"Are you alright?"
I blinked slowly and turned towards the voice. "What?"
My co-worker leaned closer and repeated himself. "I asked if you were alright…"
"Oh… yeah, I'm fine," I gestured with an empty glass. "Just thinking."
He cocked a brow at me. "How the hell can you think with it so loud in here?"
To tell the truth; I didn't know the answer. He was right to question how someone could be so introspective in a loud and rowdy bar on a Friday night. Especially the bartender. "Just a talent, I suppose," I murmured as I shoved a tray of dirty glasses into the dishwasher.
"Heeeeeeere Kitty-kitty-kitty," some drunk asshole bellowed down the bar, followed by laughter. I clenched my jaw and glanced down the bar, immediately locating the offender. Ben touched my elbow and I turned my glare at him.
"I've got it," he said quietly, despite the roar of the crowd. "Why don't you take a breather? As much as I'd love to watch you pound some prick's face in, our boss tends to frown on it…"
I scowled even more and grunted a reply before disappearing into the back. I wandered past coolers and the small kitchen, thankful of the reprieve from noise. The dull fluorescent lights in the employee bathroom shrunk my vertical pupils to slits as I stared at my reflection in the dingy mirror. I looked angry, I thought. And tired. And something else I couldn't put a name to. I turned on the faucet and filled my hands with cool water, watching it pour over my fingers. What was I doing with my life?
I splashed the water on my face and heaved a gentle sigh. Fuck if I know.
I tilted my head to the side, regarding myself closely. I looked normal enough. My once flamboyant and outrageously pink hair was now an ordinary dirty-blonde. It was cut short and layered; spikey and stylish still, of course, but still just so… ordinary. My skin was pale, maybe even more so than in my younger years. Life tends to do that to you. I could pass for any twenty-six year old woman living in California. But no matter how hard I tried to blend in, to be normal and unremarkable; my eyes always give me away.
Normal people don't have fuchsia cat-eyes, it seems.
Hence the cat calls out in the bar. You'd think that after all these years I'd have gotten used to it. You'd think I would have gotten used to a lot of things. But I didn't. I could wear contacts to completely mask what I was and just vanish into society as another social security number. But regardless of how badly I wanted to be normal, I just couldn't bring myself to completely drown out myself. I wasn't human, no matter how much I pretended.
Everyone knows it sucks to grow up. For me that entailed changing my ways to avoid a lifetime of running from the wondrous laws that normal people abide by. It was easy enough after the Brotherhood fell to pieces; especially after the world almost came to an end. A nice little wake-up call. Ring-ring. It's reality, and it's looking for you.
So, long story short… I got a job, an apartment, and pay taxes. I'm miserable, just like everyone else. And here I am, having a small aside in a tiny bar bathroom. Glorious, isn't it? This is the stuff people want to read about.
I unceremoniously exited the quiet sanctuary and trudged back to the storm of voices. Sometimes I wished I could stomach alcohol enough to enjoy it like those people did. But I couldn't, partly due to extremely fast metabolism. So instead, I am the collector of broken dreams. They gave me money for the libations they so greedily swallowed, but with each and every sip they gave me their grief; disappointments; regrets. Like I don't have enough of my own.
Ben glanced at me as I slipped behind the bar once again. I liked Ben enough. He made working here tolerable, and he seemed genuinely concerned about my well being enough that we were friends. I gave him a small nod and turned to ask a customer what they wanted.
Working here wasn't that bad; there were many worse things I could be doing. Being attractive and a little exotic, especially to the intoxicated, meant tips were large. I lived comfortably enough. I worked at night and slept the morning and day away; something I did enjoy. I was good at bartending, and when I wasn't in an increasingly foul mood, I had a knack for dealing with people. Listening was usually the only thing required. Occasionally a little advice was to be given. Rarely, strong words to shake someone out of a train of thought. Was it really my job to watch over people? I don't know. But they paid me for my services well.
