I saw her for the first time when I ran out to get maraschino cherries for the bar.
I put cherries on the order last week and they arrived on Wednesday same as always. But by Sunday they were history; a casualty of three bachelorette parties, where celebratory women of all shapes, sizes and ages had tossed back over ninety cosmopolitan's within a span of two hours.
I blame this Cosmo shit totally on the Sex and the City crap that all the girls were crazy about a few years back. Honestly, these damn drinks have been the cause of more break ups, hook ups, and knock ups over the past ten years than I care to count. Because, let's face it, they're nothing but pure alcohol with just a tiny splash of cranberry juice to make them look pretty. That is if you know how to make them right. And believe me ... I know how to make them right. I've been a bar-keep ever since my old man died and left me this joint. It's what I do, and I do it well, even though it was his dream and not mine.
But that's another story.
As for this story, well, it all started last Saturday night.
I was standing behind the bar mixing up another batch of those damn Cosmos when I heard the front door open with a loud bang. I looked up, startled, to see a young guy with a popped up collar and worried eyes rush inside. He seemed to be in a big panic. I saw him mutter something to Mike, our bouncer, who gave me the look.
I followed his gaze to a group of girls who were celebrating the impending marriage of their sorority sister … Phi Gama Drama Lama or some crap name like that. I can't remember off-hand what the name was but I knew from the way my neck tingled, that they were going to be trouble the minute they entered the bar. A good barkeeper always knows when there's gonna be trouble, it's that hinky feeling that begins in the neck and spreads like a virus throughout your whole body. That feeling doesn't normally go away until the first punch or the cops show up. I tried to ignore it because I was too busy to give it much thought and these girls were spending money and leaving good tips. But I know trouble when I see it, even when it's disguised in a pink and green Lily dress. That I even know the brand Lily is a sad statement about me. It comes from living on Cape Cod, I guess.
Anyway, I handed the fresh batch of Cosmos to Angela, mixed up a batch of Dirty Martinis, and then let out a little sigh. This sort of thing is common on a Saturday night in June. Fucking pre-wedding jitters and dramas … they usually mounted to nothing, but I kept my phone nearby just in case.
I strained my ears just a little to see what the hell was going on, and overheard the panicky would-be groom explaining to Mike that he had received an upsetting text from the soon to be Maid of Honor informing him he needed to get his ass down here pronto. He complained his buddies were super pissed that he had to leave.
Poor bastard never even got to enjoy the first toast of the night, I thought to myself.
Mike pointed him towards a group of girls and he carefully nudged his way towards them.
I strained my ears a little harder and could hear them wailing.
'Lauren! Oh my God! Are you all right? Oh, shit … look Pookie, she's on the floor. Again!'
I let out a groan and slammed the shaker down on the bar with a thud; this was going to be be a long- ass night. I removed my apron, walked casually over to the throng of girls, and peered over their heads. Being six-foot two has its perks, I guess, although being given a bird's-eye view of that scene wasn't one of them.
On the floor lay his fiancée, sprawled face down, in a sopping mess of cranberry colored vomit. A cheap makeshift veil (that looked like a hot glue gun had gone wild with a twenty-five dollar gift certificate from Michael's) billowed around her body. The image was grotesque, but fascinating.
Seeing her sprawled on the floor surrounded by the veil made me think back to a short story I had to read in High School. What was it called? A Rose for … eh, somebody. I can't remember the name, but Faulkner wrote it, I do remember that.
I saw her fiancée catch my eye, and he shot me a piercing look. I picked up my cell phone and raised my brow, questioningly; Christ I hoped I didn't need to call 911. He shook his head curtly, and I sighed in relief. I wasn't in the mood for an expensive lawsuit, thank-you-very-much.
'Excuse me … coming through!'
I was practically laid flat on my ass when a redheaded beanpole knocked into me as she dashed towards the restroom with her hand over her mouth.
'Wait, Bitsy…I'll hold your hair for you!' cried a petite blonde who sprinted after her.
