It is after two am. Chez Chez has closed for the night but Rhys, Jacqui, Bren and me are still here. We are gathered in front of the bar area and Bren looks at us with a steady glare.
"Right, you've been useless and you, I could get more work out of an emphysematous paraplegic." He points at Jacks and Rhys in turn.
I hide a smile and Rhys says. "What's 'empatemus' mean?"
I know. My grandpa had emphysema. He couldn't walk two steps without running out of puff.
Bren looks at him like he is a moron until Jacqui defends herself with,
"Brendan, I only dropped two glasses."
Our boss looks at her through narrowed eyes. "You must think I'm stupid, sweet cheeks. I have eyes in the back of my head. I saw you break our most expensive magnum of champagne. That's £295.00 of booze that poor Stephen is going to have to clean up while you two piss off home."
"What!" I whine loudly, looking at him wide-eyed. "That's not fair. Why me!"
Bren doesn't even bother looking at me as he replies, "Life's not fair, Stephen. You'll get used to it."
Jacqui and Rhys quickly pick up their jackets from hooks on a wall and then turn round to me.
"Sorry mate." Rhys says with a smile that tells me he is anything but.
The three of us look around at the state the club is in after a crazy Saturday night. This is going to take ages to clean up alone.
I groan at the thought.
Plus, Rae and I have late night plans. She is heading back from a bar job in Chester which she is doing for extra cash. We both promised to be home by three so that we can have a late night meal together and then do, you know, other stuff...
Brendan overheard my phone conversation with her earlier. I am sure he is trying to mess with my plans.
Wasn't this all his idea?
Go out with Rae, Stephen.
I can't seem to win with him. He doesn't want me with her. He wants me with her. He doesn't want me with him.
He wants me with him.
Jacqui looks guilty as her shoes crunch on some broken glass resting over split booze. "Look, I can stay for a few minutes and give you a hand clearing up, babe."
I sigh with relief, "Oh, Jacks, that would be amaz-"
"That's out of the question." Brendan cuts me off and rounds the bar to pick up a bottle of Irish whiskey. He studies the label for a second before pouring himself a healthy glass. He takes a sip. "Um, good."
Then he lifts the bottle up at the three of us. I look back at him with increasing anger and frustration.
"Drink?" He asks casually. Before we can answer he says, "No? Okay, suit yourselves."
"Bren, why have you got it in for Ste?" Jacqui asks marching up to him menacingly until they are chest to chest and she stares defiantly up at him. She's a right mother hen, is Jacks.
"I don't." He replies lightly and takes another sip out of his drink. He looks beyond her at me with that look that makes something inside me do a double flip.
Shit. I hate that he can make me feel that way. Frustrated one minute and ... 'frustrated' the next, if you know what I mean.
"It's just that I don't trust your butter fingers or moron over there..."
Rhys frowns when Brendan points at him.
"... with the club tonight. With you two around we will lose business. Consider what I am doing to Stephen a compliment."
I snort a laugh at how ridiculous that sounds. Now I should be grateful that I am staying back because I wasn't a complete waste of space at work today.
"Thanks." I say sarcastically.
"You're welcome." Brendan says with a small smile.
Why is he doing this to me?
I am so tired. I have worked thirteen hours already. The other two only came in at seven pm. He is being so unfair.
"And if you want to keep your job, sweet cheeks, step out of my face and walk away." He whispers softly into Jacqui's face, point blank.
She nods, clearly disturbed by the threat, turns around, shrugs into her jacket and grabs Rhys's elbow before guiding him towards the stairs.
As she passes me she whispers. "Sorry, babe. I tried."
I don't answer her. I am too busy shaking with anger as I stare at Brendan who is looking very pleased with himself. He winks at me and that only annoys me more.
As Jacks and Rhys leave, Brendan shouts after them, "By the way, Jackie, that champagne money is coming out of your wages! Sleep tight!"
"Dickhead!" She shouts back before the club's main door shuts, leaving me and my employer/part-time lover alone in the club.
Seconds tick away as neither of us move; him from behind the bar and me from the other side.
Finally, he speaks softly, running his eyes down my body leisurely, layering my emotion of anger with one of desire.
"Chop, chop, Stephen. This club isn't going to clean itself."
