She attempts to snatch his jacket. She knows it’s not mine. I hear a cry for help not too far from me. Searing pain slices through a spot right above my eyebrow. Bernie runs from his post at the door to pull Alisa Torres off of me, but I begin to manage it myself. I shove Alisa off of me and onto her feet. Lily is already on her phone, texting Caleb, no doubt. From the floor, I swiftly stick out my foot and Alisa trips and falls next to me with a thud. Bernie steps in behind her to pull her away.
“Alisa, what the fuck?” Lily yells once Alisa is restrained.
“I told her to stay away from him, Lily. She’s destroying me and Jared’s relationship!” Alisa snaps. “I know she slept with him last night. I know everything!” she continues, rage clouding her already-muddy brown eyes.
“You’re the one destroying your relationship with him due to your extreme case of paranoia! He took her to his house because her roommate had somebody over and Cammy wasn’t in the proper state to take herself anywhere else.” Lily counters.
I look up at the scene above me with utter innocence. I pick myself up from the carpet as I feel a warm liquid trickle from above my eyebrow down my face. “I think you ought to leave. You’re clearly in a worse place in your relationship than I thought if you’re this worried about me of all people being friends with your fiancée,” I spit out the final word. “Maybe you should go speak to him about this,” I motion to the knocked-over chair and disturbed scene, “before any of us do,” I warn her. I right my chair, sit down, and dab the gash on my forehead with the white napkin.
Alisa huffs, turns on her heel, and storms back out mumbling to herself before Bernie could forcefully remove her from the restaurant.
“Cammy, are you okay? Do you want me to take you home? I’ve already texted Caleb about this whole fiasco.” Lily looks at me with worried eyes.
“No, it’s okay I’m fine. I’m not going to let her faze me,” I begin. “I won’t give her the satisfaction of ruining my lunch with you. Let’s just pick up where we left off.”
Lily stares at me incredulously. “So you’re not…do you want to talk about it?”
“You know, not really. But I think me and Jared’s friendship needs to come to a stop until he has his shit together.” I exasperatedly stuff a piece of Spider Roll into my mouth with one hand and press the napkin to my forehead with the other.
AJ comes bounding up to our table and gapes at my wound. “Dear, are you alright? Can I get anything for you? A band-aid? Anything?”
I look up at AJ with friendly eyes, “No, thank you. I’m alright. There are just crazy people in this world. You’ve been so kind to me already. It really is okay. And I think I could use a battle scar or two. It makes for a good story to tell the people at Loser’s,” I say with a smile.
“Are you really sure? Lunch is on the house for you ladies,” AJ assures us.
“AJ, you don’t have to do that! Thank you, we’ll definitely be back soon.” Lily stands up to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She sits down and turns to me. “You’re a smart girl. Let’s finish up here and go have some retail therapy, yes?”
“Agreed. Let’s get out of here.” I remove the napkin to find that my injury has stopped bleeding, thankfully.
Lily and I remove ourselves from the table, thank AJ one more time, and exit the restaurant. We spend the rest of the afternoon shopping.
Hours later, Lily drops me off at my apartment building. “You going to be okay?” she asks tenderly.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Laila’s at home so she can take care of me if I need it. I’ll have a mild case of PTSD, if anything,” I laugh to myself.
“Will you call me later?”
“Most definitely. I have work, actually, so I’ll call you after if you want. I don’t want to wake you or anything…I get off around three a.m.”
“Whatever, I don’t care. You mean more to me than sleep,” she says to me with a smile in her eyes. I know that I can easily call Lily a best friend after our long day of bonding.
“Okay fine, but don’t blame me tomorrow because you’re all grumpy and sleepy,” I chuckle.
“Whatever. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow for one reason or another anyway,” Lily says. She already seems to be making plans in her head. “Have fun at work tonight. Love you, dear!” she calls out to me from the car.
“Love you too!” I blow her a kiss over my shoulder as I, completely loaded down with shopping bags, enter my building.
Laila greets me halfway down the stairs. “Holy shit! Caleb called me and told me to be expecting you. You’re in a right state!” she exclaims.
“You should see the other guy,” I nod my head and wiggle my eyebrows jokingly. Pain shoots through my laceration and I wince slightly. “Seriously though, people are acting like I was mauled by a tiger, when in fact it was only by a psycho fiancée. No big deal, really.”
Laila rolls her eyes at me and takes some of the shopping bags off of my hands. “Let’s go upstairs and get ready for work. We’re both on tonight,” she smiles.
