I sat for a moment. With the room as quiet as the dead, I contemplated my responses. It wasn't that I was scared to venture beyond the tavern nor was I still conflicted in the all-consuming denial that once curled it's bony fingers around me. Hell, I had traveled quite the distance for a hunt which sometimes was the best considering the laws and government.
“A thirty-eight year old Southern city resident was hit by a train at 3:25 a.m. last night...” The paper read but I knew all too well the true reason for such accident.
No, it wasn't any of that. What it was, what it truly was, was the fact that I didn't require to feed so often but maybe once or twice a week. Plus, I was nervous to prowl the night with Lucious beside me. Was it true that Chris had freed him so easily?
The first night passed into two, then finally three and I became more inquisitive as to Lucious's whereabouts. He explicitly told me that his outing wouldn't be so long.
Sitting at my desk, I desperately tried to sense him as if our bond had not been broken. If only it hadn't, at least I would know how far away he was or if he was in trouble. Now, though, with our chains severed, never would I be able to feel his presence again less he was here in the tavern.
Later that night, I sat in the tavern downstairs, in the usual spot at the corner of the bar with my head down focusing clearly on the marble tabletop. The greens and blacks blended in with each other as my mind wandered. I heard footsteps coming from the other side of the bar and knew that was the bartender who leaned down to ask if I was alright.
I could only nod my head. Jeffery and I were clearly friends though only here at the tavern. He spent his nights upstairs as well, his room just a door down from mine.
After purchase of the tavern, we made our way through the innards of the building. Stripping and replacing what we could – what was molding and unsanitary. That included the upstairs apartments. Despite our tight budget, we were able to clean up the building inside and out just well enough to approve for reopening.
I offered each room, besides for the largest, to the employees of the bar. Jeffery, the bartender, homeless with no where else to lay his head, was the reason for this. He had always been here in the restoration and now, I felt at ease knowing he could rest easy under a sturdy roof.
So I sat in silence, for once not caring about the crowd of new sounds overwhelming me nor of the footsteps disappearing in front of me to the other side of the bar. I could only sulk and worry over him.
That is until the sound of footsteps approached from behind. I lifted my head a moment noting the warmth of a soft hand wrapping around my shoulder.
“How's it going, Mikael?” I heard her voice and my ears perked up.
“Just dandy, Layla. And how are you this fine eve?” I asked, a certain giddiness coming over me.
“Wonderful, thank you,” she answered as she moved her fingers from my skin and walked to the end of the bar.
She stood, directly facing me. A smile danced on her lips yet her eyes seemed grave. Besides, why would she be here if not for something serious?
“Isn't it quite late, Layla?” I questioned again. “Your shift ended hours ago.”
She nodded in agreement. “Yes, but this is important, Mikael.”
I brushed the tickling hair away from my eyes and returned to study her posture. Soon after, I registered the sound of footsteps again. This time it was Jeffery, who stepped in closer to listen in to our conversation.
“So tell me, Mikael, who do you have living with you?”
My eyes popped open and I sat straight up in my seat. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Who is it?” she wondered again, her foot beginning to tap upon the hardwood floor below.
“Is there a rule against helping out a friend?” I leaned over and stared up into her eyes.
“Well, no. But it worries me Mikael, to know this friend of yours is making our employees quite nervous.”
I looked over towards Jeffery now who quickly returned to wiping out a glass with a dry cloth. He had been listening, I knew this. I also knew it was he who felt uneasy around Lucious.
“Jeffery,” I called out to him.
He continued to sweep along the side of the glass without returning my inquisitive glare. “Hey, I just think he's creepy, that's all.”
“Damn it.” I pound my fist into the bar causing a couple at the pool table next to me to stop a moment and turn their attention to the noise. “Jeffery, why don't you come to me with this?”
Layla flattened her palms out on the bar now. “Maybe because he was scared?”
“You're not my boss, Layla... you're my co-signer.” I returned my eyes towards hers and stood up swiftly causing the bar stool to fall over. “I prefer you not forget your place.” I towered over her now, a crushing sense of power I had not once felt since purchasing the building.
She straightened her spine and adjusted her vest. She knew all too well who was in charge here, despite her signature on the documents. She was well aware of my position over her.
“It's just...” She cleared her voice. “I would just hope that you could have the courtesy to tell your fellow employees of any change, Mikael.”
Immediately, my ears were focused on the complete silence surrounding me. Our argument had caused the entire bar to hush. Many of them were regulars therefore they quickly returned their attention back to previous engagements. Others stood in shock, prepared for a fight. One man, a beer in his hand, hollered out loud. “Yeah, kick his ass!”
I rolled my eyes at the man's suggestion.
In the midst of the tension, the door swung open with the sound of the bell just above it's hinges. It didn't phase me for a moment. I was just about to step away from the bar and retreat upstairs when out of the corner of my eye, I caught Jeffery standing in shock just as he did the day Lucious had come back in my life.
Was he back? My heart pulsed with the notion and a slight grin came over my lips.
Quickly I turned my head only to spot a face I had not wanted to see again.
Though the dark crystal of his glasses were meant to block the view of his eyes from spectators, I could focus clearly through them to spot his blue contact lenses staring out to me. They called out for me to approach him. And which I did.
Quietly, carefully, one foot in front of the other, I walked forward until we were practically face to face. I wasn't ready for this after my clash with Layla and Jeffery, and I certainly did not want them to hear the conversation that was about to take place.
“What do you want?” I whispered.
That wicked smirk, one I witnessed all too often years ago, appeared upon Chris's lips. “Would you believe, I was just in the area.”
I chuckled. I had heard that claim before. “Why would I believe such nonsense?”
Chris's eyes looked around taking in the entirety of the bar. I looked deep past those dark sunglasses and spotted his stare towards Layla and Jeffery, who stood in awe at the stranger.
“Fine, then.” His eyes returned. “I do happen to question something, Mikael.”
I was quiet, waiting for him to ask.
“Tell me.. has it began to snow?” His question caught me off guard.
What sort of question was that? My brows came up in curiosity.
“A sort of bitterness that cannot melt in this summer heat,” he continued. “A dense, cold fog that hides everything in sight...”
Had he grown mad since our last visit?
“This brisk, winter wind pursues only you, Mikael. No matter where you turn, it longs for you. I can see the snow falling in your eyes.”
Immediately, I knew of what he spoke.
“I have not seen him if that is who you speak of.” I began. “And I do not appreciate you bursting in with such nonsense.”
His smile faded with those words. “I do hope you're truthful in your words, Mikael. I would hate for this wonderful tavern of yours to see its demise.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Perhaps. But if you speak truthfully, I shall leave you to your wares.” He bowed his head, and again looked out towards Layla. “Such a beautiful stead you've made yourself.” He twisted to face the door, looking around at the bar once more. “If you happen to see Lucious, tell him to come home.”
With those words he turned around and made his way out the open door.