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Realistic or Modern Rack 'Em Up

Sub Genres
LGTBQ, Platonic, Realistic, Romance, Slice of Life


What are words
It had been two hundred and thirty-six days since Laurence Billings became a grown up orphan. She stood in front of a wall calendar, each page littered with X’s through each day since. Some of them were drawn hastily, others shaky and brittle. A few were done in hot pink highlighter; a few dates blacked out completely when the grief swallowed Laurie whole.

Despite the days ticking by, the pain had not faded. Danica’s back office of Rack ‘Em Up was still called as such. It wasn’t Laurie’s, no matter how many hours she had spent in there. The wall calendar itself was still marked with Danica’s meticulous planning through the year. Bulk order cauliflower. Nemanja’s birthday. Save chicken toy for Curt. Quarterly invoice.

Laurie abruptly glanced back at the computer screen. It still choked through booting up, despite the minutes she had allowed it to process. Deeming it something her attention didn’t need to monitor, Laurie stood up and brushed off her faded jeans. The chicken shirt she wore bagged around her middle when she tied a short waist apron around herself, doubling the tie string back to the front. She had fit it better last year, Laurie noted. She had fit it better before stress and grief encompassed her appetite, greedily taking control of it.

Glasses clinked beside the bar. Damp little rings marked the spots where patrons had abandoned beers and stiff drinks. Gloria swiped a rag over them, chipping red nail polish over the short nails of her hands. She glanced up hopefully when she spotted a tall head of blonde over the top of the glasses stacked on the bar shelf.


Gloria’s cheerful greeting betrayed her actions. She wound up with the rag bunched like a softball, throwing it in Laurie’s direction. It splayed open and made a wet ‘thwop’ as it struck Laurie over the face, her startled gasp garbled by sopping fabric. She staggered back, prompting a smothered laugh from Gloria.

The tray table behind Laurie provided no support when she leaned back into it. It buckled, catching her leg and sending both bar owner and itself onto the floor. Gloria’s laughter became belly laughs, her tan stomach clutched as she ducked over to collect herself. The chicken shirt was tied beneath her chest, her skinny jeans belted at her hips but torn at the knees. The shirt itself was more worn out than the rest; chicken emblem flaking like her nail polish, sleeves frayed. Someone long ago had sharpied a ‘D.B.’ onto the back to identify its owner, but it had clearly been passed down instead.

Laurie sat up on the floor, winding up and chucking the rag back towards the bar. It caught the top of a bottle of tequila and spun twice, resting in a lump at the base of it. Laurie roared out her injustice, tone even but frustration for her little sister bubbling beneath it. “We open in ten, stop screwing around!”

Day two hundred and thirty-six. Only luck would let them cross it off the calendar and proceed into day two hundred and thirty-seven.


somewhere between psychotic & iconic.
“Did you find your chicken shirt?” Lena yelled across the open kitchen/living/dining/whatever the fuck space towards the open door to Curt’s bedroom. Moments later he walked out to greet her, a wrinkly and faded XXL chicken shirt hanging over his medium frame. Lena had bought it for him as a sleep shirt, but it would have to do for today. Curt walked with his arms outstretched, demonstrating how oversized the t shirt was. Lena crossed their small living space and helped him tuck his shirt in. She leaned back, looking him over. “That’s a little better. Go brush your teeth, we’re gonna be late.” Curt disappeared into the small shared bathroom as Lena pulled the spare hair tie from her wrist and gave herself a loose ponytail, her other hair tie gripping the back of her shirt to make it form fitting and reveal her mid drift. She scooped half a cup of dry cat food into a plastic cereal bowl and left it on the floor for Maratto, who came running as soon as he heard the sound of breakfast being served.

“Bye Motto motto.” Lena trilled, giving herself a passing glance in the mirror as curt returned, wiping toothpaste from his chin.

Lena grabbed two cereal bars off the counter as the pair made their way to the door, slipping one in Curt’s front pocket. During the week Curt would get a hot breakfast at his daytime care facility, but they had to made do with what they had on weekends. Normally Curt would just sit in a booth while Lena completed her shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, content to watch other patrons play darts or draw in his notebook. Lena almost always gave him a few crumpled dollar bills from her first set of tips, which he’d immediately stick into the jukebox. Today would be different, though. Lena has gotten a notice in the mail earlier that week stating that Curt’s disability checks would no longer be coming in due to a change in coverage from their healthcare provider. At the age of 34, Curt would have to get his first job if they were going to keep their apartment. They were going to ask Laurie if she could take Curt on at Rack ‘Em Up as a dishwasher - she had taken Lena in when all of her other applications were denied, so maybe she would give Curt that same chance.

They walked briskly the five blocks between Rack ‘Em Up and their apartment complex, Lena checking the time every few moments.

“Sorry we’re late.” Lena panted as they burst through the door, smoker’s lungs finally catching up to her. “Laurie, Curt has something to ask you.” She said with a little smile. Curt wrung his hands together shyly, looking for the words. He glanced between Lena and Laurie before asking. “Can I - wash the dishes?”. Lena gave her brother a thumb’s up. He was more verbal on some days than he was on others, but she had heard him practicing in the mirror as the water ran.


actual gremlin
Nemanja woke up with a headache. It's been a part of his life for the last... 15 years. He shrugged; it will go away when he pours an espresso and a whiskey in himself.
He managed to sit up with a groan, and rubbed his weary face, trying to make tireness disappear. Of course, nothing would ever be able to delete all the wrinkles that decorated his rugged face. He was 43, but he looked at least ten years older. Alcohol, cigarettes and bad life choices do that to you.
His pillow still smelled like perfume of some girl who was in his bed last night. Some of his students. Le... Leona? Leonida? What was her name? When they were done he just rushed her to a taxi he paid for.

"But- but I love you, professor. I am not doing this just for a grade. I mean I did, but-." she cried with a hand on his chest. "You are such a lovely man. My dad left me when I was 12-."
There were two types of his students that slept with him: a) those who did it to pass an exam, and b) those who obviously had daddy issues and wanted Nemanja to serve as their psychiatrist.
"Just... here, read this." he shoved a book in her hands, as he pushed her out of the door.. THREE CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE THEORY OF SEX by Sigmund Freud.
"Can't you let me sleep over, and just give me a lift to the college tomorrow?" the long-haired girl whimpered, firmly holding the book.
"I am on the bike." he patted her on the shoulder, bringing her closer to stairs bit by bit.
"You are a lovely girl, here, have a... a chewing gum." he said as he shoved a piece of gum in her hand and closed the door.

So he woke up, tired and absolutely not ready to face another day.
His tiny apartment was kind of a mess. Sure, his salary was quite excellent, and it was a miracle how he wasn't fired yet, but when you're the author of over a hundred essays, articles and polemics, many of which are taught in college, nobody really wants to fire you. Everyone just hopes you'll get your shit together and stop being an alcoholic and screwing your students.