We walk into my bedroom with my bags. “Oh, lovely! So maybe then you can tell me about Doug,” I smirk at her and make kissy noises.
“Shut up!” she falls backwards onto my bed with a laugh. “He’s…oh my goodness he’s amazing. He’s so hot, and suave, and perfect. Cammy, I think I’m in love.” Laila looks over at me with big eyes.
I close the closet door after putting away my new clothes and sigh heavily. I spin around to face Laila. “I’m so happy you’re happy. Now go get dressed or Harry will be unhappy,” I say to her and usher her out the door.
Fifteen minutes later we end up behind the bar at Loser’s slinging beers.
At the first slow moment in the hectic evening crowd, I lean back against the bar with Laila. Suddenly, she jumps up and races towards the stage at the back of the bar.
“Is this thing on?” She yells into the microphone, which shrieks in response.
I hear the door swing open to alert me of more people coming in. I push myself away from the back of the bar to stand at the ready.
“Okay, so many of you know me, I’m Laila, one of the bartenders here.” She pauses for a few hoots and hollers from the resident alcoholics. “We have had the pleasure of welcoming my new friend and roommate, Camellia Dresden, to the Loser’s staff. Congrats on being a Loser, Cammy!” Laila yells and holds her beer up high to toast me.
The entire bar cheers and raises their glasses to toast me as well. “Congrats on being a Loser!” the drunk ones cry out.
I throw my head back and let out a laugh. I peek over the crowd in front of the bar to see where the group that just came in went, and notice that I know them. A smile lights up my face as I spy Caleb, Lily, Nathan, and the blonde woman he was with at the party are all sitting together at a table looking through the horde of people. I quickly grab and uncap four beers and place them on a tray, and then navigate nimbly through the growing swarm to their table in the corner.
“Wassup crackas!” I holler as I approach their table.
Lily waves at me from her seat next to the wall and Nathan and Caleb get up to give me hugs.
“Dude, you look like fucking Scar from the fucking Lion King. What a badass chick we have right here,” Nathan says to me and hugs me tightly.
I roar jokingly and hand them their beers.
“Whatever. I’m over it. I just think everybody needs to take a step back, breathe, and then return once they’ve calmed down,” I say.
“Agreed. Cheers to that.” Lily raises her beer and everybody meets in the middle.
I’m quickly introduced to Nathan’s fiancée, Jessie, the blonde one, as I’m running back to the bar. I promise her that we’ll have girl time too.
As soon as I get back to the bar, I fill a few drink orders and somewhere in the crowd I hear, “Seriously, the music business could not be any colder right now. It’s like…frozen. I swear life is so hard.” A group of men appears at the bar.
“I know. I don’t think it’s ever been harder to get a gig…anywhere…Nashville, especially,” another one of the men replies.
The first guy who spoke comes up to the bar and slams his fist down on it. “Excuse me?” he asks loudly. “Can I get a beer? Or, like, seven? Please?”
I walk over to where he is standing and put my elbows on the bar to lean in. “What kind?”
His head whips back around to look at me and he does a quick double take. “Woah…uh…just some Buds, I guess…thanks,” he stammers and keeps staring at me.
I whirl around to grab his seven beers that he asked for, and spin back to place and uncap them on the bar.
I take that moment to absorb his face, which is long, lean, and looks straight out of the 1950’s. His nose points straight down his face towards his constantly pouty mouth and pointed chin. He raises his sunglasses from the bridge of his nose and looks at me with his droopy, puppy dog eyes. A smile breaks the corner of his tightly pursed lips and they open to drawl, “I’m Nick. Nick Brown,” with an ambiguous midwestern accent.
“Hello Nick,” I reply with a sly smile spreading smoothly across my lips. “I’m Cammy.” I stick out my small hand and he shakes it in his big one.
“Is Cammy short for anything?” He asks curiously. He puts his beer to his lips and tilts his head back.
“Camellia,” I respond.
“That’s a pretty name,” he smiles at me kindly.
Suddenly, the front door bursts open and somebody runs up to the bar.
“Cammy,” Jared appears in front of me. “Oh my God I’m so sorry…” he trails off looking me over to see what other damage she did. He notices I’m in a conversation with Nick and says in a displeased manner, “And who is this?”
I stare at him incredulously. “This is Nick. What does it matter anyways?”
“I just wanted to…whatever. Can I do anything?” He pleads.
