The last thing I wanted to do tonight was to stand at the bar talking to Kane, but the alternative is to go and find a seat somewhere else, and that looks near impossible in the crowded pub. Besides, then I’ll be away from Dylan and I don’t want him to forget about me. There’s no way I will manage to get another standing spot if I move away and come back.
So far, this evening hasn’t gone the way I hoped it would. But I didn’t take into consideration just how busy the pub might be on a Saturday night. So, because I have nothing better to do, I pretend to listen to Kane talk about how his cricket club doesn’t value him enough. Not that I can hear him too well. Everywhere I look, I see chaos. There is a line the entire way around the bar, three people deep, and everyone is starting to yell and raise their fists to attract the attention of the people working.
Dylan, who is dressed in a white, short-sleeved button-down shirt, red tie and black suit pants, dealt with the broken glass quickly before going back to serving. He’s working so fast that he’s a blur behind the bar. The other guy working alongside Dylan is moving just as quickly. But the gorgeous blonde who’s serving doesn’t move so fast. In fact, she looks overwhelmed and frazzled. She keeps darting longing glances towards the door like she might walk out on the guys at any tick of the clock.
After looking on for a few minutes, I can’t take it anymore. I hate chaos. The part of me that grew up without organisation and structure craves order, and there is none right now. It doesn’t seem to matter how quickly Dylan and the other guy serve the customers; they can’t make any headway. And when someone swears at the new girl and she starts to cry, Dylan looks ready to yell. It is the most rattled I’ve ever seen him.
Despite the fact I’ve never worked a bar in my life and there is plenty that can go wrong if I help Dylan out, I start moving in the direction of the gate that will let me through to the other side of the bar. Only then do I remember that I’m not wearing underwear and that my dress is extremely short. Hopefully, assisting won’t require bending over.
I’ve never worn anything as revealing or sexy before. This dress is one of only a few things I’ve bought on a whim – mainly because Kara dared me to. Tonight, it was the first outfit I laid eyes on, and I pulled it out of my wardrobe thinking it was similar in length and style to the dresses Dylan’s girlfriends – if a two- or three-night stand can be called that – would wear.
The look Dylan gave me when he first saw me tonight gave my confidence a major boost, but as I walk slowly towards the wooden saloon-style gate that separates the bar area from the rest of the pub, my nerves are showing. The only thing that makes me push through the gate is the thought that I would regret it if I walked away without doing what I came here to do. And the sooner the crowd thins out, the quicker I can get on with my proposition.
My heart hammers in my chest as I walk behind the bar. Was Dylan serious when he asked me to help him? My nerves form a giant ball in my stomach when Dylan’s co-worker points to me. When Dylan looks me over from head to toe, his fists tightening and his jaw clenching, I want to turn tail and run.
“Please tell me you’re wearing underwear,” he grinds out as he walks over to me.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t planning on reaching too far for anything tonight,” I joke awkwardly.
He runs a hand through his hair and mutters something about me trying to kill him.
So much for my fantasy of Dylan being overcome with lust when he realised I was pantyless. He is still caught up in the role of ‘big brother’. Will my proposition be enough to shake him out of it?
“So, ah, do you want my help or not?” I ask nervously.
He takes one look at the thirsty crowd surrounding the bar before he looks back at me.
“Don’t move,” he instructs grumpily before walking away from me and through a door to my right.
I feel awkward and uncomfortable standing behind the bar with nothing to do, especially since the other bartenders are so busy.
Thankfully, Dylan comes back quickly, carrying a megaphone. The screeching noise it makes when he turns it on silences a lot of the commotion going on around us.
“Listen up, everyone!”
Incredibly, the room falls silent.
“Due to a miscalculation by yours truly, we’re understaffed. However, my good friend Claire has agreed to help me out tonight. If those of you who just want a beer or pre-mixed bottles from the fridge can make a line over there, Claire will serve you.”
People start to shuffle over to my side automatically, probably hoping I’ll be able to serve them quicker than the other three.
Next, Dylan points to the gorgeous blonde woman who dropped the glass earlier. “This is Ally. She’s new, and she’s also the first woman we’ve had back here for a while, so be nice to her for us, please. We’re not ready to let her go yet.”
There is an outpouring of laughter from the crowd, and I can see the customers waiting in line start to relax a little.
“Ally is going to pour your wine and shots,” Dylan continued.
Without him needing to ask, people begin lining up in front of Ally.
“For those of you haven’t been here before,” Dylan continues, “That’s Mike, and I’m D.J. We’ll serve you anything you want.”
His tone is so flirtatious it makes my stomach flip, and it must have a similar effect on the other women in the room because a lot of wolf-whistling follows.
The megaphone squeaks as he switches it off.
“Claire,” Dylan calls.
I walk over and see the laminated list he holds in his hand. “This is the price of everything in the fridge. Prices for beer on tap are listed up there.” He points to the blackboard behind me. “I’d better show you how to work the till.”
My head feels as if it’s reeling as he goes through one thing after another, ending with how to pour a beer without too much head. His words, not mine.
“Ready?” he asks finally.
“Sure,” I say, trying not to sound as nervous as I truly am.
“You’ll be fine,” he tells me before looking over my outfit again and muttering something I don’t catch.
And that is that. My brief tutorial now over, Dylan walks away and starts serving people at break-neck speed, leaving me to break out into a slight sweat as I eye the long line of customers impatiently waiting for pre-mixed drinks.
After the first few customers, I start to find a rhythm and gain some confidence. It takes me a little while to get the hang of juggling, serving, and working the till, but I manage with a little help here and there from Dylan and Mike. I worked as a cashier through high school, but it’s been quite some time since I worked in the customer service industry, and I can’t remember ever having to wait on such a demanding crowd.
