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Author’s note: Thank you for all your messages over the past few months. I’m back with a new story I hope you’ll enjoy. This will be released in a handful of installments. -FFF

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“Every brush stroke has a certain tension, a certain nervousness. Every brush stroke is, in a sense, some kind of an accident.”

–Raphael Soyer

Chapter One

Part of me has missed these first moments of a Manhattan snowfall. When the light flakes covering the city and park make everything look so quiet and peaceful that I can almost forget I’m actually in an urban jungle.

What I haven’t missed happens about ten minutes after that first snowfall. When the city’s grime settles into the ice on every block and cars drive too fast down each avenue, sending up a mix of gravel, ice and dirt onto unsuspecting pedestrians.

Maybe if I’d come home more often–or ever– I’d also have remembered the other constant of a New York winter– stepping off a sidewalk, not knowing if the black ground below is a puddle of ice or cement.

And right now, as I shake out my wet pant leg, I’m reminded once again why I live in LA where fifty degrees is considered freezing, and ice is reserved for overpriced lattes. Not that the weather is the reason I moved, but in this moment, as I feel the cold ice seeping down into my shoe, it seems like a pretty valid one.

Grumbling under my breath, I round the corner of 5th avenue and as soon as I do, I can see a green neon sign up ahead. Even though my pant leg is soaked, and this entire city seems to put me in a bad mood, the familiar site warms me a bit. The Runaway Pub will always be an oasis for me in this city, even if the rest of it feels like a stranger now.

I’m hyper aware that being out in midtown means I could easily run into one of Jennifer’s posse– or Jennifer herself– but luckily, it’s a Wednesday and Jen isn’t the mid-week party type. Not that I can really say, I guess. I haven’t seen the woman or this city in four years.

I don’t let myself think about Jen much these days and I’m surprised by the sudden wave of anger that ripples through me. I close my eyes and take a deep breath before letting it out and looking back up at the sign.

In LA, it’s easy to block out memories of her and the parts of my family I don’t want to think about. But being back here on the exact street where we spent so much time together, makes it hard to push everything into the “New York City” drawer I keep locked away in my mind.

As I approach the door to the bar, I do my best to shake off the feeling. Jen and my brother aren’t here, and I’m going to try to enjoy my night. After all, it’s probably the only one I’ll get alone until I head back to LA. If I know my sister, she’ll be taking up every second I have over the next two weeks.

With a new resolve, I push open the door to the bar I spent more of my 20s than I did in my own home. The first thing that I notice is that four years has not been enough time to change anything about the place. It looks as grungy and rundown as it always has, which is part of what I always loved about it. After spending so much of my life in homes and hotels that felt like museums, The Runaway was the first place I ever felt truly free.

I let my eyes adjust to the darkness of the space as I take in the familiar setting and the first thing they settle on is the expansive brick wall, which is set across the room from the bar. I can’t help but smirk at the sight as I remember all the times I was pushed up against that wall–or pushed someone else up against it. It’s easy to get away with when the bar is packed with dancing bodies at one in the morning. As of now though, it isn’t even nine o’clock and there are only a few people mingling about. Upstairs where the seating is, I can see a few more groups occupying the tables and chairs.

“Well look what the cat dragged in. Charlie-fucking-Dawson.”

The moment I hear my name, I turn to the bar knowing just who I’ll find– I’d recognize that deep, baritone voice anywhere. And it’s only now that I feel the first genuine smile reach my lips since I landed in New York this morning. Smiling back at me is the broad, slightly wrinkled face of Darcy Slater.

“Well, hello,” I say, walking over to her at the bar. “You know, I expected a bit more fanfare than an empty bar.”

“There would have been had we known you were coming in,” Darcy replies, resting her muscular arms on the bar in front of her. “Or heard from you like, ever.” Darcy keeps the smile on her face but she’s an open book and I can see a flash of hurt cross her eyes as she says it.

Four years ago, I didn’t think twice about the people I left behind– I just needed to get out of the city and somewhere completely new. Somewhere that didn’t remind me of Jennifer or my parents around every corner. And the truth is, I’ll be leaving again as soon as I can.

“You know me,” I respond with a wink. “Too busy wining and dining the rich and the famous out west.”

