With a pained sigh, Tifa looked up from her waitressing to see yet another glass tumbler shattered across the wooden floor. Restraining her anger, the young woman politely finished her current order then stormed across the bar to the noisy drunkard swinging precariously on his stool.
A dishcloth bunched tightly in Tifa's writhing grip, a temporary outlet for her stress.
"Excuse me, sir," the woman approached his left, watching in disgust as he eyed her chest.
"Hey there honey," the man reeled slightly but managed to sustain his balance, "what can I do for ya'?" He winked, his breath reeking of alcohol. Tifa withheld a sneer.
"I'm sorry sir but I think you've had enough to drink for tonight."
The drunkard inclined his head and went about looking for a new beer to chug, completely ignoring the young woman's words. She was not amused.
"What does it take to get some bloody service 'round here?!" The man slammed a sweaty palm onto the bar's counter and swivelled heavily on his seat.
Tifa felt her muscles twitch. "Excuse me but I'm the only service here and I'm asking you to leave…are you even liste-?!"
The drunk lurched forward, aiming his fat, lumbering arm for Tifa's waist. Instinctively, the young woman lashed out, her right fist colliding with the man's jaw while a foot swung out to kick the bar stool's legs from beneath him. His face hit the floor fast and hard, his nose spouting blood from the impact. Tifa regained composure and watched as the man struggled to his ungainly feet.
"You…you crazy bitch! I'm gonna'-" He paused, dumbfounded, as something tapped his shoulder. Oblivious to the shadow looming over his stumpy form, the man slowly turned to see another fist fly into his face, breaking his bloodied nose and knocking him out cold. Cid Highwind leered down at the body, his right hand running freely through his mess of hair with satisfaction. "Aint' that a sorry lookin' sight? YO'! BARRETT, GET RID O' IT!"
Barrett Wallace, now sitting comfortably at the back of the bar, shot the pilot a disbelieving scowl. "You did it fool, you do it!"
"I can't, I'll spill me' beer!" Cid leaned back and threw his left hand sluggishly into the air, sloshing his drink messily across the bar's floor.
Barrett rolled his eyes to the back of his head, sighing heavily then lifted himself from his seat. He strode across to the fallen drunk and heaved the unconscious mess up by the collar, then headed for the back door, all the while grumbling something about his 'lazy-ass' friend!
Cid ignored the comment and kicked the displaced stool upright, landing himself heavily into its seat.
"Aint' no other way to handle scum like that!" He smirked, almost authoritatively. Tifa knew he was almost as drunk as the man he'd floored. Ignoring the pilot as he began to ramble, the woman preoccupied herself with clearing the shards of broken glass around her feet, desperate to distract herself from the embarrassment of her customer's astonished whispers. A shred of glass nicked her finger, but even that did not lessen the flush of red across her cheeks. She popped the cut into her mouth, simultaneously scooping the last of the glass into her apron then proceeded to move behind the bar to empty the trash into the bin. Cid watched the woman with feigned interest, gesturing pointedly at his now-empty tumbler as she filled the dish-laden sink. Tifa grimaced but hid the gesture quickly by snatching the glass from the pilot's grip.
"Give me anothe-"
"You've had enough."
Cid, slightly taken aback by the sharp tone of her voice, reclined lazily on his stool, tilting it dangerously onto its hind legs. "I think I can tell when I've had enough Tifa." The sentence came out as a monotonous slur. "Am I not a valued, paying customer here anym-"
"NO CID, YOU'RE NOT! AND YOU NEVER PAY! YOU HAVE A TAB THE LENGTH OF MY BLOODY ARM!"
Cid reeled at the suddenly lethal voice and abruptly sat his chair upright.
An awkward silence filled the room, followed quickly by the noise of hushed whispers and shuffling boots. As Barrett Wallace strode back in, half the bar made a hasty way out, leaving only a few sleeping patrons and several drunk regulars.
The man took one look at the frustrated waitress and, after hearing most of the flaring voices from behind the closed door, made a hurried decision to clear the rest of the room onto the street before someone else ended up unconscious.
Behind the bar, Tifa threw her hands into the sink's soapy contents and began to scrub furiously at the dishes, hardly noticing the painfully hot temperature of the water.
By the time Barrett had cleared the premises, the young woman had already worked her way through the entire stack of used glasses and dirty plates, her hands itching to stay busy.
Cid had barely moved since her sudden outburst, hardly daring to breathe in case her attention latched back onto him. He was too drunk to really see the true exhaustion etched onto the young woman's face.
Barrett, on the other hand, watched her with a look of sympathy. His own frame of mind wasn't that different from his pilot friend's yet he had enough understanding within him to know when someone had reached their limit. Putting it into words however, was another matter. He shouldered his way roughly past Cid and slumped heavily onto the neighbouring stool, wondering how to make light of the situation. He believed he had a solution.
With a sudden twist, the large man swung round and knocked the pilot flying from his seat, feigning a look of annoyance. "What in hell's name 'ave I told you 'bout bein' a freeloadin' redneck? 'Aint you got no respect?"
Cid, slightly more than annoyed at Barrett's attempt to lighten the mood, crawled his way back up his barstool into the seat, ducking suddenly as the large man swung another blow at his head. He didn't counter it though; drunk as he was, knowing his friend was only trying to help the situation.