With that he walks towards his office, glass in hand.
It is the final straw. He is not going to help me. I can feel tears of frustration prickling the corners of my eyes.
Before I can stop myself, I catch up to him and grab his elbow. "No!"
He whips around abruptly, shaking my hand off him. One eyebrow is raised and his mouth twitches. " 'No' what?"
"You've got to help me! I can't do this alone." I say pleadingly. "I'm meeting up with Rae in," I look at my watch and groan, "thirty minutes."
The twitch around his mouth increases. He leans into me and inhales. I can't breathe or think when he is this near. He is distracting.
"Well, you will have to keep her waiting." He whispers. He runs his tongue over the tips of his upper teeth seductively and, like always, I fall under his spell like a pathetic teenager which is stupid since I turned twenty, two months ago.
"Stephen." He sighs.
I open my mouth slightly, instinctively. We are this close that I can almost feel the kiss already. I am steps ahead in my mind and we are in a full on snog. I close my eyes and groan, willing Bren to catch up to my fantasy.
But I am kept waiting.
I hear him chuckle and I open my eyes again. He is looking at me in amusement and takes a sip out of his drink.
"There is a time and a place." He says smoothly. "And this is neither."
I go red, of course. I feel embarrassed. I have no control where Brendan is concerned. He works me like a puppet and I am powerless to resist. I had intended to chew him out about making me work alone instead I silently begged him for a kiss.
There is one word to describe me. Pathetic.
"Fine." I say insolently.
I walk away from him, pick up a wet cloth from behind the bar and bus all the tables in record time.
He hovers for a while and I get the feeling that he wants to say something but he doesn't. Instead he makes a strange sound, like a mixture of a cough and a snort. He downs his drink and slams the empty glass on the bar.
"Don't forget this one." He mutters and walks into his office, slamming the door behind him.
Why is he being such an asshole with me tonight?
I take a slow, deep breath. I tell myself that everything is fine because this thing between Brendan and me means nothing. He has made that clear as day.
So I am not going to speak to him for the rest of the night. That way I won't get myself hurt.
I will clean the club up and then I'll go back to Rae for food and .. stuff.
I won't get affected by Brendan-fucking-Brady.
Once I am done cleaning up the bar and washing up, I pick up a broom and dustpan and sweep the dirt, broken glass and cocktail napkins from the floor. I am concentrating so hard, trying to get done before the sun begins to rise again, that I am shocked when I bump into something hard... and Brendan shaped.
Where did he come from?
How long has he been in the room?
Why is he here?
"Sorry." I say automatically, barely looking up at him. I spot some nasty-looking shards of glass and bend down to quickly pick them up so I can place them in the bin.
I am an idiot.
A sharp edge cuts into my palm and blood begins to pour out.
Brendan glares at me . There is something in his eyes that I cannot figure out for a second and then it is gone but in a split second my bloodied hand is in his and he grabs the red glass pieces from me and drops them into a bin.
"You've got to be more careful with glass, Stephen. Don't be a eejit all yer life." He mumbles as he inspects the bleeding cut in my palm. He runs his hand over the warm red oozing fluid.
My heart flip flops and then beats quickly in reaction to his caress. God, I hate how easily I react to him.
I look down at my hand. I am not squeamish, right, so all the blood doesn't faze me but pain does and this fucking hurts.
I feel light-headed suddenly and sway on my feet.
"Sit." He orders while supporting me.
"But I've got to clean-" I start to say until I see in his eyes that he means business. I fall into a sofa and stare up at him expectantly. I fist my hand and keep it over my lap so that I don't soil the leather. Instead blood drips steadily onto my thigh.
Brendan quickly disappears behind the bar but reappears seconds later with a wet warm towel, dry tissues, a plaster, ribbon gauze and a double vodka shot.
He kneels in front of me and takes my hand gently in his and begins to clean up the blood with the towel. I bite against my lower lip when he dabs against the cut.
I am not going to act like a wuss. I will handle the pain.
"I don't think it needs stitches." He says after a moment when he applies pressure with the dry tissues to stem the blood loss. "Does that hurt?"
I shake my head. I am lying. It stings.
If I'm honest, I am shocked at Bren's behaviour. Normally he would say something like,
"For fucks sake Stephen, your blood is getting all over the floor! You're paying for the clean up."
