Stories From the Bar

Reads: 123  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A burned out bartender has his life challenged by a young female guest.

Submitted: November 29, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 29, 2019

A A A

A A A


 

She wasn't a supermodel and maybe that's what made her more beautiful than one. She didn’t have the stereotypical features of beauty, such as sparkling blue eyes or mysterious grey ones and her hair didn’t define her like a fiery redhead or a platinum blonde. She was a brunette with large brown eyes that magnified every emotion and she stole my heart the very first day she entered my bar.

“I’m thinking tequila tonight, but not a margarita,” she said. “Make it a surprise.”

“Is fruit okay?” I asked, “And can I see your ID?”

It wasn’t the conversation we had that mattered. The words exchanged didn't capture the indescribable emotions I felt in my gut that night, like we were meant to have that moment together to change each others lives. Without those emotions, that night would just another boring story of an old bartender helping a guest. 

She handed me her ID and I knew the story really wasn’t going to go anywhere: a girl in her mid-twenties wouldn’t want a washed-up old man in his early forties. And I was okay with that. I liked simple and an innocent crush was simple.

I made her palomas that first night until her and her date cashed out. 

“Have a great night, you two,” I said to them as they put on their jackets. 

She smiled, looked deep into my eyes, and my stomach did backflips as she said, “I hope you have a great night as well.” 

She walked out of the bar.

Just another fluttering moment of love at first sight and then she’s gone, I thought.

I walked up to Tom, the local drunk, who was asleep on the other end of the bar.

“Tom,” I hollered, “Wake up.”

He lifted his head from the bar.

“I’m not sleeping, just resting my eyes,” he said.

“Well, if you need to rest your eyes, find somewhere else.”

“Just give me another drink,” he said.

“You told me earlier you don’t have any money.”

“Then put it on the tab and I’ll get you at the end of the week. You know I’m good for it.”

Tom never really talked about what he did. When he entered the bar he looked like his life was in order. By the time he left he looked like the alley could be his home. 

The one time I asked him what he did for a living, he responded, “I breathe. That’s how I live.” 

“No. What do you do for work?”

“I try to do as little of it as possible.”

Otherwise his story was the typical country song: his wife left him and took everything, including the dog and the kids.

“That dog was my buddy,” he would say. “How could she take my buddy?”

I never heard about the kids. But he was right: he was good for the money. 

I pulled the seasonal beer from the tap into a glass, flipped a cheap coaster down in front of him, and sat the beer down on it.

“Do you ever have those special moments with someone?” I asked him, “Like, words don’t even have to be exchanged for that thirty seconds you meet them but they make a bigger impact in your life than someone you’ve known for years?”

Tom sipped his beer. “People are people are people to me," he responded, "An encounter with one is an encounter with all.”

I stared at the door, holding on to the feeling I was feeling.

“Does it happen often?” he asked, interrupting me. “Because I'd call that loneliness.”

“There was another time, towards the end of my marriage," I told him. "There was a waitress at this place we stopped into for breakfast. It was a small town and she definitely seemed small town but I still remember the feeling I got when our eyes met. She didn’t even serve us, she just cashed us out. I still see her face and sometimes wonder if I was crazy or if she would remember me.”

“See? Loneliness.”

“How do you figure?”

“Your ex was involved.”

“Fair enough.”

 

What was supposed to be a one time encounter changed when she came back to my bar again. And again. And again. Not every night, not even every week, but whenever she did, she seemed to come in earlier and earlier than her dates and we talked more and more.

She entered on a night a snow storm was moving into the city. Tom, who was passed out at the end of the bar, was the only one there so I decided to let him sleep.

She removed her coat as she approached the bar. Underneath she was wearing a low cut shirt with a skirt that ended just above her knees. She must be meeting someone. 

“You doing the usual?” I asked her. 

“I’ll take a surprise tonight. Something with rum. But I’ll wait for my date this evening,” she responded, hanging her coat over the bar stool.

She sat down with her back to me and crossed her legs as she slid onto the barstool. The skirt slid up a little, showing off her thighs.

“Water?" I asked. "Gotta stay hydrated.”

She smiled and pushed her long brown hair over one shoulder, showing her neck. “Are you concerned for my well being?”

I poured her a water and tried not to stare as she leaned forward, exposing her cleavage.

Keep eye contact, I continuously reminded myself but eye contact with her made me stutter. I started wiping the bar top to stop looking at her.