Bitsy my ass; this chick was at least six-foot tall. Her parents must have been either incredibly hopeful or extremely ironic. But most likely they were being simply pretentious, I thought to myself sarcastically. All of these chicks looked like they came from the manor born. If only Mummy and Daddy could see them now.
'Bunny… I've gotta go too!' shouted a slightly bigger girl, the only one in the crowd with any meat on her. Her thighs were massive and practically screamed: Captain of the field hockey team here … now get the hell out of my way before I mistake you for a puck!
Oh for fuck's sake, these girls must have come in here half lit; I'd only filled their glasses once. I let out another sigh as I recalled that they had all ordered the pre-requisite Cosmos. Damn that stupid Sex in the City for starting this trend. I mean, these chicks were nothing but a bunch of skinny pickles dressed in short shorts; lightweights, the whole lot of them. (The exception being the hockey player, whom I'd already nicknamed, The Bone-Crusher.) They should have stuck to wine spritzers or hard lemonades.
I shook my head in disgust and I wondered for the umpteenth time why it was that women always dieted off all their curves. I get that they don't want to be fat, but why do they want to look like a skeleton with skin stretched over it?
None of these girls ever ordered food. Like, ever. Unless it was a salad with balsamic vinaigrette, then yeah, they'd place an order.
'But only if you use light olive oil, but put it on the side. Oh, and hold the croutons'
When this ridiculous rabbit food arrives, they remove this and that and pick at it like they're being forced to eat shit. Christ-all of them could use a hamburger, or a hundred, in my opinion.
'Bleh,' the hapless bride to-be retched, and I watched in horror as another flood of pink puke pooled on the floor.
Shit; I'll be staying up late scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees tonight, I remember thinking to myself.
'You sure you know what you're getting yourself into, Dude?' I asked her fiancé' when he scooped up his bride-to-be off the sodden dance floor. She let out a big hiccup and began to sob. He placed her over his shoulder and looked at me.
My remark was meant to be playful, but the tone sounded mocking, even to my own ears. I tried to soften up the bitterness by flashing him a grin and a small wink.
I felt as phony as I probably looked.
He glanced at me with a small smile. His girl squirmed against him, and I watched in disgust as her mouth dripped a stream of pink, sour-smelling bile down his blue button down shirt.
Preppy asshole, I thought to myself. Christ with a polo stick; this town is full of them. Every summer Cape Cod becomes their personal little playground, and they all look like they stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad or a Brooks Brothers catalogue. Honestly, I'd like to strangle the lot of them with their Joseph A. Banks suspenders and deliver them home to Mummy all tied up nice and pretty with a perky little bow tie from Vineyard Vines. You know the kind I'm talking about, they have miniature red lobsters or black labs printed all over them.
I heard her let out a little burp and a few more hiccups.
'I knew you'd rescue me. You're my hero, my big beeyootiful handsome hero. I really, really love you Tripp.'
Well that fucking figures. He probably has a rich father named Skip, and an even richer grandfather named Biff. Three generations of preppy assholes. What a legacy.
I heard him chuckle as he shifted her gently in his arms and patted her back soothingly.
'HaveyougotmeTripper?' she muttered into his neck and closed her eyes. Her hand fell by his side and I noticed the diamond that dwarfed her left finger. It was big, square, and so damn shiny that a rainbow arced from her hand to the glasses over the bar. A fucking Kodak memory if there ever was one. I wondered if I should take a picture of this pre-wedding moment and send it to Town and Country Magazine for their Social column.
I let out a little snicker, then stopped.
I saw him and the way he looked at her. I watched silently as his eyes grew tender and soft. I noticed the way his large, well-groomed hand splayed protectively on her back, and the small smile that danced across his face as he touched her hair. My throat went tight for a second as I caught the almost reverent way his lips pressed to her temple when he murmured, 'I've got you baby.'
They were almost out the door, when he suddenly stopped and turned around. His eyes caught my stare, and he gave me a pointed look.
'I know exactly what I'm getting myself into, "Dude," he said in a quiet voice. He gave me a smile that looked a lot like pity as he strode out the door with his girl tucked safely in his arms. I watched him press his lips gently to the back of her neck as the door slowly closed on their silhouette, effectively shutting me out.
