Hook, Line, and Sinker – by Shanna
Claire sat at the bar, absentmindedly twirling the straw in her drink. She wasn’t quite sure what it was she was drinking; all she could tell was that it was pink and the bartender had whipped it up for her when she had asked for something fruity flavored. Claire had almost expected a little umbrella to be hanging from the rim when the bartender placed it in front of her. But it tasted good and sweet so Claire didn’t mind so much, especially since she was on her third drink.
The ice in her glass clinked together as she swirled and she contemplated asking the bartender for another round. Claire didn’t know how people could drink gin or whiskey – those drinks were always too sour for her. Claire needed something sweet to wash out the bitterness that always seemed to be at the tip of her tongue. But the bartender was at the other end of the bar for the moment so Claire sat and twirled her straw in her watered-down drink and traced the condensation ring left by her glass on the bar as she wondered how she had gotten to this place.
Claire had never been to this bar before, but the lights called to her as she was walking past and the glimpse she caught through the window looked promising. After sitting down at the bar, Claire realized she was a bit hungry however, not being familiar with the menu, Claire opted not to order anything to eat. She was allergic to many foods and she couldn’t always trust that items were not cross contaminated.
“That’s why I prefer alcohol,” she thought. “I know I’m not allergic and there’s hardly no way for other foods to get in contact with it.” Luckily Claire was not allergic to any fruit (that she knew of), so she was still able to drink her fruity concoctions.
The bar was fairly empty that night, which accounted for why there was only one bartender working. The bartender was an older man with a kind face, the kind of bartender Claire liked. He didn’t say much and made the drinks strong. Claire hated it when bartenders insisted on asking questions and knowing her business – they all seemed to want to play therapist. She already had a therapist, a good one, one that she paid a lot of money to. Claire didn’t need a bartender to solve her problems, she needed a bartender to serve what she ordered, even if she did order fruity drinks.
That was another thing. Claire didn’t understand why so many waiters and bartenders seemed to be alcohol snobs and disapproved of her drinks. Who cared if she drank her alcohol with fruit juice instead of Red Bull or Diet Coke or straight up? The end result was always the same.
Claire leaned on her hand and glanced around the bar. There were a few groups and couples sitting at the tables scattered throughout the floor, and her attention was caught by the two guys sitting on the opposite side of the bar. Claire had noticed them as soon as she walked in and had been watching them the entire night.
Claire thought at first that they were colleagues, having a drink together after a long day at work, but now she couldn’t tell what they were. She had been eavesdropping on their conversation since she sat down. Their topics had ranged from work, “You can’t let Mark get away with claiming your idea as his,” to the state of transportation, “It doesn’t matter where you live, the train is always delayed,” and now shopping.
“What outlet stores did you go to?” asked the guy on the left.
“Tulalip,” his companion replied, taking a sip of his beer. Claire smiled and laughed to herself. It must have been his first time to Tulalip as he had mispronounced the ‘a’ sound in Tulalip to sound like the ‘a’ in cat.
Claire studied the duo. The guy on the left was handsome with thick dark brown hair. Not knowing their names, Claire had dubbed him “Brownie” in her mind. His friend appeared to be a little shorter, with lighter colored hair, and just as good-looking. The two sat close to one another and had a sense of familiarity between them that Claire thought they might be on a date.
“And you were there for how long?” Brownie asked.
“6 ½ hours.”
Brownie appeared to choke on his drink and he slammed his beer down on the bar. “Craig!” he exclaimed. “What were you doing for 6 ½ hours?”
“I don’t know,” said the aforementioned Craig. “I guess I went in some shops.”
Brownie stared at Craig. “What shops did you go to?”
“I can’t remember,” Craig shrugged and mumbled into his beer.
Brownie turned more fully to Craig, as if to give him all of his attention. “You were at the outlet mall for 6 ½ hours and you can’t remember what stores you went in?”
Craig thought for a moment and then shrugged again. “I don’t know – maybe Nike?”
Claire thought this conversation might be the strangest one she’s heard in a long time. Were these guys arguing about an outlet mall?
“Well, what did you buy?”
Claire leaned a little closer to hear the answer. From her own experience and knowing that she could only shop for a couple of hours before the tediousness set in, she, too, was curious to hear what Craig had bought after spending hours at the stores.
“Nothing.” Craig seemed to whisper.
“Wait, so you went to the outlet mall for 6 ½ hours, you can’t remember what stores you went in, and you didn’t buy anything?” Brownie’s voice was skeptical and Claire found herself nodding along.
“Well, it was a big place. There were a lot of stores and a lot of things to choose from. I couldn’t make up my mind.”
Claire clamped her lips together to keep the laugh from tumbling out. She could feel someone looking at her and glanced up to see Brownie staring at her, also struggling not to laugh. Claire met his gaze and the sides of her mouth twitched up. She watched his eyes as they scanned her face and drifted down towards her cleavage. “Definitely not gay,” she thought.
“I can’t believe you.” Brownie said, turning back to Craig and shaking his head. “I think it’s time for you to go home and go to sleep.”
Claire watched as the two men got up from their seats. As Brownie clasped Craig on the back as he steered him towards the door, she contemplated leaving as well. Now that there was no one left in the bar to pay attention to, Claire figured there wasn’t any point in staying. She picked up her drink, still sans an umbrella, and grasped the straw between her lips. She had just slurped up the last dregs of her fruity cocktail when she realized someone was standing next to her.
Looking to the side, she saw Brownie leaning against the bar next to where Claire was sitting. She hurriedly set her glass down, sat up a little straighter and smoothed down her skirt.
“Sorry if our conversation was a little loud,” he said. “I’m Joe.”
He smelled fresh, almost like the smell of cut grass, and for a moment Claire was reminded of her childhood, of those lazy weekend days playing outside with the neighborhood kids, when they would ride bikes until the sun went down and the lights came on and the mothers called their children inside to eat. But that was a long time ago, Claire thought as she looked up at Joe, and she didn’t know where that thought had come from considering she hadn’t been a child in many years.
“No, you were fine,” Claire said. “I was actually enjoying hearing about all the stores at the outlet mall.”
Joe laughed and signaled the bartender over. “Sometimes I don’t know how that guy gets through life. But he’s been my friend for years so…” Joe shrugged.
“I have a friend like that too,” said Claire. “I know what you mean.”
“So, what are you doing, alone in a bar at,” Joe looked down at his watch, “8:45 on a Tuesday night?”
“Well,” Claire drawled, “I’m not alone anymore now am I?”
Joe picked up the shot he had ordered from the bartender and slammed it back. He set the empty glass on the bar. “Want to get out of here? I can get us a room upstairs.”
Claire smiled at him. “I thought you’d never ask.” She reached down, grabbed her purse and slid off of the chair.
They were silent as they walked out of the bar and headed towards the hotel lobby. His hand on her back was strong and warm and she could feel the heat through the thin material of her blouse.
It wasn’t until they were standing in front of the elevators that Joe looked at her, nervously. He cleared his throat. “I’ve never done this before,” he said.
“What, you’ve never taken a woman up to a hotel room before?” Claire teased.
He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes and grinned.
“Oh,” said Claire as they got into the elevator, “you mean you’ve never taken a hooker up to a hotel room before. Well, there’s a first time for everything and I’m a great teacher,” she said as the elevator doors slid shut.