Felicity grabbed the bus tub and began cleaning up the lukewarm, half-filled glasses, the horizontal beer bottles, and the plastic cups of water people promised to consume, left sweating and still full. Her stepsister, Laurel, wiped the scarred mahogany bar while Sara and Lydia gossiped about the frat boys who’d come into Bennet’s Bar & Grill that evening. Neither of them found the energy to help with anything more than the sweeping of a broom, or a half-hearted swipe of a rag over the same twelve inches of any one table. Their mother encouraged them in their silliness, as well as their laziness, by sipping a gin and tonic and lecturing on their marriage prospects, rather than lifting a finger to help.
“And you know girls,” Donna Smoak imparted her female wisdom, “many of those young men come from money. You must catch them young.”
“For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” Felicity interrupted her mother’s match-making.
“Be as high and mighty as you like Felicity Smoak, but imagine this: Quentin gets shot in the line of duty, and then what happens? Mr. Palmer immediately demands the balance of the loan,” her mother’s disdain for the man quite evident in her voice. “We are, all of us, one step away from being thrown out on the street.”
The slurping of her gin and tonic echoed over the juke box left playing while they cleaned up for the night. She waggled her glass in the direction of Laurel who obliged her with what their mother liked to refer to as a ‘freshie.’ Her blond hair long since weighed down by the hair spray she applied hours earlier, her four-inch heels sitting tipped over on the top of the end of the bar. Donna Smoak was beautiful, but exhausted by a life that had been anything but kind to her.
Her drink refilled, she sipped and barreled on with her plans. “Oh and girls, did you know that Tommy Merlyn himself has purchased a bar right here in the Glades. He’s called it Verdant and it will be opening by month’s end. With him being in the neighborhood, there is no reason you shouldn’t come into contact with him.” She spun around in her barstool to face her other daughters. “In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if he attended the Bartender’s Ball tomorrow evening. All the owners of the most popular nightclubs attend, so you must all look your best.”
Lydia and Sara giggled, practiced fluttering their eyelids, and adjusted their padded push-up bras.
“That’s it girls, use your assets. Use your assets.” The romantic Donna Smoak, folks, that’s my mom.
Felicity rolled her eyes and joined Laurel washing the glassware before putting it away. “As if any of us stand a chance with the likes of Mr. Merlyn’s son,” Felicity joked to her sister. “Well, you maybe, since you are by far the very prettiest of all of us. Always gorgeous Laurel. For me, I would just be happy to find someone to take me just as I am, a lowly bartender and IT girl.”
Laurel sighed, “Felicity, you know you’re only here for mom. If she didn’t need our help keeping the bar running, I’d be in law school, and you’d be working in Silicon Valley. But it would be nice to forget about the worries of the bar, the debts hanging over us…” she let the thought drift away as they both fell silent, caught in the uncertainties that lay ahead.
Laurel never held anything against her stepmother, Quentin loved her far too much for that, but both of them lamented, at one time or another, their lot in life. Nor had she ever treated Felicity as anything other than full-blooded sister. They were both still young enough when their parents married that they grew up the best of friends. Sara, only months older than Lydia, found Felicity’s little sister an eager playmate and willing princess-in-training. The youngest of all of them, their brother Roy…well, unfortunately none of them were quite sure where he was at the moment. He turned eighteen and hit the road.
Donna roused from her daydream of handsome princes on large white steeds throwing handfuls of money as they rode to the rescue. “Oh, but if your father should die, Mr. Palmer would evict us before the grass could grow over Quentin’s grave.”
“I assure you, Donna, you have nothing to fear.” Her mother’s face brightened at her father’s entrance, and she pranced over to him, bare feet and all, placing a big kiss on his lips.
“You know I just worry, Quentin. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
Quentin’s eyes crinkled down at her, “You have nothing to fear from Mr. Palmer, my dear. I will always be your knight in shining armor.”
