The Accidental Actress

Chapter 1

I suppose the first thing you need to know about me is that I’m the villain of this story. The bad guy. Girl. Whatever.

The second thing you need to know is that I absolutely did not throw that drink on the guy by the bar on purpose, like he’s trying to say I did. He must have just knocked me off-balance while he was trying to grope my ass, is all. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(The third thing is that one of those first two things isn’t strictly true. I’ll leave you to work out which one it is…)

“Lexie, we’ve been through this before. We can’t assault the customers. Not even the ones who richly deserve it. You know that.”

Summer puts both hands on her hips and gives me what I’ve come to think of simply as The Look. It’s approximately one part exasperation and one part resignation, and it normally means she’s about to push her hair back from her forehead, and say, “Oh, Leeexiiieee,” like she’s my mum about to tell me she’s not angry, she’s just disappointed.

Summer is my boss here at Joe’s Bar, but she’s also my flatmate (Or “roommate” as they say here in California. Those crazy kids.), and my best friend. Well, my only friend, really, unless you count my mum, and I’m not even sure my mum would count my mum right now — especially considering I haven’t spoken to her in almost 12 months. So, yeah. I guess I’m not much of a people person. What can I say?

Anyway, Summer’s Australian, and when I asked her if her name was supposed to be a reflection of her sunny personality, she pretended to punch me in the thigh.

I took that as a “no”, then. It turns out Summer’s not much of a people person either, really. I’m pretty sure that’s why we get on so well.

“I swear, Summer, I didn’t do it. I would never.”

I widen my eyes innocently as I look right at her, the very picture of sincerity.

This will work. I know it will, because I’m a practiced liar, having been honing my skills since I was a kid. Also, no one can resist my baby blues when I threaten to turn on the tears, like I am now. I might be the villain, but I look like the heroine, all blonde hair and blue eyes, set above a cute little upturned nose. And that’s the main thing, isn’t it? When you’re pretty, you can get away with anything.

Well, almost anything.

Just to be sure I get away with this, I allow my bottom lip to wobble slightly as I lower my eyes to the ground. When I raise them again to meet Summer’s, they’re filled with tears — crying on demand has been my party trick, ever since I was a kid — and my boss sighs in defeat, before shrugging her shoulders and handing me a tray of drinks.

“Oh, Leeexiieee,” she says, smiling at me despite the lingering doubt I can see in her hazel eyes. “Take these to table 12, will ya? And try to stay out of trouble, Lex. I mean it.”

I smirk with satisfaction as I turn away.

Lexie, 1; Creepy guy at the bar, 0.

I win.

I always win.

Except when I don’t, of course.

There was one time I didn’t win. Just one time, but it’s the reason I’m here, really. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s amazing how often people ask, though. Not about how I screwed up my entire life, obviously; that would be a pretty weird conversation starter, really, even by L.A. standards. But they do ask what brought me from the Highlands of Scotland to Hollywood, and I can’t exactly tell them the truth, so I mostly just smile sweetly and say I really love that Human League song. You know, the one about working as a waitress in a cocktail bar?

(And, okay, Joe’s isn’t so much a ‘cocktail bar’ as it is some random dive bar with sticky floors and questionable hygiene standards. No one writes songs about those bars, though, do they?)

People love that answer. It doesn’t matter that it’s not true; it makes a good story, and that’s all most people care about. Trust one who knows.

But as I was saying. I’m not the heroine, and this is not a love-story. How could it be? I’m just a barmaid with a bad attitude, and right now I really want to get back in Summer’s good books, so I grit my teeth and conjure up a smile as I carry the tray over to the table by the window, stealing a curious glance at the occupants as I set it down.

There are two of them: both men, but otherwise as different as can be. One is older — late fifties, I’d say — with neat gray hair and an immaculate navy suit, which my practiced eye can tell cost more than my rent this month. A silver fox, Summer, would call him. I’d rate him 7/10, but only because I’m not into older men. Otherwise, he could be pushing an eight.

