh… that’s weird then,” Dante muttered as he got a glass of ice and made Vincent a very nicely mixed screwdriver variant. “What kind of trouble could she be in to need a financial advisor like you?”
Vincent watched him with a smirk. “Now how did you know what drink I wanted, Mr. Milan?”
Dante paused for a moment and looked down at the glass then back to Vincent. “I-I don’t know. You just seemed like you needed a head start to deal tonight.”
Vincent’s smirk deepened and he took a sip of the drink. A single brow rose and the ever-present smile turned quite lecherous. Dante tensed for a moment, realizing more fully the type of variant he just made. Maybe it was just good and Vincent didn’t actually know—
“Plain screwdrivers are never my first choice, but,” Vincent ran his tongue over his lips. “Sloe Gin, Galliano and… Oh… Southern Comfort, Dante?”
Dante blushed, scratching the back of his head nervously for a moment, though his face appeared more aggravated with each ingredient listed.
“Just wondered if you’re asking for something, Dante,” Vincent said casually, though the tease was accented on every word. The way he caressed Dante’s name didn’t help matters in the slightest. “After all, A Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall is quite a telling drink to concoct for someone you just met last night.”
“It’s just a screwdriver, Mr. De Pazzi,” Dante nearly growled. “You take it how you want to.”
“Gladly,” was Vincent’s quick retort.
The man only laughed and Dante mentally exhaled. Truthfully, he didn’t know what possessed him to make such a provocative drink as that in the first place. His hands had moved on their own, muscle memory… as if he made this drink at Vincent’s request a thousand times. It was a bit disconcerting when he thought about it too long, but it seemed like a drink the man would like. Vincent took another sip from the glass as thoughts flew across Dante’s mind.
“Why do you keep your hair so long?” He asked curiously.
Dante touched his ponytail automatically and shrugged. “I like it that way.”
“Ever thought of cutting it to look more professional?”
“I work in a nightclub; do I really look like I care about professionalism?”
“Touché, but you seem to hold onto professionalism in the execution of your tasks. Why do you try so hard at this particular job?”
Dante shrugged, feeling a little cornered by the line of questioning. “I dunno, it’s just something I’m good at. If I do it well, then I make more money.”
“Is it only money that spurs you to accommodate your customer’s needs?”
“No, I just… I don’t know…” Dante muttered, unsure of himself. “I… just think it’s good to please your customers.”
“Not what I meant, Mr. Milan.”
“I… I don’t know what you want me to say. I’ve always been good at service jobs. It’s easy for me to pretend to care about what you want. And… I guess it’s kinda nice to be praised for hard work and a job well done. I mean, that’s anybody, right? Wanting to be acknowledged?”
Vincent hummed in agreement. “Being acknowledged feeds a basic human need to be appreciated… to have their existence cared about. Some people have a certain need for that. Some get it from friends, family, and lovers. Others may not be so lucky and must rely on strangers. Perhaps you are not so lucky, Mr. Milan. You seek that acknowledgment at work.”
Dante narrowed his eyes. “I do it here because it makes me money.”
Vincent quietly gazed at him and said nothing for or against this defense and Dante was glad he didn’t. instead, he silently sipped his juice with a contemplative gaze pinned on Dante as the other man put away the liquor he’d used to make the drink.
“You’re irritated, but I haven’t offended you,” Vincent said, carding his hands beneath his chin. “Do I make you nervous, Mr. Milan?”
Dante hesitated, flicking his eyes to the older man. “No.”
“Ah, I throw you off then.”
“Very much so,” Dante replied. “Why are you interested in me? I’m just your bartender.”
Vincent huffed in what sounded like laughter, but Dante wasn’t certain.
“You’re quite frigid for someone your age, I’ll give you that. But what intrigues me about you is what you’re hiding. Something in you is certainly unsatisfied, but you seem intent on keeping it that way. You’re very… closed off, Mr. Milan.”
Dante paused and looked at the man. “It’s almost like it’s on purpose.”
