She’d seen the sign one day, alongside the freeway: Happy Hour — Free Appetizers — Half Price Drinks. That morning, Mike had broken up with her, said the relationship had fizzled, there was no excitement. No excitement. Mike was a Police Sergeant, he had said at the beginning that he liked that she was always so calm and reasonable, said he had enough craziness at work dealing with crackheads and gangbangers and wife-beaters, wanted no drama in his off-hours life. Apparently, she had been too calm and reasonable. Boring.
When she had left her office, she’d gone to the place with the sign. She needed a Happy Hour. The finger foods they served were decent, the staff was friendly, and the convivial sound of other people’s happiness covered her silence. A live band came in to play that first night. Not having any reason to leave, she stayed until the club closed.
The next evening, leaving work, she decided she would go there again. The next evening, she went again. The next evening. And the next. It had now been nearly four months of going there every night. A routine. She hated to break the routine for no reason. She was waiting for a reason.
The lights went on, the club changing into harsh shapes and surfaces, the dingy orange carpet exposed. The waitresses were collecting glasses and bottles, clinking them onto their trays. A few people sitting at the tables kept talking, getting looks from the bouncers who were moving through the place. “Closing time, folks.”
She knew they wouldn’t bother her, but she got up anyway, pulled on her coat, picked up her purse and started walking toward the entrance. The manager, Jeff, was standing outside, smoking, talking to the doorman. “Leaving? Where’s your car?”
“By the band’s van.”
Jeff looked down at the blue van at the end of the parking lot; her car was three empty spaces away. “They’re running late tonight. Okay, see you tomorrow.”
She walked across the parking lot, heels scritching the blacktop. Yes they were running late; usually by the time the club closed, they’d backed the van up to the side entrance and begun to load their instruments.
Drunken pest. He was leaning closer to her, glassy-eyed, incoherent. She was looking around for security, when the bouncer suddenly appeared by her table. “Sir, come with me, please.” She looked away as the pest was removed.
Later when the bouncer walked by, she said, “Thank you.”
He pointed to the stage with his flashlight. “Oz said you were being bothered.”
The band was starting a ballad, led by the bass guitarist. Some girls at a nearby table squealed; she’d seen them before, waiting at the side entrance after closing. The bass guitarist was tall, well-built, blonde. He was wearing typical rocker gear, Ramones shirt, black pants, skate shoes, a kerchief tied around his head. She had heard members of the band call him Oz.
It flashed across her mind: During the band’s last break, when the drunken pest had invited himself into her booth, he, Oz, had walked by, she caught a glimpse of his face, the eyes, the quiet mouth, looking at them; she had felt strangely embarrassed, like she’d been doing something wrong.
After they closed that night, she walked over to the side entrance; the girls were there. They looked her up and down. She hadn’t felt awkward before in her office attire, but standing there in her nice coat and heels, Gucci bag, suddenly, she did feel out of place. The drummer was pulling the van up to the door. The keyboardist came out first, then Oz. She caught his eye, and he walked over. “Thanks for sending help.”
“No worries.” Australian accent. “Not many of your class in this place. You’re a lawyer?”
“ — Yes. How — ?”
“Jeff showed me your business card.” Regarding her. Blue eyes, a mosaic of blues. “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, you don’t dance. What are you doing here?”
“Hey Oz, you flirting, or helping, man?” The drummer, loading speakers. Snickering girls.
His eyes had brushed her face before she turned away, stalking coldly to her car.
She didn’t go for weeks after that. One night, missing the place; she went, arriving late. Her usual table was taken, so she sat at the end of the bar. She left the club at closing, and was walking to her car. Oz — torn jeans, soccer shirt — was helping the band load their equipment.
“Hey. Lawyer’s back. Fancy a coffee, doll?”
“Right. Straight into sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then?”
“Not if you were the last Rock God alive on the planet.”
Catcalls, whistles, applause from the band. She was almost at her car when she heard footsteps. “Hey. Lawyer. Didn’t mean to get on your tits — ”
She turned and slapped him, so hard it hurt, and she gripped her injured hand. He had straightened, and was standing there, looking at her.
The bone in her little finger was aching. He reached, slowly, to take her hand, looking at the spot where a bruise was forming, split at the finger joint, a lopsided heart shape.
“You’re hurt.” Eyes rising from her hand to her face. “It’s okay. I’m a paramedic in real life, this band thing is just a side gig.”
Angered, shocked, in pain, now surprised. “No sex, drugs, and rock and roll?”
“Wouldn’t be in a band otherwise. Can’t take life too seriously.” He touched his cheek. “Name’s Brian.”
“Holly. … I’m sorry I hit you.”
“I’m sorry I was rude. Let’s get this taken care of.” He was still cradling the hurt hand, gently, in his own. “Come on.”
She started to consider, … then didn’t. Nodded, letting him lead her by the injured hand to wherever. Hospital. Coffee. Sex, drugs, rock and roll. She couldn’t take life too seriously. It would be okay.
Katherine Lopez‘s poems, essays, articles, and commentaries have been published in literary anthologies, alternative locals, newspapers. She has authored two successful blogs, is currently writing short stories, and has recently been asked to submit work to a large local publication.
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