Girlfriends – a Birds of a Feather prequel
The bartender sighed as he thought about the lonely, cold pizza waiting for him in the fridge back in his small studio apartment. He was on the early shift and would be off shortly, but he wasn’t looking forward to leaving the bar, partially because of said pizza but mostly because of the silence he knew would accompany it.
It was early evening still, but the place was already half-full, with students from the nearby University stopping by before moving on to glitzier places or rowdier parties. The atmosphere was cheerful like it usually was in places where the clientele had their whole life ahead of them and no real responsibilities to shoulder just yet. It was as if the smell of optimism hung in the air, softening the mood with its promise of bright and shiny things to come.
A short, slim girl in her late teens sat at the bar, a little to the side, watching the crowd. She was pretty, with long wavy hair and a sweet smile on her face. When he noticed how she kept looking at her watch, the bartender assumed that she was waiting for someone, and wondered who in their right mind would stand someone like her up. Then she turned her face toward him, wiggling her empty bottle of water to indicate she wanted a refill. Her eyes were happy, but there was a hint of experience, or maybe resignation, in them that made him wonder if he’d misjudged her age.
“Excuse me,” a haughty voice said.
The girl right in front of him wasn’t the standard version of beautiful, but she was certainly striking. Her curves and long brown hair looked soft, but her face was guarded, almost hard. She had an air of self-assurance that was daunting, and her dark eyes cut through him as if she could see his every thought.
“Can I have a coke, please?” she asked, making the simple question sound like a royal command.
He nodded and filled a glass for her, at the same time leaning down to snag a bottle of water from the small fridge under the counter. The bar suddenly seemed quiet, despite voices floating through the air and the music still playing, and the bartender straightened.
A tall girl with long, white-blonde hair had entered the bar. She stood just inside the doors, surveying her surroundings in a way that made him wonder if she was working in law enforcement. The girl seemed too young to carry a badge, although when she walked straight through the room, people instinctively moved out of the way. Maybe she did work with the police, the bartender thought, watching with apprehension as she stopped next to the curvy girl with the coke. There was something about her that made him uneasy, at the same time as he felt safe. Protected.
“Water, please. Regular from the tap’s okay,” she muttered, turning her back toward the bar to survey the room.
She still had her dark sunglasses on, and they were as black as her clothes.
Another girl who had been sitting by the bar for a long while, staring at a piece of paper laid out in front of her, suddenly started crying. Her sobs were mostly quiet sniffles, and she barely moved, so if a few tears hadn’t fallen from her cheeks onto the paper, the bartender wouldn’t have noticed. He saw it, though, and silently put a stack of napkins next to her. It wasn’t uncommon in a place like that to see females of varying ages crying, although it was mostly from different stages of inebriation which didn’t seem to be the case this time.
“Are you okay” the small girl on the side murmured and touched the crying girl’s arm gently.
“Yes, of course,” she replied, but the hiccup following her assurance that everything was just fine contradicted her words.
“What can I do to help?” the small girl asked softly.
Her eyes were gentle, and she moved a little bit closer. The white-haired girl on the other side had turned slowly, and behind her, the curvy one was surveying the scene thoughtfully.
“It’s my boyfriend,” the crying girl managed to get out between sobs.
Of course, the bartender thought. It always was, wasn’t it? Most women realized as they grew older that a boyfriend who made you cry wasn’t worth the trouble, but at her age they rarely knew.
The small girl murmured soft nonsense which seemed to calm the crying one down.
“I kicked him out,” she sniffled finally. “He’s not nice, and he isn’t worth the effort.”
The bartender’s brows went up in surprise, and he looked closer at the girl. Her eyes were swollen from tears, and she had red splotches on her neck and cheeks, but she was cute, he thought. Not beautiful in the way that turned heads, but pretty in a soft way. The way that lasts, he found himself thinking and quickly started to fill an order from one of the waitresses, needing the distraction.
“Good for you,” the white-haired girl muttered.
“If you kicked him out then why are you crying?” the curvy one asked.
The bartender stopped himself before he nodded in agreement. That was logical and cutting right to the point.
