Victoria was right when she said I would know them when I saw them. I'd only been working at the Wolfsbane Bar and Grill for less than a week when they finally showed up. I was wiping down the bar between customers when I felt them walk in. The entire atmosphere in the bar changed, going from jovial to a little more downtempo. A few heads turned to watch them walk in, but I felt I shouldn't give them the pleasure. I wasn't one for playing up people's ego for no reason, not unless I could get something out of it first.
It takes a couple seconds before the mood returns to its normal happy self, if a bit more reserved than before. I notice a few of them have taken spots in my section, at the end of the bar so I take a deep breath, slap on a big grin and walk over.
"What can I get for you tonight, guys?" I ask, noting that it's a group of three men. The moment I started walking over their attention snapped to me. I can feel their eyes boring holes in me, as if they can see straight through to my soul, but I don't let it bother me. I can handle stares.
"You're new." One of them states bluntly, and I have to fight to not roll my eyes.
"Why yes, yes I am. Now, what do you want to eat or should I go serve everyone else before I come back to you?" I snap, a little impatient. I did have other patrons to tend to, I knew people were probably running low on drinks by now. The men in front of me wait for just a second past my patience limit and I tuck my notepad back in my apron, flipping my hair over my shoulder. "Flag me down when you're actually ready to order, then." I say, walking out from behind the bar and around to my tables. Before I can get far, one of the men reaches out and grabs my arm.
"Hey!" I snap, trying to yank my arm free. The feeling sends unwanted chills of fear through my body and I fight to push back the rising flashback.
"What?" I ask, still yanking on my arm. He's got it in a tight grip, though, and now I'm close to crying.
"Your name, girl. What is it?"
"What the fuck? My name is Stella, now let me go! Please…" The last part comes out as a half whimper but he does let me go when my name gets dropped. He doesn't say another word, turning back to the bar and leaning in with the other two men, speaking too low for me to hear. Any other time I would've been able to, but I've purposely dulled that sense in the last few months, as part of my armor. The armor that nearly broke when he grabbed my arm so suddenly.
Taking a deep breath, I gather my composure and walk over to my other tables, rubbing my arm. There were going to be bruises, I already knew it. Bruises I had no way of healing, now. Rather than deal with them again, I refill my table's drinks and bring a few of them dessert before I take a break and head to the bathroom. In there I splash some cold water on my face and brace my hands on the counter. I hadn't expected that to go that badly, with them. Nonetheless, I put my strong face back on and leave the bathroom to finish my shift. When I go to walk back to the bar, though, someone else sitting in one of the booths grabs my hand. I'm just about to rear back and punch them in the face, sick of people grabbing me tonight, but their words stop me.
"Sorry!" The guy says, holding his other hand up, that's not clenched around mine. I blink at him slowly, dropping my fist to my side. When I stand down, he sighs, looking at me through his blonde bangs. "I'm sorry about… them." He looks at the three men still seated at the bar behind me, and his eyes go unfocused for a minute before he looks back at me. "Won't happen again, I assure you." He says urgently, and I can't stop my eye roll this time.
"Uh huh, whatever you say, buddy. Keep your fucking family under control or I will." I snap with more venom than intended, but at this point I'm past caring. No one had the right to grab me without my permission, no one. I'd put men on the floor for less than that before, but I don't want to lose this new job.
At my words the guy lets me go, glancing across the booth at his own buddies, who are very carefully keeping their eyes averted from me. I huff, stomping back to the bar. Troy is there now, filling drink orders. When he catches sight of my face he pauses, eyes questioning me. I shake my head, not wanting to talk about it. For the rest of the night the three men at the bar get the most awful customer service I can provide, including dirty glasses and utensils for the steaks they order, and perhaps a little dirt from the bottom of my shoe to top it off. They don't seem to notice, wolfing everything down like it's the best meal they've had in their life, and I get a sick sense of satisfaction watching them eat my sabotage.