With a sigh, he threw an old-fashioned brown suit on himself, put on the shoes, hopped on his rusty bicycle and went to the only place that felt like a home:

Rack 'Em Up bar.


hee hee hoo hoo haa haa
Venera frowned a bit as she tamped down her hair, flattening down the curls long enough to pin them against her scalp with her bandanna. It didn’t help much- as soon as she tied it in place and let go, her hair sprang back into its usual cloud of tight curls. Even so, the pensive expression on her face never wavered. I wonder, she mused as she tied up her chicken shirt into a pseudo-crop top over her peasant skirt, how deep a pan has to be before it becomes a pot. Is there some kind of a limit?

With a quiet humph, she floated across the back room to a pile of milk crates, zip-tied together with stairs and tunnels linking them all. Making the crates safe enough had been a real hassle, but if it meant Venera could keep her babies, it was all worth it. (Apparently, her apartment's "no pets" policy did extend to rats. Who knew?) No doubt they were all asleep- and oh, how she envied them today!- but by this point, checking in on them when she had a free moment was more than a habit.

A pale golden snout poked its way out from the mayo jar Venera had turned into a hideout, followed by a pair of little red eyes. "Oh, Rossie!" Venera chirped, already unhooking the latch closing off the door she'd built onto the crate. Rosalind gave a silent twitch of her whiskers as she scampered over to the door. With a grin, Venera grabbed a sunflower seed from the container on top of the rats’ enclosure and lowered her face down towards the rat. “Alright, Rossie, give me a kiss!” Without hesitating, Rosalind bumped her nose up against Venera’s lips. “There we go. Here,” she said, placing the seed in her outstretched paws. “Don’t let Tubby steal that, now. Be a good girl and take care of the others, alright?” She gave Rosalind a tiny scritch before closing the door back up and making her way out from the back.

Laurie was, predictably, busy at the moment, talking with Lena and her brother Curt. Venera gave a smile of approval as Curt’s quiet words drifted to her ears. Curt had always seemed sweet, and he had darn good taste in music. It’d be nice to get an extra pair of hands to help when the dishes got backed up.

She knew better than to interrupt a job interview, though, and instead she veered towards Gloria. “There you are. Do me a favor, would you?” she asked, fishing a baggie out of her pocket and handing it over to Gloria. It appeared to be full of peanut butter, oats, and chocolate chips. “I made Laurie some energy bites. I guess they’re kind of a big energy blob now, but…” She gave a shrug. It’d taste the same one way or another, right? “Just make sure she eats today, okay? She needs to get something into her body before she passes out.” She capped it off with a sad smile at the younger Billings sister.

MothSav MothSav

The front door swung wide, and a loud brogue filled the empty air of the restaurant. “-no breading, no salt, no butter-” Guy stormed into Rack ‘Em Up, already agitated and midway through a rant directed vaguely at Casper as he trailed in behind. For all Guy knew, the skinny little wanker might have stopped listening halfway through their walk to the restaurant. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference now, not when he was on his soapbox. “-Clean the grill, cook the damn chicken as plain as it was on the bird, and wouldn’t you know? The gash sends it back. Said it was too bland.” He was loud enough for anyone in the restaurant to hear, but Guy didn’t even notice if any eyes turned in his direction. “No shit it’s too bland, Karen! You ordered it that way, nah?”

He gave a low growl of breath as he paused to clock in, then carried on, the tiniest bit quieter. “I told Laurie, I see that bleach-blonde pixie cut walk in here again carrying on about her weird caveman diet, I’ll...”

By the end of the sentence, his voice trailed off, and he heaved a long-suffering sigh. God, he was not nearly drunk enough for this shit. Guy didn’t know who was going to be running the bar tonight, but he made a mental note to badger them into slipping a mis-poured cocktail or two his way.

With a shake of his head to get his ginger hair away from his eyes, Guy shot Casper a pissy look that the little prick didn’t actually deserve before turning away to grab an apron and a hairnet. “Anyway. You know who you’re meant to be shadowing tonight, yeah?” Internally, he tacked on, Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not me. Casper’s got no business in a kitchen, not after he damn near broke the microwave at home.

mikaluvkitties mikaluvkitties
The commotion bubbling up within the restaurant as the employees filtered in was lost on Maria Esperanza Guadalupe-Valdez’s ears, her pale green eyes fixed solely on the phone screen poised between her perfectly manicured hands. Both thumbs flew across the screen in a perfect choreography that was almost beautiful, if not a perfect representation of the digital age Maria had been born into. She was behind the bar, elbows propped on the back counter and derrière stuck out behind her as she shifted her weight from one foot to the next every few minutes. Her hair, a thick halo of bleached blond curls—her dark roots were just starting to breach her hairline—was pulled back and up, so that the tangled mess of a bun sat atop her head, a thin headband keeping the flyaways at bay. The chicken shirt, the sleeves of which she had more so ripped than cut off, was tucked into a pair of high-waisted denim shorts, which cinched her waist in the exact right spot and managed to just barely cover her rear end, pulling up to reveal gym-perfected roundness as she leaned forward.

Maria tapped away for at least twenty minutes before she looked up for the first time, eyes taking in the scene around her as if she had awoken from a dream and found herself here by accident. She blinked, and then turned her eyes back down on her phone, pulling the camera up and inverting it. She pushed the phone back a little, utilizing the camera as a mirror as she tilted her head back and forth and pressed a few escaped flyaways back. She saw to one eyebrow, and then drew a light gloss from her waist apron and touched up her pout. She smacked her lips a few times to set the gloss, before slipping both it and her phone into her apron and pushing up off the counter.

Catching the tail-end of Guy’s boisterous retelling as he burst through the front door, Maria shook her head with a snort.

“Fuckin’ Karen.” She grabbed a red rag from the sanitizer bucket and set to wiping down first the bar, and then the tables and chairs, rearranging a few that had been pushed around by rowdy guests the previous night. They would be opening soon, and she figured she might as well do something to get the place ready.


Alexander Volkov awoke to the hurried shuffling and stumbling of someone rushing about the bedroom. He blinked, and then re-shut his eyes as the dim light from the nightstand penetrated his cornea and stabbed at his retina. His brain hurt, and he threw himself onto his stomach in protest.

“You’re gonna have to let yourself out. There’s a key in the pot on the right, just make sure you lock up.”

Alex pulled the pillow over his head as he grumbled incoherence into the mattress.

“My wife gets home in an hour, so I need you gone before then.”

Alex remained still beneath the twisted covers, his breath hot and smelling of an awful mix of whatever it was he had drank the night before.

“I’m serious, Alex.”

The covers were ripped from Alex and thrown to the side. His latest conquest stood over him, frantically tucking a blue button-up into a pair of slim-fit grey slacks. He glanced at his watch.

