Chapter 12

“Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love

In the spring becomes a rose.”

            -Bette Midler, “The Rose”



Joey nodded encouragingly to Lillian when they entered the club, and with a flush she took her light coat off, revealing the dress he had helped her pick out. Only Chris and Lance had already seen her in it, and she was nervous worrying about what JC and Justin would think of it. Especially Justin.

She didn’t have to worry.

“Lily, you look . . . amazing,” JC smiled admiringly. And she did. Her coat had concealed the deep blue dress with its thin satin straps. The material of the garment shimmered under the flashing beams of the strobe lights.

“Thank you,” she replied shyly, looking at her high-heel encased feet instead of Justin’s reaction.

If she had dared to look up, she would have seen his astounded expression. His blue eyes were wide, swiftly running down the length of her body then up again. And once more, as if he still couldn’t believe what was in front of him.

Damn. Day. Um. Lillian looks good. Very, very good. Her outfit wasn’t something he usually went for when he was scouting the crowds at clubs, but there was just something special about it. And he couldn’t figure out what. The neckline wasn’t provocative, and the back didn’t dip further than just below her shoulder blades. It wasn’t short either, because the hem ended at her knees. Maybe it was the side slit of the skirt, exposing a length of leg. No, that’s not it. I’ve seen girls with a lot more leg showing than that.

He continued to stare at her before JC poked a sharp elbow into his ribs, urging him to say something.

“Oh! Yeah, JC’s right. You look . . .” he paused, thinking of a good word. Amazing? Beautiful? Gorgeous?  “. . . nice,” he finished lamely, not knowing what to say. Very slick, Justin. Every girl wants to hear herself described as nice. He could practically hear his friends’ silent groans.

Lillian felt a little disappointed at hearing his response, but she shrugged mentally. Personally, she was more than satisfied at the end result.

“Thanks, Justin,” she said before Joey grabbed her arm and pulled her to the crowded bar.

“I’m in the mood for a tequila,” he stated. “What do you want?”

She had no idea. The whole situation overwhelmed her. She had never drunk anything more than some champagne at a housewarming party. Plus, she was only nineteen.

“Joey, I can’t drink, I’m underage,” she protested.

Chris came up behind them. “It doesn’t matter, Lilypad, Justin’s underage and he drinks when he goes clubbing. You’re with us, don’t worry about it.”

“Well, I don’t really like alcohol,” she argued. “I guess it’s more of an acquired taste. I’ll just have a Coke or water, please.”

“Lily, come on, just try some,” Chris urged. “You won’t get in trouble, and neither will we.”

“No! It’s okay, I don’t want to drink anything,” she maintained. She had never told them, but her strong aversion to alcohol had sprouted up when her father had been killed by a drunk driver.

“Lily!” Chris and Joey exclaimed, not believing her.

“Guys, don’t keep pressuring her,” Justin defended, coming up to them and overhearing their conversation. “If she doesn’t want to drink, just get some water.” I don’t want to know what alcohol might do to someone who’s never had a whole glass before.

“Fine, fine,” Joey gave in. “Tequila for me!” he called out to the bartender.

Justin unconsciously put his hand on the small of Lillian’s back and guided her to a stool at the end of the bar. He took his jacket off and put it on the stool beside her. “Don’t accept any drinks from anyone unless it’s from me or the guys, even if it’s water,” he cautioned. “It could have any amount of crap in it. And don’t go outside without telling one of us. Be smart when if you decide to dance with someone, don’t let anyone force you into getting close with them.”

She nodded obediently, getting a little worried. This wasn’t the type of harmless dance club she was used to. Or rather, Karen was used to. She usually just dropped her friend off and picked her up later because she hadn’t had too much fun the first time.

Justin picked up on her slightly fearful expression, and smiled to lighten his previous warnings. “It’s okay, Lillian. I doubt anything’s going to happen. Just have a good time!” he suggested before heading onto the dance floor to join his friends.

She stared forlornly after him, not knowing what to do next, now that she was alone. Where was Lance? She didn’t see him dancing anywhere. Her eyes surveyed the packed club and finally found him in a far corner, surrounded by fawning girls and sipping from an already half-empty glass.

I guess it’s okay that they drink at clubs, because they don’t drive themselves anywhere. Plus, their bodyguards would never allow them to get behind the wheel drunk. And they’re not alcoholics or anything either.