I'm relieved when that shift ends, and I walk out with Victoria and Denise once again. Troy joins us this time, though, as we put our jackets on before stepping out into the alley. They eye him when he walks up, and I assume this isn't a normal thing for him to walk us out. As we're going out into the alley, he tugs on the sleeve of my jacket slightly, pulling me back towards him as the other two girls walk in front.
"Hey, are you alright? I figured something happened when you came back from the bathroom all pissed." He says, and I laugh.
"Like I said, some of your customers can be pretty fucking handsy. I handled it, though." I say, winking at him, and though I know he doesn't know what I mean because he didn't see my own personal sabotage, he grins anyways.
"Good, someone needs to put those guys in their place." He says, wrapping an arm through one of mine as it's tucked in my jacket pocket. I nod, and we keep silent, catching up to the two girls as we reach the sidewalk. "Do you want me to walk you… home?" He asks me, watching after Victoria and Denise as they depart, arm in arm.
I sigh, shaking my head no. "Definitely not. I can handle myself, Troy. You go have a good rest of your night." I say, shooing him away. He hesitates for a moment, staring at me intensely.
"You sure?" He asks, and I groan.
"Yes, Troy, I'm sure. Go, I'm tired, I'm going back to my bed." I say, waving bye to him as I walk backwards down the sidewalk, only turning around when I'm sure he's going in the opposite direction. I definitely don't need any white knight bullshit from anyone, it was bound to piss me off even more in the long run. I didn't need anyone's help, not anymore.
I don't see any more of the 'family' for the next few shifts, and I revel in the peace those shifts bring. Something about those guys unnerved me, and I didn't want to overthink it so not having them around was working wonders on not thinking about them. However, when they do show up again, I'm not expecting who they bring with them.
Once again, I know the moment they walk through the front doors of the bar. The room grows quiet but this time, the quiet is laced with a palpable fear, I can feel it making its way across the room, but I shake it off like it's nothing. It doesn't take me long to find out what everyone is so afraid of, though. Standing in the doorway is one of the most deadly-looking but handsome men I'd ever seen. He's got a strong jawline accented with the light stubble of a beard, his lips are nice and pink and definitely kissable, and his dark hair is swept back from his face. But it's his eyes that take the cake, they're a nice stormy blue and they're focused directly on mine. We stare at each other for a minute, and I'm unwilling to look away.
No one else seems to want to look at him, but I don't see why not. He's way too attractive to not have the attention of every other woman in this bar. A few do sneak glances at him, I can see out of the corner of my eye, but they won't keep their eyes on his like I am. After a few tense moments a dark look passes over his face and he breaks eye contact, looking at the man that stepped up next to him to speak. I can't hear what they're saying, but this man looks annoyed at being spoken to. I recognize the guy who initiated the conversation as the same one from yesterday that stopped me coming out of the bathroom.
Now that our little staring contest is over, I refocus myself on the task at hand, which would be handing people their food orders. I brush past the group at the door, greeting them quietly as I hand off warm plates to people at my tables. When I go back behind the bar to grab drink refills, I notice that the pack at the door has split off, with the rest of the men taking up all the booths available and that one guy heading straight for the bar. For some reason, I want him nowhere near me and I hurry to fill glasses of coke and sprite, begging the tap to work faster. My efforts are useless, though, as he reaches the bar when I'm halfway done filling the last glass.
"Hello." He says simply, and his voice is just as I pictured it in my head - deep and gravelly and enough to melt me to the floor, if I had been any weaker of a person.
"Hi." I say curtly, cutting off the flow of the tap as the liquid reaches the top, and carefully balancing the glass on my tray. I don't even look at him as I take the drinks to the table, and deep down I hope maybe he would be gone when I get back to the bar but of course my luck is nowhere to be found.
"You're new to the town." He says, and I laugh.
"Wow, you noticed? I'm flattered." I say dryly, but his face doesn't change.
