Closing Time on hold…

I’m sorry to do this to you again, but Closing Time needs to go on hiatus. I attempted to write the next episode, but the CT mojo is taking a break. I’m in full-on historical mode so even Lucia’s picking up phrases like “You cannot be serious” and that’s just wrong. My dissertation is coming to a head, too, so that takes priority over everything, though it should be done by Thanksgiving. *fingers crossed*

I’m not leaving you high and dry entirely, though. You can check out the weekly features on my writing blog all month long, and if you want to read a little teaser of a story, you can check out my story, Lady of the Opera, at The Season’s writing contest. Feel free to rate it and leave comments, too!

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Closing Time – Episode 19

XIX

The first few trivia questions fly by. As soon as Jeopardy is done reading each one, John and I scribble our answers and tend our customers. I’m dying to know how many John’s got right, but I resist looking. I’m doing pretty well so far—of eight questions, I’ve only missed two. Under any other circumstances, I’d be at roughly fifty percent, and the rest of the questions would be obscure sports trivia from the 1960s. But tonight, I have this inexplicable feeling that John’s luck has run out.

Unless I just jinxed it.

Shaking my head, I hand Adam his drink.

“Can I get you anything else, hon?”

“Nah. Thanks, Luce.”

“The categories for the third round are…” Jeopardy’s voice booms over the sound system. “Music, Movies, TV, and History.”

“Yes,” I hiss, with just a little fist pump down by my hip. Music, movies, and TV are three of my favorite—and best—categories.

John saunters over. “You’re goin’ down, Luce.”

“Not a chance. Were your ears open? You know I’ve got this.”

He chuckles. “I heard history. We both know how good you are at that subject.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “I should have never told you about that. I almost failed because I didn’t turn in the homework, not because I didn’t know the material!”

Throwing the towel in my hand at his head in a last attempt to distract him, I stick my tongue out. Then we get serious and refocus on the question Jeopardy is repeating. I almost missed it because he walked over to tease. Oh, it. Is. On.

Luckily, he didn’t try his fragile luck to distract me again. The game ended and we tallied our scores.

“What’d you get?” he asked, a confident smile on his face.

“You first.”

He held out his paper for me to see. “Twenty-nine.”

For a second, my brain doesn’t work. Then a slow smile spreads across my face. His expression turns wary. “What’d you get?” When he repeats his question, he’s no longer smug. He’s nervous.

“Thirty.” I barely contain my desire to jump in place. After all, we have customers to serve. But my competitive spirit is vindicated. For tonight, anyway.

He snatches my paper to check my answers and when he realizes I’m not lying, he reaches into his back pocket.

“Nicely done.” With a bow, he hands over my twenty dollars, and the irrepressible—and contagious—smile is back on his face.

For the next hour, we are back to our normal camaraderie and even Adam joins in for a little while before he says good night and goes home. I’m glad I saw even a ghost of his former happiness tonight. He’s not in the best place and I worry about him.

Gina comes out of nowhere and takes the stool Adam vacated.

“So, how’d it go?”

No preliminaries, no pleasantries, like “hello” first. Heaven forbid she beat around the bush a little.

I shrug, hoping she gets the hint that I don’t want to talk about it.

“How’d what go?” John asks.

“Oh, Luce had a date today.”

That’s all he needs to hear to give her his undivided attention. “Really?” He turns to me. “You didn’t mention anything.”

“I can’t imagine why.” I paste an innocent look on my face and my voice drips with exaggerated sweetness.

“That’s okay,” he says. “I’ll just get the who and when and how from Gina.” Plopping his elbows on the bar, he settles in for a long chat.

Rather than listen to them gossip about me, I move to the other end of the bar and take care of his customers. If I protest, they’ll never let it go. If I act like I don’t care, maybe they’ll be gentle.

Ashley comes over, her eyes glued to John and Gina, whose heads are close together. They occasionally glance over at me, but I’m getting suspicious about how long it’s taking to discuss my life. Gina didn’t have that much information to begin with.

“Who’s that?” Ashley asks.

“My sister.”

“Oh.” Her face falls and she gathers her customers’ orders without another word.

A small voice in my head urges me to tell her they’re just friends, but another part of me thinks it might be better if Ashley lets go of her crush. I sigh, wondering when life got so complicated.

John strolls over close enough for me to hear him humming.

My First Kiss?

I can feel my eyes rounding and I snap my gaze to my sister. She winks at me and slides off the stool, leaving.

With dread, I ask John, “What did she tell you?”

