Weirdest. Night. Ever.
Or should I say day? The weirdness started off early-ish.
The reminder of how I ended up here makes the burger sit heavy in my stomach. Hope Petros doesn’t toss my stuff out on the street before I can go by in the morning.
Not thinking of that asshole until I absolutely have to.
I should tell someone I’m spending the night at Denny’s, in case Dionysos does turn out to be a psycho and I go missing.
Mom and Dad will drive down here and drag me back home if I let on that I’m sleeping in the back room of a bar, my aunt and uncle would rather not be responsible for anything to do with my life, and most of my friends don’t live in Athens. Sofia is the obvious choice. I feel like I’ve known her forever, though we only worked together for a little over eight months.
I should call and tell her about Petros—or Le Ass, as she calls him—anyway, and I’ve missed talking to her in weeks since she left the company. It’s after ten, but she’s a night owl. Plus, she’s gonna go gaga about my sleeping at Denny’s. She couldn’t stop raving about Dionysos the first time she came here for drinks.
I go get my cell phone from my bag, find her number in recent calls, and double tap it.
“Hey, stranger.” She sounds chipper as ever.
“Hey you! Long time no speak.”
“I know. I was gonna call you. Le Ass called to offer me your job at double my old salary. What the fuck happened? Are you guys falling apart without me?”
I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a pang in my chest at being so easily replaceable. Sofia is crazy-capable, and was with Marinos Advertising for a decade before I joined them, but she was my assistant. And double her old salary is about a time and a half what I was getting.
I shoo away the dark clouds gathering over my head. “He grabbed my ass, I kicked his balls, I’m out of there.” His advances were more insidious than I let on, but I don’t care to linger on that. “So guess where I’m working now.”
“Please say it’s for Marinos’s biggest competitor.”
I laugh. She’s always kept me sane. Ish. “Nope. Hold on. Let me switch to video call.” I press the button for the camera, and see a close-up of my face from that unflattering angle that brings to mind the villain from a certain cartoon movie, starring a mermaid. “Eep. Need to switch the cam.” I do, and Sofia screeches.
“What?” I ask.
“Who was that guy in a sheet?”
“Huh?” I look around. The bar is empty and quiet. “What are you talking about?”
She snorts. The way she’s holding her phone, I can see up her nostrils. “Are you hiding a half-naked Adonis from your BFF?”
Wish I were. “No, nutcase. Though there was a fully-dressed one here minutes ago. And he hired me.”
She rolls her eyes, fake lashes lending the expression a dramatic flair. “Stop with the riddles. I’m hungry. You know I have no patience when I’m hungry.” She’s always hungry in the evenings, because she doesn’t eat after four in the afternoon.
“Dionysos gave me a job at Denny’s. As a bartender,” I say.
She turns serious and scowls down at me. “You were freaking Key Accounts Manager for one of the biggest advertising companies in all of Greece, and you go from that to tending bar? What the fuck kind of a career move is that?”
With a huff, I turn off the camera and move to the back room. I switch on the radiator and drop into bed, above the sheets, phone tucked between shoulder and ear. “It’s not a career move. I need a break. Something with less pressure, that doesn’t keep me up at night. Well, that only keeps me up while I’m physically up. And working. You know.”
“Did you sleep with him? Mr. Sex-on-Legs? I’ve heard he has mad skills, but—”
“No.” It luckily comes off as indignant, and not disappointed. “He wasn’t even technically the one who hired me. His brother did.”
“Tall, dark, gray eyes?”
“He’s hot too.”
We let out matching dreamy sighs, but Sofia snaps back to business-mode immediately. “So how long is this break for?”
I shrug, though she can’t see me. “Dunno. Six months? A year?”
She exhales noisily through the nose. “A year off the market will destroy your career, not reset it.”
She has a point, but I need the time to myself. “I’m not going to fall off the face of the earth. I’ll network. Maybe look into starting something of my own. You know I didn’t like working for Marinos, Sofia.”