Vincent tilted his head, his dark brow raising. “No… it isn’t.”
Dante was about to say something dismissive – hopefully scathing – but a knock came on the door and an elegant young woman stepped in. Her red dress was tight, fitting to the dip of her hips quite nicely and Dante could spy her garters through the splits as she entered. Vincent lifted himself from the bar and turned to face her. She was dark of hair, a sweet umber that softened her in comparison to the sexiness of the dress she wore. A gentle sprinkle of freckles showed through her foundation showing she wore only light makeup and her lips were ruby red ad plump. She was pretty. The kind of pretty that cost a year’s salary and you still had to buy her shoes afterward. Her eyes though… may as well have been a deer in headlights.
“Ah, Audrey. Pleasure to see you again, love.”
“Mr. De Pazzi. I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice.”
They kissed cheeks Vincent offered her a seat. He waved to Dante who moved to make a drink, slipping back into the professionalism he’d been chosen for.
“My dear, I would say I normally would not do this as I do not take referrals. But you interested me.”
“Thank god for that, or I wouldn’t have anywhere else to turn to otherwise,” She said gently.
Her demeanor was strange. Desperate just like Dorian. At least she gave off a nicer vibe than him. Dante bit his lip and came from behind the bar, bringing her drink. He sat it on the table beside her, the tap making her jump and jerk around. Dante managed to grip the drink before it spilled despite a bit of it sloshing at the top.
“Quick hands, Mr. Milan.”
Dante ignored the compliment and pulled a cloth from his waist, wiping the table out of habit before placing the drink down. She breathed out a shaky breath, flushed with embarrassment. A Kiss on the Lips, huh? Something soft to calm her down. He got it now.
“Don’t mind it, miss. I got it.”
“Miss Audrey, you seem a bit more desperate than you initially let on. What have you done?”
Audrey moved her mouth a few times, her pretty brown eyes flicking between Vincent and himself. Dante gave a polite smile and moved away from them.
“It’s fine, Miss Audrey. Mr. Milan here is a professional. What we say and what we do doesn’t leave this room. KT pays them well enough to ensure it.”
Audrey sighed out and pushed her hair behind her ears.
“As I mentioned briefly, I was involved in something very stupid. I had a dalliance when I shouldn’t have and… now I can’t seem to get away from it. Oh, I was so dumb. He was so damn fun and handsome and we were going to get married. I was going to walk away from my parents if they didn’t approve – which I knew they wouldn’t. I snuck off to Bali for a week to our beach house and… some things happened of course. Some of them I wanted… some of them I didn’t. I wised up not long afterward because… the things I didn’t were too intense.”
Vincent’s eyes trailed down to her torso. Dante did the same before occupying himself.
“…I was… not anymore.”
“Then may I ask why you have come to me. The problem seems taken care of, Miss Audrey.”
“The problem,” she scoffed, before chuckling woefully to myself. “Many things keep happening that aren’t my choice. I didn’t choose to get knocked up! But… but I didn’t choose to get rid of it, either. I just… I just didn’t know what else to do. All the men in my life seem to be making all the “adult” choices for me.”
Vincent tilted his head and Dante’s gaze was drawn to him. There was a quiet stillness in the man as he regarded the young woman. It wasn’t a lustful eye. No. There was intense calculation in that gaze and posture. It stiffened Dante’s spine and made his blood feel cold.
“What choices are you seeking here, Miss Audrey?”
“The only one I ever wanted, my freedom. I want my father to let me go and I want that man to pay for everything he stole from me. He’s ruining me. My reputation, my life my – No one took me seriously before, and now because of him and my father no one ever will. I want them both out of my life! I want my trust so that I can start a new life and I want to make it so I never have to see that man or my father ever again!”
Vincent closed his eyes. “Dante?”
Dante jumped at the call of his name, having grown used to being called by his surname. It was off-putting how his voice caressed over his name in that it hit both a chill and a heat at the same time. He shook it off and straightened up.