Felicity felt certain that if she ever met Ray Palmer she would have a few choice words to say to him. Beginning with Frak and ending with You. True, they had fallen behind on their payments, but her family had owned this bar for the last hundred years. When Felicity and Lydia’s bio-dad absconded with the family savings, leaving them close to penniless, her mother mortgaged the house to keep Bennet’s afloat. Four daughters and a son in need of food and clothing didn’t help matters in the least. It was the reason that Felicity came home to work with her family rather than seek out a job in her field. She’d meant it to be temporary, but five years had passed and she’d settled into the daily routine of Starling City.
Her mother’s shrill voice interrupted her dark train of thought, “Don’t forget Felicity, I expect you to be on your very best behavior for the party tomorrow. You’ll hurt your sisters’ chances otherwise. No babbling and none of your nerdy tech talk that nobody understands. I’ll have none of it.”
Felicity hid her smirk, but replied obediently, “Yes, mother.” She might not like all of Donna’s machinations, but she did the best she could after Felicity’s bio-dad left. She didn’t want to make her mother’s life any harder by arguing.
Quentin looked at his wife, confused, “What is this about Lissie misbehaving? She’s the only one of my beautiful daughters with any sense in her head,” he paused and gazed at Laurel with affection. “Well, Laurel is quite intelligent though she’s a romantic at heart. Always believing the best about everyone, that’s my Laurel. Lissie’s head might be floating in a cloud of data, but her feet are firmly planted on the concrete.”
All the ladies laughed at the family joke. They all knew Quentin loved all his daughters, as well as his wayward son, but Felicity and Laurel worried about Lydia and Sara. They watched out for their two younger sisters, praying that their naivety wouldn’t get them into much trouble.
“Tommy Merlyn plans on opening a bar here in the Glades, and you know what that means,” she raised her face to him, a gleam in her eye. Her father shook his head, still confused at his wife’s plans. She sighed, “Oh Quentin, you must know I plan on having him marry one of the girls.”
“However do you plan on manipulating that situation?” He asked, teasing her.
She placed a quick kiss on his cheek and sashayed back to her drink at the bar. “I have my ways, Quentin. I have my ways.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” he chuckled and began flipping the chairs onto the tables.
The rest of the clean-up passed quickly enough; Laurel finished up at the bar while Felicity counted down the money and closed it up in the safe for the night.
“Are all my ladies ready?” Quentin asked. Nodding, they all headed out to his black Durango parked in the small lot at the side of the bar. They drove home through the potholed streets of the Glades to their small cape cod tucked at the bottom of a dead end street. It wasn’t the best part of the Glades, but it wasn’t the worst. The neighbors were friendly, and they looked out for one another. Pots of marigolds sat on porches, and boxes of petunias hung from windowsills, though the paint had chipped and faded with the passing years.
The night of the party the sisters dressed excitedly. Even Felicity looked forward to the evening out. Lydia, in a bright yellow mini dress and strappy matching heels, and Sara, in neon pink hot sequined shorts with black boots that ended just over her knees, rushed out of their rooms and down the stairs.
Sara called up to her sisters, “Come on you two! You know the free booze only lasts until eleven. Besides, I want to get a good table by the bar. Better to scope out the scene.”
Felicity heard Laurel’s voice from down the hall, “Sara, we will not have a repeat of last year when we practically had to carry you out of the bar.”
“I’m not twenty-one anymore,” Sara whined. “Mom! Tell Laurel to give it up. Just because she wouldn’t know how to flirt even if they gave her a manual is no reason for her to take out her shyness on me.”
“Laurel, be nice to your sister!” Her mother’s clipped voice echoed up to Felicity’s room where she finished one last curl. “Felicity, hurry up! It’s not as if you’ll actually make an effort to meet any men.”
Felicity knew her mother believed she’d be terminally single, but she wouldn’t just settle for some man with a pretty face and an endless bank account. There was more to life than finding a man. Of course she wanted to fall in love, but she planned on having a career of her own if the bar ever started making money again.
She joined Laurel in the hallway. Her sister looked stunning as usual in a short, black, swishy cocktail dress. Felicity decided on her favorite gold dress, short yet elegant it hugged her curves in just the right way. She left her hair down, curls cascading over her bare shoulders. No, she wasn’t wearing hot pink sequined shorts, but she felt pretty just the same.
