I catch a strange look from the new bouncer out of the corner of my eye as I jump back over the bar top. He seems to snap out of his gaze when he sees me return his curios glance. He continues sweeping the crowd for trouble and I shake it off. That was the first time he’s seen the show, he must just be curious about it. I resolve as I get back to mixing drinks. Even without the flames my flare bar tending skills create a spectacle for the crowds as well.
I’ve taught my other bar tenders a few tricks and they’re constantly wanting to practice different moves. I encourage them of course— as long as they fill the bottles with water for their practices— I’m not a complete idiot. Luka smiles sheepishly as I hear a smashing glass sound come from his end of the bar. He marches down to me and turns to present his ass for a spanking in punishment.
The crowd of customers at the bar laughs as I take out the cat-on-nine tails whip from underneath the bar. I whip him once with it, never hard but he jumps like it stung and squeals for effect. Before begging me to hit him again with a wink. I just laugh as I shake my head at him and he skips back down the bar. The crowd on the dancefloor is pumping as I start to dance to the music.
The waitresses glide through the crowd and I see Anna signal that she needs a break. I let the other bar tenders know that I’m out again and they nod in response. I dash over to Anna and take her tray and pouch from her. She smiles gratefully before quickly telling me who’s drinking what. I nod at her then she turns to dart away off the floor. I catch Nina glaring at me and I shrug at her.
Nina and Anna don’t get along, just one of the constant drama’s I have to deal with. I shake my head at her as she asks to go for a break. I signal for her to wait ten minutes. She just nods and keeps dancing in her cage. I know she wants to make sure that Anna isn’t hitting on the new bouncer. God forbid that Anna sleeps with him before Nina does, I’ll never hear the end of it.
At the thought of the new stranger I find myself searching for him. I don’t see him but I see Justin who signals that everything is okay. I nod and smile at him as I continue to weave through the people and the booths. I manage to sell a couple of bottle services to some young guys out for a night on the town. Then of course I push a barrage of cocktails on the pixies at another booth in Anna’s section.
Pixies are what I call those girls who are barely legal and do nothing but drink sugar water cocktails all night and giggle and blush at every cute guy who walks past them. Pixies. When Anna returns her hair is a little mussed up and I tell her to fix it. She blushes at me as she scrambles to fix her hair. She looks like she’s about to confess how she spent her fifteen-minute break. I shake my head and hold up my hand to stop her.
“I don’t want to know.” I tell her shortly. I thumb in the direction of the two tables of Frat boys. “The Frat boys are now doing bottle service; I’ve got them both on Patron. Your table of pixies are drinking cocktails, keep pushing them.” I instruct handing her back her tray and pouch. She smiles appreciatively as she must be realizing the tips she’ll get from those booths now. I just nod before leaving her to it.
I dance my way across the dancefloor towards the cage containing my best friend and smile up at her. She smiles down at me before unlatching her cage from the inside and jumping out. She joins me on the dancefloor in front of the stage in a single graceful bound. I grab her hand as we start to weave and dance our way back towards the bar together. It’s hard for her to escape the cage and make it across the dancefloor without an escort unhindered by grabbing hands.
If it’s a particularly friendly crowd I generally send a bouncer to collect her from her cage for a break. I jump back over the bar and grab her a bottle of water and a shot of tequila and a lime wedge. She smiles gratefully as she takes the shot and disappears with the bottle of water out the side entrance of the club.
I really wish she would quit smoking but she’s such a defiant spirit. Which is probably why we’re such good friends. Nina and I have known each other since childhood. Our mothers forced us to play together at the park one day and we’ve been friends ever since. Both being from Russian families and growing up in the Russian neighborhood of San Francisco we bonded in our attempts to escape our family’s expectations and our lives in general.
While our parents would have preferred us to embrace our traditional heritage of our ancestors we were more interested in embracing American traditions and culture. We barely escaped our childhoods intact and Nina constantly jokes that we’re each other’s only reason that we survived it all. Dark memories start to stir up a storm in my head before I shut them down and plaster my fake smile on my face.
I shake up and few more cocktails and throw a few more bottle tricks as the customers continue to flow steadily. I laugh on cue at every one of them as they call me Tom Cruise. If I had a dollar for every time some idiot leering over the bar has made some derivative joke about Tom Cruise or the movie Cocktail I could’ve retired by now.
I wonder why no one ever asks me if I know the Australian guy from that movie. Talk about being overshadowed in a movie role. Nina pops back up in my vision and I smile at her.
“Do you want me to take you back?” I ask her and she smiles wickedly as an idea flashes through her mind. She shakes her head at me as she dashes off towards the club entrance and wraps her hands around the arm of the new bouncer. I shake my head as I try to suppress my smirk. The poor guy looks down right uncomfortable. I see Justin grinning at him and nodding towards the cage.
Then our new bouncer seems to be resolved about getting the task over with. I watch on as Justin and I share a knowing grin as he tries to make his way across the dance floor with Nina behind him. I laugh out right as a couple of the pixies I spotted earlier start to grind on him as he tries to move past them. Nina holds on to his arm as she brushes them aside.
I suddenly have an image of her jumping into his arms like Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard and I burst out laughing at the thought. As though he heard my laugh through the obscene noise of the club the new bouncer’s head whips around and his gaze locks onto me. I’m so shocked by the action I can’t school my face fast enough and I smile brightly at him as I try to stop my laughter. I bite my bottom lip hard desperate to suppress the laughter erupting from within me like a volcano.
I finally give up shaking my head and signaling that I’m going on break to the other bar tenders. I rush out the side of the club with my bottle of water in hand. I take a deep breath of cool night air and it hits my lungs like ice. I shiver involuntarily. I wipe the tears from my eyes as my laughing fit finally dies in my throat. The warm laughter suffocated by the cold air filling my chest.
This alleyway is closed off to foot traffic so it’s a safe place to escape for a break. The solid door manages to block the music from inside giving me a few moments of peace. I slump down into a cheap plastic chair that one of the guys picked up at a yard sale along with the plastic table. It’s our dedicated staff area. The table is covered in graffiti from past and present employees.
I smile as I let my head fall back to absorb the few more minutes of peace and quiet I have remaining. A peace and quiet that is assaulted as I hear someone open the door to the club. I open one eye to glare at my intruder. I quickly change my look when I see the new bouncer stare at me shocked as though he expected to be alone as well. I look back at him waiting for him to say hello. But he says nothing, his gaze falls to the ground as he leans back against the brick wall and just breathes.
I watch as he sinks his head into his hands and shakes his head silently. I take a deep breath and despite the urge I have to talk to him something inside tells me just to let him be. People—especially crowds—seem to make him uncomfortable. I saw the real struggle on his face as he tried to make his way through the throng of dancers gyrating on the dancefloor before. I realize that I haven’t touched my water yet.
I stand up quietly and make my way back towards the door of the club. I stand next to him silently for a moment. I hold the bottle of water out in front of him and his eyes seem to study it curiously before he looks up at me warily. I smile kindly at him and shrug.
“It gets easier.” I tell him reassuringly. He carefully takes the bottle from my hand before his eyes fall back towards the ground. I leave him in his silent crouch against the wall in the alley to privately collect himself before returning to work. Back inside the club the noise destroys all peace from my mind like rain falling in the desert to suppress its heat.