Saturday night was their busiest night. It wasn’t that the bar was packed wall to wall with patrons. No, it just meant that the tables were filled and there was a sign-up sheet for one of two pool tables. Most bars in the city of New York would consider that a sub-par turn out, but, for The Copper Mug it meant the lights would stay on for one more month - at least.
It was true - there wasn’t much cash to go around, just enough to pay for the essentials to keep the place going, or so was the explanation given when comments were made of about the condition of the chipped table tops, the out-dated wood paneling, and the less-than-appropriate graffiti on the bathroom stalls; but, it was nothing a little bit of low lighting and a couple pints of beer couldn’t fix.
If Chase Williams had it her way it wouldn’t have been her first choice for place of work, in fact, it really wasn’t; but, there weren’t a lot of options for a small town girl with ZERO serving experience. Then why choose a job in the serving industry if you don’t have any serving experience? It was Chase’s best friend, Macey Tolbert, who sold her on the idea as they sat in Chase’s room days before she about to leave. Chase spent the previous two years humming and hawing about whether to follow her dreams to the big city to start her career in show business. For as long as she could remember she wanted to act in movies - to be an action star, a love interest, a heroin that girls could look up to. Now, the time had come and on her twentieth birthday Chase decided to actually do it. And so there they sat, two best friends, on the edge of Chase’s bed, Macey clutching Marki the stuffed elephant in her hands, stating very astutely that any struggling artist - specifically actresses - must get a job at a bar as a server. The tough atmosphere and grungy lifestyle would build the right kind of character giving Chase the wizened and jaded experience required for a desperate artistic soul - and not to mention - they made GREAT tips. Like, even up to 600 bucks on a good night.
And that’s just what Chase did - she packed up her whole life (which at the time was just one room in her Mom’s house), stuffed it into her ’96 VW Jetta, and drove from her hometown Newton, NJ to the Big Apple. To Chase that’s when life was really going to start. New York was going to be the place where all her dreams would come true - where she, a small town girl, was going to become something spectacular.
But, not really - because that’s not how life works, right? Chase handed out resumes paired with her best smile and naturally, bars turned her away because - well, because it was illegal to hire someone under the age of 21. On top of that, diners felt that she wasn’t worth the risk due to lack of experience and Chase was a tad too proud to settle for being just a dishwasher/part-time fry cook.
Unfortunately, Chase’s savings weren’t going to last her forever and time was running out. That’s when she found it - just 4 blocks from her apartment - a single door tucked along the side of what Chase thought was an abandoned building. It faced an unpaved parking lot and was marked with a flickering orange neon sign - The Copper Mug. Yes, it was a bar - yes, she was still 20 - and yes, this time she was going to lie about it.
Turns out - they didn’t even ask. A girl had quit that afternoon and they were short staffed. Chase went to work that evening.
That day was three years ago….
Chase weaved her way through the packed tables, her drink tray held at shoulder height, carrying six pints of Old Milwaukee and an equal amount of shot glasses filled to the brim with The Copper Mug’s cheapest whiskey.
“What’s the occasion, boys?” said Chase. She faced a table of six men, all well above the age of 50, all long in need of a mirror - and half as many in need of a shower. In all honesty, if she had gone to any other table - she would be faced with the same thing - needless to say, the bar had a certain demographic.
“Ol’ Jim’s birthday - isn’t it, eh Jim,” said one from across the table, he pointed at the man sitting to Chase’s immediate left. Ol’ Jim grinned happily and leaned to look up at her. He wobbled dangerously in his chair and instinctively Chase placed a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
“Congratulations, my friend,” she said, giving Jim’s plaid covered arm a couple of pats before handing out the pints.
“Such a pretty guuurl,” said Jim, his attempt at a grin was lopsided and sluggish. Chase tucked the empty tray under her arm and reached for the stack of bills the men had piled on the table for her. Cat calls or compliments, however you wanna look at it, came so often that Chase barely noticed anymore. She was young and, in her opinion, not particularly ‘good-looking’ but also not completely hopeless either. She was fit for her age and was granted a long slim waist. Her legs could’ve been longer - but heels help with that. She learned fast that skirts should NEVER be worn at The Mug so her work attire consisted of a plain v-neck shirt, jeans, and her comfiest boots (with a bit of a heel, because, well, you know).
