I drop my purse on the ground and flop down on the couch, sliding down until my neck is leaning on the cushion and my legs are sprawled out on the floor. The absolute picture of grace. My cell phone buzzes and I groan. Can everyone just go away and let me hide under a rock for an hour? Please?
The phone buzzes again and I shimmy it out of my pocket so I can see the screen. Two text messages.
What the fuck happened?
Get your ass to this bar and spill.
There’s a reason people call my best friend Fleece. First, she can be as cuddly as one of those blankets when she likes you, but she can also rip you a new one. Only she could get away with a nickname that has a double meaning. Don’t get caught calling her by her actual name—Veronica—or you’ll be getting the wrong end of that nickname.
While I’m looking at the screen, the phone buzzes again.
I called the store to make dinner plans. I’m giving you 10 minutes before I start calling you every 5.
I roll my eyes. She’s not exaggerating. Even while she’s at work, she’ll make it happen. I text her back.
Fine. I’m on my way.
The response comes lightning fast.
Nine minutes, thirty seconds.
Even though I’m exhausted and I feel like I’m made of stone, I drag myself off the couch. I’m not bothering to change. The bar gets to see me in my utterly sexy khakis and black polo shirt. Luckily, Joe isn’t anywhere to be seen as I leave the building and start the six-block walk to the Blind Scorpion. Fleece and I discovered this bar when we first moved to New York. Close enough to both our apartments to walk home, and prices that didn’t break our college students’ budgets. Five years later, Fleece is one of the best bartenders in town and practically runs the place as her survival job. And I…have no job.
I push open the door to the bar and get a blast of cool air. New York in the summer is hot but you can always rely on the Blind Scorpion to cool you down. Fleece sees me and checks her phone. I know she’s looking to see how much time I’ve got left on her timer. She points down to the seat at the end—a dark corner where I lurk and we steal moments to gossip—and gives me her signature glare.
The hard high bar stool somehow feels comfortable. I’ve sat here so often that my ass is used to being shaped by this seat. It’s almost like a homecoming.
Fleece smacks a glass full of something in front of me. “Drink. What happened?”
“What do you think happened? I clearly won employee of the year.”
“Don’t do that,” she says, more gently. “You can tell me.”
I sigh, downing half of the glass she put in front of me. It’s delicious and sweet, something with a hint of apple and a little bit of a bite. “I had another complaint.”
She winces and tries to hide it with a smile, but I see it. “Sorry,” she says. “Same reason?”
“I swear I’m not yelling at them,” I say. My voice carries across the bar and at least two people look in my direction. Perfect.
Fleece starts laughing. “Of course you weren’t. Unless you were.”
I roll my eyes. “I know I’ve done that before, but I swear this time I wasn’t actually yelling. I was trying to be nice.”
“So why would they fire you?”
“Once they tag you as having a temper, it seems like they can’t get it out of their heads. Any complaint all of a sudden has to do with my temper, and I had t
oo many customer complaints in too short a time. They have a policy.”
“Plus,” I say, “I ran into Joe when I got home. He’s practically stalking me for the rent which I can’t give him because I am now broke and unemployed.”
Someone signals Fleece down the bar and she turns to me. “Look, hold that thought. Everything’s going to be fine. I think I might know a way to help you.”
I sit with my drink, taking occasional sips and gathering the confidence to tell Fleece no, she cannot lend me money again, no matter how much it might save my ass. The bar is busy tonight, especially for a Monday, and Fleece looks like she’s struggling to keep up. I look around and see a couple of waiters, but the bar seems really understaffed today.