"Of course I noticed you, Stella." I freeze at his words. Deep inside my heart flutters, but I shut that shit down immediately. Of course he would know my name.
"Like I said, flattered, but don't you have… I don't know… a town to run rather than focusing on lil ole me?" The dig is slight but there. I need him to know I'm not intimidated by his status in the town. I'd most likely be gone in the next month anyways, I never stay anywhere for too long - when I get comfortable that's when I know it's time to go.
"Ah you see right now," he checks his watch for show, the clock above the bar reads the time clearly, it's almost one a.m., "this bar is the only place open and I'd much rather be here, with lil ole you, than out there." He tilts his head to the side, watching me. I can tell he's trying to get a reaction but I don't give him one, looking at him with as much of a deadpan as I can muster.
"Great. Are you going to order something then? Because I have a job to do."
"That you do… Jack and coke." I know it's wrong, but I pause and wait for the one word missing from the demand. He raises an eyebrow at me after I stand there, staring at him. "Well?" He asks, and I repeat the word back to him, looking down to examine my nails as if they're the most interesting thing in the world in this moment, not him.
Finally, he understands and with a scowl he mumbles the world "please", and I slap a big toothy grin on my face.
"Sure, love, comin' right up." I wink at him, quickly pouring his drink and sliding it to him across the bar. He sips it slowly, eyes narrowed at me over the top of the glass. He's got one of his arms slung over the back of the chair and my eyes catch on the interesting tattoos peeking out from the sleeve of his long sleeved shirt, and I take a moment to also admire the way it fits to his obviously muscled chest. He must work out a lot to keep up that type of muscle mass.
"What brings you to this small town, Stella?" He asks, and the sound of my name on his tongue makes me want to both smash the glass he's holding into his head but also fall into his arms. It's an interesting combination, but I settle for a nice middle ground of nonchalant wiping of the bar. Troy has appeared next to me, back from his break, but he steers clear of me and him, for whatever reason. I wish he would come and rescue me, though, even if this guy hasn't even done anything to truly piss me off yet.
"Change of scenery." I say simply. He hasn't earned the right to more information than that, and I'm sure he knows it but his eyes flash at my lack of information. Too bad, so sad.
"You on the run or something?" He asks, and my hackles immediately raise. He had no right to ask me such a personal question, I'm sure he wouldn't ask anyone else. It's easy to lie, though, and I do so with a smile on my face.
"Not at all, hun." The pet name is very obviously sarcastic and I can tell he doesn't like the sickly sweet tone I used, but he makes no further comment. Lucky for me my customers call and I leave the bar behind for the rest of my shift, only coming back to assist Troy once or twice. And my luck returns in a small way again when the man finally leaves the bar, heading to the booths with the rest of his 'family'.
When my shift ends and the bar closes I'm the first one at the back door, waiting to be let out into the alleyway. The other girls join me shortly, and I can feel the looks they throw me as we get let out by Troy.
"So… you met them. Well, one of them." Denise says, and I groan.
"Yeah, I don't want to talk about it." I say, and Victoria nods.
"I wouldn't either hun, they're pretty scary." Not really, I think, but keep the thought to myself. The man I met tonight was scary but he was more annoying than anything. When we reach the sidewalk I bid the two of them goodbye and then groan again when I turn around and see a certain someone leaning against the front window of the bar, hands tucked in the pockets of his leather jacket. When he sees me he straightens up and approaches.
"Can you not just fuck off or something? I'm off the clock, you're not a customer anymore, I'm not obligated to do anything for you anymore, leave me alone." I snap, walking past him haughtily.
"No, I can't just 'fuck off or something'," he says back just as rudely, quickly falling in step beside me, "I'm walking you home."
"Please for the love of god do not walk me home. I do not want you to walk next to me, much less do I want you to walk me to the place where I sleep when I don't even know you." I say, trying to speed up faster. He easily keeps pace, his longer legs making it easy for him.
