A Bartender, Drinks, and a Date Pt. 01byTony155©
The nightclub was subdued and fairly quiet when Nick arrived. Lively rock music was playing from the speakers scattered throughout and the thin haze of cigarette smoke was just beginning to thicken. Nick scanned the bar area for a place to sit and saw many unoccupied seats. He checked his watch and he was early. Nick looked up to find a large, burly man wearing a light blue polo shirt and jeans approach him.
"ID, please," he said pleasantly, but with authority.
Nick didn't think he looked under 21, but he wasn't going to debate the point.. He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and produced his driver's license for him. The bouncer studied it for a few seconds before handing it back to him.
"Five dollars cover charge," he said.
Nick nodded and put his license away before pulling out a Lincoln and giving it to him.
"Enjoy your evening," he said as he stepped aside.
"Thanks," Nick replied. He walked past the man and headed for the bar, taking a seat to the left side where he could watch the entrance for his date.
"What can I get you?" Nick looked up at the voice and saw a cute brunette wearing a thin white blouse and black slacks waiting patiently for his reply.
Your phone number? Nick kept his thoughts in check, reminding himself that he was going to have a date. "Smirnoff Ice," he said with a friendly smile. She smiled back and walked away to the other side of the bar. She bent over slightly to pull a bottle out of the cooler. Nick eyed her with interest, but looked towards the empty stage when she brought his drink to him.
"Here you go, that'll be $3.75," she said. He looked back at her and noticed rings on her left hand. His interest waned dramatically. He never messed with married women and he thought it would never be a good time to start. He handed her five dollars and told her to keep the change. Nick had brought plenty of money with him and he didn't plan on drinking much that night. He hoped his date wasn't a fish who would drink herself into oblivion. The only thing he hated more than drunken men were drunken women. But, his sister-in-law insisted Shannon was a "nice girl"so he would give her the benefit of the doubt.
Nick didn't mind blind dates and would go out on one occasionally. At 27, he wasn't ready to settle down and he only dated for companionship, not commitment. He tried to let his dates know this from the start so that there was no confusion about his intentions. His relationships rarely lasted more than a few months and they usually split amicably. But, of course, there were some who thought they could change him and help him realize that they were the only one for him. When subtle hints didn't work, Nick resorted to the blunt truth to get his point across, and then their feelings would get hurt.
Nick never felt sorry for them and would move on. What else was he to do? Why would they start to get serious with him when they knew he had no intention of being more than friends with them? He truly didn't know if he would ever want to get serious with someone again. He remembered what happened to him before and he saw what it did to his brothers and his other male friends. He wanted nothing to do with it, at least for now. Nick could honestly say that he knew of no one who was completely happy in a committed relationship. Oh, they may say they were, but if they were totally honest with themselves and with him, they would admit they weren't totally, completely happy.
He had twice tried that route before and each time was disastrous. Things went well for awhile in each case, but after that, they became clingy, demanding, and possessive. When he tried to reestablish his independence, the resistance with which he was met was stifling. After the second time, he swore he wouldn't get serious with a woman unless it was on his terms and when he wanted it to happen.
Nick had talked to Shannon a couple of times in the past week and she seemed pleasant enough. They decided to meet at O'Reilly's since it was close to both of their homes and they were familiar with it. Besides, if the date turned sour, he could always enjoy the live music that started after ten o'clock. He took a swig of his drink and checked his watch. She would be there any minute, he thought.
O'Reilly's was a very nice neighborhood bar that featured live music on Friday and Saturday evenings. It seated perhaps a hundred and was usually crowded on the weekends once the music started. Besides the music, they had three billiards tables and four electronic dart boards. Their food was mediocre, but the atmosphere made up for it. Besides, if they were hungry, there were numerous eateries nearby. It was a mutual choice for them to meet after dinner since Shannon said she preferred her own cooking to a restaurant. When she said that, Nick thought she was going to invite him to her home for supper, but the invitation never came. She described what she was going to wear that evening, so hopefully, they'd recognize each other when she arrived.
