Damaged Goods

By: Nicole Williams

SOME PEOPLE LET the world define them, and some people define their world. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of person I am.

I knew what kind of person I wanted to be, but I’d learned a long time ago that I could want until I was blue in the face. That wouldn’t change the way things actually were. I had been born into a world I wanted no part of and grown up wanting a different world altogether. Finally, I’d escaped my mother’s ramshackle trailer, fled from that suffocating town, and gone in search of a new life and a new opportunity.

I took a chance to break free of the stigmas and stereotypes of growing up fatherless and nearly motherless, making it through school on free-ticket lunches and secondhand sneakers. No one had expected me to make it through high school, let alone college. No one would have bet that one of Kitty Bennett’s daughters could make it past junior high without getting knocked up. No one would have guessed twenty-two-year-old Liv Bennett would one night drop her apron on the floor of the diner she’d worked at since she was sixteen, hitch a ride out of the only town she’d ever known, and never be heard from again.

No one would have thought I’d leave in search of a different life.

No one, that is, but me.

I’d been living that different life for three years, and if it were up to me, I’d continue living it until I ran out of life to live. It wasn’t a glamorous one, nor was I rolling in a sea of wealth and privilege, but I was standing on my own two feet and working toward a better future.

I was a work in progress, each day getting me closer to that nameless point on the horizon. I wasn’t exactly sure what would be waiting for me when I got there, nor was I exactly sure why I was so desperate to get there, but I was on my way. At least I was moving forward, a concept so many people took for granted. But moving forward in life wasn’t a birthright; it was an occasion to rise to.

More days than not, I rose to the challenge. Some days felt less about rising and more about gritting my teeth and doing what I needed to to conquer the next challenge. Much of the road was paved with one means to an end after another. For example?

My night job. Not that kind of night job—I wasn’t that desperate—but the kind of night job that entailed serving overpriced, under-liquored drinks to L.A.’s upper crust from nine to four every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. It might not have been an ideal part-time gig, but the tips were solid—mostly thanks to The Water Cooler’s “uniforms.” We servers had maybe a scrap of fabric more than the girls down the road at Bottoms Up wore as they worked their magic on the pole.

Thankfully, most of the customers that strolled through the door of The Water Cooler were a bit more tame and better behaved than the ones who slipped through the matte black doors down the road—and for those who thought a complimentary grope came with their drink, we had an army of bouncers who I swore got off from tossing five-thousand-dollar-suited douches out the back door. Hell, after some of the customers I’d encountered in the last two years, I’d come close to getting off on watching them get tossed on their asses in the back alley.

Case in point? I’d just delivered a round of bourbon to a group of guys who looked about my age, and from the bleary-eyed, cocky smile on one of them, I knew he would be trouble. I’d developed a sixth sense about these kinds of things, as had every server who worked at The Water Cooler for more than a few months. Line up a dozen guys, and I could identify the biggest douche of the bunch every single time. It was a gift.

After one of the guys paid me for the drinks and tacked on a generous tip, I thanked him with a smile before making my way into the crowd. From the corner of my eye, I noticed cocky-smile guy stand. He was coming after me. Dodging and evading drunken ex-frat boys came standard with the job. Too bad I underestimated Douche McDouche’s speed, level of drunkenness, or determination, because before I’d made it halfway to the bar, a large hand groped my ass and gave a hard squeeze.

“Damn. It really is as tight as it looks.”

I would have thought that I’d be used to these kinds of assholes saying and doing these kinds of asshole things enough to let it slide and keep going . . . but no, I hadn’t gotten used to it. Twisting around, I dropped my tray at my side to remove the temptation to thrust it into his throat. Instead, I lifted my other hand to his crotch and groped him hard enough he winced.