The Girls in the Bar
Genre – Contemporary
Words – 1685
It was half-way through my last shift of the week. Late on a Friday night. A long night of drunks with roving eyes and shallow pockets. I gave up on getting tips through cleavage a long time ago – it’s more trouble than it’s worth – so on that particular night I was looking at a handful of change and a cold walk home after working like a dog for eight hours.
One of the regulars came in. Eli. He was a decent guy. Someone you could turn your back on without worrying that he was checking out the view, if you catch my drift. I like to think that there was an extra twinkle in his eye when he saw I was in. But then I’d also like to think that the lottery ticket I just bought has all six numbers and the bonus.
I waved to him from behind the bar and he mouthed hello. Maggie next to me elbowed me in the ribs. I hoped he hadn’t noticed.
‘Chocolate’s in,’ she said and I kicked her in the ankle. Not a mean kick. Just a tap. I mean, just because he was brown and sweet and delicious, didn’t mean she should talk about him like that. I wouldn’t be too happy to find out that the barmen where I drank called me Golden Syrup. But then, what do I know? Maybe he only came in to watch us smile and whisper. It probably didn’t do his ego any harm.
I was run off my feet. Taking orders and pulling pints on autopilot. There was a gaggle of students at my end of the bar. They didn’t think I’d heard them making bets on who would get my number by the end of the night. I wouldn’t even waste a fake number on boys like that. Oh, the ineptitude of youth.
When I looked around for waiting customers, I saw that a man had appeared on the stool in front of me. And I do mean appeared. I didn’t see him come in, didn’t notice him taking a seat. The most I can say about him is that he was average. Average height, maybe five inches taller than me. Average brown hair. Not overweight. Not too buff. Not ugly, but not gorgeous either. Not like Eli. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt. I couldn’t even tell what colour his eyes were in the low light. I checked his glass was full and gave him a ‘please tip me when I serve you’ smile.
Eli had made straight for the middle of the bar, just like he always did. Maggie was right up the other end, so Jean poured his lemonade. When a man spends his time in a bar drinking nothing stronger than ginger beer, everyone assumes he’s an alcoholic. I didn’t think he was one of those though. He just liked to watch people, and a bar is a damn good place to see people without their masks on.
I finished filling my third pitcher of the last ten minutes. A well-built blonde in a sequined boob-tube came in and took the boys’ attention long enough for me to catch my breath. Instead of scanning for customers like a good little barmaid, I took the moment to stand still for once.
Mr Average caught my eye and held it. ‘Busy tonight.’ he said with a smile.
I smiled back. A real one this time. I could feel a good vibe coming off him. Not that I’m into any of that aura shit.
Eli was near the bottom of his glass of lemonade. I side-stepped over to him. ‘Evening Eli. Want another?’
He picked up his drink and looked at it, tilting the glass so that the clear liquid rose on one side, collecting droplets as it went. ‘Yeah Gina, why not?’ He knocked back the last of the lemonade and slid the glass over to me.
I took it, refilled it and gave it back. ‘Don’t have too many of those. I don’t want to have to ban you from coming in here.’ I slipped a cloth from my apron and wiped down the bar between us, waiting for him to join the banter.
‘Come on now. You know I can handle my bubbles.’ His voice was as smooth as chocolate too. Dark, rich and velvety.
I could feel the banknotes being waved for my attention. One of the boys was back with an empty jug and two parties of giggling girls were jostling for bar-space. Drunk girls are the worst. Have you ever seen a head-wound caused by a five-inch heel? I have. It’s not an experience I would recommend.
Average beckoned me to safety with a flick of his (brown?) eyes.
‘What can I get you?’
‘Choose me something.’
I looked up to my right and nodded to the tutting women. Yes, I have seen you. You’re next. They weren’t squaring off anymore. Funny how bitching about the bar staff can unite people.
‘A pint or a short?’
