“And the spirit in the bottle is sure to serve its master” –Chris ‘Isto’ White
As I lift my glass to finish the last of my bourbon, I stop to consider the reflection staring back from the bottom of the glass. I recognize myself so instinctively that I don’t even look long enough to know what I look like. With a chuckle I shut my eyes, tilt my head back, and finish the booze.
I breathe in through my nose, holding the burn, then set the glass gently on the counter, following it much less delicately with my own forehead. The smell of stale smoke still lingers even years after smoking indoors was outlawed. I shut my eyes and start to sort through the few conversations going on throughout the bar.
That’s fine. I’m only here for one reason tonight, anyway.
Shirley – the girl behind the bar.
The floor must be padded back there, because I don’t hear her walk to me. I only look up when I hear another drink trickling into the glass by my ear. By the time my eyes focus she’s already smiling. If the rest of the night’s any indication she’d been doing it before I even moved. I reach into my jacket; she shakes her head “No” and stops my arm with her hand. “I told you already, tonight’s on me.”
I try to protest and end up belching instead.
Shirley’s smile wilts and her eyebrows furrow. “You gonna make it through the night?”
I manage to mumble something to the tune of “I’ll be fine” and reach for the refilled glass. There are two glasses, so I blink until I can only see one, then wrap my fist around it and prop myself up on my elbows.
Shirley’s probably got a point. I should call it a night. Hell, I should stop entirely, but there’s a reason they call it “liquid confidence.” I’ll stop tomorrow. Actually… I check my watch and find that it’s already tomorrow. What the hell, she poured it. Waste not, want not. I have a sip.
She’s got to know how I feel, we’ve known each other since we were kids. I may have moved away years ago, and this may be my first night back in town, but the way her eyes lit up when I walked in and the fact that she’s been spotting me drinks all night proves that nothing’s changed.
That’s it. It’s gotta be it. I came back for her, and if I don’t do it tonight I’ll never do it. I take another sip and wave at her. “Hey, Shirl!” She hustles over, smiling as always.
“Yeah.” I know I’m either slurring or over-emphasizing my words. “How’ve you been?”
She shrugs with one shoulder. “Oh, you know. Ups and downs, but that’s life, right?” She laughs lightly and pats my hand with hers. I can see the indent where her wedding ring used to be. “How are you doing? I mean, aside from the obvious. What brings you back?”
“Eh.” I wave my free hand in a loose circle. “You know. You start to miss family. Old friends. You worry. I dunno.”
I smile when she giggles, covering her mouth with her hand. “Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?” I nod, trying not to make the room spin too much. “Where at?”
The door slams open. “Hey! Shirley!” I knew this would happen. I turn halfway to see and there he is, big as ever and even meaner than before.
He marches straight towards us – actually, towards Shirley. He ignores me. Shirley steps back to the wall but doesn’t leave. She crosses her arms and glares at him. “What do you want, Tim?”
Tim reaches across the bar, grabbing Shirley’s arm. “Don’t play that with me.”
Shirley struggles, trying to free herself. The rest of the barflies hang back, uncertain, scared. I raise my glass and splash it in Tim’s face.
He sputters, cursing, forgetting Shirley and turning to me. I give him a weak kick in the ribs, nearly falling off my stool; he barely seems to feel it. Lights swirl and I hear a crack. My head hurts and Tim’s standing over me. The room spins and my ears ring. Tim grabs my coat, lifts me halfway with one arm.
I reach behind my back and grab my pistol.
“Don’t touch my cousin, you son of a bitch.”
I fire, twice. Tim drops me and my head bounces off the floor. I hear screams. I try to blink blood out of my eyes, but my vision just goes black.
Everyone stops screaming.