I stood outside the store, waiting for my dad to get done buying what he needed. I rocked on my feet, taking a small sip of coffee as I looked around me. Ebott had always been a wonderful place to grow up next to. But mom and dad preferred to live out in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Personally, I liked it.
I liked listening to people walking by talking on their phones. Just going about their daily business. I guess I was a people watcher. People always had quirks that only strangers ever noticed. How they fiddled with their belt loops. Shifting on their feet while wearing uncomfortable heels. Shying away from people they didn't know. Constantly switching their phone from ear to ear. The way they would double take when they saw prices on their buys.
It was always interesting to me.
I glanced back when my dad came out, rubbing his forehead in agitation. He was a tall man, built with muscle from years of working on the farm. His tanned skin was almost crispy, roughed up from years under the sun and hard work. His graying hair was mostly shaved off, mostly around the sides. His honey colored eyes looked down at me.
“Hey, sweetie, sorry about leaving you out here,” he said, ruffling my hair.
I chuckled and swatted his hand away. “You're fine, daddy. How's everything going in there?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “Not very well. Probably gonna be here a while. Why don't you go wander about?” He dug in his pocket and handed me a couple of twenties. “Here's some money for you. Buy yourself some food or something, alright?”
I nodded, putting the money in the front pocket of my overalls. “You got it, dad. What time should I head back this way?”
He hummed. “I'll call ya, baby. Go have fun.”
I waved goodbye to him and started off down the street. It was a huge place, with a lot of big buildings and a lot of people. I'd seen movies where people in New York were like this, but this just seemed a little more tame. Maybe it was because New York had many cities and areas where they were like this. But for me? This was it.
I wandered along the streets, staring up at the buildings and statues. I ran my hands along the brick buildings and looked around at the people who moved around. The sun was high in the sky, and it was kind of hot. I adjusted the straps on my overalls and went to take a sip of the coffee in my hands.
Until I ran into someone and spilled it all over their expensive suit.
I gasped, jumping back a string of dark curses spilled from the stranger's lips. I held a hand over my mouth as I watched the empty cup roll away and onto the street with oncoming traffic. Before I could go and try to grab it, the same voice that was cursing sent a chill down my spine.
“I wouldn't go into the street unless you want run over, pretty girl."
I turned and looked at the man in front of me. I almost had to do a double take. He looked incredible in a three piece suit. He had a white collared shirt under his black jacket and wore expensive looking loafers with his suit. There was a handkerchief in his hand that was beginning to stain a dark brown from trying to wipe the coffee from his suit. He had piercing green eyes that reminded me of the grass at the farm, and hair as dark as night that fell over one eye.
He was gorgeous.
I sucked in a breath and looked between him and the now crushed coffee cup. I looked back at him and moved further onto the sidewalk. He moved with me, watching around us before looking back at me with a faint smile.
Then I noticed the giant brown stain forming on his crisp, white shirt.
“Oh, damnit, I'm sorry,” I groaned. “I didn't watch where I was going...”
“Hey, hey. It's alright,” he soothed, holding up both of his hands. “It was an honest mistake, yeah? You look like you haven't been around these parts before, sweetness. What's your name?”
I bit my words back. This man was a total stranger, and I didn't know him from any other John walking the streets right now. If it was one thing my dad has taught me, it was that pretty boys with fancy hair and nice looking nails are the ones to avoid the most. They could turn a hard working girl into a spoiled brat.
When I didn't answer, he gave a weak chuckle. “Alright, I get it. I'm a stranger. I apologize for being so forward, but you're a beauty among this sea of dead fish.” His eyes flicked to mine, moving between the two. “Especially with eyes as beautiful as yours.”
I was taken aback. No one had ever commented something good on my eyes. Even my parents didn't say nice things about them. They never did it while I was around or awake, but I've overheard them. How unnatural my eyes are. That it must be some kind of freaky magic that cursed the family line for my eyes to come out like this.
I touched my hand to my cheek absently. “Thank you...” I murmured softly. He gave me a smile that was nothing but snow white teeth. I could feel a part of me melt, not to mention feeling the guilt eat away at me. He looked like he was in a hurry, and he kept checking out the area around us like he was waiting for someone to come out and strike him down at any moment. The thought alone was a little disconcerting, but I gave him a tiny smile.
“I can pay you back...” I began reaching into the front of my overalls before his chuckle stopped me.
“It's alright, really,” he said. “If you wanna pay me back that bad, why not come with me to get another cup of coffee.”
