Working and Hardly

Introducing: Aster's first weekend on the new job, and the amazing support she gets from her co-workers.

The Green Room, Toronto, ON, Canada

August 30th, 2013

"You'll get used to it or you'll quit. Or you'll be found out back with your pants down."

"Nice try!" The distinctive voice of the newest bartender isn't yet distinctive to The Green Room; it'll take awhile for the fresh new employee's familiarity to settle, if it ever does; at least she moves about behind the bar like an old pro — with the faint edge of perpetual boredom that comes with having done a job a thousand times. Aster's only been in for a few shifts, but she's been behind bars for a few more years than that, and it shows; one bar's just like any bar, as far as she's concerned. If nothing else, she's a pretty face, and with some crowds, that's enough. In the midst of good-natured banter with a cocky U of T student, of which there are entirely too many, she smiles but takes no guff over his attempt at getting a discount. "Hey, but it's still five-fifty." It's getting late, but early for a weekend — her first weekend shift, which she is presently manning alone, a task which becomes moderately more taxing when a whole crowd is suddenly flush against the bar, pushy for their booze. "Hi there, what can I get you? — " She spins, keeping a pale, slender eye on the prior student, "I haven't forgotten about the five-fifty!"

He shoves out from amongst them, but he is clearly not one of them. Hispanic and unshaven, underneath the sweep of a hoodie missing from a dirty laundry basket. He's wearing a wife-beater unironically. Slumping up to the bar, he bodily shoulders a hipster student, dropping down on the stool with a clamor drowned in good-natured bar noise. Thumping an elbow next to a bowl of questionable looking peanuts, heel of his hand driving into an eye-socket as it knocks the hood back, he appears as if leaving an alcoholic establishment, not just arriving at one. Squinty eyes make no demands of the harried bartender; he groans almost languidly, wasting time.

She sees him, not because he shines out from the crowd; he's just a minor aberration amongst the throng of students. Aster's eyes pass over him and mark where he is, maybe making a mental note to remember a shady character but barely caring; shady characters who look like they've stumbled from one dark, alcoholic corner to another aren't exactly unusual in here. Or outside. Or anywhere in the city. A figure dressed all in black for some semblance of professionalism — up close, black jeans and a cheap tanktop — she whisks past him armed with orders (and the five-fifty), though she truly moves rather slow; unhurried, purposeful. It's precise for the fact that she knows where she's going. Fluidly grabbing a bottle here, a bottle there— then she hovers around an unfamiliarly organized selection of flavours before spotting what she's looking for. She's serving efficiently, but not fast enough.

She's only one person after all.

Aster's pause is enough that she gets another patron throwing their drink desire at her, figuratively leaping on vulnerable prey. "Yeah, be with you in a second," she says without looking, a casual assurance that's good as a dismissal. A second or ten minutes, at this rate.

Back of the hand still pressed into his eye, he twists and snaps the thumb and pinkie: snap, snap. An eye cracks; oh, the bartender's occupied.

The same languid laziness possesses him as he unfurls, rocking onto the left elbow to peer up and over the slight rise separating the two sides of the arrangement. Right arm lifting, he slings it over the opposite edge, hoodie scrubbing on wood, to grasp with clumsy smacks that yet have true aim: he gets a hand on a bottle of Jack, lifting it up. It hits, clinking, on the bar, one, twice, again, with the reluctance of his arm to sacrifice energy for taking its weight.

Occupied, but not blind or deaf, the new bartender is quite aware of her surroundings at any given time. A knock or two of the bottle of Jack and Aster's narrowing her already sharp-cornered eyes in that direction; meanwhile, she's pouring out a row of shots for a pack of rowdy friends. "Hey, you!" she calls out, pointed, but not aggressive, or even particularly demanding— just a call for attention. So far. "You mind not doing that?" Particularly while she has her hands full. Aster finishes spilling liquid into shot glasses — no fancy bottle-work, but it gets the job done — before she moseys right in front of the man, the bar and her crossed arms between them, to confront him, which she frankly has no time for. "Buddy, it's not self-serve."

