Author's Note: Well jeez. 'Bout time I updated. And-holy crapola, this is a long chapter! Makes up for being absent. ;) Hee hee. Enjoy the chapter, and leave your comments please. I enjoy reading your reviews, thank you. c: -Michele.
Four | Sebastian
The record shop is empty, as the moon is hanging high in the sky and the hours are much too late for anyone to be walking about. The streets are relatively quiet, with the occasional car passing by. A couple buildings down there is a bus stop in front of it, so it's possible that there are people waiting out there.
But the store is dead. Absolutely dead. I don't know why I'm still here, sitting behind the counter, waiting for someone to come in so I can provide them service. Benji's in the break room, probably smoking up a joint like he normally does when the store is empty like this. So if we do get a customer, I have to be on my toes and awake, because I know I'm the one who's going to take care of them.
Salem's Records is a pretty small store, so it's easily manageable with just two people, one person if we have to. The owner is actually a friend of ours, a pervy bastard who's just as big of a pothead as my brother named Salem Alaric. He's a year younger than me, but his grandparents left him a hefty amount in their will. Damn rich Americans. He blew most of it on pot and a trip to Mexico, and with the rest he bought this little hole-in-the-wall lot and converted it into a record shop.
He's pretty music-oriented; actually, we all are. Benji and I have been playing guitar since we were five, and from there we just expanded our skills. The two of us could probably put together a rock concert and play every instrument in a band. Which is pretty ironic considering that Benji and I have already started our own band.
I rub my eyes out and let out a yawn. I am more than ready to hit the sack. Once one o'clock hits, the chains keeping me in this store come off and I'm out that door. When I look at the clock, I read twelve forty-five. I'm almost there. No wonder Benji's cut his shift early to smoke.
"Bastian, why don't you leave the register and come back and relax?" calls Benji from the break room, leaning back in his chair to see me. From afar I can see how stoned he is, his face sporting a silly grin while his dreads fall down his back like black ropes tied together with a hair-tie.
I roll my eyes at him and shake my head. Obviously when he's stoned he has no common sense. I ignore him and slap another magazine onto the counter. There's a stack stashed beneath for us to entertain ourselves when business is slow. I flip it open to the middle section, where a large, two-page picture, along with a small article, of a string bikini-clad girl is staring up at me. She's biting her lip seductively while posing with an array of electric instruments. With her dark hair and attractive face, she sort of reminds me of a girl I met a few months ago, but I roll my eyes. It's not her.
However, I also roll my eyes at the fact that the magazine publishers need to include a scantily-clad woman to make instruments appear sexy. The media has a poor mindset. I guess not being raised with the love and appreciation I have for music doesn't have much of a good effect on these types of things. Besides, why use a skanky model who probably doesn't know what she's holding when using an actual musician would make more sense?
Well, that's a dumb question to ask myself. I already know the answer to that. Besides, the women in these magazines are part of the reason why Salem keeps subscribing to them.
I don't look at the magazine for the women, believe it or not. Masturbating to half-naked women isn't exactly my thing—well, I mean, I have done it (seriously, who hasn't?) but I'm not that into it, not like Salem and Benji. What I look for in these magazines are ads for gigs. Like I said, Benji and I organized a band when we were kids, and we've stuck together since. Salem's actually our bassist, and Clover Reele is our kick-ass drummer.
Static buzzes from the break room and I notice Benji messing with the radio on the table. He's searching for a station that plays decent music. He lands on an oldies rock station, Metallica in the middle of serenading a ballad. Benji's going to fall asleep for sure.
I sigh again and glance at the clock. Twelve forty-seven. Are you fucking kidding me? Only two minutes have passed since I last checked? I'm going to remember to have to strangle my boss when I see him again for making us stay so goddamn late.
My eyelids are drooping. How the fuck am I supposed to stay up any longer? It's only midnight, but I'm tired as fuck. I can hear my bed calling my name all the way from my apartment complex.
