It was another quiet night at the bar. She wondered how Jill could afford to keep the place open. Surely, Jill’s bar didn’t need another waitress. The only reason she was working tonight was that Jill was out of town again and the dark-haired girl had called in sick.
Apart from Old Man Sneed nursing a long neck, the men at the corner table were her only customers. She hadn’t been working for Jill long enough to know the names of the regulars, but she suspected that they were all that kept this place afloat. She had seen the three guys at the corner table a few times before, sometimes with the dark-haired waitress and a little boy, sometimes not. She thought she had their crowd just about figured out. As she polished the glassware for a second time, she watched the men discretely to confirm her suspicions.
The loner with the whiny voice and the scraggly hair had to be their ringleader. His steely eyes gave her the creeps. There was a kind of haunted feeling to him, sad and lonely. It didn’t surprise her that the pretty boy kept trying to cheer him up.
Pretty boy, loner’s friend and wingman, was shorter, with black hair and china-blue eyes. He’s a pleaser, she thought, the teacher’s pet. He’s always trying to impress everyone with that big brain. And what’s up with him and that dark-haired waitress? What a weird relationship that one is.
Then there was the other young man, the big attractive one …
“Give me anotha’!” Her thoughts were interrupted by Old Man Sneed.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, walking over to him and touching his sleeve. She tried to remember the exact words that Jill had taught her to say in this situation. “It’s time for you to go home.” The man’s body stiffened under her fingers as he roughly brushed her hand away.
“I want my beer!” The man turned on her, his vacant eyes accusing. She stood stock still, like a deer caught in lamplight. What was she supposed to do now?
“Come on, Marty.” The large man from the corner table came to her rescue. He walked briskly to the barstool, lifted the old man up and onto his feet in a single gesture, and steered him toward the door. “The lady said it’s time to go.”
She watched gratefully as he guided Old Man Sneed outside and folded him into a cab. She was still staring when the bells on the door announced the big man’s return. He sauntered toward the corner table, giving her a look of triumph. She flashed him a gracious smile.
“Thank you!” she called out.
“No problem.” He ran a hand through his tousled brown hair and grinned back at her. His hair was even spikier than before.
Blushing, she returned to her dishes. Silly, she knew. No sense getting involved with anyone here. No telling where the next relocation would take her. But, still, she thought, gazing over the tops of the glassware, it was fun to look.
The corner table seemed to be growing restless. She carefully added up their bar tab and walked over to hand them their bill. The men grew strangely quiet as she drew near.
“Here is your bill. You can pay me,” she said. Ignoring the others, she placed the receipt in front of her rescuer.
The pretty-boy pleaser picked it up. He didn’t look happy. Shaking his head at her, he said, “Hey, you can just put this on my tab.”
She looked at him in surprise. A tab? Oh, yes, now she remembered. Tab was a slang word for bar credit. Jill hadn’t said anything about the bar’s credit policy, so she had no idea what it was. Was he trying to pull one over on her? She bit her lip nervously and picked at the frilly hem of her skirt, trying to think of how best to handle the situation.
“Um,” she said, trying to buy some time.
“Here.” The man with the broad shoulders came to her rescue once again. He dropped his hamburger, wiped his hands on his jeans, and dug out his wallet. He gave the blue-eyed man a stern look, then turned to her with a smile. His brown eyes were dancing.
“Don’t mind him,” he said, as he handed her a wad of cash. “He thinks he owns the place.”
She smiled shyly as she took the money from him. The man’s hands were rough and his grip was strong, like someone who had worked in the fields all day. His forearms reminded her of the men back home on her father’s farm: powerful, chiseled, manly. Just looking at his biceps made her knees buckle. She dare not look him in the eye; her face was already on fire.
“Thank you,” she said again, looking down at her shoes as she placed the money in her skirt. Scurrying back to the cash register, she could hear the men whooping and hollering in the background. Trying her best to ignore them, she walked around the bar to unlock the cash box. She hoped she could figure out how to make change. Learning a new language was hard enough.
As she unfurled the pile of money to place it in the register, a smile crossed her face. A note was embedded inside one of the folded bills. Heart pounding, she smoothed the crumpled scrap of napkin on the counter. She stared at the blocky printing, trying to puzzle out the words. It was hard to concentrate.
MY BUDDIES ARE MADE ME WRITE THIS BECAUSE I LOST A BET.
Her heart dropped to the floor. So much for love at first sight. So much for new beginnings.
THEY DARED ME, SO NOW I HAVE TO ASK YOU ON A DATE.
Great, she thought, tears filling her eyes. I’m a joke. I guess it’s obvious I don’t belong here.
She swallowed hard so she wouldn’t cry. She dreaded the thought of returning to their table now. But I might as well read the rest of the note, she thought. What do I have to lose?
THEY DON’T REELISE KNOW THAT SOMEONE AS BEUTIFUL PRETTY AS YOU WOULD NEVER DATE A GUY LIKE ME.
She stared at the paper. That can’t be right, she thought.
She read the sentence again and again to make sure that she hadn’t missed something. No, the words were there. They were real. And they were misspelled.
No ego here, she mused. Her pulse began to race. I think he likes me …
YOU DON’T HAVE TO CALL ME. I’LL UNDERSTAND.
Everything in the bar seemed to be spinning. She fought to keep her emotions in check so she could keep reading.
BUT I SURE HOPE YOU DO. MY NAME’S TINY. WHAT’S YOUR’S? CALL ME!! 555-2121.
The jingle of the bells on the door caught her attention. By the time she looked up, the guys were walking out. But one strong voice called back to her over his shoulder.
“Keep the change!”