The bar is loud tonight, crowded with paunchy men in faded sports tees and flannel shirts. They’re from out of town, here for the big tool expo, but they’ve claimed ownership of the bar and driven out almost all the regulars – except me. Jenna is the only one working tonight, but she refuses to let me help, even though we both knew before seven that it would be a hectic night.
“Your license is expired, Jess,” she whispered when I offered. “You got your new job, what, six months ago?”
“So? My license lapsed, not my ability to pour a beer.”
A group of six entered and her shoulders sagged briefly. “Maybe later.”
So here I am, sipping a two-hour-old porter, waiting for Jenna to crack and accept my help.
One of the out-of-towners, his head shaved in an attempt to outflank his baldness, accidentally elbows me when he comes up for another round.
I say nothing. He forgets about me immediately. His Red Sox tee is too small for him. He and his friends have taken over the dart board right next to the bar. While he’s gone, one of his friends sticks a fresh hole in the wall. I helped repaint that wall just last year.
“Hey, sweetheart,” he calls to Jenna. “Three more?”
Jenna is down at the other end, serving another horde of outsiders.
“Hey!” Red Sox barks. Jenna looks up, two pint glasses in her hands. Red Sox taps his wrist with one finger – today, sweetheart.
I look up at him, debating intervening. He stares at Jenna – all over Jenna – as she fills his glasses and slides them across the bar.
“Better be faster next time if you expect a tip.” He raises an eyebrow as if he just benevolently imposed some wisdom on her. Jenna’s smile never fractures, but I recognize the furious tension of her eyebrows when we exchange a glance.
People say we have the same smile, but that’s where the similarities end. She’s taller, blonder, and older by eight minutes. We probably weigh the same, but hers is distributed in a way that racks up more “sweetheart” and “baby” in one night than I’ve heard in a lifetime. We both worked behind that bar for almost three years before I started at the bank.
“Hey, sweetheart!” Red Sox is pointing at a bullseye, presumably his. I glimpse gold on his finger – a wedding ring he hadn’t even bothered removing. “You got a nice prize for the winner? A kiss, maybe?”
Whooping all around the bar. Jenna’s smile becomes icy before she teasingly waves him off. If any other regulars were still here, he’d be thrown out, or at least shouted down. But it’s just me tonight, and while I can bench 150, I try not to get in bar fights with strangers anymore.
Besides, like Mom always said, violence isn’t always the answer. I got real good at darts while I worked here, and when this place isn’t overrun with entitled outsiders, the other regulars and I play at least once a week.
“I’ll take that bet,” I say, standing.
A different kind of whooping, now. Jenna winks conspiratorially – neither of us feels inclined to tell people we’re related.
Red Sox yields the floor with a smirk. The friend who put a hole in the wall is too young for the Pink Floyd shirt he’s wearing, but not too young to snicker at me with the others. They sound like chimpanzees.
But they fall silent as I rack up t15, ring, d17; d20, bull, t18. It’s over quickly.
The rest of the bar has already gone back to hollering at each other over their cheap beers, the contest forgotten. Red Sox flushes to match the faded letters on his shirt.
“Hey, Jenna,” I call. “Smoochy, smoochy.”
She rolls her eyes as I tap my cheek. I am rewarded with a kiss, an exaggerated “mwah” like our aunt used to do, and a smirk aimed over my shoulder at Red Sox.
“What is this, some kind of hustle?” he snaps.
“Just good, clean fun.” I drain the last of my lukewarm porter. “Wouldn’t want to upset your wife…”
Red Sox leaves as I reclaim my barstool. He mutters something I don’t quite hear – probably for the best – as he passes. Pink Floyd, though, bobs his head ruefully at Jenna and leaves a twenty on the bar.