“She saw you kiss him.”

My cheeks are on fire. I can even feel it in the tips of my ears.

“Casanova? Really?” he continues with a hint of sarcasm.

I can’t meet his eyes, which is enough answer for him.

“Well, if you need a night off, just let me know. But Luce—” He waits until I look at him. “—be careful.”

“I know what I’m doing.” And I hope to God that’s true.

“Just stretch first so you don’t pull something.” His dimples show as he gives me a cheeky grin.

It’s times like these that make me wonder why I love him so much. Yet I can’t keep my lips from twitching. Jerk.

We interrupt this broadcast…

Hi guys,

I’m working on the next episode of Closing Time, which will be posted next week. I also hope to have several “cushion” episodes done in time for November, when I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo and will be completely focused on my story for that. In the meantime, please check out the authors and serial stories at Tuesday Serial (On Twitter: #tuesdayserial or @TuesdaySerial).

 

Closing Time – Episode 18

XVIII

At four o’clock, I hurry back down to the bar to meet with Ashley for her second night of training. Tuesday is Trivia Night, so we tend to get a few extra patrons in from work. Most of them are just waiting for the traffic to clear so they can get home at a decent hour and avoid sitting in the car.

She waits for me at the door. “Just you and me again tonight?”

“John will be here around six to help, too.”

Her eyes light up and I stifle a groan. With my busy morning, I’d completely forgotten about the discussion we had last night. Luckily, she doesn’t say anything, saving me from the need to lecture.

Even when John shows up two hours later, Ashley manages to keep her cool and I’m a little impressed with her maturity.

“Adam’s here,” John whispers to me as I’m cashing one customer out.

I glance up in the mirror to see Adam perched on his usual corner stool. Slamming the register shut, I turn to drop the check to the customer before walking over to him.

“Heya Luce,” he says without his normal enthusiasm. His eyes are bloodshot and dark circles below them indicate his lack of recent sleep.

“You okay, hon?”

“She left me. And she took the kids. Said I needed to figure out what I wanted more—my job or my family.”

“I’m sorry.” It’s not a lie. I am sorry, but I can see her point. That’s why I don’t have a family. I wouldn’t have time for one, and I’d end up in the same position as Adam.

His chuckle is flat. “Not your fault.” We share a moment of silence before he visibly shakes himself. “Anyway, lemme get a Newcastle. Tall.”

“Sure thing.”

“And hey, when does trivia start?”

A quick glance at my watch tells me it’s seven. “In thirty.”

He nods and I slide the beer to him.

The waiting-for-traffic crowd has thinned, but the co-eds are filling the seats. Trivia man, whom I call Jeopardy for obvious reasons, comes in and starts to set up in the corner. He nods to me and I wave.

When it starts up, I get two pads of paper out, a ritual I’ve picked up over the last few months. John is wicked smart, and I keep waiting for the day when I beat him. When Jeopardy calls the questions, we have our own competition, since we’re not eligible for the main one.

“Ashley, will you take the tables for a little bit so John can come back here?”

She nods and goes to collect him.

“You’re never gonna give up, are you?” John asks when he arrives, his dimples showing.

“Not until I can sing some Queen.”

He looks at me, puzzled, and I sigh.

“To sing We Are The Champions?”

“Oh.” He nods, though his expression says I’m nuts. Whatever.

Running down my half of the bar, I make sure none of my customers need anything right before the game starts, and then flip the jukebox off. That’s the signal.

“Welcome to trivia, everyone!” Jeopardy yells into his microphone. He continues on to describe the rules. Four rounds, four questions each. He’ll read the categories before each set, and we decide the point values to assign each answer. “Anyone who wants to play, c’mon up and get some paper, a pencil, and decide on a team name!”

John and I don’t use the same scoring as the rest of the bar. We just tally at the end, and whoever gets the most right answers, gets twenty bucks. I’m tired of losing. I mean, I already give John a paycheck, but thanks to my competitive streak, I’ve also “tipped” him over a hundred and fifty dollars over the last few months.

“Are we ready?”

Pen gripped in my hand, I’m ready for the first question.

“The first round’s categories are…”

“Nervous?” John whispers.

“No. And you just made me miss the categories.” I punch him. It looks like a light tap, but I twist my fist at the last second so the knuckles connect.

“Ow.” He rubs his shoulder in an exaggerated manner and moves out of arms’ reach. “I should have known better than tease you during a war. You’re violent.”

“Yeah, well, you keep this up and your winnings will forfeit for cheating.”