“Shit, I’m gonna be late,” he hissed, spinning on his heel and scavenging through the mess of clothes on the floor for his shoes. He dropped onto the bed at Alex’s feet to pull them on. “Did you hear me? One hour, I need you gone.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Alex grumbled, rolling onto his back and turning ice blue eyes up on the ceiling, slowly allowing them to adjust. “Or else your girl will find out what you’ve been doing while she’s at work. I get it. You’re not my first straight guy.”

“I’m not...never mind, just make sure you’re outta here before she gets home. And maybe clean up a little?”

“I’m not your maid.”

“Whatever,” the man rolled his eyes as he grabbed his suit jacket from the hook on the bedroom door. “Don’t forget to lock up.”

Alex grunted his response, and the man hesitated in the doorway, wondering if maybe he should go through everything again. He sighed, shook his head, and left his future in Alexander’s hands.

Alex stayed put for about forty-five minutes, eyes on the ceiling, unmoving. The bedside clock ticked on, lulling Alex into a sort of trance as he waited for his head to stop spinning and his stomach to settle. He glanced over at the clock, noting how early it was. He did not usually stumble out of bed until around twelve, but now he was being forced to assault his senses before eight. He sighed, closing his eyes and sinking into the ridiculously soft mattress. The sheets were quite cool and soft, and he enjoyed their touch upon his bare skin. He began to doze.

There was movement downstairs. Alex’s eyes shot open and he almost forgot where he was. Shit. He rolled out of bed, stumbling and wincing as his head throbbed in angry protest. He held one hand to it, sucking in a sharp breath of pain as he fumbled with his pants. He pulled them on with his free hand, nearly falling on his face when his right foot got caught in the front jean pocket, before successfully securing them. He found his black t-shirt in the covers, pulled it over his head, and then retrieved his canvas shoes and navy jacket from the far corner by the window. He set them on the sill and pulled on the window. Nothing.

Alex frowned, tugging again. Still nothing. He ran his hands along the windowsill and the sides, searching for a lock. It was painted shut, a false window. Great. He slipped his feet into his shoes, which were fortunately still tied from the day before, took his jacket up in his arms, and made for the door. He pushed it open and nearly crashed into the woman on the other side.

She was pretty, blond hair pulled up into a loose bun and a pair of thick-rim glasses framing bright, inquisitive green eyes. She gasped as she stepped back, catching herself on the railing. She was dressed in well-fitted scrubs that, Alex had to admit, looked damn good on her. He had never been with a nurse, but he could see the appeal. She stared back at him, unblinking, as she pushed through her initial shock of running into him.

“I was just on my way out,” Alex mumbled as he made to push past the woman, who shifted in front of him to block his path. She was of average height and build, though she obviously spent much of her week in the gym. Alex was of less than average build and weight, and figured she would have no trouble putting him down.

“Your shirt’s inside out,” she advised, looking him up and down before her eyes settled on the darkening beneath his eyes and his sunken cheeks. He met her eyes easily.

“Intentional, I assure you.”

“Hmm,” the woman continued to bar Alex’s way. “You’re one of Robert’s? Figures, he always had a thing for bony little things. Never appreciated the true shape of a woman. Or a man.”

“He’s under the impression you don’t know,” Alex watched her carefully, the warmth returning to his cheeks as his mind contemplated what lay beneath her scrubs. It did not take much imagining.

“Of course he is, he’s an idiot, I’m not. You’re not the first one I’ve caught sneaking around. They’re all about as revolting as you. He thinks I’ll leave him if I find out. Honestly, it’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card for me. I can do no wrong. Besides, it gives me the freedom to find others more...adept at fulfilling my personal needs, without the guilt of an annoyingly faithful husband.”

“Well,” Alex perked up, and took what he thought was a rather seductive step forward. “When you put it that way...”

The wife put her hand against Alex’s chest to stop his approach. “Oh God, definitely not. Unlike my husband, I still have standards. Now, get out of my house before I call the cops. There’s a key in the pot to the right of the door, lock up on your way out. And brush your teeth, your breath is impossible.” She pushed past Alex and into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Alex shrugged and pulled his jacket on as he jogged down the stairs and out the door, forgetting to lock up as he went.

After a quick stop at the small closet of an apartment he called home to change out his jeans and t-shirt and promptly see to his breath, he set back out, deciding he was much too sober. Whatever-his-name-was had somehow managed to force glass after glass of water down his throat the previous night, and Alex had come out of his stupor earlier than normal. He needed to fix this mistake. Fortunately, it was an easy mistake to fix, and he knew just where to go.
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Professional Unicorn Lover
To be honest, Casper was only half aware of what Guy was going on about, and it felt pretty bad to admit even in his head, so he wasn’t about to say that out loud. Instead, he worked on something he had practiced for a very long time- Nodding with sympathetic eyes.

Guy went on and on, and Casper nodded and nodded, even as he quietly thanked the lord they were finally at Rack ‘Em Up and this would all be over soon.

Sure enough, he trailed off, but Casper’s relief was short-lived. Far too soon, Guy was shooting him a look. He withered, gaze dropping. Guy probably knew he hadn’t been listening. Did he need to apologize? Lie? Beg?

But Guy didn’t say anything about any of that, instead just asking about who he was shadowing. Casper smiled, blooming again before his brow furrowed, teeth digging into his lip as he thought.

Come on, this was important- He hadn’t really forgotten, had he?

He shut his eyes tight, and then it came to him!

His eyes shot open, and he grinned, nodding. “Gloria!” Before he could even think about it, he was rambling. “That’s so nice! I like Gloria. She’s a really good person- And funny, too! And nice to me! And also super pretty- Don’t worry, though, you’re pretty, too! That’s why I swiped right, you know?”



Terminally Nerdy
Sarah hastily put on her left boot and stood up. She rushed to the mirror and gave herself a once over, quickly twisting left and right to see if her chicken shirt was tucked nicely in her high rise jeans. She hated that chicken shirt, it never went with any of her skirts and that was really annoying. She put on a denim jacket to cover up the tattered shirt and exited her room.

"Dad! What are you doing in the kitchen?" She pulled her father out of the kitchen and pushed him in his chair at the dining table. She never let her dad cook, his cooking was dangerous. He made inedible food every time she let him try. He wasn't always like this, he used to love cooking and he actually made delicious food but his depression had rendered him unable to do even more basic tasks, so Sarah couldn't exactly expect much skill in the kitchen from him.

She fixed him a breakfast in record time and slipped a granola bar in her pocket, it was going to be her breakfast which she was going to munch on while walking to her morning job, waitressing at Rack 'Em Up. Serving the breakfast in front of her father, she hoped he would make the effort to eat with his own hands but he just sat there blinking, so Sarah took a deep breath and put a smile on her face before feeding her dad the scrambled eggs she had prepared.