“Okay. But if you’re not back on track one year from now, I’m coming for you.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I switch ears and reach for the remote. “In the meantime, I’m buying you drinks whenever you wanna drop by.” I should check with Dionysos, but I don’t mind if he takes the money out of my salary.
“Huh. Guess there is an upside to this reckless, idiotic move, after all.”
I laugh, and it feels lighter and more genuine than it has in months. I didn’t realize till now how much that job was devouring my soul. It wasn’t the demanding clients, or even the few toxic coworkers and the useless hornball of an owner. I was doing something that didn’t feel true to myself. I love doing PR for small companies trying to make it in a hostile market, but advertising isn’t for me. Some days, it felt outright deceitful.
“Shit. I just remembered that jerkwad, Marinos, is your landlord too. What are you gonna do about that situation?” Sofia sounds worried. “Come stay with me till you figure something out?”
No way we can share her studio apartment without killing each other. “No, hon. Thanks, but I’ll figure something out.”
“Want me to come stay with you tonight? He’s not gonna do anything stupid, but you may feel better if you’re not alone.”
It never crossed my mind that Petros might break in and rape me, but now I’m even happier I decided to take Dionysos up on his offer. “I’m not going back there tonight. I’m staying at Denny’s back room.” For good measure, I add, “Alone. I’ll get my stuff tomorrow and check into a hotel until I find a place.” Or I can stay here, if I’m very-very sneaky about it.
The thought wraps itself around my mind and rolls down my spine in a wave of pleasant shivers. It’d be naughty and possibly illegal, but haven’t I done things by the book long enough? I won’t be causing anyone any harm. And it’ll only be for a few days.
“Hey, did you fall asleep on me?” Sofia’s question snaps me out of my thoughts.
As if summoned, a yawn threatens to dislocate my jaw. “Not yet, but it’s been a long day. I’d better turn in.”
“Yeah. Go. Call me if you need anything. I can take tomorrow off and come help you pack.”
Unreasonable, unbidden tears spring to my eyelids. Everyone’s been so nice today. Well, except for Petros and that lady on the street. But still…
I sniffle and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. “You don’t have to. You just started working there.” Thereis an event-planning company, specializing in exclusive bachelorette parties.
“Meh. I’m doing it anyway.” Knowing Sofia, she’ll convince her boss that her taking the day off was his idea. At least her boss isn’t a rape-y asshole. “Besides, you can buy me lunch with that severance money you’re getting,” she adds.
Umm… “I don’t think I’m getting anything. I ran out.”
“Because you were sexually harassed. I’ll be talking to Le Ass in the morning, and we’ll sort everything out.”
“I love you, you nutcase.” And there go the tears again. Hope I don’t leave mascara stains all over Dionysos’ pillowcase. I did wipe off what I could in the bathroom, but this thing is persistent. “Meet me at mine at eleven?”
“I’ll be there. Love you too, Boss Lady. G’night. Sweet Denny-shaped dreams.”
I end the call and set an alarm clock for eight. It’s an hour later than my usual wakeup call, and I’m all giddy about it. I’ll get up, change clothes, and get Dionysos a thank you breakfast from the bakery down the street, before going to the apartment formerly known as mine, to gather my belongings.
I’ll ask Dionysos if I can store my stuff here while I look for a new apartment. If he says no, I’ll leave it at Sofia’s, but if he lets me, it’ll make sleeping over without getting found out much easier. The sneaking around won’t be for long—just a week or two. Month tops. Maybe two, to save a little for rent?
Whatever. I’ll figure it out one day at a time.
But first, I’m going to get comfy in this cot, under covers that smell of the same detergent as Dionysos’ clothes, and try to follow my friend’s advice to dream of him.
And maybe convince myself that taking this job won’t be the worst decision I ever made.
No. It’s more like rolling. Because I’m not on dry land.
Wood creaks beneath my feet. I’m standing?
Barely. Another roll threatens to topple me over, and I raise my hand to the side, to steady myself. Wood, cool and sleek, meets my palm, and my fingers would dig into it if they could.