The other man, however, is a solid three. Baseball hat crammed over his eyes. Thick black hoodie, even though it’s over eighty degrees outside. Saggy shorts. Pool slides. One of those terrible, bushy beards guys started wearing a few years back, when everyone suddenly looked like axe murderers.

No, wait: that’s unnecessarily rude to axe murderers, isn’t it?

As if reading my mind, the man at the table looks up, his eyes meeting mine with an intensity that should really be terrifying given that I was just picturing him on a murderous rampage, except… Except his eyes are green flecked with gold, and, even from across the table, I can say beyond doubt that they’re most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen — and, of course, they’re fringed by the kind of thick, dark lashes that are totally wasted on men, and that women will gladly pay a fortune to fake. They don’t make up for the beard and the scruffy outfit, obviously — no eyes in the world are that nice, let’s face it — but they’re enough to stop me in my tracks and mentally raise his score to a 3.5. A grudging one, but still.

“Everything okay here, guys?” I say brightly, deliberately looking away to force him to drop his gaze before it gets any more uncomfortable than it already is. “Can I get you anything else?”

“You can get me something, smart ass. Like an apology for that little stunt you just pulled for starters.”

I roll my eyes as I turn to face the guy from the bar, who’s followed me across the room, his jaw set in anger. There’s a large wet patch on his crotch from where the drink I “spilled” landed, and, judging by the wedding band I can see on his finger, I’m guessing that stain’s going to be pretty hard to explain when he gets home to his wife tonight.

I guess groping the waitress wasn’t such a great idea after all, was it? Who would’ve thought it?

“Is there a problem, Sir?”

I straighten my shoulders, trying to make myself look taller. God knows I’m used to dealing with creeps — it kind of comes with that “dive bar” territory, you know? But this one is angrier than most of them, and as he takes a step towards me, I briefly wonder if I should try to reign in my impulses some of the time — at least when it comes to the customers.

I bet there’s a 12-step program for that. I should look into it sometime.

“You better believe there’s a problem, you stupid Scottish bitch,” Drunk Guy says, taking another step closer. “And you know what it is, too.”

A couple of flecks of spittle land on my cheek, and I try my best not to gag as I raise my hand to pointedly wipe them off.

I do not get paid enough to deal with this shit.

The man is right up in my face now. His breath stinks of beer, and there’s something caught between his front teeth. I hover somewhere between justified fear and the totally illogical desire to insult him again, and, before I can figure out which side to land on, an arm reaches out from somewhere behind me and pushes Drunk Guy firmly in the chest, making him stagger back a step.

“Hey, knock it off,” says Mr. 3.5, speaking as if this is a perfectly normal conversation to be having with a stranger in a bar. “And watch your language, will you? No one wants to hear that shit.”

He moves a sliver closer to me. I really want to look around and see what he’s doing, but I don’t want to miss Drunk Guy’s reaction, so I just stand there, feeling a bit like Princess Leia when Luke and Han finally turn up to rescue her. The difference is, though, that Leia immediately took charge of that situation, like the strong, sassy woman she is, and I’m just sort of standing here, feeling a bit stupid, really. And also kind of scared, if I’m honest.

(Oh, and the other difference is that Han Solo wasn’t wearing pool slides and a hoodie, obviously. Harrison Ford’s career would’ve taken a totally different trajectory if he had been.)

Drunk Guy stumbles backwards, then rears forward again, squaring up to 3.5 as if he’s getting ready to fight him. Behind the bar, Summer whirls around to see what’s going on, and I see her reach for the phone, ready to summon Joel, the security guard. Just as she picks it up, though, Drunk Guy has a sudden change of heart.

“Oh,” he says, his bushy eyebrows raising in surprise as he looks from 3.5 to me, then back again. “Wow. Sorry, man, I didn’t realize.”

I look on, confused, as he raises his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Wow,” he says again, his eyes still fixed on 3.5. “No offense, man. I’ll get outta your hair. Can I buy you a drink, in fact? Here, lemme buy you a drink…”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wallet, but 3.5 continues to stand there behind me, his body radiating heat onto my back.