Well, the store is empty, and nobody is around. I'm a pretty light-sleeper, too, so I'll know if somebody comes by. Plus, Salem installed this incredibly annoying bell that goes off every time someone comes through the door, and it's really loud. That will surely wake me up if I doze off. I can rest my eyes for a little bit to help them regain some energy …
Suddenly the doorbell goes off and I snap my head up, my eyes peeling wide open. I awake with a jolt and my heart is pumping. Was I even asleep? I hear Benji yelp from the break room, obviously rudely awoken by the doorbell as well.
Across the store, a girl in a black coat and heels wanders around. She's looking at me strangely, probably because of my freak-out with the bell. Her hands are clenched tightly around the thick strap of her tote bag, which is bulging with whatever is inside of it. Her black hair is long and falls in subtle curls to her elbows, straight across bangs hovering over her brown doe eyes.
I rub my eyes again, and when I take a second look at her, I realize that I've seen her before. It takes me a second to remember, and then it hits me; she's the stripper from the nightclub.
From the way she's looking at me, I can tell she recognizes me too, but I wonder if she remembers from where. She approaches me, her heels muffled from the berber carpet. I smile softly, still confused as to why she'd be here, and also really tired.
"Hey," I greet her. "Welcome to Salem's Records."
"You … work here?" she asks.
Well, yeah. Isn't it obvious? I'm the one behind the cash register.
But I keep that to myself.
"Yeah, I do," I say.
She tilts her head slightly. The more up close she gets, the more I can see the bags under her eyes and the cherry red flushes crossing her cheeks and nose. She must be freezing. Is she not wearing anything underneath her coat? Her make-up is smudged all over her eyelids, and what I suppose was once little flicks from her eyes are just splotches now.
"I've seen you before," she says, narrowing her eyes at me, struggling to remember. I don't really blame her for forgetting who I am. She probably sees multiple men all night, every night, and I didn't return to her again. My face must be a blur to her.
"Yeah," I tell her. "I, uh, visited your club once."
Suddenly, she widens her eyes.
"That accent!" She points to me, nodding. "I remember that accent … I remember you. Yes." She nods again, and her eyelids flutter. She looks in really bad shape. Is she on drugs, or is she drunk?
"Yeah," I say, extending the syllables of the word while arching an eyebrow.
"You're Sebastian," she says with a smile. "I remember you now. The guy who didn't want my entertainment."
"It wasn't like that," I say quickly, but she shakes her head and grins wider.
"It's okay. I know." She looks around the store. She's kind of swaying on her feet, and I wonder if she's losing her sense of balance.
"Hey, are you okay?" I ask. She snaps out of her daze and looks at me, eyebrows arched.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. I'm fine," she says, waving me away. "Hey, I was wondering if you guys were hiring."
I look at her strangely. If I remember correctly, the last note we left off on was a bit of a sour note as I tried to tell her that she didn't need to resort to stripping to make an income. She appeared offended by that and dismissed me from the room. Yet she had refused to take my money. Regardless of what she said, I still left her a one hundred dollar bill on the arm chair she attempted to give me a lap dance in and left her. And that was that.
But now she was asking for a job here? What had changed her mind during the course of these few months apart from her?
"You want a job here?" I ask her. She nods and smiles.
"Yes, I'd like one," she says. "I don't really know the process of finding a job elsewhere, though. I know an interview's involved—"
"Yes, and you'll be required to keep your clothes on for that," I tease. She forces a smile, as if she's trying to decide whether my joke is more funny or insulting. I clear my throat and return to my more serious façade. "You first need to fill out an application." I pull out a slip of paper from underneath the counter and hand it to her. "Fill this out and then bring it back. The owner will look over it and decide whether you're fit enough to work here. Then we'll call you back for an interview, and from there, decide whether you're good enough to work here or not."
She looks over the application. "It says to list my prior work experience," she says.
She looks up from it. "Would it really be beneficial to write down that I was a stripper before?"
Mentally, I say fuck yes. Knowing Salem, he'd hire her in an instant after reading that, no interview necessary.
However, I keep that to myself. Instead, I bring up her stripping career.
"So, what happened with that? Are you not dancing anymore?"
She purses her lips and looks away.
"It's kind of a long story," she says.
"Did you leave?" I ask. She sighs heavily before nods.
"Yeah, I did."