I see Lily slowly walking towards the bar for moral support and I turn to Jared and look him in the eye. “Honestly, you’ve done more than enough. You can go home to your fiancée, sort your state of affairs out, and stay away from me until then. I like being friends with you, Jared, but not if it comes with these kinds of consequences.”
“Cammy, don’t do this to me. Not now, please. We’ve just become friends! You can’t blame me for what my fiancée did to you. That’s not…”
“Bye Jared.” I turn from him and go to help the next customer. Laila comes up behind me and gives me a much-needed hug. I sigh deeply and continue with my work. I look back over to see Lily chatting quietly with Jared, and he has an enraged but dismal look on his face. He abruptly hangs his head and exits the bar.
Lily comes over to me. “So I talked to Jared and convinced him to take a break for a while.” She looks at me with sad eyes. She wants Jared and my relationship to progress just as bad as I did.
“Thank you, that really does help.” My phone vibrates in my apron pocket so I fish it out and look at who is texting me.
(Margaret): Hey! So I know I was planning on coming up this week, but something got in the way and I was wondering if I could still come up next week?
I let out an annoyed sigh. I was looking forward to not being so lonely in the big apartment when Laila is away at school.
(Cam): Yeah, that’s totally fine! I miss you so much, whenever is great for me as long as I get to see you!
I slip my phone back in my pocket and turn back into the bar. Last I checked it was around 1:30am and the crowd was thinning. The Followills still sit at their table talking and Nick Brown still sits at the bar nursing his second beer and watching the people around him.
“What are you doing after this?” Nick calls out to me.
I turn on my heel to look at him in the eye. “Probably going home to watch Saturday Night Live. It’s my guilty pleasure,” I confess.
“Well, can I possibly walk you home?” He asks sweetly with those big eyes looking up at me from his seat at the bar.
I sigh to myself and smile inwardly. I recall my New Year’s Resolution to take more chances.
“Why the hell not? I get off in 20 minutes.”
I look over at Laila and she promises to meet me back at the apartment.
I clean up myself and the rest of the bar and say goodbye to the Followills. I get hugs from all of them and a promise from Jessie and Lily for more bonding time in the near future.
“Maybe we can even have a sleepover at my place on Thursday,” Lily suggests with a wink.
I hug them all again and go back behind the bar to grab my purse.
“You ready, Freddie?” Nick asks with a cute, mischievous smile. It reminds me of somebody almost too familiar. Somebody I needed to get away from but longed to be near.
“As ready as I’ll ever be!”
Nick stuck out his arm for me to hold as we made our way out of the now-dimly lit bar. We left and I locked the door behind me and headed into the night.
“So tell me about yourself, Nick Brown,” I ask.
“Well, I’m the lead singer in a band called Mona, which is named after my grandmother. She was a beautiful lady. I’m from the small town of Dayton, Ohio, which I love more than anything. My dad was a preacher, and my mom is a lovely lady who stays at home now with her dogs.” He sighs with a pretty smile on his face.
“You…remind me of somebody,” I look at him in the eyes.
“Good or bad?”
“A mix of both. He has a kind soul but he’s a rebel at heart,” I conclude with a grin.
“I like the sound of that. Sounds like me. Would you mind if I walked you up?” Nick says quietly.
I take a deep breath and prepare myself, and Nick, for the truth. “Nick,” I begin.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re not looking for a relationship right now. Or somebody to screw around with. I get it.” He only looks a little downcast.
“Let’s be friends. Plus, I have some people to introduce you to…eventually,” I smile at him hopefully.
“Sounds fine with me. You’re one enchanting lady though, you know that.” He chuckles.
“Oh you Dayton boys are so charming,” I say back with a glimmer in my eyes.
“So tomorrow, I’m taking you on a music tour of Nashville. I’ll show you where everything amazing happened.” He sticks out his hand to shake mine, and bid me goodnight.
“I would love nothing more! You’re the best new friend I’ve ever had!” I let go of his hand and turn for the door.
“I’ll come and get you at noon here?” He asks.
“Sounds like a plan,” I smile at him and tell him goodnight, not being able to wait for the morning already. Nick is exactly what I need right now.
As I open the door, the phone is screaming on it’s hook at me to pick it up. I drop my purse on the floor and, seeing as Laila isn’t home, naturally start to freak out that it’s her telling me something bad has happened.
I snatch the phone from it’s cradle. “Hello?” I pant.
“Cammy?” a voice on the other end questions.