"I Can Dream About You" was just about ending, and Jess was singing to the music, making the most of the feeling of freedom she was wrapped in, swaying to the music, down to the very last note. At this point, the fact that she had a cute younger guy dancing with her was only icing on the cake. Between the three screwdrivers she had drank, and the added pleasant buzz brought on by the happy memories brought on by the great tunes, Jess could have very easily been dancing by herself and felt just as good. After twenty minutes of solid dancing, Jessie could feel her long hair clinging to the sweaty skin of her neck.
"You're a great dancer," the young man said, reaching out to squeeze her hand affectionately. "I could dance with you all night.."
"I'm afraid that will be out of the question.."
The perfection of the moment was broken by the possessive tone in Zach's voice, as he walked over, placing himself between Jessie and her dance partner.
"Do you know this clown?" the young man said, as he inched closer to Zach defensively.
"Hi Zach.." Jess mumbled, trying to gain a handle on a potentially explosive situation.
Countless nights in the past had ended in testosterone tinted displays of male bravado. No matter how much Jess had protested, once Zach felt his territory had been breached, there was no stopping him. What made this even worse was the fact that this wasn't some college bar somewhere, where it didn't matter what got broken. Dusk to Dawn was Mitch's place, and she would be damned if anyone, including Zach, was gonna mess it up.
"Party's over stud," Zach said, staring the young man down, slipping an arm around Jessie's waist. "The lady's with me.."
"The LADY," Jess interrupted, "was just having a dance or two with this nice gentleman.."
Jessie smiled quickly at Paul, and turned to face Zach, wrenching free from Zach's hold. "You're being ridiculous," she said, her words barely heard over the strong beat of the music, "I had a long day, and was just dancing to unwind."
What are you doing? Jessie thought. Why are you making excuses? You haven't done anything wrong? Hell, you KNOW Zach has done a lot worse. Visions of the scene that happened earlier, back at Zach's office, when she had dropped off the photos from the shoot, flooded into her mind.
'We just HAD to have you as part of our next issue,' Zach purred. 'Yeah.. sure gorgeous.. pass by later.. Dinner? That sounds even better.. sure.. I'll get the guys in the lab to rush the proofs so we can go over them together..'
It had been all Jess had to hear, for she knew exactly who Zach had been gushing over.. Candi Daniels. The latest in a long list of 'harmless infatuations,' Jess had to fight not to throw the canisters of film at Zach's head, knowing full well he had much more in mind in getting together with Candi than going over proofs.
Zach's temples began to twitch, letting Jessie know that things were definitely not over. "I understand, gorgeous, just wave your goodbye, and we'll be going.."
Paul looked down at Jessie's hands, as she tried to free herself again of Zach's grasp. Finding no ring on her finger, he decided that he would set the guy straight. "It seems to me like the lady has no intention of going anywhere with you buddy. Now let her go."
Jessie looked back at the bar, scanning its length for help. No Mitch. She had to stall, or things were gonna get nuts. "Zach.. Paul.. listen to me you barbarians," she said, tone escalating. "Stop it. I won't have it, do you hear me?" she said shoving the two men apart.
The ruckus was loud enough that it caught Sally's attention from across the room. Smiling sweetly, she set down the plates of food in front of the couple she was waiting on. "Be right back folks." Meeting Jess's gaze, she nodded and headed towards the back for help.
Sally stuck her head into Mitch's office, interrupting his conversation with Angel. "Trouble out front."
"What now?" Mitch sighed.
"Zach's about to go at it with some guy out on the dance floor," she sighed.
"I got this one," Angel chuckled, motioning for Mitch to take a seat. "I KNEW I got into the restaurant business for a reason," he grinned. "I love pounding lumpheads into submission."
Mitch nodded and sighed, as he watched Angel leave, with Sally close in tow. "Sall.."
"Yeah?" she said, turning around.
"You and Jess get the hell out of the way, okay? Let Angel handle it."
"You got it," she smiled, and left as quickly as she had appeared.