But Tifa remained stoic, slowly making her weary way around the racks of glassware then further beyond the countertop to sweep away the day's leftover debris of peanut shells and dried dirt. The two men, unaccustomed to dealing with a woman like this, could only sit and watch as the girl continued her rounds of clearing the tables, then on to mopping the floor. Both knew just how stupid it would be to ask anything of her now. She was stressed and tired, both from work and from daily life, but to the two men, it was all simply physical, too much work and not enough play. They didn't realise just how far off they were.
The next half hour proceeded without much change, silence and Tifa's agitated movements being the only repetitive motions.
After a while it started to become too much for the sobering men and they decided to make their excuses and retreat, leaving the young woman with nothing but her thoughts. She barely realised they had gone until the door's click registered their departure more firmly into her consciousness. There was an unnerving stillness, unnatural to the bar's usual comforting atmosphere. Alone at last, Tifa felt her emotions reach an overwhelming height. Hot tears began to pour uncontrollably down her face and she slammed a fist brutally into the nearest wall. Allowing her mop to clatter carelessly to the ground, Tifa made a staggered dash for the door. She snagged the bolt in quivering hands and slammed it into the lock with such force it was almost ripped from the frame.
Breathing heavily, the young woman attempted to gather herself. It was ridiculous, why was she so worked up? She nearly laughed aloud through the broken sobs. Trembling arms lifted to her face and roughly brushed away the remaining tears. She turned toward the bar and began eyeing up the many alcoholic labels stretched across the back wall. God, she needed a drink.
Without a second thought, Tifa snatched up the nearest bottle and decanted its contents into a glass, throwing it back with such force she almost choked. The liquid seared her throat and burned its way down to her belly, leaving her dazed and lightheaded. Slowly, the young woman moved across to the far wall's sofa, its soft, red leather so inviting to her exhausted body. Bottle in hand, she continued to top up her glass until the container ran dry. She stared at the empty tumbler for several minutes, debating whether she could make it back to the bar to grab a new bottle, but she was certain her legs would collapse if she rose from the seat.
Tifa leaned back and sighed deeply, her mind finally ready to go through its thought processes.
Why? Why did she put herself through such torment? Stupid, stupid girl. What cruel hope made her cling to these desires? Stupid, stup-
A clock rang out in the distance, knocking Tifa from her brief interrogation. She listened, lulled by the rhythm of its chiming. Ten o'clock. She felt calmer as it died away, more level to continue her thoughts.
Cloud would be back tomorrow.
Butterflies seemed to twirl in her stomach as she remembered, her cheeks flushing slightly in excitement. She'd missed him…wait…no, she didn't miss him, she couldn't miss him. Why would she feel anything for him? After all, he didn't feel anything for her…right? No, of course not, they were friends. Just good friends.
But Tifa didn't want that. She wanted more-
No, that damned hope again, no! Why would she want him anyway? He was never around to help with the bar. He spent more time sulking alone than telling her the truth. He constantly blew off deliveries so he could take on missions from Shinra, why though, she couldn't possibly fathom, (something to do with his guilt-filled retribution). And to top it all off, any free time leftover, he thought was better spent in that god-forsaken church. She could easily recall countless times when he'd blown her off with some pathetic excuse or other. Sure it was forgivable when he was fulfilling his promises to Denzel or Marlene, but those occasions were few and far between.
So why? What was her constant need for his affection?
Tifa yawned audibly, stretching her slender arms in a wide arc above her head. What did he care anyway? She could just as easily leap into Reno's lap and he'd probably sing the Turk's praises for getting rid of her! The woman laughed at the notion.
Then again, maybe Reno would actually appreciate her efforts…
Hell no! What was she thinking; the man was a sexist womanizer. Cloud was definitely more preferable. But of course he was more preferable; she would choose him out of a crowd of six hundred if she had to. They had grown up together, shared adventures and secrets, learned to laugh and love side by side. Yet as they'd grown, that love had bloomed into something much deeper in Tifa, if only Cloud could just see it.
The woman sighed heavily, wishing for that moment to arrive. Maybe, just maybe it would. She just had to be patient. God, that was so much easier to say than it was to do.
Smiling, Tifa stretched again, this time lifting herself dizzily from the couch. She swayed for a moment, suddenly light headed but blinked herself back into focus and turned for the stairway. The woman was too tired to think anymore, it only seemed to exhaust her every time the issue of Cloud popped up.
Her hands gripped the stair's banister rigidly, needing the support.
A good night's sleep, that's all she needed. Everything would be better tomorrow.
She reached the landing after several shaky minutes on the unfamiliarly steep steps. Maybe she did overdo it on the booze. Wearily, the girl dragged her feet along the hallway to her bedroom, slumping lazily against the door to push it open.
Her bed stretched out from the far wall, a blessed sight unparalled by anything else in the world at that moment. Tifa, half-crawling, reached the bedside in seconds, throwing her fully clothed body into the covers with such force that she nearly bounced back off.
Tomorrow she would tell him. Cloud would love her tomorrow.
The woman didn't even have time to kick off her shoes before her eyelids closed and she submitted instantly to sleep, a hopeful smile gracing the corner of her lips.