Chapter 1: FML
FUCK. MY. LIFE. That is the only thing running through my head as I go over the books for the tenth time. This day couldn't get any worse. No matter how I try to make sense of the numbers, they always come up the same-money is missing. My books never come up short, or so I thought, these discrepancies are too large to just be recent, and no one messes with my money.
For the past four years, I've run and operated the "Love Shack", a small club in the heart of New Hampshire. Yes, that's really the name of my place, and we even have a sign at the side of the road that shows the way to the "Love Shack." Don't let the cheeky name fool you or even the outside, which actually does look like a shack, because what goes on inside is what keeps us packed almost every night.
Inside, you'll find a glass barwith the best, high-end liquor that money can buy, plush booths along the side walls, and more intimate tables throughout. The dance floor is front and center to the stage, where we have open mic night for local talent. Every Thursday we host karaoke and throughout the month we have special nights, like ladies night or gay night. The music is diverse and always bumping. We cater to everyone and get people from all walks of life; we make sure to keep things fresh and our customers happy.
Location was key for me when I decided to open up the bar which is why I put it not too far from the school I just graduated from: Dartmouth. Everyone thought I was out of my mind to take on an Ivy League college and open up my own business at the same time. They even took bets- some on me flunking out and others on the bar closing. This past June, I collected two grand from each person because not only does my club rock, but I graduated summa cum laude from one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
I must admit it is nice not to have to juggle my English lit book in one hand and a tray of shots in the other. Busted my ass during those years, and I can honestly say I'm happy with the end product, but now I have to deal with this crap. It's a part of owning a business that I could truly do without, but if I don't do it then it won't get done at all. Someone is stealing from The Shack and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I pay above standard, and the tips that my girls get are for damn sure better than the local Denny's, so why is there a noticeable chunk missing from my bottom line?
Yes, most of my employees are women; it's all about knowing your market. We're in a college town, and boys like their drinks served by hot girls. However the boys know the rules: drool, slobber, and let your eyes pop out their sockets, but nobody walks into The Shack and messes with one of Bellzie Boo's girls. Bellzie Boo was a nickname that was given to me by a good friend of mine, and around the bar that's what everyone calls me. I like it; it's different and holds no ties to my old life, a life I had fought desperately to forget.
I used to be just plain old Bella, but that changed five years ago. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to that quiet young girl that wandered too far into the woods, but then I stop myself because then he comes to mind, and there is just no room for that. I buried her along with the memories of him. Even though there are still times when I will allow my mind and heart to wander back to a time when I was his, I quickly remind myself that he didn't want me. I refuse to pine over someone whose love I could never have. With thoughts of the past and the current blunder before me, I shut down my computer and try to shut off my mind as well. Sal can look over the books later. I need a break before we open tonight.
I turn away from my desk and look out the wraparound window behind my desk that overlooks the bar. I watch as everyone gets the place set up. It's a Tuesday at the end of August and students are coming back from their summer break, so we're expecting a decent showing tonight. I never dreamed of all this and never saw my life going this way, but now that I'm here, I can't bring myself to regret where life has brought me and who it's brought into my life. Everything happens for a reason; I don't always agree with this virtue, but it seems to be the one that follows me through life.
I glance over at the clock and see that I need to get my butt in gear and start to get ready before I'm late to work the floor. I step into my private bathroom and get the shower going. One of the smartest things I did during the renovations was put in a full bathroom into my office. Still being in school when we first opened, there were nights that I left out of here only to hop in my car and head off to class. Don't get me wrong, across the hall from my office is a small studio apartment, so I was at least crashing in a bed and not behind my desk. That first year in business was hard as hell, but I made it and even though money has never been high on my list of priorities, I have to admit that success is sweet. Now if I could just figure out which of the two new girls is stealing from me then my life, well at least my work life, would be roses.