One thing she didn’t stand for, however, was when comments and creepy looks advanced to the sloppy grope. In fact, it was what Ol’ Jim was about to do in that moment - but Chase knew - she had a bit of a sixth sense about these things. Her hand moved quickly and instead a handful on money Chase grabbed a handful of Ol’ Jim’s fingers just before they reached their final destination - her ass.
“Now, Jim,” Chase said matter-of-factly, “I understand that it’s your birthday and I bet until now you’ve had a pretty good year - so good, in fact, that you think you probably deserve a little taste of this,” Chase used her tray to make reference to her body, “and granted, I get where you’re coming from - but….”
She paused, mostly for effect, but also to make sure she had Jim’s full attention. His half glazed eyes blinked a few times and his drunken grin faded. Chases continued, making sure to keep a courteous tone, “but Jim, even though it’s your birthday - will break your fingers if you touch me.”
Chase dropped Jim’s hand, scooped up the bills from the table and tucked them in the apron at her waist.
“Have a goodnight, gentlemen,” said Chase. She gave them a two-finger salute and made for the bar. The table of men behind her produced a mixture of impressed ooooo’s and aaahh’s that rolled into a pats on the backs and cackles of laughter. It was a fine line to walk but Chase had learned, over the course of 3 years, just how and where to draw it.
Along the way Chase took a quick detour to the door into the kitchen where Paula stood with her arms crossed and a Marlboro classic tucked in her lips.
“Jim too drunk, yet?” said Paula Dutcavich, her voice was rough like the crunch of gravel under your shoe. She was Chase’s co-worker - the other server (there were only the two of them at the moment - Renee had quit last week) and Chase, though she had never asked, was pretty sure that Paula had been at The Mug since it had opened - or so Paula made it seem. Paula knew just about every face that walked through the door - and if she didn’t know them - she would by the end of the night.
“It’s his 65th - so you gotta cut him a bit of a break,” said Paula, her painted on eyebrows raised slightly and her fuzzy blonde perm bounced as she nodded her head toward the bar, “the new guy is having a bit of trouble - wouldn’t you say?”
Behind the bar was the newest member of The Mug’s team - Gideon Gray. He started the past Wednesday and just like Chase, three years ago - he had zero experience in the serving industry. Chase had hoped that Marney Sheffield, cook/owner of The Mug, would hire him. Not because he seemed like a nice guy with potential or anything (though Chase was pretty sure he was), no, it was because he was thee finest thing Chase had the pleasure of standing next to since that time she road train seated by a full-sized Captain America poster.
And that’s just what Gideon Gray looked like - a darker cooler looking Chris Evans complete with a perfectly groomed beard. Just waaaay too good-looking to be working in a place like The Mug. Even now, as he frantically moved around behind the bar, he wore a deep green dress shirt, complete with belt, jeans, and even nice shoes - or as Chase would say ‘real grown-up man shoes’ which to her was pretty much anything but sneakers. Chase just adored watching him. It wouldn’t be long before he realized that The Mug is NOT where he should be and that truly, he could do better. So, Chase had to savour it while she could - from a fair distance, of course - she was FAR too awkward to manage any kind of permanent or reasonably intimate relationship with such an angelic looking being.
She was glad he had started on the past Wednesday - it had given her time to go from speaking to him in mumbled squeaks to evolving into full sentences. By the end of Friday evening she had gone to having full conversations with him (well - as full as they could be - he wasn’t much of a talker); this allowed her to quickly friend-zone herself. Yes, she did it on purpose - this way it she could dispel any false hopes that she would have for man who was clearly out of her league. It’s not that Chase had a poor opinion of herself - she just had a realistic one - she would say she was a 7 - maybe a 7.5 on a GOOD day. Gideon could get 10, easily - probably even the fabled 11 if he wanted to…. though at the moment …
Both Paula and Chase watched as the man spun on the spot, finger up in the air, eyes frantically searching for something. His hand darted and he picked up a bottle of bourbon only to inspect the label then set it down again. His face was full of an intense concentration. She had never seen someone working so hard - but getting absolutely nothing done.
