"Deano, stop schmoozing and get your ass behind this bar!" The man in question shot me a sheepish smile over his shoulder before plastering a slimy smirk back on and taking the napkin, which undoubtedly had a phone number on it, from the half-naked brunette in front of him. He gave a mock salute before ambling back over to the hatch door that gave him access to the far side of the bar. To be honest, I was surprised that he heard me yelling at him above the music. Rangers wasn't exactly a club but we had live music fairly often and, right at that moment, a leather clad, mohawked man was screaming into the microphone about an ex that had stolen his wallet. To music, of course. It definitely wasn't one of the better bands that Lez had ever accosted.
And yet, despite the caterwauling emanating from the stage, the place was packed. There were the usual regulars propping up the bar, slumped on stools with beers in their hands. The standard small groups of people in their twenties, huddled around the booths in their deep conversations were only here because the beer was cheap and Lez wasn't too bothered about the odd fight that would inevitably break out here and there. Then there were the people who were absolutely bombed out of their minds, swaying on the dance floor, their inebriated state made more obvious tonight by the abysmal standard of the band. I loved my job but there were times when I really wished it wasn't my turn on the rota to work Saturday nights.
I slid a rum and coke across to my most recent customer and spun to face my next one. My feet lifted a good foot off of the floor as I was jerked across the bar by my arms, a loud, wordless scream piercing through my eardrums.
"Nice to see you too, Eve." The tall blond in question dropped me to my feet but kept hold of my hands stretched out across the counter.
"There better be a good reason you cancelled on me yesterday." Her words were severe but half her face was taken up with her smile - meaning she already knew why I'd cancelled. I opened my mouth to try and deny it anyway. "DON'T even try that with me. Let me rephrase. When you finish, you are going to tell me what, or rather who, was so important that you couldn't keep our spa appointment."
"Yes, mom." I muttered under my breath as Reece, sidled up next Eve and flung an arm around her shoulder.
"Path of least resistant is always best. She's been going on about the possibilities since you texted yesterday. I never want to hear that level of detail about your sex life, real or imaginary, ever again, J." He did a one sided cringe before slurping from the bottle I slid his way.
"Your girlfriend, your ears, you choose to listen." He went to flick some condensation at me but I ducked, flipping him the bird as I moved on to serve the next customer - a pouting women in a tube dress - and started slinging drinks. I had another two hours before the end of my shift and then I would be able to hop over to the other side and have some time with my friends. This wasn't the sort of place you would normally find Eve and Reece; she was more of a small-town bar kind of girl and he was all for staying in with sports and some beers. It was mostly our ritual, if I was working a weekend night, which most weekends I was, they would come in and wait for me to finish so they could see me.
I almost smashed the glass over Dean's head as he brushed himself against me for the fifth time in about twenty minutes. You like this job. You need this job. It was a pretty constant mantra whenever I was on shift with him - the guy was a horn-dog sex pest. He couldn't get why I wouldn't want him and Lez couldn't fire him because for some odd reason girls, and a few boys, actually came to the bar just to see him. It was more than a little sickening.
"Dean, I swear to God if you touch me one more time, I am going to remove that body part from your person." Annoyingly, he seemed unfazed by my very serious threat and continued to hover within my personal space.
"You're only angry because you want it so bad." He wasn't joking. He was deadly serious. Did this shit actually work on those women? With a bracing breath, I went back to slicing lime garnishes.
"No. I am angry because you're a vile, repulsive whelp of a man who is so far up his own ass he doesn't know what reality looks like." He let out what I think was supposed to be a husky chuckle but more sounded like he was choking and leaned in closer.
"You keep telling yourself that, babe." I set the knife in my hand down so I wouldn't be tempted and spun to give him a quick jab in the side. Dean, however, was clearly not as stupid as I originally thought as he must have learned from the other times. He blew me a kiss from the bar hatch and loped out towards a bachelorette party that had been screaming obnoxiously between songs and none of whom looked sober enough to tell their ass from their elbow. I would put money down that I would have to call at least one of them a cab within the next hour.
