Olivia examines my vest. “That was fast.”
I slump onto a stool. “I need a drink. Anything.”
She frowns, but pours me a Jack and Coke. “Want to talk about it?”
Sipping my drink, I consider the idea. Confiding in her would be typical boyfriend/girlfriend behavior, though—strictly against our agreement. So many rules bind me now. And here I thought I’d gotten out of prison.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “Bartenders are like therapists without the pay. You talk, and I’ll keep the drinks coming.” She winks and lights a cigarette.
For the first time, I notice that everyone is smoking freely. I light one too. “We won’t get fined for this?”
Laughing, Olivia raises her cigarette in a salute. “All the time. Naugy makes a lot of money off us. We all chip in to cover it.”
I lean on the bar and drop my voice. “Do you have any idea what’s going on here?”
She shrugs. “Why would I? I’m just the bartender.” She takes a drag, then exhales into the smoky air. “Most guys would kill to wear that, you know.”
“They sell drugs, Olivia. This is just a front.” And fuck knows what else they do. I don’t say that, though. “This isn’t a good place for you.”
The relaxed woman in front of me morphs before my eyes. Her eyelids droop so that only slits of her pupils, irises, and whites are showing. Her lip curls. Nostrils flaring, she stabs the cigarette into the air in front of me. “You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“Look, I’m not trying to be a dick, Livvie—”
“And you don’t get to call me that.” She sucks in a long drag. “The only way this is going to work, Cliff, is if you do you and I do me. We agreed: family reunions. That means you don’t stomp around acting like my fucking daddy.”
I rub my temples. “So you don’t mind working in a place that sells coke?”
The dirty look she tosses me is simultaneously condescending. “What the fuck do you think I do behind this bar? Pour beer for shit tips?”
Oh, Olivia. I look down at my drink, at the cigarette in my hands. I need something a lot stronger. It’s only my first shift and everything is spiraling out of what little equilibrium I had. “You’ll go down with them,” I say. “Do you want that?”
She rolls her eyes. “I want to pay off my student loans. The most I can possibly hope to make is $40,000 a year in this fucking state. I’ll be lucky if I can land a job with DCF. I don’t want to start off in debt right out of the gate.”
“What is it you’re going for?” I pictured her as doing something more adventurous, not sitting in a goddamn state office all day.
Stubbing out her cigarette, she settles those brown eyes on mine. “I want to be a social worker. I wanna help kids in the system.” The unsaid remainder of that sentence hangs between us: So they don’t end up like you.
“Don’t you think,” I say slowly, “that it’ll be a little hard to get a nice state job if you’re convicted of selling drugs?”
“Fuck you,” she lobs at me.
Grinning, I stand. “You already did.” I walk away, the whiskey soaking into me. Not in an out of control way. My veins swim, limbs relaxed. This head is clear.
The overhead speakers crackle, and the music switches from modern shit I’ve never heard to nineties grunge and metal. Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” spins, the two girls on the pole whirling with it. I watch them for ten or so seconds before I move on.
This is my party. I might as well enjoy it.
A Disturbing Prospect
Olivia’s straddling hell, and Cliff is searching for heaven, and when they collide, chaos rampages.
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