A/N: This is in the "Drive" 'verse, as are all my stories. All you need to know to understand this silly little one-shot is: Dean busted his leg.
That's it. Fuck college. Kayla doesn't need college. Because college? So not worth this: not worth night after night of puke in the bathrooms, blood on the pool cues, of polishing glasses, sliding beers, pouring whiskey and slicing limes, of getting hit on by ugly, drunk assholes while Sara, the waitress who works her shift, gets hit on by all the hot, drunk assholes… a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Oklahoma just ain't worth this shit.
I quit, she mouths to herself as she runs a damp rag over the bar, trying to tune out the half-balding guy sitting in front of her, nursing a vodka tonic and running his mouth about how his wife used to be so sweet but she ballooned like a whale and how was he supposed to know and never shoulda married her and I quit I quit I quit I quit.
It's a Wednesday, so while the bar isn't packed, it's decently filled with the smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-a-shitty-work-week time-to-get-drunk-and-hit-something crowd, local guys mostly, very few women, an atmosphere that always puts her just a little on edge.
She recognizes most of the guys by sight, knows which ones to keep her eye on and which she can trust not to break anything. Right now, like pretty much every Wednesday, Jim Tucker and his buddies are monopolizing the pool table, which is never a good thing, because they're all pretty damn spectacular pool players and someone always ends up broke and crying, or on the ground bleeding from a pool cue to their face. There's already a competitive glint in the air that has the hackles on the back of her neck rising.
She shakes her head, mutters I quit one more time for good emphasis, doesn't realize she's said it truly out loud until she looks up into an amused pair of green eyes.
"You're quttin' now?" the guy says. "Shit. I was kinda hoping for a beer."
She's a little flustered, not sure how he sat down without her noticing, but she cocks a hip and says, "Maybe I can make an exception." Standard, for-the-love-of-god-tip-me-enough-to-pay-my-tuition bartender banter, but it's not hard to put on the flirtatious smile for this one. He's got a wicked glint in his eye, a cocky half-grin playing at the edges of his lips, and he's hot enough to pull it off.
"Yeah?" he asks.
"Yeah," she says. "What the hell, I'll quit tomorrow."
He huffs a laugh. "All right, then. Gimme whatever's cheapest on tap."
She goes to fill a mug, can feel his eyes on her ass, and that's fine, long as he'll put his money where his stare is. Her boyfriend hates her no-nonsense attitude towards this kind of stuff, calls her anti-feminist, but she figures she's gotta take her power where she can get it.
"Here you go," she says, sliding the beer in front of him. "You wanna open up a tab?"
He hesitates for a moment, then smiles. "Sure."
She pulls the tab list towards her, looks up at him through her bangs. "Name?"
"Barrett," he says, watches her write it down. "Two T's, sweetheart. Yeah."
"All right, Barrett," she says, puts down her pencil. "You're all set."
Another customer signals her, and she goes to take care of him, eyes flickering back to Barrett while she mixes a Mermaid Sundream. Now that she's a few steps away, she can tell he's even better looking than she'd first thought, although he also looks tired, dark circles under his eyes. She watches him pull out of a pack of cigarettes, tap one loose and light it with a silver Zippo, let out a heavy breath of smoke. And right there is another reason she fucking hates working this job – people are allowed to smoke inside, and she's pretty sure she's gonna die of emphysema when she herself has only smoked maybe like, two cigarettes in her entire life.
"So," Barrett says when she's in hearing distance. He nods towards the pool table. "Some kinda competition going on?"
"It's a Wednesday thing," she says. "Just local guys tryin' to one-up each other, lose some money."
"Or make some."
"Glass empty, glass full, someone always ends up pissed-off," she says with a shrug, and Barrett takes a thoughtful drag of his smoke, squints at Jim, who's leaned over the pool table about to cream poor Gary Busick.
"Looks like fun," Barrett says.
"Don't get any ideas. Jim's practically professional."
"Think I'll just go watch," he says.
He grins, pushes himself slowly to his feet with a strange hitching movement, a wince flickering across his face. She doesn't get it until he's steadied himself against the bar and has reached into the shadows by his chair for the cane she didn't see propped up there.
She tries not to let her surprise show on her face, looks down to keep polishing the bar, but she tracks his movements across the room. He's favoring his right leg, moving slow, free hand carefully holding his beer so it doesn't spill with his uneven gait, and she feels sorry for him until he passes by the shaggy-haired giant of a kid who's been drinking alone at one of the smaller tables, the kid Sara's been whispering dirty things about for the past hour. Barrett's cane grinds down hard on the poor kid's toe as he passes, and Giant snaps his head up in pain, says, "Hey," but Barrett doesn't so much as glance at him. Asshole.