It was in this rare moment of mid-shift stillness that I began to feel someone was watching me. Don't get me wrong, nine times out of ten I would turn around and there would be a customer waiting for my attention, Lez would be waving me over or there would be the odd guy who was just too drunk to know that vacantly gawping at a woman wasn't going to get the sort of attention that they wanted. In this case it was the first one.
I wandered over to the guy who was leaning on the bar, staring hard at me as if it was going to make me move any faster and gave him a terse nod. I had learned fairly early on that the honey-sweet, chatty-Cathy service I was used to in my childhood small town would win you no favours but many creeps out here. The strangers eyebrow quirked up as he regarded me for a beat too long. Irritation prickled my neck. It's not as if he wasn't hot. With that clean-cut boy gone rogue kind of appeal to him, I am sure there are many women, including myself, who would be happy to show him a good time. I had always been a sucker for the tall, dark and brooding type - even in high school. However, I can tell you now that there is nothing less attractive than trying to get it off with the bar staff knowing that, if they are uncomfortable with your attention, they can't really escape you.
"You going to order?" His eyes snapped up to mine as if he had forgotten that I could speak. I bit into my cheek in wanting regret, he had the darkest green eyes I had ever seen - damn.
Too bad he's obviously an asshole.
"A beer would do me fine, doll." I was pretty sure I was going to blind myself with how hard I rolled my eyes. Doll. Why don't you light your cigar and strut back to the Mad Men set where you clearly belong. I tried to keep the impatience off my face as I slid the bottle across to him from as far away as possible and stepped up to my favourite customer.
"Vinnie!" I know my voice came out as I squeal but I couldn't help it - he was my favourite regular. He actually got me the job here.
"Buttercup! How are you my darlin'?" I leaned across the wood surface so he could give me a one-armed hug and set to work pouring his whisky and water.
"Easy breezy, you know me."
"Don't say that too loud, you don't want the dogs in here hearin' you." We both laughed at our little script - we always started off with the same few lines. When I had first rumbled into town, I'd been stupid enough to believe I would be able to just find somewhere to stay within my price range at the drop of a hat. Vinnie had found me sleeping on a park bench with all my stuff and offered me a place to stay. I am no idiot, I was suspicious as hell for the whole walk back to his home and kept a two foot distance from him and his spaniel, Trixie, the whole way. But when I met his wife, Darla, resistance was futile. A tiny woman with a huge personality and more generosity in her pinky finger than most people had in their whole body, she had put me instantly at ease. I'd slept in their spare room with Trixie for a week, before they'd set me up with accommodation and this job. They were my home away from home.
I set my cloth down for a minute, deciding Deano could pick up the slack for once, and caught up with Vinnie for a while. I still went over there for Sunday dinner every time I was free which, with my shift pattern recently, hadn't been very often. I missed them. I must have gotten too caught up in it because, next thing I knew, I had Dean screaming in my ear.
"Jade, are you for real? Look at the bar." I flicked my gaze up, laughing in shock. There were about twenty people crowded around the serving area, Dean flailing around trying to mix drinks and pour beers at the same time. He was failing miserably, might I add. I shrugged apologetically at Vinnie before diving into the fray and cleaning up the mess. Business had picked up since the band ended and I was kept busy - not even really seeing the people I was serving in my hurry to get through the orders. Order, fix, pay, change. It was simple but it was something I did well, spinning around Dean as he reached for something behind me, getting glasses handed to me before the order was finished. As much as I couldn't stand Dean, when we got into a flow like this, we were a good team.
That's pretty much how it went for the rest of my shift.
"J, get your ass out here - you're done!" Eve didn't even bother to leave her table to screech at me - Reece only laughed. I sent her a nod of acknowledgement, pouring myself a whiskey before setting it on the bar and hopping over. I pretended not to see Dean's frazzled look of despair and sent a small wave over my shoulder aa I wove between the tables towards my best friends.