I felt something then; a burning feeling in my chest that caused my heart to pound uncomfortably. I walked back over to the bar and reached under the counter for the Tums I kept there in case Mrs. Cope's nightly special got to my stomach. The woman was a wonderful, if experimental cook. She's worked for me in a variety of jobs ever since Pop died. But sometimes her cooking experiments got a little out of control, especially when they involved cayenne or jalapeños.
I popped a few tablets into my mouth and began to chew on them furiously hoping to stop the churning sensation. But it was pointless really, because after a few minutes my head started taking over and that's when I finally realized that the bile forming in my throat had nothing to do with what I'd eaten for supper. I stopped what I was doing and looked at myself hard in the mirrored glass of the bar. It was written all over my face.
I was jealous.
Oh don't get me wrong, it wasn't because I was interested in his girl … he could have ole- pink-puke- till- death- do- them- part every day of the week and twice on Sundays. No, it wasn't about her.
It was about what he had.
I closed my eyes briefly and thought of the way his hand looked as it lay protectively on her back. When I opened them I glanced down at my hands; they looked big and felt empty. I swallowed thickly, ran my hands through my mop of hair, and shrugged my shoulders.
Okay, I'm not a stupid person. I know what I was feeling. I don't need a damn psychiatrist to tell me what I was feeling; I figured that all out by myself.
Fuck it, yeah, I felt lonely.
I am lonely. But, so what? Everybody gets lonely sometimes.
I forced myself to look in the mirror again and ran my fingers through my hair. I needed a haircut, badly. I noticed that my eyes looked tired and that there were a few wrinkles around the corners. But, what the hell … last Wednesday I turned twenty-nine years old. I'm not a kid anymore.
Okay, so I'm almost thirty and haven't had a steady girl friend since high school. Yeah I know. But I don't have time for that shit. Besides, I'm married to the bar and she is one, selfish bitch who keeps me hopping day and night, let me tell you.
Not that I don't have ample opportunity to meet girls, mind you. The skinny Minnie's are always flirting with me at the bar, slipping me their phone numbers with little notes that say call me scribbled on cocktail napkins and books of matches. I toss them into the trash every night along with the plastic straws and cherry stems and never give them a second thought. I mean I'm not a saint, don't get me wrong. I had a few laughs with some of them in the early years after Pop died, but nothing serious. I have to be careful with that shit since I live over the bar and all. Besides, I never was the kind of guy to fuck and duck. I worked the bar and heard too many sob stories from the fucks that were ducked over the years. I didn't want to be like those bastards who made girls feel like shit and forced them to tell their whole life story to a bartender between tears and beers.
I felt the loneliness settle in, and for the first time I found myself questioning why I never even considered pursuing any of these women. Some of them were nice girls. I didn't have a good answer, so I put the thought away for the night along with the Cranberry Juice Cocktail and the coconut milk.
Anyway that was last Saturday night. As predicted, I spent the wee hours of Sunday morning scrubbing down the floor and mopping up the swill from the bachelorette party that had gone wrong. I fed Jenks, our bar cat, who was supposed to be a mouser, but is the laziest creature that God ever blew breath into. Jenks isn't gonna move his ass for anyone, let alone a mouse; he is actually terrified of them. Mrs. Cope tells me that Jenks might be lazy, but he'd do anything for me, and if a mouse ever did come upstairs, 'Jenks would get him good.' Personally, I have my doubts, but I hope she's right; I'm terrified of mice, myself.
After I loved on Jenks for a little while (What? He might be a lazy-ass but he's all I've got. Besides, according to Mrs. Cope 'All creatures deserve to be loved Teddy, even poor Mr. Jenks') I climbed upstairs and crashed until four o clock in the afternoon; I was wiped. We didn't normally close the bar on Sunday, but I made a decision to do so last week because I needed to give the bar a good cleaning and go over the accounting before I met with the loan officer in the morning.