Lillian was simply a little surprised at the idea that these wholesome images they presented were not so wholesome. Of course, she shouldn’t have been that surprised, because they were all legal adults.

Justin was dancing, pressed up close against a very curvy redhead. He looked like he was enjoying himself. He really was a good dancer, Lillian couldn’t help but notice. He moved as if the rhythm was ingrained in his bones. His partner was lucky.

The customers at the bar had dispersed back into their own separate groups, and Lillian was left as the lone patron next to the bar. She sighed, not wanting to see all her friends getting intimate on the dance floor with various model-material women.

“Anything wrong, lamb?” someone asked her in a strong British accent.

She swiveled on the stool, turning to see the bartender wiping the area of the bar next to her with a rag. He looked to be in his late-twenty’s, and had short bleached-blonde hair. His left ear was adorned with two studs and three ear cuffs, and his sleeves were rolled up to expose his tattooed arms. She focused on his face and noticed that he was very handsome. Not in the classical sense, but his features had definite character.

He smiled at her brazenly and introduced himself. “I’m Adonis.”

Lillian regarded him with disbelief. “Adonis?” she repeated.

“Well, my mum christened me Adam, but in this business Adam just doesn’t cut it. So I bleached my hair, called myself Adonis, and whaddya know? Everyone’s trying to hire me. I’m known as Adonis, the God of Bar Tricks,” he said with a flourish.

She couldn’t help but smile at his explanation and the way his face reflected his emotions. “Hi, I’m Lillian,” she greeted, offering him her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Lillian.” He enthusiastically shook her hand. “That’s a beautiful name. There a story behind it?”

“Not that I know of, no. My parents probably just found it in a baby names book.”

“Well, it’s a wonderful name all the same. Do you want to order anything?” he asked, motioning to the different bottles of alcohol and cans of beer behind him.

“No, that’s alright. To be honest, I’m underage,” she confided without thinking. Oops. I shouldn’t have told him that. Now I’ll be kicked out.

But to her surprise, he just threw his head back and laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me,” he whispered conspiratorially. “You’re adorable, lamb.”

He walked away to reach under the counter on the opposite end, then came back holding a bottle of water. “Here you are, Lillian. On the house. And don’t worry, it’s not contaminated or anything. I overheard your boyfriend a moment ago.”

She examined the Evian bottle and saw that the seal around the cap hadn’t been broken. “Thank you, Adonis,” she accepted, gratefully taking a sip of the cold liquid. “But he’s not my boyfriend. We’re just friends,” she quickly corrected with a wistful glint in her eyes that Adonis quickly picked up on.

“Whatever you say,” he shrugged. “He’s the one missing out.”

She blushed, shaking her head emphatically to disagree. She was desperate for a change in topic.

“So what bar tricks can you do?” she asked, curious.

“Ever see ‘Coyote Ugly?’” he inquired. At her nod, he went on, saying, “Well, I guess it’s like those tricks, but no stripping or pouring water on myself.”

She laughed. “That good, huh? Are you going to do anything tonight?” she wondered hopefully.

“Sorry, but I only perform on Monday’s and Saturday’s,” he explained. “You’re a day late.”

“That’s a shame. I’ve never been able to see bartenders do their tricks live before,” she said, disappointed.

“Buck up, lamb. If you’re not going to dance, I can teach you how to slide a drink down the bar. No spill, no mess,” he suggested.

“Really?” she asked, perking up instantly.

“Sure, it’s a slow night anyway, at least for drinks. I think your friends attracted everyone to the dance floor,” he elaborated, pointing at the large crowd gyrating to the music and then to the empty bar and stools.

Adonis went to grab a dusty looking glass sitting behind some beer bottles. He blew the dirt off it, then set it down on the counter. “We can use this as the practice glass. And then we’ll move on to bigger and better things.”

For the next half hour, they presented an odd sight. A strangely attractive man with a dainty looking girl, one showing the other the fine art of sliding full glasses of alcohol down a slick bar counter.

“You’re a fast learner!” Adonis complimented, seeing how easily it had been for her to accomplish the task. “Now we don’t have anything else to do.”

Lillian smiled at him. “We can talk,” she offered. “Tell me about your family.”

