I was a little disappointed at leaving the small street and the woman who had just entered the gallery. My feet stopped on their own, my eyes automatically drifting that way in spite of myself. I could see the back of her, her long neck and the dark hair that was twisted into an elegant knot. The soft curves, hugged by the cute, frilly top and skirt. But she also had bad idea written all over her and it was really a blessing in disguise that she turned me down. If and when she met the right man, he would be a family man, someone with a nine-to-five job and not a washed-up night club owner.
I spun and walked away, hands in my pockets, and headed to where I’d been going before I bumped into her. This time I made it without bloodshed. The door to Clarity was unlocked and I walked inside to where Daniela stood behind the bar. She was polishing glasses while the sound system played a radio station instead of the pulsing dance beats. The neon lights were replaced with regular white light. It was a long time since I had seen it this neat and orderly. The place had a poor reputation for a reason, but I was happy to see that the work the new manager had done was paying off. Not to mention the work Daniela was doing.
Daniela was so engrossed in her work, she didn’t see me until I held up my hands and exclaimed: “Surprise!”
Daniela didn’t smile. “Nico, I didn’t expect you to come around yet.”
I walked around the bar and gave her a hug.
“I’m very happy to see you, too, Daniela, and yes it has been way too long.”
“You didn’t come for the festival last year, so I didn’t think you’d be here this year either.”
She said it matter-of-factly and I couldn’t help but feel hurt. I knew she would rather I take my accident-prone ass to anywhere that wasn’t in her vicinity, but would it kill her to pretend for a bit that I was welcome in my own club?
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I told you I had some business to attend to.”
“I know, I know. What was her name again?”
“Ha, ha,” I said sarcastically. “Thanks, I feel so welcome.”
Daniela sighed and I saw a little flash of regret in her eyes, the most I would get from her, I knew. “Sorry, Nico, things have been busy getting ready for the reopening.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
As nice as it was of her to absolve me of guilt, it was my fault. The club still had a reputation for being shady because of my stupid decisions, but that was why I was back—to straighten things out once and for all.
“I can hire a couple of more people to help you out if you need it.”
She shook her head. “I know we’re busy, Nico, but there wouldn’t be enough work for more, not with seasonal workers.”
“But if I do it, you can go home and relax with Olivia while I pay you the same—what do you say?”
“I say no, as always.”
I didn’t expect her to agree. She barely let me do as much as I did for her, which didn’t seem like enough.
“Is something else wrong?” I asked. “You seem upset.”
Daniela shook her head but I could tell she was lying. As stoic as she was, she always got a tell-tale wrinkle between her brows when she lied and right now it was deep.
“I’m fine. You should go see Olivia. She’s in the breakroom and she missed you.”
That was the end of the conversation, a classic move from the master of using her kid as a distraction.
“You know I can help you, right?” I said. “I owe you.”
Daniela waved me off. “Don’t give me any of that nonsense again. Go.”
She returned to her work and no matter how I tried to catch her eye, she wouldn’t give me the chance. Eventually, I had to give it up and leave. I went into the breakroom where my niece sat by a table with her head in her laptop, as per usual. Her eyes were hyper-focused on the screen, while her fingers tapped away on the keyboard. I walked over, sat on the corner of the table, and ruffled her hair. She barely looked up.
“Hi uncle Nico. Just a moment, I have to see if this…” Her screen turned white for a moment and when it came back, she beamed. “Yes! It worked!”
“Hey kid. Are you hacking the mainframe again?”
Her eyes snapped to me and she looked at me with the kind of withering look only a fourteen-year-old could pull off.
“Do you even know what a mainframe is?”
I shrugged. “It’s where they keep all the computer tapes, right?”
She buried her head in her hands and let out a disgusted groan. When she spoke again, it was from behind her hands and her voice was muffled.
“I can’t believe you just said that.”
I threw my head back and laughed. “Sorry, Livia, I had to.”
Olivia uncovered her face and looked at me. “Thank goodness. I should have known you didn’t think computers had tapes in them these days.”
“Of course I don’t.” I did think so, but I wasn’t about to tell her that. “Anyway, what’re you working on?”
“Oh, it’s an app for Mum and me. I want to keep a database of movies so it’ll be easier for us to find something to watch for movie night. Sometimes it takes hours, but with this we can search for genres and tags and it’ll even have links to where we can stream them.”
I wondered if other parents wished their teens were like my niece. Instead of going out to parties, she spent her nights programming. She started when she was ten and even people who didn’t think computers had tapes in them said she was a mega-genius.
“Sounds cool,” I said. “Speaking of your mum. What’s going on there?”
Olivia’s face fell. “Oh, yeah. She uh… she’s been a little upset lately. Dad’s getting married.”
For a moment it was like the wind was knocked out of me. A sensation pounded into my chest, a pain much worse than when Adriana had physically bumped into me. I heard very little about my half-brother but every time I did, I was guaranteed to hear something that would hurt or make me angry. Usually both.
“Married to… um, to, you know?” I managed.
“Yeah, to her. I’m going to the wedding and Mum doesn’t want me to go alone, so she’s my plus one.”
“Son of a bitch. You shouldn’t go.”
“But it’s dad’s wedding…” She looked sheepish. “Grandma and grandad will be there, too, and I promised.”
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair, feeling suddenly like a major dick as I was forcing a fourteen-year-old to justify going to her dad’s wedding.
“I’m sorry. Of course you’re going, but why don’t I go as your plus one instead? Daniela doesn’t need to be there for that.”
“There’s… an invite for you, too,” she said hesitantly.