“You know," I began rambling, "Just trying to live vicariously through your youthfulness and I can’t do that if you aren’t taking care of yourself. It’s all selfish, really.”

“Then I have good news and bad news," she said, "I had a quiet night in last night so no vicarious living for you. Even climbed into bed early but a certain show that was recommended to me kept me from sleeping.”

“If it’s not the show I recommended, I’m going to have to ask you to leave my bar.”

“Well…” she said, biting her lip as she thought of something to say. I started fidgeting with the taps and tried to wipe them down to feel less awkward. “You won’t be able to kick me out. At least not for that. I watched four episodes and fell asleep in the fifth. I almost didn’t come out tonight so I could watch more.”

“I’m sure you could blow off one date and it wouldn’t matter; I’ll still see you next week with someone else.”

Her smile faded and she leaned back off the bar.

“That’s not what I meant,” I stammered, “I’m sorry. What you do isn’t my place to judge.”

She sat in silence for a moment.

“But you do judge me.”

“I just make drinks for people of all walks of life. I’m sorry if I said something that offended you.”

“It’s not what you said. It’s what you meant.”

I fidgeted with the ice bin in front of me. It was empty. 

“I should go get more ice.”

“For this rush of people?” she said about the empty bar.

She smiled but it was a different smile. It still felt flirtatious like the smile of hers I had fallen for but this time her eyes said something different. Was it sadness?

It’s funny how a relationship can change with just a few quick sentences. I entered the back room, mentally hollering at myself while scooping the ice in a hurry so I try to right my wrong.

“Look, I shouldn’t---” I started to say as I stepped back up front but stopped as I noticed her date had arrived. He looked up so I continued, “Shouldn’t have left you waiting. What can I get for you, sir?”

We didn’t talk much the rest of the night. From time to time I would glance back at her and I would catch her looking at me. 

Then they left. I slowly cleaned up the area where she once sat as I cursed myself. 

A voice from the bar interrupted my thoughts.

“So everyone dumps their shit on the bartender but who does the bartender unload on?” Tom asked.

“Didn’t realize you were awake,” I responded.

“I tell you every night, I wasn’t sleeping---”

“Just resting your eyes,” I finished for him. “Right.”

“How about you give me a drink and you can unload on me for once?” 

“Let me guess: on the house?” I asked.

He smiled a cunning, drunk smile. “Of course. Consider it payment for my wisdom.”

I shook my head but smiled as I pulled out the best whiskey I carried and poured some into a glass. 

“I mean, I might be wise but I don’t think I’m this wise,” he said, swirling the expensive whiskey in the glass.

 “I’m joining you tonight and I don’t want to drink the good stuff alone,” I said as I poured myself a glass as well. “Cheers.”

Our glasses clinked and before I could even take a sip he asked, “So you fall for all your customers?”

I paused with my cup at my lips. Was it that obvious? I took a sip and closed my eyes so I could enjoy the flavor as I held the whiskey in my mouth. Finally, I swallowed it and let out a deep breath of enjoyment. 

“Never,” I responded.

“Well, there’s a first for everything. I see how you stare at her when she’s here. I see how she stares at you.”

“She’s too young.”

“You’re both of consenting age.”

“That’s not what I want from her.”

Tom chuckled. “Bullshit," he said, "You don’t know her well enough to want anything else.”

“That’s what all the other men use her for.”

“There’s so much wrong with the words coming out of your mouth. Why is the woman always the victim?”

“What?”

“If she were a guy meeting a different woman every night, he would be sleazy. ‘How dare he treat women like that? Just plays with their hearts, promises marriage and kids, then fucks 'em and leaves.’

“But a woman meets multiple guys, it’s ‘How dare those men treat her like that? She must come from a damaged upbringing but if she found a real man that really loved her, she would settle down and find happiness.’ 

Tom took a sip of his whiskey then continued, "Have you ever considered that not all people are programmed to be like you or are you too old to grasp that concept?”

“Fuck you, Tom. I’m younger than you.”

“Then embrace your youth.”

“Youth is relative. I’m old compared to her.”

“Let her decide that.”

He took a sip and we sat in silence.

“You’re a romantic with painted images in your head of sunsets and beaches,” he finally said, “And you make excuses so you don’t have to leave those imaginary settings. But if you won’t see the world outside of your fairy tale filter, take what I learned from fantasies.”

“Is it that all stories can have happy endings?” I said sarcastically.

