There's something very pretty about stars. Balls of gaseous flames…but like little sparkles of glass. I wish I could touch them, gather them in my hands, keep them next to my bed. Small fireflies to keep away the dark.
But I can't and I am alone.
My feet carry me across the cold floor to my bed, window at my back. My friends used to laugh at my fear of the dark, the nightlight I've had since a child. Thankfully, the friends I have now are quite a bit more understanding.
Sheets shuffle as they accept my tired body, cushioning my bones. As I set my glasses on the nightstand, my eyes are drawn to the dark corner, outside my shell of light. I quickly look away, burrowing under the covers.
Nothing is there. Nothing can hurt me.
…I still don't believe that, and I've been repeating it for as long as I've had that nightlight. Twenty-three years old and unable to chase away the fear of the Boogeyman.
Still, even my fear can't keep me awake and slowly, slowly…I begin…drifting off…
With my last shred of awareness, I think I see the shadows move.
"I think you should try hypnotism."
I raise an eyebrow at Leon, putting away the glasses behind the bar.
The other man nods, resting his chin on his hand. "Works for smokers and people with phobias, I hear. And isn't this dark thing a phobia?"
I frown, shoving my glasses back up my nose. "It's not a phobia. There's…there's something there…"
He gives me a pitying look, one dark, manicured hand reaching forward to pat mine. "Okay, honey. But seriously, think about it. Or therapy at least."
A sigh deflates me. I tired of this topic long ago.
"Fine. Sure. I'll think about it."
That earns me a warm smile and another pat on the hand.
A gust of icy air slides into the bar, sending goosebumps skittering across my skin. We both look up to see a tall, redheaded woman shaking snow off her long black coat. Leon's face lights up in a grin. He rises gracefully to his feet, striding across the room. His lips find hers in a soft kiss.
I smile, ignoring the small stab of jealousy.
Heels clack across the floor, a waft of rose perfume drifting toward me. I lean forward to let pink lips press against my cheek.
My smile widens. "Hi, to get your husband?"
She smirks, reaching forward to pinch the cheek she just kissed. "And to see you, cutie!"
I roll my eyes, batting her away. "Yeah, sure. Aren't you going to be late?"
Debbie sighs, blue eyes crinkling. "You're no fun. But you're right; Leon's the opening act and I still have to get him dressed."
I shoot him a reproachful look when he comes up next to my wife. "You didn't tell me that."
He shrugs, waving a hand. "It's no big deal."
I snort. "Yes, it is. Soon you'll be the main attraction."
"Ah, you flatter." But his smile is just a tad brighter underneath the denial.
Debbie rolls her eyes, although she's smiling indulgently. "You know you're the best they have." She glances at her watch. "Anyway, we have to get going. We still have to get Dre from my sister's before we get you over to the club. You know how she loves to see you perform."
Leon's smile turns into a grin at the mention of his daughter and he stands up. "Okay, I'll let you drag me away from my best of all friends."
Debbie snorts, wrapping an arm around her husband's waist. "You know you're excited to see your dress. And you'd better be after I slaved away for hours." She pouts playfully.
"Yes, wife," drawls Leon, shooting me a knowing look and mouthing, Drama queen. Debbie catches it and tugs lightly on his ear.
I grin, waving them away. "Okay, get out of here. Don't be late. I can handle the bar by myself."
Both of their faces become just a little bit strained, losing a bit of their brightness, but neither say anything. I know exactly what they're thinking and I really don't need to hear it.
I force my smile just a little wider and a few minutes later, they're gone.
I keep forgetting how quiet the bar is by myself.
My hands keep polishing glasses, grey eyes remaining fixed on the movement. I'm too old to be afraid of shadows.
I jumped when I hear something move.
Heart pounding, I remain frozen behind the bar, wide eyes scanning the dim bar. They land on stool, pushed back a foot from where it had been. And it's not the one Leon was sitting on.
Briefly shutting my eyes, I take a deep breath.
"Calm down," I mutter, hands tight around the glass. "It's nothing. The wind. Just the wind. Something reasonable. Nothing to worry about."
My hands shake.
I let out a decidedly unmanly shriek, spinning around. Chris stares at the glass raised above my head, ready to club any monsters. His hazel eyes fall to mine.
Instantly embarrassed, I set down the glass, coughing.
"Oh, uh. Hi…Chris." My face flushes, pounding heart not slowing. Although, now it's for an entirely different reason.
Chris smirks, leaning a hip against the bar. "So, uh…gonna tell me why you were threatening me with a bar glass?"
My face burns darker. "Uh…just…thought you were an intruder…or something." Emphasis on the something.
"Okay…"He looks more amused than anything else, and I can't help but melt a little at the way his smirk turns into a lopsided smile. He glances at the area. "Need any help with anything?"
"Oh, uh…" I bite my lip, pushing up my glasses. "I guess…help with the glasses? I mean, I've done most of them…but I could always use help?" I'm always at my lamest around Chris.
The other man doesn't seem to notice, however, easily moving to my side to join with the tedious task. As usual, his smile remains fixed. I rarely see him upset…I think that's what I like best about him.
"So…how are…things?" I ask, coughing at the end to try and cover up how much of an idiot I sound.