The arrived at Poison, the club owned by Max Fuller, before too many people had arrived and claimed a high-top table as home base. Sara and Lydia zipped a beeline to the shiny glass-topped bar, promising to bring back drinks for Felicity and Laurel—as long as they stayed put. Her parents wandered off to find people they actually knew, leaving Felicity to let her eyes wander over the room. Strobe lights, colored lights, and the pounding bass battered her senses; Poison wasn’t really her kind of club. She preferred a quieter space where she could actually engage in conversation without screaming.
Sara and Lydia dropped off two caramel apple martinis and dissolved into the dancing crowd. She and Laurel waited for the alcohol to kick in, and relaxed into the evening. Not her usual style, still she was determined to enjoy herself. It’s very rare that they went anywhere together, since the bar always needed staffing. Being in the bar industry made the Bartender’s Ball like a holiday for them: their St. Patrick’s day, Fourth of July, Halloween, and New Year’s all rolled into one. Not to mention, another chance for her mother to marry off her daughters to the first millionaire owner who wandered into their sphere.
Glancing away from her two younger sisters on the dance floor, she noticed her techie friend, Caitlyn Snow, heading towards her.
Felicity greeted her with a hug. “I didn’t expect to see you here. You got yourself outta the restaurant industry with that job at Star Labs. Thought you’d be back in Central City, far away from this madhouse.”
Caitlyn chuckled, “A girl’s gotta walk away from her computer sometimes, Felicity. I’m back home for a visit with the family. Not to mention, take a look around: hotties to the left and right. I’m here to get my dance on. And so are you Felicity Smoak. Life isn’t all codes and hacking. Speaking of which, I’m picking up a cocktail, and then I’m dragging both of you away from the safety of this table.”
Good to her promise, ten minutes later the three of them found themselves in the middle of the partying crowd. Felicity enjoyed herself immensely, but they took a break to catch their breaths while Laurel refilled their drinks just in time for the infamous Tommy Merlyn to make an entrance. When Laurel rejoined them, Caitlyn gave them the skinny on the trio that entered.
“The one on the left you know, Tommy Merlyn. The woman next to him is his sister, Isabel.”
Felicity narrowed her eyes, “She’s got a sort of rat-face look about her, doesn’t she.” Caitlyn and Laurel laughed as she continued, “but is that Oliver Queen? Mr. I was lost on an island for five years?”
“The one and only,” Caitlyn replied. “Destined to take over Queen Consolidated, sooner rather than later, if his mother has anything to say about it. Worth more money than we’ll make in all three of our lifetimes combined.”
Felicity didn’t doubt that, taking in his grey Armani suit, Tommy’s sleek black one, and Isabel’s blue couture dress. Oliver, Tommy, and Isabel headed straight for the bar, standing only ten feet away from the three ladies. Felicity studied the prodigal son as his eyes took in the entire room. They met hers, momentarily, and a crinkle appeared between his eyebrows.
“He doesn’t look very enthused to be here,” Felicity mused. “His eyes seem sad, though his smile seems plastered on well enough.”
“Doesn’t seem to matter since he’s got enough money to buy himself happiness,” came Caitlyn’s quick response.
“Money isn’t everything,” Felicity sighed. Every single person she knew seemed obsessed with the rich and famous. “There’s more to life—”
“Than money,” Laurel interrupted. “Yes, we all know this, Felicity, but not everyone is as cerebral as you.” Thankfully, their parents interrupted, joining the group, along with the rest of the sisters.
“There he is. Mr. Moneybags himself, Tommy Merlyn.” Donna let her gaze trail down the length of his body, approvingly. “Not hard on the eyes either, is he?”
“I’m standing right here, wife,” Quentin chided her.
She snuggled up to him, “Oh, you know I’m not thinking of me. Our girls, on the other hand,” she sipped her drink cranberry and vodka, “the idea they might have a man to take care of them.”
He stopped her impending rant with a kiss, and Felicity smiled, right before she noticed the three millionaires heading in their direction. Her mother turned to adjust the outfits of Laurel, Sara, and Lydia, but Felicity batted her hands away when they came near.
