“Is this seat taken?” a voice from behind Gray asked.
“No.” He didn’t look behind him. He had a terrible day and had resolved to spend the night in the bottom of the rocks glass in front of him. He hadn’t quite settled on which liquor would accompany him on his journey but he was leaning towards the amber beauty of whiskey instead of the see through devil of vodka.
“No problem.” He slammed back the rest of the liquid in the glass and set it on the bar in front of him.
“Another one?” Lea, the bartender, asked.
“And you Olivia?”
“I’ll take a two tequilas and a very dirty, dirty martini with extra olives,” she answered and then added, “and let’s go ahead and try a preemptive strike at a hangover. Add a water to that.”
Lea nodded and placed a napkin in front of her. “Bad day?”
“Long day. Just glad to see it’s ending.”
Gray watched nervously as she put her cell phone and keys on the bar in front of her. He knew she was going to stay where she was for the rest of the night.
He knew her name before Lea had even said it. He knew she was about seven months away from her thirty-first birthday and that she was also dangerously close to becoming a raging alcoholic, a few steps away from being a total recluse, and if you asked her friends on the verge of being a cold-hearted bitch, but he didn’t care about any of that. He was in love with her and had been in love her since the first night he had seen her. He had watched as she walked into the bar with a smile on her face and sat down at the end of the long wooden bar alone. She had exchanged words with Lea and the two of them laughed with wide easy smiles across their faces. It was easy to see they were friends. He watched her from a distance as she sat alone at the bar with her cell phone, keys, and drink in front of her. She would occasionally check the time and glance at the door as new patrons came in. She watched one of four screens on the opposite wall, but he knew she was staring right through them. She could care less about what was on them. They were just a distraction to her. He had moved closer to the bar just to watch her. He wanted to be in her presence. He witnessed as her friends came in with hugs and greetings for her. She was the center of their attention even if she didn’t want to be. She had arranged their night, had made the calls, sent the emails out, and brought them together. It was what she was good at. The laughter, conversation, and drinks flowed. It was a night where no one cared. The group’s infectious laughter and good times spread through the bar like a slow moving slug. They didn’t know. They didn’t care. Gray had seen this happen many nights from a distance. He had always wondered if Olivia would notice him sitting at the bar and offer to buy him a drink. He often wondered if any of the smiles she threw his way were meant for him or someone around him. He wanted to know what it was like to be in her circle with her friends. Sometimes they seemed carefree and sometimes they seemed as if they were teenagers looking for attention.
He also couldn’t believe that out of all the days in his life, she was now sitting next to him. He knew it had to be the universe mocking him. He knew he didn’t want to be bothered by anyone, so life sat Olivia next to him.
Lea landed back in front of them and placed a drink in front of Gray and then two shots in front of Olivia. “Gray this is Olivia. Olivia this is Gray. Toast your bad days together.”
Olivia turned to her left and smiled at the dark blonde and green-eyed stranger next to her. “It’s nice to meet you Gray,” she said, shaking his hand. She had seen him in the bar before but had never spoken to him. She had never seen him in with friends so she assumed he came to the bar to be left alone and she had always thought he was out of her league.
“The pleasure is mine,” he replied, trying not to hold onto her hand like a nervous stalker. He hoped that she couldn’t feel his palm shaking or sweating from the sheer nervousness coursing through his body. “Shall we toast?” he asked the dark eyed brunette next to him.
“To bad days.”
“To bad days.” He watched as she did her two shots without even blinking. A knot instantly formed in the pit of his stomach for her. “You’re a tequila fan.”
“Not really,” she replied after she took a drink of her water. “I hate it. It either makes me very stupid and I mean giggly stupid or it makes me real mean.”
“But you just did two shots anyway.”
“I didn’t say I was smart about my drinking,” she replied with a soft shrug of her shoulders.
Gray smiled. He liked that she was honest.
“What’s your story morning glory?”
“Oasis album title.”
Olivia felt herself smile. “Two points.”
Nodding, she took another drink of her water. “One point for knowing it’s the title of an Oasis album and another point for calling it an album not a CD. Granted they don’t make a lot of albums per say, but it’s still an album.”
“Unless it’s an EP.”
“You know your music.”
“I’m geek when it comes to it. It’s sad.”
