No descriptive sexual scenes in this story, as usual.
Constructive comments, emails, and critiques are welcome and appreciated.
"Last call," I yelled as I rang the small, old fashioned dinner bell hanging on the wall behind the bar; it was quarter to 2 in the morning and Missouri state law said Riley's Tavern had to close by 2:30.
"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
One guy objected loudly, "Who do you think you are, ordering us to leave?"
I motioned him over to the bar. "You can leave right now," I quietly told him, "Or I can toss your ass out now. And by the way I'm Tom Larson; I own the place."
He started to argue but saw the look in my eyes, studied my size and decided discretion was the better part of valor; in other words he left in a hurry. You can't really blame him; at 6'4 and 250 pounds, I'm big enough to back up my orders. The one and a half inch scar running almost vertically below my right eye also tended to make me look sinister; the result of a bar fight years ago when I was young and stupid.
Several of my single lady friends, as well as a few married ones, say the scar doesn't bother them. In fact one told me that with my black hair and what she called my dark brooding eyes, that the scar made me look troubled. And a lot of the ladies thought they'd be just the one to make me feel better.
I got the usual objections and pleas to stay open, but also as usual, I ignored them. There was a flurry of last minute drink orders from the people still celebrating a birthday. There had been twenty or more when the party started at 6:30. The two fisted power drinkers had their fill and left, the couples or singles had hooked up and left; all that was left were four or five close friends of the birthday girl.
The friends were laughing and having a good time. They were well on their way to monumental hang over's the next day; good thing tomorrow was Saturday. The birthday girl was in much better shape. She had nursed three glasses of Asti Spumante for the almost six hours of the party. I set a fresh glass of liquid in front of her.
"I didn't order this," she said in a puzzled voice. "I don't care for another drink. I ... ah ... don't know your name."
"Tom Lawson," I introduced myself as I shook her hand. I'd been serving her friends all evening, but it wasn't unusual that she didn't know my name. It was her first time in Riley's.
"Your friends ordered it. Take a sip Rebecca," I suggested. Her friends had been shouting her name all evening and I would have had to be deaf not to have learned it by now.
She took a small, cautious drink and smiled. I'd filled the glass with club soda and put in a wedge of lime. "Thank you. I don't usually sit in bars and drink but my sister; she's the one in the red dress dry humping the guy on the dance floor, insisted I come out tonight and celebrate my birthday. She drove, so I'm stuck until she's ready to leave. I'm Rebecca Kelly."
I'd noticed her all evening for two reasons. One, after two rounds of drinks, she left the party animals and sat at a separate table by herself. Her sister and a couple of others would come over and try to get her to dance and raise a little hell but she would smile and shake her head. Then about an hour ago she'd come to the bar, got her third glass of wine and found a bar stool.
The second reason I'd noticed her was that she was as cute as a speckled pup. Rebecca had this long auburn hair worn in a French braid down her back and big green eyes that sparkled and were full of wonder at the world. To go along with the hair and eyes, she had a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks; just enough to look adorable. Her father and mother must be tall, I had thought; she and her sister have to be at least 5'10.
"Happy birthday," I said with a smile. "The drink's on me."
"Thank you," she answered with a grin. "Did I hear you tell the drunk that you own this place? I thought the name was Riley's."
Looking over her shoulder I leaned over the bar. "Y'all have to get off the table unless you want to pay for it," I said to the two girls who had decided to do a dance on top of it. "And put your tops back on."
My order caused a lot of good natured boos from the two men left in the group. "Y'all can dance and strip on your car hoods if you want, but I don't have a license for entertainment."
Turning back to Rebecca, I answered her question. "Yeah, I own the bar. It was called Riley's when I bought it and I didn't see the need to change it. Riley's has a nicer ring than Lawson's, don't you think? Besides, I made a promise to the previous owner."
"And you promised to keep the name Riley's? Then she blushed and stammered an apology. "I'm sorry; it's none of my business. Excuse me."
"No apology necessary. I inherited a lot of regular customers and they liked the name. But it was more than that. Kind of a long and boring story."
Rebecca looked at me for several seconds and smiled. "I'd like to hear it sometime."
I returned her look. "If you want to come in some evening, when we have the time, I'll tell you my sad tale. I'll even buy the wine."
"Hey Becca," her drunken sister yelled as she walked over to the bar. "I better get you home before you get too drunk to walk." As she said that, she slipped and would have fallen if Rebecca hadn't grabbed and held her up.
With a wink at Tom, Rebecca said, "C'mon Julie, get me home before I make a fool out of myself." With help from the guy Julie had been dancing with, Rebecca steered her sister toward the door. "I'll see you soon, Tommy," Rebecca said as they left the bar.
She may be tall but she's not skinny, I thought. Rebecca had a solid athletic looking body but coming toward you or walking away, there was no doubt she was a woman. She had curves and bumps in all the right places. I turned to the remaining people in the bar.
"Y'all have until I get around the bar can pick up the empty glasses to finish your drinks," I said. By the time I got to the tables, everyone was waving goodbye.
Thanks to it being the middle of June and daylight savings time, sunlight poured through the door to the bar when it opened. I looked up as people in the bar complained about the daylight. The ambiance in Riley's Tavern was dim, though not dark, so the customers could find an oasis from the sunlight or street lights and from the stress of everyday life.
Rebecca quickly closed the door, smiled and said, "Sorry." She came to the bar and sat on a stool close to the serving station.
