And they say, "I saw the Devil with a smilin' face"
I wanna be where the shotguns spray
Where God gets high and the priests don't pray
How did I get roped into this? Sure, I was broke and kind of desperate for money, but I didn't know if I wanted to stoop this low to make some decent cash. Okay, yeah, it's not like I was working the street corner or anything.
I had worked as a waitress before but only if you count a four hour shift during a Friday dinner rush at an Outback Steakhouse. It only took a table of douchebags who complained about everything in hopes of a free meal and an unruly toddler who deposited his mac and cheese right on my brand new shoes to convince me that waitressing just wasn't for me. I didn't care about the promise of great tips. Nothing was worth that kind of hell.
So I guess the old saying about choosing beggars is wrong. Or at least it was before I moved out of the comfortable lifestyle of relying on my parents to help me financially. I was from a small town, one of the countless suburbs outside of Gotham and at 19, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.
Be on my own, find a job in some hip coffee shop and maybe meet one of those obscenely wealthy men. We'd fall in love, he'd whisk me off to Paris, propose under the Arc de Triomphe and I'd have my happily ever after. Well, it's been three and a half years and I'm no closer to that fantasy than I was the day I moved out.
What I was close to was eviction. Which meant my previous attitude toward choosing beggars was no longer valid. I was currently complaining to myself as I tried to close the gap between the two buttons of my white, uniform shirt. Of course, at such short notice, I'd been only able to borrow a white button-down from my friend and temporary coworker, Abby. Her chest was nowhere near as...well, for lack of a better word, ample as mine was. It was a curse, not a blessing as I'd been told all my life. Don't let them lie to you. Big tits were far more trouble than they're worth.
I blew out a frustrated sigh and looked up at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was almost funny how ill-prepared I was to do this job. I would be required to balance trays of fancy hors d'oeuvres and weave in and out of a crowd of ultra-wealthy elites when I could barely even get my damn shirt buttoned. It was official. I was a mess.
At the door, a knock made me jump and I smoothed my hair back, hoping the catering company didn't frown upon the bun I'd thrown it up in. I had tried to make it a fancy bun by tying a red ribbon around it with a bow. With a deep breath, I wrenched the door open and let it out a sigh at Abby's smirking face. She leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and looked down at my attire. "Hey, you clean up well, Jacobs."
I rolled my eyes and pointed to the open gap right where my chest stretched the fabric the most. "Yeah, real nice."
Abby laughed and pulled me by my elbow out of the bathroom and into the main foyer of the penthouse suite. The caterers had arrived an hour before the party was scheduled to begin to get everything ready. As waitresses, Abby and I were responsible for one thing and one thing only: not dropping our trays.
She'd given me the rundown earlier in the day. Smile, be friendly, only speak when spoken to and whatever we do, do not drop our trays. Which only made me more nervous. I wouldn't say I was a klutz, but I had my fair share of trips and falls in my life. And when I had a ball of nerves in my stomach as big as the entire city of Gotham, anything was possible.
Looping her arm around my elbow, she steered me through the entrance of the suite, around a sleek, black wall, and into the ultra, modern kitchen. A team of chefs were busy preparing the bite-sized treats and they barely looked up at us as we weaved around the sleek, marble island in the middle of the room.
Abby plucked one of the treats from a pan, ignoring the glares from the chefs, and popped it into her mouth. "Don't look so worried, Nat."
"Easy for you to say."
I sighed and followed her to a small room, possibly an office though for now it was designated for the crates of champagne and catering supplies. She turned to glance back at me with an arch of her slender brow. "How so?"
"You're used to this. Rich and famous people don't intimidate you anymore."
"That's because I don't let them. They're just people, Nat. They all pick their noses and they all shit just like us."
I crossed my arms over my chest and watched her rummage through the tiny, black purse she had carried in with her. She plucked something out of one of the inside zipper pouches and turned to face me. A little silver needle caught the light and I took a step back away from her. With a scowl, she pulled me closer and took my shirt in her fingers.
"Look, just concentrate on keeping that tray from spilling and by the time these assholes are all drunk, we'll sneak away and drink their fancy champagne in the closet." She winked and secured the gap in my shirt with the safety pin she'd conjured from her purse. Once she was finished, the pin well hidden, I looked down to admire her work.