Vincent smirked opened his eyes, keeping his attention on Audrey.
“Something for the lady as well. Whatever you think she would like.”
Dante took the hint and returned to the bar, looking over the selection and chose a chardonnay, something light and soft so that would soothe the lady’s bitterness. For Vincent, he chose a bottle of Syrah, one he’d chilled before he knew the man would arrive. An odd coincidence since Vincent favored very dark reds. He knew it was a good one since all the bartenders were meant to taste test every drink that passed through. The Playground was the only place you could get this particular red as it was a fucking mint to import it. Dante was more than sure Vincent could afford it. He placed the chardonnay opposite side of Audrey, making sure she saw him coming so there wouldn’t be a mess. He then placed the glass and bottle at Vincent’s side.
“Thank you, Mr. Milan. Remain where you are please.”
Audrey eyed the wine before taking it and sipping it. It was very obvious she wasn’t used to drinking.
“My dear, I suppose the question would be what are you willing to pay.” Vincent picked up his wine and smelled it first, swirling it around the glass. “Or a better question, what do you have to pay. You said yourself, your father controls everything.”
“I Can’t touch so much as a penny until he’s gone, so… not much, Mr. De Pazzi. I can’t really offer what you’re used to but…I heard you take other things so perhaps—
“Please,” Vincent held up his hand. “I have no interest in what is about to come out of your mouth.”
Dante couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for her. Her cheeks were nearly redder than the wine.
“Then… forgive me, but what do you want?’
“I want for nothing. Young lady, my help is based on how much I am paid. What my clients are willing to give in order to help the situations they have found their way in. I advise financially as I am not a life coach. But, with an interesting enough story, I can be persuaded to help those like you. Innocent enough, but still very, very vindictive. So with that in mind…”
Vincent took out a sheet of paper and wrote elegantly on it. Dante did his best not to read it, averting his eyes. He caught part of the sentence written before Vincent passed it to Audrey and it almost felt intentional.
What the hell did that mean?
Audrey frowned looking at it then at Vincent. “Mr. De Pazzi… I-I don’t know if—”
“It is that or you be patient and wait for your father to die then get your revenge on this man with proper resources. Hoping that your mother is kind enough to allow you access to your inheritance, of course. An ultimatum is an ultimatum and I’m being very generous.”
Audrey looked at the paper looking almost hopeless.
“No… no. I-I can do it.”
“Then do we have an arrangement, Miss Audrey?”
Audrey stared at the paper, hand trembling. Dante felt a sort of nervousness hit him as well. Vincent was the Sistine chapel of calm, sipping his wine and watching Audrey with such a relaxed stance that Dante was certain he’d decided before she did. The room felt stuffy around them as she deliberated, or maybe it was just how Dante felt bearing witness to… whatever this was.
Audrey breathed deep and met Vincent’s gaze with newfound confidence. “I want them out of my life permanently. Is that worth what you’re asking?”
Vincent’s lip quirked. “Is it?”
Dante almost wanted to say, “Hell fucking know it wasn’t.” whatever it was, it felt like something very personal. Something that took more than a drunk night to decide on. Audrey just nodded and crumpled the paper in her hand, drinking the rest of her wine in one gulp. She breathed out hard and nodded again.
“It is. I still options.”
“Understood. If you will, Miss Audrey.” Vincent sat up and pulled a form from his brief and slid it towards her. He gave her a pen from his breast pocket and handed it over to her. “Always with mine.”
Audrey took the pen and didn’t even bother to read the small packet as she gripped the pen and scribbled her initials where appropriate and signed at the bottom. She seemed familiar with the contract as though she’d signed many of them and this was just one more. Dante idly wondered what her life was like if she didn’t bother to check details and somehow felt pity for her. Did she even know what she was signing? Did she care?”
“Thank you, Miss Audrey,” Vincent said pulling the papers away.
“So… now what do I do?”
