A pale chin rested on folded hands atop the marbled bar, making her eye level with the curved crystal glass. Happy hazel eyes followed a particularly large bubble from its creation at the bottom of the drink, all the way to its joining with the sweet foam crest. Again the gaze dropped to the bottom to follow a new floated journey.
“So she never drinks it?”
“Nope,” Caroline’s laugh lines crinkled as she poured a drop of rosemary syrup into two highballs, “once every few weeks, I think it’s some sort of treat for herself.”
Neal narrowed his eyes back at her, “a treat? To order an expensive drink just to watch it go to waste? That’s not how I’d treat myself.”
“We all know how you’d treat yourself, Neal.”
Caroline passed the finished cocktails to the young couple on a date night, and made her way back over to her quietest patron.
“Doing alright over here?”
The young woman sat up slowly, appearing to have a hard time tearing her eyes from the glass to answer Caroline. “Yes ma’am, thank you.” She offered a bright smile, then relaxed back into her chair and continued her muted observations.
“And it’s always the same thing?” Jeanie, a regular who pretended she wasn’t, asked across her Moscow Mule.
“Yep,” Caroline answered, “a Prosecco with a splash of Chambord and an orange peel.”
Jeanie cut her eyes towards the conversation’s subject, “How specific to not even take a sip.”
Caroline was a little defensive over her guest, “Yes well, she knows what she likes. I think that’s alright.”
Tonight the girl wore simple gray heels with her tight jeans under a large black sweater. Her auburn waves were pulled back into a loose bun, with her glasses pushed back on her head as usual. For the first few of these visits to the high-end bar, Caroline had attempted to make conversation. She started with the usual casual bartender questions: How’s your day going? Meeting anyone here? Work near by? Sweet or strong, a bit of both? But she finally realized the young woman did not want to partake in chit chat. There had been no rudeness in her simple answers, (Fine. No. Yes. Sweet.) just a polite air of wanting to be on her own, and so Caroline left her that way. She couldn’t resist occasionally checking in, as the smile was sweet and the tip left was always generous, but she did her best to leave the girl alone.
Caroline had become quite protective of her, really. Other bartenders or patrons, those regular and not, had been fascinated with the lovely scene at first. Men would try to flirt with her, women would try to shepherd her into their girls’-night-out. Caroline tried to block these attempts before their inevitable failures interrupted her guest’s evening, but eventually that became unnecessary. The shimmer of the unusual lost its shine and the stares became less admiring and more concerned.
“What is she doing here again?”
“Don’t you think it’s odd? I think it’s very odd.”
“A gal like that is trouble with a capital T, mhmm. It’s always the quiet ones.”
“Maybe she’s a little… special.”
“So what if she is?” Caroline set down the bottle of cognac a little harder than she meant.
It startled the flock of gray-haired book clubbers. Their leader clutched her large string of pearls before they all settled again, not a feather askew.
“Oh, nothing’s wrong with it, dear. It’s just a bit curious, don’t you think?”
It had indeed been a bit curious to Caroline. The girl was always well dressed, but not flamboyantly so like some who wondered in from Newbury Street. Her only jewels were two small silver circles in each ear, and an impressive opal ring she wore on the middle finger of her left hand. Caroline had tried to guess what a girl like that must do. Perhaps a well-kept housewife grabbing a moment to herself? Or a young lawyer? But there was no tan line where a wedding ring would sit, and she never carried any study materials. In fact, she never carried anything with her, save a small seasonal purse. There were very few clues for Caroline to work with.
“Maybe it’s the anniversary of a death,” Neal whispered one night.
“A death every couple of weeks? That’s ridiculous.” Caroline rolled her eyes.
“Well maybe she’s a hitman… hit-woman. And she celebrates her most recent target, but can’t drink because it could effect her aim.”
Caroline watched the young woman peering into the glass as if it was sharing secrets. “No, I don’t think she’s a hitman.”
“A spy then, and there’s someone here she’s watching!” One of a young couple in front of them offered, comically glancing to the groups around them.
“John that’s ridiculous.” His partner nudged him, “she’s way too obvious out in the open like that to be a spy.”
“Best place to hide is right under the nose!” John laughed into his mojito.
Caroline did not think this was the case either. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but the girl seemed too innocent to be up to anything scandalous or mischievous, and Caroline had seen plenty of both. She’d served Cabernet Sauvignon to politicians whose dates were not their wives. She’d shaken martinis for a gentleman with no name who left foreign coins as a tip. She’d poured a round of shots for both bachelor and bachelorette parties busy breaking the vows they intended to make the following morning. So Caroline felt quite apt at telling the reputable from the unseemly, and the girl was certainly the former.
“Oh, she’s just in love. I know that look.”
Caroline refilled Pepper’s French 75 with a grin. Pepper was the most spritely and charming 80-year-old that had ever walked through the door, and was therefore beloved by all who worked there. Of course, the lavish tips helped too. Pepper would say she didn’t want to carry around her small bills anymore- and set down a $50. Caroline knew Pepper inherited several successful businesses from a late husband, but Caroline never asked which ones, and Pepper never offered.
