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The Dollhouse, Atlanta, Georgia
This was the last place Quentin wanted to be.
The alcohol wasn't so bad. It was the loud crowd and his obnoxious friends that were grating on his nerves, a first since he'd dedicated most of his life to partying and seducing beautiful women. Now he was off his game.
"You sorry son of a bitch!" Some guy who didn't like Quentin putting the moves on his girl grabbed Quentin's shoulder and spun him around and then crashed his fist solidly against his jaw.
Pain exploded in Quentin's head as he crumpled to the floor. The sad part was that he welcomed it. Anything was better than the frosty numbness of the past three days.
"C'mon. Get up so I can kick your ass!" the man shouted, his breath strong enough to singe his nose hairs.
Q's friends parted like the Red Sea while lap dancers screeched and ran out of the way to avoid the fight.
"C'mon, man. Is all this worth it?" Q struggled to his feet. He casually dusted himself off, and then was careful not to meet anyone's eyes as he licked the trickle of blood from the corner of his lips. Around him, friends and strangers gawked and waited to see what would happen next. He rather hoped the next blow would render him unconscious for a few days. "The chick wasn't even all that good-looking."
"Oh, you got jokes." The man launched toward Q, but thankfully his best friend, and co-Dollhouse owner, Xavier King, jumped into the mix.
"Whoa. Whoa. I just finished remodeling the place. Y'all want to fight, take it to Caesar's Palace or something."
Xavier, a former heavyweight champion with arms that felt like steel bands, successfully dragged the drunkard back a few inches from Quentin's cowed position on the floor. "Let it go. Let it go."
Q's laugh rumbled, but the notes were depress-ingly sad. "Nah. Nah. Bring it on. I can take him."
It was Q's cockiness that goaded the man's temper and gave him the strength of ten men to break Xavier's hold. Once he got loose all hell broke loose. There were plenty of screams. Friends and strangers jumped in for no reason at all. Bouncers and security guards tangled and before anyone knew it, there were gunshots popping off in the club.
Q experienced firsthand what it was like to be a defenseless punching bag while receiving blow after blow. The man was really trying his best to permanently rearrange Quentin's face, and was doing a damn good job of it, too. To his utter dismay, it took a few dozen solid punches before a black curtain closed over this hellish reality. When he finally woke, a stern-looking Hispanic man crouched over him flashing a penlight into his eyes, which caused a near explosion in the back of his head.
He croaked out a miserable groan and raised an arm up to shield his eyes. "What the hell, man? Are you trying to kill me?"
"Looks like he's gonna live," the man's heavily accented voice announced.
It should have been good news, but Quentin didn't receive it as such. In fact, it was the worst news he could have received.
"Sir, how are you feeling? We have an ambulance outside. Would you like to go to the hospital?"
Quentin shrugged from the man's touch and then waved him off.
"Suit yourself," the paramedic said, turned and left Q where he sat on the floor.
A second later another set of footsteps strolled over to him. A large hand jutted out in front of his face. "Finished bleeding on my floor?"
Q tried to broker a smile, but it hurt too damn much. Putting his pride aside, he slid his hand into his cousin's and was grateful that with one firm jerk he was back onto his feet. Now all he had to do was stay on them. He didn't look directly at Xavier, but squinting his eyes around the periphery, he saw his best friend looking around and shaking his head. Following Xavier's lead, he took in the scene himself, or at least he tried to with eyes that were ready to swell shut. The crowds were gone and the club was apparently closed. It looked like a wrecking ball had leveled the place.
"Aww, man. Sorry about this."
"Sorry?" Xavier snapped, his tone nearly the same decibel as a roaring lion. "Sorry doesn't fix our crib." He drew in a few deep breaths and seemingly regained control of himself.
"Here you go, boss." One of the female employees approached and handed him something before flashing Quentin a sympathetic smile and then sauntering off. The old Quentin would have followed up an open invitation like that. The new Quentin wanted to stay the hell away from women.
"Man, I've never seen anyone get their ass handed to them like that since the Tyson-Holyfield fight," Xavier said, wincing and handing over a handmade ice pack. Since he was Quentin's favorite cousin, he felt free to make such a flippant remark. "I might be mistaken, but I think that brother was trying to reconstruct your face." He chuckled, a clear sign he was getting over his anger.
"Very funny," Q mumbled, limping his way. He tilted his bruised and bloody head back and put the ice pack back on his throbbing temple. This must be what it felt like to be run over by a Mack truck.
"I wasn't trying to be funny." Xavier stepped back. "And don't drip blood on my shoes." He snickered and followed his cousin over to the nearest bar. He walked around the counter and grabbed two glasses.
Q moaned and groaned about his injuries.
"You know you could have blocked a few of those punches," Xavier said. "Haven't you ever heard of stick and move?"
"You're not helping."
Xavier shook his head. "Seriously. What's up with you? You haven't been yourself for a while. We either need to talk this out or I'm going to have to ban you from coming in here."
"I'm part owner."
"I know. Awkward, huh?"
"It's about this woman."
"Now why aren't I surprised?" Xavier's laughter exploded, shaking his entire frame.
"Trust me. She's not just any woman." Quentin sighed, lowered the ice pack.
Xavier winced and twisted his face as if he was viewing a crime scene. "Put that back on. And you might want to reconsider calling a doctor. That nose is going to need some serious reconstructive work."
Q moaned but did as his best friend suggested. The ice pack felt good against his tight, throbbing skin anyway.
"What can I get you?" asked Xavier.
"I'll have what you're having," Q croaked. "But make it a double."
Xavier filled the second glass to the rim with good old reliable Jack Daniel's. "I think I'll leave the bottle out," he said. "It looks likes you're gonna need it."
Xavier turned away briefly to put away some glasses, but by the time he turned back, Q had already emptied his first shot glass.
"Whoever this chick is, she's done one hell of a number on you." Xavier said, shaking his head as if he couldn't fathom such a thing. "I've never seen you like this and I've seen you with plenty of women."
Quentin didn't respond. Instead he reached for the Jack Daniel's bottle himself and refilled his glass.
"Since we had to close early tonight and you don't seem to be in any hurry to go home, why don't you tell me about this mysterious woman that's worth you getting your ass whooped over?"
"Well, what's her name?"
There was another long pause, and then, "Alyssa," Q said more to his empty glass than his cousin. "But I call her Alice "