Deflection kocaeli escort is easier to me than breathing and luckily, the hurt expression that I could see briefly in Darcy’s eyes is gone as she lets out her familiar bark of a laugh. “Of course,” she replies. “It’s good to see you, Charlie.”

“You too, Darcy.” I move onto one of the bar stools just like I used to while Darcy grabs a bottle of bourbon. She holds it up to me in silent question and I give a quick nod. “How’s Alice?”

“She’s good. I’m sure she’d love to see you. How long you in town?” she asks as she slides the drink in front of me and clinks it with her own.

We both down our drinks in one gulp and she moves to pour me another. The entire scene is so familiar that it almost feels like I never left town. As if things never changed and the old crew would come barging in any minute.

I take a sip of my fresh drink before answering. “Three weeks,” I finally say. “I’ll be tied up with family stuff mainly, but I’ll try to stop in. Kat’s getting married.”

I hate lying to Darcy, but I also know this is the only time I’ll be in The Runaway while home. I barely convinced myself to come home in the first place, but I love my sister and would never miss her wedding– even if it did mean I’ll have to spend an extended period with my brother.

Darcy gives me a long look as if she can read the truth behind my words, but she doesn’t say anything. She’s never been one to push a conversation–probably something she’s learned being a bartender for so many years. If Alice were here, she would definitely push me, so I’m thankful it’s only Darcy tonight. Wednesdays are quiet at The Runaway.

It was in this bar that I met Darcy and her wife Alice. Ten years older than I am, Darcy and Alice, along with their crew, liked to think of me as their lesbian protégé. They were there to witness everything– from my early days of fumbling through horrible pick-up lines that never worked to the much more relaxed woman I am now. And as I look at my old friend, guilt suddenly washes through me. I could have at least texted them once in a while instead of dropping off into oblivion. I make a promise to myself that I’ll try to stop by the bar one more time before leaving town.

“And how is the family?” Darcy asks.

I buy myself some time by taking a sip, but I instantly feel a knot forming in my stomach at the mention of my family– something that doesn’t happen as much in LA where I’m surrounded by people who know nothing of my family name. In LA, I’m just Charlie Scott– my mom’s maiden name. The name Dawson is nowhere to be found.

I’ve only been back in town for seven hours and yet everything here seems to be a reminder of my parents. This city will never let me forget that it was theirs. And that they’re gone.

“Fine,” I say, not elaborating as I turn on my stool and look around the empty bar.

Luckily, Darcy doesn’t push the topic. “And will you be on the prowl tonight? Should I warn the masses?”

I turn around to the bar with my usual smirk back on my face. “I’ve moved on to the LA market now.”

“Oh, you mean blonde yogis who drink green smoothies for all their meals?”

“No,” I say defensively. “They’re not all blonde.”

Darcy lets out another loud laugh. “Well, whether it’s the sun or the smoothies, you look a hell of a lot better than you did when you left here. So, cheers,” she says, pouring me another drink. I hold up the drink in thanks right as a group of women come into the bar laughing. As the group approaches the bar, Darcy puts out some coasters before turning back to me.

“You going to stay a while?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d drink this upstairs and watch the parade for a bit.”

Darcy gives me a quick nod before turning her attention to the new group of women, who have moved in closer to make their orders. One of the women, a pretty redhead with loose curls, gives me a not-so-subtle once over and lingering smile. I return the smile but don’t stop on my journey to the staircase. Maybe I’ll come back down and chat with her in a bit, but that wasn’t really my plan for tonight. I’ve shared enough drama with this city for one lifetime.

An hour later and I’m feeling the effects of the alcohol as it warmly courses through my body. Switching to beer from bourbon was probably a good idea considering I have to be up early for a fitting for Kat’s wedding.

The Runaway still isn’t as busy as a Saturday night, but by now, there are a handful of women on the dance floor downstairs, giving me something to watch as I sit there. Since being in LA, I’ve heard that most other lesbian bars in Manhattan have closed, so I suppose even on a Wednesday, this is the only place for some women to come where they won’t be hit on by clueless men.

I know I should stop drinking, even if it is only beer. The more I consume, the more the idea of talking to the cute redhead downstairs sounds appealing. The woman hasn’t stopped glancing up at me since I came up here and I’m not usually one to kocaeli escort bayan hold back when a woman is so obviously interested. Especially one whose shirt keeps moving suspiciously lower and lower throughout the night, leaving her cleavage on full display from my vantage point.