“I think I’m gunna…” began Chase and she took a few steps in the direction of the bar.
“Go on sweetie - I got the tables,” said Paula. Chase smiled and mouthed ‘thank-you’ to Paula before making her way to her more-than-overwhelmed bartender.
It was bad enough that he was new but also that The Mug only staffed one bartender. The bar had approximately ten tables and four booths, plus the area by the snooker tables and three VLTs. On the weekdays there would never be more than 20 customers in at one time - fairly manageable for two servers and one bartender; but, on a Saturday night when the place was packed with about 60 bodies things tended to get a tad crazy - especially when they were understaffed, which Chase hated to admit, was more often than not.
“I got your floor orders - just help these poor boys at the bench,” said Chase, she had slide behind the bar and started grabbing empty pint glasses from the shelf. She set them down by the tap and turned to grab more. Unfortunately, for her, Mr. Gideon Gray had not seen her arrive behind the counter. He bumped right into her, she felt the tip of his chin dig into her forehead and her foot kicking the middle of his shin. In the kerfuffle, Gideon’s elbow swung out and hit a bottle of rum off the counter. The bottle went flying to the ground, but even in her recovery from the collusion, Chase managed to swing out her hand and snatch the bottle from mid-air just moments before it would’ve smashed on the ground.
Chase replaced the bottle and looked over to Gideon who, to her surprise, was starring at her with the utmost confusion. He blinked a few times with slight astonishment only to recover when he finally spoke.
“I’m sorry. Sorry. I didn’t even see you there. I’m a little out of my element.”
Oh, and how could she forget the hint of a British accent, it was her favourite part. Chase smiled, “what? Are you kidding me? You’re like a fish in water.”
Gideon didn’t respond. His focus had already shifted from the action of the accident back to his work. He pulled out three tumblers and filled them with ice. He was so serious all the time. From his first day on the job until now he was nothing but well-mannered sorry’s, thank-you’s, and how are you’s. Chase could appreciate a two dimensional man of mysterious - but quite honestly, if he was just a pretty face that would make life rather dull for her. So, she made it her personal mission (with the advantage of the non-threatening friendzone) to find out his story - because really, what’s a gorgeous guy like Gideon doing in a dungeon like The Mug. Chase had her reasons (the quest for fame wasn’t a lubricative one) but Gideon - well, just by having a face like that he should have WAY more options. She watched him fill the tumblers with amber liquid then top them up with some cola.
“Not even a smile,” said Chase, loudly enough for her voice to be heard over the rumble of the bar. She turned to the nearest patron on the other side of the keg taps. He was no older than Ol’ Jim and had a beard that covered 80% of his chest. Chase jabbed her head in the direction of Gideon, “can you believe that guy, Fred? Here I am helpin’ him out, givin’ him compliments, dare say even on my way to crackin’ a few jokes - and I get nothing - that’s cold right?”
Fred’s eyes struggled to focus on Chase, his hand raised his half-filled pint, “gggghhhffff cold beer… is good beer.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about - see Fred get’s it.”
Chase snuck a look from the corner of her eye. AH HA - there it was - a smile. Gideon was scooping ice into three more fresh tumblers and even in the dim light Chase could see a line of perfectly straight teeth. Not even a smirk - but a full on grin. WIN! She didn’t think it was possible - but the man had just become at least ten times more handsome. If Chase could have it her way she would’ve stopped time right then and there. But, since she had no such powers she would just have to document these events in her obligatory ‘super hotty’ update texts to Macey. Even so, Chase took her time reveling the moment while it lasted.
