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BF-26: Reese (Chapter 01)

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The first time it happened, she didn’t understand what it was taking place within herself. It was the first day of school – the first day of junior high. Reese had been dreading this day all summer. The months-long break gave her an escape from the daily torment subjected upon her by fellow classmates. Well, one classmate in particular – the pretty, the popular, the stuck up and snobby Elaine Sanden.

And that is exactly who Reese saw as she stepped off the bus that morning. Elaine was standing in the schoolyard – a familiar sight. But instead of walking towards her with a half-cocked smile and worker bees in tow, Elaine was focused upon a new subject.

Reese didn’t recognize this girl.

“She must be new,” Reese thought to herself.

The new girl was dressed in a second-hand sweater, worn corduroy jeans, and a set of once-white Converse sneakers that had long-ago been stained a dingy brown. Her hair was a mousey brown and she wore thick-rimmed glasses that made her eyes look small. Reese felt sorry for her. She knew Elaine was not complimenting anything about that girl’s appearance.

Elaine looked pleased with herself and her set of minions were laughing and running their hands through their perfectly styled locks of long blonde and brown hair. It was while watching one of the girls’ perfectly-manicured fingers run down a length of golden-brown hair when Reese first tasted it – cold, wet, and the slight flavor of salt.

Her eyes went back to Elaine and suddenly, the taste in her mouth went sour. Then she looked at the new girl again. Reese was too far away to see any tears in the new girl’s eyes, but upon looking at her again the taste returned – the taste of tears.

Reese was tempted to stop and stare at the scene for a moment. But she knew doing so would risk the wrath of Elaine being turned on herself. So she kept moving towards the school building, trying to make herself inconspicuous. She let go a sigh of relief once inside. She had made it through that first pivotal moment of a new school year without drawing any unwanted attention towards herself. The moment she had feared for so long had passed.

Perhaps this year would be different. Naturally, it would be different in a number of ways. No longer would she sit in the same classroom with the same teacher day after day. There would be no more recess. No more allotted time for her to be cornered by Elaine and her cronies on the schoolyard. No more lessons from Elaine about humiliation, small-mob behavior, and pretending you’re not really hurt. Instead, she would learn about chemistry, history, and algebra.

She was in high school now – almost. And with the most-dreaded part of the day behind her, she smiled as she walked to her first homeroom class.

TEN YEARS LATER

Reese was busy wiping down the bar. She was too busy to bug the lone drunk left sitting on her barstool to get off his ass and out the door. Closing time had come and gone. The band was loading the last of their equipment into the trailer. Casey waved and her with a smile.

“Do you need any help,” he asked knowingly.

“No. I can handle this one,” she replied, rolling her eyeballs up to the ceiling.

Casey had been a big help to her in the past. Getting intoxicated patrons out of the bar on time was a nightly ritual and she was glad to have Casey’s help with it on the weekends. Sometimes, it got violent. But mostly, the men just didn’t want to go home – if they had a home.

They came for the drinks, but stayed for Reese. Her manager told her she had a “magnetic personality” and it was perfect for the line of work she was in.

“A good bartender knows how to shut up and listen,” Randy had said. “Drunk people don’t want to listen to your problems. They want someone to listen to their problems and act like they understand. All you have to do is smile and nod, throw in an occasional frown when they say something sad, and serve them up another round. Rinse the glass and repeat.”

Listening came quite naturally to Reese. She had always been shy, which had never seemed to be a detriment to her. It amazed her just how much she could learn about a person by staying silent and letting them do the talking. Sometimes, she didn’t even have to nod or look interested to keep them going.

Reese had yet to learn the many forms of loneliness. The quiet one in the corner may be lonely – but so is the class clown, the life of the party, and the troublemaker. While she didn’t yet consciously recognize that fact, her instinct was beginning to catch on.

And it was her instinct that told her this drunk was harmless. He had been mumbling to himself all evening about “knowing her” and knowing “what she is.” At times, he sounded agitated. But his agitation was colored by a tone of tenderness. She felt inexplicably drawn to him and she wanted more time with this one before she cut him loose into the night.

“Drive safe,” she called out to Casey as he lifted the last case.

“Will do,” he said walking out the door.

The steel door slammed shut behind him, leaving her alone with the slumped drunken man on a barstool. She shoved a glass of water in front of him.

