“You’re seriously not going to come tonight?” Leslie asked while she sat at my bar. Luckily for her, she was my long-time best friend and I wouldn't kick her out just yet.
I glared at her as I wiped the bar down. There were several reasons why I wasn’t going to go tonight, but I didn’t feel the need to justify a single one of them.
Tonight was our ten year high school reunion and they were the last group of people I wanted to see. There wasn’t a single thing in my life to boast about and I already saw the only person I liked from high school on a daily basis. She was sitting across my bar right now completely pissing me off.
“Leslie, that’s your thing. You were the captain of the cheer leading squad so it would be almost illegal if you didn’t show up. I don’t need to go, and I don’t want to,” I replied sharply.
She sighed. “Girl, what do I have to do to get you to go with me? I don’t want to go alone and there are tons of people that would love to see you!”
“Ha!” I bellowed. “Right. They all want to see what happened to the poor pregnant teenager that dropped out her senior year.” I rolled my eyes at her. “I’m not going.”
“Nobody cares about that anymore, Zoey. That was ages ago! They’ve all probably forgotten by now.”
“Really? Because I saw Becca the other day at the grocery store and she looked at me like I had the plague and pushed her daughter behind her back.”
I turned and grabbed Leslie a fresh beer before I nearly slammed it on the bar. Anger was a new part of my life once I let go of my victim card. I let the girls from my high school stop bothering me only a year ago, but the wounds were still there. Why would I want to see a single one of them?
All I’d see was their happy lives with their perfect husband’s and two and a half kids. No thanks. I’ll stay behind my bar and keep slinging drinks until my feet hurt so bad I could barely make it upstairs to my apartment at the end of the night. That’s the life I preferred, not the fake one I’d have to put on for people I’d rather never see again.
“Becca is a dumb cunt, don’t let that bitch ruin your chance of seeing…” she trailed off as her gaze moved away and her hand scratched the back of her neck.
“Seeing who? Stefan?” I scoffed. “He doesn’t even register on my radar,” I lied.
I had thought of Stefan Keller every single night since I last saw him when I was seventeen years old. He was my first love, my first kiss, and my first… well, everything! Stefan was the love of my life and I wanted nobody but him, I still didn’t.
“I heard he’ll probably be there tonight.” She finally turned to look at me again as she wiggled her brows. “He’s back state side and single.”
I shrugged before I started to restock the olive tray in front of me. He could be single and back here for good, but that didn’t mean he’d want to see me. Things ended horribly ugly between us and if I were him, I’d never want to see me again.
“Oh, come on, Zoey! He can’t still be mad all these years later! You were seventeen! You were only doing what you thought was right and what your parents wanted you to do.”
A sadness swept over me that I hadn’t felt in years. If I hadn’t listened to my parents and followed my heart, who knew where I’d be right now. Married to Stefan? Raising our child? Those were questions I tried to ignore every single day of my life and this stupid reunion was only making them all come back.
“The answer is no, Leslie.”
She groaned as she slapped her hand on the bar. “Zoeyyyy,” she whined out my name the way she knew I hated.
“Don’t Zoeyyyy me! I’m in a good place right now and going tonight will only push me back.”
“Push you back? How much further back can you go? You’re a bartender living in a run down, cockroach infested apartment upstairs. There isn’t much lower, babe.”
I pinned her with my glare. “You’re getting on my last nerve, Leslie. I like my life. Just because you don’t approve doesn’t mean I’m going to change it.”
“Fine, live miserably and pine after a man you love for the rest of your life and be all alone. See if I care.” She wobbled off of her bar stool and grabbed her purse, glaring at me for good measure.
I crossed my arms over my chest and watched her go. There wasn’t a thing she or anyone else could say to get me to go tonight. I was done with that part of my life and ready to move on. Only if my heart would let me.
With Leslie out of my face, I began to clean and restock the rest of the bar and hoped none of my high school alumni made their way in tonight. This town was big enough that I was able to stay away from anyone that still lived here; the rest had moved on with their lives.
“Hey Zoey, do you mind going to the cellar and grabbing two cases of Bud? I think we might have some people in from that reunion tonight and I don’t want to run out in the middle of a rush.”
My boss startled me out of my own little world as I nodded at him. Ted had been great to work for and he gave me the apartment upstairs rent free until I got back on my feet. His words made the butterflies in my stomach turn into little pterodactyls, though, and I prayed he was wrong. I didn’t want to see a single one of them.
Without another word, I went into the cellar and grabbed what I needed, but not before I sat and took a deep breath. The cool air of the cellar kept me from passing out, but my nerves were all over the place again. I almost wanted to play sick and ask Ted for the rest of the night off but then I’d leave him hanging and I couldn’t do that.
I was a big girl. I could do this. So what if some old high school classmates came in? They probably wouldn’t even recognize me anyway. It’s totally fine. I could play stupid.
I put the two cases of Bud on the old elevator lift and pressed the button to send it up, but my mind was elsewhere.
What if Stefan came in? Could I play it cool? He’d recognize me for sure, right? Jesus, I think I might throw up.
The buzz of the elevator shaft brought me back as I went back upstairs and tried to act normal. Ted would recognize my emotions in a heartbeat and I didn’t need him asking questions.
A loud ruckus of laughter echoed from the bar as I made my way back to my post, retrieving the cases of Bud as I ignored the drunken morons. It was the same almost every night around this time, but those laughs didn’t sound familiar to me. They didn’t have the old smokers cough at the end of them like most of the regulars had.
I turned around and felt all the blood drain from my face. Holy fucking shit. Stefan Keller was in my bar. Oh my God, someone please kill me now.