“He’s locked my dog into my condo, put a padlock on the door, and gave me this riddle to solve to get the code to open it.”
“What?” the white-haired girl snapped.
“But why would he do such a thing?” the small girl murmured.
“He says I’m too stupid to figure it out, and that I don’t deserve my dog if I can’t open the lock by tomorrow. He’ll take my baby from me then.”
“What?” the white-haired girl snapped again, angrier this time.
“And he’s given me math problems,” the girl cried. “I’m majoring in linguistics, so I can’t -”
The crier stopped speaking abruptly when the curvy girl leaned over and calmly slid the paper across the bar toward her. As it passed him, the bartender saw that it was full of formulas, with text in-between, and he sighed. He held a teaching degree so he might be able to solve the puzzle. He had planned to teach younger children, though, so the problems outlined on the girl’s paper might be too difficult for him, but he decided he’d have to give it a shot, at least.
The curvy girl glanced at the paper, and her lips curved. Then she pushed the paper back over the bar without looking at it.
‘Call the fucker and ask him to come here,” the white-haired girl said.
“He’s sitting over there,” the girl whispered and pointed toward a group of young men.
The mood changed in a way the bartender recognized all too well. It was the same vibrations that hit the air just before a fight broke out, and they came from the white-haired girl in front of him. The young men were looking toward the bar, grinning condescendingly. Then one of them raised his brow in a way the bartender suspected he thought of as sardonic, or quizzical. In reality, it mostly looked weird.
The white-haired girl stretched her hand out in front of her, palm up, and flicked her fingers twice in a come here-gesture. The man who had raised his brow got up and swaggered cockily over toward the girls. The smile on his face made the bartender want to slap him, knowing well that it’d likely look pathetic if he did because he’d never been in a fight in his life.
At the back of the bar, a man slowly stood up. He was in a dark corner, partially hidden by people, so the bartender could only see the shape of him and his long black hair. He knew immediately that the tall man was trouble though, and leaned back to make sure his phone was on the counter behind him, in case he needed to call the police.
“Hey, Sarah,” the young man said to the girl who had been crying.
Sarah, the bartender thought. That was a lovely name.
Without any warning, the white-haired girl raised a fist and punched the man in the face. He went down and stayed down. People moved away a little but formed a curious circle around the girls. The white-haired girl ignored everyone, turned her back toward them and aimed her sunglasses at the bartender.
“Could I have some more water, please,” she said calmly.
The bartender nodded and was pouring her a glass when the young man suddenly stood up behind the girl. It was clear that he’d try to attack her and the man in the corner moved a little. Another shadow shifted by the side wall, and the bartender got an uneasy feeling in his stomach. Before he could call out to warn the girl, she cocked her arm, and when the young man moved forward, she swiftly slammed her elbow into his approaching face. The man cried out as he put his hands up over his nose where blood had started flowing,
“He’s an asshole,” the white-haired girl said calmly to the people backing away from the fight. Then she rubbed her elbow and mumbled to herself, “If I have to explain another bruise to Grandpa Willy then I’ll come back to hit him again, just see if I don’t.”
The bartender almost laughed out loud at the astonished look in the young man’s eyes, but controlled his mirth, knowing that he would only inflame the situation if he didn’t. Instead, he calmly pushed another stack of napkins over the bar.
The small girl took them and handed them to the young man. She put a hand reassuringly on his shoulder and watched him with gentle eyes.
“You should probably leave now,” she said sweetly. “You’re a big fat jerk, and we don’t want you here.”
“Whu?” the young man garbled. “Sarah?” he added without clarifying what he wanted to ask the girl.
“You should definitely leave now,” the white-haired girl paraphrased the small girl’s words, although with none of the sweetness in her voice.
“You’ll never see your dog again,” the man snarled through the blood and the napkins, glaring at Sarah, who reared back. “There’s no way you’ll ever figure that code out.”
“Forty-five, sixty-six, twenty-three,” the curvy girl stated loudly.
The others turned to stare at her, and so did the bartender. There was a long silence, and the young man’s cocky attitude suddenly shrunk into a cowering, almost subservient posture.