He obligingly obeyed her request, and after pouring a bloody mary for another customer he began his story.

“I was born in London, so yes, the accent is real. That’s how I learned the bar tricks. My father was the owner of a local pub, but it was a very hot place. He employed this one amazing guy, Flip. Not his real name, of course. Flip taught me everything I know now. I was only sixteen at the time, so I thought that Flip was the coolest any one person could possibly get. Obviously, mum was not at all happy with his influence on me. ‘Go to college,’ she said, ‘Become a doctor.’ But I was always a rebel. Had to go against her wishes. So I took a temporary job, got the blunt, and moved here. And I suppose that takes me to where I am today.”

“Do you like your life?” she asked curiously, seeing the nostalgia in his eyes.

“I like it, but I don’t love it. I’m not stupid enough to think this job will last me forever. I can’t toss bottles when I’m sixty, that’s for sure.”

“Why don’t you go to school again? Maybe a community college.”

“I’ve thought about it. But I don’t know. It’s too late for me, I think,” he answered with no trace of pessimism, as if he was stating a well-known fact.

“It’s not too late!” Lillian said. “It’s never too late, as long as you’re willing to work hard. When I was in high school, I didn’t have the best grades. But by junior year, I shaped up and worked the most I’ve ever worked in my life. Cramming for the SAT, raising my average, and getting so many part time jobs my mind swirled.”

“Did you really, lamb?” Adonis asked, still a little doubtful.

“Yes, and then I was accepted into MIT and given a scholarship. See? It really can happen.”

“I suppose it can,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll keep that in mind, Lillian.”

She smiled encouragingly at him. “Now tell me about your tattoos,” she prompted. “How many do you have, anyway?”

*                       *                       *                       *                       *


Justin wiped the sweat off his brow. He’d never danced so much in one night with so many different girls before. He guessed he was still hyped up from cutting off all his curls and letting go of his inhibitions. He’d even lasted longer than JC, who had retired from the dance floor to sit with Lance and the horde of girls surrounding him. He glanced around to find Joey and Chris chatting up two hot babes. Where’s Lillian?

He quickly looked towards the bar, busy once again now that the majority of the main attractions had stopped dancing. He couldn’t locate her small figure among the others crowding against the counter. His mind panicked. Shit, where’d she go? What if some jerk slipped something in her drink? I told her not to leave without telling us!

He strode swiftly to where he had left her before, sitting alone at the bar beside his discarded jacket. He smiled falsely at the grasping women at the bar, shrugging their hands off him. Finally he reached his destination, and Lillian was sitting right where she had been an hour before. But she wasn’t alone anymore. Someone was talking to her, in the stool beside her. She had taken his jacket from the stool and was clutching it in her lap.

“Lillian!” he called out, going over to her and not caring that he was interrupting the other guy’s sentence. “I was looking for you.”

“Hi, Justin,” she smiled gratefully up at him. As soon as people had come ordering drinks, Adonis had to leave to attend to his job. The minute he had left, a slightly tipsy college student had appeared at her side. He had been about to sit down next to her, disregarding Justin’s jacket, and she had quickly grabbed it before he could crush it.

Justin glared at the college guy and stood beside Lillian protectively. “Come on, let’s go sit with Lance and JC.”  He took his jacket from her and wrapped his hand around her upper arm, pulling her off the stool.

She immediately agreed and allowed herself to be escorted away, ignoring the other guy’s protests.

“Are you having fun?” she asked, staring up at his face.

“Yeah,” he grinned, “Lots of fun. What about you?” he wanted to know, edging his way past the women surrounding the table and pulling out a chair for her.

“Well, I met the nicest man,” she started, sitting down.

She met a man?! When the hell did this happen?

“Who?” he demanded, turning his own chair backwards and leaning on the back.

“The bartender. His name’s Adonis. He’s the most interesting person,” she replied, still smiling at him.

“Oh,” Justin replied. Why are you feeling jealous? There’s no reason to be jealous. Sure, Justin. Keep telling yourself that.

“He gave me some bottled water. So I knew it was safe,” she said, noticing his odd expression. She didn’t want him to get mad at her for disobeying his instructions of not taking any drinks except from them. “Don’t worry, the seal wasn’t broken.”

