For WordPlay #1, Nika challenged us to write a short story with the prompts “unbridled enthusiasm” and “guy walks into a bar”. The two earlier versions of my story “Monday Nights” can still be found at the Geek & Sundry forums, here and here. I made only slight changes for this blog version, mostly based on what the Geek & Sundry commenters had to say. Actually, I still like this story a lot. Enjoy!
I’m one of those girls who doesn’t particularly enjoy her job. I had been working in this bar for almost a year and I still didn’t like it. Not because of my colleagues, they were actually quite nice. It wasn’t even the guests, most of the time. No, the one thing that let me hate my job were the Mondays – the Monday nights. When all of a sudden hundreds of football fans flooded our tiny bar, ordered too much beer and made my life a living hell. Sporting their teams’ colors, they showed a never-ending support, even if their team had lost seven games in a row.
Sometimes I envied their unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, something I seemed to have lost in high school. But most of the time, it simply annoyed me to hear their alcohol-induced scientific arguments on quarterbacks. Did I mention I’m not particularly interested in football? This had always annoyed my father who had collected everything and anything that had the word “foot” on it. When my mom threw him out of the house, his mountains of collectibles were one of the reasons.
It was one of these annoying Monday nights, the local team was close to losing and still everyone kept telling me “they still have a chance”. I was standing behind the bar, cleaning glasses, when my colleague Becca nudged me and pointed to the door. A guy had just walked in. An incredibly good-looking guy. A guy who looked way too good for our kind of bar. Dark, neatly combed hair with matching dark eyes. Thick eyebrows. And that jaw line! He wore a black suit and a dark red tie – all in all, he looked more Wall Street than South-Eastern suburb. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t fit in and sat down at the counter. I put on my broadest smile as I approached him – good looks are hard to find around here.
“What can I bring you?”
He looked intently at me and thought for a moment. “I’ll have a beer.”
“Any particular brand?”
He grinned. “How about the one that you like best?”
I nodded and sighed in my mind. Yes, he was extremely good-looking and a real gentleman, but even he went for the most boring beverage in the history of mankind: beer. I fetched a bottle of import lager from the depths of the cooler, opened it and put it in front of him. But instead of drinking from it, he just looked at me.
“You don’t look like a football girl.”
He smiled and I blushed.
“I’m not quite, I guess.” I stammered.
“Then why are you working here? These guys must be pretty annoying – I mean, even I find them annoying.” He winked and I blushed even more, if that was possible.
“I guess I need the money…” I muttered and he laughed. Life was annoying: the one time you meet someone who actually seems to be nice (okay, apart from the preference for boring drinks), he starts mocking you. I wanted to turn on my heels and leave him alone, but then I decided it was time someone told him that for most people on the planet, dollars didn’t grow on trees.
“I know you Wall Street guys find that funny. You think money just magically increases if you move it through enough companies. An–”
He didn’t let me finish whatever I was trying to tell him. “You think I’m a Wall Street guy?” He seemed to be amused, if not offended. “Cause I’m not.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry. But you think it’s funny that I need money an–”
He interrupted me again. “I never said that. I just think it’s funny that you think money makes you happy.”
“I don’t think that.” If Hollywood had taught me one thing, it was this: the more money you have, the more troubles you run into.
He seemed to be content. “Good. Cause it doesn’t.” He shrugged. “I’ve got a six-digit paycheck, two ex-wives who hate me, a bunch of kids who only write an email when they need money and my lungs resemble a charcoal mine. If I make it until my 50th birthday, I can officially call myself lucky.”
He took a sip from his beer. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem to be resigned, but rather amused. Or was that a smile of despair on his lips? I wanted to say something, even though I couldn’t think of any encouraging words, but he was faster.
“Never mind. It’s just so strange to hear other people complaining about their life.”
He looked at me for a moment, then noticed my name tag. “Carrie, right?” I nodded. “Carrie, your life is still ahead of you. And I mean WAY ahead of you! You just need to worry a little bit less.”
Now it was my turn to laugh. He was so good at pretending. Pretending that he understood how I felt, pretending that there was an easy solution. Maybe there had always been one in his life, but there wasn’t any in mine. I shook my head and looked at him.
“This is not about optimism. This is about me not having money. Money to move out of this town and finally start my own life.” I looked away from him and at the football fans that still crowded the bar even though the game was already over.
“And do what?” His question came out of nowhere. I looked back at him.
“Nothing that brings home the bacon, I’m afraid.” He didn’t look like he was satisfied with my answer. I wasn’t sure whether I should really discuss my future plans with a stranger in a bar. But since he had already confided his life to me, I didn’t really have another option. I took a deep breath. “I wanna be an artist. I mean – not like those guys who make drawings of tourists or the ocean. But an actual artist. One who… throws a laptop from the Empire State Building and everyone thinks she’s a genius!” Why did that thought make me smile? And why had I suddenly spread my arms? I quickly took them down. “Of course I would make sure that no-one got hurt,” I added. “And I got zillions of other ideas.” I shrugged. “But not the money to make them real.” The look on his face was impossible to decode. Was he bewildered? Amused? Offended?
“Carrie?” It was Becca, she seemed to have trouble with one of our customers. I excused myself and went to help her. We had to argue with the disgruntled fan for almost half an hour to finally convince him that he had really ordered that much beer for him and his friends. I had hoped for a decent tip, but needless to say he gave us nothing. I cursed to myself while putting the money into the cash register.
When I went to continue my conversation with the not-at-all-Wall-Street guy, I sadly found that he had left. I once again cursed the drunken football fan and took the empty beer bottle the mysterious man had left on the counter. I found a note under it. “For the laptop.” Attached to it were 200 dollars in cash.