Elide glanced at the clock, trying not to wince from the pain. Eight hours on your feet would leave anyone sore, let alone someone with chronic pain. She resisted the urge to sit down, glancing up again. Fifteen more minutes.
The Crown was what some would call a dive bar, nestled in between a tattoo shop and a Mexican place in the crappy part of town. Complete with tacky royal imagery and about 15 different health code violations, it was still the only place with flexible enough hours within walking distance of Elide's apartment.
Elide limped back toward the kitchen, to see if there was anything she could do for the last few minutes of her shift. The current patrons had no need of her, half too drunk to be coherent and the other half roaring at whatever sports game was playing on the old TVs.
Cook caught her eye, and jerked her chin towards a heaping trash bin. "Trash needs taking out," she grunted.
Elide sighed, then began to tug the bag out of the bin. She hated taking out the trash, often overfilled so that it was uncomfortably heavy and needed double-bagging, but at least it got her away from the customers for a few minutes.
It was dark and gloomy outside, the only light provided by a dull streetlamp several meters away. Elide dragged the trash bag to the dumpster, then began the arduous work of shoving the heavy bag into the overflowing bin.
Turning around after her task, she jumped. A woman was leaning against the wall of the adjoining building, smoking. Taking a closer look, Elide couldn't imagine how she could have missed her before. She was easily the most beautiful woman Elide had ever seen. Elide guessed that she was Asian, and she had long, stunning, platinum hair. She wore a black leather jacket, and long, muscled legs ended at a pair of lethal-looking high heeled boots. The woman raised the cigarette to her lips and eyed Elide coolly.
Elide nodded awkwardly, and averted her gaze. This part of town, it wasn't uncommon to see people out smoking or doing something harder, even past midnight as it was now. She limped back into the bar.
Cook glanced up when she slid through the door. “Took you long enough,” she scowled. “Might as well get out of here.”
Elide grabbed her purse, checking that her wallet and phone were still inside. “Have a nice night!” she said. Cook just grunted and returned to her task of wiping down the greasy counter with an equally disgusting cloth.
Elide limped out onto the street, leaving the noise and smell of the bar behind her. She hated every single minute of working there, every handsy drunk man and the bastard who ran the place. But she had bills to pay and student loans to chip away at. Her uncle definitely wouldn’t help her. He didn’t even count as family, at least since he had thrown her out on the street when she was 18, calling her a useless whore. Aelin, her cousin, had offered to help cover Elide’s rent and tuition again and again, but had finally backed off after Elide said no for the fourteenth time. She wasn’t some poor orphaned cripple for Aelin to swoop in and save. She could take care of herself.
Elide shook her head, trying to clear it and focus on walking home. A woman walking these streets alone at night, especially a woman with a bum ankle, was too much of a target for Elide to be distracted. She often left the bar around this time or even later, and although walking home alone was dangerous, she didn’t have any other option. She couldn’t afford a car, and even her crappy old bike would get stolen if she left it behind the bar while she was working. She slotted her keys between her fingers, and tried to walk as fast as she could without hurting her ankle any more than necessary.
Almost halfway home, Elide glanced around and noticed a figure about 50 meters behind her. She quickened her pace as much as she could, heart racing. There was no one else on the street, and she was too far from home to try to run for it. And there were plenty of side alleys to be dragged into. She gripped her keys more tightly.
“Hey there beautiful! Can’t believe you’re all alone tonight! Need some company?” A quick glance behind her showed that the man was catching up to her. She tried again to speed up, but her ankle was failing on her. A throbbing pain grew steadily into sharp spikes that meant Elide would be sore for several days. She ducked her head and pretended not to hear the taunts.
A hand on her shoulder stopped her mid stride. She yelped and spun to see a man almost a foot taller than her, leering down at her. “Didn’t you hear me? What’s a pretty girl like you doing alone out here?”
