I stared at the piece of paper in my hand, crumpled from the thousand times I opened and closed it to check that her handwritten number still existed; it wasn't a figment of my imagination. It had been six days since I had shared a taxi with her back to her home and I had yet, to gather the courage to call her and ask her out. There was one problem with that though; I didn't have any money. Not even enough for a phone call.
I wondered aimlessly through town, counting the hours until Ashley would be leaving school and I could watch her again. That's what my life had become it seems, me hiding in the shadows as I stalked a teenage girl.
Walking past the bar I had sat in just two nights before, I spotted a sign in the window:
ASK INSIDE FOR DETAILS
Buzzing with excitement, I pushed open the door and was hit with a gush of cool wind from the air conditioner. The bar attendant who had served me a couple of days before was restocking the fridge behind the bar and spun around to face me when the door banged shut behind me.
"Can I help you?" She looked slightly weary but I couldn't blame her. My size put most people on edge.
Rubbing my hands together in an attempt to get rid of my nerves, I strode forward to the bar. "I saw the sign for help in the window and I was wondering who I needed to talk to."
Having a reason for my presence seemed to calm her rather than the idea that I had just stopped by to hang out and she smiled a bit in relief. "Chuck!" She called out and I heard a bang followed by a grunt sound from the back of the bar.
"What?" Chucks gruff voice bellowed back as he entered through a curtain, wiping his hands against his jeans.
He stopped abruptly when he saw me, his muscles tensing slightly beneath his arms which were covered with tattoos. Wearing a tight vest top and a pair of jeans over his large form, I couldn't fathom how he'd fine me intimidating. An earring hung from his left ear lobe and the only indication of his maturing age was his balding head and a few wrinkles on his forehead.
"Can I help you?" He asked with a raised eyebrow and I had to clear my throat before answering.
"I wanted to talk to about the job you advertised." I gestured towards the window.
"Oh, right. Come through to the back we can talk in my office." He appraised me with a critical look before turning his back on me and disappearing through the curtain as I quickly followed behind him.
"So, do you have any experience of working in a bar?" He sat upon his desk and leaned down on me as I sat in a chair he had placed in front of him. I knew he was trying to intimidate me, leaning above
me; showing his power in the situation. It worked. Not that I was physically afraid of him of course, I just desperately needed money and he held the key to opportunity.
I cleared my throat before speaking. "No sir but I'm a quick learner and I work hard."
He grunted and I sensed that he disliked me. "I've heard that before." He mumbled under his breath. "Well look, the job is a mixture of things. I basically need someone to help out everywhere. If one of the bar staff call in sick and it's a busy night, I need someone who's happy to cover. If there's a rowdy group and the bouncers are dealing with another situation, I need someone who's happy to take control. I also need someone who's happy to collect glasses and help clean the bar at the end of the night; even the unpleasant task of cleaning the toilets. Do you understand what it is a need?"
He looked condescendingly at me and I couldn't help my sarcasm. "Someone who's happy?"
The corner of his mouth lifted a little and his hard eyes softened, obviously my answer pleased him. "I need a team player." A small laugh left his mouth as dismounted his desk and walked to the other side, sitting in a chair that put him level with me.
He looked at me in silence for a few seconds. "I like you kid. You remind me a bit of me when I was your age." He paused. "That could be a good or a bad thing though." He sighed.
"You can trust me. I will work hard for you, I really need this job." I quickly shot in hoping to sway his answer.
His eyebrow rose. "Ok, I'll give you a chance. I'll need your ID and your banking information." He said as he began rifling through his drawers and pulled out a sheet of paper which he handed to me. My hand froze as I was about to accept it.
"That might be a problem." I mumbled to which he let out a heavy sigh, pulled the paper back and sat heavily in his chair.
"What kind of problem?"
I looked around the office quickly. "I don't have any ID with me or a bank account."
His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why not?"
"I left home in a hurry." I supplied as a short answer.
He clasped his hands together, rested them on the desk and leant forward. "Are you in some sort of trouble kid? I don't want the police knocking at my door."
"NO!" I shook my head furiously. "I'm not in trouble; I was just in a hurry to leave home. Some stuff happened and I didn't want to stick around." I confessed in a quiet voice, knowing that offering some information, however small it may be, was the only thing I could do in hopes of keeping the job.
He was quiet for a few minutes.
"Are you over 21?" His voice was hard and full of authority.
"Am I going to regret giving you a chance?"
He slid the form back towards me. "Fill this out. I guess I could pay you cash at the end of every week." A smile began to form on my face. I had a job.
"Make sure none of the other staff know about this though. As far as they are concerned I've checked out your background just like I did with them."
"Yes. Thank you sir." I fully agreed with his wishes.
"Be back here tonight at 7pm with that form filled in and ready to work. As I have no real way of proving you're 21, you won't be working behind the bar."
I nodded happily as I stood and walked to the office door.