Sarah wasn't late and thank goodness for that because she really needed some sleep. Late night article writing had messed up her routine and she was always sleepy on her job. She had been hoping that the salary at the restaurant would be enough to enable her to leave her part time job as a free lance content writer but Laurie was already struggling to keep the restaurant running, Sarah couldn't expect much. She was going to have to make do.

She finally reached the restaurant and slipped in through the back door. Laurie was scolding Gloria, as usual. Sarah rolled her eyes. These sisters always started the day like this. Laurie was looking paler by every passing day. Sarah was afraid, she'd start to look like a zombie soon enough. She wanted to help her but she was allergic to sadness outside her home so she let her be. Sarah was selfish that way.

She checked her phone, hoping to see a text from Joe, her fifth boyfriend but there were no notifications. She sighed. It seemed like she was going to face another break up soon. She looked around for a place to doze off and found a perfect corner. She took a seat and leaned back in the chair. By now, Sarah was skilled at falling asleep just about anywhere so she wasn't exactly uncomfortable but she couldn't exactly sleep either. She kept drifting in and out. The first time she opened her eyes, she heard Guy ranting about something. She looked around and saw Lena and Curt, talking to Laurie. Since Curt was wearing the infamous chicken shirt, Sarah pretty much guessed what they were talking about. She drifted to sleep again, then woke up once again to see Maria wiping the bar clean.

Sarah decided that if she was not going to have a peaceful sleep, she might as well work. She put on the apron she always kept in a drawer in the kitchen and started washing some of the dishes that had been left last night. She held the soapy dish in her and was trying to turn on the faucet when it slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor. Sarah's heart jumped into her mouth. The dish made a loud sound but miraculously, it didn't crack.

"It wasn't me." Sarah called out in her defense before anyone could come and start yelling at her, then she quickly picked up the dropped dish and started washing it again. Biting her lip in concentration. She couldn't afford to break another dish, at least this week.
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What are words
If anything, Laurie could count on a steady descent to chaos to start their day. She brushed herself off and crawled up from the floor, shooting a glare in Gloria’s direction. Thankfully, Maria was already getting the tables around the bar wiped down and situated. Guy was bursting in with his usual brand of fervor, but their new employee was trickling along beside him. Laurie paused to greet them, clapping a hand on Guy’s shoulder as he passed.

“Simmer down,” she teased softly. “Save the heat for the grill.” Her words were met with a tired scowl, matched with a smile to assure she didn’t mean harm. Even if she had, she doubted Guy would have taken her too seriously. Laurie greeted Casper and stepped aside to let him pass. Gloria spotted him, too, face brightening with her new little customer turned prospect. Great.

Chairs clattered to the floor, dragging and aligning with tables to start the day. Gloria sprayed sanitizer onto a sticky patch left the night before. Laurie hardly had a moment to catch her breath before Lena and Curt bustled in. She waved to them, too, flattening her palms on her apron to brush them off. Curt had something to ask her?

A job request. Laurie passed a look to Lena, then back to Curt. She smiled a little, less broad out of exhaustion more than lack of welcoming. They always needed dishwashers; the availability of it wasn’t her concern. She gestured to a booth, calling over her shoulder into the kitchen. “Sarah? Cover Lena’s section for a bit, please.”

Laurie slid into one side of the table, fingers knitted together. She tugged a pen and notepad out of her apron pocket. Laurie began to scrawl across it, her upright letters blocky and particular. A small form was drawn up, tugged carefully out of the notebook.

“You’ll need to fill out an application first, like anybody else,” Laurie explained. She slid it across to him, a smile working at the corners of her lips.
The sections were simplified. Name. Birthday. Days available. There were some questions, too. Prior dishwashing experience? There was even a little reference form. Laurie went on to explain.

“So you’ll fill this out and then bring it to me. Then I read it, and I decide if you’re a good fit for the job. You already have the shirt, so you’re on the right track. And then we sit down together and we talk, and I’d get to know you. But we’re good at that, right? You know me, you know everyone here. You even knew my mom.” The mention of it made Laurie’s smile stiff. She excused herself, sliding out of the booth and standing up. “Lena is covered, so she can help. Take all the time you need, and then come find me. I’m married to this place; I can’t go far.”


“I have a fuckin’ trainee.”
Gloria was over the moon with taking a staff member under her wing. She had announced it to everyone at least a dozen times now. Casper, the little punk she used to doll up milkshakes for, was now joining their misfit crew. Gloria plunked her rag back down into the sanitizer bin, pumping both fists into the air. “Today! Like, starting today. I can cultivate this little shit. He’ll be awesome.”

Gloria snaked her damp fingers along the neck of her shirt, airing it out after rushing around through her opening tasks. She shot a grin at Maria, continuing to chatter at her. “Enjoy running to bar. Let me know if you need any pointers.”

The last line was sarcastic; Maria knew her way around a bar better than Gloria did, hands down. Gloria won her bartender trainee role just by being Danica’s daughter, but tragedy made it all her own. She had big shoes that she was just beginning to fill. Gloria sauntered around the counter, slinking along behind Casper and Guy and then booming out a greeting to them both.
“Good mooooorning, Rack ‘Em Up!”

Her presence was a loud enough one. Gloria slung an arm around Casper’s shoulders, beaming over towards Guy. “I take it you met my protege, Guyski,” she announced. “We’re gonna start on dishes today. I heard Sarah already tried to crack one. Wicked stuff, my dude. Laurie got some like, fucked up beef order she wanted you to look at? It accidentally came with the wings and she doesn’t know what to do with it. Thought you might make something out of it. Let me sample!”


somewhere between psychotic & iconic.
// sorry if this is bad and makes no sense. am baked.

Lena returned Laurie's small smile as she ushered them to a booth. She knew just how to speak to Curt and treated him as if he was no different while still accommodating for his needs. She sat down next to Curt in the cracked booth across from Laurie, observing as she drew up an application just for him. Her heart swelled with pride and affirmation as Laurie explained to Curt how the interview process would work. Curt, who was normally shy and reserved amongst even the closest of company, was listening intently as he drummed his fingers against the table. He nodded enthusiastically when Laurie passed the paper over to him, a wide grin plastered across his face.

"Thank you." Lena mouthed silently as Curt read the makeshift application, tracing a single finger from one line to the next as he sounded out each word.

"I had to do the same thing, Curt. This is how everybody does it." Lena said in a reassuring tone. Curt's finger hovered on the reference form. He was clearly confused by the big open space on the form and the bigger words. Lena squeezed his shoulder softly, recognizing his struggle.

"Let's worry about that later. We can get the easy stuff out of the way first." she said with a smile, redirecting his attention to the top of the form. "You know all this." She watched as he took his time to write each letter, steadying his hand to write as neatly as he could.