“So what’s your story? Where are you from? Let’s screw the awkward silence that will develop between us as we struggle over our drinks to be entertaining.”
Gray smiled. “You don’t mess around do you?”
“No,” she answered with a shake of her head. “If I’m going to sit here all night next to you, then I want to make sure you at least can carry on a conversation.”
“What if I just want to sit here in silence and sulk in my drinks?”
“Then I suggest you move,” she answered as Lea placed a martini in front of her and a small plate of olives next to the drink.
“That’s not happening so I guess I’ll talk then. I suppose I have to go first?”
Olivia nodded with a smile. She was surprised Gray didn’t get up and leave. Her direct honesty usually made her out to be a bitch to most, but in reality she was the most caring and nicest person in the world. “Are you a native or a transplant?”
“Transplant from up north. Went to college here. Fell in love and stayed.”
“Fell in love with a girl?”
“If I say that’s a White Stripes song, it wouldn’t be as charming as before would it?”
“Maybe after a few more drinks.”
Gray smiled. He had built Olivia up in his mind to be this untouchable being, but here she was sitting next to him with a smile on her face and a genuine interest in talking to him. Maybe his crappy day would turn into a great night. “I didn’t stay here for a girl though I’m sure it would have been a better story if it had been.”
“What’s your degree in?”
“Is that what you wanted to major in?”
“Yeah, at the time it was.”
“Is that what you do?”
Gray shook his head and then took a drink. “Not at all. I’m in advertising.”
“Do you like your job?”
“I actually do. It’s creative and that’s what I like. What about you?”
“I’m a samurai sword wielding diva.”
Gray laughed out loud. “I think we’re going to need more shots down here.”
“It was a great answer wasn’t it?” Olivia asked with a smile. She liked the way he had laughed out loud at her bad joke. It was real, honest, and from his gut. He didn’t hide his laugh behind his hand or roll his eyes at her.
“It was a superb answer. So when you’re not wielding your samurai sword and being a diva what do you do?”
“Freelance writer and creative genius.”
“Creative genius. Want to come work for my advertising company?”
Olivia shook her head. “Absolutely not. I’d be stifled by the man.”
“Are you serious or joking?”
“Joking about the man but seriously, I do freelance writing which pays horribly so I design websites which pays well.”
“Have I read anything by you?”
Taking a drink first, Olivia shook her head. She liked that he didn’t ask her about designing websites first. “Probably not.”
“Then you’ll have to let me read something.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Okay,” she answered. “I’ll seriously let you read something.”
The two exchanged nods to each other. First impressions were out of the way and they both liked who was sitting next to them. It surprised them both that the conversation between them had been easy. They both had eschewed meeting new people because it was as if you were dragging yourself naked across a highway of freshly salted broken glass. Painful to the heart while ripping out one’s soul too.
“So would you like to talk about your bad day?” Gray asked, settling into his chair. He didn’t realize he’d be on the edge of it since Olivia had sat next to him.
“Not really,” she answered and put an olive in her mouth.
Gray nodded, letting her know that he understood. “Sorry you had a bad day.”
Olivia shrugged her shoulders as she stirred the plastic toothpick in her martini glass. “It’s not your fault, unless you’re a god or something. There are good days and there are bad days. You got to roll with the punches.”
“I’m no god, but I wish I had god like powers sometimes.”
“Creating the world, causing famine, death, and so on is what you want?” Olivia asked with a smile.
Raising an eyebrow at her, Gray smiled. “Point taken.”
“You’re not some religious freak are you? I don’t think I could talk all night about religion.”
Gray took a drink of his whiskey. “No religious zealot here. I think the last time I went to church was my sister’s wedding.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Let’s just say years,” he answered as a total stranger walked up behind Olivia and enveloped her in a bear hug. Watching as the stranger planted a kiss on her cheek, he felt the life drain from his body.
“I called, you didn’t answer,” the overly tanned and blonde man said as he kept hugging Olivia. “Not good.”
“Whatever,” she said and shrugged him off. “Zane, this is Gray. Gray, one of my closest friends, Zane.”
Gray felt Zane eye him and could see him processing everything about him into his mind for future reference. “Nice to meet you,” he said not knowing whether to hold out his hand but opted for politeness anyway.
