It was mid-morning before he felt confident enough to try and get up. Unlike yesterday he had a headache forming and was feeling quite nauseous … he was hung-over that’s for sure but that is not what worried him, it was the gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach that the sighting of Annie had triggered…a dreadful pain which he knew, only time would quell…he was in for a tough few weeks.
Gingerly he lifted his head from the pillow and followed the rest of his body into the bathroom. He hardly recognised the face of the man who stared back at him from mirror…it might have been a good night with an unexpected twist…but boy did he look…well…shit!!
After soaking his head in a basin of cold water for a few seconds, he dried himself and went into the kitchen.
He poured an extra strong coffee, then opened the curtains and slumped down onto his couch to reflect.
The previous evening had started as planned. His 5 pals were already seated at the prime table in Antonio’s when he arrived. He was greeted, as he and his family had been since the wine bar opened, by the host, who was excited to tell him about the two attractive waitresses that he had hired for the festive period.
“College girls looking for some extra cash” he explained in his broken English, followed by a wink and nudge.
Stories about Antonio’s female conquests were legendary and it was clear that the old ‘Italian’ stud was planning to add to his growing notoriety during the festive period.
As he shuffled onto the bench seat a bottle on ice cold Peroni was thrust into his hand followed by an overly friendly hug from Tom. It transpired that Tom and Ali, his 2 rugby pals, had played a charity game in the afternoon, and having showered at the club, had started their celebrations soon after the final whistle.
Emma, their waitress for the evening, appeared ready to take their order. Antonio was wrong Emma wasn’t attractive, no, she was VERY attractive but with an athletic build, being a graduate in sports science and standing at least 10 cm taller than the ageing married bar-owner, somehow he couldn’t see this highly intelligent ‘goddess’ falling for Antonio’s silver tongued baloney.
It was just before nine when Steff, her sister Becky and their girl friends arrived. He hadn’t seen Becky for at least 5 years. He knew through Steff that she had passed her law degree and was working for some high-flying city firm, but what he hadn’t expected is how much she had changed…and for the good. As a youngster Becky has dressed far more conservatively than her older sister and with large heavy rimmed glasses had the look of a somewhat frumpy academic; unlike the fashion conscious free-spirited Steff.
But tonight she looked amazing.
The two groups had exchanged pleasantries, agreeing to meet at Josephine’s later in the evening, before going their separate ways…the boys off to the ‘Nag’s’ and girls to their reserved table at the rear of the wine bar.
From the Nag’s they went onto ‘Conway’s’ the recently opened piano lounge…a large queue had formed outside but his firm had supplied scaffolding for the refurb work on the building and he had become friendly with the owners, so seeing his group approach on their CCTV, a word went down to the doormen and they were waved past the milling crowd and escorted to the relative comfort of the VIP area…the ‘lounge’ was heaving and on one occasion, through the crowd he thought he saw Annie, it wasn’t, but nonetheless it caused the gnawing pain in his abdomen to intensify.
It was close to one o’clock when they finally stumbled into Josephine’s…it was packed.
Josephine’s was managed by one of his ex-employees so once again his party were invited to the VIP lounge. Elevated above the main dance floor, from his seated position he could see Steff dancing closely with Miguel; the manager of Antonio’s. They were clearly enjoying each other’s company and he suspected that enjoyment would probably extend long into the night. He smiled at the thought.
As he scanned the lower floor sitting on a stool by the bar, he saw Becky, surrounded by 3 of the town’s less desirables.
The Connelly brothers were not nice at any level and he felt serious concerned for Becky…OK she was in a crowded bar but these three were not adverse to any kind of criminal activity and if they had their eyes on Becky then they would find a way of achieving their aim, legally or otherwise. Certainly date rape drugs was not beyond these boys.
Calling his best friend Jim over he hatched a plan. He and Jim had grown up together, they were like brothers, they trusted each other implicitly so when he took over control of his family business, Jim was the first phone calls he made and for the last 3 years Jim had been an essential member of his small management team. Like him, Jim was a health fanatic. He was a very capable boxer and held a black belt in judo, so anyone who was anyone in town, knew he was not the kind of bloke to mess with. In fact as a pair they were highly respected and the nob-heads left them alone.
He led the way through the festive and very drunk crowd of dancing revellers.
When Pat Connolly felt Jim’s large hand on his shoulder, he instantly tensed his muscles and swung around ready to lamp the assailant, but on seeing Jim’s smiling face, he relaxed. “Fuck me Norton you were fucking lucky not to get that massive nose of yours splatted against your ugly mug…you twat.”
“Fucking Merry Christmas to you too Pat, you fat bastard” Jim replied…they embraced…many years ago they had met at the boxing club and whilst they were never close friends Pat secretly admired Jim’s fighting abilities and the two never come to blows.
With the ice broken, Pat’s two younger brothers visually relaxed. There was something quite sinister about the twins, it wasn’t that they were bad looking, in fact they that was far from the truth they were quite…well…pretty…yes pretty he thought, but their eyes gave much away. As they stared at him all he could see was evil…and whilst he was more than able to take care of himself, it sent chills down his spine thinking what these two bastards were capable of doing to an unsuspecting female…and tonight they were on the prowl.
With Jim ordering a round for the brothers, he took hold of Becky’s hand and before anyone could object lead her through the dance floor and onto the ‘lounge’. He wasn’t a dancer so that was never an option but for the Connelly brothers his ploy had worked…with a couple more pints in them, Becky would be a thing of the past and with increasingly blurry vision they would soon set about stalking another potential victim.
As a nerdy youngster he had never paid Becky any attention, preferring to focus all his energy on her more out-going and sexual active sister Steff and therefore as they sat and talked, he was stunned by just how overwhelmed he was becoming to the stunningly beautiful, high intelligent and very sexy woman sitting opposite him…and what’s more during those moments the gnawing pains in the pit of his stomach subsidised. They talked…and laughed late into the night.
He had just finishing his second cup of REALLY strong coffee when he heard her voice behind him.
“Good morning” she said in such a polite manner he was taken aback…Looking around he smiled, seeing Becky draped in one of his work shirts; she looked beautiful and yet slightly fragile in a little girl way. Regardless it made him feel good…no REALLY good to have her around and he wondered if he had found the solution to the Annie syndrome…
But time would prove that not to be the case because whenever ‘Annie’ was mentioned he would still feel the same gnawing pains…OK…not as strong as they had been in the beginning but Annie would continue to affect him in a negative way throughout his life and whilst he didn’t like to admit it, he had begun to hate her for causing him so much pain…and hating her seemed to make him feel that little bit better.
On the plus side…Becky got relocated to a firm in the nearby city and moved in with him. He never told Becky about his struggles dealing with Annie; in fact he never told anyone. Why? He was a strong proud man and to admit that he was continually struggling with Annie seemed ridiculous, weak and completely unfair to Becky. So she would have to accept his occasional mood swings as he tried to protect her from the truth.