It was now past eight o'clock and Nick frowned. She was late. Nick was always very punctual and didn't care for people who weren't. He thought it to be rude and irresponsible and unless there was a good excuse, he was turned off immediately.
Nick took another drink from his bottle and glanced at the bartender again. She was quite pretty and Nick liked the way she moved. She was busy filling orders for the waitresses as she moved to and fro, up and down the area behind the bar. It was too bad about the married part.
It still wasn't too crowded as there were maybe twenty-five people there. There were three other patrons at the bar, Nick noticed, one of whom looked like a vagrant. He was wearing army fatigues and a knit hat even though it was quite warm for a May night. He was disheveled and had a duffle bag placed on the chair next to him. Unfortunately, the bag fell to the floor numerous times. Slowly, he would reach down, pick it up, and place it on the chair again. This happened three, maybe four times as Nick watched in amusement. Finally, on the fifth time, he reached down for the bag and kept going, falling to the floor with a dazed, perplexed look on his face. The bartender stopped what she was doing and watched as the bouncer moved to the man. He whispered a few words in his ear and helped him to his feet. With his hand around the drunk's upper arm, he guided him to the door and out into the fast approaching darkness.
Nick's eyes caught the bartender's as the scene ended. He shrugged and smiled, all the while sipping on his drink. A faint smile crossed her lips, but she then turned her attention back to her job.
Nick nursed his drink as he scanned the crowd. There were two couples at each of the billiards tables and two out of the four dart boards were occupied. The televisions were showing sports; baseball and basketball. There were many empty tables, but Nick knew it would fill up as it got closer to ten o'clock.
He sensed her presence nearby again, her soft perfume wafting under his nose. He looked left to see the bartender standing in front of him.
"Can I get you another one?" she asked pleasantly.
Nick looked at his bottle and saw he still had 1/4 of it left. He looked back at her. "No, thanks," he said. "I'll finish this one first." Her eyes were a very dark brown, almost black, but there was warmth to them.
"Okay, just let me know when you need another one." She smiled warmly again and went to the other side of the bar before he could say anything else.
Nick had seen her once or twice before, but she had never waited on him until this evening. He was definitely interested as he continued to observe her while she worked.
As the time went past eight-thirty, Nick decided to cut his losses and leave. It wasn't the first time he had been stood up and he figured it wouldn't be the last. He emptied his bottle and swivelled the chair to his right to exit.
"Going already?" a female voice said to his left.
Nick stopped and turned back to the voice to see the bartender sitting in the chair next to him. "As a matter of fact, I was," he replied. She was looking at him and her eyes were asking him to stay.
"I'm off duty. Why don't you keep me company for awhile?"
"Sounds like a reasonable request," he smiled. He sat down next to her. "Can I get you something?" he asked.
She laughed lightly. "I work here sweetie. I'll buy the drinks." She called to the new bartender, "Hey Joe, give me a coke and another Smirnoff's." Joe nodded and began to fill the order.
"Thanks," Nick said.
"No problem. What's your name, by the way? I'm Renee." She extended her hand to him and he took it lightly.
"Nick. Nick Wilkinson."
"Glad to meet you. I've seen you here before, haven't I?"
"Yeah, a few times, I guess."
Joe came with their drinks and Renee gave him five dollars. Joe smiled to her as he walked away. Renee sipped from a straw, leaving a pink imprint from her lipstick. Nick left his bottle untouched.
"Why were you leaving so early? The night's pretty young." She had noticed him looking towards the door many times and checking his watch. Renee liked his looks from the start, from his black hair and piercing blue eyes, to his neatly trimmed beard and very white teeth. His smile was his best feature, she noticed.
"You ask a lot of questions for a bartender," Nick mused. "I thought you were supposed to listen."
"Oh, I'm a very good listener. I was just curious." She took another sip and eyed him.
Nick was quiet for a moment before looking to the door once more.
"Looking for someone?" Renee asked, smiling to herself.
"Yeah," he admitted. "I was supposed to meet someone, but I guess she had other plans." He was mildly disappointed, but he was enjoying Renee's company, married or not.
"That's too bad. Have you been dating her long?"
Nick laughed. What's with all the questions?" He was amused by her interest in his love life.