Jessie saw Angel appear just as Zach was landing his first blow on Paul's chin, sending him sprawling into other dancers. "ZACH! DAMMIT!" she yelled, pulling him away from Paul, "why does it always have to come to this? WHY?!"
Zach, adrenaline already pumping, was on Jess like a wild cat, grabbing her roughly by the wrists. "YOU brought this on Jess, not me," he barked into her shocked face.
"Ow..Zach..you're hurting me.." Jess winced, through pain clenched lips.
"And I'M bringing this to an abrupt end," Angel said, his own hand a vice-like grip now on Zach's forearm. "I suggest," he said calmly, "that you let the lady go. NOW."
At 6'4", Zach was a tall man, but next to Angel, who outweighed him by a good fifty pounds of pure muscle, he seemed far less daunting. And Angel was as tall as he was broad, his 611" frame an ominous presence on the dance floor, especially now, as he was threatening to make use of his size advantage, and toss Zach on his keaster. Slowly, Jess felt the pressure on her wrists subside, enough to pull free.
"Are you okay?" Jess asked, kneeling to help the dazed Paul to his feet.
"Yeah, fine.." Paul grumbled, brushing Jessie's hands away, and making a quick exit.
Jess then turned her attention back to Zach. "You HAD to do it, didn't you? Had to make a scene in my friend's bar. JERK!" she said, punctuating the word, with a jab at Zach's chest, feeling the sting in her right wrist only increasing with the blow.
"Woah.. Jess.." Angel said, "take it easy. It's over. .I've made sure of that," he said, staring menacingly down at Zach.
"No, that's just it. It's not over by a long shot," Jessie said sadly. Zach was calmer now, shoulders relaxing, as he ruffled a hand nervously through his hair. "Where ya goin' so spiffied up Zach?"
"I have.. a.. meeting," Zach stammered.
"Yeah, I bet you do," Jess said, meeting his eyes. But Zach looked away. "Yeah.. look away Zach. I can't stand to see what's behind those eyes.." and with that she turned on her heel, and ran, before the tears rising in her eyes spilled over for all to see.
"Let it be man, let it be," urged Angel, motioning Zach over to the bar.
gaze was the first thing she saw, savoring every gory detail of what had just transpired,
only making Jess want to flee all the more. Changing direction, she went the only other
place she could think of, to the safety and seclusion of Mitch's office.
Running into the back, she burst into the office, startling Mitch, who sat at his desk sifting throw paperwork. Leaning back on the door to close it, she let the threatening tears flow - hot tears - filled with frustration and betrayal.
"Jess.." Mitch whispered, shocked at his friend's show of emotion. "What happened?" he asked, watching as Jess tried in vain to wipe away the flood of tears.
"He's such a jerk," Jess whimpered, between sobs, letting herself fall into his embrace, as Mitch wrapped his arms around her.
Mitch let Jess cry, holding her tight, til he felt her tears begin to abate. She hid her face against the crook of his neck, resting her hands ever so softly against his chest. "You okay sweetie?" feeling her nod a silent response.
A moment passed before she spoke. "Yeah, but your shirt isn't," a giggled escaping her throat. "I blubbered all over it.."
Mitch smiled, glad to see Jess able to muster a grin after what had just transpired. "No problem. I had all the uniform shirts Scotch Guarded," he teased, releasing her slowly.
"Shuddup," she giggled, brushing the last tears away with the back of her hands with a flinch. "Ow.."
"Jess.. c'mere," he said, leading her to one of the chairs in front of his desk. "Lemme see," he said, taking a seat and pulling it to face hers. Gingerly, Mitch took Jess's right wrist in his hands.
"Nothing, huh?" he answered, with a frown, seeing pain flash in her eyes. "What did he do?" he asked, turning her wrist to see the bruises that were starting to appear through the swollen skin.
"Be a jerk as usual," Jessie sighed, taking a calming breath.
"Wait here, okay? I'll be right back."
A few minutes later, Mitch was back, a bar towel full of ice in hand. "No need to worry Angels got everything under control," he smiled, crossing back to her side.