“We’re docked,” calls a voice from somewhere above me. It’s muffled, but I recognize it. The man I abandoned everything for. Betrayed everyone for. No. It was all for the best. Had to be done. For Theseus. The memory of a face I used to love—my father’s face—rises up like angry waters, to drown me.
My father is dead because he tried to keep me under lock and key, a prisoner, much like my late half-brother. Father tried to kill Theseus for loving me. I had to…
I lift my skirts and pad out of my cabin. Climb up the stairs to the deck, unafraid of the waves crashing down on both sides of the hull. I scurry to the stern, the rain soaking into my clothes and driving the chill of the night straight into my bones. My feet squelch on the sodden floor. I’ve felt this sensation before. Or is it in the future I’ll feel it? Can’t waste time pondering that. My feet are numb with the cold, but there’s a fire in my chest, ordering me to burn down anything that gets in the way of my freedom.
Theseus wraps his arm around me and crushes his lips to mine. His kiss is demanding. Dominating. I give in, melting against him like I always do, ignoring the little voice in me that screams something is wrong.
“We’re disembarking for provisions.” Theseus squeezes my ass, and I feel my cheeks burn despite the cold and the rain.
People can see. I’m a princess, not a loose woman, for him to treat me this way.
“Come,” he says. “There is a cave nearby. We’ll build a fire and wait out the rain.”
Like I’ve done since I met him, I follow him. Submit to his will. In the cave, I drink the potion he brews to warm me up. He’s so caring, and I’m so grateful, I guzzle it down even though it’s bitter and makes my mouth feel funny.
In the morning, I’m all alone.
But where am I? And how did I get here?
I wake up sweaty. Should have switched off the heater before going to sleep. Dionysos said it’d be sweltering in here if I didn’t. My tongue is dry, stuck to the roof of my mouth. I cluck it and fold back the sheets. Throw my legs off the side of the cot and half-sit, half-roll up, before climbing to my feet.
The floor is hard and dry. And aren’t floors supposed to be this way?
A memory nudges at the back of my mind. Smoke?
I really need to pee. I shuffle my feet, blindly searching for my slippers. My toes meet the edge of a ballet pump. Right. Because I don’t have slippers here. This isn’t my home.
I don’t have a home.
Mood plummeting, I slip both shoes on and hurry to the staff bathroom. I do my business and wash my hands. My eyes are smudged with mascara, despite my best efforts to wash it off last night, and my cheek has marks from where the crinkled sheets dug into it. I may have lipstick in my bag, but no concealer. Oh, but I may have makeup wipes. Why didn’t I remember them yesterday?
I sit on the bench and run my fingers over my clothes. They’re completely dry. Denny’s dehumidifier kicks ass. And I can’t even see it. Dionysos has put a lot of thought into this place.
I get my bag from the table where I dropped it when I walked into Denny’s. Can’t believe I left it here even after I got my phone. I must have been more discombobulated than I thought. Then again, I slept in a stranger’s backroom and I plan on doing so again, so the damage must be ongoing.
Yes. There are wipes in the side pocket. I take them and my cherry-colored lip balm to the sink and carefully remove all traces of yesterday’s makeup, then add some color to my lips and cheeks. My hair isn’t salvageable, the curls frizzy and tangled, so I pull it up in a messy knot. I get dressed in yesterday’s jeans and button-down shirt and spray antiperspirant on my armpits. Hoping the illusion of freshness lasts till I can get a shower, I grab both sets of keys, and let myself out, then lock behind me.
The bakery makes a pretty good cappuccino. I get two, both sweet, and add a couple of their delicious ham-and-cheese croissants and two donuts with sugar to my order.
Spotting Dionysos’ door isn’t hard. It’s the same plum-red color as the seats in Denny’s bar, two meters to the right of the entrance to said bar. There is only one doorbell, with Olympios scrawled on it in cursive. I press it for a brief second.
Why am I holding my breath?
Worse, why do I feel like I’m doing the walk of shame? I’m bringing my boss breakfast. That’s normal, right?