Curt stopped again and furrowed his brow. Lena peered over his shoulder and saw him tracing softly over the question about prior experiences. After a moment, he scrawled the letters n - o beside the question. Leah pursed her lips.

“Sure you do. You clean Motto’s dinner bowl every week.” she said with a smile. “You can write that AND his water bowl.”

Curt smiled and scribbled out his previous answer, instead writing in Lena’s suggestion. Excited to have found a better answer to the question, he pressed forward. He slid the paper to face Leah and pointed at the reference section again.

“Oh, that’s where someone says that it’s okay to call them to talk about you. You put a friend or someone who likes you so they’ll say the nicest things about you.” Curt rolled the pen to her with a grin. Lena slid the paper back.

“Usually you’re not to put someone from your family. “ she said, handing him back the pen. “Let’s see if someone around here will sign it for you.” She scooted sideways out of the booth, allowing Curt to follow her with the paper in tow.

After giving the dining room a quick glance for any other servers who weren’t busy, Lena’s eyes settled on the bar. She smiled, leading the way to the well beside where Gloria stood. Curt smoothed the paper against the surface of the bar.

“Maria, can you sign down there? It’s so Laurie knows that my friends will say good things about me for my job.” Curt said, pausing between thoughts as he tried to explain the concept in his own words.
Finn Xuan

Why was it that every day seemed to go by slower and slower?

Or, perhaps, Finn's existence was taking longer and longer to be over?

It seemed almost rude to joke about it. Kids from her old neighborhood probably didn't even get to do the whole college thing. Not because they were lacking in intelligence, or work ethic, but just due to systematic push-back. Yet, somehow, she couldn't help but feel like she was wasting away, even though she was only twenty-one. For fuck's sake, girl, you were just a teenager two years ago, it's way too early for a midlife crisis.

She had the sneaking suspicion that alcohol would be a big part of her life soon. On her twenty-first birthday -- a work day, for the record -- she bought an enormous and expensive bottle of vodka in the evening and drank it from its source. It was rancid, but somehow that settling, burning feeling in her guts was like a reminder that she was alive, she was here and now.

Her uniform shirt fit a little too big, hanging a bit too far over her shorts and making it look like she had no pants on. Sometimes she wondered if she could get away with not wearing any pants at all, but always decided against it. It'd ruin the bit where she drops something and then bends over suggestively to pick it up in front of the nearest frat party or neckbeard meet-up. They'd always give her extra tips for that one.

Riding her bright red bicycle to and from work was the only true moment of silence and freedom she had. No sound, no human beings, just wind. She managed to park merely ten minutes early, just her luck, and found that, oh great, prof's bike is here too.

Prof, she never bothered to learn his name. He had sex with Finn's now ex-friend, Kelsey, and the dumb bitch caught feelings. Not only that, but her final grade was actually higher than Finn's own, despite her doing none of the work. Prof showed up at REU all the time. Finn refused to serve him, out of fear that she wouldn't be able to stop herself from pouring a beer down his pants. And none of 'em be missed, and none of 'em be missed.

She entered, adjusting her glasses and sitting at one of the tables. Unprofessional as ever, because the shift just started and nobody really cares.

// mentions Sega Sega , otherwise OPEN //
Maria tossed her rag into the sanitizer bucket from across the bar, the cloth making a sucking slap as it hit the water and joined the rest of the rags bathing in the solution. She was about to turn her attention to doing a few last-minute checks around the restaurant to ensure all the condiments were filled and sorted, when Gloria started going on about her new trainee. Maria had forgotten Casper was starting today. She had seen them come in with Guy, they were roommates she was pretty sure. She knew Casper, they had been coming here since she had started here, and apparently even longer than that. It seemed fitting that a job should be here waiting for them soon as they needed it.

At Gloria’s parting remark, Maria shook her head with a playful roll of her eyes.

“Thanks. I’ll be sure to come to you if I run into any snags.” She watched Gloria go with a smile, hands on her hips as she gave one last shake of her head. That girl, she was just non-stop energy and optimism. Maria knew there was more to her, beneath her upbeat and crazy ways, but she let her have it. Everyone coped in their own ways, and for Gloria, there was much to cope with. Maria’s eyes drifted over to Laurie, who had been growing steadily skinnier over the past year. Nothing dangerous, but that was just around the corner. Maria liked that she was able to help around Rack ‘Em Up, to give the elder Billings sister some sort of security in knowing that at least some form of the bar would be functioning.

There was movement at the corner of her eye and Maria turned to find Lena and Curt at the bar. Curt was holding the paper that Laurie had given him earlier, and he set it on the countertop for Maria to see. She glanced down at it as he spoke, not comprehending at first as she recovered from her trans-like musings. She had a regular habit of falling into such states throughout the day.

“Hm? Oh, yes, of course,” Maria brightened up once she realized what Curt was asking of her. She fished a pen out from her apron. “I’d love to be a reference. I’m honored, really.” She reached forward and, after taking a second to determine the best spot to place her signature, bit the pen’s cap off and graced the paper with a beautiful flowing script. She then spelled her full name out underneath.

“There, how does that look?” She replaced the pen’s cap and dropped it back into her waist apron pocket.


actual gremlin
When he finally dragged himself out of his shitty apartment, the first thing Nemanja did was sit in his car. It was a blue, old box, which barely run. He turned the key, once, twice. The engine coughed, sounding like an old man dying from pneumonia on his death bed, and then shut down.
Nemanja just stared at it with a tired expression on his face, hit the steering wheel, sat for a minute just staring at it, and got out. One more day on his bike that was, also, falling apart.

He just didn't care anymore about fixing any of it. It was a blue pony with scratches and paint peels all over it. He would usually forget to lock it up, and nobody ever stole it. The thiefs would go through trouble of cutting the chains on fancy bikes but wouldn't even glance at his steel garbage that was tied to the street light with a rusty chain that looked like it would crumble if someone touched it.

He finally pushed through the crowd on the street, nearly running over a few pedestrians. Since few years, his mind just seemed to wander wherever it wanted, unfocused on the world around him. Ever since he sold his professional dignity, world seemed like a dream.

He parked next to Rack Em Up, and peeked through the glass door. Laurie and Gloria were dragging chairs, everyone was getting ready, it seemed pretty noisy inside.
Well, he decided to wait a bit for all of that to untangle. He had done his fair share of setting up tables and helping with morning rush back when Danica worked there, at times when staff was short.

Good time to have a cigarette, though.
The lighter and marlboro in his hands sparked, and a second later, he was dragging in a smoke, positioned in front of the entrance, so he could enter when he's done.

And then he saw a figure coming closer and closer to REU -
that Asian-whatever-her-ethnicity-was girl.

Nemanja's mouth tightened and he looked at his feet, avoiding eye contact. Apparently (that's what he got from her snarky comments), he once (who knows when) slept with some friend of hers (who knows who), and there was no way in hell that girl was going to ever leave him in peace.