I hesitated, my smile slipping a little. I touched the flip phone in my pocket, thinking of all things that could go wrong because of that simple request. Looking around me quickly, I didn't know where I was and I didn't know how far the store was where my dad was at. I couldn't just run and hope to find my way back. Ebott was a big city, and I was afraid I would end up lost if I just ran away from a bad situation.
If anything, the worst this guy could do was rape and-or kill me. And that was something my mom had taught me at a young age. Guys could take advantage of a girl like me. I didn't know what she meant, and hell, I still didn't.
But he was being nice. I had spilled coffee on the guy and I was hesitating over going to get another coffee. Something I desperately needed after being up since four o'clock this morning to let the horses out of the barn. After debating it for another moment, I gave a timid nod.
He smiled down at me and offered his arm. I took it shyly, moving my hair to cover my face. He led me along the path, pointing out random things here and there. I would laugh a little when he would crack a joke and I would peep at him every now and then from the corner of my eye. He really was handsome, and I liked the way his eyes lit up when the sun hit them just right.
He led me inside a small cafe, holding the door open for me. The bell above jingled as we made our way inside. I made my way up to the counter and he came up behind me, placing a hand on the small of my back. I jumped a little at the contact, my face heating up in a little blush.
“I'll take a large coffee, regular blend, with five sugars and six creams. Oh, and some thin mint flavoring,” I told the lady at the register. “And whatever he wants.”
The woman looked from me to him. Her bored expression switching, and I noticed there seemed to be a sheen of sweat beginning to bead on her forehead. She looked between the two of us while ringing up what he ordered, which was nothing but a medium black coffee. When I went to reach for the money, she held up a hand.
“It's alright, honey. We got it covered,” she said. Was her voice shaking a little? “Will that be all?”
“Oh, could you add an everything bagel with cream cheese?” I asked. “I haven't had one of those in forever.”
“Of course,” she said. Yep, her voice was definitely shaking. “Anything else for you guys today?”
“No, that'll be all,” the guy said. “How much?”
“We've got it covered for you guys.” Man, even her smile looked like it was going to tremble.
We made our way over to a booth where he sat facing the window. He looked out it a few times while we made idle chit chat, and our drinks and my bagel came out. The smell was absolutely heavenly and I let out a sigh before taking a sip of it. Spot on.
“God, this is great,” I murmured.
The guy grinned. “Glad to hear it.”
He pulled out his phone and tapped on it a few times before placing it screen down on the table beside his coffee. He linked his fingers together in front of him, elbows on the table and his chin on the back of his hands. “So what are you doing around these parts anyway?”
I swallowed the bite of bagel I had before wiping my mouth of the extra cream cheese. “My dad is in the shop right now doing some stuff, so I came with him. He said it would be a little longer, so he gave me some money and told me to go explore,” I explained. “I've never really been off the farm, and not for long.”
“Farm, huh?” That seemed to pique his interest. “I didn't realize there was a farm around Ebott. Stories say that all the farms were burned or torn down after the monsters were locked under the mountain all those centuries ago.”
I laughed. “What, do you believe those stories?” I teased him. “Those are just made up tales to scare little kids into behaving themselves. At least, that's what my parents did with me.”
He chuckled again. His chuckle sounded so amazing. It was husky, and his voice even had a slight rasp in it that reminded me he was a smoker. I could smell it on his clothes and the small square bump in the breast pocket of his jacket. He hadn't smoked around me yet, but I was dying for one.
Filthy habits die hard.
“Nah, I don't think those hold any truths to them,” he said. “In fact, I think the real monsters are all around this city.”
I tilted my head. “You think so?”
He nodded. “I do. There are dangerous people out there, sweets.”
I mulled it over when he checked his phone again. I wasn't stupid. I knew there were things humans did that were cruel. War, torture, murder. It was plastered all over the news my mother watches on the TV during her down time. I knew the farm was just a happy little bubble that I would eventually have to leave.
After taking a thoughtful sip of my coffee, I asked, “Are you one of them?”
He gave a pause before looking at me over the top of his phone. Those green eyes just pierced right through me, and I felt myself melt a little more as I watched him. After a second, he put down his phone and dropped his arms, laying them on the table in front of his, his fingers still linked together. He wore a smile that sent an unfamiliar shiver through my body.
“I could be,” he whispered, “but only in the best way.” He winked at me.
Holy shit, my heart.
He looked at his phone again and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sorry, bunny. But it looks like work's calling.” He stood up and grabbed his coffee cup. Before he walked away, he turned around, giving me a smile. “I totally forgot to give you my name. I'm Dominic.”