“Whiskey,” he said gruffly.

“Water,” she replied. “You’ve had your whiskey and now it’s time for water.”

He studied her face, looking for any sign she might relent to him. But upon seeing none, he took the glass in hand and guzzled it down.

“Good boy,” she said patting him on the head. “Here’s another.”

“Thanks.”

He sat silently, sipping on his second glass of water watching her close up the bar. With the counters and tables cleaned, she went around the place putting the stools up on the table tops. He stood with the intention of assisting her.

He swayed one way and then the other. Moving fluidly past his upright position, he swayed onward to the right and toppled over. His head met the edge of a barstool with a loud crack.

“Dammit,” Reese said looking up.

She rushed over to help him to his feet. Taking him by the arm and placing one hand on the back of his shoulder, she lifted him to his feet. He made an effort to get back up on the barstool.

“Oh no,” she said. “We’re taking you to a chair.”

She walked him over to a chair set beside a table and sat him down.

“Now, let’s look at that head.”

He muttered something under his breath.
“What was that?” she said.

“Nothing,” he mumbled.

Reese walked back to the bar, scooped some ice into a plastic bag, and wrapped a towel around it.

Returning to him, she said “Now put this on your head.”

With a silent response, he did as he was told.

“I’m gonna finish putting up the stools and mopping the floors. Do you think you can stay out of trouble for ten more minutes.”

He nodded slowly in reply.

Hurriedly, Reese got the mop and swabbed the floors. She didn’t like leaving him unattended. With the amount of force met between his head and that stool, she was certain he had a concussion. She was starting to regret waving Casey away.

The man began moaning as she put away the mop and bucket.

“Do you need me to call an ambulance,” she asked.

“No. I’m fine,” he said definitively.

“Let me see your eyes,” she said kneeling down in front of him.

He opened his eyes. They were dark and she couldn’t quite tell what color they were by the light of the bar. A muddy-blue perhaps? Or maybe a light brown? Either way, his pupils were dilated. But that could just be from the whiskey.

“Can you stand?” she said, sounding slightly more annoyed than she had intended.

“Of course I can stand,” he stated gruffly as he fumbled for his feet.

“Whoa, there boy. Let me help you.”

She put her left hand under his elbow and used her right to steady his shoulder. Together, they brought him up.

“Now can you walk?”

“I think so,” he said more modestly.

One slow step at a time, they got him out the door.

“I need to lock up. Let’s lower you to the ground here and I’ll be back for you.”

“Is that a promise?”

For the first time that night, he looked at her with an expression of sincerity.

“Yes,” she said. “I promise.”

Disappearing through the door, she emerged a moment later with keys in hand. Locking the deadbolt, she turned her attention back to him.

“Alright. Let’s get you home.”

He smirked.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” he said wryly.

Getting him to his feet again was easier this time and he seemed to be leaning on her more than necessary as they made the slow saunter toward her car. She leaned him up against the side of her car as she slid the key into the passenger-side lock. As she opened the door, he started mumbling something.

“You got something to say?” she said.

“You heard me,” he retorted.

“No, I didn’t. But if you’d prefer I leave you here in the lot that can be arranged.”

“My apologies, lady.”

He slid himself into the passenger seat and she buckled him in. As the buckled clicked closed, he grabbed her hand.

“What are you doing,” she said staring firmly into his eyes.

“I know what you are.”

She shook her head as he released her hand.

Taking her place in the driver’s seat, she said “So where are we going?”

“I-Hop.”

“What?”

“We’re going to I-Hop.”

“No, we’re not going to I-Hop. I’m taking you home and you’re going to bed so you can sleep off that concussed, drunken stupor you are in.”

“We are going to I-hop,” he insisted. “And you’re going to let me buy you breakfast.”

“Now why would you do that?”

“Because I didn’t have enough cash at the end of tonight to tip you,” he said apologetically. “Buying you breakfast is the least I can do.”

“The least you can do?”

“You taking care of me,” he replied. “You didn’t have to do that. Like you said, you could just leave me out here in the parking lot for the cops to scrape off the pavement in the morning.”

They sat for a moment in silence with that thought.

“Please,” he said. “Let me buy you breakfast.”

After pausing a moment to consider his request, she started the engine and they drove off together to the nearest all-night diner.

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