"Thanks," I mumbled, smoothing my hand down the front of the shirt. "I could use some of that champagne right now, I think."
"Yeah right. You'd be stumbling around like a drunk after one glass. You know you're a lightweight."
I rolled my eyes and turned as she made her way back into the kitchen, grinning at me from over her shoulder. "You're never going to let me forget it, are you? I told you a thousand times, I'd never drank tequila before."
There was no way in hell I was going to be able to defend myself. Especially not in front of the snooty chefs still preparing their little pastry puffs and caviar crackers that probably cost more than a month's rent for me. They eyed us as we crossed back to the foyer and found the other waiters and waitresses waiting for the host to come out and greet us. As we waited, Abby ducked her head toward me.
"There's no chance in hell I'll let you forget it. You flashed the bartender and tried to get the cop's phone number--"
I waved a hand at her. "Alright, alright. I've heard the story thank you very much. Let's just get this night over with."
Abby straightened as an older gentleman, already dressed in a classy tux introduced himself as Bruce Wayne's butler. He was at the front of the room and we kept our distance at the back of the crowd. As he thanked us all for being so professional, Abby leaned down toward me with a smirk. "Just think of that cash you're gonna get."
I looked down at her rubbing her thumb and first two fingers together and rolled my eyes with a smile. Why else would I be wearing this shirt that was a size too small for my chest, uncomfortable Mary Jane's, and pantyhose? The cash was literally the only thing keeping me from bolting out the door. That and the threats I'd received from my roommate earlier that morning about paying my half of the rent.
I straightened and looked at the older gentleman as he informed us that we could use the bathroom in the back hall, as the main two restrooms would be for guests. His voice was friendly, accented and calming to listen to. Still, I couldn't help my thoughts drift off as he talked.
Maybe tonight would be the night that fantasy would come true. With all the millionaires in attendance, maybe I'd attract at least one of them. Hell, Bruce Wayne might even fall in love with me and offer to move me into his penthouse. The thought was laughable and I ducked my head to stare down at the scuff marks on my Mary Jane's.
All I had to do was get through the next five hours. By midnight, I'd be four hundred dollars richer and not facing eviction. And to think, all I would have to do was smile and balance food on a silver platter for it. Hopefully, I'd get through the night in one piece, snag me a millionaire, and pay my half of the rent.
The party was in full swing by 7:45, though no one had seen Mr. Wayne yet. Calling him Bruce felt too informal like I wasn't allowed. I hadn't spoken to a single soul aside from Abby and the other members of the wait staff since the party started. Not like I actually believe I would see or talk to him, but hey, a girl can always dream right?
What I had expected out of the night, was not what happened. Abby had been right. These were just people and I had no reason to be nervous around them. Mostly because I had no time and they basically saw me as a floating tray of champagne flutes and caviar. No one looked me in the eye, no one offered a thanks when they snatched up the goodies I was carrying.
But like I said, I really didn't have time to care.
As soon as one tray was emptied, I was right back in the kitchen to reload another and get back out there. And let me tell you, the uber-wealthy of Gotham city absolutely loved these tiny puff pastries. I didn't know what was in them, nor did I care. It must have been something equivalent to crack judging by how many they shoveled in their mouths. The more champagne they drank, the more they ate.
The only time of the night I did get a break, to stand at the edge of the kitchen, quiet as a mouse, was when Bruce Wayne did finally arrive. I couldn't see him through the crowd, but had heard the whispers from the group of women near me that it was him. He made his spiel about Harvey Dent, giving him a glowing declaration of support and as soon as the applause picked up, I was on the move again.
Half an hour later, Abby found me in the crowd. Her tray was empty and mine was getting close. Only two more champagne glasses to go. She eyed it with a quick glance and steered me back to the kitchen. "C'mon," she said with a sly smirk. "We get our break now."
Once we had disappeared from the crowd, she took my remaining champagne glasses and handed one to me. "Cheers!"
She downed it in one quick gulp and I did the same, glancing cautiously to the entrance of the kitchen just in case someone would see. Would Mr. Wayne get upset if he caught us drinking the champagne he paid for? Thankfully, no one caught us and I was able to gulp the entire contents in two swallows.