“Same here,” Zane replied, shaking Gray’s hand with a strong almost threatening shake. He smiled at the blonde stranger with a smile that said if you think about hurting her, I’ll break your neck. “So what are you getting into tonight?” he asked, turning his attention back to Olivia.
“I’ll be sitting right here,” she answered, pointing to where she currently sat. “Why?”
“We’re all going to check out Simon’s band.”
Olivia thought a moment and then shook her head. She loved Simon but he couldn’t sing if his life depended on it. “I’ll pass.”
“Come on, you have to go. Simon’s our bud.”
“He’s our bud who can’t sing. Someone who got the bright idea that he could from you.”
Zane smiled sheepishly. “I was drunk.”
“Then maybe you can get drunk and tell him that he sucks at being a singer.”
“Buy me a drink.”
Olivia huffed, “I’ll buy Gray a drink before I buy you a drink.”
Gray felt Zane’s eyes on him in mid heartbeat. “I’ll buy you one,” he felt himself say. He wasn’t sure if it was to remain on his good side or if it was to make himself feel more than three feet tall in Zane’s eyes.
“Thanks,” he answered as Olivia’s elbow silently dug into his ribs, “but I’ll buy everyone a drink.”
“Thanks,” Olivia replied before Gray could answer. Zane was protective demeanor over her was a pain at times.
Gray was sure he had missed something that had happened between the two friends, but he couldn’t place what it was so he just nodded. “Next round’s on me then.”
“Deal,” Zane replied as they both shook hands. “Drink of my choice?”
Olivia lowered her head into her hands. This was going to be a long and painful night for her. She could see it was going nowhere good and it was going fast. Feeling Zane’s hands on her shoulder, she looked up at Gray. “He’s a fan of tequila.”
Gray smiled the best he could. “You might want to get another preemptive strike. Make that several.”
Over the course of the next two hours Gray met four more friends of Olivia’s. Heather, a leggy blonde with pixie short hair and stunning wire glasses, was already drunk after three beers. She had started collecting cocktail swords behind her left ear. She currently had five, but Gray had no clue to where she had gotten them. There was also Thom, who he thought was Heather’s boyfriend, but when she was suddenly making out with another man, he guessed his assumption was wrong. Thom was of average height with a generic face and was eight beers into the night, which Olivia had told him was an easy drinking night for Thom. If that was an easy night, Gray really didn’t want to see a hard drinking night. There had also been Ross, who seemed to be in a constant state of agitation and Susan who was twice as uptight as Ross until the three shots of whiskey hit her system and when that happened, Gray realized he really wished people had volume controls stuck in their necks. Something in him knew that Susan’s volume didn’t stop at ten or eleven and that she was just going to be loud. Zane had disappeared to hear Simon’s band play and Gray was relieved of his looming presence. He knew Zane thought of himself as Olivia’s protector and that she merely saw him as a friend who really drove her nuts when he drank.
“I’m sorry in advance,” Olivia said as she sat down next to Gray on the wooden bench that lined the length of one of side of the bar.
“For what?” he asked turning to look at her.
“For that,” she said, pointing with the bottle of water in her hand.
Gray looked towards where the bottle was pointing and saw a stranger walking towards them with a tray of shots. He instantly felt the bile in his stomach laughing at him. “I don’t know if I should ask who is he or what is he carrying?”
Running her hand through her hair, Olivia sighed. “That is my best friend Dean and he’s carrying a tray of shots.”
“Please tell me they are not shots of tequila.”
“Want to share this preemptive strike with me?” Olivia asked, holding out the bottle of water for Gray.
“It’s tequila isn’t it?” he asked, taking the bottle.
Olivia nodded. “I’m afraid so, and I’m afraid but you have been sucked through the fourth wall and now are a member of the crew.”
“The crew?” Gray asked, mimicking Olivia’s air quotations.
Olivia swept her hand out towards the people around them. “This is the crew. The circle. They don’t buy shots of Patron just for anyone. You apparently made a good impression on them. You now have…” Olivia stopped in mid sentence and counted. “Six new drinking buddies and that includes the missing in action Zane.”
“As long as you included yourself in that mix, I’m fine with that.”
Olivia smiled and said, “I’m seven and I drink in a league of my own.”
This page copyright © 2009 Shelia Taylor
All rights reserved | This is a rough draft and not the final version