I take a few extra minutes for myself as I prepare for tonight because judging by the sounds coming from downstairs, it's going to be a busy night and this might be all the time I have to myself. I try to push out thoughts of thieving employees and also the ways in which my life will be changing in the next six months. It seems like once my life starts to slow down, more crap gets added to the heap. As much as I try and act like these things aren't about to happen, I know sooner rather than later a lot of things are going to come creeping out the closet. At least that isn't something I have to deal with tonight. No, the only thing to deal with is the missing money and after that, drunken college boys. At least the night can't get any worse.
I do some light primping by slipping into my favorite low-rise leather pants, a black "Love Shack" wife beater, and my favorite four-inch boots. I finished off with a light coat of makeup and a short purple wig. The great thing about running a club is that mixing up your look is a must, I just think of it as year-round Halloween. Five years ago, I would've been hiding in the back of my closet if a certain tiny sprite would have given me this outfit to wear, but that girl no longer exists, and this girl doesn't have time to mourn her loss. I've got a bar full of customers, and the night has just begun. With one last glance at myself in the mirror, I give myself a finishing push out the door.
"Well, Bells, it's show time," I say out loud. I leave my office and haunting thoughts behind and head to the main floor. With one glance out into the crowd, I can already tell it's going to be a long night.
One of my best girls is out sick tonight, so instead of working the bar like I usually do, I decide to help out the servers. Being as classes haven't started yet and students are still getting situated, The Shack was beyond packed. My guy at the door has a line that stretches down the block, but from the looks of things, no one else is getting in unless they are at my private table. The table in the far corner closest to the stage is reserved as a "family" table.
Five years ago, not too long after my world was sent upside down, three people came into my life: Sal or Salem, Bernie or Bernadette, and Glory; I couldn't stand them on sight. Don't get me wrong, I love them to death now, but that first meeting almost sent me into a nervous breakdown. Why, you might ask? Well, because they're vampires-vampires that are also connected to my former life. Sal and Carlisle used to live with the Volturi ages ago. Carlisle kind of took him under his wing. Sal, his mate, Bernie, and their "daughter" Glory, are all "vegetarians," and while they don't have close connection any longer to the Cullens, there's still a connection nonetheless. They've shown their loyalty and love for me over the years, and while I wish I could let go of the past and the things that have happened, some scars just seem to run too deep.
I'm grateful that we were able to get past the "connection" because I honestly don't know what I would have done without them. They got me through the darkness and have yet to betray me, but me being me I can't help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Lately they've been acting a little out of sorts. My eyes sweep the club once more to see if I spot them. When I can't locate them, I sneak a peek at my phone and notice it's just after midnight, and they should be arriving soon. I shake myself from my musing and head over to the next table where a group of guys who seem to be new are taking in the atmosphere around them.
"Welcome to The Shack, boys. What can I do for you?" I ask.
"Five of whatever you have on tap and maybe later your number." The words coming from who I believed to be the leader of the moron pack.
It's nothing I haven't heard before, but I wish someone would have an original line for once. I no longer shy away from the attention that seems to come with a bar like this; I've come to accept that people find me attractive. I still have a hard time believing it at times but to each their own. As long as business is good, who am I to complain? I smile as sweetly as I can manage and head back to the bar to grab their beers. After I drop off the drinks to the lovely scholars, I start to make my way through the crowd over to where a group of regulars are situated. It's good to see a familiar face every now and then but not all familiarity is good.
As we stand there chatting about what courses they'll be taking this semester and which ones have decided to change their major yet again, the hairs on the back of my neck seems to stand up all at once. It's like this weird sixth sense, but I knew they were there before I even turned around. I tried to ignore it; God knows I tried, but it's like some master puppeteer was controlling my movements. I have no choice but to look back. The table, that moments ago was empty, is now filled with my past, my present, and one face that I have never seen before but I know it anyway. As I said earlier, fuck my life.
Eleven of the most beautiful evil sat in my bar with expressions that ranged from boredom to excitement to apprehension and fear. There were no cool masks on tonight. Everything seemed to be laid out on the table so I do the only thing I can do. I square my shoulders and head across the room with the best smile I can muster. No need to alert the clients to the storm that is brewing around them. I approach the table and make sure that my smile is still in place; I look over at Sal and say the one thing I've been thinking since I saw them.
"What the fuck are they doing here, Sal?" I ask with a snarl.