Renee smiled at him. She liked his laugh. It was genuine and hearty. "Like I said, I'm just curious," she replied. "I don't get to ask customers questions too often."
Nick sat back in his chair and tried to look at the door without her noticing. He turned back to her. "It was our first date, or was supposed to be. We talked to each other a few times this week and this is where she wanted to meet. I don't know, maybe something came up." He shrugged his shoulders.
"More than likely," she agreed, nodding her head. "Who knows, maybe she'll show up sooner than you think."
"It wouldn't matter," Nick said.
"She should have called me. She's got my number and I've got my phone with me, so there's no excuse. I wouldn't go out with her now, anyway. She's over an hour late as it is." Nick checked his watch.
"I mean, would you go out with someone like that?" he asked her.
"I think I would if she had a really good excuse. Maybe she had to work late and couldn't call you."
"What does she do for a living?"
"She never said. We didn't get into much detail when we talked." Nick started to drink from his second bottle.
"I see," Renee said. The conversation waned for a few minutes as one of the basketball games caught his attention. Renee eyed him coolly, not knowing if she was boring him or that he just wasn't interested.
After a few minutes, he turned his attention back to her. "So do you always stick around after your shift is through?" He couldn't remember from his other times there.
"No, I usually go home right afterward, but I just felt like staying this evening for a while." She smiled at him again. Nick noticed it was genuine and sincere. He could tell the difference when it came to waitresses, bartenders, and the like. There was the professional smile and then, there was the way she was smiling at him now.
Nick raised his eyebrow slightly, taking the subtle hint that he was the reason she stayed behind. He was flattered, but as he glanced at her rings again, he didn't want to give her the wrong impression. He didn't know what her game was, but if she was going to cheat on her husband, he wanted nothing to do with it. His parents had divorced because his father screwed around and he didn't want to put another person through that same type of hell. He took another drink from the bottle and there was less than half left. Feeling a bit light headed, he was drinking faster than he should and he knew it. Nick normally only had one or two drinks in an evening, and now he was almost finished with his second one within an hour and a half. He motioned for the bartender and he walked over to him.
"A glass of water, please," he said. Joe left and brought it to him swiftly, glancing at Renee as he did so.
"I could have gotten that for you," Renee said.
"You're off duty," Nick replied before he took a couple of sips from the chilled glass. It felt good going down his throat. "Besides," Nick added, "your friend looked like he needed something to do." He pointed inconspicuously to Joe, who was leaning against the back of the bar looking bored out of his skull.
Renee chuckled, shaking her head. "You don't drink much, do you?"
"Not much," he laughed. "I'm a proverbial lightweight when it comes to booze. I hate beer and I despise hard liquor. This is about all I can handle. You're quite perceptive."
"I'm a bartender, remember?"
"Yeah, but you don't know me and you only served me once."
"I still know."
"Apparently." Nick looked at her drink and it was almost finished. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Are you a lightweight, too?"
Renee frowned for an instant, but recovered. "No, I'm not a lightweight at all. I'm a recovering alcoholic, but I've been sober for over four years now." She looked down at her coke and quietly took a sip.
"That's a bit strange."
"I mean, you're a bartender and you're still in recovery. Isn't that kind of an oxymoron?"
"Being in the bar is the best place for me to be. It's a constant reminder of what I was and how much I never want to be that person again. Besides, the money's too good to pass up."
"Is it hard?"
"Each day gets a little better, but I still struggle with it at times. I just have to take it one day at a time."
Nick looked at his bottle of Smirnoff's and then at Renee. He now wished he hadn't ordered it.
As if reading his mind, Renee said, "Don't worry about it, Nick. Just because I can't handle booze doesn't mean the rest of the world isn't allowed to drink. I'm okay with it." She touched his arm with the tips of her fingers. "Really."
The jukebox started to play some lively music and Renee's feet began to move in rhythm with the beat. Soon, her shoulders began to move and she was dancing in her chair.
Nick eyed her and smiled. Renee smiled back. "I like this song," she said.
"Obviously," Nick replied.
"Want to dance?" she asked suddenly.
