Nine Years Ago
The hands of the clock above the bar said that closing time had come and gone, but Johnny remained on the stage playing hair metal covers, and Crystal—with her love of all music from the eighties—would never complain about that, especially since hanging out with him was infinitely better than going home. When he launched into Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You,” Crystal shot him a smile so wide she feared her cheeks might break.
Her hips moved with the slow jam as she breezed between tables, giving them a pass with a towel that had soaked in a dirty bleach water bucket all day long, and likely had more germs than the gum stuck to the bottoms of the tables. When she bent over to wipe down the table directly in front of the stage, her boobs practically spilled out of the thin confines of her shirt. Johnny flubbed the lyrics and she smiled to herself. His eyes remained locked on her as he continued to strum the song on his guitar, his voice faltering through the rest of the song. She’d never made him come quite so unhinged and the victory was almost enough to make her feel guilty. Almost.
Once he played the last note, he immediately delved into the much more upbeat “Unskinny Bop,” her favorite Poison song. She danced her way back to the bar and sang along, despite the fact she was tone deaf as hell.
Crystal took to washing glasses, hips still swaying, and was so lost in her off-key eighties wonderland she didn’t even notice when the music stopped. A hand landed on her hips and she yelped before she was whirled around, Johnny’s lips mere inches from her face, and her heartbeat quickened.
Instead of kissing her, he flipped the spider earring that dangled from her left ear and her heart sank to the pit of her stomach.
“Why don’t you ever wear matching earrings?”
“To make you ask questions like that.” She paused and shrugged. “It’s just a way to stand out from the crowd, I guess.”
Johnny looked like he wanted to say something else, but was interrupted when the manager emerged from his upstairs office long enough to yell, “Hey, I don’t pay you to flirt with my help, get your shit off my stage.”
Johnny gave Crystal one last wistful look before he let her go, flipped off the office, and returned to the stage to disassemble his small set-up. Crystal sighed and slammed around while she made a martini. She absentmindedly reached for bottles of clear liquor and then tossed three olives in the glass so hard the liquid splashed over the edges of the glass.
Johnny returned to the bar and inspected the drink. “Crys, I’ve been meaning to ask, why the three olives?”
She tossed her long, golden hair behind her shoulders, and wiped a non-existent spill off the bar. “It’s etiquette I learned in bartending school. Three is polite, two is a warning.” He gave her a suspecting look and she added, “It was a mafia thing.”
“Perhaps this will come as a shock to you, but it’s not 1920s New York.” He took a sip of his drink and made a face. “And, this is vodka.”
Crystal slammed her palm to her forehead. “I’m so sorry, I’m such an idiot. I know you only drink vodka when you’re pissed.” She reached into the drying rack for a clean cocktail glass that still had water droplets on it.
“I didn’t know you knew that.” His eyes softened. “But it’s really okay. I’ll enjoy my vodka martini. I haven’t had one in a long time. I’ll be like James Bond.”
She looked him over in his flannel button down, well-worn jeans and broken-in boots and snickered.
“James Bond dressed in flannel, fighting crime in podunk Tennessee. I guess that makes me Moneypenny.” She loved him but he never loved her—I’m definitely Moneypenny.
He set his drink on the bar and gazed across the bar at her with chocolate eyes that had such a sense of calm, she could get lost in them and never return—a journey she’d often daydreamed about taking. “We’ll get out of this little town, Crys. We’re both meant for better things, I know it.”
“You grew up just outside Nashville, you just have to go home. Me, I’ve got nowhere to go, no direction, nothing. I can’t even make your martini correctly.” She tossed her towel down onto the bar.
He placed his hand on her hers, his thumb tracing the pale circle where she usually wore a cheap ring. Although his touch was not unwanted, it was unexpected, making her jump. His hand jerked back and knocked his drink, which spilled all over her, making her too-tight and almost too-small white t-shirt even tighter and more revealing.
He hopped up and dashed to the other side of the bar. “God, Crys, I’m so damn sorry.” He absently brushed her front with a bar towel. He stopped and she glanced down. His hands were precariously close to her chest and she giggled—if she didn’t know any better, she’d swear he was about to cop a feel.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, no harm, no foul.” Johnny pulled her in so close his body heat warmed the cold, damp shirt she wore—Yes!—and she closed her eyes. Neither one of them moved, though the sensation of knowing she was being watched was overwhelming—maybe I should make the first move. She placed her hand on the back of his neck and pulled him down to her anxious lips.
Millimeters before his vodka-laced lips met hers, a thunderous voice tore through the silence and shook the ground beneath her feet. “What the hell is going on in here?”
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