Hands up in mock surrender, he answers, “I’m done teasing. I need the cash for lunch tomorrow.” With a wink, he grabs his pen.

Closing Time – Episode 17

XVII

Damon’s phone rings and I start to slip my hand away but his elbow squashes my forearm to his side, pinning me. In an awkward movement, he fishes his cell out of his back pocket with the opposite hand and checks the number.

“I have to take this, sorry.”

“Sure.” His death grip on my arm isn’t loosening, so I have to stand there holding him while he finishes his conversation and hangs up.

“That was my recruiter. I’m in the Reserves and he was giving me an update.”

Well, that’s really no surprise, with those arms. “Army?”

“Marines.”

If he keeps going, I’m going to be a puddle at his feet.

Wait…

“How old are you?”

He chuckles. “I’m thirty-six, but I originally enlisted right out of high school. I got out for a couple of years and decided to go back in a limited capacity so I could finish school.”

We reached the front of the bar sooner than I like. This date was supposed to be the end. My ticket to getting him to leave me alone, and now I don’t want it to be over. When he relinquishes my arm, it feels cold, bereft. This was not supposed to happen!

“I guess I should get back to work.” But my feet feel like they belong to someone else. They’re certainly not obeying my commands to walk away. Did I step in gum or something?

“I guess I should let you.”

He lifts my chin with one finger and we stare, silently, as people shuffle past us on their lunch breaks. The backs of his knuckles brush my temple, and he tucks an errant lock of hair behind my ear.

It’s been so long since I’ve dated, since anyone has looked at me like this. The fact that I pegged him as a Casanova doesn’t seem to compute now. Sure, he’s charming and is probably after only one thing, but when his fingers caress me in such a gentle way, when his lips part just a fingers’ width, I realize I want that one thing, too. Lust, pure and simple. How hard can it be to keep emotion out of it?

Raising to my tip-toes, I lean forward with the decision made in my mind.

His lips are soft and uncertain, and taste of lemon from his iced tea. I run my tongue over them, savoring the tart flavor, and his arm snakes around my back to pull me closer. In fact, my body is now molded to his. And it feels heavenly.

Creeping my hands up and around his neck, he groans quietly and his kiss moves from tentative to possessive. Sparks shoot through my body, and arousal floods my belly and limbs. My aching feet are forgotten. The people on the street are ignored. Sounds of the city become white noise. I don’t remember ever wanting anyone so much.

“Ow.” He pulls back, but keeps his forehead on mine. Reaching behind him, he removes my fingers from his neck. Belatedly, I realize I’d dug my nails in.

“Sorry.” And we’ve come full circle, back to mortification. It’s amazing that he’s made me relax as long as I have.

“I don’t mind a little pain, now and then,” he says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. He takes my hand and examines it. “But we might need to trim these first.”

Leaning down, he kisses my palm—soft and brief—and heat rushes through my blood.

“Can I see you again?”

My newly awakened libido quashes the small voice full of misgivings. “Sure.”

I lick my lips—a nervous gesture—and force my gaze up to his face. He’s watching my mouth, and his grip tightens like he doesn’t want to let me leave. For some ridiculous, girlish reason, the expression on his face fills me with joy. But I can’t show it. I have to remember to act mature. Easier said than done.

We exchange numbers and he throws me one more dazzling smile before he turns to walk away. I lean against the doorjamb, partly because my feet have started hurting again, and partly because I don’t know if my legs are strong enough to carry me up the stairs yet. Unbidden, the tune of Bring Me To Life runs through my head and I smirk.

Time to get back to real life. First things first. The shoes have got. To. Go. One foot up, I unbuckle the clasp while balancing on the other. The sidewalk is warm under my bare foot, but my arches are thanking me. It’s like a spa for my feet, one of those hot rock massage things. I don’t actually know what they feel like, because I’ve never been able to go get one. But I imagine this is pretty close.

Pulling myself up my stairs to my apartment, the memory of my last boyfriend flashes. More specifically, the memory of the last time I saw my last boyfriend. It was in my first loft, a few years before I bought the bar. He was handsome, and charming, much like Casano—Damon. And he had a way with women that made them clamor for his attention. Also like Damon. So much so that he managed to keep screwing my roommate for months before I walked in on them.

On the floor in our kitchen.

His excuse had been that I was never there. Never around when he wanted me. And Teresa was.

“Of course she is! Her daddy pays for everything so she doesn’t have to work.” I couldn’t stop the vitriol from spilling over to encompass her, too. She certainly wasn’t an innocent party in that mess.