Elide tried to subtly back away, hands trembling. “I- I’m, uh, on my way to meet my boyfriend,” she stammered.
He advanced toward her again. “Sure you don’t want my company until then?”
Elide backed up again, but her shoulders hit solid concrete. Shit. He’d backed her into a wall. She curled her fingers into a fist, aided by her keys sticking out between the gaps in her fingers.
His face twisted. “Really, bitch? You can’t take a fucking compliment?” He stepped forward again, almost pressed against her, and reached out.
“I think that’s far enough."
Elide’s eyes widened. It was the silver-haired woman she had seen earlier. She must have followed Elide from the restaurant, or just have happened to be in the area. Either way, Elide was happier to see her than she’d ever been to see anyone in her life.
“Fuck off, lady,” the man snapped. “Me and my girl here were just having some fun.”
“I doubt that,” the woman said, eyeing him coldly. “Now get away from her or I will make you do so.”
“Really?” he scoffed, turning away from Elide. “A bitch like you is gonna tell me what to do?” He advanced on her and raised his fist.
The woman moved in a flash, neatly avoiding his fist and jabbing him in the gut. When he doubled over, clutching his stomach, she grabbed his head and slammed it into her knee.
The man stumbled away, hand to a nose that was dripping blood. “What the fuck?” he shrieked, clearly having not learned his lesson and raring to go again.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” Elide glanced back to the woman and gasped. Her words were backed by the wicked knife she had drawn from seemingly nowhere, and the two women who had come to join her. A tall white woman and a short, stocky black woman bracketed her, all looking equally lethal.
The man, drawing up his last shred of common sense, turned tail and ran, though not without a few more curse words.
The silver-haired woman turned to the two others. “Follow him and make sure he’s learned his lesson.” She smiled cruelly as they jogged off at a steady pace.
Elide was still backed against the wall, trembling. The woman turned towards her, folding her knife and sliding it into her pocket. “I am Manon. And you are?”
“E-Elide. Um, thank you.”
Manon’s eyes glinted. “No need.” She gently took Elide’s hand in her own, then turned it to reveal the keys she held. “I wouldn’t recommend holding your keys like this. You risk damaging your hands even if you do land a punch.” She rearranged the keys and Elide’s hands. “Hold it like this, as you would a knife. Holding the key between your thumb and forefinger lets you jab and slash instead of just punching. And don’t forget hair pulling and scratching as well.”
Elide tried to digest all this, that this gorgeous woman, who she had just met, smoked cigarettes and knew how to use knives and saved her and now was giving her a self defense lesson. “Um,” she said.
Manon’s eyes flickered with amusement, though she didn’t smile. She stepped away. “Are you coming?”
“What? Where are we going?” Elide asked. Did this woman want something from her in exchange for her help?
“I was going to walk you home. Unless you had somewhere better to be.”
“Oh, um, thank you. I mean, you don’t have to. My place isn’t too far from here. I’ll be okay,” Elide stammered.
“Great. So it won’t be a long walk,” Manon said, apparently practicing selective hearing. “Which way?”
Elide pointed, and Manon set off at a brisk pace.
“Hold on, I can’t-” Elide tried to keep up with her rescuer, but her ankle, stressed from the events of the night, wouldn’t cooperate.
Manon slowed to match her pace. “What happened to your leg?”
“My ankle. Old injury, never healed right,” Elide replied, looking away.
Manon made a mhm noise, and they walked the rest of the way in silence.
When they finally reached Elide’s dingy studio apartment, she turned to Manon. “This is it.” She sighed. “Really, I just can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. And, um, thank your friends for me. I hope they’re okay.”
Manon smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m sure they are.”
Elide twisted her hands in the fabric of her shirt, not sure what else to say. “Well, thanks again.”
“Of course. It’s always fun to help a beautiful damsel in distress.” With that, she turned on her heel and stalked off into the night.
