They do not like me, and I am sure they are aware that the feeling is mutual. I am not like the other girls who work here. I am friendly, and I smile, but I do not laugh at their jokes. Most of the time I do not even understand them. Still, they have no reason to complain. I take their orders, and bring them their drinks and what passes for food here. My breasts are not as big as some of the other girls', but I wear the same uniform as they do, so the guests have something to look at, apart from my face. I am not good at reminding them of the "look, not touch" rule without getting rude and inviting rudeness in return, but I manage. I have to remind them, because the owner has only bought a drink and food licence, not a "drink and play" one, or whatever it is called, so she'd get in trouble if the serving girls misbehaved. I do not want trouble, not for me, not for her, so I behave.
Sometimes, when business allows me to relax, I look at the guests, and watch them when they look at me, or at the other girls, and I try to imagine what their thoughts are, their desires — if they could, what would they do with us? To us? What would they do to me? I imagine all kinds of things ... and I ask myself, do they know what I am thinking? And do we think the same?
It is just a game in my mind, though. Nasty incidents are rare. Since I've started to work here, there's been only one. There are candles on the tables, which provide what illumination there is, and a guy, for no reason, blew out the candle in front of him. Cathy took it and re-lit it and put it back in front of him, and he blew it out again. When Cathy lit it again, he said, so you want it to burn, and she said yes, politely enough. He was a big and heavy man, but he moved swiftly. He got up, gripped Cathy with his left arm around her back and arms, took the burning candle in his right hand, and held the flame to Cathy's nipple.
He was big and heavy, and he moved swiftly, but he knew nothing about fighting. It was easy to break his right arm. I have to give it to him, he didn't flinch. He let go of Cathy, and drew a knife with his left hand, so I kicked his feet from under him and broke his left arm, too. That he hit the corner of the table with his face when he fell and broke his jaw and a few teeth was just luck. He hadn't been one of the regulars, and he never showed up again.
The guests cheered me, because Cathy had been quite popular with them — her nipple was badly burned, though, and wasn't a pretty sight anymore even after it healed, and she had to quit her job. They cheered me that night, but we didn't become friends. And the girls, some of whom had previously tried to befriend me, now all keep their distance. I've seen them exchange glances and heard them whisper behind my back. They wondered why I had waited so long, as it seemed to them, before I had come to Cathy's rescue, why I had stood there — for how long? — as the flame consumed her nipple, as she was grimacing with pain, not daring to move, not making a sound. They never said anything to me, though. I've heard the owner come to my defense — "It's not as if any of you have done anything but stand there, frightened and shocked, and stare, have you?" she said to them. "Nor any of the men." For seconds, for an eternity, all had been frozen in a silent tableau. "Without her," she went on — meaning me — "who knows what else he might have done, you should be grateful to her." But they aren't. That night, they've seen something in my eyes, and it has frightened them. I know, because sometimes it frightens me, too.
I work long hours. My shift begins at noon, and I'm the one who stays behind after everyone else has left, around midnight, to tidy things up and get the place ready for the cleaners who come in the morning, before I lock the doors and walk home. It's a position of trust, and I have it because I've come with good credentials — almost a bit too good. The owner had raised her eyebrows when she'd seen them, and asked me why I wanted to work in such a lowly and remote place, for such a low wage. I wanted something quiet, I replied, and I liked the scenery, the beach, the ocean. And that I hoped for good tips. She didn't say I wouldn't get them, but she didn't have to say it, I had known it anyway.
The bar is the only building at the little bay with its sandy beach. It's a half hour walk to the small town, first along the shore, then across a little wooded promontory, and then down to the town and the harbor. From there, it's not far to the house in which I stay. I like the walk, both in the daylight hustle, and in the solitude and darkness of the night.
It has been a long day, I look forward to getting home, wash, and fall into my bed. I step outside. There is no moon tonight, but as always there are the torches, still burning, their yellow flames bright in the darkness. I lock the door, and pick up the little lantern which I need for my walk on a moonless night. To my one side is the dark ocean, to the other side, some 300 feet away, parallel to the shore beyond the reach of the light, are the skirts of the even darker wood. Wind and water are still, there is no sound.
There is no sound to warn me. When I hear them, it is too late.