Edited: 8/2017 - I realized that the first couple of paragraphs were missing from the last time I edited this. I'm hoping to finish this story at last, so stay tuned.
Accidents happen all the time in bars, considering the number of intoxicated people, but the possibility of a waitress ruining someone's life was pretty low - unless the bar happens to attract students from the nearby university. For whatever reason, students liked to bring their schoolwork with them. This was the one thing Mara hated about working at Sally's. Even the smallest spill could have devastating effects. Having recently graduated from college herself, Mara could not stomach the thought of ruining another person's hard work - even if it was an accident.
So far in her two year career as a waitress, Mara had not experienced such a tragedy, but it crossed her mind every time she served students with papers spread out across the table. Tonight just happened to be one of those nights. She was in the middle of serving four boys, each with a packet set out in front of them. Taking extra care while balancing the serving tray, Mara lowered the pitcher of beer slowly to the middle of the table and then set out the pint glasses.
"Anything else?" Mara asked, wiping her hand on her apron and feeling rather relieved.
They all shook their heads, barely looking up from their work. She gave a slight shrug and then weaved her way back to the bar to prepare for her next table, which was being filled. Glancing across the room, she saw that tables were being pushed together, which meant a large group. Much to her surprise, there were some familiar faces among them. She checked that her notepad and pen were in her pocket then walked back across the room and stood at the end of the table.
"Welcome back, fellas. I thought some of you graduated," she stated, glancing around at the boys with a raised brow. She recognized a few of them as university hockey players.
"Mara!" Phil Verchota said with a wide grin. "You are looking at members of the Olympic hockey team."
Pride radiated from their faces. Mara grinned and quipped, "I have a hard time believing coach kept you around, Philly."
"Awe, come on, Mara. Don't be like that," Verchota replied as the others chuckled. "We're celebrating tonight!"
"Congratulations, then. What can I get for you boys?"
"Three pitchers will do it for starters," one of the other boys said.
Mara nodded, writing down the order and then she looked at the boy who spoke one more time. It dawned on her as to why he looked so familiar. "Hey, you're Buzzy Schneider, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I am. Do I know you?"
She shook her head. "Nah, but I've been following Gopher hockey for years. Now, you are a good hockey player!"
"Hey!" Verchota whined, looking playfully offended.
"Can I get you guys anything else?" Mara asked, grinning.
They declined with a chorus of voices, the exception being Verchota, "How about a date?"
"Plenty of ladies out there, Verchota," Mara replied, gesturing to the room as she walked away. "Take your pick."
While filling up the second pitcher behind the bar, fellow waitress and Mara's friend, Kelsey, came up next to her. "What the hell are Janny and Verchota doing back here? I thought they graduated."
"They did," Mara affirmed, "but they're back because they made the Olympic hockey team - apparently the whole table did. Herb Brooks is coaching the team."
"Excellent - more hockey players!" Kelsey said with a bright, yet devious, smile.
Mara rolled her eyes and placed the final pitcher on the tray. She hauled them over and set the tray on the end of the table. Looking across the surface, she groaned to herself. Each of them had a packet of papers out on the table. She carefully placed the pitchers in the middle.
"What are you guys working on?" she inquired while passing out the glasses, looking over one of the boy's shoulders.
"Coach gave us homework," Janny told her. "It's some kind of psychology test."
"Did he say what it was for?"
"No. We're just supposed to do it," replied one of the boys that Mara did not know.
"Well, that's one hell of a way to celebrate the occasion," Mara replied with a sarcastic grin. "I'll leave you all to it then. Just let me know if you need anything - other than a date," she added quickly before Verchota could speak up.
"Need a refill?" she asked, picking up the empty pitcher on her way by one of her other tables. The four boys looked up from their papers, consulted one another, and agreed on a second round. Mara noticed that their papers looked very similar to the ones that Verchota and his friends were working on. "You guys wouldn't happen to be on the Olympic hockey team, would you?"
They all looked up, surprised. The one nearest to Mara laughed. "It's only been a few hours, but yeah, we are. What gave it away?"
"Well, the only other people in here doing homework are hockey players. I figured it was a logical guess," she replied, nodding toward the other table of boys. "But you know… you do kind of have that hockey smell."
She smirked and walked away to get their refill. When she returned, the boy with the mustache asked, "What did mean, we have that hockey smell?"