“Only if you know when to end them. And that the impossible is within reach but sometimes you have to stretch outside of your comfort zone.”

“I think I’m done drinking with you, Tom.” 

I downed my drink then poured myself another as I went back to cleaning the bar.

“Listen to your elders. We know a thing or two,” he said with a laugh and finished his drink. “Seriously, though, if you do see her again, stop trying to think for her and start asking yourself what you truly want.” 

He threw a couple hundreds down on the bar top. “For your date with her.” He laughed and left.

The place was empty so I finished my drink and closed up early. The sidewalks already had several inches of snow so I tucked my hands into my coat pockets and slowly walked home, trying not to fall on the slick ground as I began to daydream. 

I started looking around for others out walking. Maybe I’d bump into her on the walk home. I could apologize for overstepping my bounds earlier, she would laugh and say it was no big deal. She would say she was cold so I’d invite her back to my place to warm up. 

Then what? I wasn’t the kind of man she wanted. I was too nice. I would give her my bed and I would fall asleep on the couch.

Tom was right. I was making up a fairy tale and I was trying to be Prince Charming. 

 

The snow was still falling hard the next day with little sign of letting up. The news reported fourteen inches in the last twenty-four hours and it wasn’t supposed to stop until the next morning so that night at the bar was dead. Even Tom didn’t come in. I began pouring myself drinks as I watched whatever might catch my attention on television before I wandered off to the bathroom with the intent of closing up afterward.

As I stood in the bathroom, I heard Tom enter the bar. I knew I should have locked up first.

I walked out, saying, “Tom, even your business isn’t enough to convince me to stay open. I’m locking up.”

“What about my business?” she asked.

And I stood there, stunned, looking like an idiot.

“Yeah, yes, sure. You drinking the rum tonight?”

“Yep, sounds good, why not.” She smiled. It was still the same sad smile from the night before.

“I see what you did there,” I said as I stepped behind the bar. “Are you waiting for your date tonight or should I pour it now?”

“It’s just me tonight,” she said as she unwrapped the scarf from around her neck and took off her jacket. Underneath she was dressed more conservatively than the night before with snug fitting jeans and a tight long sleeved shirt with a low square neck collar, which accented her clavicle and top of her chest. Again, I forced myself to keep eye contact.

“Well, you look very nice.” I handed her drink to her. "And I'm happy to know you're alone tonight."

She replied flirtatiously, “Between last night and tonight, I’m starting to think my relationship status matters to you.”

Slightly intoxicated I decided a ramble was the best response. 

“Look, I’m not the social type. Typically, as a bartender, I just have to lend an ear and people talk. I don't have to do the talking. I’ve always been a bit awkward and I live in my daydreams. They're safe and I can control them, and that makes me less likely to be with many people--any people, really--so I’m sorry, but I don’t get it."

She took a sip of her drink. “If you were about to lock up, maybe I don’t have to be alone tonight.”

“I’m not sure--”

“Just one drink.”

I poured myself a drink and sat down with her.

“Thank you for your honesty,” she said, “You know, about not getting it." She swirled her drink then sipped on it as she found her words. “I think our world is a beautiful place. The many layers that a person can have is intriguing and I love to expose those layers of myself to others who I can trust while they expose themselves to me."

I sat in silence as I thought about my own life. 

“In some ways I'm envious," I responded. "When I was eighteen I jumped straight into a serious relationship and got married to the first person who would look at me. I never got to test things out before finding the right one.”

“Why do you assume I'm looking for the right one?" she asked. 

She moved her barstool closer to me and placed her hand on my thigh. All I could think about was my failed marriage and the entire life I had lived but never embraced.

“I’m old,” I said, suddenly feeling weary and exhausted from everything.

“You can’t be that old.”
“I could be your dad.”

“You’ve seen my ID and know I’m not that young. Second: my dad is seventy. There’s no way you’re that old.”

 “I’m not even talking age. I just feel like my whole life slipped away and now what?”

She sipped her drink so I continued, “I can’t just close the bar and pursue my dreams."

“What are your dreams?”

“I went to med school for several years,” I said.

“You keep me intrigued,”  she responded, smiling deeply at me, “I would have guessed you were an artist at heart. You’ve got those sad eyes that scream painter.”

“I’m happy I’m not that predictable.”

“What happened?”

“I convinced myself I would suck at it if I graduated so I dropped out.”

“What did your wife think of the career change?”