"The only reason I'm doing this is because I ran away too." I stopped with my back to him and turned to face him. He had a haunted look in his eye. "I know how hard it can be and I only managed because someone took a chance on me. Make sure I don't regret the chance I'm taking on you." He warned before he bent his head to start some paper work.
That night's work wasn't exceptionally hard as the place wasn't very busy. Chuck warned me that Friday's and Saturday's were the worst which I expected and he asked if I had a problem with working at the weekends because that was when he would need me most. I said it was fine; I'd do anything to keep the job. The hardest part however, was leaving Ashley for the night.
Before I set off for work, I stood outside her home and attempted to leave four times before I actually managed to reach the street. The soothing sounds of her violin filled my ears and my heart preventing me from leaving her. I could listen to it forever.
The next night was easier, I managed to leave after the third attempt and likewise, on Sunday I managed to leave after the second. Once she had been safe that first night, I used that comfort to force me to leave her alone again and again. I was coping although I was a little on edge.
"You ok Jake?" Sarah asked as we tidied the bar after closing. It was 2.30am on Sunday morning and I was anxious to get back to Ashley.
I smiled at her as I filled glasses into the washer. "I'm alright, I just want to go." I laughed softly and a knowing smile lit her face.
"Ooh, eager to get back to a girlfriend?" She teased as she threw the cloth she'd been using to wipe the bar down, at me.
I threw it back at her. "No. I'm just eager to get away from you." I teased back as she placed a hand over her heart in mock hurt.
Sarah and I had become fast friends since I started working. She was nice, easy to talk to and eager to joke around. She reminded me of...
Bella. It hurt to think of her so I broke my train of thoughts.
"Jake can you come into the office?" Chuck poked his head through the curtain.
I followed him into the back, not missing the tongue Sarah stuck out towards me. Once we were in the security of the little room, Chuck opened the steel safe and started counting out some money. He had offered to pay me 10 per hour and I was very happy with his offer. Any money I could get would be greatly appreciated. After working six hour shifts over the past three days, he handed me 180 and told me to look over the rota for the following week.
Tuesday: 7pm- 12am.
Thursday: 7pm- 2am.
Friday: 7pm- 3am.
Saturday: 7pm- 3am.
I was happy with my shifts, I had two days off but I also had a good amount of hours which meant more money.
"Don't forget, no one can know I'm paying you cash." Chuck reminded me as he handed me the 20 bills.
I smiled in gratitude. "I won't." I promised before moving back through to the bar and helping Sarah finish cleaning.
I wanted to call Ashley right away but I thought that calling in the middle of the night after not hearing from me in over a week would be rude. I'd call her tomorrow night when she finished school. With that decided, I waited outside her home for her safe return from school and when I saw her moving about her room, I ran down the street to a payphone and dialled her number.
After the third ring she answered.
"Hi, Ashley? It's me; Jake. We met last week." I took a deep breath hoping she'd remember.
There was silence for a few moments before I heard brisk response. "Oh. Can I help you?"
I pulled my head from the phone and looked at it in shock before placing it back against my ear.
"I'm sorry I didn't call sooner. I got a job and it's weird hours, this is the first chance I got." I felt extremely nervous, wondering why she seemed angry with me.
"Oh; its fine I didn't expect you to call really." Her voice softened slightly. She waited for my call; that's why she was mad.
A large grin filled my face. "I said I would. I've wanted to call you all week but I haven't been finishing work until late and I didn't want to wake you."
"And why did you want to call me." She teased lightly with a giggle and I could hear the smile in her voice. I was on her good side again.
I chuckled softly. "Well, I wanted to see if you wanted to go out sometime?"
I held my breath as I waited for her answer. "Yeah, that sounds good. How about Saturday night? I don't have plans." She offered and I banged my head against the plastic shield around the phone booth.
"I can't, I'm sorry. I'm working in a bar; that bar that we were both in last Friday actually. I don't finish until 3am." I answered with sadness in my voice. I have Wednesday off though."
"I don't think I can."
When she offered no further explanation, I sighed in disappointment. "That's ok, I understand."
"No, Jake I really want to go out with you; I just can't go on Wednesday." She sighed heavily. "It's just that..." she sighed again. "Well, my dad..." there was another pause and I could hear her embarrassment. "He doesn't like me going out on school nights." She explained quietly as though she was ashamed.
I wanted to hit myself. "Oh!" I felt cheered.
"Well look, I'm free Saturday day time. I don't start work until 7pm so we can do something in the day if you want." I crossed my fingers and prayed for a yes.
I thought I heard a muffled squeal on the other end and had to stop myself from laughing into the phone. "That should be ok." She tried to sound flippant but it didn't work well as sounds of her bouncing on the floor filtered through to my sensitive ears.
I did laugh at that. "Ok well, should I call you again on Wednesday to arrange something?"
"Yeah that would be great. I'll speak to you soon." She promised.
"Bye." I hung up the phone with a large smile and a weight lifted from my chest.
She liked me.