Justin felt some gratitude for this Adonis guy. At least he knew that while he had been busy Lillian was safe. “Well, that’s good,” he admitted. “But hell, what kind of name is Adonis?”

Lillian grinned at him. “Come on, I can introduce you two. I’m sure he’d like to meet you. And then he can tell you the story himself.” She took his hand gingerly and after seeing that he didn’t protest, she grasped it more firmly and pulled him back to the bar.

The crowd had already thinned down, thanks to Adonis’ fast service. They stood next to the last customer, Lillian impatiently drumming her fingers on the countertop and Justin regarding Adonis cautiously. He’s not that unattractive. Maybe Lillian’s got a crush on him. She’s sure eager to introduce us.

“Lamb, I was wondering where you went off to!” Adonis exclaimed after handing the last man his beer. He turned to look at the man standing next to his new friend. So it’s the boyfriend. Or rather, ‘just friend.’

“Adonis,” he said, sticking his hand out.

Justin nodded at him and brusquely shook his hand.

Lillian spoke up to excuse Justin’s rudeness. “This is Justin, my friend from before,” she introduced quickly.

“I remember,” Adonis answered. “I saw you tearing up the dance floor out there,” he offered, attempting to make nice with the boy Lillian obviously cared about.

“I try,” came the succinct answer.

Adonis had to concentrate to prevent his eyes from rolling. Young pup. Doesn’t even realize how clear his actions are.

“Good, good,” he nodded amused. “I never see you in here. Special occasion?”

Lillian answered for Justin. “Yeah, it is! It’s our friend’s twenty-second birthday. Everyone wanted to do something fun and get out on the town. He’s not able to just let loose that much.”

“Birthday, eh?” Adonis questioned. “Well, that is a special occasion.” He turned around and quickly made a margarita, adding two parasols to the drink. He handed it to Lillian.

“Why don’t you take that to him, lamb? A complimentary drink for your friend, in honor of his birthday,” he smiled.

“Really? I’m sure he’ll like it,” she grinned before rushing off to give Lance his gift. She didn’t even notice how she left Justin alone with Adonis.

The tall bartender turned to consider the equally tall youth. “Problem?” he challenged, seeing how Justin glared at him sullenly.

“I think that’s a little obvious,” Justin muttered. “Where do you get off trying to seduce naïve girls like that?” he demanded.

This time, Adonis couldn’t stop his eyes from rolling skyward. “I am not seducing naïve girls, contrary to your opinion. I was minding my own business when I noticed how Lillian’s friend abandoned her next to the bar with his jacket while he got up close and personal with random females. I know that no woman is a placeholder, unlike other people, so I decided to strike up a conversation. And it turned out to be a good decision.”

Justin immediately defended himself. “I didn’t abandon her. She wouldn’t have wanted to dance, anyway, and I didn’t buy her a drink because she doesn’t like to drink.”

“I suppose that excuse is reasonable. But it doesn’t hold strong for a whole hour. You could have checked on her before then.”

“She didn’t need me to check on her!” Justin exclaimed, trying to get the persistent feeling of guilt out of his conscience.

“So I’m guessing you didn’t notice how some drunk asshole tried to pull her outside,” Adonis retorted. Upon seeing Justin’s eyes widen, he nodded.

“Yes, he tried to get her to leave. Luckily for all of us, I saw him and I got the bouncer to kick him out. But if I hadn’t seen, what would have happened? Where was her damn friend when she needed him?” he challenged.

Justin stood silently. Shit. What would have happened? I should have been here the whole time with her. I saw how good she looks tonight, some other guy was bound to notice eventually.

He nodded, resigned. “I’m sorry. It was a good thing she met you,” he offered. “Thanks.”

Adonis just shrugged away his apology. “You’re welcome, Justin. I knew you were a good guy. Lillian wouldn’t hang with you otherwise.”

Justin had turned to stare at Lillian, who was sitting beside an intoxicated Lance and playing with one of the paper parasols. “I realize that. Listen, I should really go now. Maybe apologize or something.”

Adonis smirked at the back of Justin’s head. “Be my guest.”

Justin stepped away from the bar, only to be stopped one last time by Adonis.

“Open your eyes, kid. She’s not going to wait forever.”

Justin heard the comment, but he threw it off and continued to the table. Is the guy English or retarded? It doesn’t matter, I have to be with Lillian right now.



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