Twin Fantasy Twin Fantasy // but open! ˘o˘


hee hee hoo hoo haa haa
Oh boy, Guy thought to himself as a tiny half-smirk crawled up his face. Casper’s making that thinking face again. Hope he doesn’t overwork something up there. Even the crash of a dish from the back didn’t seem to draw him from the enigma that was a one-word answer. Truth be told, he was damn surprised the wankstain had been listening when he’d asked that. Who knows- maybe he’d been paying attention all along.

Finally, the little gears in his brain, clicked into place, and Casper gave the worst possible answer. Gloria? What kind of tube thought that was a good idea? Guy wondered, the smile already falling away. Well, it was hardly Guy’s concern- as long as he stuck to the kitchen, he’d be well out of the way of any impending damage. The speccy little loon seemed pretty pleased to be training under her, at least, considering he couldn’t shut up about her once he’d started talking. Yeah, yeah- she’s sweet and good and pretty and all of that shit. Guy would have asked why he didn’t just go and kiss her while he was at it if Casper hadn’t said- that.

Guy took a deep breath, clenching his hands together and leaning in. “Casper,” he hissed, narrowing his eyes. “We are not discussing this. Not here, not now, yeah? Our coworkers don’t need to know about-” He could feel his ears starting to flush red just thinking about what would happen if this got out to anyone here. “-about that one night.”

Out of nowhere, Gloria popped up behind him, shouting out a greeting. Eloquent as always, Guy answered with a flinch and a loud, “Jesus fuck!” As Gloria slung an arm around Casper, Guy scowled deep, praying that she didn’t hear about the ill-fated hookup that had landed Guy his current housemate. “I’ve told you not to call me that, Glasshole,” he snapped with a shake of his head. “And of course I’ve met him. We live together.”

With a roll of his eyes, he started making his way towards the kitchen. “I’ll see what I can do with the beef, alright? If what I make sucks, it’s all yours.” Already, a few ideas were floating around his head for how to salvage an unexpected cut of beef. On an impulse, he added over his shoulder, “And don’t you dare let that skinny wanker into Alex’s section when he slimes his way in here, yeah? No way that’s gonna end well.”

At the dish station, he paused, leaning against the wall with yet another overly dramatic sigh. From what he could tell, she was trying to act like she hadn’t just damn near shattered one of Rack ‘Em Up’s few remaining salad plates. In spite of himself, he couldn’t manage to stay mad at her, not when he’d been in her shoes so many times. “Wasn’t you, huh?” he smirked. He gave a pointed nod to the dish in her hand with a slightly forced chuckle. “Come on, leave it be. We’ve already got Casper learning how to break dishes today, so that’s covered. If you want, you can help me cut things up for today.” Sarah looked worn out as all hell, what with the dark circles under her eyes, and it occurred vaguely to Guy that she was in no state to be handling knives. He brushed that thought away. It’ll probably be fine.

mikaluvkitties mikaluvkitties MothSav MothSav Vi_Vi_ Vi_Vi_


somewhere between psychotic & iconic.
Curt slid the paper to face him so he could see Maria's signature at the bottom. He smiled and folded the paper carefully into quarters before pressing it flat against his chest. He reached across the bar and took Maria's hand before kissing it. Lena giggled, hiding her face in her hands before turning to face Maria.

"I'm sorry. He's just really excited about getting his first job." she said as Curt unfolded the application and tapped his finger on Maria’s signature. “He really appreciates it.” she added as Curt read her name to himself slowly, sounding out each syllable. After a few moments he put the paper back down on the bar and looked up.

“M-maria Esperanza Guadalupe-Valdez” he said, his eyes beaming. “Thank you.”

Lena’s eyes widened in recognition. Curt had difficulty reading, especially big words that he didn’t use often, but he had been able to recite Maria’s full name with nearly perfect pronunciation. His day program had done wonders to help him gain confidence; Lena just hoped that she could afford to keep him there.

“Way to go, Curt.” she said, clasping her hands together in front of her. “You’ve been working on your reading, huh?”

Curt nodded, suddenly shying away from the extra attention. He bowed his head before excusing himself from the bar and heading towards the kitchen.

“Thanks again, babe. I really should see where he’s going.” Lena called back to Maria as she headed towards the kitchen.

As Lena turned the corner she could see Curt heading for the dishwashing station. She gently took his wrist, preparing to redirect his attention to the task at hand.

“Not yet, bud. You still have to turn this in and go talk to Laurie, remember? We can go over some of the questions she might ask, if you want.”

Curt shook his head in defiance and fished the application out of his pocket. He unfolded it carefully and put it in Lena’s hands. Lena’s eyes glazed over the application, looking for errors. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Blanks.” Curt said pointedly, snatching the paper back from her hands and pointing to the references section.

“Oh, that’s okay. You don’t really need more than one or two-“ Lena explained, cut off once again by Curt thrusting the paper into her hands, growing restless.

“Okay, Curt” she said with a crooked grin as she took Laurie’s pen from his pocket and signed the reference section under Maria’s name. Her signature paled in comparison to Maria’s elegant script, making hers look more like scrawl on a doctor’s note.

“Why don’t you ask Guy for a reference? Might as well have someone from the kitchen to back you if you’re going to try and work in the kitchen.”

Curt nodded as Lena handed him back the paper and pen. He stepped toward Guy and Sarah with his paper outstretched.


Terminally Nerdy
Sarah knew no one had would believe her stupid lie. How could it not have been her? She was the only one in the kitchen, for God's sake. She hoped Laurie wouldn't right out of patience and just outright fire her.

Just then, she heard Laurie call her name. Oh great, now what was she supposed to do? Why was she always the one to cover other people's shifts? As if she didn't have work of her own. "Stop being a bitch!“ Sarah hissed to herself. She often had to tame that bitchy, bitter personality of hers in order to not sound like her mom. She hated that woman and every personality trait that she had got from her. That's why she always made her zodiac an excuse for her bad behavior.

"Okay!" She called out and quickly finished the dishes. She jumped when sje heard Guy's voice behind her. He always startled her by sneaking around. How did such a guy manage to move around so quietly was beyond her understanding. She blushed in embarrassment and looked at the dish in her hand. "Yeah well..." She cleared her throat. "I'll just bring in some supplies which Lena was supposed to shift from the storage to the kitchen and then I can come and start with the knives, okay?" She rushed out to the store room without waiting for a reply.

Guy always intimidated her but his offer was kind so she was keen on accepting it. She picked up the supplies needed in the kitchen and walked back, careful not to drop anything on her way. She glanced to the side and saw Curt and Lena with Maria. Curt looked happy. Sarah smiled. She liked Lena's brother, he was easy to hang out with, he did not deceive people, he did not lie and most of all, he let her sleep. He was nice.