Thick Spanish eyebrows survey the gaze that finds her, blithe and uncaring, as well as circled by dark rings. Jack tic tic tics, making it across the bar, before he drops his grip, the pair of incriminating hands lifting to spread in surrender. The bottle wobbles indecisively before settling. "You're right," husky, his voice, without connotation aside from a bad night— a cigar, or an accent flushed out. Certainly not malicious, though not lacking in a faded humor, dusky, too, with self-deprecation of its purpose. "Go ahead."

The new bartender seems to hold no lasting grudge — grudges mean no tips — though she does linger a lasting look on him. The natural shape of her eyes lends well to suspicion; and, when she smiles a rather questioning smile at him, her lips tend to a rather foxish expression, intentionally or not. She grabs the bottle up. "Gotta let me do my job," she says with a joke in her voice, a means of thank-you for the relinquishing of the Jack. "I'm guessin' you want it straight." She pulls a glass down, keeping an eye on the other customers, meanwhile. "Even though it's not your turn."

"You don't seem like you give it any other way." From the mouths of any of the university babies, a flirtation; not so, her Spanish customer, whose boredom without drink leaves him picking at a crack in the bar top. Still, he watches her at her job, elbows rubbing on wood. Down feet from them, the shots poured are hauled back rigorously to shouts of fervent enjoyment. Cackling heralds glasses and hands being banged down in universal bar-language for another!

"No, you got me all wrong. I give it whatever way you wanna take it." From her mouth, it could easily be a flirtation if she weren't so straight-talking — in the midst of her straight-pouring. Aster sounds too bored to be invested enough to do anything but answer how it is and leave him with his glass of high alcohol content liquid, though her Nordically blue eyes have a natural sparkle when she looks up from the simple task. "You have a tab?" He looks like someone who would either have a tab or try to skimp out on paying, which is the only reason she sticks in his vicinity while going for the bottle that matches the next order in her head, giving the students a raised hand. Another inaccurate 'one second'.

His hand indicates— more, more, more— stop— glass slid out from under the pour almost before the stream, dashing drops across its side, wetting his fingers. Rocking his head backwards, he slams the whiskey, hard. It's gone in a flash and a bang of the glass returning to the bar. With the thickness of hard liquor creating a breathy bulge in his voice, he tells her, straight, starting to straighten, too, on the stool with a jerking sway, "Oh, I'm not paying for that." A dismissive judgment for the quality of the blend, retained in his harsh grimace, finally alighting lazy features as he licks his lips and shakes his head out. Bad, but elixir, nonetheless.

"Uhm, yeah you are," she's quick to answer, dishing out someone an easy cocktail in the spirit of multi-tasking. That patron pays. The students looking for shots are still waiting as she knocks the cap off a bottle of beer for the next person, hands it off, and spares a moment to inform the whiskey-drinker, "That was eight bucks worth I didn't give you out of the goodness of my own heart." Good-natured — she smiles like it's all a joke — but Aster's not messing around; she eyes him expectantly, wiping excess liquors off on her bar towel before settling her hands on her hips.

"Eight bucks? Jesus Christ, Gordon." The sneering mutter aimed carelessly aside, Aster no less than a flea to his attention. Down the line, the slamming of the partying shot glasses turns thunderous. "Alright," mumbled, "alright," to louder, demanding; his palms slap into the bar's edge, "All fucking right!" With a squeak from the stool seat, the moody Hispanic jolts off it, dangerous beady eyes fixed on the jockeying male members of the cult university kids. He jostles expertly by cocktail patron to circle in towards the offenders, tossing his head like a spirited animal, the hood of his coat shuffling on his shoulders as he rolls them.