"Maddox Compton." He says, holding his hand out to me as we walk. My step nearly falters and I look at him with wide eyes.
"Excuse me, what?" I sputter, and it's his turn to roll his eyes at me.
"My name, it's Maddox Compton. There, we're not strangers now, you know my name so I'm walking you home." He says simply and I huff, angrily crossing my arms in front of me. We're already close to the Holly Inn, and my room.
No matter how fast I walk he just keeps up and by the time we make it to my room I'm way out of breath but he's not even breathing hard. How unfair of him to be in such good shape while I'm basically a walking potato. Grumbling incoherently to myself, I yank my room key out of my pocket and unlock the door, turning my head to him just slightly.
"Thanks for the escort, you can leave now." I say, not wanting to open the door fully before he's long gone. Trusting a man who follows you home is always a bad idea.
"I'm not leaving until you're inside." He says, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"God please just leave! I'm not going to be spontaneously murdered while at my front door unless you're going to be the one to do it," at that I eye him warily and I swear I see the corner of his mouth twitch up in a smile before he quickly drops it.
"There's something… different about you." He says, leaning in closer to me. His eyes are focused on mine and I feel a flash of panic at his words. He can't know, there's no way. Quickly I open the door and stumble inside, slamming it right in his face. I almost hope he actually got hit with it, it would serve him right. Once inside, I lean against the door, heart hammering.
"Lock the door." His voice rings out from the other side and I jump, scrambling to slide the deadbolt in place. My heart is now beating out of my chest, but I want to punch him in his stupid face when I hear him chuckling. I only breathe normally again when I hear his footsteps turn and fade away. For the rest of the night I hope beyond hope that tonight was just a fluke and I'll never have to see his stupid handsome face ever again.
Of course, my luck really has shriveled up and died because I see Maddox once again the next night, during my shift. He comes in right when I get there at seven, and I can feel his eyes on me as Troy gives me, Victoria and Denise the read for the night. Maddox has once again claimed a seat at the bar, but now there's yet another unfamiliar man sitting next to him, but they look similar so I'm going to assume that this is the brother. He has the same dark hair and blue eyes, but his face looks older, more weathered than Maddox's.
"What can I get you to drink?" I ask Maddox shortly, once I break away from Troy and the others. I know he's expecting me to address him so I'm only going to address him as a waitress and bartender, not as anything more than that.
"The usual…" He says, tapping his fingers on the bar. I make his jack and coke and slide it to him, before addressing his counterpart.
"You must be the brother. I'm Stella, I'll be your waitress for the evening, what would you like to drink?" I ask him, much sweeter than I asked Maddox. The brother gets a huge grin on his face and leans close to me over the bar.
"You would be correct, Matthew Compton the older brother, at your service. And I'll have the same, if you don't mind." He says smoothly, holding his hand out for a handshake. I remember the episode last night, when I refused to shake Maddox's hand, so I gladly give him my hand, winking at him flirtatiously.
"Isn't it supposed to be me who's at your service?" I ask him, honey dripping off of my words as I bat my eyelashes at him, pulling my bottom lip between my teeth. I make his drink and hand it to him personally, letting my fingers brush against his own. I don't miss the dark look that passes over Maddox's face at this little show, but I get a lovely feeling of amusement from it.
"God I sure hope so…" Matthew breathes, and that sends Maddox over the edge. His elbow collides with Matthew's side, sending the air out of his lungs. "Jeez bro, can't you see we're having a conversation?" Matthew jokes, rubbing his side.
"You and me, outside, now!" Maddox says quietly, gripping his brother's arm and dragging him back out of the bar. As soon as they're gone, I nearly collapse in a fit of hysterics. Making over-confident men jealous is one of my favorite things to do. When I finally straighten up and wipe the tears of laughter out of my eyes, I see both Denise and Victoria looking at me as if I've grown another head. Rather than explain, I just shrug and move on to my other customers, glad I have a reprieve, if only momentary, from that infuriating man.