She keeps watching, though, curiosity peaked, some combination of the cane, the leather jacket, his good looks, and that wicked glint in his eye. He's not her type – she usually goes for big and hairy, lumberjack-type guys like her boyfriend, and Barrett looks more like a biker or something, sandy brown hair cut close to his head – almost like a male model dressed up for a bad-boy photo shoot – but she's attracted to him nonetheless. The way he moves, even with the cane, is calculated, graceful, and when you see a guy move like that, you can't help but wonder…
He lowers himself carefully into a chair right by the pool table, grimacing a little, and she sees the guys glance at him, and then at each other: What the hell does this fucker think he's doing here?
They keep playing, though, and Barrett works on his beer, chain-smokes lazily, one eye on the pool game, the other roaming around the room, watchful and relaxed at the same time.
The tall kid at the table puts his book down – how he manages to read in the dim light is beyond her – and moseys up to the bar, gives her a tentative, dimpled smile, and she suddenly gets why Sara's been going on about him. Cute. He's got one arm strapped tight against his chest in a blue sling, and she thinks briefly that they've got a lot of injured boys in here tonight, what with Barrett, and this kid, and Jake Rawlins in the corner booth with a broken jaw.
"Sticking with the Stella?" Kayla asks, nudging her chin at the kid's empty bottle, and he nods, shakes bangs out of his face. She fills his glass, slides it over. "You got a tab?"
"Yeah," he says, puts one huge finger over his name. "It's under Sid. Right there."
She notes the beer down – his third – and gives him a nod, watches as Sid ambles back to his table, folds himself up. She wonders what he's doing here alone – he looks around her age, maybe in college, and he's been quiet, not causing any trouble, just drinking steadily, reading his book.
She hears a bark of laughter and glances at the pool table, sees with some consternation that Barrett's on his feet, leaning on the back of a chair and talking to Jim.
"I used to play some," he's saying. "Been a while, but I was thinkin', just a friendly game?"
"We don't do friendly," Jim says, glancing at his friends. "If you wanted to put some money down, that'd be another story."
Barrett hesitates a little, then shrugs, grins. "Eh, what the hell. I just got paid."
Oh, christ. Kayla resists the urge to call out a warning. They're gonna milk him dry.
She doesn't hear the monetary negotiations because she's busy taking care of some customers, but when she looks back, they've broken and Jim is circling the table and Barrett's moved his chair closer, is holding a pool cue. Jim takes a shot, gets a ball in – he's stripes – gets another one, then misses the next. Barrett nods amiably, pushes himself to his feet with some difficulty and limps around to the other side, eyes the setup for a minute, then props his cane against the table and attempts to line up his cue. She can tell his bad leg's getting in the way, screwing up his stance, and she sees Jim roll his eyes at his cronies, who snicker a little.
"Shit," Barrett mutters, then leans an elbow on the table to keep himself up, pool cue tilted at an improbable angle. He looks frustrated, but takes the shitty shot – and sinks it. Kayla feels her eyes widen.
"Woah!" Barrett says, straightening up with a grin, looks around. "You guys see that?"
"That was one lucky fuckin' shot," Jim says as Barrett scans the table.
"You're tellin' me!" Barrett agrees, shakes his head. His next shot's on the other side of the table, a little easier, 'cause he doesn't have to lean on his right side as much, and he does a pretty decent job of lining up the shot, but it's off-center and he misses. "Fuck," he says good-naturedly, settling himself back in his chair and working his cigarettes out of his pocket as Jim snorts, takes his place at the table.
Jim knocks three in before he misses.
Barrett hoists himself up again, leaves his cane leaning against his chair and uses the table to maneuver himself around. He pauses, takes a drag of his cigarette, and lines up another bizarre-looking shot, one hip propping him up against the table.
A big group of guys comes in just then, and Kayla's distracted for a while, and then they all sit at the bar so she can't keep her eye on the game, but every so often she hears Jim's mocking laughter and figures Barrett's probably realizing that luck doesn't carry you through a game.
Sara sidles up behind her, whispers breathily in her ear, "Next time Sid comes up to the bar, give him a free shot, on me. Kid's shy. Needs to loosen up."
"Sid?" Kayla says, then remembers, laughs. "You gonna get him drunk and take advantage?"
"Let's hope so."
