“Is she okay?” The man Kate had been trying to get away from asked.
“Yeah, she was okay,” Dennis replied, figuring this was the best answer. He had no idea what was going on between the two of them, but Kate was tucked in a cab on her way home, the bucket of tears she’d been holding back probably pouring out right about now. He flashed a glance at the woman behind the bar, hoping maybe she could help him know what else to say.
“Just give her a little time, AJ,” she said. Carly—that was the name stitched to her black shirt, and it fit her. Dennis wasn’t sure why he thought that, but for some reason it just worked for this curly-haired, freckle-nosed bartender. She shrugged at Dennis, looking as helpless as he felt about reassuring this guy. She turned away and grabbed a bottle from the back shelf.
AJ tracked his fingers through his hair, creating a series of waves. His eyes looked tired and worried. He shook his head and turned, shuffling back into the crowd.
Dennis took his place at the bar again. He would finish this beer and then leave. He had a stack of depositions on his desk back at the office that could use some attention tonight.
Tony walked up to the bar, leaning in next to Dennis. “Water with a twist of lemon for my bride, please,” he said.
Carly scooped the ice and filled the glass, setting it in front of Tony and dropping in a lemon before turning to the next waiting guest. It had been like this since Dennis arrived, and the one-woman show behind the counter was moving through her job with effortless ease.
“Hey, Dennis. How are you?” Tony asked with the glass in hand.
“I’m good. Congratulations on the marriage and the job.”
“Thanks,” Tony said, stealing a sip from the glass. “Mary is a real trooper to let me whisk her off like this right after our wedding, but I think it’ll be a good move.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Dennis said, being his agreeable self.
Clickety-clacking heels marched up behind him. The owner identified herself with her snarky little tone. “You still haven’t told me how long this transfer is going to be for.” Oh dear, Olivia Fisher was on a rampage.
Tony’s shoulder lifted and dropped. “It could be a permanent placement for me. We’re going to give it a couple of years and see what we think.”
“How come Mom didn’t know about this?” Her accusatory tone bit into the air.
“Because it wasn’t any of Mom’s business, or anyone else’s, until we made a decision.”
“Uhhh.” That huffy little sound was so Olivia, probably some eye rolling and arm crossing was going on behind him too, but Dennis didn’t turn to find out. “I just can’t believe how selfish you two are being. Moving away from Mom and Dad and me.”
Tony pushed off the bar. “Get over it,” he said with feigned boredom.
“I will not get over it…” Olivia’s voice trailed off as she followed her brother.
“What a wretched cow,” Carly said under her breath.
“You can say that again.” Dennis held his bottle in front of his lips and coaxed a smile. She returned it, her freckled cheeks puckering slightly.
“How do you know the pretentious pink maid of honor?” Carly asked, pulling a bar rag to wipe down the concrete counter in front of him. Dennis felt content and at ease as she moved the rag close to him—not his usual reaction to meeting a new woman. But, she didn’t feel new—she felt comfortable.
“Law school,” he said.
“So, you’re a lawyer.”
“Yes, I am.” He set his bottle down on the napkin coaster ringed with his bottle’s condensation.
“Seems to be a lot of those around here tonight.” She tossed the rag beneath the counter.
“Is that how you know Kate? Law school?”
He nodded again. “She was a year behind mine and Mary’s class, but I spent a lot of time in study groups over at their place.”
This time it was Carly’s turn to nod.
One of the groomsmen appeared next to Dennis and slammed down his glass “Hey, sweetie-puss.” Slurred words tumbled out of his mouth. “How about one more for the road?” The effects of whatever he’d been drinking contaminated his words, jumbling them into one almost indecipherable chain.
“Sorry, but I’m done serving you,” Carly said with a controlled level gaze.
“N-n-n-n-n.” He slammed the glass down on the bar again.
Dennis pulled back. He didn’t like confrontational scenes.
“One more,” the guy demanded.
Carly’s eyes shot around the room, and in no time flat, AJ reappeared.
“Hey, Leo,” he said, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder. “It’s time to say goodbye to the bride and groom.”
“I just want one more,” Leo said.
“I know,” AJ said, pulling him away from the bar. “But we have to say goodbye, and then you have to go home.”
Carly reached for the phone as if she had just been given an order.
Leo wrenched out of the hold he was under and lunged at the bar again, knocking his glass to the floor, shattering it inches from Carly’s feet. A splinter of glass nicked her bare ankle, and a bead of red bubbled on her skin.
Jerk, Dennis screamed in his head as he turned, bucking up his posture. He didn’t know what he was doing. But he knew what he wanted to do—flatten the guy to the ground. Which was unusual, since he was a quiet, sit-in-the-corner, bookish kind of fella and not a stand-up-and-fight-for-your-woman kind of guy. Not that Carly was his woman, but he certainly didn’t like the way this other man, this Leo, was treating her.