“And what makes you think that?”
“Just look at those big eyes, doll. I could swim in them! Wear my little polka-dot-bikini and nose dive right into ’em.” Pepper gave a little shimmy as if it proved her point.
“She’s not in love, Pepper. She just likes to watch the bubbles.”
“Mmmhmm, no that girl is in love. And hard for it.” Pepper shrugged her mink coat onto the chair back, a sure sign she was settling in for a long night. Caroline was thrilled.
“And with who? She always comes alone.” Caroline felt like a mother and grandmother gossiping over their baby girl.
“That girls not alone!” Pepper threw her head back with a saucy laugh. “Look at her, does she look alone to you?”
Caroline considered the small woman, and realized that no, she did not look alone. Those who came to bars alone had certain goals, and they made them evident very quickly. A young man who came in to kill some time before a date smiled big, leaned on the bar, ordered whatever was on tap. The older men on their own hunched the shoulders low into their seats, as if they could shelter their Old Fashioneds from whatever the world had hurled at them. The single ladies showed up for eligible bachelors, or to appear like a damsel from a novel, sitting crosslegged in a short dress, waiting for a director to yell ACTION. Well, and Pepper. Pepper came alone, but she was never stayed alone. She made friends with whoever sat next to her, friends with the hostess, the bartender. By the time she would leave she’d be everyone’s favorite playmate and number one confidant.
So maybe Pepper would know.
“I’m gonna go talk to her.”
Caroline was whipped out of her thoughts, “What? No, no don’t, she likes to be on her own.”
Pepper was already gathering her drink and napkin, “I told you, she’s not alone. She’s just by herself.”
“I just don’t think she’ll want to-”
But Pepper shot Caroline a stare that told her to hush. It made Caroline feel young and loud. She quickly busied herself wiping down already pristine glasses as quietly watched the encounter.
Pepper slowly situated herself in the tall chair next to the girl, setting her drink down close to the un-touched glass of expensive bubbles. Caroline watched the two of them just sit, saying nothing to one another. It was oddly beautiful.
After several long moments, and to Caroline’s shock, the girl leaned over to speak softly to Pepper. Pepper nodded back, and they continued to watch their glasses together. Oh how Caroline wished she knew what had been said.
Another moment passed, and Caroline was glad for the muscle memory that created two Pisco Sours for the set of gentlemen that joined the bar. She was entranced by the women sitting together. Was the girl too polite to ask Pepper to leave? Should she intercede?
They seemed alright on their own, and although she wanted to simply stand and watch, the after-dinner rush was making its usual demands. Between the Sidecars and Sazeracs, Caroline was only able to spare an occasional glance to Pepper and her newest companion. Every time they seemed to be fine, each fascinated with her own cocktail, and so Caroline continued the stirring and shaking and pouring and smiling.
When orders finally began to slow, Caroline quickly gathered restock from the back room, intent on just walking over and doing a full recon on Pepper and the girl. She set the bottles in front of Neal for organizing and then turned- but they were gone. Two empty seats were all that was left of the rare little exchange. Caroline was a bit jealous. All this time she’d spent thinking the girl was kind of hers to protect, yet Pepper somehow got through the young woman’s carefully constructed shell. She sighed, admonishing herself for the silly feeling, and wiped down the bar where the ladies had been. Carrying their glasses to the sink, she froze, stunned by what she held: two beautiful, crystal, empty glasses.
Effervescent (Adjective): 1. (of a liquid) Giving off bubbles; fizzy. 2. Vivacious and enthusiastic.
People-watching is probably my favorite sport. I love finding a good place to practice it, and these are often cozy old coffee shops or brand new bookstores, the occasional hip downtown bar. Despite what Lifestyle movies will tell you, it’s not parks or county fairs because people are there for a reason. The best places to see interesting people and wonder about their story are the places people are drawn to, without a full reason, to just be whatever kind of fascinating specimen they are.
I think effervescent is an extremely underused adjective. It’s usually reserved for drinks, but I think we’ve all had a few bubbly, fizzy feelings in our time. How better to describe when a cute date first takes your hand? Or the anticipation when you’ve completed something worthy of pride, but have yet to present it? Or even walking the streets of a vacation town? It’s so often seen for its first soda-describing definition that we forget how much better life is when it’s a little more vivacious and enthusiastic.
Bubbles usually make me think of spring, and today we got eight inches of snow. But as I was thinking on the nature goddesses (stay tuned for them and their word), I realized there was that floaty feeling in the snowflakes too. It was in the way they danced back and forth, how they covered over the scars of roads and sidewalks on the earth, and how they really do fall on your nose and eyelashes*.
Just as the girl watched her bubbles, and Caroline watched the girl, today I watched my curious kitten watch the snow today, and it was beautiful.
Cheers to more effervescence in our lives! Which I guess is cheers to… more cheers!
*If you don’t get this reference, go watch Sound of Music and get back to me.