Abby glanced over her shoulder and dipped a hand into the opening of her shirt. When she pulled it back out, she had a small, rolled paper tube between her fingers. My eyes lit up and flickered up to meet hers. "A joint? Where did you get that?"
She ushered me into the room we had been using as a supply closet and shut the door behind us. A simple shrug of her shoulders made me arch my brow in suspicion and Abby rolled her eyes. "You never let me have any fun. Brad gave it to me."
"Brad? The head waiter? Wouldn't we get in trouble?"
Abby pinched the end of the joint between her lips and pulled a lighter from her pocket. She spoke out of the corner of her lips before clicking the flame on. "How else do you think we get through these things?"
She took a deep drag and held it in before passing it to me. It wasn't like I hadn't ever smoked weed before. When I first moved to Gotham, it was my favorite way to pass the time. But it got more expensive the less money I got and I hadn't had a chance to partake in quite a while. My tolerance would be low after the past eight months without it.
But as she held the joint out to me, blowing the smoke from her face, I figured what the hell. Half the people out there were drunk, probably had their own drugs hidden up their sleeves as well, and would never notice one measly joint shared between two people in a closet. I held it to my lips and took a drag, much bigger than I had intended.
Abby nodded with a grin. "Hell yeah! That's what I'm talking about." She took another drag and I blew mine out with a giggle.
For the next ten minutes, we passed it back and forth while impersonating all the snooty people we'd encountered so far. As she finished up a particular scathing impression of one of the ladies out in the party, I laughed and hung my head.
"You know," I started, feeling quite buzzed from the champagne and weed, even as low quality as it was. "I had this fantasy or whatever that I'd meet some millionaire tonight and he'd fly me to Paris and I'd live happily ever after."
Abby snorted and shook her head. "I've thought about that so many times at events like this. It never happens."
"It'll happen to you faster than it'd happen to me." I didn't know whether it was the weed or champagne that made me feel so down on myself. "You practically look like you fit in already."
"Oh, shut up." She set the joint down on one of the crates of champagne and stood from her seat to lean toward me. "You're gorgeous, you just have to tweak your look a bit."
Before I could stop her, she pulled at the strings of the ribbon and loosened the bun on top of my head. My hair fell around my shoulders and I blinked down at the dark, messy strands. Abby circled behind me to comb her fingers through my hair, dragging it all over to my left shoulder. She twisted the elastic band back around it to make a side ponytail and tied the ribbon back into a bow.
"Here," she said, holding out a tube of lip gloss over. "Use this."
I was much more compliant with her demands when I was tipsy and feeling nice and buzzed from the weed. No argument at all from me, which was rare. But my usual standoffish attitude had been dulled by drugs and I pulled the applicator from the tube with a slick pop that made me wrinkle my nose. The gloss was sheer, with a hint of pink hue and I spread it across my bottom lip before rubbing them together.
Abby moved in front of me once more and scoffed. "How are you going to get a millionaire sugar daddy with your shirt buttoned all the way to your neck. Gotta show them some of the goods, Nat."
I stared down at her fingers as she released the top two buttons of my shirt, which should have been enough and honestly, at the moment, I wasn't too concerned about. But she went one lower and my cleavage shown out from beneath the camisole I was wearing beneath it. "I can't show this much! They'll think I'm like a floozy or something."
"No one under the age of 65 says floozy anymore. And no one is going to care. These guys want to see some cleavage."
My breasts never had any place in my fantasy of meeting my future millionaire husband, but then again, maybe that's why it was still a fantasy and not reality. I only wish I had worn my nice, lacy bra instead of the one I had picked up at Walmart the last time I went home. Which was a year ago. This bra had been through it, but it was comfy and I didn't exactly expect anyone to see it tonight.
Abby put a glass of champagne in my hands and clinked hers against it with a smirk. She knocked hers back and I sipped, not wanting to risk tripping over my own feet and spilling a tray of food on some wealthy woman's designer dress. I didn't have the luxury of waiting for Mr. Millionaire to notice me tonight. I had rent to pay by tomorrow.
I opened my mouth to speak but was abruptly cut off by the sound of a blast from the party. My first guess was that someone had knocked over the pyramid of glasses that had been delicately perched for the centerpiece earlier in the night. Thank God it was someone else and not me.