Looks of shock seem to go across most of the table, and honestly I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was kind of pleased by their reaction. If only they knew that this was just the tip of the iceberg, and the girl they once knew no longer lived inside of me. Sal stares at me and doesn't even attempt to answer my question. Seeing as he's not going to be any help, I turn to Carlisle.
"We had a deal, doc; you weren't suppose to come back until January, yet here you all sit, so unless I fell asleep and missed a few months, you need to start explaining right now," I demand.
"Bella, something's come up and there was no time to wait. We had to come back if there-"he says before I cut him off.
"Well, here's the thing Carlisle, there's this thing, called a phone. You could have called and at least said something, instead of just showing up. You know how delicate this situation is, and you agreed to do things my way. Why in the hell I ever thought I could trust anything that comes out of a Cullen's mouth is beyond me, but I guess I'm the moron for actually thinking your word meant something," I say with the snottiest tone I can manage.
"Excuse me, but should the help really be talking to customers like that? I'm sure your boss wouldn't be too happy to hear how you're treating his guests," Rosalie says, obviously trying to knock me down a peg.
"Rosalie, I don't think you understand-" Carlisle begins to speak, but Rosalie cuts him off before he can finish.
"No, Carlisle. Don't make excuses for her. I think it's high time Ms. High-and-Mighty got taught a lesson," Queen bitch replies with a flick of her hair.
"I would like to speak to the owner immediately," she says smugly. Some people are just too dumb for their own good.
"Well, I guess you finally got me, Rosalie; I'll be right back with the owner," I say then turn like I'm about to leave but turn right back to the table.
While Rosalie is looking at me, annoyed and incredulous, I stick out my hand and say, "Welcome to The Love Shack. I'm Bellzie Boo, owner and operator of this lovely establishment. How can I help you?"
Annoyance is replaced by a look of shock and the shock seems to have passed over each of them, so I assume Sal hasn't told them much of anything. Before Rosalie has a chance to recover, I add, "Blown away are we? Speechless by the awesomeness of my bar? Well, Rose, all I can say to that is 'fuck you very much.'"
I finally drop the smile, and I turn back to Sal and ask the only question that really means anything at this point. "Does Mr. Coppertop know?"
Even after all these years, I can't stand to say his name; the pain that accompanies it is too much. Coppertop is easier because the name itself has no ties to who we once were.
"Despite how you may feel about me right now, I could never do that to you. We're all blocking him. Trust me-he's none too pleased that we're hiding our thoughts," Carlisle says, trying to reassure me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the he in reference but I don't let my eyesight linger. Lingering would be bad, and I refuse to allow them to affect me. I turn to the unfamiliar vampire sitting next to him and stretch out my hand.
"Bella Swan, and you must be Tanya, it's nice to finally meet you," I say smoothly although my insides are in knots.
"How did you know who I was?" she asks, the shock is evident in her voice as she shoots me a puzzled look.
"Irina has been very informative. The last time she visited with Carmen and Eleazar, she talked about you. It's nice to put a face to the name," I say. I could hate her, but if she's what he wants, then who am I to stand in the way? According to her wonderful sister, they're perfect for each other and I can see it, but it doesn't make it any easier to see.
"Listen, Bells, I know you're royally pissed at us right now, but we have more important things to deal with. If we can just go up to the office and talk about this like adults, I'm sure-" Sal says.
"No, Sal," I say, cutting him off. I'm doing a lot of cutting off tonight.
"Be reasonable, Bells, this was for your own good," he snaps.
"Don't even try and tell me this was for my own good. You promised. You swore you were so much better than them. That you would never take away my choice in anything, and that's exactly what you've done by keeping me in the dark and by bringing them here. You're no better than he is. Just make sure you leave a flashlight for me when you decide to leave me in the woods," I say before walking away. It's all too much, and the confidence I've built over the years seems to be slipping quickly.
I can't do this; I can't stand here and listen to the bullshit they're selling. I'm in such a rush to get away from that I don't see the body coming right at me until I crash into it. I'm relieved when I look up and see the face of the one constant in my life.