Donna crossed her arms over her chest. “You are absolutely hopeless, Felicity. Whatever am I gonna do with you?” Luckily, before she could list Felicity’s detractions, the group joined them.
Her mother leapt into action, “Mr. Merlyn, so nice of you to join us.”
“Of course, Miss…” Tommy waited for her answer, flirtatious.
Quentin rescued her mother from her ensuing giggles, “This is my wife, Donna Smoak, and these are my daughters,” he pointed to each of them in turn, “Laurel, Felicity, Sara, and Lydia. We however, have met before, young man,” his cop mask falling over his face.
“Ah yes, Detective Lance. The last time we met, if I recall correctly, we did so under less than auspicious circumstances,” he held his hand out for Quentin to grasp. “I hope you don’t hold my youthful indiscretions against me.”
Donna bubbled gaily, “Oh, never mind that. We’ve all done things in our youth that we might not want to admit to—well except for Felicity. She can always be counted on to do the right thing. And my Laurel is just about as good as they come, pretty too,” her hint, blatant.
Good Lord, her mother really loved to embarrass her. Felicity laid her hand on her mother’s arm to silence her without being obvious about it. Unfortunately, Oliver Queen’s gaze missed nothing.
“And you are?” She asked inclining her head to the overly handsome man she couldn’t help but notice.
He simply nodded. “Oliver Queen.” He looked away, as if she were a gnat to swat, not a flesh and blood human being.
“Ignore Ollie, Felicity,” Tommy joked, “he’s got issues. I think he forgot how to speak to women while stranded on that island,” his tone meant to lighten the situation, but Felicity saw hurt flash across Oliver’s face. It gave her a moment of pause.
“Tommy,” he growled in warning.
Tommy went ahead and took his own advice, ignoring Oliver in favor of introducing his sister. “This is my sister Isabel, home from her time in Russia.”
Isabel appeared unimpressed with the group in front of her, but Felicity wanted to put her best foot forward. She knew the importance of making a good impression, even if Ollie—no, no way could she ever call him Ollie—Oliver didn’t.
“Nice to meet you, Isabel. What were you doing in Russia?” Felicity had a hard time keeping her eyes off of Oliver, but Isabel noted her glimpses.
“Family business. You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Ms. Smoak,” her reply haughty as she ran her fingers down Oliver’s sleeve.
So that’s how it’s going to be. Felicity could handle the snobby woman; she’d had plenty of practice with the old money families in Boston. “Yes, I am well equipped to handle many situations, not the least of which is supporting my family when they need it.”
Oliver raised a single eyebrow, and turned fully away from her. Whatever. Who needs to interact with too handsome for his own good self?
“Please, call me Quentin, Tommy. We’re not officer and criminal right now,” the twinkle in his eyes made it obvious that he wasn’t looking to offend.
Tommy’s smile changed his face from good-looking to stunning. Laurel definitely noticed.
“I’d wonder if you’d mind if I borrowed Laurel for a dance or two?” Her sister blushed at his perusal. Felicity only hoped he was kind enough for her sister. She may be younger than her sister, but she was very protective of Laurel.
“Be my guest, but keep your hands where I can see them,” her father’s tone less jovial than before.
Felicity’s body warmed, a feeling she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, as she studied the jawline on Oliver Queen.
It really was too bad he was such a cocky bad boy. She’d heard the stories. She knew he racked up points with every blond, brunette, and redhead in the city. Though, after five years away, she reckoned there’d be plenty of new willing partners for him to corrupt. She knew one thing for certain, she’d never be one of his conquests, face of a Greek god or not.
Tommy crossed the few steps to his friend, far enough that he thought no one listened. “Oliver, come on, man. Ask one of the other girls to dance. Your face looks as if you need to take a shit. Seriously, I can’t have you standing around like a scowling statue. Look,” he tried to glance surreptitiously, but failed, “Felicity is quite pretty.”
Felicity didn’t think he knew she could hear his response, at least she certainly hoped not, since she expected he’d have better manners than his rude retort indicated.