Aster's mouth opens — wait a second — where are you going, she might say, but she doesn't, she just watches, intrigued more than dumbfounded. It's this inexplicable shift into action that's gotten more of her interest, more than lazy lack of payment— passingly curious, at least. She tracks him while en route, herself, to the eager kids, hailed like a taxi at least three times on her way. Weekends.

Bang, bang, bang bang— the hard contact of glass dulls against skin and bones in sound but cracks on the Hispanic's palm with drunken, unaware strength. He's caught one of the shot glass of a clean-cut blond male, resplendent in a plaid polo shirt and a dawning look of middle-20s excitement and frustration. "Don't," orders the hooded drunkard, three times the lesser in size, "Bang on the bar," firm but with a winding uncaring, "It dents the wood." Almost homey, really. Heard that way, so far, by the university students, who cackle and cajole, repeating the phrase— while their aggressor calmly twists the grabbing hand to plant his palm on the bar and, using the leverage, throws his leg straight up over it, missing the couple of standing shot glasses by inches.

Landing with a coordinated crash on the business side, he throws his head back again, hands steering swiftly for the shoulders of a hoodie he's shucking, rolling up, dropping at their feet. Who cares: once it's out of his hands, they're steering naturally for ready standing bottles of hard liquor in front of him. "And give the lady a break," lazily ordered, the bottle's overturned across the shot glasses that are there; others scurry to scoot theirs in line for the judicious waterfall of liquid spraying up and down the wounded bar. "It's her first fucking weekend."

The "lady" indicated brightens eyes upon the stranger now behind the bar with her and almost laughs. Should she be annoyed, instead? Her hands do plant on her hips again, shoulders bolstered, but aside from that bit of defiance, she seems to be rolling with the punches. "Aha!" she calls out, high and thin. "So yoou're the guy." Vague, mysterious "guy", a word laden with responsibility. Her attention drifts immediately after this oh-so-grand discovery, getting to work on greeting the next person in the seemingly never-ending line-up now that the shot-drinkers are taken care of, pretty much appearing ready to not care at all until she says side-long, "More like give her a break 'cause she wasn't supposed to be working the bar alone."

"You'll get used to it or you'll quit." Given her options, bluntly, as he breezes by her: he, identified as the scrawled "Micah" from what exists of a schedule. Being behind the bar doesn't make him more sprightly, but his efficiency's less in question than his ethnic. Too, off the stool and beside her, he's the height of one still sitting. To retrieve cash irreverently left at the end of the bar, he plants both palms like an Olympic gymnast on a pommel horse and hefts up to snag it with a swipe. It's pocketed, as he passes behind Aster again in a matter of seconds, "Or you'll be found out back with your pants down."

"Wouldn't be the first time," she says without glancing behind, deadpan if it weren't for the note of casual cheer; regardless, truth in question. The current drink-on-demand forces her to spin around to the bar's little fridge to fish out a bottle of orange juice; ducked down, he height diminishes; popping back up, it's more or less the same as her apparent colleague. "So you always take the schedule as more of a loose suggestion?" Hardly complaining; 'get used to it' is Aster's chosen track now. "I'm just curious to know how you haven't been fired." Honest enough. "Super pals with the owner?"

"No," skirting by her, Micah slows, grasping the stem of a vodka bottle, shaking it to let the nearly gone liquid slosh tellingly on the sides. It's turned over, emptying into a glass while his other hand grabs a mug to thrust under the tab spigot. Vodka out, bottle shaken once, twice, to be sure. "I just let him blow me out back sometimes." Then he rolls the empty alcohol bottle into the nether of the bar's underside, picks up the shot— and tips it back into his own mouth.