My face softens and I give her a gentle smile. "What made you want to leave?"
"I've wanted to leave for a while," she says. "I thought I mentioned that while I was with you."
"You might have," I admit. She shrugs.
"Well, I did. And I'm happy I did. I wanted to be there as much as you did."
"But … I didn't want to be there." She gives me a look and shakes her head, chuckling.
"How long did you work there?"
"Since I was eighteen. Almost two years," she replies.
"With the hatred you have for it, I'd say you were working there for a lot longer," I mention.
"Well, it was all I knew."
I look at her curiously. She had mentioned that before, and I didn't really understand what she'd meant. That hasn't changed.
I tilt my head and my eyebrows knit together.
"You mentioned that before," I say. "What do you mean that it's all you know?"
She's quiet and a wave of tension arises between us. Her expression has fallen and I realize I've interfered with a touchy subject.
"It's okay," I say. "Just forget it."
Maybe it's best if she just leaves altogether. She looks upset now, and she won't make eye contact with me. Instead, her eyes are glued to the application in her hand.
"Fill that out and bring it back tomorrow. I'll give it to the owner right away," I promise.
She slowly nods and turns on her heel. She walks a couple of steps before spinning around again.
"I don't have anything to write with," she tells me.
"Well, why don't you just wait until you get home?"
She stares at me before shamefully dropping her gaze to the floor.
"Yeah," she mutters almost inaudibly.
It takes me a while to realize, but when it does, a pit forms in my stomach and a whole swarm of pity washes over me. My shoulders droop with sadness as I stare at her.
"Do you have a place to stay?"
After all, she had just quit her job. I'm sure wherever she was staying kicked her out for not having enough money to pay. Or what if she was living with parents? What if they kicked her out for quitting her job? What if—oh fuck it, there are too many possibilities.
But she does answer me, and I discover that my suspicions are correct, no matter what the scenario is: Dolly the former stripper has no place to stay. She has no home.
She shakes her head briefly. The bulging bag she's carrying, it's probably filled with clothes and other belongings.
That's why she has bags underneath her eyes. And the redness on her skin from the cold … how long has she been sleeping on the streets?
"Hey, come here," I beckon to her, waving her over to me. She obeys, her eyes still glued to the ground. "Come back here with me."
I know Benji's going to get a kick out of this, once he sees I've found the stripper from the nightclub he was interested in. But he's got to back off; she's been through a lot and I'm sure the last thing she wants is another pervy guy drooling over her.
I lead her to the break room, Benji passed out with his head on the table. The music has switched to an unfamiliar song, and I turn the radio off. She looks strangely at him.
"Is he your brother?" she asks. I wonder if she remembers him as well. The dreads and tattoo sleeves are pretty hard to forget. I roll my eyes and sigh.
"Yeah, that's him. Idiot's knocked out."
"Is he okay?"
I can't help but chuckle. "Yeah, of course. He's just tired, and stoned."
I offer her a seat across from Benji and walk over to the refrigerator. "Are you hungry or thirsty?"
"Actually, yes, please," she says, though that really isn't surprising to me. I'm sure she's starving if she's been on the streets.
I'm disappointed when I see there isn't much in this refrigerator aside from beer and some cheese slices. Why the hell are there random cheese slices in here without any other sandwich ingredients?
Then I remember the sandwich Benji brought today, but never ate. I look on the door and see it tucked nicely in the egg compartment. Bologna and cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a hint of Italian dressing. Simple, but so damn good. Benji's got a knack for making kick-ass sandwiches.
I hand it to her and she looks at it, her eyes wide with excitement. I smile as I see her take it anxiously with gracious thank-yous, but a part of me still feels pity for her. What exactly did happen at the nightclub? And why is she homeless? Why is stripping all she knows?
Whoa, Bastian, enough with the questions. You don't have to get all into her personal life.
Still, I'm curious. But I suppose I'll find out when she's ready to tell me.
"This is really good," she says, taking large bites out of the sandwich. I feel bad; she's going to finish that in no time and we don't have any other food in here. I'm sure she's going to be hungry still even after that sandwich.
"Thank him," I say, pointing my thumb to Benji. "It was his."