“Laurel Lance is about the only one of those women even worth our time. Her sister, alas, she’s pretty enough, but looks like she doesn’t possess a brain to enhance her shallow attractions. Go, enjoy Laurel. Leave me alone.”
With that, he stalked away leaving Felicity with her mouth dropped like one of those creepy amusement park funhouse clown entrances like in Grease.
Of all the snobby, snotty, self-involved, narcissistic…Shallow? Look who’s talking, frat boy.
Caitlyn interrupted her internal diatribe. “Never mind him, Felicity. You’re absolutely correct. Shallow, self-absorbed, frat boy. You’re so much better than that.”
“Oh. So I said that aloud. Crap. My filter usually works much better than that.” Not really, she though as Caitlyn grabbed her hand and dragged her back out onto the dance floor. Felicity couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere Oliver Queen watched. Though, as she scanned the room in search of him, he was nowhere to be found.
Eventually Caitlyn tired, and they moved back to the table, the party quieting enough that they could converse semi-easily. The topic eventually turned to technical jargon, and Caitlyn’s job at Star Labs. She liked her work and the people surrounding her. So engrossed in their conversation, Felicity had no warning when Oliver, Tommy, and Laurel rejoined them.
“You know a little something about computers, Felicity?”
“Gah! Oliver! Don’t do that.” Felicity felt flustered enough around him without him also sneaking up on her. Oliver seemed amused, though she refused to give him an ounce of credit that didn’t involve her opinion of his narcissism.
“Well…” Frak, he still waited for her answer. She found that stare of his completely unnerving.
“Yes,” she replied, her voice snarky, “I do know a little something about computers, Oliver.”
A look crossed his face Felicity couldn’t decipher. “I have a laptop I’m having some trouble with, would you mind taking a look at it for me?”
Was he asking her for help? “Me? Pretty face, none too bright? Are you sure you meant to ask me? I might spill a latte on it.” The look he wore now? That one she understood. It was shock. Shock and awe: the way Felicity Smoak offended Oliver Queen, millionaire and playboy. Well, served him right. “And at that, folks, I’ll be heading home for the evening.”
Laurel’s face told her everything she needed to know. “Don’t worry, Laur, I’ll just catch a cab since Mom and Dad left with Sara and Lydia earlier.” Her sisters had been well on their way to wasted and her father ensured they headed home, instead of having another round of shots.
“Are you sure, Lissie?” Felicity could tell Laurel wanted to stay a little longer to spend time with Tommy.
She turned to the decent human being in the group surrounding their table. “Tommy, I’m gonna take the gamble that you aren’t a psycho,” she smiled so he’d know she wasn’t serious. “Would you mind making sure my sister gets home safe?
“It would be my absolute pleasure. Would you like me to hail you a cab?” Tommy pulled his arm from around Laurel’s waist with the intention of helping her out.
She waved him off, “No, it’s really not necessary. I’m quite capable of getting myself home. But thank you, I appreciate the offer.” She nodded to the group, hugging Laurel and Caitlyn, and dragging a promise from Caitlyn to visit again soon.
She knew that Oliver’s observation never left her as she walked out to the curb intent on catching a cab and heading straight home. But the night was comfortable, and she quite enjoyed the freedom, so decided she’d walk part of the way, clear her head a bit. Maybe not the smartest move, but her father ensured she took self-defense classes, and she’d stick to the main roads, so she wasn’t too worried.
Until she realized it was far too late for her to be walking alone. She turned on her heel, and reversed back the way she came. Staying in the lights, she slipped a furtive hand in her pocket, grasping her cell phone in one hand, her keys looped over the fingers of the other. Stay alert. Stay focused. A scuffle sounded behind her, and she quickened her pace. Two more blocks. A trash can clattered down an alleyway as she crossed the street. Though shivers rippled over her, she felt safe. No explanation, she just did. Movement caught her peripheral vision and disappeared.
Finally a cab turned the corner just ahead, the light atop its frame shining brilliantly against the encroaching night. The hand that clutched her cell phone raised and the car pulled forward, beckoning her inward. Her breath whooshed out of her as she slammed the door shut.
But as they drove away, Felicity glanced up to see a man in a hood melting into the shadows.