After what feels like five minutes, but must have been longer, things begin to settle down. As the crowd around the bar thins out, I feel a sense of satisfaction similar to what I experience when I manage to save someone bank fees, but it’s different, too, because this time it was a team effort. Briefly, I contemplate walking back to the other side of the bar since Dylan, Mike, and Ally now have everything under control, but I’m not ready to go back to the side of the paying customers.
With everyone in the place relaxing, drinking, and having a good time, more laughs are had by the bartenders. Dylan and Mike put on a show for the crowd. They throw a few bottles back and forth between them in a way they’ve obviously rehearsed before. It is all very “Cocktail”, but the crowd eats it up anyway. I’m so busy enjoying myself that I don’t immediately register the familiar face standing in my queue.
“Claire? Claire Chase?”
Gary was number five on my list of failures over the past few years. He works at a rival banking chain, but when he asked me out, I agreed since he seemed perfect for me at the time. Just like with Evan, we never really got past the dating phase. After a couple of months, things came to a screeching halt. Now I can’t even remember why we broke up, just that it was mutual and we both used our hectic work schedules as an excuse.
“You look…amazing,” he says.
The admiration in his grey eyes leaves me with no doubt he means it. Disturbingly, I don’t think he looked at me like this once during the months we dated.
He grins. “I couldn’t believe it was you at first. The Claire I knew wouldn’t be caught dead doing anything other than crunching numbers to get her customers the best deal.”
I try to shrug off the comment, but I can’t deny it stings a little. Yes, I love working for the bank, but he makes it sound like that is my only interest.
“Oh, well, I’m, ah, just helping out a…” I trail off as I look over to where Dylan is standing.
Ally is beside him, laughing at something he says while bumping his hip with hers and grabbing his bicep. My stomach tightens, and something sharp slices through my chest as I watch the two of them together.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Dylan flirting with someone and felt the sharp edge of jealousy rip through me. However, usually, I’m so busy trying to convince myself I hate Dylan that it doesn’t affect me quite as much as it does now.
Facing Gary once more, I force a smile. “A friend,” I finally finish. “I’m helping out a friend.”
“Oh yeah, that’s Dylan, right? Well, that explains it then,” Gary says, sounding more than a little relieved.
Clearly, the idea he might have pegged me wrong bothered him profusely. The idea he pegged me as dull bothers me even more. What was it Danni said about me scaring off men because of my inability to let my hair down?
“You should help out your friends a little more often. You look like you’re having fun, Claire.”
“I am having fun,” I agree.
I should thank Gary for reminding me I came here to begin my timeout and let loose a bit. As soon as things quiets down, I’m going to bite the bullet and proposition Dylan – nerves be damned. I’m not going to let them get in the way this time.
“So, what can I get you, Gary?”
“One Crownie and a Fuzzy Navel for the missus.”
I’m not sure which part of his request to respond to first, the drink he’s asking for that I don’t know how to mix, or the fact that he just said missus.
“You’re married now?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, looking mighty proud of the fact.
“Congratulations. When did that happen?”
“I met her…April, last year.”
He broke up with me in March that same year because both of us were supposedly too busy with work. It’s proof that the right person makes all the difference.
“Wow,” I say. “You moved fast.”
“When it’s right, it’s right, you know? Are you seeing anyone?”
“You okay here, Claire?”
Dylan is suddenly standing right there beside me, and without the distraction of the massive crowd around us, I’m acutely aware of the fact that he’s in my personal space again. He’s standing so close I can smell his deodorant, and his arm is pressed against mine in a way that sends electricity racing through my entire body.
I want to close my eyes, lean right into him, and smell him some more, but I can’t throw myself at him until we’ve spoken properly and he knows exactly what I want. I need to make sure he knows that I don’t expect anything from him but fun.
“Ah, Gary wants a Fuzzy Navel,” I tell him.
“It’s for my wife,” Gary explains, obviously worrying his masculinity might be called into question.
“Don’t I know you?” Dylan asks, clicking his fingers as he tries to figure it out.
“I dated Claire for a bit last year.”
“Oh, yeah. You were the rival banker?”
Gary grins. “That’s me.”
“Now you’re married?”
“I met Layla right after Claire.”
“I don’t know how to make a Fuzzy Navel,” I say to Dylan, cutting off any potential conversation about how Gary found Ms. Right straight after breaking up with me.
“A Fuzzy Navel is easy. Want me to show you how to make one?”
Since I’m not quite ready to go back to the other side of the bar, I nod. “Sure. Great.”
“I’ll grab the stuff,” he says.
I retrieve Gary’s Crownie from the fridge and when I come back, Dylan is right behind me with the ingredients needed.
He makes me do it all, telling me when to stop pouring the peach schnapps and orange juice.
“Okay, stir it and you’re done.”
“That’s all there is to it?”
“Easy, wasn’t it?”
I hand the cocktail and the beer to Gary and take his money.
“It was great to see you, Claire,” Gary says when I give him his change.
Dylan gently nudges my shoulder with his as Gary walks away. “You did good, kid.”
Dylan and Austin have referred to me as ‘kid’ for as long as I can remember. It’s always grated on me, but tonight I find the term even more irritating. Usually, I’d attack him for it, or at least remind him I’m not a goat. Tonight, I want things to be different. I don’t want to fight with him, and I don’t want him to see me as a child. So I turn to him and, using my most seductive voice, ask, “I’m all grown up now, haven’t you noticed?”
A/N: Thanks for reading! 🙂 Please like, share or leave a comment if you enjoyed the chapter, or please just keep reading.