He went to walk away again before I called out, “Dominic?” I like the way his name slid off my tongue.
He paused and looked over at me, something crossing his face before he tilted his head. “What's up, bunny?”
“...Levy,” I murmured. “My name. It's Levy.”
He seemed to relax and grinned now. Mirth flashed through his green eyes before he said, “I like 'bunny' better.” He turned back and went toward the door. “Hope to see you soon, Bunny!”
And just like that, my world was turned upside down. When my dad went into town, I would go with him. The first month I felt bad, sneaking around like that. I would often meet Dominic in the cafe he took me to the first day we met. We would usually get our stuff for free, and I had begun to save up the money my dad would give me to go wander about. At some point, we started sitting closer. He had asked me my age once, and when I told him I was eighteen, he seemed excited.
Everything was going great. He even would get me flowers. Though having to tell my dad that I had a suitor who got them for me didn't go over well. But, when my parents met him, they were just as smitten as I was.
But...then my dad got sick.
Trips out toward the city grew far and in between. They grew shorter, and I wouldn't be able to finish having coffee with him before my dad said it was time to go. He wasn't eating, and he was losing weight too fast. He started getting discolored patches on his skin, and he often complained about his stomach hurting. He was getting worse as the months passed. He looked like he could pass out at any moment.
And then he did, while trying to break a wild horse. The horse had almost smashed his head in, had I not been there to stop it. When he was taken to the hospital, it had been worse than he let on.
He had cancer. Liver cancer. And he wasn't going to make it out without some high quality care. If we let it continue as it was, he wasn't looking at a future at all.
At almost nineteen years old, I had finally had a taste of fear. I had finally learned what it felt like to almost lose someone so close to you.
I called Dominic, despite being late into the night. I bit my nails waiting for him to pick up and when he did, he sounded kind of miffed.
“What?” he grumbled into his phone, his voice raspy with sleep. “It's fucking four in the goddamn morning–”
There was some rustling on his end and a faint click. Probably turning on the lamp beside his bed. When he spoke, he sounded a little more alert. “Bunny? Baby, what's wrong?”
“It's my dad,” I choked out. When had I started crying. “Remember how I've been telling you he hasn't been doing that great?”
“Yeah, you said he wasn't eating much? What's going on?” His voice had gotten a little louder, like he was a in a slight panic himself.
“He has cancer,” I whispered quietly, causing the people around me to give me sympathetic looks. “Liver. They can't...we can't...” A sob escaped my throat. “Dom, we can't do anything about it. The care they could use now to try and put it in remission is too much for my mom and I to try and come up with and...” I took in a giant, gasping breath. “He's going to die, Dom.”
“Bunny, I need you to listen to me, okay? What hospital are you at?”
“Stay there. Send your mom home and let her rest, alright? Stay there until I get there. Give me half an hour, you hear me?”
“Okay,” I hiccuped. “I'll be here.”
“Alright, Bunny. I'll see you soon.”
He hung up and I brought the phone away from my ear. I clicked the screen on it, staring at the background. It was a picture of Dominic and I from a picnic we'd had a few months prior. Before my dad had started to stop eating. Or was he not eating then, too? He did get sick a lot then, but it wasn't as bad as it had been.
Numbly, I went back inside and went up the stairs, letting mom know I would take it from here. I told her to go home and try and get some rest. She didn't even argue and quietly made her way out of the room. Her eyes were red and puffy; she'd been crying the entire time.
Half an hour passed, and I could hear Dominic's voice coming from down the hall. I looked at my sleeping father one more time before I left the room, striding down the corridor until I spotted him. He stopped talking when he heard me coming and opened his arms for me.
I damn near threw myself into them, letting out a loud wail that made the nurses, patients, visitors and doctors alike look away from us. I clung to the suit he wore, burying my face into his chest. He ran his hand over my hair, whispering to me. I heard him promise things I didn't think he could really promise, but I clung to the hope that he could help. That he could do something.
After a few minutes, he led me back down the hall and into my dad's room. He kept his arm around my shoulders and I couldn't have been more grateful. I didn't know if I could stay upright, and with the exhaustion, I didn't think it would be physically possible.
When we made it to the door, he stopped, his arm bringing me around so I could face him. He placed both hands on my shoulders and his eyes scoured my face. After a minute, he sighed, a frown on his face.
“You haven't slept.”
“I've been here all night.”