And I was straight back to hating his guts. The asshole was rubbing it in. I kept my tone carefully neutral. “Oh. Right.”
“Apparently Dad really wants to fix things with everyone, so he’s really glad Mum’s going to be there.”
I doubted it. If I knew him—and I did—his dad had basically forced him and my mother to invite us to make themselves look better. Then he took the credit for being so good to his disastrous brother in spite of everything. That asshole.
“You don’t have to. I know you and dad… you don’t have to.”
I took a deep breath, smoothing out the frown that had taken over my face. “I’ll go, don’t worry.”
I crouched next to her chair and grabbed her shoulder, giving it what I hoped was a reassuring squeeze.
“Don’t worry about me and Lino’s bullshit. I’m going to be there for you two, okay?” I rubbed little circles on her back and she nodded, then leaned on me.
“I was really worried about Mum being there but I think if you come, it’ll be okay.”
My heart ached for this kid, who had been born into a shitty situation that just got worse as she got older. She knew the gist of why her parents divorced, knew that her dad and I was barely on speaking terms, but not the details of the whole mess.
“Don’t worry about Daniela. I’ll take care of her.”
“Thank you, uncle Nico.”
Daniela was nowhere to be seen when I came out of the breakroom. Likely she had scuttled away so she wouldn’t have to talk about the wedding, but Mario was there. Mario was the manager I hired after I had fucked everything up and needed someone to fix Clarity. For the first interview, he walked into my office in shorts and sandals and told me his best friend was his cat. I hired him pretty much on the spot and hadn’t regretted it since. He had both bartending and managing experience, as well as just being a pleasant guy. I had yet to meet anyone who said they disliked him and I wouldn’t trust someone who did.
He greeted me with a big smile and a pat on the back. Despite me being the owner and his boss, he treated me like the younger man I was. Honestly, I was sure the only reason he didn’t call me ‘kid’ was that I owned this place.
“Good to have you. I didn’t think we’d see you this year,” he said.
“What’s with everyone assuming I’m not going to check in on the club that I own?” I threw up my hands.
“I was busy then, but this year I’m setting things right.”
“We’ll be glad to have you around.”
I smiled and sat on the bar, looking around my club. It was as gorgeous a club as you could imagine since the remodel. The colours were kept in pink, cyan, and blue, the furniture black faux leather that looked high-end but was easy to clean when alcohol and vomit inevitably came into contact with it. If you didn’t know anything about the club’s reputation, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it used to be a drug infested shit hole for a while.
“Tell me what’s happened since last time. Ready for the reopening?”
“Just about. The promotions we ran seem to have gone over well with the locals and I’m hunting for another bartender to help Daniela. I have a couple of seasonal workers lined up, students who are helping for festival season. I expect we’ll be busy once we open.”
“Great work,” I said and meant it. “The sponsorship should help, too.”
Mario’s smile faded. “Ah, well.” He shook his head sadly. “Sorry, Nico, but we’re not going to be sponsoring the festival.”
“It was my fault.” He scratched his head. “The lady working for the council was here to tell me earlier, but she said we have a chance next year. Apparently we were supposed to have an exhibit or a showcase of some kind that fits the festival and I didn’t know, so I didn’t plan it.”
“Excuse me?” I jumped down from the counter and spun on him. “Since when?”
“Well, it’s in the rules, guess it always has been.”
“Like hell it has. We sponsored that shit two years ago, no questions asked, and there’s a ton of places that get it without an exhibit. I want to talk to the lady.”
Mario shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter if we get it, we’ll still do fine.”
“I don’t care.” I took out my phone. “She’s working with the council, right? Who’s the head of the town council right now? I’ll call them.”
“We’re going to be sponsors.”
I searched up the council website and found a phone number which I called, but I got a busy signal.
“Busy,” I said. “Why do I get the feeling they made this rule to keep us out and now they’re ignoring me on the phone?”
“I’m sure that’s not it, Nico. There’s a council meeting tonight, they’re probably just busy.”
It was like a light came on in my head.
“There’s a meeting?”
Mario groaned as he realised what he had said. “You’re going?”
“Yeah. I technically live in this town, so I have a right to go to the council meetings, right?”
“I… guess, but Nico, I told you it’s not that big of a deal. We’ll do fine even if we don’t get the sponsorship.”
The thing was, I didn’t just need the club to do fine, I needed it to be back to what it had once been. I wouldn’t be satisfied leaving this place anything less than a stunning success with a reputation for being a good, wholesome place. Or at least, as wholesome as a nightclub could be.
I looked at Mario. “Where’s that meeting?”
“Goddamn…” He ran a hand through his hair. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
“Why? Why is it so damned important?”
“Just tell me where the meeting is.”
Mario shook his head. “I’ll show you. Might as well go with you.”
Author’s note: Heeeeeey guys! Would you believe that I still exist and I posted a chapter. Yeah, so that whole ‘I hope to publish once a month thing’ didn’t happen. Between my new relationship and my job being… not the best (let’s leave it at that) I’ve just been tired as hell and it took me much, much too long to get this chapter right.
It’s also why I’m not making any suggestions for how long it’ll be before the next chapter this time. 😂 But you should all know that I’m still here, the story is still ongoing, and I’m doing what I can to work on it when I get a bit of energy. I’m hopeful that things will calm down at work soon and hopefully that’ll leave me with some more energy to do the things I like doing, such as writing and reading more simlit (I miss that a lot, actually).
Thanks so much if you read this far. I hope you’re all doing great and that it won’t be too long before I get a chance to share some stuff with you all. See you in the next post.
Love you all,