Good riddance. Shaking off the images, I unlock the door to my home trying not to compare the two men. No sense in seeing problems that aren’t there yet. Besides, I’m only in it for the sex.

Closing Time – Episode 16

XVI

“Give you one what?” I ask, feigning ignorance. I really don’t want to tell him what song I assigned as his theme. My throat is suddenly dry, so I grab my water and start gulping.

Damon cocks his head to the side and folds his hands on the table, looking every bit like a teacher’s pet in school. And he waits.

Dropping my head, I mumble his song out of the corner of my mouth.

“What’s that?” He leans forward.

Sigh. “Cowboy Casanova.”

He surprises me by laughing. Not a smirk, but outright, full-blown laughter. I jerk my head up.

“It explains why your bartender kept calling me Casanova. I thought he was hitting on me.”

I smile, despite myself. “It’s a rare person, male or female, who can resist John’s attentions.”

“Well, he is very charming. You only won by a small margin.”

With a wink and a flash of his impossibly white teeth, he has me all fluttery again. I’m not even a hundred percent sure I understood his last remark, but I’m not about to ask him to clarify.

“So…tell me about you.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with the usual. Job, family, whatever you want to say.”

“Okay, I’m—”

The waitress plunks our gyros down and stares at Damon. “Will there be anything else?”

He looks at me, but Rio‘s eyes never waver from his tanned face. I shrug and assess my area of the table.

“More water?” he says, before I even notice my glass is empty.

“Sure thing, hon,” she purrs, and I roll my eyes.

When she returns with the pitcher, her hair has been restyled and I swear she’s padded her chest. There’s definitely more cleavage there now. Or maybe she’s bending lower than before to draw attention to it. I can’t help it—a snicker escapes my lips.

“What?” Damon asks after she leaves again.

“Nothing.” If he didn’t notice, I’m not going to point the neon arrow. “You were about to tell me about yourself.”

“Right.” He swallows his bite. “I’m here going to school for the time being.”

School? I look closer at his face. I’d pegged him for my age or a little older, but he could be younger. Dear God, please don’t tell me I just unknowingly became a cougar.

“Family is in Wyoming, but I don’t think I’ll go back. I kinda like the city life.”

Even better. I’m a cougar and I stepped into a romance novel cliché. Country boy comes to the city, fish out of water—

“Lucia?”

I blink. “Yeah?”

“You looked a little, um, well, frightened there. You okay?”

“Oh.” Nervous laughter. “Yeah, no, I’m fine. So, school, huh? What are you studying?”

He doesn’t look convinced. “I’m working on an art degree.”

Art. Interesting. “Any specialty?”

For a moment, he stares at me and my body starts to tingle.

“Nudes.”

He said that to shock me. I’m convinced of it.

“I meant which medium?”

“I like them all, but I have a special love for clay.”

Is it my imagination, or did his voice drop an octave?

He continues, “There’s something about sculpting a form, molding it and watching it take shape in my hands…”

Those hands were quite expressive. My gaze follows his fingers as he pantomimes and my breaths shorten. Strong, lean hands. I’m so focused on his gestures that I don’t even know what he’s saying anymore. My body reacts as though he’s touching me, until I notice he’s stopped moving. Immediate heat floods my face and I can’t look up.

My food! It’s a perfect distraction. Lifting the gyro, I shovel it into my mouth. Chewing—especially the ridiculous amount of wrap I bit off—gives me some time to collect myself. By the time I swallow, my heart has stopped sprinting.

Damon, on the other hand, appears amused.

“You were picturing that scene from Ghost, weren’t you?” he asks.

I’m glad I didn’t still have food in my mouth, or I would have choked. My “no” still sounds strangled.

“Most of the time, that’s the first thing people associate when they learn I’m into ceramics.”

Fortifying myself with a gulp of water, I say, “Well, I wasn’t thinking that.” But I am now. And the tune of Unchained Melody.

“Then what were you thinking? Your expression…changed.”

I can only imagine what emotion my face conveyed. Hundreds of lies pass through my mind—lies to redirect my mortification. I settle on a half-truth.

“I was just watching your hands. They were distracting.”

“Oh.” He actually looks disappointed.

The clock on the wall chimes and I’m surprised to learn we’ve been at the restaurant for an hour.

“Do you have to get back?”

No. “Yes.”

