It started the way it always starts - with a guy. As my Aunt Lilah always said, the cause of all the trouble in this galaxy is men. A good one is rarer than an honest Hutt. Ain't it the truth?
Not that he didn't put on a good show. I wasn't born yesterday, y'know. I don't fall for the obvious losers. Nah, he looked all on the up and up to start with. What a joke that was.
See, I had it all. Looks, status, a glamorous job - the works. I used to be a cocktail waitress at the Outlander, the snazziest nightclub the lower levels of Coruscant could offer. I've heard folks say that the Outlander's faded, gotten run down, and the like. Don't you believe it. Sure, it wasn't as shiny as new, but trust me, everyone who's anyone winds up at the Outlander sooner or later. Exotic people, even more exotic drinks, and tips like you wouldn't believe. Yeah, it doesn't get much better than that.
Then he walked into my life.
I was cleaning the glasses behind the bar when I heard that husky voice for the first time. "Hey, honey, how about a Corellian Ale here?"
I turned around nonchalantly, and through the usual dim haze, I saw him. He was leaning over the bar, grinning at me with a knowing look in his eye. Some girls might be put off by that, but not me. I've been around. I can take care of myself, and if a guy wants an eyeful in the meantime, let him, I say.
I leaned an elbow on the bar and went back to the glass I was polishing, real unconcerned-like. "Corellian Ale, huh? Takes someone pretty . . . strong to handle that drink."
One of the guy's antennae twitched. Antennae. That was a new one. I shrugged. Hey, I'm an open-minded sort of girl.
"If you're looking for a strong man, honey, you got one right here - " and he dropped me a wink.
"That so?" I eyed him again, and I liked what I saw. "You got it, then."
I snagged Jynne to cover my station and she rolled her eyes at me, but it's not like I haven't done the same for her a thousand times. How's a girl ever supposed to land a man if she doesn't play the field? She knew what it was like well enough, and the five cred piece I slipped her helped her understanding along too.
He turned out to be a real smooth talker, all right, and over that Corellian Ale he swept me right off my feet. He knew just what to say to a girl, not to mention that he wasn't looking over his shoulder every other minute like most of the other customers. A looker who knew how to sweet talk, without a price on his head or hot merchandise in his pocket? This one was a keeper. I saw plain enough that a few other girls had noticed too and were bent on poaching, but a few well-placed glares sent them packing. I'd seen him first, and he was all mine.
It was fun for a while, I'm not denying it. When I was working, he'd come over just to see me (or so he said). On my nights off we'd go to the holos, or dancing (and could that boy ever move), or sometimes to clubs even ritzier than the Outlander for a nightcap before heading back to my place. Never look a gift bantha in the mouth, I say, and so I never really stopped to think about where the credits were coming from.
Then one night at work I was collecting the usual round of bets for the next slingball match on the holos when I heard a familiar voice behind me: "Hey, buddy, you wanna buy some death sticks?"
I turned around and there he was, palming some creds from some seedy-looking guy even skinnier than him, who crept off, deathsticks in hand.
Turning back to my last customer, I batted my eyes as enticingly as I knew how (and that's saying something) and gave him a sultry smile. "Excuse me just a minute, won't you?" I cooed, leaning over enough to give him a view that'd leave him pinned to his seat until I have the word. "Jynne'll take your bets until I get back." From the other end of the bar Jynne sent me a look that could kill, but I sauntered off anyway.
He'd snagged another sale before I cornered him, but I didn't let that stop me. "Elan Sleazebaggano, just what under the moons of Iego do you think you're doing?" I demanded.
Elan glanced over at me, his antennae twitching to beat the band. "Hermie, baby, I'm taking care of some business here," he hissed out of the side of his mouth. "Scram, will ya?"
I snatched the sticks out of his hand. "Deathsticks? Deathsticks? Elan, you know these ain't legit! You're going to get yourself a one way ticket to Kessel!"
He made a grab for the sticks, but I was taller than him even without the heels. He never even came close to them.
"Sweetheart, you know how it goes," he said, switching to sweet talk mode. "It's just business."