When my self-control loses out over the amount of alcohol I’ve had, I direct a flirtatious smile down to her, but as soon as I do, I hear Darcy’s deep voice behind me.

“I’d stay away from that one. Bit of a loose cannon. She dated Jessie.”

Darcy nods down to the redhead as she sits and sets down two fresh pints of beer in front of us.

“On the house,” she says, clinking her glass against mine.

“No, you should let me pay. Might as well use my family’s money to buy drinks.”

“Except your brother cut you off.”

“Just from the Dawson trust. I still got the money from the sale of my Manhattan apartment and gallery. He can’t touch that.”

“Don’t you think your parents would have words to say about him taking your inheritance away?”

I’m not surprised she asked the question. I left so quickly four years ago that my entire group of friends probably has a lot of unanswered questions. But the last thing I want to do tonight is talk about all that.

“It doesn’t matter. They’re dead,” I reply.

Darcy is quiet for a moment and I can feel her eyes on me, but she doesn’t say anything else about my family. “And how’s the gallery?” she asks after a moment.

I take a sip of my new beer before answering. “Turns out when I can’t milk the Dawson name, it’s a little harder to get visibility with the right buyers. It took a couple years to get any real names in, but it’s doing well now.”

I’m again grateful that it’s Darcy sitting here and none of my other New York friends, who would be peppering me with questions. After a moment, we fall into an easy silence as we look down at the dancing women. The redhead is now blatantly staring at me and doing some odd dance that I assume is supposed to be enticing but only makes her look like she can’t control her limbs.

Darcy lets out a small snort as she watches the woman before she turns her attention back to me. “So, little Kat’s getting married? It seems like yesterday she was a 16-year-old asking me to serve her booze.”

“She hasn’t been 16 for 12 years, Darcy.”

“That means I’m 12 years older too,” she says with a shake of her head. “Let’s just pretend.”

“I’m good with that.”

“Have you met the husband-to-be?”

I nod. “They’ve both come out to visit me in LA a few times. Jake’s cool. He’s a vet too, which is kind of cute and kind of gross. They opened a clinic together downtown. But he’s great to Kat and hates Ian, so he’s good in my book.”

“And how’s the hotel business?”

I take a deep breath instead of doing what I want to do, which is to roll my eyes–as I seem to automatically do any time my family’s company comes up.

“I get updates I don’t need through my uncle,” I say once I let my breath out. “But my brother runs that show now and you know how I feel about him.”

Darcy gives me a small, knowing smirk. “So, I assume things haven’t improved on the Ian front?”

“Ian is still a spoiled, conservative jackass. Nothing will ever change that.”

“How’s the gang?” I ask, hoping to change the subject.

Like always, Darcy’s wise eyes convey more than she says, but she takes my cue and moves the conversation along. “They’re good. Everyone’s being super gay. Making babies and growing urban gardens and shit.”

“Wait, who?”

“Nora and Flo on the babies and Jessie on the garden. Oh, and Cam moved to Long Island, so we see her almost as much as we see you.”

“What about you and Alice? Any baby making?”

Darcy laughs and looks around. “We have one. You’re sitting in it.”

We continue to catch-up about old friends and though the conversation flows easily, I can also feel an unspoken tension between the two of us. I’ve felt so disconnected to my life in New York and have begun to equate it so heavily with my parents and Jen that I don’t know how to feel at ease– even with someone I’ve known for so long.

“Everyone misses you,” Darcy finally says.

I let out a harsh laugh. “I’m sure that’s not the case. I was an asshole for just leaving the way I did.”

“We all understood. Are you happy out there?”

“I think I am, yeah,” I respond with a shrug. “As big as Manhattan is, it’s always felt a bit suffocating. Now, I have a gallery that’s all mine and women who are interested in me for more than my family’s money.”

“They must be desperate artists then because we both know it’s not your face they’re after. I see you only got worse looking.”

I smile in response knowing that Darcy is just teasing me. I would be completely blind not to notice the way most women react to me and LA doesn’t seem to be any different to New York. Growing up, I was always jealous of Kat and Ian’s resemblance to our mom. The twins both have gorgeous kocaeli escort dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin that gives them a sophisticated and elegant look. I’m my dad’s daughter through and through. We both shared the same dirty blonde hair and light brown eyes. With my slightly wild, shoulder length hair and tanned skin, Kat has always said that I look like I belong in California.