‘A short.’ He leaned forward on the stool, planting his elbows on the sticky wood in front of him. ‘Something interesting.’
Interesting. Not a request I hear everyday. ‘Any restrictions?’ I pulled out a glass. A prop to keep the harpies at bay.
‘No. I put myself in your hands.’
I looked at him carefully. Looked at the people behind him. No one I recognised. No one I could pin this on as a practical joke. I wasn’t getting that feeling from him anyway.
I turned to browse the selection of bottles on the back wall. Such a variety of shapes and colours. A poison for every taste. I was tempted by the little brown bottle with the chipmunk on the label. It was a running joke behind the bar; pre-dating all the current staff but still unopened. I ran my fingers over the bottle caps, finally settling on the round, squat bottle that was my second favourite. Nothing too exciting – cherry brandy. Some designer with an imagination smaller than his salary had gone for bright red glass.
He rested his chin on his interlocked fingers and watched me as I poured his drink. ‘I’m Brian by the way.’
I took the hand that he offered and shook it. ‘Gina.’ A dimple formed in his cheek when he smiled. I could still feel the warmth of his hand on mine when I twisted the lid back onto the bottle. ‘Good to meet you Brian.’
‘And there I was thinking I was unforgettable.’ Now he was smirking and I was at a loss. I pride myself on never forgetting a face, but Brian? I was sure I’d never seen him before.
I put the brandy back on the shelf and hurried to serve the girls Maggie and Jean hadn’t got to yet. He had to be pulling my leg. I would have remembered meeting him.
A bottle of wine and three vodka and mixers later, I was back to Brian. ‘How’s your cherry brandy?’ No, he wasn’t at all familiar.
‘That’s what happens when you let exhausted bar staff choose your drinks for you.’
‘What? You end up with little old lady drinks?’ The smirk was back, but I didn’t mind. He was more in my league than the lovely Eli. I like a man I can spark off, get some friction going to start a fire.
‘Hey Gina. Some help?’ Maggie was calling from student corner. They’d managed to even out the male-female ratio a bit and wanted drinks for their new friends. I poured some vodka and cokes (can you tell we were having a vodka promotion?) and looked over to see if Eli needed anything. He was gone. When the hell did that happen?
‘Anything else?’ I made my way back to Brian.
‘Your friend left a while ago.’ He gestured to Eli’s stool. No smirk this time. ‘It’s okay, I’d probably be mooning over him if I was a girl.’
That threw me. Heat rose to my cheeks and I was glad of the low lighting. ‘It. It’s not like that. He’s just a regular.’ I looked around for customers. For the first time all night, no one was waiting. I took out my cloth and started to wipe.
‘You still don’t remember me do you?’
I stopped cleaning and looked at him. Really looked. His eyes were brown. His dark hair was a little thin on top, but not thin enough to notice at a first glance. He had a kind face. An open face that couldn’t hide lies from you.
He just stood there and let me dissect him, feature by feature.
‘I’m sorry. I don’t.’
‘What if I said “fried chicken”?’ It was his turn to watch me. Amusement flickered at the corners of his mouth as he waited for me to work it out.
Money was being waved at me from the end of the bar. I was mid-pitcher when it finally came to me. I finished serving the student who had lost his new friend and went back to Brian with a big grin on my face.
His smile grew until it rivalled my own. ‘You’ve remembered.’
‘Funky Chicken right? On my way home from here.’
‘Practically every Friday. You always have your uniform on–’
‘With the name of the bar on it–’
‘So I knew where to find you on my Friday night off.’ He held my gaze for so long that I had to start cleaning the bar again.
‘We could go for a bargain bucket when you get off work.’ He took hold of my hands and I made myself meet his eye again.
I was just about to answer when there was an almighty crash and the sort of scream that gives you an instant headache. We both turned in the direction of the noise. There was a pile of broken glass and a harpy on the floor with the boob-tube girl standing over her, stiletto in hand. Drunk girls are always the worst.