Abby cursed and slipped the roach back into her bra, waving her hand quickly through the air. "God, Wayne is probably making a drunken spectacle of himself. C'mon, we better get out there and see what's up." I nodded and hurried out into the kitchen, snatching my silver tray from where I had set it on the island. I balanced the champagne flute I had sipped from on it and spotted the gloss around the lip.
Abby hurried on ahead of me and I paused right near the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the party to swipe my thumb across the smear of lip gloss. I'm not sure why, but at that moment, I thought that was a better course of action than to grab another glass and replace it. The alcohol and weed had seriously clouded my judgment.
The party had gone silent and I shook the fallen hair from my face as I rounded the corner of the wall. Abby was nowhere to be seen, but I figured she moved to get a better view of whatever was happening. A woman and a man in front of me stepped to the side, as if they were shrinking back into the wall out of fright, and I was given a sudden front row view to what was going on.
My gasp was the only sound in the room and I stared, eyes wide and glossy lips parted in complete and utter surprise. A small crowd of men had moved into the penthouse. Most of them had masks on; clown masks, to be exact and they were all toting guns or various weapons. But it was the man right in front that drew my attention and refused to let it go.
"Where is Harvey Dent?" His voice was like gravel and it immediately made my fingers tighten around the tray I carried. This was the guy people had been talking about, the one who had robbed the bank and walked away with millions of dollars. "Hmm? Where is he?"
The Joker turned in a full circle and plucked one of the shrimp skewers from a plate. He popped the garnish it into his mouth and chewed noisily while strolling down the line of people who gaped at him in terror and shock. He was too close to me. Only a few feet away and I tried to inch back on my heels but was stopped by the woman behind me. She didn't want me to move seeing as how I was shielding her from the Joker's attention.
My head was swimming. I could feel my heart thumping against every pulse point on my body and if I survived this, I swore to any deity above that I would never smoke weed or work catering again. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and pretend that this wasn't happening but he was making his way up the line and he reached up to take a man's face in his hands, turning his head this way and that while questioning him on Harvey Dent’s whereabouts.
He released him and I watched his hand, gloved in black leather, drop down to where I held the tray in front of me as he moved closer. The champagne flute was snatched roughly from where I held it and the majority of the contents spilled out. A few drops caught across my jaw but I barely noticed, too scared to even feel at that moment. I stared as the Joker brought the glass up to his lips--scarred and swollen and so red --and then he paused. The smell of him was suddenly everywhere and no matter how hard I tried to keep myself from breathing him in, it was useless. Sweat and gunpowder and something I couldn't quite recognize, though it was familiar to me. It was the strangest combination of smells I had ever experienced and it was unrelenting.
It may have only been half a second, barely any time at all, but for me, in my inebriated state, that half a second seemed to stretch into oblivion. My eyes lifted from the glass, still resting against his bottom lip, and met his dark gaze cutting right through me. How could someone's eyes be so black? It wasn't natural and as he narrowed his gaze and turned his head to face me, I felt my stomach drop while my heart leapt into my chest.
It was my chest that had caught his attention. The Joker's gaze fell from my face, pausing briefly to the droplets of champagne rolling down my jaw before he spied the loose buttons of my shirt and the cleavage beneath. It was only a sweeping glance, no ogling or lecherous gaze, but it was enough to make me feel as if I were suddenly twice as small. Like a mouse that spotted the cat stalking it. His tongue quickly swiped at the corners of his mouth and it surprised me that it was just as red as the paint on his face. And just when I thought I would pass out from the lack of air in my lungs, he tossed the glass over his shoulder and in the same motion, reached up to wipe away the drop of champagne on my face with his thumb.
I swallowed tightly and time returned to normal in a rush of sound that was like a freight train in my head. A man was speaking a bit further away, trying to be brave in the face of so much terror, but I barely heard a word of what he said. I was frozen to the spot, trembling from head to toe while the spot on my chin where his glove had brushed against felt as if it were on fire.
I gulped in a breath that did little to calm me and the need, some desperate, primal urge to run was so strong inside me that it left me feeling nauseous. I turned with my tray still in my hands and shoved my way backward into the group of women who were cowering together. They could stand there and cower. I had to get out of here, had to breathe air that didn't smell like him.