"Don't you 'sweetheart' me," I told him. I was burning, and I don't mean in a good way. "You trying to bring planet security down on you? Is that what you're trying to do?" Out of the corner of my eye I saw Elan's client slipping off into the crowd, but I ignored it. "I'm not about to be on the arm of some two-cred deathstick dealer, let me tell you that right now. Not Hermione Bagwa! You want me around, you'd better just go home now and rethink your life!"
His antennae twitched again, and it was starting to look more cranky than nervous. "Everyone does it, Hermie. Get over it already."
"Get over it?" I planted my fists on my hips. "Look here, Elan. I have some self-respect even if you don't. I mean, stars! If you're going to be a deathstick dealer, can't you at least be a good one? Get a decent line, for Force's sake!"
One antenna flicked irritatedly and he opened his mouth, but the voice I heard was way deeper than Elan's.
"Hermione?" the voice asked as a heavy hand came down on my shoulder.
I turned and looked up - and up. Ganwyk, our bartender and bouncer, was standing there, looking as intimidating as I'd ever seen him. "Ganwyk - "
He took the deathsticks from my hand with the same delicate touch he used when mixing our most exotic concoctions, a touch most of the girls around here dreamed about. I'd forgotten I was still holding the sticks, and I felt myself go pale. "Ganwyk, look, I can explain - "
"Oh, I think this explains it real well," Ganwyk said in that calm, I-don't-care-who-you-think-you-are-I'm-the-boss-here way of his, holding the deathsticks up to the light and examining them. "Jynne said you'd gotten in with the wrong crowd. I guess she was right."
I glanced back toward the betting area, and sure enough, there was Jynne, looking as smug as a well-fed Hutt. I spun around to finger Elan - boyfriend or not, I wasn't about to take the fall for him - only to find that he'd disappeared. I scanned the crowd wildly, but the dirty good-for-nothing was gone.
"I'm sorry to do this, Hermione," Ganwyk continued. "But it's for your own good."
A hand clamped on to my arm, and when I turned back I found that the hand belonged to a burly (and good-looking) security officer. "Wait just a minute," I protested. "This is all a big misunderstanding. Ganwyk, you know me - you know I wouldn't get mixed up in nothing like this!" My eyes fell on Jynne again, smirking as she watched the whole situation. "It's a set-up, I tell you! I've been framed!"
Ganwyk looked at me almost regretfully. "Just go with the nice man, Hermione. He'll help you."
"I don't need any help!" I argued, even as the security officer began to drag me out. Normally a guy built like this one was welcome to drag me anywhere, but this wasn't my idea of a good time. "Elan! Elan, show yourself, you rotten son of a slug!" Everyone was looking my way now, but I still didn't see him.
Then just as the security officer and I reached the door, I heard that voice that I'd know anywhere. "We'll always have Coruscant, baby." I aimed a good kick in the direction of the voice. Despite everything, the resulting yelp managed to raise my spirits a little. Good to know those heels were worth the credits.
And that's how I wound up here. Not enough evidence to put me in jail, plenty for probation. Gainful employment, the judge said - "Well, look, honey," I told him. "I know how to do just one thing, and that's wait tables." (Okay, maybe I knew how to do a few more things, but I don't think that's what he was talking about.)
"I could use a waitress."
I turned toward the voice, and saw him for the first time: a large, four-armed alien of a species I didn't know, placidly watching the court proceedings. He seemed to know the judge - I found out later that there weren't many people he didn't know. Still, it worked for me. The judge signed some flimsy saying that the alien was responsible for me, and within the hour I found myself in this diner. Hey, it may not be the Outlander, but it's a living. Kind of restful for a change, really. And the alien, Dex, he's not so bad either. As for Elan - well, one day he'll take the fall. He's just dumb enough for that.
As for me, well, don't be too sure that I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be. And for now, I'm happy. I've got a quiet life, and if I can just avoid any more male advice - sugar, that's the stuff dreams are made out of.
Original cover by Dreamspirals. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.