"No one's told you? We Minnesotans can smell a hockey player from a mile away." She winked at him.
"How do you know we're not from Minnesota?"
Mara's eyebrows flew upward and she gave a little snort. "The accent's a dead give-a-way, but your pal's shirt comes in handy. No one from these parts would be caught dead wearing a Boston shirt."
"Fair enough," he replied with a satisfied nod.
"Well, anyway, congratulations on making the team. It's a shame you can't celebrate properly."
The boy wearing the Boston shirt spoke up. "Yeah, it's pretty awful - three hundred questions."
"Seriously?" Mara made a face. "How far along are you?"
"Fifty," he replied, shaking his head.
"Good luck, boys," Mara said as she walked away. As soon as she went behind the bar, Kelsey ambushed her.
"Who are those boys?" she demanded. "And how come you always get the good tables?"
"I'm just lucky, I guess. Don't you make conversation with your customers?"
"Well, yeah, but yours seem much more interesting," Kelsey explained.
Mara glanced over at Kelsey's section. She had a couple tables of girls, an older couple, and a mix of what looked like couples. "Okay, fair point." She nodded to the table she had just come from. "Those boys are also playing on the Olympic team."
"Really? How do you know?"
"They smell like hockey players," Mara replied sarcastically. She glanced over at the Minnesota table just as a couple more boys arrived. She smiled and cut in before Kelsey could comment, "Oh, look! Robbie's here!"
"Rob McClanahan?" Kelsey squealed as Mara walked away. "He is so dreamy!"
Unfortunately Mara was not out of earshot when Kelsey finished her thoughts on Rob. She rolled her eyes in response to her boy-crazy co-worker. Nearing the table, she could not help but grin as she watched Rob and his friend greet the group.
"Robbie McClanahan," she said loudly. "I didn't think I'd ever have to see you again."
As they hugged, he replied, "I told you I was trying out for this team."
"I didn't think you'd make it," Mara jested. "I suppose Coach Brooks knows what he's doing after all."
"I hope he does," Rob said. "Oh, real quick, this is Mark Johnson." He gestured to the boy standing next to him. "Mark, Mara."
"Nice to meet you, Mark, and congratulations on making the team."
"Did you meet all these other guys?" Rob asked, looking around the table.
"No, we weren't formally introduced, because someone doesn't have any manners," she told him, shooting a pointed look a Verchota, who narrowed his eyes back at her.
Rob pointed to each boy as he introduced them. "Well, you know Janny. That's Buzzy Schneider. You know Christy. That's Bah Harrington and Mark Pavelich."
"Excuse me? Did you just call him 'Bah'?" Mara asked to clarify.
"Family nickname," Bah explained with a shrug.
"Ah!" She nodded as Rob spoke up.
"Mara's grandfather is the rink manager at the Met, so you'll probably see her around quite a bit. She helps him out a lot."
"Glad we got that out of the way, Rob. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was stalking them or anything." Mara grinned. Knowing that it was time to check on the other tables, she asked the two new arrivals if they wanted drinks.
"Just a couple of glasses would be great," Mark said.
Returning with the glasses, she leaned into Rob and quietly said to him, "I met some of your other boys over there."
"Yeah, I saw them on the way in."
"Boys from Boston, eh?"
"Yeah, Herb really knows how to make things interesting. That one guy, Jack O'Callahan, hates me. I'm not sure how that will go, but we'll see."
Mara chuckled and then went to check on the table from Boston. One of the seats was empty. "I see you lost one. Did he give up?"
"No. He just needed to get out of here."
Mara nodded, wondering if Rob's appearance had something to do with it. "Well, boys, my shift is nearly over. Do you mind if I give you the bill? Brenda will be taking over, and she can get you anything else you need." They pooled their money together and paid. Mara smiled. "I'm sure I'll be seeing you boys around."
Mara picked up her bills at the other tables, stopping at the Minnesota table last.
"Can I get you guys anything else before my shift is up?" she asked. Most of them shook their heads.
"Are you sticking around for a while?" Rob asked.
"Not tonight," Mara replied with a frown. "We'll have to catch up another time. I've been in since before the lunch crowd, and I've got to be up early tomorrow."
"Come on, Mara, stick around," Verchota prodded with a smirk. "We haven't even danced yet."
"Like I said earlier, plenty of other ladies around tonight, Philly," Mara added with a wink. "See you boys later."