“I’ll get three pints of Keith’s, two Godfathers, and a staff meeting,” the cigarette danced in Paula’s mouth as she slapped down an empty tray on the bar. The snap of the plastic tray against the countertop brought Chase back to reality. With speed and expertise she filled Paula’s order - 3 pints of tap beer, 2 scotch and amarettos, and 3 shots of unlabelled bourbon from Marney’s home distillery. Chase whistled for Gideon’s attention, slid one of the shot glasses to Paula, then took the other two in her hands. When Gideon arrived she handed him one of the shot glasses.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Mandatory staffing meeting,” said Chase, she tapped her shot glass against his and gave a wink, “bottom’s up.”
“What do you think - 30 or 32?” Paula’s low voice grumbled from beside Chase. Together they sat at an empty table that faced the bar and watched Gideon tidying up the last of the glasses. It was well past closing and both women were slouched back in their seats with a beer in hand. It was, as Paula explained, the appropriate therapy for making it through a busy night.
“Maybe 30 - I’m going to hope for 29” said Chase and she took another swig from her beer.
“I can hear you, ladies,” said Gideon without looking up from wiping clean the top of the bar. His sleeves were rolled up to just below his elbows and if Chase squinted hard enough she could see the muscles ripple in his forearm with each swipe of the cloth.
Paula cleared her throat loudly, pulling Chases out of her trance-like state. She turned her eyes on Paula who mouthed ‘you’re staring’. Was she? She looked over at Gideon, who had his head down still wiping away. Well, at least he didn’t seem to care. She downed the rest of her beer and looked at her watch - nearly 3:00am - shit! She had things to do tomorrow. Something along the lines of headshots, her agent, and being late. Chase got to her feet and grabbed her jacket and scarf from behind the bar.
“Alright - I’m off,” she said. She slipped her on jacket and wrapped her scarf around her neck while making her way to the door.
“You’re not walking home, are you? Alone…. and drunk?” It was Gideon.
Chase stopped and turned back to face him. It was the first night she had worked until closed, all other nights she had been off before 11. She was surprised to find genuine concern on his face. He looked so gallant standing there - with his big puppy dog eyes and his brows folded up forming the most perfect of wrinkle on his forehead - wait, what was gallant suppose to mean again? It was in that moment that Chase was thankful she had drank a couple extra after-work beers because if she hadn’t she was sure she would’ve embarrassed herself in the following conversation.
“I’m not -,” she began but stopped to breath out the build up of carbonation in her stomach - or more simply, she burped. She tried again, “I’m not drunk.”
Gideon raised an eyebrow. The last thing Chase wanted him to do was offer to walk her home. She did not have the confidence to deal with him tonight - that would take at least 3 more staff meetings and then some.
“No, I’ll be fine. Seriously. I live like four blocks from here,” she said then added, “plus, I’m like a ninja so you don’t have to worry about me.”
“A… a ninja?” said Gideon.
“Yeah, like a samurai, wu-shu warrior, like - ” Chase dropped her voice and squinted her eyes, ”I know Kung Fu sort of ninja.”
Gideon had stopped working and looked up at her bearing a look of outright confusion, “Those thing aren’t even …. was that suppose be Keanu Reeves?”
Chase nodded and then continued - for clarification obviously, “My mom wanted me in sports growing up cause I’m super dextrous *hiccup*. I’m not a fan of team sports but all the girls played volleyball - so I joined. After school this one girl, Meghan, who was on my team beat the crap outta me - *hiccup* why, I don’t know. I think she had “issues”. Anyway, my mom decided that would never happen again - and I was forced to join Karate instead!”
Silence. Gideon stared at her.
“That sounded a lot cooler in my head,” said Chase.
“Did it?” said Gideon.
“Well - bottom line - I’m a ninja now.”
“You’ve got to be joking,” said Gideon. Clearly her story had not been convincing enough.
Chase raised both hands up in an arc at her sides, mimicking wings, and then stood on one foot, her other leg bent and raised to hip height, “Am I?”
“HIIIIIIIIIEEEEEGGGGGHH,” she said and with impressive skill Chase kicked out the leg she was standing on and landed precariously on the other foot. It was The Karate Kid crane kick - executed perfectly.
Paula erupted in applause and whistled. Even Gideon smiled and shook his head in disbelief. Chase gave a deep bow in both their directions then turned on her heel and left - because let’s face it, there was no topping that.