"Hey, I just wanted to ask you sumthin'," a woman my age and three martinis into her night leaned on the bar. "Where did you get those contacts? They are damn cool…"
"I'm sorry to say it's a secret," I smiled half-heartedly. "Want another?" I gestured to the empty glass in her hand.
Her head wobbled a yes before she spoke. "…yeah, another. You really won't tell me, huh? I swear I'll keep it a secret."
Little did she know that I wasn't trying to stand out at all. I poured her drink and set it before her with a wink. "It wouldn't be a secret, then." She gave me a pout before she shuffled away into the mass. I really just wanted to go home to my cozy little apartment, curl up on the couch with a pint of Haagen-Dazs and enjoy a nice zombie movie. But it was far too early; four a.m. was five hours away and rent was due.
"Hey Jen, toss me the muddler," Ben shouted above the music. I scooped up the metal and rubber utensil, giving it a twirl around my index finger before sending it sailing in his direction. He caught it with a wince, immediately shaking out his hand with a wry grin. Ben knew I was a metahuman; I was stronger than him, despite my five-foot-seven, slender frame. Generally I didn't show it, but all bets were off when I was in a mood.
"Thanks, Jen…" he shook his head and returned to the mojito he was making. I think I needed a vacation. He probably did too, having to deal with me five nights a week.
"Two shots of whisky, and a beer chaser!"
Sometimes I just wanted to slap people. Yes, this is my job, I serve people, despite the sour taste that puts in my mouth. That doesn't mean things like "please" and "thank you" aren't needed any longer. I glanced at the impatient face waving money in my direction.
"Excuse me, may I have a White Russian, please?" I heard a meek voice from behind a large, burly man.
"Of course," I shouted to them, whoever they were. I saw dark hair and pale skin, but with the dim lights and press of bodies, all I could make out was short female. I ignored the yell for 'two shots of whisky, and a beer chaser' again as I gathered the vodka and milk. He shouted something else cloaked in irritation and obscenities; I didn't give a shit. My bar, my choice, silly mortal. Don't you know I'm God here?
I finished off the White Russian and stretched up on my toes, peering over the bodies for the woman. I saw her hand above the heads of the crowd, and someone passed the five dollar bill she was holding along to me. I gave the drink to the nearest man and he stretched over into the crowd and it disappeared. I assumed she got her White Russian and moved down the bar to another customer, ignoring the dick screaming for whisky. I chuckled to myself.
The night went on in a similar fashion, and around three the crowd began to thin. By this time, whoever was left was far beyond wasted, and instead of crowding the floor they leaned against walls and propped themselves up with chairs, speakers, and other bodies. I had my back turned as I wiped down the shelves, eager to finish my shift and go.
"Excuse me, m'am."
I cast a quick glance over my shoulder at the woman as I wiped down bottles. "What can I get you?"
"I'm not really sure. I don't get out very much." Her voice was low and smooth, like water bubbling down a brook. And sober. Odd, for this hour. Still, I was on a mission, and continued cleaning.
"Well, what kind of flavors do you like? You don't sound like a beer drinker to me. More like red wine. We have a pretty large selection of that…"
"I do like red wine," I heard her seat herself on the stool. "But I was looking for something a little stronger, and sweeter, perhaps."
Ugh, why couldn't it just have been some guy wanting another bud light? I didn't want to coerce a drink choice out of another picky person; I just wanted to go home… "Baileys maybe? I could make a chocolate martini that'll knock you on your ass," I offered.
"I think that would be lovely," she said quietly.
"I will get right on it," I said dryly.
A dry chuckle answered, and I glance over my shoulder again. The woman was resting her chin on her fist and gazing at the illuminated shelves behind the bar with an endless selection of liquor. Midnight black hair fell past her shoulder, and side-parted bangs shadowed her eyes; I had a feeling I was amusing her. No matter; I didn't care if the attractive woman thought I was amusing as long as she tipped me for my trouble. Or just left quickly so I could finish my work.
