Hello, reader! Though can stand alone, I think you'd enjoy the following piece more if you read Today I am Effervescent and/or Today I am Alveolate beforehand. Thank you, and enjoy!
Neal was simply exhausted. Thank goodness his shift was finally over. His back hurt, his feet hurt, and sangria had been soaking through his pants for the past hour and half. Damn bachelor party.
On top of that, Caroline had been distracted half the night watching over Pepper and that quiet chick, leaving him to deal with John’s date’s need to order every single complicated cocktail under the sun. If he’d had to blend one more godsdamn egg white, he was going to start foaming himself. But this was the second time John had brought the redhead in, a new record, so between that and the tips, Neal kept a smile on his face.
Mr. Silent Martini had come in again, too. At least this guy fascinated Neal. The gentleman always ordered whichever martini was on special, sipped it about halfway down, and then left. Now Neal understood saving some cash via the happy-hour method, but he was confused how someone could happily enjoy a mango martini, espresso martini, old fashioned dirty martini, and even the Valentine’s Day cran-raspberry martini with the exact same reaction: a little inhale of shock on the first sip, and then several confident swallows. The guy would then straighten the dark sunglasses he’d pushed up into his brunette buzzcut, even thought they hadn’t moved a single centimeter since he sat down. Exactly the same movements, every single time. It was an interesting enough ritual that Neal mostly forgave the guy for the wrong currency he dropped as a tip after signing the tab.
But the bachelor party had done him in. Eight dudes ordering pitchers of sangria until they couldn’t see straight. As instructed by the Mother of the Groom hours earlier, Neal called the Father of the Groom when the group began to repeat their old college fight song, and helped the older gentleman put each of the men in their hotel room in the Ritz across the street. He was thanked with a handshake and a tip that would pay his rent for the month.
Neal stood on the curb for a minute to breathe before going back into the bar. The wind was cold. It was late in the season, yet winter was roaring with its claws still firmly hooked in the air. He was so very tired, and he knew his shoulder would remind him of the groomsmen’s weight in the morning. Neal shivered a little, but was glad to have a quiet moment in the dark.
His breath taken, he moved to cross the street back into the light and sound of the bar. Then he saw them.
He froze mid-step. Pepper was walking arm-in-arm with the quiet girl. No, quiet woman. Had he missed her face before? She seemed a little older than he’d thought, with intriguing hazel eyes that seemed to shimmer across the distance. He blinked, no- she was young like he’d thought. His eyes must have been as tired as the rest of him. Still, she had a little glow, a little spring to her step as she walked with Pepper. He was not surprised that Pepper seemed to glow a little too. She always had.
A BMW’s horn reminded him he was in the middle of the street.
By the time he was safely on the other side, the two ladies were gone, and he wasn’t sure why he’d stopped to watch them. The small part of him that wondered what they were up to was pushed aside when he saw the room still filled with patrons. Just one more hour, then he and Caroline could take off and leave the darkest hours before dawn to the next shift.
During a small lull between pouring tequila shots and refilling chardonnays, Neal wiped the various shades of liquor off the marbled bar. That’s when he noticed Pepper’s coat still draped across a tall chair. He realized when he’d seen her outside, she hadn’t been wearing it. Neal tried to never judge a woman by her age, but he thought one with Pepper’s laugh lines shouldn’t be just leaving their fancy coats when out to a walk in the dropping temperatures of a northern February. Perhaps Pepper was just walking the young lady to a cab and would be right back in. A deep part of him knew that wasn’t true. The same space within him suggested that evening had been Pepper’s last visit to their establishment.
Still, he gathered her soft mink and placed it on the employee coat rack in the back for safe keeping. Until she returned.
Apricate (verb): To bask in the sun.
Important word note from Dictionary.com: Latin apricatus, past participle of apricari “to bask in the sun,”from apricus “exposed” (to the sun); perhaps contracted from *apericus , from aperire “to open.”
I just like that this word to bask, can also come from both “exposed” or “to open” because those are the same thing, one is unwilling and one is willing.