"Who's worried?" Jessie lied, fidgeting like a frightened child, as Mitch started to press the ice pack to her wounded wrist. "There's really no need for this," she said, quickly.
"Let me be the judge of that okay?" Mitch urged, resting her hand on his knee, and holding the ice pack on her wrist.
Jessie ran her free hand through her hair, letting her hand relax on Mitch's knee, regaining her composure for the first time in the last few hours. "You're being very sweet," she said, face only inches from Mitch's, "but I'm okay really. You have a business to run..."
"Will you stop it?" chastised Mitch. "You come first. I mean look at this wrist," he said, lifting the ice pack off to show her. "It's really swollen, not to mention bruised. We should go get this x-rayed," he said, resting her wrist in his left palm. "Poor baby," he said, lifting her wrist to his lips and kissing it softly.
The feeling of his warm breath, the touch of his lips on the sensitive skin of her inner wrist sent a shiver up Jess's spine, and caused her take in a quick breath. Feeling her straighten up, Mitch instinctively looked up, bringing his face to within inches of her own.
Eyes locked, he watched as Jess's lips parted softly, felt her left hand rest against his knee, his own hand reach up to brush the stray lock of her from her face, when it happened. A kiss, a soft brush of lips against lips, that quickly deepened into a stirring mounting of emotion, accented by the mating of their tongues. Through closed eyes, he heard Jessie moan softly, as he let his hand follow the slope of her tear-stained cheek, down to rest at the curve of her neck, where he felt her pulse, strong and warm, beat.. beat.. beat..
The sound of the ice-laden towel hit the floor with a wet thud, ice sprawling free all over the floor caused Jessie to open her eyes, and break the kiss. "Oh God," Jessie gasped, getting up quickly. "What next?!"
Mitch was as
stunned as Jess had been at what just had transpired between them. Dazed, all he could do
was watch her race out the door, as he sat back in the chair, still able to taste her lips
The doors swung open from the back office and Angel watched as Jessie came running out, holding her right wrist up against her chest protectively, as she made a beeline for the exit. Noticing the streaks of makeup down her cheeks he realized she had been crying. Zach maintained his position by the bar, as Jessie approached them. Jessie looked at Zach just long enough to note that the anger in his eyes and was now replaced by a sorrowful expression. Turning away, she rushed past him, causing Zach to turn and attempt to follow her out. Jessie looked forward again and saw Angel, looming before the exit. Angel shook his head, his curly hair gently swaying with each shake. Jessie closed her eyes, and stepped a bit quicker.
Angel stuck out his left arm, blocking Jessie, his long arm like a barricade at a toll booth, his open palm, almost a stop sign onto itself. "Hang on there just a second," he said, as Jessie stopped before him. A large sigh came from her, as both her wrists came up to her forehead and covered her eyes.
Zach was right behind Jessie. "Jessie.." he pleaded, "look, I'm really, really sorry!"
Angels other hand came out, as he shook his finger at Zach, no. Zach stopped in his tracks, and looked up at Angel, feeling his eyes peering down on him sternly. "She's upset right now," Angel said, looking over at her wrists and seeing them swollen and red, "and obviously needs to see someone about her wrists."
"I'll take her right away.."
"You have a meeting to go to, uh.. uh.." Angel stammered, leaning over to Jessie, "what's his name?"
Jessie glanced at the ominous looking Angel. "Zach," she whispered.
Angel smiled, the ends of his mustache sprouting upwards, making his face a whole lot less menacing. Jess relaxed a bit, for the moment, grinning at how she could have ever been afraid of Angel, since at that moment the simple smile on his face made him resemble a teddy bear. "You have a meeting to go to Zach," Angel said, that smile still on his face, although to Zach, it seemed rather cynical. "I think you both need some time - alone." Jessie nodded, not looking at Zach. "Then it's agreed. I'll take her to see a doctor."
still for a moment. Enough had transpired that night already. The last thing he needed was
a confrontation with a hairy giant. "Yeah, I have to go," he mumbled, pushing
past Angel, and out the front door. Things were over. For now..