"Wait, what?" she gasps.
"It's okay," I chuckle. "He won't mind. If he hasn't touched it at all today, he's not going to care." She smiles gently and continues to eat.
Benji sure is missing out. I wonder what he's going to think when he wakes up to Dolly the stripper sitting right in front of him.
Well, I figure now's a better time than ever to shake him awake, so I do so. He jolts up, eyes wide, but his vision doesn't register right away because he doesn't notice us at all.
He gasps briefly, a bit of an overreaction in my opinion, and groans, rubbing his eyes out and then his temples.
"Wh-what?" he moans. "What is it?"
"Hey, pothead, we have a guest."
"A guest?" His focus settles and his eyes land on Dolly in front of him. His eyes widen. "Am I dreaming? Because I know I'm waking up with morning wood."
I roll my eyes and she looks at him strangely.
"Ignore him. I told you he was an idiot," I tell her.
"Hey … you're the girl from the club! Dolly!" Benji exclaims. "What are you doing here?"
"She's looking for a job," I tell him.
"Well, you'll be hired in no time. Salem will get a kick out of her."
"Benji, shut the fuck up," I hiss to him, but in German so she wouldn't understand me, well, hopefully.
"What?" she asks.
Well, that answered my question.
"What? It's true! She's a stripper, and she's sexy. Salem will love her and hire her in a heartbeat."
Oh God, I'm so relieved she doesn't know German. She'd be furious. I don't want her to know that Salem would hire her for her looks and previous job, because he definitely will, but I'm sure she doesn't want to have anything to do with that other job. Knowing Salem, he'll probably try to coax a lap dance out of her.
"Okay, um, if it wasn't obvious, I don't speak German, so could you please explain to me what's going on?" she asks.
"He's being an idiot," I tell her, shaking my head, and Benji rolls his eyes.
"So!" Benji exclaims, clapping his hands together and folding them. "You want a job here?"
"Well, yes, I would like one," she says.
"Oh, well Bastian's already given you a form," he says, and then taps it. "Just fill out that baby and hand it back tomorrow."
She looks down shamefully and I give him a look.
"She has no home," I mutter to him in German.
"Again with the German," she sighs.
"You have no home?" Benji asks her, exasperated. I widen my eyes at him with fury. How could someone half of me be so moronic?
"Well, that's out of the bag," Dolly mutters, tossing me a look. I look at her apologetically.
"Why don't you just stay with us for a bit?" Benji suggests spontaneously.
"What?" I blurt.
"What? She has no home. We can't let her stay out ..."
"Well, technically I have a place to stay, but it's not my house. I was staying with a co-worker for a little bit."
"You mean another stripper?" Benji asks, delightfully. I groan.
"Well … yeah … Anyway, she couldn't afford to pay for me anymore, so I left. I couldn't keep mooching off of her; she's my friend."
"So is that why you came to us? What a coincidence that we'd already met," Benji says with an arch to his brow. She glares at him.
"I came here looking for a job. I didn't expect the guy who didn't want my service to work here," she snaps. Benji looks at me.
"You didn't want her service?" he asks, shocked, as if that's the big picture at the moment. I roll my eyes.
"Anyway, thanks for the offer, but I can't stay with you. I'm just looking for a job so I can get back on my feet again. Besides, I'm tired of being around men … no offense."
"Well, how do you expect to be ready for a job when you have nowhere to live? You need to look presentable when working here." She arches an eyebrow at Benji and looks around.
"Really? Because I actually feel overdressed sitting here with you," she says, pointing to our jeans and t-shirt combos. Benji chuckles.
"Well damn, love. Got an attitude, huh?" he snickers, and she narrows her eyes. She places her hands on the table and rises.
"I didn't come here to run into more men like you," she snaps at us. "Thanks for the opportunity, but I've decided on looking elsewhere." She pushes the application away and heads out the door.
I glare at Benji. "Why do you have to be like that?" I hiss. "As if she really needs shit like that from you."
"What? I was just joking," he says. I shake my head. Dolly is pretty upset, and I don't blame her. My brother is a moron, and he's probably just like the men that she used to serve. And now she has no home. I did feel bad for her. Where could she stay? What would happen if she stayed on these streets at night? The city streets were no place for a young girl like her, especially with her looks.
