“Mel! Grab those cocktails for table four?” Giovani, patient zero of this flu epidemic nods at a tray of drinks waiting on the bar top. All martinis, and at least six of them. Great. Heavy and easy to spill.

“That’s Beth’s section,” I protest.

“I know, but she’s been in the bathroom for the last ten minutes and her table is giving me the evil eye,” Gio protests, doing his best puppy dog eyes. “Please?”

With a sigh, I reach for the tray. “Fine, but make Anthony finish mopping that spill, will you?” I toss the rag back onto the counter.

“Sure, sure,” Gio responds, already turning away to listen to a man in a three-piece suit who’s yelling an order across the bar top. I’m 99.9% sure he didn’t even hear me.

Of course.

I turn away from the bar with the tray balanced across my arms. The room seems to have gotten even more crowded while I was in the back, but I navigate across it sideways, dodging the rowdiest of the patrons. “Sorry. Excuse me. Coming through.”

Some people move out of my way, but most ignore me entirely. It makes me wonder if maybe I wouldn’t enjoy life in the big city after all. Is this how everyone there acts?

One guy starts to shout at another, something about the Patriots and Deflate Gate. I roll my eyes, trying to shift out of their way. That’s when another man, full beer in hand, stumbles into my side, hard.

I shift to brace myself, grabbing the other side of the tray with my free hand to steady it. But my foot lands right in the spill I was trying to mop up earlier. The last thing I see is a sea of backs turned toward me. Nobody even notices. Then my knee hits the ground, and the tray follows a split second later with a deafening crash. Martini glasses shatter. Gin and olives pool across the floor in a sticky mess that immediately starts to reek of Christmas.

I groan, rolling away from the broken glass before I try to ease to my feet. Dimly, I’m aware of shouting. A couple people ooh and ahh. The guy who crashed into me, on the other hand, just glares.

“Watch where you’re going! Christ, this is going to stain. Do you know how much this suit cost?” He shakes a soaked arm at me.

I clamp my mouth shut, resisting the urge to point out that at least gin is a clear liquid, and it probably won’t show up on his black suit. The customer is always right, that’s Bob’s motto. Even when they’re the one who crashed into you and made you spill your drinks in the first place.

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, my voice drowning in the noise of the bar, and the curses of other patrons shoving out of the way of the broken glass.

That’s about when Bob finds me. It must have taken him this long to elbow through the crowd, because I know he’ll have heard the crash from wherever he was standing. The man has the ears of a bat, and they’re constantly tuned to listening for any hints of his staff making mistakes.

Right now, I’m directly in his line of fire.

“Melanie, did you do this?” Bob’s voice is low and quiet, which some people might mistake for not being as dangerous. But Bob yells when he’s just annoyed or irritable. When he goes quiet like this, you know you’ve really fucked up.

“I’m sorry. It’s so crowded; someone bumped into me and I lost my balance—”

“You’re paying for these glasses,” Bob interrupts me. “Out of your paycheck. Plus the drinks themselves, since now the customers who ordered them will need to wait even longer to be served.”

My stomach sinks. So much for making a little extra by taking over Devan’s shift tonight. But what am I going to do, argue? I’ve seen people get fired from here for less. And in a town this size, there aren’t exactly ample job opportunities to go around. I can’t afford to blow this one.

“What about my suit?” yells the man responsible for making me trip in the first place. “I’m going to have to pay to get this dry cleaned now, and express the job if it’s going to be ready for the wedding I’m attending tomorrow. You really need to train your servers to be able to handle a crowd.”

My manager bobs his head to him, practically bowing. “I am so sorry for the inconvenience, sir. I’ll make sure our server covers any expenses for the suit as well.”

“I’ll need at least $300,” the man replies. “Not to mention the inconvenience of the whole mess.”

My stomach churns now. “But—”

“Of course. I’ll take it out of her tips,” my manager says, speaking loudly over me. I only have $42 in tips so far today, and I’m unlikely to make that much all evening. Or even in several evenings.

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