Last time: Tracy fell flat on her face before she managed to pick herself up completely and apologize for her mistakes.
Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils
It didn’t all go back to normal.
It never does when you firmly step in the mud, slip and slide your way around the situation, arms flailing and grasping for anything to steady yourself, and only recover after falling flat on your face.
Whatever burgeoning dating situation I had begun with Davis was over, but invitations to hang out with Claire slowly ticked up again. I stopped feeling constantly on edge when at work, and I pulled my own weight just like Nell had asked. The more time I spent there, now that it wasn’t just a layover between college and the new job, the more I fell a little in love with the routine, the predictability and variety, and the people that made up the community around The Wilted Pen.
“Wait ‘til you see this place at Christmas,” Claire told me one afternoon as she filled saltshakers before the dinner shift. She was seated at a tall stool at the bar, a tray in front of her filled with half-empty little glass jars and an industrial canister of salt in her hand. “Nell goes all out.”
I couldn’t stop myself from laughing a little. Nell remained quiet and almost gruff to us when I was at the bar. I couldn’t imagine her getting into the Christmas spirit too much.
“I can’t picture it.”
“Oh yeah, she makes the guys hang lights all along the bar – and they twinkle. She created this vanilla-mint soda thing for the kids and puts candy canes in them for stirring sticks.” Claire continued rattling off the slightly more crazy things that it sounded like Nell did every Christmas, and I can’t help but think that it was going to be a cheesetastically magical time of year at the bar.
Davis came through from the kitchen and scoffed at Claire’s stories before ducking behind the bar to check his stock.
“What’s with the ‘tude?” she asked.
“Why even bother telling her about the festivities?” his disembodied voice asked from behind the counter. “It’s not like she’ll be here.”
Claire fell silent next to me, and I was tempted to lob the towel I had been pulling through my fingers over the lip of the bar so that it would hit him in the back. It was not clean.
“How do you know, jerk?” I sputtered instead, allowing my flustered instant reaction to rob me of more biting retorts and resorting to the kinds of insults I threw at other kids on the elementary school playground.
The mohawk he was still sporting rose slowly above the surface of the bar until we could see his quirked eyebrow judging me.
“Jerk,” he stated. The eyebrow rose higher, if it was even possible, and I could see the top of his cheek twitching as he tried to control what was probably a pretty cute smirk.
No. Not cute. Annoying.
It wasn’t like we’d had a “relationship.” I mean, we’d been out all of two times. But I liked him. And it had been slowly getting back to normal in the last few weeks. He wasn’t bending over backwards to hang out with me, and he wasn’t asking me on dates. But he’d been almost friendly when we worked together, and he was speaking to me again.
Perhaps all we had needed was some lighthearted ribbery to get back on track?
I sniffed dramatically and answered the unspoken question.
“Yes, jerk.” I started ticking off points on my fingers. “I’ve been showing up for work. I’ve been happy here for all you’ve tried to silent-treatment me right out of the bar. Why would you think I wouldn’t be here in a few months? Maybe I’ll be here forever.”
Perhaps it was just a show of feminine solidarity but Claire’s arm flung casually around my shoulders and her agreeing “Yeah” warmed my insides in that clichéd way where my heart jumped up and down chanting that it had friends again.
Davis rose completely from the behind the bar and leaned on his forearms to smirk at the two of us.
“Is this what I’m going to have to put up with for the foreseeable future? You two ganging up on me and always having each other’s backs? Claire, I’m hurt.”
He dramatically placed a hand on his chest and huffed a sigh of disbelief.
Claire squeezed my shoulder before pulling away to swat at him.
“Pretty much. Deal with it.” She flounced off towards the kitchen shaking the now-empty canister of salt, leaving the two of us alone. Davis continued to perch over the bar, his eyes intent on my face.
“Are you ever going to get over this?” I asked after a minute of willing myself not to blink.
“I’m already over it,” he admitted with a small shrug, eyes not moving from my face.
“Are we going to be able to be friends again?”
“Well I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “I kind of liked making out with you. Do friends make out?”
As my hand rose to swat at him much as Claire had a few minutes ago, he flinched back, and we both chuckled.
“You women,” he shook his head, “what’s with the swatting?”
I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, leaning into his personal space over the bar and waited for him to move forward to meet me.
“I guess we’ll just have to work on how we show our affection,” I said softly.
“I guess we will,” he replied with a smile and his lips touched mine tentatively, as if he wasn’t sure it was okay.
Hopefully, my enthusiastic response answered his question.
Cover art for Headed towards the Right Decisions was created by Maritza Lugo.