Behind the group of women, a hand gripped my elbow and I gasped. Thankfully, it was Abby's face I stared up into and she put a finger to her lips, wrenching me back toward the kitchen. "We have to leave," she hissed. “It’s only a matter of time before they start killing people and I don’t want to wait around for that.”
I could feel how hard her fingers were shaking around my elbow. I didn't argue with her. I wanted to leave just as badly as she did.
Why did I agree to this job?
I could be at home, packing my things and moving back home to my parents as a failure. As a safe, alive failure. Yet, this was where I had found myself; a penthouse suite, dressed in a ridiculous uniform that showed far too much skin, unable to get the smell of him out of my head.
Abby steered us behind the kitchen to the hallway where we had been designated to use the bathroom. Perhaps there was a back door, an emergency exit that we could use to escape, to run away and never look back.
"Hey!" A voice, rough and deep, called out from ahead of us, and I looked up with a gasp. One of the men in a clown mask marched toward us, shotgun barrel aimed right for me and while I still held the tray in front of me, I doubt it would offer any protection in the event of a blast to my chest. "Get back in there!"
"I'm sorry," Abby said with a sniff. "We were just trying to--"
"I know exactly what you were trying to. Get back in there."
We turned on our heel and let him push us back into the main area of the party. Something was happening, a fight from the sounds of grunting, and I shook my head. I didn't want to go back.
I looked down at the tray in front of me and had a brief thought that if I could turn fast enough and hit this bastard in the face with it, I could maybe get the gun. But then what? He wouldn't be knocked out by it and he was twice my size. He'd kill me just for trying to fight him.
A gunshot rang out and Abby screamed beside me, her hand flying to her mouth. Glass had shattered and the sound of the fight had come to a grinding halt. With the barrel of the shotgun at my back, I stumbled forward and found the sleek, black wall separating the kitchen from the living room. The henchman who had found us broke away and I sighed in relief to not feel his gun at my back.
And then the screaming started. It was everywhere and I hugged the only security I had found to my chest, hoping that the silver tray would at least slow any bullet down if I were to be struck by one. A man, pulling at the elbow of a woman in a gold gown, came around the corner of the wall and knocked into me hard. I spun and stumbled back, my hands reaching out to catch myself before I could fall. The tray fell to the ground in a clatter that seemed twice as loud as the screaming.
Behind me, a shotgun blasted in the air and a rush of men in clown masks pointed their guns at the crowd to get away from the elevator doors. But it was who strolled behind them that I was suddenly hyper-aware of. He moved as strangely as he looked, all hunched and slow as if he were in no hurry to actually leave. And judging by him taking a moment to pick up another shrimp skewer from an abandoned tray, he apparently wasn't in a hurry.
His eyes, those impossibly black eyes, swept across the hall and found me once more, making every muscle in my body seize tight and refuse to budge. I pressed myself hard into the wall at my back and as much as I tried to get it to swallow me up, I remained in place until he was right in front of me.
Every tiny breath I sucked in brought his scent into my head, assaulting my mind and etching itself into my memory forever. He towered over me and I could only just make out the shotgun he held loosely at his side out of the corner of my eye. His narrowed eyes swept over me, studying me, watching and waiting.
When they flickered back up to meet my gaze once more, he smiled . It was just a quick twitch of his mouth that I tried not to stare at and an even quicker flick of his tongue that brought my gaze to it. There was no warmth to his smile whatsoever. It was the kind of smile someone gives when they know a secret.
With his free hand, he reached up and curled his fingers around my ponytail. I half expected him to jerk my head back and put the shotgun beneath my chin but he didn't. His fingers moved around to the bow Abby had tied in my hair and I watched as he pulled at one of the red, silk strands until it loosened and fell away from me. And with that, he turned and I was left to stare after him.
He didn't look back.
His men rushed around him, threatening anyone who tried to interfere with their getaway with a gun pointed at their face. No one tried to stop them.
My mouth had gone dry as a desert and my head was swimming with dizziness. I was safe, now that he had left me alone and they were leaving. But I didn't feel safe. I felt as if he had taken a part of me with him.
As he stepped into the elevator and turned to face the crowd once more to say his goodbyes, I could only stare at the strip of red ribbon hanging from his hand. It stood out in contrast against the rich purple of his jacket, like a flag waving back to me. And though I had no way to know for sure, I could feel it deep down...It wasn't goodbye .
It was until next time.