I waved him off weakly, but he grabbed my hand and interlaced our fingers. I felt my heart stammer in my chest and looked up at him, blinking slowly. He'd been doing a lot of things like this lately. Giving me pet names other than “bunny”, holding me longer in our hugs, holding hands. All the couple stuff I would read in those trashy romance novels my friends liked to sneak me every now and then.
He leaned down and kissed me. I let go of his hand and held his cheeks in my hands as he did, shutting my eyes and reveling in the feeling of him. It was then, in that hallway, I knew I had fallen deep in love.
When he pulled away, he brought me close. He was so tall, my head just hitting his chin. He let one of his hands intertwine in my hair and the other held me loosely by the waist. He bent down enough to give me a chaste kiss on the top of my head.
“We'll figure it out, Bunny,” he whispered. “I promise.”
And we did. I stayed with him at his house for a few days while he set my mom up in a cushy spa, letting her get out all her stress. We let him take care of doctors and payments. My mother had tried fighting him on it, but he wasn't going to have it. But my mom didn't trust him. She said there was something wrong with the way he was acting.
After bidding my mother goodbye, I spent my few blissful days with Dominic. And that's when things started to piece together, and completely fall apart.
I didn't mean to walk in on him and Don Bianchi during a meeting. I didn't mean to see things I wasn't supposed to. I didn't mean to have my hand in that. But by the time I noticed all of this, I was too late. I was so far in, and I knew too much. Not to mention, now I owed them the money for helping my dad get his treatments to he could have a fighting chance.
When I told Dominic that mom and I had saved up the money to pay him back, he changed. He had turned hostile, throwing something onto the ground in his fit of rage. It scared me, even when he came toward me while he was calm.
“There's no paying back in money, Bunny,” he murmured, lifting my chin with his finger. There was a cruel smile on his lips I didn't recognize. “I have something a little more suitable for you.”
I cried that night. I had slept in a different room and cried, burying my face in the fluffy pillows while I did. He had told me that I was to cut off all contact with my parents, even after my dad made a recovery. I didn't know what he'd had planned, but I didn't like the way he acted.
He had done a total flip, and it made my heart hurt. I had found out after walking in on him and the Don, that he was in with the mafia. That's how he was able to afford all of this. This lifestyle, my phone, why people feared him and gave us free things at the cafe. He ran that area, and he ran it with an iron fist.
I had seen it too late.
A few days later, I sent one last text to my parents and tossed the phone in a lake nearby the mountain. I watched it sink to the bottom and I turned and walked back to where Dominic was waiting. He opened the car door for me, and I slid inside. With that, I was whisked away to my new home, and a whole new life.
Nothing happened, though. I was on edge for months, just waiting for something to happen. But he treated more as a girlfriend than he did as some kind of money owing farm girl. He bought me the nicest things. Took me out to the greatest places. Treated me like a queen. Even got me that bunny necklace on my nineteenth birthday. Where he told me he loved me in front of everyone, even the Don. Said Don didn't like that. He was angry that his right hand man was “in love” with some “trashy farm girl”.
Then shit got worse.
A few days after my nineteenth, I was summoned to see the Don. By myself. Dominic wasn't allowed to come with me. Not that he cared to. He went from loving and caring to being cold and callous. When I went to see the Don, I saw one of the girls from his most successful strip club standing beside him, looking away from me. He told me to pay back what I owed him, I would be working with them from now on.
I cried that night again.
For the next two years, to pay back what I had borrowed, I worked the pole. They took the new farm girl with big dreams and hopes and just...crushed her. I was scared everyday, even when I had one of the girls with me. I hated who I had become. I slowly watched myself become this other person. I had become “Diamond”, my stage name. I had become a shell.
A few months after I turned twenty-one, they let me go. I knew there was something wrong with that. They didn't just let people go, knowing what I know. Being in the stripper business, rumors and secrets fly. And I knew a lot. Maybe they didn't know I knew, but I couldn't say.
They had Dominic let me go. He gave me a couple thousand and my old clothes back. He gave me some of the nicer things he got me while I was with him. Even that stupid necklace was buried in the pile somewhere, hidden from me. I had put it on his bed when I left, and he snuck it back into all of my things.
He told me he didn't love me anymore. He told me I wasn't worth the hassle. And that I would just get in his way. I took it all, sitting there in the car that would take me back to my parents' arms. I just let it wash over me that the one person I thought would always love me, just told me all of it meant nothing.
It was heart breaking. I left.
And I stayed with my parents for a year. That's when the monsters came up and emerged. I left for the city again, making sure I stayed away from that specific part of the city. I got a job at Grillby's, and...
Well, the rest is history.