The brothers come back in shortly, but instead of reclaiming their seats at the bar, they go and join the rest of their buddies at the booths. I mouth a silent apology to Victoria because now she gets to deal with them, and I happily spend the rest of my shift avoiding anything to do with that side of the bar, unless it's to go past the booths to the bathroom.
Maddox is waiting once again for me when we close, leaning against the front windows as he was the night before. I roll my eyes so hard it hurts when I start to walk past him and he follows me.
"Why are you doing this? I don't want to be your friend. I think I've made that very clear." I nearly yell at him, stopping in my tracks and staring at him.
"Don't speak to me in that tone of voice, girl." He says back, just as angrily, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Ugh!" I throw my hands in the air and storm off, "Who do you think you are? Just because you think you own this town doesn't mean you own the people in it, especially not me. I won't be here for much longer anyways, so just leave me alone." I spout off loudly. My words were true, though. I was beginning to get a little bit too comfortable here, with the routine of working, and it's only been less than a month.
At those words, Maddox grabs my wrist and pulls me back towards him. I stumble back into his chest, my back to him. I can feel his breath fanning over my ear, tickling me but sending waves of warmth through my entire body.
"Why are you going to leave?" He asks quietly, and I almost think he's upset.
"Because I don't want to be here anymore! I… I can't stay." I say the last part in almost a whisper, my eyes closing. The feeling of his hand around my wrist is almost enough to send me into a small panic, but I'm trying my hardest to control my breathing.
"I don't want you to go." He says simply, and I turn my head slightly to the left, towards him.
"That's too bad, then." Is all I can say, and we stand there for a moment in silence. My heart feels like it's about to stutter and stop from his proximity, and the hand on my wrist. My brain is flooded with all sorts of wrong emotions, from panic to lust to primal fear. Having him behind me this close feels very dangerous.
"Where'd you get these scars…" His whisper nearly sends me running down the street. I hadn't realized his fingers were creeping up my jacket sleeve, stroking along the ridged lines criss crossing my wrists.
"That's none of your goddamn business. Now leave me the fuck alone, once and for all before I call the police." The threat is empty, I have no way of calling, but I sure would follow through with it if he followed me back to my hotel room again. His hand drops away from my wrist and I gladly yank my sleeve back down, whipping around to glare at him furiously.
"I'll kill whoever did that to you." The words are deadly as is his face, but I keep my gaze locked on his.
You'd be killing me, then. The words fight to break free of my lips but I hold them back, walking backwards for a few steps to put some distance between us.
"Just leave me alone, okay? I don't want to be your friend. I don't want whatever this," I point between him and I, "is. Goodbye, Maddox." I turn around and walk the short distance back to my room. To my relief, I don't feel him following, and when I look over my shoulder once I reach my door, the street is empty. He's nowhere to be seen.
The next morning, I call down to the bar as soon as they open and quit my job. I drop off my work uniform with Whitney, the day time receptionist, in the hotel office, as well as my room key and payment for the time I'd spent there. Going into town, I get to one of the boutiques right as they open, and buy a pair of black shorts, a green tank top, new boots and a backpack with some of the money that's left over from my wages and tips. I change behind a dumpster and toss the old mini skirt, tank top and boots in the trash. My next stop is the grocery store, where I buy a bunch of chips, granola bars and water to shove into the backpack, before I walk out and up main street. The road I walked into the town in the first place on continues up the mountain and I follow it, keeping to the treeline. I dimly remember Denise telling me that the 'Family' lives up the mountain, so I cut deeper into the forest, planning to walk as far as I can around where they live until I make it out of this area.
I hadn't made good enough connections with anyone in Swiftbrooke to warrant anyone missing me too much, so I'm confident no one will look for me, which is just how it should be. I've got too many people on my tail in the first place to add anyone new who will just get hurt caring about in the long run. It's better this way.