“No need. Just leave the lady alone, got it?”

The man behind me hasn’t moved since his initial contact with Drunk Guy, but now he steps away and sits back down at the table, leaving me feeling strangely exposed without his comforting presence behind me.

I wish he’d come back — pool slides, weird beard and all.

Drunk Guy raises his hands again before walking backwards, all the way to the front door, which he almost trips over in his attempt to find his way through while still staring at 3.5. As the door finally closes behind me, Summer shoots a questioning look in my direction, which I answer with a quick shrug of the shoulders.

Not me almost starting a fight between two of the customers. Nuh-uh.

“Um, thanks,” I say, turning to the table, where 3.5 and Silver Fox have resumed their conversation in hushed voices, the brief altercation already forgotten. “That was really… decent of you. I mean, I could totally have handled it obviously, because I’m a strong, sassy woman. Like Princess Leia. But, you know, thanks.”

I actually mean what I’m saying, but I’m not really used to speaking so sincerely — or randomly mentioning Princess Leia — so the words come out a little stiffer than I intended. I plaster on my brightest smile to make up for it, and 3.5 looks up in time to catch the full effect of it.

“You’re, you know, welcome, Princess Leia,” he says, allowing those luminous eyes of his to rest on me for a second. “I hate creeps like that. Hey,” he adds, almost as an afterthought. “You’re Scottish, right? I noticed the accent.”

I nod, hoping he’s not going to tell me he’s one fifty-third Scottish on his mother’s side, or ask me if I know his great-aunt Jeanie, from Shetland. I get that kind of thing a lot. What is it with Americans and their need to be something else all the time? Why can’t they just be themselves?

Haha, nice one, Lexie. Like you can talk.

Thankfully, though, 3.5 has something else in mind.

“Can you recommend me a whisky?” he asks, swirling his glass in distaste. “A better one than this, I mean? I heard of a new blend called The 39, or something like that. You heard of that one?”

I stand there open-mouthed as the floor of the bar drops sharply away from me, making me reach out and grab the table in front of me for support.

I can recommend him a whisky, all right. My family own a brewery back in Scotland, so you could say that whisky’s in our blood. Quite literally, in some cases. It’s one of the reasons I went into bar work when I moved here, actually; it’s one of the few things I know anything about. Sometimes when I’m serving drinks, all it takes is the slightest whiff of whisky and I’m right back there in Heather Bay, listening to the sea crash on the rocks from my little cottage. And sometimes that memory is so painful that it’s all I can do not to burst into tears right there in the middle of the bar. Which would be unusual for me, because I never cry. Well, not for real, anyway.

As it happens, the brand 3.5’s asking about — The 39 — is brewed in Heather Bay, too, so yes, I have heard of it. I really wish I hadn’t, though, because, in a roundabout way, the owner of that brand is the reason I’m out here in L.A., serving beer and throwing drinks at customers, rather than back home, where…. well, where I’d be doing much the same thing, actually, only for my Mum’s business rather than for someone else’s. And even though it’s all my fault, and I like it here just fine, I sometimes wish that’s exactly what I was doing.

(Not the throwing drinks bit, of course. I hardly ever wish I was doing that.)

But this is my penance. Being here is my punishment for what I did back home, which is why, once I’ve taken a second to recover from this unexpected collision of my old life and my new one, I straighten up again, and look 3.5 in the eye, smiling as if my heart doesn’t feel like it’s been ripped right out of my chest, and completely ignoring the nagging pain in my stomach which started up as soon as he mentioned that damn whisky.

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve never heard of it,” I say, shrugging apologetically, as I pick up his now-empty glass. “I guess it can’t be any good.”

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing you need to know about me and my life here: it’s all fake. Everything in L.A. is fake — from the impressive pair of boobs on the woman in the corner of the bar, to the lie I just told the man in front of me. And that’s fine with me, really, because if none of this is real, that means it can be whatever I want it to be. I can be whatever I want to be.

And that’s exactly why I like it.

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