Sarah reached the kitchen and put all of the supplies on the counter and took a deep breath. "Let's start." She grinned and took up a knife. She started cutting the vegetables, mindful of her fingers when her started burning from the onions. She quickly put a piece of bread between her lips, a hack she had learned from her father back when he used to cook, this prevented the tears.

As she saw Curt and Lena walk in, she pulled out that piece from her mouth and smiled.

LittleCal LittleCal tallonisfarout tallonisfarout
Maria was a little surprised when Curt grabbed her hand and kissed the back of it. She blinked, but then her expression softened and her smile returned.

“Oh, no bother,” Maria replied when Curt released her hand and went to reading over her signature. She turned her eyes on Lena. “It’s rare you meet so polite a gentleman,” she added. “I’m impressed.”

She was even further impressed when Curt read her name aloud. Not because she had not expected him to be able to pronounce her name, but because she never expected anyone to be able to pronounce her name.

“Damn, not bad,” she remarked, offering Curt an encouraging smile. “I can count on one hand the people who’ve gotten my name right on the first go.” She left it at that, noting the shyness that crept up within Curt as he turned to leave. And then Lena went after him. “No problem. Let me know if either of you need anything else.”

Maria turned her attention back to the bar, stepping back and taking one last gander, hands on her hips. She gave a satisfied nod. Maria bent and snatched a shot glass from the top shelf beneath the bar. She set it on the metal countertop and passed her eyes over the various bottles behind her, before deciding on the Patron. Today was a tequila day. What day wasn’t a tequila day?

Maria gave a hefty pour, set the bottle aside, and shot the liquid back. She closed her eyes as she swallowed, savoring the smooth burn. She then filled the glass a second time, this time taking it up and turning to set it on the sill of the window that connected the bar to the kitchen. She slid it through, pushing herself onto her toes and leaning over, looking for Guy. She found him speaking with Sarah, who seemed to be struggling with the dishes. No surprise there.

“Order up,” Maria called out with a smile. “Looked like you could use an early start.”

LittleCal LittleCal tallonisfarout tallonisfarout


What are words
It was time to open. Laurie fished for her keys in her apron pocket as she approached the front doors. Laurie unlocked them swiftly, jiggling the handle with practiced ease and propping the doors open.

The noise of the city greeted her first. Laurie took a moment to stand and absorb it. Cars sped by; people marched down the sidewalk, eager to get to work or finish errands. A woman chattered into a cell phone, nicely dressed with platinum blonde kept in a slick bun. Laurie brought a hand up to her hair, finger combing out tangles of dirty blonde.

For a moment, her eyes met the passing woman’s. She didn’t even halt her cell phone conversation, gaze averted before Laurie could begin to smile in greeting. Her prim leather flats clicked as she marched along; Laurie glanced down at her sneakers with the hot sauce stain on the arch.

Teeth sunk into her lip, Laurie turned away to face Rack ‘Em Up. She peered across at Nemanja, finishing out his cigarette by the looks of it. She inhaled a quick sigh, steadying herself.

“Morning,” Laurie offered. “Shouldn’t be too busy here today.” Nemanja was a familiar sight around the bar; and also their home from time to time. Laurie kept questions out of it, refusing to delve into her mother’s… extracurriculars. She kept the door propped to invite Nemanja in, gazing inward at the bustling crew. Well, mostly bustling.

“Finn!” Laurie called. “Stop sitting around, help the team.”


hee hee hoo hoo haa haa
Before he even started towards the prep area, Guy heard Maria call out. He caught sight of the shot glass of what looked like whiskey perched on the windowsill, and his shoulders visibly drooped in relief. “God, perfect,” he said with a grin, launching himself off the wall like a fox springing onto an unsuspecting rabbit. Of course he could use an early start. When couldn’t he? This job was stressful enough without the spectre of sobriety breathing down the back of his neck. He reached out for the shot, giving a nod and a “Gracias, Santa Maria,” to the bar.

Just as his fingers wrapped around the glass, he caught wind of two familiar voices slinking around the corner. His expression darkened for a second, and before they came into view, he knocked the shot back with a practiced swing of his arm.

Immediately, he pulled a face. Ah, right. Tequila, not whiskey. Somehow, he kept forgetting that Maria had bad taste in liquor. Somehow, he managed to wipe away the grimace before the Matthisons got a good look at his face.

With the least intimidating look he could manage at the moment, he gave Curt a quick once-over as he took the pen and paper offered to him. Lena’s brother could probably handle the dishes well enough, or at least he could handle it better than Sarah. Anything involving knifework might be out of the question, but if his motor skills were solid enough, he might be able to teach Curt how to mix up sauces and salad dressings. His lips twitched up a bit into something that looked more or less like a smile. “Heard you were looking to work back here with me, yeah?” he asked, scribbling out a barely legible signature. (It was almost recognizable as “Guy Newcombe”, but in all honesty, Guy could barely read his own handwriting on his best days. This was not one of his best days.)

Guy handed the paper back with a single nod. “Lena’s told me a bit about you here and there,” he said, flicking his eyes from Curt to his sister for a second. Was he imagining things, or did she have a new chunk of metal in her face? He’d long since lost track of her piercings. Turning his attention back to Curt, he added, “Here’s hoping the interview goes well, then.”

He turned away, giving a quiet scoff to Sarah as he noticed the bread in her mouth. “Oh, don’t bother with that. Just cry on the onions,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Gives ‘em extra flavor.” Still, there was a light humor to his voice as he spoke. Sarah certainly wasn’t the most annoying person here, even if her attention was usually drawn towards her phone rather than what she was meant to be doing. She had a habit of telling like it was, too, which took some of the heat off of him. Guy figured she’d be fun to have a drink with, though he wasn’t sure if she was old enough yet. With a little half-shrug, he picked up a knife and readied himself to slice his way through a pile of tomatoes. “So,” he said, giving Sarah a nonchalant bob of his head. “How are things with you and… You and what’s-his-prick?” The name of her boyfriend escaped him, but he was reasonably certain it started with a J.

Canth Canth tallonisfarout tallonisfarout Vi_Vi_ Vi_Vi_


somewhere between psychotic & iconic.
((sorry for the short ish reply))

Lena cracked a small smile at Guy's attempt to act as non-threatening as possible while Curt made his request. She peered over Curt's shoulder and stifled a giggle at Guy's pitiful script - not that hers was much better. She looked down to her shoes, a wave of self consciousness going through her when Guy shifted his attention to her. Why is he looking at me like that? Do I have something on my face?

Lena noticed that Curt did not respond to Guy's question, instead fixating on the paper application that was starting to resemble a child's autograph book at Disneyworld. She prepared herself to remind Curt to thank Guy for his signature, but to her surprise he gripped Guy's shoulder gently before saying a quick "Thank you." and taking the paper. He turned on his heels, wasting no time seeking out his next signature. Lena flinched as Curt put his application straight down on Sarah's cutting board amongst the peeled onions. She knew that Sarah was more than capable with a knife, but accidents could happen, especially with the way Curt could tend to sneak up on people and overlook social boundaries.