The statement — or the show of drinking on the job again — doesn't so much as cause a drop of orange juice to spill. Aster's well on her way to making a perfect Screwdriver (so, average in every way) for the freckle-faced girl on the other side of the bar who she hasn't bothered to ID. She's smirking something fierce, though, all the while. "Shit," is her only response, plus a squint in Micah's direction: a mental note to find out if that's actually true later. She rolls a shoulder and spins back to the fridge. "How long have you worked here?" She asks, convivial— "Screw small talk, by the way. I'm just getting a feel for the place— " She looks up high above the small fridge door, "and we're out of cranberry juice." Rather than deal with that fact, Aster turns back to the student who ordered a drink with such an ingredient, plasters on a smile and presents straightforwardly, "How about I make you a drink that sucks less."

Letting the drink slide luxuriously down his throat, Micah's unabashedly inattentive for half a minute — including to the customers lining up on his side, though none seem particularly unfamiliar with these tactics and they chatter with the faces next to them congenially and with unflagging hipster slang. "You want to feel the place up?" Running his arm beneath his mouth, the fellow bartender juts his closer shoulder up, using it as momentum to roll back up to the bar, "Very forward. Alright— we'll, uh," a vague, twisting, hand wave from him going towards her, in the air, "Do this," and turns into a pointed finger down that circles hurriedly, "Later when I send you crawling for the cranberry juice in storage." A kind of shadow angles for his face, creasing an eyebrow almost soberly on his anything-but features; the drunken facade slipping for a moment of serious consideration— displeased with its possible findings— before it slips away with an easy rock back on his heels as he turns to attend to a man wearing a hoodie before he's hungover for some reason.

Aster languidly double-takes in the midst of delivering a tall glass of something unrelated to the cranberry genus to the cranberry juice student, sure to catch his gestures; she doesn't falter, taking the kid's money in the palm of her head and hardly looking at it. A glimpse of a bill's colour and the weight of coinage is enough to gauge, it seems. Her wily-cornered mouth is a bit open at Micah (not to be mistaken for surprise— or offense: only forming a response), her eyes half-amused, half-questioning all fitting within their slivers.

"Uh huh." Swiping a few empties off the bar while she has a spare second (barely), the newest bartender whisks just past behind the old. "'Cause you look so damn excited about getting to know your co-workers." A smile is flashed in the middle of this blase, if peppered sparsely with amusement, statement — not for him; a miscellaneous face at the bar trying to get her attention. "I'm not crawlin' anywhere, F-Y-I."

Turns out, there's absolutely no crawling involved with the getting of the cranberry juice — however, there is a good deal of height. As he glances between them, eyes nearly even in both diminished capacities, Micah sucks on a lip before releasing it with a pop. "Yeeeahh… I keep telling him to hire a troll." A sniff; Micah rubs the back of his hand over his nostrils then flings it out to the side before using the finger to point to their destination, "Suppose he's too busy orgasming to listen— okay, say I boost you… Come on."

Every single one of the things that emerged from her elusive coworker's mouth has added a new squint to Aster's eyes — now it's just a matter of deciding whether or not she cares, or is curious enough, to comment on any of them. She glances away from the minor juice debacle in the midst of backtracking to wonder about troll, but winds up shaking her blonde head. She steps — with questionable agreement — closer, however. "If the cranberry juice falls on your head, remember this part was your idea."

Another sniff; this one greeted by his thumb and the first knuckle of his forefinger as he squeezes at his nose idly. "If you'd rather be doing the boosting, fine by me." When he rolls his head to crack his neck, it sounds like every single possible bone — and a few extras — go off. "This place wasn't designed for— " for once, the font of weird ass information filters itself and Micah shrugs, loosening out his shoulders like he's ready to toss her instead, "Nevermind."

Aster looks him up and down from less-than-lofty head to toe, surmising, for the hell of it, whether or not she could lift him. With a tilt of her head and small smirk, her determination seems to be that she thinks she could— but shrugs off the notion, easy. She just wants to get the damn cranberry juice— and ask, as casual as her cluelessness dictates, "Designed for what?" as she prepares to be vaulted toward the juice. She gives Micah a little 'come on already' swirl of her hand.

