I awoke startled and confused as I rolled over, hitting the snooze button. One eye open, threatening to close again, I looked at the clock.
6:12 A.M. I could feel Peaches, my Garfield looking cat perched at my feet. Peaches didn’t want to get up either. I hastily flopped my legs out of bed, reaching for my phone.
5 missed calls.
Sarah, this is Betty. I just wanted to remind you that your flight leaves at 10am, your ticket will be at the desk. Have a safe trip and call me if you have any questions.”
God, she was persistent. We had already been over all the details of this business trip yesterday. “Don’t forget to take notes” “Make sure you remember the outline for the business plan.
Yes, Betty, I have done this before, I thought to myself as lazily made my way to the kitchen.
The coffee was started while I rushed around trying to throw some powder on my sleepy face amid trying to figure out what to wear. Jeans and a hoodie would have to do.
“BEEP! BEEP!” The car service blared his horn in the front of my apartment.
Quickly, I grabbed my suitcase and purse to leave, but not before giving Peaches a quick pet and kiss.
It was just my luck, sitting next to a snoring, bald man who smelled whiskey and stale cigars. How could he be asleep already? And who drinks whiskey this early in the morning? The plane hadn’t even left the tarmac for God’s sake.
I settled in next to the window seat, preparing myself for the inevitably turbulent plane ride. The rainstorm upon us wasn’t going to be gentle and neither was the fact that I hadn’t been to San Francisco for 15 years.
Reluctantly, I had to rip off the band-aid off, exposing the scar that hadn’t see the light of day in a very long time.
Two hours later and a minor headache in the making, I found myself back in the city by the bay. A flash flood of memories came crashing in, fast and hard. Some good and some not so good. I suppressed them momentarily, making my way to the baggage claim. My focus had to stay where it needed to be: the girls.
With only 30 minutes to spare, I threw on my go-to black pants suit and flats. Gathered my long, dark hair in a bun with a touch of nude lipstick. The reflection in the mirror was composed, however, the feeling in my stomach was telling a much different story.
Pushing open the double doors of the conference room, I took a deep breath and plastered a smile on my face. Be confident, I told myself. I had done this hundred of times before but the voices from the past always tried to rear their ugly heads. Not this time. Not now.
I looked out at the twenty Law Enforcement representatives before me as I stood behind the podium.
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Sarah and I am here today to tell you about the non-profit organization called “Scarlet Door”. Scarlet Door was established in 1987 by a former prostitute, Betty Nicks, that now assists other girls and women that want to get out of the domestic violence situations. Scarlet Door partners with Law enforcement agencies in the Pacific Northwest and would like to expand to the bay area. In doing so….
Two hours later the meeting was over. As far as I was concerned it was a success. Contacts were made, and networking had been launched. After a quick video call with Betty, all seemed to be going smoothly, maybe a little too smoothly.
After a quick change of clothes, I found myself in the hotel elevator. I was looking forward to having dinner with my old friend, Allie. Allie had seen me at my worst 15 years ago and tonight, she would see me at my best.
A lot had changed since Ally and I had met that night at Johnny’s back in 2003. My career had flourished as did my growth as a person. I knew things now that I did not back then. I was the person I always wanted to be yet, there still seemed to be something missing. I was always trying to fill the void with something. Lately, it had been with work.
I bet Allie didn’t have the emptiness in her life. A good-looking rich husband, great kids and the huge house overlooking the bay. What else could a girl want?
As I pulled up to the restaurant and nervously got out of the car, I stopped and looked around. Familiar hang-out spots like Shanahan’s which had the best Irish beer was still there and some not so familiar places that had popped up over the years. Taking a deep breath, I walked towards the entrance. I couldn’t wait to see Allie but I was apprehensive because seeing her would bring up old stuff. Hard stuff. As I opened the doors, a brunette caught my eye, her back was facing me, but I knew it was her. I could’ve walked out and maybe I should have. Instead, I decided to open the door to my old life, a life that I had buried long ago.
And a life that would be unexpectedly resurrected.
I knew as soon as I walked into the smokey room, tonight was going to be a long one. Not yet 6:00 and the bar was packed. That’s Monday night football for you. The San Francisco 49ers were playing at Candlestick Park. This was one of those games they had to win in order to have a chance to even make it to the playoffs. All the fans, along with a few degenerates were at the bar, “Johnny’s.” A hole in the wall establishment that was not much to look at yet offered the best mozzarella and margarita combo around.
At the last-minute, Johnny called me in. One of the girls quit without any notice and he needed coverage. If it were anyone else, I would have told them to “fuck off” I was spending my Monday night curled up on the couch, watching my team. Not the 49ers. I was rooting for the Steelers all the way, but it was Johnny, my best friend, so yeah, here I am in the smoke-filled overcrowded bar, with freakin Nickleback blaring from the old yet efficient sound system, having to pull at least a six-hour shift.
“Look what the cat dragged in, ’bout time you made it.”
“You’re lucky I am here at all, my team is playing and you have me here with a bunch of drunks who are rooting for a losing team.
“Just get your apron on Al, I am backed up.”
I threw my long black hair into a messy bun, grabbed my faded black apron and went to work.
“What’s up with Heather, why did she quit?”
Johnny, doing a quick wipe down of the bar while grabbing a beer for a soon to be drunk.
“Hell if I know, she called and said she was done.”
“See John, that’s why I told you not to sleep with her, geez, you never listen!”
“Al, just check on the customers.”
That’s Johnny for you. He can never say no to a pretty girl. Johnny was one of the first people I met when I left Pitsburg and ended up in the city by the bay. I needed a job, he needed a waitress. Quickly we developed an easy flow. I mean once I shut down his advances that is. Over the last year or so, we became our own little family. Johnny was cool in “bad boy” kind of way, even though I enjoy busting his balls, he knows I will always have his back.
Shortly after halftime, it was not looking good for my team. Linkin Park was blaring, the bar was rowdy, and I was in a mood. The bells on our front door jingled, “Seriously, more people?!” In walks a young girl, all alone. Something was not right with this one. She was too “good” for this bar. Maybe she was meeting someone.
“Hey Allie, ya going to pour me another or do I need to do it myself.”
Bryan, one of our regulars. “You come behind my bar I will kick your ass, sit down, it’s coming.” I got Bryan his refill of scotch and soda while keeping my eye on this girl. Maybe she was lost?
She took her place at the opposite end of the bar, nervously looking around. Johnny made eye contact with me as he was cutting up limes. I gave him the “stay away from this one” look. Something was not right. Her dark brown hair was a stark contrast to her pale, matronly clothes. I gotta go with my gut on this one.
“How ya doing? Ya lost?”
Nervously, she looks up from the cocktail peanuts she seemed to be contemplating putting in her mouth.
“I’ll have a diet coke.”
“Okay, coming right up.”
I grabbed a low ball glass from under the counter and poured the girl a diet coke.
TOUCHDOWN SAN FRAN.
The bar erupted in applause, cheers, profanities.
The girl sitting in front of me jumped.
“Not a football fan are you?”
“I am, I guess, well, it is just so loud in here. I was not expecting it to be so busy.”
“You’re in a bar on a Monday night, in the heart of the season, what did you expect?”
As soon as Johnny saw I was talking to this young, naturally pretty girl he made a beeline our way.
“Anything I can help with?”
“Yeah, call Bryan a cab he is about done.”
“I’m Allie,” I said, as I offered my hand.
The girl, who looked to be close to my age, just with a hell of a lot more innocence, cautiously put her hand out.
“Hey Allie, I am Sarah, I am supposed to be meeting someone here but I do not see them.”