She shakes her head as Sara twitches her hips and scoots back into the kitchen, looks up to find Barrett leaning against the bar, listening with a big, shit-eating grin on his face.
"We weren't talking about you," Kayla feels it necessary to tell him, because otherwise she can't account for how pleased he looks.
"Oh, I know," he says, smiles like he's sharing a private joke with himself. "I'll take another beer, please."
"You done with your game?"
"Yeah," he says, grins ruefully. "I'm out fifty bucks. About to win it back, though. We're going double."
"It's your money," she says, making a note on her sheet. "Just as long as you pay your tab at the end of the night, I'm not gonna say anything."
"Oh ye of little faith," he says, a slight grimace interrupting his grin as he shifts his weight.
"What happened?" she asks, handing him his beer.
"Huh? Oh. I used to be an emergency chopper pilot, flash-flood rescues, wilderness recovery missions, that kinda stuff. Crashed into a glacier."
"Yeah, it sucked." He shrugs, grin back in place, gropes for his cane. "Wish me luck."
"Luck," she says dryly, and he chuckles, pushes himself off the bar and heads back towards the pool table, passing Sid on the way up.
Kayla slides Sid another beer before he can ask, says, "Before you go," holds up a hand to keep him, pours a brimming shot of whiskey. "From Sara. Your waitress."
Sid colors, looks like he's gonna refuse, then shrugs and swallows it down, wipes his mouth with the back of one huge hand. "Thanks," he says. "Or, thank Sara."
"You can thank her yourself," Kayla says, tries to work a tone of suggestion in her voice, and it works, because Sid ducks his head, grinning a little.
"You in school around here?" she asks before he leaves, because she's curious. He and Barrett are the only people in the bar she's never seen before.
"No," he says, massages his shoulder in an unconscious gesture, "just passing through. We—I'm on my way to Texas. You?"
"U of Oklahoma," she says. "It's my last semester."
"Hey," he says, "that's awesome. Congratulations." He gives her a warm smile, though there's something strangely bitter about it, sad.
"Thanks," she says, and he takes his beer, gives her another little thank-you nod, and heads back to his table alone. His long limbs are loose, like he's just started feeling the alcohol, and he pulls up his chair a little closer to watch the pool game that's just started.
Barrett's up against Jim again, and Kayla watches just long enough to see him miss his first shot. She shakes her head.
Sara comes up behind her, squeezes her shoulder. "Kitchen's closed," she says. "Wanna take twenty? Grab some dinner?"
"Yeah," Kayla says, tosses down her rag. "You got the bar?"
"Oh, sweetie. I was born at the bar."
"Right," Kayla says with a roll of her eyes, heads out back where the cook's got a plate full of mashed potatoes and pulled pork saved for her, just what she likes. She steals a roll from the fridge and settles down with Enrique, the dishwasher, who's sitting in front of a giant plate of French fries and mayonnaise.
"Seriously gross," she says, like she says every night, and like every night he grins.
"Don't knock it till ya've tried it."
"Never gonna try it."
"So don't fuckin' knock it."
She eats her dinner and then calls her boyfriend out back, talks dirty to him for a few minutes because he's babysitting his little cousins who are asleep and he's bored as hell, but she has to stop when the eight year-old comes downstairs, awake from a nightmare.
When she gets back to the bar, there's a crowd gathered around the pool table, and Sara's leaning over the bar trying to watch.
"What's going on?" Kayla asks.
"Jim just beat some dude like, twice in a row," Sara says. "Won a hundred bucks off him. I dunno if this guy's rich or what, but he wants to go again, for two fifty this time. And he's got like, a broken leg or something. Fuckin' nuts if you ask me…"
Kayla raises her eyebrows, catches sight of Barrett leaned up against the pool table, weight all on his left side, balancing precariously. He takes the shot and sinks two balls at once, and a rumble runs through the onlookers. She notices Sid among them, and he looks considerably drunker than when she went out back.
"He's gonna win," Sid is announcing to anyone who'll listen, clutching his slinged arm like he can protect it from the jostling crowd slowly gathering around the table. "Th' guy with th' cane. Gonna win."
"You wanna put money on it?" someone asks, Gary Busick, predictably, and Kayla groans inwardly as Sid juts his chin out, squares his shoulders.
"Yeah. 'M psychic about these things, man."
"Fifty bucks says he loses."
"Huner't says he wins," Sid retorts.
"Hundred," Gary agrees, sticks out his hand. Sid takes it in his good one, gives it a drunken waggle.