But now he is being so ... tender.
It confuses me. He is never like this.
I don't understand.
He actually looks sorry at the fact that I am hurt.
I don't get him. One minute it is as if he can barely tolerate me, and the next, when we are together and intimate, he makes me feel like I am the centre of his universe.
That is why I crave the times when we are between the sheets and entangled in each other's bodies so much. Brendan expresses how much he wants me without hesitation. He is gentle in a way that I never experience at other times.
But now he is showing me a glimpse of that tenderness and it is out of place, literally. I don't know how to react.
"There." He says after placing a band aid on my hand and wrapping a ribbon dressing around my hand. "Mended."
He stands up, takes off his suit jacket and rolls up the sleeves of his pure white shirt. Then he picks up my dust pan and broom and begins sweeping.
My eyes nearly pop out. I have never seen Brendan clean up. Like ever. It looks wrong; him looking all dressed up, slick, hot and ...domestic!
"It's okay, Bren. I'll do that." I say and stand up.
He pushes against my chest so that I collapse back into the sofa.
"You'll do no such thing, Stephen. I don't want a trail of blood all over the place." He mumbles as he begins sweeping again. There he goes. Back to his old self. "Clearly I misjudged you. I can't even trust you to tidy up without hurting yourself."
I open my mouth to protest but then think twice.
"Have a drink and lie down for a second." He says eyeing the vodka he got me as it sits on a nearby table. "You'll feel better."
I huff but he is right. Sitting down has made me realise how knackered I am.
"Okay." I say. I down the shot before lying down on the sofa, balling up into a comfortable position.
"Shoes, Stephen." Brendan mutters as he ditches the broom and picks up a mop. He goes over the swept areas mopping up the multiple split drinks.
I toe my trainers off and lie down again on my side, hands tucked comfortably under my head. I look at him through half closed eyes and grin as he moves effortlessly across the floor.
Brendan is cleaning up for me. I know this sounds sad but knowing that makes me feel special.
"What are you staring at?" He asks. He points at the mop. "Do you think this is funny?"
"No." I say but I can't help my smile. "I am just happy."
He strides up to me and lets go of the mop. My heart beat goes up a notch. He looks scarily intense. I back away on the sofa rolling, moving away from him as much as possible.
Shit, he is going to beat me up. He thinks I am laughing at him.
"Um, n-n-n-no, Brendan." I stutter. "You don't understand. I am happy because you are doing this f-f-for me."
He frowns at me as he sits next to me. He doesn't speak for a while; just stares at me, moving his eyes over my face. He reaches a hand out to me and I recoil slightly.
His frown deepens.
"Do you think I am going to hurt you?"
I stay quiet. Yes. No. Maybe.
"Stephen." He whispers as he leans into me. I close my eyes ready for the sting of a fist but just like the kiss earlier, it never comes.
Instead, his lips gently touch mine. My eyes spring open and he pulls away and grins a little. I am surprised by what I see in the depths of his eyes. It is enough for me to have the confidence to lean in for another kiss. A more passionate one, like the one I fantasized about earlier. It is all tongue and lips and hands in hair and around waists. It gives and takes. And it is over too soon.
He pulls away and stares at me with dilated pupils. He holds my bandaged hand gently. "Never again. You understand? I promise."
I can't breathe. I swear. For a second I don't know what he means. Then I remember his question. He is referring to the beatings. Whenever he approaches me I don't know whether it is for pleasure or pain.
He is making a promise to never harm me again.
"You understand?" He repeats softly. "Never."
He kisses me once more, then gets up abruptly and picks the mop up again.
"Good. Now get some sleep." He says hoarsely.
I start smiling again as I lie down. This is why he wanted me to stay back. He wanted to be alone with me.
"And stop smiling like an eejit." He mutters.
I grin some more as my eyes close. Sure, Brendan is brusque with me but I don't mind. I think I am starting to figure him out. He thinks he is a being a cool customer ordering me about but he cares about me.
Like a lot.
I am sure of it.
I grin even wider as sleep claims me. The last thing I hear him mumble as the mop swishes over the floor is,
But I don't mind because I detect a smile and I am Brendan Brady's little fecker.