“Oh, my God. You’re Jinx Sweetwater,” he said hoarsely. Then he moved forward with his hand stretched out “Wow. It’s such an honor. I am -”
“A dipshit who needs to leave,” the curvy girl said calmly.
When the man kept moving, the white-haired girl took a step forward to place herself in his way.
“Don’t even think about it,” she growled.
“Leave now, and I won’t try to find out your name,” the curvy girl said calmly.
The man froze, and there was a distinct look of panic in his eyes as he watched her warily.
“Sarah’s dog better be okay when she gets home,” the white-haired girl said as if the girls had known each other forever which the bartender knew wasn’t the case at all.
The young man glanced over at her, but then he stared at the curvy girl again.
“Uh,” he wheezed out.
“Leave,” she said calmly, and he moved away immediately, waving frantically at his friends to go with him.
“Are you famous?” the white-haired girl asked the curvy one.
“Yeah,” she sighed.
“Cool,” the white-haired girl said and turned to the small girl. “You famous?”
“Not even a little,” she replied. Then she giggled as if the thought of her being famous was hilarious, and added, “I’m Mary.”
“Jinx,” the curvy one murmured.
“Wilder,” the white haired one said.
“You don’t know each other?” Sarah asked.
She sounded surprised, and the bartender could easily understand why. The way the three girls had worked together to handle the situation had made them seem like a team, complementing each other as if they were each a small part of a bigger picture.
“We do now,” the white-haired girl, Wilder, said calmly. Then she grinned, and added, “I feel like celebrating, are you up for some mountain-champagne?”
“Huh?” the small girl, Mary, said.
“Beer,” the bartender snorted, before he could stop himself.
Hadn’t heard that expression before but he’d grown up in the foothills so he knew well what they drank further up in the mountains, and it sure wasn’t any kind of fancy sparkling white wine. The girls turned toward him, but he just shrugged. He’d also realized who the white-haired girl was. With a name like Wilder, she’d have to be old man Callaghan’s granddaughter. Willy Callaghan was the biggest ranch owner in the greater Prosper area, and a well-known art collector. He was less known for his philanthropy, and few knew about the scholarships he frequently gave to students who deserved a spot at the University but couldn’t afford it. The bartender knew, though. He’d gotten one of them, and for the first time since graduation he felt like leaving the bar behind and start using the degree he’d told the old man he desperately wanted.
“I wish I could, but I have to go,” Sarah said. “Have to check on my dog, he’s been alone for hours.”
“Okay,” the bartender said, surprising himself by speaking.
He wished the other girls weren’t there. For the first time since he started working in the bar, he wanted to ask for a customer’s phone number. He knew other bartenders did that frequently and had always thought it unprofessional, even sleazy. This girl looked sweet, though, and he liked that she passed on the beer to check on her pet. He really wanted to meet her again.
“Okay,” she echoed slowly as if she was waiting for him to say something.
“See you around,” he muttered.
The girl gave him a long look, but turned to the others and thanked them profusely for the help. They shrugged it off, waved when she left and turned as one toward the bar.
“Are you old enough to drink alcohol?” the bartender asked.
“I’ve been working for six years,” Mary retorted.
Sixteen was the lowest age to legally work so that’d make her twenty-two, the bartender concluded. She sure looked a bit younger than that, but some did. Her tiny frame and soft hair that hung from a ponytail high on her head almost to her waist were perhaps what had fooled him, he thought.
“You should call her,” Mary added sweetly and tilted her head toward the door where Sarah had disappeared.
He didn’t want to reply to that, so he turned his eyes toward the curvy girl.
“I have a degree in medicine,” Jinx said coolly before he could ask about her age, and the bartender raised his brows.
Even if he’d spent several hours guessing, he’d never have pegged her as an MD. He would have picked something technical, something that didn’t involve interacting with a lot of people. It wasn’t that she was unfriendly, exactly, but there was a stand-offishness in the air around her that made him a little uneasy.
“Her name is Sarah Camille Johnson, she studies French and Spanish. I’m sure you can find her, and if you can’t – you don’t deserve her.”