“Did you forget that I’m both attractive and charming?” I tease back.

“True. But what I really love is your modesty.”

I look at my watch again and see that it’s almost eleven by now. I know I need to make my exit before I drink too much more and make a bad decision. A feeling that only intensifies when my eyes land on the drunk redhead downstairs. But right as I’m about to turn to Darcy to say my goodbye, I see a woman enter the bar alone.

All at once, the time of night, my reason for being in New York, the redhead, and even Darcy sitting next to me fade into the background of my mind. My body feels like it’s been in some sort of coma and has suddenly come to life all at once as I look down at the striking woman.

I scoot forward on my chair so I can lean against the rail, trying to get a better view. I watch as the woman gracefully sits down at the bar and orders a drink. Everything about her screams sophistication and class. From her straight back to the hands resting politely in her lap, this woman doesn’t fit in at The Runaway and I’m not actually sure where she would fit in. She has an elegance to her that most modern women just don’t possess. My quick analysis is only solidified when the bartender slides a glass of white wine over to the woman. I love Darcy and The Runaway, but ordering wine there? No, thanks.

I continue to watch her, noting that she seems to have an easy confidence and authority about her. She lazily glances about the room with a look of subtle boredom on her face– almost as if she’s beyond any of the silly women dancing and laughing together around her. And to be fair, with a face that perfect, she probably is.

And though I promised myself I’d behave and keep a low profile while in New York, I also hadn’t counted on someone like this walking into the bar tonight. In this moment, I can’t remember anything in my life that I’ve wanted to feast my eyes on more– and I work in the art world for a living. This woman’s face is impossibly beautiful. As if every feature was meticulously designed by an artist.

From all the way up here, I can’t see the color of the woman’s eyes, but I can tell that they’re light. Her face is angular, but not fierce and her long flowing brown hair looks like it was just styled by a professional. Her black pants and emerald blouse are simple, but I can tell even from this vantage point, that they’re expensive.

“Who’s that?” I finally ask Darcy, trying to keep my voice neutral.

Darcy looks down to the bar as she finishes off the rest of her beer. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen her before.” She looks up at me with a raised eyebrow. “But I know that look.”

“I don’t have a look,” I defend weakly.

“She looks like Jennifer.”

I scoff at that. “She looks nothing like Jen.”

“Different hair style, much taller. And brunette. But she’s got that same snooty look to her.”

I ignore the comment as I look down at the woman again. Mainly because Darcy is right about my type. Though Jen hadn’t been some conquest I sought out– we had been best friends since freshman year of art school. I didn’t even think I had a type back then.

The beautiful stranger is now watching the dancing redhead and her friends with what appears to be an amused expression and she must notice the redhead’s attention on me, because a moment later, she’s looking directly into my eyes. And it’s a good thing we’re across the room because the second our eyes meet, and I can see the clear blue of hers, a noise I don’t even recognize comes out of my mouth.

When the woman doesn’t look away immediately, I lift my drink in a silent toast and try to stop the slight shake I can feel in my hand. Her eyes dance with amusement, but her lips remain stoic. Kissably stoic. She then turns around so her back is to the crowd and begins to drink her wine alone.

“Smooth,” Darcy laughs from beside me. “I think you just got rejected before you even asked. You must be losing your touch.”

I simply shrug my shoulders in reply and remind myself that I’m not looking for a hook-up tonight. Besides, I’m surrounded by beautiful women in LA. Maybe not this heart-racing-dry mouth-inducing kind of beautiful, but it’s not like I’m hurting for female attention.

“I have to head back down. I’ll send Lee up with another round when you give me the sign,” Darcy says, pointing to my half empty beer as she gets up from her chair. I give her a nod in thanks, but my attention is still focused on the back of the woman downstairs.

Half an hour later, I have a fresh beer in front of me and am one step past tipsy. I continue to steal glances downstairs at the brunette, but the woman still has her back to me. Finally, when I’ve resigned myself to the fact that she isn’t going to turn again, I know I should head home. But right as I’m about to get up, I can see the redhead from downstairs approaching my table out of the corner of my eye.

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