Backing up into the shelving that looks as though it were designed for something with wings, Micah cups his hands, entwines the fingers, then crouches slightly to lower them for Aster to set her foot inside. "Us."

"Hey, hey now," Aster says with faux defensiveness as she plants a flat-shoed foot onto the bridge made by Micah's hands, "That's rude of the builders. We're an average height. Statistically. For— " She tries to grab a shelf for balance and leverage; she thrusts some weight into Micah. " — women."

Micah's unf is not for the comment; he seems to let it go — well, right over his head, like her, as he grunts to lift her up, boosting her just to the cranberry section with their powers combined. It really is a stupid height up there — and no stairs or ladder in sight; in fact, Micah outright denied there being anything but a dinky three-stepper earlier. Rocking his head back to eye her progress, he winds up staring up at the wrong angle of her breasts and his mouth twists into a grimace. Well, either that or a faceful of lady leg and pants.

"Jesus, they should install an elevator to get up here," Aster complains as her fingertips graze the bulk-sized jug of 'all natural' cranberry juice. Logically, it looks considerably huger up close, faced with the task of hauling it off. "Who usually restocks the fridge? I feel like this is one'a those— employee trust exercises— " Reeeach— after a flex of her thigh, another solid shove into Micah, as if that will vaunt her just that much further up, she does hook a hand sturdily around the jug.  " — you know, where you're not supposed to drop me but you do — got it. "

Micah's "uh huh," is long delayed, signaling that he may not be strictly listening to her; which may suggest either how little or how much concentration he's putting into holding her. As she snatches the jug, she swerves, now attached to its secondary weight, and he lurches to keep up, one hand jumping from the plane of his previously entrapped fingers to snatch her drifting ankle. In the speed of the motion, her pants legs get bunched up and his skin rubs hers where he grabs. "Santo, señora!"

Items on the shelf below — and just maybe the shelf itself — clatter in one sharp burst as Aster makes a quick grab for balance, another combined effort with Micah; precariously, she steadies. Lightning fast under his grasp, calf muscles attached to that ankle tighten even more than her reaching pose warranted, a fierce contraction that serves no purpose save to express stress she doesn't voice. "I've got it," she reassures casual as can be. The woman's shoulders and arms  prove to be used to hefting things as she swings the heavy litres onto a lower shelf by her hip — even avoiding hitting Micah's head in the process.  But when the rub lasts another second, the skin-to-skin contact becomes a soft, feverishly warm thrum; it's as though he's palmed a field of hot static electricity. Subtle, but definite. Her other foot tries to hurry toward the floor. "Okay, let— !" Her cool-as-a-cucumber casual starts to crack urgently; Aster, in turn, tries to cover it. "Let me down."

"Aye, aye…" Flooded with accent off of his brief sojourn into Spanish, Micah makes a quick calming tss sss sound several times as he catches her below the knee then jumps his hand to her waist to aid with the lowering process; here, her shirt also bunches but he manages to keep all ten fingers above sea level. Languid dark eyes barely seem to blink over heat and cracks. He unceremoniously releases her soon as she even appears to have a single toe on solid ground more out of impatience than discomfort. The jug is snatched straight from her with a tug and he swerves on by, muttering Spanish to himself in an almost melody as he heads towards the front. So much for employee bonding.

The quick dismissal by co-worker suits Aster perfectly.

The second he's out — her feet barely on the floor at that point — she breathes a sigh of relief. It becomes tensely mired in her throat and she squeezes her eyes tight, lines of stress digging and winding their way out from her overtaxed eyelids. She presses the length of her hand over them. "Shit." A husky hiss to no one but herself. Her first step toward the door is almost a stomp, but she hurries out as surreptitiously as possible. 

Aster's destination isn't straight back to the bar, where she implied Micah should have been before; now it's her slinking outside of her schedule. She's moving by, barely pausing where she has a glimpse of the bar, keeping on toward the employee bathroom at a near-run. 