Chris shrugs, broad shoulders drawing my gaze. "Nothing much. Soccer. School. That's it." His hazel eyes fall on me. "What about you?"
I bite my lip, reaching for another glass. "Just…the usual." Staying in well-lit areas, restless sleeping, stomach-turning fear. "Just work and photography."
"Got any shows coming up?"
My mouth twists. "No. I'm not that good." I once had a few photos published in a campus newspaper during university, but that's about it. Chris seems to think I'm God's gift to photography, however.
He pouts. "You should really send out your portfolio to more places, Jay. Get your name out there. You'd rock."
I nod, just to placate him. Like Leon and Debbie with my fear, Chris is always pushing me with my photography.
Conversation turns to more mundane topics, idle chatter about the weather and local sports teams. My side is rather half-hearted, however, my eyes continuously drawn back to the stool. No matter how I try to distract myself, I can't forget how it just moved…all on its own.
I know it wasn't the wind.
"You seem distracted."
I blink, turning my head to face Chris. He's studying me with a frown on his smooth face, hazel eyes searching mine. I force a bright smile.
"What? No, I'm fine."
My nod is quick. "Definitely. I'm, uh…just tired. That's all." Not a lie, really. I never sleep well. I likely wouldn't sleep at all, if my body didn't get so tired it took care of it for me.
"You gonna be okay tonight?" He bends closer until our faces nearly touch. "You don't look good."
I roll my eyes. "Thanks."
He rolls his eyes back, putting away his last glass. "You know what I mean."
I instantly feel bad. It's hard to stay snarky with Chris, especially when he's worrying…about me.
I sigh, leaning against the bar.
"I just haven't been getting enough sleep. A lot of things on my mind, y'know?" My fingers play with the hem of my shirt, teeth worrying at my lip. I really want to tell him the truth…but…I don't want him to think I'm crazy. I mean…my friends knowing is one thing. The guy I've had a huge crush on since I started working here? …completely different.
Finally, I shake my head, offering him a smile. "Really, it's nothing. Don't worry."
Slowly, reluctantly, Chris nods. "Okay, fine. But…if you ever need to talk…" He shrugs, offering me his lopsided smile.
My heart skips, a genuine grin lighting my freckled face. "Thanks."
He ruffles my hair and I have to force myself not to lean into the touch.
"No problem." A second goes by and his face suddenly lights up. "We should go out after work. There's this awesome restaurant down the street."
My eyes widen. Oh…oh my God. Did…he doesn't mean…
Catching the look on my face, he quickly waves his hands, eyebrows shooting up. "Don't worry, not like a date or anything. Just friends."
My smile dims just the slightest bit and my body slumps a little, but I make sure to hide it and force a laugh.
"Yeah, it's cool. I didn't think…yeah, I totally didn't think it was, like, a date or anything." I sound completely fake, I know I do, but…hopefully Chris doesn't notice.
I flush, scratching my head and glancing at the clock. "Well, uh…I'm just gonna go…open up…"
I scurry around, flicking on lights and turning on the music. The 'closed' sign gets flipped around to 'open'. Since the first hour or two is always slow, the servers won't show up for a bit. The chef should be here soon.
"Hey, I'll be back. We're low on some of the drinks."
I glance over my shoulder, nodding. "Okay."
Chris grins briefly before heading through the door to the basement where the storeroom is. I bite my lip, shivering as I realise I'm completely alone. The lights of the bar aren't nearly bright enough.
Right. Well. I'm a grown man. I know there aren't any bogies hiding in the corners. It's silly to be scared.
The squeal of wood against wood makes me scream.
Footsteps pound on the stairs, and seconds later, Chris is by my side, hands gripping my arms.
"Jamie! Jamie, what's wrong?"
The…the table. Fuck. The table.
I can't look away from the table that just moved three feet across the floor on its own.
Chris' worried face levels with mine, hands tightening. "Jamie, look at me."
I force my eyes to meet his, wide and scared.
"I…I'm okay," I whisper, swallowing. "Just, um…" Shit, I can't come up with an excuse. The truth is just too crazy.
"Jamie…maybe you should go home," murmurs Chris, voice weighted with concern.
I shake my head, swallowing. "I'm fine. Just…yeah. I'm fine."
His dark brows are lowered into a deep frown. "You're really pale."
"I'm always pale." I force a smile, wan and shaky. "Really. I'm cool. I'll just…yeah."
Slipping out of his grip, I hurry back to the bar, busying myself with organising the bottles. Chris follows me.
"Jamie, seriously. You don't look good. It's okay if you go home, I can handle one night on my own."
"I'm fine!" I exclaim, hands tight around a full bottle of vodka. I'm not crazy.
The darker man looks stung. "Sorry," he mutters.
I rub my face, setting down the alcohol, shame making my body slump and lose all fight. "I'm sorry," I mumble, shoving my hair out of my face. "Stressed. Just stressed." I shove my glasses up my nose.
"It's okay." His voice is still lacking its usual lustre.
Before I can say anything else, he disappears back into the basement. I sigh, resting my forehead against the shelf.
I'm an idiot.
My grey eyes flick over my shoulder, landing on the displaced table. Shadowy corner. It's like it was...pushed.
Bile rises in my throat, fear stiffening my body.
Maybe I should've gone home after all.