Elide gaped. Manon, who looked like that, thought she was beautiful? She must have been joking. Or trying to make her feel better after being assaulted. She shook her head, and headed into her apartment to start getting ready for bed. Though she doubted she would be able to fall asleep anytime soon, with the events of the night still swirling around in her head.
Sorry for the horrendously late update. I have given up hope of ever having a regular posting schedule. Sadly, my university classes make that impossible.
Elide did indeed get very little sleep that night, and spent the entirety of her university classes the next day alternating between yawning and daydreaming about Manon. It seemed the stuff of fairytales, a group of gorgeous women prowling the streets at night, hunting awful predators.
Elide had always been partial to fairytales. Her mother had read them to her before bed, her musical voice rising and falling to give voice to dragons and knights, princesses and toads. Marion read them to Aelin too, when she spent the night. They would reenact them the next day, Aelin playing knights and dragons and sorcerers, and Elide content to be the beautiful princess waiting to be saved. That was before, back when Elide still believed in magic, still believed she could be a princess.
When she still believed that a knight would come and save her.
Now, she knew that she was on her own.
She wasn’t doing too bad for herself, as a student with a job and her own place. Although the job could be better.
Elide pushed open the sticky door of The Crown, and was hit with a wave of stench and sound.
She limped to the back room, to put her phone and wallet in the locker, then tied her apron around her waist and pinned her nametag on her shirt. Another day, another long shift.
She zoned out for the next few hours, mindlessly bringing drinks and bowls of chips to drunk men who either didn’t pay any attention to her or paid too much attention to her.
Elide was thinking about the homework assignment due the next day - reading and annotating an article about gender roles in medieval England - when a drunk man pushed his chair out as she was walking behind him, spilling his entire pint of beer all over the front of her shirt. The guy muttered a quick, “Sorry” before stumbling off to find his friends.
Elide sighed. She still had a little over an hour left in her shift, and she didn’t have a change of clothes. So she would be sticky and smell like beer for the rest of her shift. She sighed again. There was always something.
She went into the back room to wring out her shirt and grab some napkins to mop up as much as she could. She wondered for the umpteenth time whether she could get another job, if she quit. She got through half of her shifts by fantasizing about quitting, about throwing a pint of beer in the owner’s face, or punching a guy who pinched her ass for the tenth time, and storming out victoriously. But she knew she wasn’t the type. So she came back, day after day, to the shitty bar with the shitty customers, and the only thing to console her were the paychecks. It would be hard to find a new job, what with her irregular schedule and lack of reliable transportation.
Finished drying herself off (although “dry” was a relative term), Elide limped back out into the main room, ready for another round.
She walked by a table when the man sitting closest to her yelled, “Hey sweetheart! Yeah, you, with the nice ass, we need another round!”
Elide gritted her teeth and managed to reply calmly, “I’ll be with you in a moment!” in her best customer service voice.
She sidestepped around him and set her tray down at the next table over. A voice behind her said, “You know, you would be well within your rights to punch him.”
Elide whirled. It was Manon, seated at a table in the corner of the bar. Elide just blinked, not sure what to say. So it wasn’t all a dream, then.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what I want to drink?”
“Um,” Elide said. Manon had tucked most of her hair behind her ears, but a single silver strand has escaped. Stupidly, Elide wanted to brush it back.
“I’ll have a whiskey, neat,” Manon said.
Elide started to nod, then frowned. “Did you come here alone? Are you driving back home?”
Manon looked amused, and replied with a simple, “Yes.”
Elide sniffed. “Then that’s a water for you. Ice or no ice?”
The corner of her mouth quirked up. “Ice.”
“Coming right up.” Elide spun and went straight back to the kitchen for Manon’s water, ignoring two other tables trying to flag her down. Elide hid the grin quickly forming on her face. There, take that, mysterious hot lady. Elide chanced a look backwards and saw Manon lean back against the wall, a bemused expression still on her face.