"Now you'll sign?" Curt asked Sarah in a sweet voice, offering his pen.

Lena let out a sigh under her breath. He really didn't need four signatures on his application, and he certainly didn't need to keep people from their work, but Curt was the most excited and most engaged she had seen him outside of his day program in weeks. Opening shifts always started out slow, anyway, so what was the harm in claiming the small victories? At least Curt was talking to people. She watched as Curt asked Sarah for her signature, only cutting in briefly to say "Thanks for covering my morning chores." as Curt explained in the best way he could that he was hoping to get a job at Rack 'Em Up.


Terminally Nerdy
As Curt asked Guy for his signature, Sarah observed how innocent he looked and how lovingly Lena was helping her brother with everything. Sarah did not have any siblings, so she craved such a bond. It would've been nice to have a sister or brother.

While Guy signed, she focused on chopping those onions evenly, keeping her fingers tucked in lest they get chopped as well. Sarah couldn't understand why she was so clumsy at work. She did fine at home when she had to cook for her father but here, she just had to embarrass herself.

She was busy with the onions and didn't notice Curt sneaking up on her, so when he placed his application on the chopping board, she almost jumped. She regained her composure and gave her brightest smile to him.

"Of course I'll sign. You're taking over the job of doing dishes after all. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore, I'm not sure if Laurie can tolerate more breakage of her plates." She joked.

"It wasn't much. I'm always up for helping my colleagues." She replied to Lena, flashing her a smile. She had complained about the shift but Lena didn't need to know that.

She signed the application in her slightly cursive and slightly monstrous scrawl, returning the application to Curt.

"There you go."

She put back that piece of bread in her mouth and started chopping. She heard Guy's comment and smirked, pulling out that piece.

"I'm glad I don't know what type of things you use to give your food extra flavor." She said. "I'm sure Laurie would approve though." She added, sarcastically.

Guy was reckless, drinking alcohol on his shift and whatnot, but he was a good cook, so Sarah respected him. She just wondered how he was able to work while his head was affected by alcohol. She avoided drinking, never even tried it before because she was always busy with her multiple jobs but she sometimes wanted to try it. She legally could but drinking alone wasn't something she would prefer.

She sighed when she heard Guy's question. "Well, we're on the verge of breaking up. Joe has been behaving strangely for the last few weeks and I'm not sure I can tolerate that anymore. I don't know why I'm so unsuccessful when it comes to dating." She huffed. "Well, let's see how everything goes. What about you? Is your roommate annoying you yet?“

LittleCal LittleCal tallonisfarout tallonisfarout mikaluvkitties mikaluvkitties MothSav MothSav
Maria & Alex

Maria rolled her eyes when she caught the face Guy made as he threw the tequila back.

“One day,” she wagged a finger at him as she dropped down from the window. “One day, I’ll find one you can appreciate. If you’re good though, I might throw in a whiskey later.” She turned from the window and set her attention back on the bar. Laurie was unlocking the front door and, despite the early hour, Maria anticipated the bar filling up before the rest of the restaurant. She never minded. She was pretty quick, and had built up a good rapport with their regular patrons, and they always tipped well.

Maria leaned against the back counter, slipped her hands into the front pocket of her half-apron, and watched as the first customer came stumbling in. She corrected her previous thought: most of their regular patrons tipped well.

Alexander Volkov glanced sideways at the man having a smoke outside “Rack ‘Em Up” as he passed by, pausing in the doorway for a second to breathe in the cigarette smoke. Alex knew the man’s full name, but opted to calling him ‘Nim’. It was easier, and he thought it was funny. Not to mention he would do anything if there was any chance it would piss the person off. The more annoyed the person was, the better. He enjoyed buttons in that way. Alex gave the man no more than a glance in acknowledgement before pushing through the door and entering what remained of Danica Billings’s child. The restaurant, that is—he had yet to manage his way into either of her other two children, for shame.

Alex dropped himself into his usual spot in a booth at the back. He slid to the corner and slumped, laying his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes.

Maria, being bored out of her mind as she usually was before the day started, made her way to Alex’s table. There was no need to worry about her sneaking anyone’s tips, considering Alex never tipped. He rarely even paid. Besides, he was a handful and she had a way of dealing with handfuls.

“Here, try that.” Maria slid a tumbler over to Alex, and watched him closely. Alexander Volkov shrugged, eyes dropping to the glass tumbler as he knocked back the full of its contents. He set it back on the table and slid it forward. “The cheap stuff this time.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “It’s on me, anyway. Just figured you oughta know what good whiskey tastes like for a change.”

“I know what good whiskey tastes like, it tastes like money. Money I don’t have.”

“Whatever.” Maria snatched up the empty glass. “I’ll be right back with your lighter fluid.” She spun on the heel of her white Keds and made for the bar, tossing her hair back from her face as she went. Alexander watched her leave, eyes lingering on the sashaying of her denim-clad rear end before tucking his hands into his pockets and sinking into the booth. He leaned his head back against the hard cushion, face turned up to the ceiling, and closed his eyes. The world around him spun, and a light buzzing echoed in his ears—he was not as un-hungover as he had first thought. His shoulders slumped, his mind quieted, and his breathing slowed.

Three minutes later, there was a loud pounding on the booth bench, and Alex jumped, awoken suddenly. In his surprise, he knocked his knee on the stabilizing bar beneath the table, and was rubbing at it as he turned blurry eyes up on Maria.

“The hell was that for?”

“Your lighter fluid,” Maria dropped a tumbler glass in front of Alexander, so that a few drops sloshed over the rim, and then studied him for a long moment, fists jammed onto her hips. He was handsome, in a drunken, homeless sort of way. He had nice eyes that seemed to hold more than they told, and a rather seductive smile that would catch her off guard the rare times it was brought forth. A few inches taller and a little less boney, and she might actually consider taking him home with her. Of course, there was still the alcoholism and the asshollery to contend with.

“If you’re gonna drink, drink. If you’re gonna sleep, go home and sleep. This ain’t no bed and breakfast.”

“I thought the customer was always right,” Alex drew the glass to him and sipped at it, savoring the burn of the cheap liquor on his throat.

“Whoever told you that never worked in a restaurant. Now, I’m gonna get you some food. I swear you’re gettin’ skinnier every week. You barely weigh more than a ten-year-old.”

“I’m not paying for food.”

“Of course you aren’t, why would I ever expect you to pay.” Maria went back to the bar, pulling the notepad from her apron pocket and writing out an order for a chicken wrap and a side of fries. Maria set the order in the window for Guy, along with a shot glass of Wild Turkey.

“I need you to restore my faith in men,” was her explanation for her change of heart.

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