I returned her smile. "Welcome. Have you come to keep me company? There's not much action tonight."
"What about that table over there," she asked nodding at six men. They were the only ones in my place.
"Serving a pitcher of beer every forty minutes or so doesn't count as action."
Smiling she reminded Tom, "You promised to buy the wine, and tell me the story of how you came to own Riley's. I'm here to collect on your promise."
I never really expected her to take my promise seriously. At best, I hoped she'd come back to see me, but not for the story. I poured her a glass of wine.
"Thank you," Rebecca said. "Now for the story."
Hesitating for a few seconds I thought of what to say. "Well, I worked here while I was in college. After graduating, got a job, and after being in the rat race for a while I came back. I'd been here about a year this time when Riley said he wanted to retire and made it easy for me to buy the place. That was a little over three years ago."
"You're what, about 30 or so," Rebecca said. "You couldn't have been in that rat race for very long. So what's the real story?"
"32," I replied. For some reason, I wasn't upset that almost a perfect stranger wanted to know my business. I felt that it wasn't just a morbid curiosity; that she was really interested.
"It's not a feel good story with a happy ending; in fact it's sorta of depressing if you must know. Are you sure you want to hear my sad tale?"
I had to admit that I wanted to know Rebecca better. After about ten seconds of staring at her, I made my decision.
"I graduated from Washington University, right here in St. Louis. If it hadn't been for a scholarship and some grants I wouldn't have been able to go to that high dollar school. Anyway, I made the most of the help and got a degree in Business Administration. Then got a good job with a local company and started my rise up the corporate ladder."
One of the men at the table came to the end of the bar for another pitcher of beer. I stopped my tale long enough to fill his order and came back to Rebecca.
"I was making good progress in my climb but after six years or so I became disillusioned so I quit. I spent so much time working that I had basically no social life and had saved most of my salary. My expenses were minimal, you know, rent, utilities and food. Hell, I didn't even own a car; I lived within three blocks of my office and walked to work even in the winter. When I quit, I had enough money to last me three or four years before I had to find a job; but I needed something to fill my time so I decided to come back to work for Riley."
This time one of the men wanted six shots of Jack Daniels. I poured the shots and helped the guy take them back to their table. Once again I returned to Rebecca's end of the bar. I refilled her wine glass and continued.
"Like I said, I worked for Riley, pretty much full time, for about a year. Then he decided he wanted to move to Arizona to be near his son and grandkids. I gave him a big down payment and Riley set up a payment schedule that made the deal work."
"A good tavern like this would cost a lot. I'm amazed you were able to save that much in just six years."
Laughing I said, "I told you Riley made me a great deal. I gave him 50 thousand dollars down and $2500 a month."
"For how many months?" Rebecca's face got red and she added, "Sorry, it's really none of my business."
"Riley was 70 when he retired. I'll pay him the $2500 a month for the rest of his life." I shook my head and laughed again. "The old scoundrel will probably live to be 100."
Rebecca laughed with me. "Okay that's how you got the tavern but why did you leave a good job?"
"That's a story for another time, young lady."
"Is that a polite way of telling me to mind my own business?"
"No, it's a way to tell you I'll have to know you much better before I go into it."
Rebecca reached across the bar and took my hand. "Well, let's get started. How about a late supper tonight after you get done here?"
"Bar's closing," I yelled to the group at the table. "Drink up and go home."
"But it's only 11 o'clock," one of the men grumbled. "You're usually open until 2:30."
"The law says I have to close at 2:30, it doesn't say I have to stay open until then," I replied. "I'll spot you guys that last round, but drink up and leave."
Tom and Rebecca went to a little mom and pop restaurant in the neighborhood. Carmine's usually quit serving at 11. But Tom knew the owners, Pete and Theresa, so they made an exception for him. Tom and Rebecca returned the favor by ordering whatever they had left in the kitchen instead of ordering off the menu.
Tom had a new sign posted in the tavern stating that Riley's would be closing at 10 PM every Monday and Thursday. Those days he and Rebecca would go to dinner or a late movie or to a dance club. Each date brought them closer together. That first night started a new chapter in Tom's life and Rebecca became the focal point.
He hired a friend that was between jobs to work Saturday evenings for him. That gave Tom a full evening and a full day with Rebecca. There were very few weekends that they didn't spend together. They had a lot of common interests. Tom found that Rebecca liked the outdoors as well as he did. They would go camping on Saturday and stay until the last minute on Sunday. In spite of Rebecca's fondness for camping and nature hikes, she had never been fishing; basically she was a city girl that had developed a love for the country.
The first time Tom took Rebecca fishing she was hooked; no pun intended. She had a little trouble learning to cast and Tom took a picture of her with fishing line covering her like a shawl. He had it enlarged, framed, and hung it in his office at the tavern.
"If things are going tough or I get stressed out, I can look at that picture and get a laugh," he explained to Rebecca who hit him hard in the shoulder.
Two months of at least twice a week dates convinced Tom that he'd found someone special. He wanted to take things to another level but knew he had some baggage to explain to Rebecca. They had just returned to his apartment after a nice dinner on a Saturday night. Sitting on the sofa with candles burning and a glass of wine their snuggling became a bit more intense. After several minutes, Tom pulled away and sat back.
"Is there something wrong with me Tom?" Rebecca asked with a playful smile.
"Wrong? No, there's nothing wrong with you."