I stand from the table and follow her out the door, she's almost at the door, just about to push it open. But then I call for her.
"Wait! Dolly, wait," I say. She stops and sighs heavily. She turns around and crosses her arms, tapping her foot impatiently.
"What?" she snaps.
"I'm sorry for him. I told you he's an idiot."
"Yes, I can see that."
"Look, I can't let you out on the streets like that. It's so unsafe, and I at least have some morals," I tell her. She purses her lips. "Hey, I was the one that walked out on you that night, remember?"
She sighs and her shoulders fall. "Well, I have nowhere to stay."
I stuff my hands in my pockets and shrug. "Stay with us for a night. And you can fill out the application and you can personally hand it to the owner. He'll like you."
"How do you know? You don't know anything about me."
I scratch the back of my head, hesitant about my next words.
"I know you're a former stripper."
"Oh great, he's another perv. Joy."
"But at least you'll have a job," I tell her. "And taking your clothes off is not in the job description. And you're not entitled to do so for anyone."
She looks away, still pursing her lips.
"Hey, you need to start somewhere. Working here isn't that bad. You don't even really need to know much about music. This is an underground store, so the only people who come here are the people that know it exists, which tend to be those who know their stuff. All you need to do is sit behind that counter and take their money."
She looks longingly at the cash register behind me. She's contemplating whether she should stay or leave. After a few more minutes, she finally sighs and looks me in the eye, nodding.
"Okay, I'll take you up on your offer. Thank you so much. But … your brother …"
"Don't worry about him. I'll make sure he keeps it clean. I know he's a bit of a pervert," I say.
"How are you two so different?"
"I ask myself that every day."
We chuckle briefly, and then fall silent.
"Well," I say, breaking the brief silence, "I'm going to go lock up and count the money. You can wait in the back with Benji."
"He better not pull anything," she mutters. I chuckle.
"He won't. I'll make sure of it." She nods and I walk towards the register.
"Hey," she calls, and I turn around. Her lips form a small smile. "I just wanted to say that my name isn't really Dolly. That was my 'entertainment' name."
"Oh," I say. "Then … what is your real name?"
"It's Tawnee," she says. "I mean, it's nothing special, but it's better than 'Dolly, the doll no man is afraid to play with.'"
"I think it's nice," I say with a smile. She returns it with a shy smile.
"Well, Tawnee, let me lock up, then we'll head on home. I'll get Benji to make you another one of those sandwiches."
"That'd be nice. He can make up for being a perv earlier." I chuckle.
"Yep, that's Benji for you, but if you think he's bad, then you may not want to meet Salem."
"The owner of this store."
I laugh. "But Clover will kick his butt for you. She hates pervs just as much as you do."
"A close friend." She gives me a suspicious look. "No, not like that. The girl is practically my sister."
She shakes her head. "Whatever," she says with a chuckle. She waves me off. "Go lock up, then. I would like that sandwich." She grins widely and I narrow my eyes, giving her a playful scowl. She giggles and it's actually very light and uplifting. Maybe it's because, given everything she's been through (and I still don't know everything), someone like her needs to smile. A pretty young girl like her shouldn't be so sad and lonely and out on the streets. Where was her family? Her friends? Anyone that cared for her? Why was she alone?
She combs a lock of her black hair behind her ear and looks towards the cash register. "Maybe I could wait with you and you can show me how to work that thing, since I am still interested in working here?"
"Well, we don't typically do that type of thing for applicants. That would be unfair to the others that apply," I tell her, hiding my grin. She lifts her eyebrows and her smile drops.
"Oh …" she says softly and embarrassed.
"But, since you've decided to look passed my idiotic brother, I guess I can bend the rules." I grin. She realizes she's been teased and smirks, shaking her head.
"I think you two really are brothers," she teases sarcastically.
"Don't put me in the same boat as him," I say, pretending to be offended, and she laughs that light, nice laugh. I smile; it does truly feel good to make someone that's been through Tawnee's life laugh like that.
I should have known she was different than the other girls at the club.