“Hey, bud. The usual?”
I was taken aback. I had never had a usual before, and I never realized that every time I had come I had always ordered the same thing until he brought it to my attention. I could feel the pressure of his stare on me and, out of a desire to be left out of the spotlight, agreed simply to move the pressure off. I was more in the mood for a beer, but I had already committed to the usual. He pulled the bottle of Maker’s Mark out of the well and I watched as the brown liquid reached almost to the top of the spout. A brand new bottle. He must have opened it before I arrived.
He poured the liquid over ice and placed the drink in front of me, but before I had a chance to correct him, he snatched the drink back up and squirted a splash of club soda.
“No worries, bud.”He winked at me. “Just need a credit card if you want to start a tab.”
I slid him my card and took a sip of my usual. It was comforting and I wasn’t upset in the slightest about not having a beer.
I turned my head and realized the sub conscience reason why I had kept returning to this bar. She came out of the kitchen with her hair pulled back and wearing a v-neck black t-shirt which highlighted the point to every male in the place that she worked for tips. She came up to me at the bar but it wasn’t me she came for. Gap tooth came running over.
“I can’t work Friday.”
“I’ve got school, you know that.”
“This is a bar. Friday nights are our biggest night. Is this going to be a regular thing?”
“Probably until the semester ends, yea. Sorry Travis.”
She smiled as she apologized and walked back into the kitchen. Travis looked less than pleased.
“Trouble in paradise?”I asked. He smirked.
“Nah,”he said. “No trouble at all. She’s a friend of one of our owners so she gets some special perks.”
“One of your owners?”
I looked around at the place that wasn’t any bigger than the first floor of a normal South Philly row home.
“How many owners do you have?”
He held up all five fingers on his right hand.
“That’s a lot of chef’s in the kitchen.”
“Yeah, no kidding? We’re making it work though.”He exposed his gap and I smiled back. I took another sip of my usual and wondered what the girl whose name I still didn’t know was going to school for. I stayed there for another usual and sipped it extra slow hoping she would come out of the kitchen again so I could ask, but she didn’t.
Travis was so busy that I had to wait ten minutes for my usual. I didn’t mind, I wasn’t in a rush. It was good to see the place so busy anyway. I had been coming for several months now and this was the first time I had seen it packed. I had walked toward my normal seat at the far end of the “L”shaped bar but it was already occupied. I was about to turn around and find another seat when I found myself face to face with the girl I had been infatuated with since coming here for the first time.
“I got you,”she said. “Wait here.”
I didn’t have time to respond before she ran off into the kitchen. She came out a half a minute later with a stool that she carried with every iota of strength in her tiny little body and placed it down next to the last seat in the “L”. I thanked her, nodded perhaps one too many times, and sat down.
“No worries,”she said, and then she scratched my back with her nails. I swiveled around to ask her her name but she was already gone.
When Travis arrived with my usual I asked him.
“Nikki,”she’s a friend of one of our owners.
“Yeah, I think I remember hearing you say that.”I slid my credit card over to him.
“Don’t worry about that, Dom,”he said, sliding it back. “I think I can trust you by now.”
I’m not sure if it was the energy of the place being packed, the surprise of the girl I had been admiring accommodating me, the friendliness I had won from Travis for my regularity, or just the fact that I noticed the Maker’s Mark bottle was nearly empty and I wanted to see a new one opened, but I ended up staying until last call and talking with Travis until much later.
Travis had invested his entire life’s savings into the place, but it wasn’t enough to open it up or keep her running, so he sought outside sources to fund his venture. Most of it came from a millionaire who he called a friend but I wasn’t so sure. The way he talked about him didn’t seem so friendly, or natural, like he was talking to his boss about his other boss and wanted to stay politically correct. Either way, he said the guy would give him as much money as he needed on two conditions: Travis hired his daughter (Nikki) and the millionaire friend gets to choose the name.
“What a fucking terrible idea that was,”he said as he counted down his drawer. “My only hope is that I can make enough money to buy him out before he destroys this whole thing. Seriously, don’t lie to me, what did you think about the name when you first saw it?”
I drank what little watered down whiskey was still in my glassand stood up.
“I thought that God was trying to tell me that I’d be entering AA soon.”
“Please don’t,”he said. “You’re our number one regular.”
I laughed. He had opened the bottle of Maker’s Mark that night, but I was too drunk to remember how it was done.