“Nothing,” Vincent replied, his tone light as though they hadn’t had such an… intense discussion. “You go home, perhaps take a two or three-week vacation and see where the flow of life leads you. Your part is done and so begins mine. Have a good evening.”
Audrey gave him a confused look but nodded, completely off-guard as she rose. She cleared her throat as she stumbled and caught the side of the chair. She touched her abdomen as though she were nauseated. Dante flinched, immediately reacting but was stopped by Vincent’s voice.
“Mr. Milan. Perhaps you call for a hostess and have them escort Miss Audrey to her driver. I’m sure she’ll make it back safely.”
Dante’s mouth moved up and down, but he moved regardless. He went behind the bar doing what he was told. Not even a few minutes later one of the Sober Watch came up. They were hired to watch over people and make sure they made it back to their cars safely or if too drunk, arrange for a way home for them. Dante watched them take a seemingly and suddenly very drunk Audrey away as she was barely able to stan in her heels. Dante watched the door for a moment to clear up her glasses. He couldn’t help but examine the quarter of a glass of Kiss on the Lips left and the empty wine glass.
“Curious, Mr. Milan?”
Dante licked his lips and shook his head.
“None of my business.”
“How boring of you.”
Dante whipped around and glared at Vincent. “Did you want me to ask what kind of fucking business you’re running or do you want me to serve your drinks like a professional?”
Vincent smirked utterly unbothered as he poured himself more wine. “Well, you think I’ve done something. What do you think I’ve done, Mr. Milan? Please. Ask. You certainly won’t offend—”
“Did you drug her?”
It slipped out before he could stop it and came out twice as harsh.
Vincent paused and placed the bottle and glass back on the table.
“Sit down, Mr. Milan.”
“I don’t want to fucking sit down, I want an ans—”
“And you will get one when you sit down, Dante.”
Dante felt that same cold but hot feeling up his spine and down his stomach once again, but he brushed it off as he reluctantly planted his ass in the seat across from Vincent. It didn’t matter what he said. The woman had been so suddenly drunk and she barely drank anything to put her off her feet that way, lightweight or not. She shouldn’t have been that disoriented or sick.
“I will ask one question and then I will definitely expect an apology,” Vincent said calmly as he leaned forward, looking Dante directly in the eye. “When. Did I. Have. The time?”
Dante jerked, startled at the question because it hadn’t been what he expected. He expected some sort of indignance, a harsh denial, and arguing. Instead, he got a confident reply that questioned Dante’s knowledge of the past hour or so. Immediately, his mind replayed every interaction and every part of the conversation before he sighed and rubbed his temple feeling… well humiliated.
“Glad you’ve come to your senses. The girl is a lightweight with alcohol already and now she’s facing the consequences of her own overindulgence.”
“She had two drinks.”
“Yes, two drinks and a Xanax I would assume before she came to this stressful encounter. Audrey does not hold her liquor well, but her pills are another story.”
Dante squint, not quite believing that, but Vincent was right. He’d seen with his own eyes that nothing had been done. Dante licked his lips, reluctant but moved them around an apology.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, that was just fucking wrong. I just thought… I don’t know what I thought.” Dante pushed himself to rise.
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you Dante.”
“That’s not a conversation I want to have with a stranger.”
“Not one I’m asking you to have. I’m simply making an observation.”
Dante scoffed and took the glasses, bringing them back to the bar to clean them. It was silent for a long time making Dante feel utterly uncomfortable. Why didn’t Vincent leave after that blatant accusation? The guy had to be pissed off right? Something had happened here; he knew that much. He just couldn’t get the cold feeling out of his spine.
Mr. De Pazzi?”
“What… what did you say you did for a living?”
He felt the eyes on his back that warmed the cold almost instantly and spread heat over his shoulders and lower, much in a way he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.
“We’re not having that conversation as strangers, Mr. Milan.”
Dante looked over his shoulder to glare, but found Vincent at the bar, sitting down, his empty wine glass angled towards Dante. He inwardly jerked as he hadn’t heard the other get up from his seat. No one could walk that quietly on these floors. He swallowed hard and took the glass from Vincent.
