She always compliments what I am wearing. She is from D.C. She always says she and I could be friends, and we should have a drink together sometime.
Except we are not friends. We likely never will be. A vodka tonic with extra lime will always be between us–the one I make, the one another one always buys for her.
“Hey sweetheart, what’s your name?” asked the alpha male of four teal-blue Columbia-shirted men with sunburned noses who’d just swaggered onto their bar stools in an almost successful attempt to appear cool and local and so very, very comfortable in my bar.
“RG,” I smiled. I was off in ten minutes. My replacement was already anxious for me to count my bank and get going. We were busy on this Tuesday.
“Mimi?” asked one.
“No, you jerk,” answered his friend, elbowing him in the ribs. “She said CiCi.”
“R. G.” I said to them both, smiling my I’m-almost-off-but-you’re cute-and-from-out-of-town-and-somehow-found-this-bar-so-you-might-possibly-be-a-great-last-tip smile.
“So, sweetheart,” asked the cutest and oldest of the crew. “How come we’ve never seen you before?”
I paused, because I knew they expected the pause, then said, “Because you’ve never been in here before?”
They laughed the laugh of guys who have left their wives behind for four days of fishing and four nights of doing “the Keys thing.” The laugh of those who want to hit on the tank-top wearing bartender because they figure she is their captive audience, even as she knows she will bid them farewell in less than five minutes and it’s really up to her how long this captivity will last.
My vodka-tonic non friend took an immediate and avid interest in this exchange. “Hey, where are you guys from?” she asked the tallest one.
All four answered various towns and cities from up north. All four sat a little straighter as she slid her bar stool closer to theirs. I mentally x-ed out her tab.
Within seconds, his-and-her arms were draped around his-and-her shoulders. Within minutes she was laughing the laugh of a girl who’s met the guys who will laugh with her as she glances at the bartender whom she no longer pretends to know and says, “I’ll have another,” because a teal-blue-shirted, out-of-town-wanna-be-sport-fisherman will always step up and say, “That’s on me.”
And as I sat and had my shift drink on the opposite side of the bar, I watched one of the teal-blue-shirted-men watch me, then her. I smiled at him, and he smiled at me, then her. I turned my attention to two regulars who were begging me to play darts, not because I am good at darts, but because they needed a body to round out the game and I was the closest body around.
My non friend giggled and leaned her head into the shoulder of the one still watching me. I raised my beer bottle ever so slightly toward him. Take her, buy her, be hers, I silently told him.
He paused, mid sip of his own beer, because he knew I expected at least a second’s pause, a second glance from him.
As my non friend whispered something she found incredibly funny because she giggled breathlessly in the one man’s ear, he watched me watching him be the bit player in the oldest bar saga ever told.
“You want another one of your beers, sweetie?” asked my replacement.
“Nah, gotta go home and walk the dog,” I laughed.
“Come back later,” she said. “It’ll be dead.”
“Yeah, I probably will,” I told her, collecting my phone and my lighter and my cigarettes and my keys, as well as an errant dollar tip that had fallen out of my purse.
Please, don’t ever make me that girl, I thought as I walked toward their end of the bar.
Please, don’t ever let me think I need to be that girl, I thought as I waved goodbye to the four out-of-town boys.
Please, let her find the guy, maybe even this guy, I thought as I walked out the door and into the still-sweltering evening.
Please let this bar always be between me and her.