A few eyes might be around to take note, but the bar's emptied out since closing — the last of the hipsters chased out with a broom — which makes it ironic that Micah moves with utmost dedication back to the bar. Now that it no longer matters. With almost too much concentration, he lugs the supply to the refrigerator, shoving it back in the empty slot its predecessor once occupied.

There, he pauses, hands on the plastic, shutting his eyes with a tight clench of his chest and then exhale.

In the employee bathroom, the light jumps off.

In the split second before the lights take a hike, Aster, her hands planted on the small sink, catches a glimpse of herself on the mirror. She knew it before she could see it: the pale blue of her eyes is gone. Obliterated. 

In place  of the eyes she was born with, dark ones stare back at her — expressing her hard stare into the mirror, at her will, but not hers; incongruous against her light skin, in their narrow feminine setting, they look black, devil's eyes, bloodshot and angry. Not so— not quite. There's a bare hint of brown to be found before pitch black takes over the whole room. Dark, Spanish eyes.

Knocking over the soap dispenser in frustration after the lights refuse to come back on, Aster clings again to the sink, summoning a still unfamiliar focus …

Roughly ten minutes pass before the new bartender rejoins the bar. Wordless, she swoops in to get back to what work there is to be had. It's Aster that needs tidied, not the bar; her eyes are their original blue, but bloodshot and half-glazed — drugged or headaching; her light makeup is more obvious now that it's been smudged blindly, a faint dark smear under reddened rims. Most out of place, though, is not the smear of makeup but the smear of blood under her cheekbone, evidence inexpertly wiped away. She tried. It was dark.

Since she's returned, Micah's looks over to her have been the barest, ignorantly or purposefully uncaring to the bartender's newest appearance — now, worse than his. He's enlivened, because he has to; the bar he tends isn't one that's becoming cleaner and packed up: he's preparing it for something. Even so, when he pauses to round on Aster as she works her last, he slaps down a shot, overturns the brandy he was holding into it. "Alright, drink and get outta here." Dark eyes don't search; he's found hers, and with bushy eyebrows low, they've deepened in a glower that yet almost looks relieved — conflicted; he's battling inside with himself even as, casual, flippant and while turning away, he mentions over a shoulder, "Oh, and you've got blood on you."

A pause. Halfway turned, he seems to mentally double-take — but not for the words said, no, he spat out the phrase as if it were as nightly a thing as 'last call', but for who he's saying them to. A glance is shot to the door — no one's come in yet since the crowd left — then determinedly keeps turning away from her.

After the clink of the shot glass, Aster gives his shoulder an eyeing with her barely improved gaze, studying the other bartender for the maybe conflict that came before — gleaned in her own spare glances. What's his deal, anyway. As she's half-heartedly trying to determine if she even cares to figure him out, she's prompted to swipe over her cheek. Her hand targets the right spot, but scrapes over the smear of dried blood without dislodging it even a bit. "Jesus Christ," she murmurs under her breath with dark, well-advanced annoyance and immediately takes the shot of brandy, fast and smooth; a pro at serving and at drinking, solidified by the slam of the glass on the bar. She moves away from it, outta here, but moves up behind Micah. "You're staying," she observes; she knows what a closing bar looks like; this isn't it. "So what happens after hours, anyway?"

Shifting his weight up from retrieving a towel, Micah leans against the bar, "Things." As if it were an appropriately detailed answer. The towel's swiped lazily then a row of shot glasses are set out in a wavy line: seven of them. "Stuff."

"Gotcha," Aster replies — without any sarcasm, as if he really had given an appropriately detailed answer and she’s unfazed. He could’ve described the mysterious after-hours as a classy event or an orgy and her casual answer might’ve been the same: the casually tagged on, “Have fun…” is just short of salacious, erring on the side of tired and not caring enough to be too curious.

This time.

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