“However, I would like us not to be strangers in at least the platonic sense. Have you thought about my offer? The party is tomorrow night and I am certainly still short a good tender if you’re willing to place your suspicions aside.”
“I can’t do that. KT doesn’t rent us out.”
“Your free time belongs to KT?”
“No, it belongs to my second job,” Dante snipped.
“Mm… I’ll tell you what. I will give you the address and the time. If you show up, I’ll be delighted. If you don’t I won’t be put out. You’ll have made your decision. But… if you showed up, I won’t think of us as strangers anymore.”
Dante rolled his eyes and leaned against the bar. “Okay, say I think about it. You said it was more money than I could wrap my hand around. How big of a temptation is that?”
“Hmm, you make 1000-2000 on a goodnight here, right?”
“Have you ever walked home with 10 grand in your jar before?”
Dante’s brow quirked. “Who the fuck gives that much to a bartender?”
“Hah, no one. But I’ll give you a 5 grand to attend to start you off, the rest I guarantee will be matched by my guests. I have very, very generous friends who have nothing better to do with their time. If I picked you, they know to tip well. And you don’t have to share any tips with the others.”
Bullshit. He thought it even as his hand reached out to take the card.
“Alright… I’m not calling you. I threw that other paper away. But I’ll take the address. You’ll know tomorrow what I want to do and if I don’t show up… don’t make a habit of bothering me.”
“Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder,” Vincent said playfully. “I’m quite interested in what, Dante. Even more so in who you are. Don’t think you changed that with tonight’s hiccup.”
“The only person who can change that is you and honestly, I think it should.”
“Oh? Be honest, am I too much?”
“No… you’re just fuckin’ weird,” Dante snipped, finally snatching the card from him. “You’re not very interesting.”
“Don’t worry,” Vincent laughed. “I’m more interesting to my friends and I think we’re well on our way.”
“You’re on your way to getting bounced out honestly. You shouldn’t be this fucking annoying after being accused of—”
“I wonder why you do that?”
Vincent eyed Dante for a long time, his head tilting slightly and Dante felt exposed. He felt like he was stripped on an operating table being examined by something cold and immovable. Like being a lab rat for an unfeeling scientist. He licked his lips that had run dry and swallowed around a thick lump in his throat. Vincent’s darker eyes seemed to take on a light that had nothing to do with the warm glow of the VIP room nor the glint of drunkenness. There was just… too much interest in that gaze.
“Sabotage. Why so adamant about making me disinterested?”
Dante’s heart leaped into his throat and pulled his stomach right along with it. He ended up licking his lips again, his fingers clinging on the wine glass as he fought back the trembling coming.
“Because I’m not someone to be interested in,” he replied, voice hoarse and soft.
“Straight to hell with the person who forced you to believe that, Dante,” Vincent whispered, watching him before seeming to release him from the grip he had on him.
Dante breathed out shakily and shivered. He shook his head and stared at Vincent, completely startled. Of course, when he looked Vincent was back at his seat picking up his coat.
“I believe for once I’ll take your advice for once, Mr. Milan.”
Mr. Milan again?
“I am gentleman before anything else in this world. I do not push where I am not yet wanted and in no way desired. I’ll let you decide whether you come to me or not. But if you do, I’d like to know you.”
Dante narrowed his eyes. “W-why?”
“Because I don’t care about the person who made you believe that lie and I am certainly a better man than he is.” Vincent tipped his head. “Good night, Mr. Milan. Please. Breathe when I’m gone.”
Vincent De Pazzi left and soon as he did Dante went to his knees, heart-pounding damn near on his tongue and shakes wracking his body. He’d held it back so hard. He hugged himself and took deep breaths in an effort to ground himself. It’d been so long. So, so long since he had to deal with one of these. He thought he was over this shit but…
Straight to hell with the person who made you believe that lie.
What a dumb thing to say. He made himself believe it…
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