"I'm a terrible dancer," he replied.
"Oh, come on, it'll be fun. I hate dancing by myself." Nick looked at the dance floor and there was no one there. She touched him arm again.
"I've got four left feet," he protested, but with little conviction. He liked her more and more. He looked down at his arm and saw the rings once again.
Her eyes followed his, but she didn't understand. "What?" she asked.
"What would your husband think?" he asked quietly.
Renee looked surprised as she looked at Nick, then to her hand. "My husband would think nothing of it because I'm not married. Never have been."
Nick looked at her in disbelief. "What about those?" he asked, pointing to her hand.
"Those are to help ward off some of the more amorous customers we have here. It's pretty effective." She glanced to the dance floor. "So, enough questions," she said as she grabbed his hand, "let's dance."
Renee gently pulled Nick out of his chair and they walked toward the stage where a small area was set aside for dancing. His thoughts were in high gear now that he had this news. He only hoped it was true. They reached the dance floor and Renee began to move with the music, swivelling her hips and throwing her arms around as she danced around Nick. Nick tried to keep up and show some semblance of rhythm, but it was no use. He was still having a good time despite it, though, as he watched Renee's hips and body flow naturally and move to the music. She was a very good dancer and didn't hold back as Nick enjoyed the show.
The song ended and they walked back to their chairs. After they sat down, Renee remarked, "That was fun. You're not a bad dancer at all."
"I don't know who you were watching out there, but it obviously wasn't me. But, at least I didn't step on your feet," he grinned.
They were quiet once again, drinking and taking in the atmosphere. It was beginning to get a little more crowded and the tables were starting to fill. The band who was scheduled to appear that evening had arrived and were starting to unload their instruments and equipment. Renee's stomach started to growl and she remembered she hadn't eaten anything since her one o'clock lunch. She hadn't eaten because of her shift and other reasons, but it was now protesting. She looked uncomfortable and Nick noticed it.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm just getting a bit hungry, that's all. Do you want to go somewhere and grab a bite with me? We can always come back if you want." She looked at him expectedly.
Nick thought about it briefly. He thought it would be nice to be alone with her for a while. "Sure, sounds great," he heard himself say.
"Good," she replied, "I hate to eat alone." Renee then turned to Joe. "Hey Joe, save our spots for us, would you?" Joe nodded and waved and turned his attention back to his customer.
They left the bar and turned right. "There's a nice restaurant down here," she said, pointing ahead.
"I know," Nick said, "I live around here."
"That's right, you do, don't you?" Renee replied.
Nick looked at her and couldn't recall telling her where he lived. Maybe he did, but couldn't remember. He pushed it aside as they walked down the sidewalk towards the restaurant. Renee's step was quick and light despite her tall frame and Nick had to make a conscious effort to keep pace. Her shoulder length hair was bouncing lightly and a small smile was etched upon her lips. They stopped at the door leading to the entrance of "Louie's" as Nick reached forward, grasped the door handle, and opened it for her.
"Thanks," she said as she ducked under his arm.
They were met by a stout man with classical Italian looks. "Good evening," he greeted them, "how many tonight?"
"Two," Nick answered.
"Smoking or non-smoking?"
"Non-smoking, please," Renee said.
"Right this way." The greeter led them to a small corner table, dimly lit and near the fireplace. After they were seated, he asked, "Would you care to see the wine list?"
"No thanks," Nick said, glancing at Renee.
"Very well, sir. Your waitress will be with you shortly." He turned and left.
Renee leaned over the table. "You could have had wine if you wanted. It doesn't bother me."
"Oh," Nick replied, "I've had too much to drink already. Water is good enough for me right now." But, he did worry that he offended her. He couldn't understand why he felt different around this woman than he had around any other girl he dated before. Maybe it was because he really wasn't dating her. After all, his real date didn't show up and he was merely keeping this woman company. Or had it gone past that? First, there were drinks. Then, there was dancing. Now, they were dining together in a nice restaurant. It certainly had gone smoother than any other first date he had been on in quite some time. He genuinely liked this woman and enjoyed her company, something he couldn't always say in the past about some of his other dates.