I chuckled. “She always saw me as a failure so she wasn’t surprised. In fact, I remember she said, ‘Well that took two years longer than I thought it would.’”

She looked at me with empathy as she moved her hand farther up my leg.

“I’m sorry you had to deal with her. She sounds like she was a charming lady," she said sarcastically.

“Very,” I responded with a laugh.

“Maybe you're thinking too big. Maybe just have a reason to wake up in the morning that doesn't involve another person,” she said. "Start there and see what happens."

She took a sip of her drink and moved her hand from my leg to my arm. The feeling of her fingertips against my skin made my heart beat faster. I looked at her hand, then glanced into her eyes.

 "Can I be blunt with you?” she asked. "It’s just the two of us in this bar. I’ve had my hand on your leg and now I’m holding your arm which you clearly noticed yet you seem sad about… things. Enjoy this moment. In the bar. With me. Forget about yesterday and don't worry about tomorrow. Live now.”

Our eyes locked. If I were younger, I would have kissed her but we just stared at each other before I smiled another sad smile and looked down.

“Do a shot with me,” she said as she stood up from the bar stool. 

 I hesitated.

“Don’t say you shouldn’t for reasons like x, y, or z,” she continued, “Just enjoy it.”

“I was actually going to ask if you wanted something fancy or something straight.”

“Wow. Again, you surprise me. You pick. I’m going to put some music on the jukebox.”

I concocted a shot based around some of her more favorite drinks from the past couple months as dance music started playing from the speakers. I turned it up so it would feel less empty in the bar. She stood with her back to me across the room, tapping her foot and moving her hips to the music as she picked several more songs from the jukebox. 

I cursed myself as I watched her, knowing so many people would think I was the luckiest man alive at that moment. So why didn't I feel lucky?

She turned back around and danced back to the bar. I didn't even hide the fact that I was watching her. 

“To tonight,” she said as she grabbed her shot glass and held it up to mine.

“Tonight,” I responded as I clinked my shot glass with hers.

I felt the warmth of the shot as it poured down my throat and I felt it go straight to my head. 

“Has anyone ever told you you’re wise for your age?” I asked.

She smiled. “Until they find out I don’t believe in settling down for life with one partner.”

I laughed. “That hits a little close to home.”

“I might have meant for a bit of a sting,” she said, “But only a playful one.” 

Then she looked down, like she was thinking and her hair fell over her face so I couldn’t see how she was feeling. She looked back up at me and pushed the hair behind her ear and looked sad.

“The more partners a woman has the more dirty she becomes," she said, "We’re whores, sluts, words to shame us into living the way others want. A man, not so much.”

“Okay.”

“As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy this,” she motioned to what we were doing at the moment, “I love... new. New conversations, new events, new places, new people,” she reached up and touched my face, “New sensations.” She stroked my cheek. “Why is that a sin?”

I closed my eyes and asked myself, Is this really what I want?

“I wish I knew,” was my response.

“Believe it or not, I was with this one guy back in the day for four years. And he was great.”

“What happened?”

“I loved having him in my life but in the end I broke his heart.”

“Do you still talk to him?”

“He called me a whore and said there was no place in his life for a slut like me.” She took a sip from her drink as she looked away. “I remember crying, begging him to forgive me. Somehow I was the bad guy because I was miserable trying to live the life this society told me was the correct one.

“And I still hate myself for feeling like I had to justify myself to him. I’m not a whore, I’m not a slut, I'm not broken. I know what I am and what I want and fuck everyone else for wanting something different from me.”

I thought about this as the dance music and alcohol met in my brain and I started moving my head to the beat.

“May I ask what your dates think of this?” I asked, "Or if I'm crossing a line, please let me know."

“I'm honest and open with them as I’m being with you right now," she said. "Yet all people are different. Some think that after a night with them they'll realize I'll want a lifetime, some try to sneak out while I’m sleeping." She laughed at this. "Usually I catch them and that just makes it awkward. They say things like, ‘I forgot I have laundry I need to do,’ or ‘I have to let my dog out.’" Her smile faded. "It's kinda sad, really. It makes what started as a night of consent feel like it ends as a morning of regret for them.”

“I guess some of those beautiful intricate layers are not as beautiful as others.”

She chuckled. “Thank you for listening and engaging me. I couldn’t have phrased it better. However, some of my best friendships have also stemmed from my dates. As I said, all people are different and that makes them all beautiful.”

My head kept moving to the beat of the music.