The bartender blinked and was about to ask how she knew those details when she suddenly grinned. The smile softened her whole appearance, which made him wonder if that hard look on her face was mostly a facade.
“The idiot had written his silly riddle on her paper, and it had her name on it. She had books in French and Spanish in her bag. No magic involved.”
“Okay,” he muttered and turned to the white-haired girl. “You old enough for a beer?”
She looked calmly at the bartender, lowered her dark sunglasses a little, and he froze. A pair of amber colored eyes so bright they were almost yellow surveyed him calmly over the gold rim. The look she aimed at him wasn’t unfriendly, but the intensity made him feel caught up in it, and he couldn’t look away. There was a strange humming in the air, and he suddenly sensed dark shapes of people moving around in the corners of his eye.
“What do you think?” the girl asked with a smirk, as she pushed the glasses up to cover her eyes.
The bartender immediately pulled three beers from the fridge, opened them and put them in front of the girls. Yikes, he thought and decided to make damned sure he never ended up on the bad side of that girl.
“To the dipshits of this world,” Wilder said with a grin.
The other two laughed with her as they clinked their bottles together and drank. Then they started talking, and it was again as if they’d known each other forever. The bartender had seen relationships form and dwindle in front of him over the years. He’d seen friends hanging out, fighting and making up again. There had been numerous groups of people at the bar, night after night, and he knew without a doubt that the three girls laughing into each other’s eyes right in front of him had just started a friendship that would last, through the good and the bad and the hopelessly ugly.
Suddenly, a shadow passed outside the window, and a loud shriek that sounded surprisingly triumphant echoed through the air. The tall man in the back corner moved again, and heads turned inside the bar, but the three girls seemed oblivious as they continued to talk.
When they’d finished their beer, the curvy one, Jinx, paid the bill for all of them. The other two protested, but she muttered something about not exactly being a pauper, as she calmly shrugged into her jacket. They left together, and the bartender followed their exit with their eyes. As soon as the door closed, the tall man at the back took a few steps forward, turning his gaze toward the bar. Over the throng of people, his eyes locked with the bartenders’. They were the color of pale amber, so bright they seemed to glow in the dark. The intensity in them was mesmerizing, and the bartender felt how his belly clenched a little and a shiver ran along his spine. Then the door was opened again and he turned with relief, which quickly changed into surprise.
Sarah walked across the bar with quick steps, carrying a small fluffy dog.
“I just wanted to thank you,” she said shyly.
“No need,” the bartender said. “I didn’t really do anything.”
“If those girls hadn’t been there, I think you would have done something,” the girl said.
“Yeah, I would have” he agreed. The way she looked at him made him feel ten feet tall, but he wanted to be honest with her, so he added ruefully, “They were probably better at it because I’m not a math wizard, and don’t know how to fight. Your ex is pretty, uh, unpleasant so I wouldn’t have been nice like that tiny girl was.”
She giggled, which made her dog wave his tail frantically and start licking her cheek. The bartender grinned at her.
“I’m Sarah,” she told him.
“Hi, Sarah, I’m Ben,” he replied.
Their eyes met, and after a short, uncomfortable silence, Ben asked her what her dog was called. That question led to a discussion about pet’s in general, and a lengthy description of the retriever Ben’s parents had when he was a boy. This quickly moved the conversation to the important topic of where in the city it was best to walk a dog, something Ben assured her he was an expert on. Then Sarah smiled at Ben again, and since there wasn’t anyone standing close this time, he dared to ask the girl for her phone number. And she gave it to him.
Outside, three girls watched them through the window, grinning widely when they saw the piece of paper passed from Sarah to Ben.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” Wilder called out as she started walking along the street. “My grandpa will love the two of you!”
“Tomorrow,” the other two girls echoed, and they waved cheerfully as they split up.
A dark shadow circled in the sky above them. Then another shadow moved from the edge of the roof where it had been waiting, and it followed the white-haired girl as she walked to her car.
In the shadows, the tall, dark man watched until they had disappeared, and then he sighed.
“One day,” he murmured quietly.