He stands and pays the check. Rio rests her elbows on the counter, shoving her breasts together and her longing gaze follows Damon. I’m not sure what comes over me, maybe it’s natural cattiness, but I link my arm through his and lead him out of the restaurant. A single, arched eyebrow is his only reaction.

Closing Time – Episode 15

XV

Damon’s t-shirt is just tight enough to show muscular definition underneath, without being too snug and his jeans fit him well. I don’t think I blinked yet. Is my mouth open?

I remember my determination to keep this light, casual, friendly, and that I’m only doing this to get him to leave me alone. Right. Not sure I managed to convince myself, but it’s enough to propel me forward.

“Wow.” He straightens and gives me a slow perusal from my forehead to my painted toes. Fire rushes to each area of my body under his scrutiny, and I wonder if he’s Superman—you know, with the heat vision.

I know I’m blushing and can’t help it. Breaking eye contact, I mumble “thank you” and watch the businessmen and college students mingle on the sidewalk, striding to their lunchtime destinations.

I can handle compliments. I’m used to them, and have to be when I work behind the bar. There’s the whole beer goggle thing that just happens when guys keep drinking. Most of those, I can shrug off with a quick thanks, because I know it’s the liquor talking. All of those, actually. But this? This is different. Damn him for making me feel like I regressed fifteen years and am now an uncertain, awkward teenager. I hate this feeling.

It’s not just the self-consciousness, though. Even that, I could handle on a mediocre day. In all honesty, it’s the attraction. Desire is not a feeling I’m comfortable with, and certainly not one I’ve had a lot of experience with. And I have that in spades for this guy. Damn him twice.

“I wasn’t sure you’d actually show up,” he says, “so I didn’t make any solid plans.” With a smile, he holds his hand out to me.

“Well, I wasn’t sure, either, truthfully.”

“I’m glad you did.” His baritone voice sends tingles all through me.

God, he exudes sexy. Must. Be. Strong. I take a deep, fortifying breath. I can do this. One date, and I’m rid of him. My libido whines in protest, but I ignore it.

“So, where are we going?” Good. Just enough chipper in my voice to sound sincere, without being overeager.

“How do you feel about Mediterranean?”

“Great.” I link my arm through his and we start walking.

It’s not too far, but by the time we get there, my feet are killing me. I try not to limp, but as soon as I can manage it, these shoes are getting tossed in a fire pit. Gina will just have to deal.

We sit in a corner booth, next to one window, but the owners have dropped the shade so I can only make out the general shape of people and objects passing by. Works for me, as the sun was starting to get brutal out there.

What are we supposed to talk about? He seems content to just watch me fiddle with the straw, swirling the ice around in my water glass. The clicking of the cubes is oddly soothing.

“You don’t do this much, do you?”

My hand stills. “No. Is it that obvious?”

“A little.” He chuckles. “I didn’t want to put pressure on you.”

At my look of disbelief, he amends, “Well, I did, but only because I wanted to get to know you, and there was no other way to get you out of the bar.”

“The bar is my life.” I shrug. “I don’t have time for much else.”

“I figured that.” His eyes pierce me. “Before you had the bar, what did you like to do? Any hobbies?”

“Ah…” Crickets. That’s what I hear in my mind. Hobbies? My hobby was working and saving for the down payment for the property where I now live and work. “No, I really didn’t have any. I didn’t have time.”

“What about in high school, or college? Any extracurriculars?”

Are dates supposed to feel like interrogations?

“My extracurricular activities were work-study and part-time jobs to pay tuition.” A nervous laugh escapes.

Well, this is one way to kill his interest. Sound as lame as possible.

The self-preserving side of me is screaming in my head to come up with something—anything—that doesn’t make me sound like a hermit who just happens to run a bar in her spare time.

The waitress saves me from saying anything else and takes our order. She’s a pretty girl, with olive skin and long, dark, hair. Her name is Phoebe, and she sashays back to the kitchen, looking back at Damon. I might as well be invisible.

Rio.”

“Pardon?” He seems surprised at my ability to speak spontaneously.

“Oh, nothing. It’s a thing I do. Nevermind.” Swallow me up now, floor. Please.

“Uh, nice try. Spill.”

“I, um, listen to a lot of music. Sometimes I categorize people with a song, rather than by their physical features.” Anytime now, floor.

“So you assigned her Rio? Like Duran Duran’s Rio?”

I nod, rather than speak, in an attempt to limit the embarrassment.

“I can see that.” He sits forward, rests his elbows on the table and props his chin up with one fist. “Did you give me one?”

Oh, God.