“I'm going to dance,” she said as she stood and started backing away from me toward the dance floor while moving to the music. “You should join me if you want and from the looks of it, your want to.”

“You’ve been drinking,” I responded.
“I don’t need you to make excuses for me. I made the decision to come down here, by myself, while sober because I enjoy your company. You know where I stand on everything. Now you can choose whether you want to dance with me or not.”

I watched her dance her way to the middle of the bar. She closed her eyes and let the music consume her. 

The song ended and the song Out of Control by She Wants Revenge started playing from the jukebox. Her body was hypnotic as it moved to the music.

I finished my drink then walked over to her; she held out her hands so I took them.

“I’m not a dancer,” I said.

She placed her hands on my hips, pulled me close, and started moving me to the beat. “You think too much,” she whispered as our bodies started moving together.

The rest of the night was a blur but I will always hear that song.

...I watched her feet move, Her hips they sway, Does a hair flip, And starts to say, 'Oh my God it's my favourite song', I pull her close and she sings along…

She convinced me to leave my comfort of solitude in the bar; we ended up in a dance club down the street.

...We can't slow down even if we try, If the record keeps spinning then so will I, She likes disco and tastes like a tear, Tells me don't stop dancing and she's pulling me near...

Or maybe we stayed in the bar. I don't remember. I was lost in her.

With our bodies pressed up against each other as we danced, we both became covered in sweat, our own and each others but she smelled sweet, a mix of lavender and vanilla. 

Her back was against my chest. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and into my face, exposing her neck. My lips kissed it as our hips moved together on the dance floor. She raised her arms and my hands slid down the sides of her body.

...The lights they move sideways and up and down, The beat takes you over and spins you round...

Next thing I know I’m passionately kissing her outside her apartment. She unlocks the door and we fall through, slamming hard against the wall. She kicks the door shut and wraps her legs around my waist.

...Our hearts steady beating, our sweat turns to cold, We're slaves to the DJ and out of control…

 

They say we only remember something truly the first time, after that it becomes a memory of a memory of a memory until it’s just a bad carbon copy of the original event. As she slept on my chest that night I tried to stop thinking so I wouldn’t contaminate the memory but I felt it turning into something it wasn’t as I started overthinking the whole night.

I hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head, then left my face resting there so my nose was buried in her hair. I inhaled deeply so I wouldn’t forget the smell of her. She was mine and I was hers.

They say all stories have a happy ending if you know when to end them so that’s my fairytale ending. They lived happily ever after.

 

But Tom was right. Life isn’t a fairytale. The sad truth hit me: I knew I couldn’t stay until the morning. I couldn't look her in the eyes, I wouldn't know what to talk about.

What did we always talk about when she came into the bar? Those conversations would feel forced and superficial… And then it hit me: that's all they were. They were there just to build up to this moment. I wasn’t honest with myself about my intentions the whole time. This was all I wanted, this one night with her. She was honest with me about her intentions and I felt so ashamed that I wasn't honest about mine.

I slowly moved my arm from around her and slid her off my chest. 

She stirred.

"You don't have to leave," she said.

"I'm going to the bathroom," I responded, "You can go back to sleep."

For a while I stood in the bathroom, wondering what to do. I lived for the moment and enjoyed the moment. There was nothing to be ashamed of. I might not have been honest about my intentions but I could make up for it now. She wouldn't be a might of regret.

I walked back in the bedroom and climbed back in bed. Emma's back was to me so I placed one arm under her head and slid the other over her stomach, pulling her close.

"I thought you were going to leave," she said as she turned to face me.

"So did I," I said, "But I had a great conversation with a friend this evening and want to think less and live more."

Emma smiled and our lips found each other in the dark.

 

Emma still comes into the bar, sometimes with a date, sometimes by herself but that night was the only night I had like that with her. There have been numerous occasions we could have but her lifestyle isn't mine and mine isn't hers. No need for either to be miserable. 

 Just because we don't live the same way doesn't mean anything to me; her advice that night saved me. 

I recently signed up for some painting classes. I guess she was right: I do have the eyes of a painter. I met a lady there and we're supposed to go to dinner tonight. Where's it going to lead? I don't know. I'm just trying to live in the moment.

I know people want their fairy tale ending of 'And they lived happily ever after.' It didn't matter what anyone else wants. I'm just happy to say I lived.


© Copyright 2019 Troy Weaver. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Romance Short Stories