Jessie rubbed her wrists softly, favoring her right. Zach had really done a number on it, when he had yanked it back roughly back on the dance floor. It was redder and more swollen than her left, yet both were sore, and hurt whenever she bent them. She looked around the room from her perched position on the examining table, amazed on how quiet it was, especially after the night's craziness, the silence broken occasionally by the paging of a doctor over the hospital's public address system. Angel leaned up against the doorway, watching the paper shuffling doctors walk back and forth past them to pass the time.
"So.." Jessie said, looking for Angel's attention.
"So," Angel smiled.
"How long have you known Mitch?" she asked.
Angels arched his eyebrows, surprised by the question. He looked up at the ceiling, thinking for a moment, and began counting silently to himself. "Uh, about forever," he laughed.
Jessie nodded, and smiled.
"How long have you known Mitch?" parried Angel.
Jessie crossed her legs at the ankles and started to sway them back and forth, as she tilted her head backwards. "Uh.. " she mumbled, leaning her head forward again, "not as long as you have," she smiled. "A few years, maybe six tops. Two as close friends." Jessie rotated her wrists, trying to ease the throbbing pain. "We've known each other since high school, we just weren't well, close.. just acquaintances, you know? Friendly."
Angel smiled. "Yeah? Since school?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said, "we worked on most of the school literary projects together. Yearbooks, newspaper, literary magazine.."
"Mitch kept mostly to himself. He was quiet."
Angel looked at Jessie strangely. "He was?"
"Well, I guess he was," she said, "I heard he had his moments, going out all weekend, to some wild places.. I guess we just ran in different circles."
Angel walked over to Jessie. "Ah, I see," he shrugged. "Mitch wasn't a party guy, I didn't mean that," he laughed, "he just made a lot of stupid mistakes, made lots of bad decisions."
Jessie nodded. "Yeah, we met again because of the bar. I was on a photo shoot about two years ago, and needed to unwind, and just happened to stop in. Mitch was behind the bar."
"So.. how do you like the bar?" Angel asked.
"I love it," she said smiling. "Mitch is open to lots of suggestions, and really listens when someone sees room for improvement." Jessie shrugged. "Pretty good bartender too.. even remembers to wash the glass with vermouth when making a martini!" she laughed.
"Good!" Angel said, "so you like the place then, eh?"
"Definitely," she smiled, "Mitch has a good staff too," she said, "Sally is really nice, as well as the other waitress, Betty."
"Yeah, I met Sally already," Angel said, his eyes brightening up, "cute lil' one."
"Wait 'til you see Betty!" Jessie laughed.
"Really?!" Angel asked, "she's cuter?"
Jessie shrugged. "I don't know!" she said, "guess you'll judge for yourself when you meet her.."
"I'll do that," Angel grinned, slyly.
A cough came from behind Angel, who was in the way. "Excuse me."
"Excuse me!" Angel said, stepping to the side, allowing a tall, slender, blonde woman in a long white lab coat to enter the room. She looked Angel up and down in a long slow glance, and pushed her glasses back up to the bridge of her nose.
"It seems that.." the doctor said, flipping through papers in her folder, "Ms. Reynolds has a mild sprain in her right wrist."
"Well, that's good news," Angel said, "nothings broken."
The doctor glanced over Angel again. "However, it seems as if there's more of a problem than just a simple sprain," she said. "I don't want to offend you," the doctor said, looking at Jessie, "but you seemed.. distressed upon your entrance to the E.R." The doctor saw Jessie glance at Angel, who shrugged. "The x-rays showed no fractures or breaks in any of her bones, but her bruises are on the outside of her wrist, pointing to her wrist being bent back - forcefully?" she said, emphasizing the last word, almost in a accusatory way.
Angel felt a little uneasy, as the doctor stared him down. He had a good idea what the doctor was thinking - it wasn't the first time people made assumptions because of his appearance.
"I fell is all," Jessie explained, "I work as a photographer, and.. and I wasn't watching my step, and.. my face was in the camera, and.. I tripped and fell right onto my hands.."
