Paul Blakely sat on his favourite barstool tucked away in the shadows at the far end of the bar, his long fingers cupped around a glass of whisky and Coke. The ice inside the black liquid had long since melted and the glass no longer felt cool against the warmth of his palm. He sighed, glancing briefly at the clock on the far wall across the room. It was time to go home.
Drawing a five dollar note out of his pocket, he slid it across the counter and prepared to leave when Colin, the bar owner, halted him.
“Not that I mind taking your money or anything,” the older man said, scratching at the rough grey bristles lining his jaw, “but why do you bother coming here night after night just to order a drink and stare at it for a couple of hours. It’s a waste of good whisky, if you ask me.”
“Nobody’s asking you,” Paul muttered, pushing back against his seat and standing up.
“Paul, wait.” Colin reached out a hand across the bar as if he wanted to grab Paul by the wrist, but instead dropped his palm on the smooth wood surface. “You’ve been coming here almost every night for four months. Your order a whisky and Coke and then you just sit in the corner and sulk. People are noticing. They’re starting to talk.”
“So! Let them talk,” he growled, turning to leave. It’s not as if he hadn’t given them anything worth talking about over the last few months.
“They’re calling you a drunk, and you and I both know you don’t even drink.” Paul turned his head, meeting Colin’s steely gaze. The guy didn’t even blink, daring Paul to contradict him. “Not even a sip.”
“You spend every minute watching me?” Paul shot back half-heartedly. What did he care if Colin knew he didn’t drink? He didn’t care what anyone thought.
“I don’t need to,” Colin replied easily, a smirk poking through beneath his bushy grey moustache. “If you’d taken one sip of your drink, you’d realise I haven’t put any whisky in your glass for months now.”
Paul’s eyes shot to his glass, still full to the brim with the black liquid he’d thought was whisky and Coke. Slowly, he reached out and picked it up to take a cautious sip. The sweet, syrupy flavour of Coke met his tongue—without the kick of a strong spirit. He slammed the glass down, the liquid sloshing over the side as a wave chased itself around the surface. “You’ve been ripping me off?” He felt his anger rising and tried to force it down.
Still smirking, Colin reached below the counter and pulled out an envelope. The flap was open as he tossed it across the bar and Paul could easily see the stack of five dollar notes inside. “I was never planning to keep your money,” he shrugged and grinned unrepentantly, “I just don’t like to waste good whisky.”
Ignoring the cash in front of him, Paul exhaled and glanced at the clock on the wall again. As quickly as his anger had come, it dissipated. Dr Jerome would be happy. “What’s your point, Colin?” he asked in a resigned tone, knowing the barkeep wouldn’t have brought it up if he didn’t have something on his mind.
“I never liked you,” Colin admitted and Paul swung a surprised gaze at the man. He didn’t give a shit one way or the other if Colin liked him or not, but it did surprise him that the guy would say it to his face like that. “I didn’t. You always seemed cocky and arrogant and too bloody possessive when it came to Marie. And then when I saw the bruises you put on her…” Colin’s voice trailed off. Paul clenched his jaw but didn’t say anything. What could he have said? The man was right. The way he’d treated his ex-girlfriend was appalling.
Eventually, Colin continued. “After she left town, when you started coming here every night, I braced myself and expected to be dealing with another drunk. Only you never drank. Sure you ordered a drink, and you sat at the bar night after night so that everyone coming in would assume you were drinking, but you’re not a drunk. So I’m curious. Why do you want everyone to think you are?”
“Paul! Oh thank God you’re still here.” Grateful, for a reprieve from the older man’s scrutiny, Paul turned to the source of the voice trying to get his attention and inwardly cringed as Stacey Michaels bounced and jiggled her way across the room.
“Hey Stacey,” he said unenthusiastically. The last thing he felt like doing right now was making small talk with one of his ex-girlfriend’s best friends.
“I’m so glad you haven’t left yet,” she said brightly, oblivious to his lack of enthusiasm and continuing as if breathing wasn’t important. “I need a really big favour and I’m told you’re the guy who can help me. I need to get to Adelaide this weekend and my car and I have just had a major argument this afternoon and he’s having a hissy fit and doesn’t want to oblige me this weekend. All I asked was that he hold out for another week until payday before getting serviced, but the stupid jerk thought I didn’t love him anymore and had a tantrum which did some awful things to his radiating-thingy and I’ve had to send him away for treatment, at the mechanic I mean, but he won’t be fit for good company again for at least a week and I really need to get to Adelaide this weekend.” She halted her rapid speech and flying hands to stare at him expectantly.
“What?” Paul asked, frowning.
Stacey huffed impatiently as if he was daft and began waving her hands about again as she spoke. “It’s simple, my car is in the shop, Adam says you’re going to a wedding in Adelaide and I need a ride.”
“Why didn’t you just say that?” he muttered.
“Oh good, you’ll do it.” She grinned and jumped up and down, clapping her hands. Even after she stopped bouncing, her ample breasts continued to jiggle for a few more seconds, diverting his attention. “I knew I could count on you. So Adam said you were going straight after you finished your chores on the farm, about ten o’clock tomorrow, so I’ll be ready by then. You know where I live, right? I’ll see you in the morning.” Not waiting for a response she turned, wiggling and jiggling her way back out of the room, leaving Paul staring open-mouthed after her. What the hell just happened?
Behind him, Colin let out a deep, rolling belly laugh. Not wanting to continue his previous conversation with the guy, Paul shook his head a couple of times to clear the confusion left behind in the wake of Cyclone Stacey, and then stalked out of the bar. No way was he picking her up in the morning. She was just going to have to find another way to get to the city.