"So hot, but so dumb," Sara sighs, watching beside Kayla.
"Mmmm," Kayla says, because she's busy thinking the same thing about Barrett. He's shucked his jacket, is down to a close-fitting grey t-shirt that hugs his broad shoulders and narrow waist, and he glances up for a moment as he lines up another awkward-looking shot, catches Kayla's eye and gives her a tiny wink, so quick she thinks she may have imagined it. Then he takes the shot and sinks two balls, again, balls he had absolutely no right sinking, not with a shot like that.
Wait a minute, she thinks, and dedicates herself to watching him carefully as he moves to find another angle, because all of a sudden she's a little suspicious. But then she notices the almost imperceptible way his lips tighten as he clutches the edge of the pool table, notices the way he eases his stance to make it easier on his leg, the way he leans on the cane, or the table, or the chair, or the pool cue, never stands by himself. He's not faking the injury, that much is clear. But…
He sinks another perfect shot.
By the time the game's over, Jim's face is lobster red and the tendons on his neck are standing out.
"I want another round," he growls, but Barrett shakes his head, drags on his cigarette.
"Can't, man," he says, pats his bad leg. "Not supposed to be on my feet for so long as it is." He doesn't balk when Jim advances, just says, "Three hundred, right?"
"I ain't payin' you sh—" But Jim hears the murmur from the crowd, realizes too late that he's gotta pay up, and slaps six fifties on the table with a smack that seems to resound through the whole bar.
"Thanks," Barrett says, almost smirking but not quite. "Good game, man. Dunno how I got so lucky." He pockets the money and shrugs on his coat, adjusts his grip on the cane, doesn't seem too bothered that there's a lot of guys looking at him mutinously.
He moves to leave, takes a few steps before Kayla sees Jim's buddy Paul coming towards his bad side, pool cue stuck out like he's going to accidentally-on-purpose smack the guy and trip him hard. Kayla opens her mouth to call out, but before she can say anything, Sid, who's headed back to his own table, gets tangled in Paul's pool cue, manages to knock it out of his hands at the same time he knocks over a chair and nearly goes ass-over-teakettle himself.
"Sorry!" Sid says, stumbles a little. " 'M sorry, sorry, oops, y'okay?"
"Fine," snaps Paul, looks around, but Barrett's gone.
"Hey," she hears Sid say to Gary. "Y'owe me a huner't bucks, dude. He won. My guy won."
Kayla shakes her head in disbelief, goes to put a case of beer in the fridge, casts her eyes around the room for Barrett, but he's long gone, nothing but a full ashtray and a couple of pissed-off pool players in his wake.
"Hey," she says to Sara, annoyed, "that guy, the winner, he ever pay his tab? Barrett?"
"Oh," Sara says, "yeah. He gave me a twenty and told me to give you the change." She reaches in her apron and draws out twelve dollars, hands them to Kayla.
"Oh!" Kayla says, suddenly all smiles. "Really?"
"Yeah. How come you're getting all the big tippers tonight? You got a secret I don't know about?"
Kayla grins, pockets the money. "I've been turning tricks out back."
"Knew it." Sara tosses her a mock-disgusted grimace and flounces away.
Kayla turns to see Sid coming up to the bar, digging in his back pocket. "Hey," he says. "Can I settle my tab?"
"Sure," she says, pulls out the list. "That's four beers, one shot on the house, and a double whiskey. Sound right?"
Sid lays his wallet on the table to one-handedly tug the bills out, hands her thirty-five bucks. "Keep the change," he says, "um, for you, and for Sara. To share."
"Thank you kindly. And congratulations on your winnings."
"You saw that?" he asks, grinning, words a little thick on his tongue but not as slurred as they had seemed to be a moment ago.
"Yeah. You the kind of guy who always roots for the underdog?"
Sid snorts, shakes his head, but says, "Underdog. Guess I am." He adjusts his sling, tugs his jacket on one-armed.
"You have a good night," Kayla says.
Sid flashes her a smile. "You too."
She watches as he heads out, thinks that it's probably all for the best he didn't give in to Sara's advances. Despite his drunken display of gambling, he seems weary, too serious for Sara, an observation that's supported tenfold when Kayla goes to wipe his table and finds that he's left his book.
Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit.
Is that fucking Latin? He's a jesus freak, clearly. A hot jesus freak who drinks and gambles.
She sighs, tucks the book under her arm and heads back to the bar. Freaks. Why is she surrounded by freaks?
She's gonna quit. Tomorrow. Tomorrow for sure.