At least the frat-boy band drew in some young New Year’s revelers. By ten, the bar was crowded and Abby hustled to keep up with the drink orders.
“You getting old on me? You look like you need a nap,” Bill said as Abby brushed past him.
She felt like she needed a nap, and the college girls with their Malibu-and-cokes made her feel old. She had never had much patience for college kids, which was why she dropped out after her first year. They all seemed so self-important, babbling about things that they insisted were of the utmost consequence but that had no discernible relationship to the real world where Abby lived. Abby started working at her uncle’s restaurant when she was fifteen, and she preferred her coworkers there to her classmates in college. As soon as she was eighteen, her uncle had put her behind the bar.
“With your pretty face and charm, there’s only one place for you,” he said, which summed up his philosophy about bartenders. They had to look good and communicate well with drunk strangers.
Working behind the bar was easier and more fun than waiting tables, and the tips were fantastic. What did she need a college education for if she could support herself as a bartender? She wiped her hands of pretentious professors and their doting followers after two semesters and put in long shifts at the restaurant.
On slow nights at the Watering Hole, Abby wondered if moving to Somerville (she told people at home in New Hampshire she lived in Boston, but who could afford a place within city limits?) had been a good idea. The whole area was overrun with college kids, and unless she could land a job at a more upscale bar, she was going to have to rethink her career path. Breanna, her best friend practically since birth, had convinced her it would be a great adventure, that she had to get out of New Hampshire someday, so why not take the baby step of moving to Boston to room together? If it weren’t for Breanna and Nathaniel, though, she’d move home in a second. She could go back to working for her uncle, who, unlike Bill, actually knew something about running a successful business.
The irony of the fact that Nathaniel was a college professor did not escape her, either. She’d already fallen for him before she learned he was finishing up a PhD program, and that was her proof that you can’t help who you love. Besides, he was really a musician just trying to make rent. His impractical philosophy degree was only more evidence of his artistic temperament. She could make up excuses for him all day long. Still, she often thought about how her uncle would always take her back, how she could live at home and regroup…
“Come on, look alive, sweetheart,” Bill said, snapping her from her thoughts. He pointed, and Abby saw a group of girls looking impatient and waving cash in her direction. A wave of nausea washed over her.
“I’m not feeling well,” Abby said.
Bill studied her face. “Likely story. You want to ditch us and hit some party for midnight, right?”
“Seriously, Bill, I have to go home.” Lightheaded, Abby grabbed the bar. “Or at least I have to sit down.”
Anyone could see she wasn’t faking. “Jason,” he hollered, “take her to the office.”
Jason put an arm around Abby’s waist and walked with her to the back of the bar and into the office. She dropped into the chair and tried to take a few deep breaths, but she felt clammy and shaky and she was afraid she was going to be sick.
“Put your head between your knees.” He placed his hand on her back. “Go on, you’ll feel better,” he said, when she looked at him skeptically.
Abby leaned forward and closed her eyes.
“You know we don’t allow drinking on the job,” he said after a minute.
Abby hadn’t been drinking, and she was sure Bill knew that.
“You want a cool cloth for your head or something?” he asked.
“Please.” Abby heard the door open and shut, but she didn’t dare move. She did feel better with her head between her knees, and she wasn’t about to risk changing positions.
It was Bill who returned with the cool rag. “Hey,” he said, tapping her shoulder. He moved her hair off her neck and draped the cloth over it. “Jason’s calling you a cab. You think you can make it home on your own?”
“I’ll just stay here,” Abby said. The thought of a car ride made her stomach roll.
“No, no, no, I won’t have you getting everyone sick. The stomach bug that’s going around is nasty.”
“Bill, I can’t—”
“Jason can ride with you if you want,” he said. “Kate and I can hold down the fort here.”
A few minutes later Jason returned with a glass of ginger ale. He made Abby sit up, which wasn’t as bad as she feared, and after she’d sipped the soda for a few minutes, he helped her up and into her jacket. The worst of the nausea seemed to have passed, although she still felt shaky. Jason guided her out the back door and around to the front where a taxi was waiting. As she climbed in, Abby prayed she wouldn’t puke on the ride. She wished she could tell Jason she’d be fine on her own so he could go back into the bar and enjoy New Year’s, but she wasn’t at all sure she’d be fine. She didn’t want to be alone. She wanted Nathaniel. He was the one who was supposed to tell her it would be okay, to rub her back, to bring her ginger ale. All week, every time she talked to him and mentioned that she wasn’t feeling great, she was sure he’d offer to bring her some chicken soup or something. Not once had he. She knew it was ridiculous to blame him for her sickness—she’d hardly seen him at all since before Christmas. Still, it felt like his fault. Some days it felt like everything was his fault.
Genre – Women’s Literature
Rating – PG-13
Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.