She noticed them as soon as they walked through the door, then again Penny was pretty sure that the whole bar noticed them. This place wasn’t where the pocket protector brigade tended to group up, or if they did they weren’t so on the nose about it.
The short guy with the glasses was wearing so many layers he had to be sweating up a storm and his eyes kept darting from one side to the other. His nervous smile made him look like and over eager puppy begging to be taken home with someone for a little human contact.
The guy with the bowl cut and the dickies had a more smarmy look to him that was pretty much par for the course for a night out at a bar, but there was just as much desperation behind his eyes as the other guy. He wanted to look confident and in the zone but he was two steps away from simply begging for attention.
The dark skinned guy in the sweater vest just looked lost and lonely. He wasn’t talking to anyone and kept his hands in the pockets of his khakis. He was almost plastered to the side of his friend and seemed to only get closer to him the longer they stood near the entrance.
The last guy had to be the strangest of the bunch. He looked like a large praying mantis, his long frame stick thin and covered by a comic book t-shirt that fit him just right. He had a messenger bag slung across his chest and should have been the most out of place of the bunch, but confidence oozed out of him. He obviously didn’t want to be in this bar, but he was comfortable enough in his own skin that he looked like he belonged wherever he chose to stand.
Walking over towards them she raised her voice to be heard over the music.
“What can I get you boys?” At first none of them spoke, they just looked stunned that she was talking to them. Who came up to a bar and didn’t expect the bartender to ask for your order?
“I will have a virgin cuba libre, on the rocks.” The tall one had a voice that was a tad too high pitched, like he was stopping himself from screaming. He didn’t sit down and was staring at the bar like it was going to bite him.
“So a coke? Why didn’t you just ask for a coke?”
“I was told it is rude to ask a bartender for something not on their list of drinks so I have compromised.” Some compromise. The other three were looking at him like he was ruining their night by explaining himself. She had a pretty good idea where that advice had come from.
“Look, as long as you pay for the drink I don’t care what you order. If I have it in stock, it’s yours. You want a coke? Ask for a coke. Ordering it as a virgin alcoholic drink will just jack the price up triple what a straight up soda would cost.”
“That is sound advice.” He was starting to calm down, unfortunately that was because he seemed to be surprised that she had a good idea to offer.
“Well, I am a bartender. We’ve been known to give good advice now and again.”
“You are referring to the colloquial belief that bartenders are akin to therapists, but for drunkards and barflies. Ha ha ha.” His laugh was more of a breathy inhale than any laugh she’d ever heard before but she couldn’t help but smile at his joy.
“That’s me, bartender slash therapist. So what brings you here if you don’t drink?” Sometimes people did come to a bar to just be around people, but when they did that they usually picked a place with live entertainment or at least one large enough to walk around in.
“My associates are attempting to introduce me to the idea of companionship. They believe such an act shall relax me, I was curious about their technique. Though I should not have been, they have been attempting to secure companions for themselves for quite some time now and have failed, I don’t know why I have allowed this to continue beyond my own amusement.”
“So your friends are trying to get you laid?” After he started talking, the others with him looked like they wanted to sink into the floor. There was something very soothing about how unbothered this guy was about speaking his mind.
“That is how it is commonly referred to, yes.”
“Do you want to get laid?” It didn’t sound like he did. It sounded like he wanted to go home and forget the world existed.
“I find your honesty refreshing. If you change your mind, come find me.” She wasn’t saying she was going to do the guy in the bathroom or anything, if how he was looking around at the dirty floors was an indication she doubted he would go along with that plan anyway. No, but she might just invite him back to her place if his opening line was good enough.
It took all kinds.