"Yeah," Angel nodded, "she was just snapping away and fell over a rock.."
"In any case," the doctor sighed, "she's not to bend either wrist for a few days, in any position," she said, reaching into a cabinet for some supplies. "I'm gonna wrap your right wrist for you. Keep it wrapped til the swelling subsides.."
"Okay," Jessie answered, turning her hand palm up so that the doctor could start wrapping her wrist in stretchy tape.
"No stress on either wrist, at all," she said, slipping Jess's wrist into an Ace wrist support. "See the nurse on the way out for some pain medication."
"Got it," Angel said, walking over to Jessie, and helping her off the exam table.
this is a good a time as any for a vacation," Jessie smiled, "thanks doc."
"So, where shall I take you?" Angel asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
Jessie gazed blankly out the window of Angel's Honda. "I don't know," she shrugged, looking over at Angel. "Sorry, it's been a rough day."
"I know," Angel laughed.
"I guess back to the bar would be fine.. I could drive home from there," she sighed.
"Nope. Not an option," Angel answered, flatly.
"And why not?"
"Your wrist," he said, "doctor's orders. No stress, remember?"
"Okay," she laughed, "you gonna drive me home then?"
Angel smiled at Jessie. "Show me the way."
"You're in for a ride then!" she laughed, "we'd better get onto 95."
Angel whistled. "Some bit away?" he asked.
just quicker and easier," Jessie replied.
What seemed like an eternity passed before Mitch heard a knock at his office door. It was Angel.
"Just got back from the emergency room.."
"You took her?"
"Yeah, caught her as she was running out of here like a bat out of hell," Angel said, taking a seat. "Just a sprain. Doc sent her home with some happy-happy pills, and her wrist's wrapped up, but she'll be fine. Question is, will you?"
"I dunno man.. I dunno.." Mitch mumbled, from behind a foggy daze.
"Would you mind telling me what happened earlier?" Angel asked. "I'm not leaving here til I get an answer.."
"I don't even know what happened," Mitch sighed.
"A fight? Cuz if it was, that was the damn quickest.."
"No, no, no.." he laughed.
"So what did happen?"
Mitch closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair, sighing. "She kissed me."
Angel arched an eyebrow. "And that's a problem?"
Mitch leaned back forward in his chair, covering his face with his hands in confusion. "Yes, it is."
"Why?" Angel asked.
"Well for one, she and Zach are together."
"If you can call it that," Angel retorted.
"It doesn't matter what state their relationship is in," Mitch sighed, "things like this shouldn't be happening. Jessie and I are friends and nothing more."
"Well, she deserves more than that Zach guy," Angel laughed.
"Does she?" Mitch asked, turning his attention back to the paperwork on his desk. "Zach is not a great friend of mine, but he stills looks to me as a friend. And while he doesn't treat Jessie right all the time, the fact is they love each other, and I'm not going to be a part of ruining that for my wants."
Angel nodded. "But.."
Mitch shot a quick glance at Angel. "No buts."
"Whatever Mitch," Angel shrugged, "but I think you better start thinking things over a lot more. You just sit and let everything pass you by, and don't acknowledge anything." Mitch shook his head in protest, but Angel kept talking. "Sometimes Mitch, you ignore things, even when they land right in your lap." Mitch was ignoring him, making a big show of looking through the papers on his desk.
"Okay, be that way," Angel answered, flippantly.
Mitch could hear his friend was annoyed. He's just gonna have to deal with it, he thought. "Hey, Betty's just about finished with her shift. She came in after you were gone.." Mitch said, trying to change the subject.
Angel groaned at his friend's pigheadedness. "I'll go find her," Angel said, slamming the door behind him.
Mitch made sure Angel was gone before he let the quickly assembled facade crumble. Sighing from deep inside himself, he knew what his friend had said was the truth. Mitch swiveled his desk chair around towards the door, almost exactly like it was when Jessie was before him just hours before. Mitch closed his eyes, thinking back to Jessie's kiss. Was it a mistake? he wondered.
* * * * *
Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.