If the redhead leans any further across the bar, her tits are bound to pop out of her shirt. I’ve been bartending long enough to know that’s exactly what she wants, along with a free drink and a quickie in the backroom. While I’ll probably take her up on the sex at some point before the sun rises, my shift doesn’t end for another two hours and the Black Oak is packed.
She waves a manicured hand in the air to get my attention like my eyes haven’t been plastered to her chest this entire time. We both know where my mind has gone as I poured everyone else’s round.
“What can I get you, sweetheart?” I shoot her the same crooked grin that gets me a jar full of tips and phone numbers every night.
Red straightens and lets her green eyes rake down my front like I’ve been doing to her tiny frame since she strutted up to the bar. From up close, I realize her hair isn’t natural. Shame. I have a thing for redheads.
“What do you recommend?” she purrs.
The smart thing to do is let her have more time to decide, because the line hasn’t subsided since rush hour started. College kids from Oakland University are here to get screwed up and make stupid choices, and they’re not patient about it since they just got back from Thanksgiving break where they pretended to be good little kids for Mommy and Daddy.
But nobody said I’m smart.
“Depends on what you like.” Leaning my elbows on the edge of the bar, I prop my chin on the back of my hands. She doesn’t seem like a beer type of girl. I’d guess martini or one of those shitty fruity drinks that I spend half my shift making.
She bats her overdone lashes at me. “What if what I like isn’t alcohol right now?”
Someone from behind her yells, “Then move out of the fucking way,” and gets a reaction from at least three other people that makes me chuckle.
Her full lips pull into a tight scowl as she glances over her shoulder.
“They’re right,” I say, shrugging.
The green eyes once narrowed at the other patrons shoot back to me. “What?”
I gesture to my side of the counter. “Do you see any other help right now? Even if I wanted to fuck you in the stock room, I’ve got nobody to cover me.”
Her lips part at my bluntness. Guess my reputation for being an asshole didn’t make its way to her like the one about me being easy.
I grin. “So, alcohol?”
The lust drains from her hopeful eyes once she realizes I won’t be peeling that tight dress off her. I’m ninety-nine percent sure she’s not wearing panties under it, since it clings to her hips without showing any sign of the scrap.
Her throat clears. “I guess my table will just have tequila shots. Five of them.”
My eyes wander over to the back corner where she sauntered from. There were only four of them when they came in, all dressed to impress in skimpy dresses and knee-high boots that demands most of the male attention.
There’s now a fifth girl with her back to me laughing at something the others say. My eyes narrow on her short blonde hair that stops just above her shoulders. It’s not straight or slicked with products like the others seem to be, and she’s not dressed up like them either. Her tight jeans cling to her long legs, flared hips, and perky ass, and the coat she’s still wearing makes me wonder if she’s sticking around.
When she turns her head to glance over at the bar for her friend, I suck in a sharp breath.
Red’s brows pinch. “Who the hell is Emily?”
Her bitter tone makes me want to roll my eyes, but I’m too stuck on the blast from the past to pay her attitude any attention. It’s hard to find similarities between her and my not-so-distant memory from this far away. It could be Emily, but the lighting in here sucks. After how she left almost eight months ago, it wouldn’t surprise me if we both found ourselves in a new town while still avoiding each other.
My chin tips toward her table. “Who’s the girl that joined you?”
Busying myself with the shots so she doesn’t get pissy (well, more pissed than she already is for turning her down and asking about her friend), I glance up to see the blonde already focused back on their group.
Red crosses her arms over her chest, which is probably for the best. It may be warm in here with all the bodies crammed together, but it’d be a shame if they caught frostbite when she steps outside since none of them felt jackets were necessary in twenty-degree weather.
“Why do you want to know about Sam?”
Sam. Not Emily.
Tension rolls off my shoulders as I place the shot glasses onto a tray. “Just curious.”
She produces the money from some unknown part of her body that I don’t care about so long as it’s in my hand. Passing her the change, I let myself shoot one last look at the blonde. She’s a good couple inches taller than the girls she stands beside and she’s not even wearing heels. Normally, tall chicks don’t do it for me. But her laid back demeaner is refreshing to see in a room full of people willing to sell their soul for cheap liquor and one-night stands.
When Red makes it back to their table, she whispers something to the blonde that makes her tense. Neither one looks back at me as they take their shots. Someone calling out for a drink snaps my sudden infatuation in two.
A hasty look from Red tells me she won’t be waiting for me to finish my shift like she planned to.
In my short six months in Mayfield, I’ve been deemed the town Grinch from my lack of enthusiasm over the events they host for the holiday season. Despite feeble attempts to get me to join in on the fun, the only time anyone sees me is if people come to the Black Oak to get drunk, laid, or vent their frustrations like I’m part of the clergy.
Probably a good thing, because some of these people would shock even a priest.
The weekend following Thanksgiving started the initial town frenzy with its annual Christmas decorating competition. Once Black Friday was done and over with, people got crazy over the cash prize and media coverage that comes with winning. It’s why the row of businesses stretching across Main Street and Central Avenue are covered in lights, fake snow, and wreaths, with trees displayed in their windows.
Mayfield looks like Chris Cringle just barfed all over it after a bender. But I’m not the only one who doesn’t have lights strung up based on the neighbor’s house. I’ve seen a car parked out in the driveway when I leave for work at night and a dog barking from behind the fence attached to the backyard. But no human that belongs to either.
Once Chris finishes hiring more bartenders, I won’t be stuck working from three in the afternoon until two in the morning six days a week. The entire town is asleep by the time I get home at three, my mystery neighbor included.
