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Bloody Valentine
Author: Melissa de la Cruz





The Holiday Cocktail Lounge



It was always Christmas down at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village; the twinkling lights were left hanging up on the crossbeams year-round, just like the silver tinsel looped around the edge of the counter and the cheerful tree in the back, its ornaments glittering in the dim light. The Holiday, as the regulars called it, was a New York institution. The bar had been a speakeasy during Prohibition, and counted as its patrons the poet W. H. Auden, who lived next door, and Trotsky, who bunked across the street.

No one could put a finger on why the bar had lasted so long. Its resilient popularity was an anomaly in a town where velvet-rope emporiums serving thousand-dollar champagne bottles had become the norm. Maybe it was the custom-made cocktails—the bartender always seemed to know what you wanted to drink—or maybe it was the cozy, quiet feel of the place that murmured a welcome to every weary patron that walked through its doors. Or maybe it was the way the Rolling Stones sounded from the ancient jukebox, all heart and yearning. Time did not just stop at the Holiday, it came to a standstill, frozen in amber as thick and viscous as the home-brewed whiskey it served.

Interestingly enough, not once in its long life had it ever been raided, its swell of underage patrons never rounded up in paddy wagons and hauled off to the local precinct. While its neighbors routinely lost permits and licenses, the Holiday thrived and survived, serving its core clientele: the young and hip, the old and tired, hardened city journalists from the warring tabloids, and droves of tourists looking for an “authentic” New York experience.

It was late November, and in a few weeks the Holiday’s year-round frippery would soon be relevant again. During the Christmas season the owners of the establishment liked to add new trimmings—a lush green wreath nailed to the door, colorful hooked rugs featuring Santa and his elves, an elegant menorah by the window.

When Oliver Hazard-Perry walked in at half past five that afternoon, the place was packed. Oliver had been coming to the bar ever since he procured his first fake ID at fourteen. He turned up his collar and shuffled in, past the regular crew of men with long faces and low voices, who sipped their drinks as slowly as they nursed their failures.

Oliver took the very last seat at the counter, away from the exuberant college kids who’d had an early start and were already fumbling at darts. The Holiday held no attraction for the legions of fresh-faced hedge-funders eager to show off their black American Express cards. (In any event, the Holiday only took cash.) The Holiday was a port in the storm for those seeking shelter, for no matter what happened outside its doors—bankruptcy, apocalypse, collapse—one could find comfort and solace with a drink at its bar.

It was exactly what kept Oliver coming back. Just being at the Holiday made him feel better somehow.

“The usual?” the bartender asked.

Oliver nodded, grateful and a bit flattered to have been recognized. It had never happened before, but then, up until a week ago, he had never visited with much regularity. The bartender slid over a tumbler of the Holiday’s famous whiskey. Oliver slammed back the shot, then another and another. Drinking whiskey reminded him of how Schuyler once told him whiskey was the nearest to the taste of his blood. Like salt and fire. His sadness was something he picked at, like the scabs on his neck. He liked to scratch them until they bled, to see how much worse he could make them feel. He really should stop drinking whiskey. It reminded him too much of her. But then, everything in the goddamn city reminded him of her.

There was no escape. At night he dreamed of her, of their year together, of how they would sleep, back to back. He would remember how her hair smelled after a shower, or how her eyes crinkled when she smiled. In the mornings, when he woke up, he was a zombie, listless and anxious. She had left only a month ago, and would not return. Not to him at least; he had seen to that. He had practically given her away, not that she was his to give, but she would never have left otherwise. He understood the extent of her loyalty, as it ran as deep as his own.

He had done the right thing—he knew that—but it hurt nonetheless. It hurt because he knew she loved him; she had told him as much. It was just—just not enough, just not the same way as she loved the other. Oliver did not want to be second best, a consolation prize; he did not desire loyalty and friendship. He wanted her whole heart, and knowing that he would never have it was a difficult cross to bear.

If only he could forget about her. But his very blood yearned for her, for her soft lips to kiss his neck, for the feel of her fangs as they pierced his skin and filled him with an overwhelming wave of contentment. Now his entire body was attuned to its loss. It grieved and mourned along with his soul. He raised a finger for still another pour.

“Easy there, cowboy,” the bartender said with smile. “What is that, your fourth already? It’s not even six o’clock.”

“I need it,” Oliver mumbled.

“For what?”

He shook his head, and the bartender moved to take care of her customers on the other side of the counter.

Oliver fingered the card hidden in his pocket, tracing over the engraved words. It was a secret place that served humans like him—Red Bloods who had been abandoned by their vampires, human familiars who were now aching with need. He remembered his brave words to Mimi on the night they first visited the place, the false bravado he’d mustered. It was all a lie. He knew he would end up back there soon enough. He needed a fix, just one bite—it no longer mattered that Schuyler would not be administering it, he just wanted to feel whole again. He wanted someone to make the pain go away. To help him forget. Of course he knew the dangers, the risks—schizophrenia, infection, addiction; the possibility that after one night he might never want to leave. But he had to go. Anything was better than living with the terrible loneliness. He slammed back the shot with a vengeance, pounded the empty glass on the table, and signaled to the bartender again.

“Whatever it is you think you need that for, maybe you shouldn’t do it,” she said, as she wiped down the counter and gave him a cool once-over. The bartender had been working at the Holiday ever since he had started sneaking in when he was in eighth grade, and Oliver noticed for the first time that she never seemed to age. She looked exactly the same, not a day over eighteen, with long curly hair and intense green eyes. Her tiny white ribbed tanktop showed just a hint of her tanned, flat belly. Oliver had always harbored a little crush on her but had been too shy to do anything about it aside from leaving generous tips. Not that it was hopeless, but it was like being attracted to a movie star—the possibility of having one’s affection returned was very low to zero.

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