I tossed down my towel and slid down the shelves, collecting what I needed. I poured the cream, vodka, milk, baileys, and chocolate liquor into the shaker with some ice. After a quick shake and a smooth pour into a martini glass, I finished it off with a drizzle of dark chocolate. It was a yummy drink, and it was strong, especially for a light-weight. I set a napkin down in front of her and as I placed the glass down, I met her eyes for the first time.
And I stared. Her eyes were violet. They widened as the seconds ticked by, and I knew she was shocked to see my equally unusually colored irises. My mouth went dry. I knew her. I knew her.
"…Jinx?" she said, bewildered.
I just stood there, hand still wrapped around the glass that was resting in front of my former rival like an idiot; frozen in an unsettling mixture of shock and excitement. I blinked finally, and pulled my hand away. "I haven't gone by that name in eight years…" I ran my eyes over her face, ending on those all-too familiar eyes. "Raven?"
Her silence was the answer. She hadn't gone by that name in a long time either, I gathered.
We stared in silence for quite a while, I guessed, because eventually Ben made his way down. He paused, glancing between the two of us. "…Is everything ok here, ladies?" He looked at me. "Jennifer?"
After a moment I found my voice. "Yeah, we are fine. This is just… an old friend," I finally looked away from those dark, haunting eyes and returned to my cleaning. My heart was thumping in my chest like I was sixteen. I never thought I'd ever run into one of them again. I moved far north from the city I once called home just for that reason. Yet here one was, and really; the only one that ever mattered to me.
I felt her eyes on me as I cleaned. I had no idea what else to do. It's not like I could just start making idle chit-chat with a Titan. Especially one I haven't seen in almost a decade. Especially her… she made me nervous. Yet I was curious beyond reason. I mean, what are the chances? She was the only rival that ever managed to be my equal. We complimented one another marvelously in battle, and upon seeing her again, a twang of sadness in my chest reminded me how much I missed the old days. Not really the stealing or life of crime, but that I had missed seeing her. Raven. My mystery. After I couldn't stand it any longer, I spun around and stared at her.
"I didn't know you drink," I said tactlessly.
She gazed at me from behind those long bangs and her lips quirked into a smile. "I'm not eighteen anymore, Jinx. There's a lot you don't know about me."
I snorted in disbelief. No fucking way that emotionless woman just smiled at me. "That's for damn sure," I gestured to her. "Look at you. You're wearing real clothes. The last time I saw you, you were in tights."
Raven took a sip of her drink and ran her fingertip along the rim idly. "The last time I saw you, you had pink horns and a miniskirt."
"You're one to talk," I leaned closer. "Your hair is black. It used to be blue. And your gemmy-thing is gone."
"Gemmy-thing? Did you really just say that?"
"I did," I nodded solemnly. Then scrambled for something else to say. "Your hair's really long."
"Your hair is really short," she countered. "And blonde. You look very different. I didn't recognize you until I saw your eyes."
I nodded slowly, running my eyes over her, "...same here." I watched her take another sip. "…You're very attractive—You look nice, I mean," I said awkwardly and immediately felt my cheeks redden.
The comment took her by surprise and she choked, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth.
"I'm sorry I'm… I'm just gonna go now. Ben will be here until closing if you want anything else," I backed away from her until I disappeared behind the corner. I raked my hands thought my hair, cursing under my breath. Idiot, what the fuck are you doing? I scrambled for my keys and waved in Ben's general direction as I bolted out the back door into the cool night air.
How embarrassing… The first peer you've seen in eight years and you fuck it up by saying stupid shit without thinking… I muttered under my breath as I slammed my car door shut and started the engine. My cheeks still burned, and I turned up the radio, blasting whatever shit was playing at the time; I don't remember what it was. I didn't notice. I was, shall we say, distracted…