Dennis didn’t take the easy out and follow all the other guests outside to the alley to wave goodbye to the bride and groom. He stayed put, ready to make sure everyone inside was okay.
“One more,” Leo demanded again.
“Time to go home, Leo.” AJ repeated the order as Carly started to speak into the phone.
“I’ll take you home.” Brandi, the one bridesmaid Dennis could never really place as a friend of Mary’s, stepped in.
Brandi flashed her glittering white smile and ran her hand down Leo’s arm. “Unless you need me to stay here?” She turned her attention to AJ and walked her fingers up the buttons of his shirt.
“No, we’re good. You can take Leo home.” He passed the drunken groomsman’s arm off as another pink bridesmaid intercepted it.
“I’ll take you, Leo. I already have a cab waiting.”
“Michelle,” Brandi whined.
Michelle turned. “Oh, Olivia wanted me to tell you she has someone for you to meet. They’re all outside. Model material, I think.” She flapped her fingers, shooing Brandi in the opposite direction.
“Oh, goodie.” Brandi clapped her hands and hurried off to the backdoor.
Carly hung up the phone.
“You okay back there?” AJ asked her.
“Yeah, I’m fine. You better go see your friends off.” She pointed toward the exit. “I’ll get this cleaned up.”
AJ oscillated, as if wanting to move for the door, but also wanting to stay and watch over Carly.
“I’ll stick around here,” Dennis said. “Wave goodbye to the happy couple for me.”
“Thanks. I will,” AJ said and clapped him on the shoulder, then headed for the back door.
“Stay right where you are,” Dennis said, standing from his stool. Several more red sprouts of blood were scattered on her ankle.
He came around, crunching glass beneath his slick-soled shoes. She didn’t move as she watched him come closer. His hands found her waist. A silent communique transpired between them and she bent her knees, jumping as he lifted her to the counter behind her.
Why was he feeling so knight-in-shining-armorish right now? Instead of going tongue-tied in the presence of a beautiful woman, he was going bold. Strong.
“Let’s get you fixed up first,” he said, pulling his hands from her waist and grasping her leg below the knee. Gently, he pulled her clog off, revealing the pale skin of her foot, and it felt like such an intimate tongue-tying move, like he was undressing her—which suddenly he realized was something he might like to do—not now, but sometime. Maybe.
It was just a shoe, he reminded himself. Stay focused. Stay strong.
More splinters of glass fell to the floor, and he reached behind him for a rag. He wiped at her skin, smearing tiny streaks of blood across her ankle.
He looked up, and his breath caught as he gazed into her green eyes—green like a springtime field. His thick glasses slipped down his nose, and he pushed them back into place.
“Um…” he stammered, his shiny armor dulling. “Do you have a first aid kit handy?”
“Yeah,” she said, pointing over her shoulder to the kitchen doors. “There’s a storage closet in there with one.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” he said, gently releasing her foot, severing their contact. “Don’t move.”
He hadn’t meant to be funny—he wasn’t funny. But the sound of her laugh was so sweet and so melodic. He liked it.
“I won’t,” she said, eyeing her shoe on the floor in a sea of broken glass.
“Oh yeah, I guess you won’t,” he said and smiled as he pushed through the kitchen doors. He quickly found the storage closet, first aid kit, and broom.
He returned to the bar, finding Carly right where he left her. “So glad you didn’t run off.” He smiled, hoping he she’d laugh again.
He took her leg in his hand, more boldly this time, but still with a gentle touch. New beads of blood pocked her ankle, and he poured first aid wash over them.
She winced, and he searched for her eyes, but they were closed.
“Sorry,” he said, and she shook her head as he dabbed the rag across her cuts. Next, he applied an ointment and four bandages over the last cuts that wouldn’t stop bleeding. “There you are,” he said, retrieving her shoe for her. He picked up the broom as she slipped her shoe on.
“You don’t have to do that,” Carly said, reaching for the handle after her feet were back on the floor. Their hands touched, bringing his eyes to hers, intense with color.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said, his voice going soft and husky.
The thundering beat inside his chest caused by standing this close to this woman was doing funny things to him. He cleared his throat, trying to sound normal again. “Since I didn’t deck the guy on your behalf when I had the chance, the least I can do is sweep up the glass.”
“That’s okay,” she said, smiling. “I’ve decked plenty of guys on my own behalf before. And I could have taken him.”
Why did that not surprise Dennis? And why did that make her all the more attractive to him?
That’s it folks. What do you think? Will Carly and Dennis get together or are they two polar opposites? Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and let me know if you want to see more of Carly and Dennis’s story?