I have theories of who they are. The car is gone from the basic nine to five job period, which means the person works fulltime. And it’s not a particularly nice car, in fact I want to hold it hostage in my garage and fix the shit out of it. It’s a mechanic’s wet dream, so I assume the owner doesn’t have a lot of money since the Nissan has rust coating the bottom and dents rutting the side.
They’re a pet person, based on the dog I hear yapping every so often. Probably patient, since my dog drives me nuts with how much she wants to go outside and play in the snow. Whether it’s a man or woman is beyond me, but based on the single car, I’m guessing it isn’t a couple. That little nugget of information interests me the most.
Something wet licks my face, pulling me out of the Guess Who mystery game. Normally, I don’t mind wakeup calls that involve warm, wet things first thing in the morning. But I never left the bar with anyone after closing last night, which means the culprit isn’t a sexy redheaded vixen, but an oversized pooch.
I try pushing Bailey’s mouth away from me and flop onto my side, but she doesn’t relent. For someone who knows she’s not supposed to be on the mattress, she finds herself up here more times than not. Then again, I never shove her off whenever she demands attention when I get home at stupid o’clock from work.
“Bails,” I groan when her cold nose burrows into my neck. Cursing, I peel my face from the pillow and adjust my eyes to the brightly lit room.
Bailey is usually good about letting me sleep in. Lately, she hasn’t been acting herself. I’ve woken up twice to vomit on the kitchen floor over the past two weeks, and she sleeps more than usual. But when I called my old vet, they told me it was just a stomach bug and not to worry since she was still eating, drinking, and using the bathroom regularly.
She nudges my neck again.
“Do you really need to go out?”
Her soft whimper is all I need to hear before I throw my blanket off and stand up reluctantly. Hissing when my bare feet touch the cold hardwood floor, I rub Bailey’s side and pull on a shirt and pair of socks.
Glancing at the time on the microwave when I follow Bailey out of the bedroom, I all but curse her name. It’s not even eight in the morning, which means I’ve only been home five hours and sleeping for less than three.
Being a dog owner with no roommates means letting her out when nature calls. I just wish nature had respect for the do not disturb sign I obviously taped to my forehead when I dragged myself inside smelling like tequila and bad decisions early in the morning.
Does that bitch care? No.
As soon as I chain Bailey up so she can do her business, I slip back inside. For it being so early in the winter season, it’s been a consistent bitter mid-twenties. The flurries we’ve gotten produced heavy, wet snow that sticks to everything and becomes a pain in the ass to clear off. Despite that, I love winter. Living in New York my whole life means being used to the bipolar fifty degrees one day and ten the next. I swear Mother Nature hits the bottle more than some of my regulars do.
Scrubbing a palm across my tired face, I scan over the truck calendar my dad gave me that hangs on the fridge. We’re supposed to be getting more help at the tavern in the next week, which means my schedule will be open to picking up more projects for what I want to be doing—jumpstarting my automotive business.
The vehicle repairs I do on the side currently take place in my garage until I can build a larger client list to apply for a business loan. It’s the only means of getting a bigger place to work out of, because the small workbench in my add-on doesn’t offer much room to get shit done.
Every day is a step closer to that dream when I’m not stuck bartending at a place barely any better than a rundown dive bar. I just need to work on gaining more people to get out of there. The clients I do have are steadily growing by word of mouth. Unlike the last garage I worked for, I don’t play games with anyone. When people see the difference between me and Todd Crenshaw, they make the shift.
It’s why I refuse to work part time in a different garage after leaving Oakland. Bartending isn’t what I want to be doing, but it’s better than working for a grade-A asshole who only cares about the money instead of getting a job done right. At least where I work now gives me time during the day to get my projects done before getting groped and bitched at.
Thoughts of the Crenshaw family makes my blood boil. Not just because of Todd’s fucked up business methods, but her. Emily. My best friend since childhood. And ex-girlfriend.
We weren’t proud of ruining a perfectly good friendship by succumbing to everyone’s belief that we’d be perfect for each other. Turns out, just because two people make good friends doesn’t mean it translates to dating. We stopped confiding in each other when we smacked a label on it and found excuses to stay out late until we were nothing more than strangers.
Instead of walking away from each other while we had the chance to mend our old friendship, we chose to settle. I thought we were both too afraid to lose each other if we decided to end it, which is why we stayed. Why I stayed. Emily didn’t think the same way.
It’s why she left a note at her brother’s garage for me to find when I came in to work nearly eight months ago. I’m sorry. That’s all it said. There was no explanation or anything else scripted on the ripped paper she tore from my billing ticket.
Todd told me Emily left town with some guy she met months before the split, which explains why she distanced herself from me leading to the breakup. Honestly, I was relieved when she ended it. I didn’t have the balls to hurt her by admitting I was miserable, so I stuck it out and busied myself with work to cope. But when she ran off and cut me out of her life, going as far as blocking my number, her name became a bitter pill to swallow.
I can deal with her moving on, even deal with her brother kicking me out of the garage I liked going to every day. But being ghosted by the only true friend I had for most my life still hit me hard. It makes me glad I got out of west bumfuck and away from the memories we built there.
Seeing Sam, the blonde look-alike, last night brought back memories I don’t want to have anymore. Moving to Mayfield and starting my own business is supposed to be my fresh start. I just hope she doesn’t become a regular.
Bailey barks at me to let her back in.
“Come on,” I call. “It’s time for bed.”
Hey! I'm Barbara Celeste Doyle, although my middle name should be awkward. My life is a romantic comedy gone wrong, so I've become obsessed with four-legged felines and chocolate--not necessarily in that order.
My love for the written word led me to obtain a bachelor's degree in English and soon a master's in education to teach college classes.