Two iced waters and forty minutes later, Manon left, with a nod in Elide’s direction. Elide tried not to be disappointed. There was barely twenty minutes left in her shift, and she’d half-hoped that Manon might stick around so she could get a chance to actually talk to the other woman. That was the whole reason Manon had come to the bar, right? Although most likely Manon was just checking that Elide was alive and well, given the events of last night. Elide might have done the same, in her position.
She waited on a few more tables, checking the time every minute until she could finally clock out. Elide sighed deeply as she walked out the door at the end of her shift, mentally preparing herself for the long walk home. Her ankle was sore, and she was looking forward to propping it up on a pillow and maybe watching an episode or two of something before falling asleep.
She stopped short. Manon was waiting outside the bar, leaning up against a hungry-looking motorcycle. Her deep black biker boots matched the dull sheen of her bike. Manon grinned when she saw her, more teeth than friendliness.
“Need a ride?”
Elide gaped. “What is this? Are you stalking me? Am I gonna wake up bound and tied in a warehouse?”
Manon raised a single eyebrow. “Am I not allowed to offer a friend a ride home?”
“I wasn’t aware that we were friends.” Elide considered. “How did you even know where I worked?”
“I know the man who owns this place,” Manon replied, which was only partially an answer. “Do you want a ride home or would you rather walk?”
Elide chewed on the inside of her lip. Surely if Manon wanted to kidnap or murder her, she would’ve done so when she had Elide alone the night before. In any case, there were worse ways to go than with a beautiful woman on her motorcycle. And her ankle really did hurt.
“Fine,” Elide said. “But I’m watching you.”
“I’m sure you are.” Manon swung her leg over her bike, then patted the seat behind her.
Elide warily approached the vehicle, then slid on behind Manon. She gingerly reached around Manon. Was she supposed to hold onto Manon? What about a helmet-
Without warning, Manon revved the engine and sped off. Elide yelped and clung tightly to Manon as the streets flew by.
Manon turned her head so Elide could hear her over the wind. “Hold on tight!”
This close, Elide could feel Manon’s words rumbling through her, and catch a faint whiff of Manon’s - perfume? shampoo? - something elegant and strong, almost masculine.
Manon took a corner sharply, and Elide tightened her arms around her. Despite the terror of the motorcycle ride - Elide was never one for stunts or unnecessary risks - she felt safe and relaxed with Manon.
She leaned into Manon’s warmth, grinning when she noted that Manon was going almost double the speed limit for this part of town. Manon’s hair was very soft. Elide closed her eyes for just a moment, pretending that this was something normal, something she could let herself have.
Manon slid to a stop in front of Elide’s apartment all too soon. Elide wished she had some sort of excuse to keep going, to prolong the ride. She remembered she was still wrapped around Manon and quickly withdrew her arms and leaned back.
Manon flipped out the side stand and hopped off the bike. She held out a hand to Elide.
Elide rolled her eyes and slid off the bike, albeit ungracefully. “Thank you for the ride,” Elide said. “Um, I could pay you for gas money, or-”
Manon shook her head. “Not necessary.”
Elide looked at Manon, trying to think of something else to say. “Well, okay then. Um. Goodnight, I guess.” She unlocked her door, then waved to Manon as she slipped inside. She closed the door and listened to the engine of Manon’s bike until she could no longer hear it.
Elide leaned back against the door and let out a huge breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. What a night.
She slung her bag onto her bedside table, then headed to the bathroom. She stopped as she passed the mirror and blanched. Had she really looked like that all night? Her shirt was crumpled and stained, and she still stunk of beer. Her hair was a tangled bird’s nest, made worse by the ride. Manon had no doubt taken her home out of pity, since there was no other reason anyone might react with anything but disgust at her current state.
Elide scrubbed her hands over her face. Well, on the bright side, at least she would never see Manon again and she could suffer this shame without anyone else ever knowing.
Manon would never want to see her again after tonight, after all.