"Jake!" I practically choke out once I look up at him.
"What the fuck is going on here, Bells? and what the hell are they doing here?" he snaps. Just as I'm about to answer him, more relief seems to come.
"Hey, sis, you look like you just saw a ghost," jokes my step-brother Seth Clearwater before continuing. "Seriously, Bells, you're looking really pale even for your standard." I actually manage to smile up at Seth because if you knew him, you'd have a hard time keeping a straight face with him.
"Those fucking leeches are over there, and I'm going to find out why," Jake barks out bitterly. Before I can try and pull Jake toward the bar, he's off to where I've just come from with me and Seth trailing behind him.
"LIAR! Dirty blood sucking liar. I told Bella we couldn't trust a word that came out of your mouth. After everything Bella's been through, for you to do this to her, to do this to E.J, is low, even for one of your kind," Jake says accusingly to Sal, Bernie, and Glory.
My eyes widen and I can't breathe. This is my limit and my mind can't take any more. I know I'm having an anxiety attack. This is all too much, and I can't stop any of this from happening. For the first time in a long time, I am completely powerless. I feel myself tumbling, almost as if I was watching this from someone else's point of view. Just before darkness overtakes me, I hear an all-too-familiar sound: the other shoe dropping. This wasn't how it was suppose to happen, and now there's nothing I can do to stop it. Like I said before, FUCK. MY. LIFE.
I wake to find myself on something plush and my head hurts, but I'd much rather stay here and not open my eyes than have to deal with the crap that's waiting for me.
"Carlisle, maybe we should've waited or at least called her before we showed up like this. She's obviously overwhelmed," the familiar voice of Esme Cullen floats to me.
"Esme, you know we didn't have time for all of that. We needed to move quickly. There are lots of things to consider," Carlisle explains to his wife.
"Can someone please explain why in the hell we are here so that we can get out of here sooner? I thought the point of leaving her in the first place was so we didn't have to see her again," Rosalie says snidely.
"Seriously, Rose, can you for once think of someone else? I love you, but damn woman, there's obviously something going on here, and as shocking as it is, maybe it's more important than you," the booming voice of Emmett responds to her. If I ever decide to speak to the Cullens again, I'm going to get Emmett a really big grizzly for Christmas.
I know they know that I'm awake, but I just keep my eyes shut. Call me immature, but I don't want to talk to them right now. One voice breaks through, the voice of the only constant in my life, and he says the one thing I need to hear to get my butt in gear.
"He doesn't know, Bells. I shut my mouth and thought about something else before he had a chance to know anything," Jake says.
My eyes snap open and take a quick look around. We're in my office, and all I want is to get the hell out of here. I sit up a little too quickly, and my head starts to spin. I shake it off because I need to get home and away from these people. Besides, it's not like I can escape them anymore. I'm pretty sure they'll be staying at the house. Well, at least that's what Carlisle and Esme do whenever they come to visit. I start rummaging through my desk until I find the two sets of keys that I'm looking for. I toss the larger set to Sal.
"You're locking up tonight. I need you to go through the books. Money's missing, so I need you to review each girl's receipts and see what's not adding up. After closing, I have a liquor shipment coming in, and I need you to put everything away. Please don't just throw it in the storage room like you usually do. I guess I'll be seeing all of you back at the house. There's some stuff that needs to be discussed and things that I need to sort through so I need to go," I say before turning to the door.
"Bells, this was never about hurting you or even losing your trust," Bernie says quietly.
"It never is, Bernie, but it just seems to happen. For some reason, everyone seems to know better about what's best for me and my life than I do. No one bothers to include me in the decisions being made," I say, unable to keep the hurt out of my voice. Even if I try to avoid it, old wounds are opened and new ones are beginning to form. It's too much and I need to leave.
I turn back to Jake and motion with my hands toward the back exit that leads to the garage downstairs. Before we have a chance to go, Seth calls out that he's coming with us. I see it in his face that there's something wrong, but it can wait until we're back home. Without so much as a sideways glance, we're out the door and heading to the car. Finally away from the madness and hopefully away from the hurt.