When I finally woke up, I grabbed a plate of leftover spaghetti that Mrs. Cope had made me a few nights ago and took a long, hot shower. Then I fooled around on the computer, paid some bills, and reluctantly went downstairs to get the bar ready for Monday afternoon.
That's when I noticed we were all out of cherries.
I walked out of the bar and headed down to Souza's Market to buy the dusty, overpriced jars of maraschino cherries that old lady Souza has probably had sitting on the shelf since nineteen seventy-seven. I let out a chuckle because she's a character and a half. She barely speaks a word of English, despite the fact that she left Portugal right after World War Two. Jesus, she must be almost ninety now; her grandson, Emmett, had been my best friend all through school. We haven't seen each other in nearly a year though; he married right out of law school and moved with his tony wife to Greenwich, Connecticut. He doesn't get to The Cape very often.
'Just what the world needs, another preppy asshole,' I muttered out loud. Then I felt bad because Em is still a good guy and doesn't deserve my contempt. It wasn't his fault that Pop kicked the bucket a few weeks before school began.
Emmett and I were supposed to attend Yale University and room together. After that, the plan was to go to the prestigious Yale School of Law and open a practice together in Boston, or maybe, New York. We'd talked about that since we were in the fifth grade and had to do a project about Federal Laws versus State Laws. What can I say; we got hooked on that shit and our project is still used as an example of excellence behind the glass case of Seaconch Elementary School.
Emmett's father, an Irishman by the name of McCarty, was killed in the Gulf War when Em was a little kid. He was raised by his mother and her parents for the most part, though his grandfathers on both sides of his family worked hard to save the money to put Emmett through college. The entire Souza-McCarty clan had burst with pride when he'd been accepted to an Ivy League school on scholarship.
My old man, however, was a different story altogether. His reaction had been less than enthusiastic when he heard the news that I had also been admitted to Yale on a full scholarship.
'But who'll run the bar after I'm gone if you become a lawyer, kid?' he asked when he put down my acceptance letter on the gleaming, wooden counter.
Well that question answered itself a few weeks later when Pop changed the beer kegs and dropped dead on the bar floor. His sudden demise left me as the owner and operator of The Swan Dive: Welcoming Thirsty Travelers since 1982. My dream of becoming a hot-shot attorney died that day too.
The Swan Dive ... crazy name, I know. My mother had been a principal ballerina with the Boston Ballet before she retired her toe shoes and married Pop. She had suggested the name, Swan Song, as a nod to her new station in life. Pop countered with the name, Swan Dive, and had the sign made before the ink was dry on their marriage certificate.
My mother was a tiny thing judging from her pictures, but according to my father she was also stubborn and feisty as hell. She met my dad while summering with her folks on the Cape and married him that fall, despite her parents' protests. When they found out she was pregnant with yours truly, they'd cut her off without a dime, and she never looked back. She died from a brain hemorrhage when I was five years old and I barely remember her. Bur sometimes feel a painful twinge in my heart when I creep past the master bedroom that she and my father once shared. There is a floral smell that still clings to the air and attempts to stir up a memory of sorts, but I never allow it to go any further than my nose. I mean, what would be the point?
Anyway my Pop refused to sleep in that room after she died saying, 'It still smells like her … I just can't …'
After a few months of walking around like a zombie, he took to sleeping in the guest room. But that hardly mattered; my dead mother's perfume continued to waft between us. Her fragrance lulled me to sleep night after night. But poor old Pop couldn't take it and he eventually moved out of our place and moved into the one next door. He left me in the old apartment because all my 'shit' was in there. Besides, he thought in his head that it would be too much of 'an adjustment,' what with my mother being dead and all.
It was a weird arrangement for a kid I suppose, but we were hardly ever in it anyway except to sleep. Besides we had Mrs. Cope to look after us for quite a few of those years and sometimes Esme and Carlisle checked in on us, too. I heard Esme tell my father one night when she thought I was asleep, 'It isn't right; a child like sleeping all by himself. I wish you'd let Carlisle and I take him, at least for the summer. Elizabeth wouldn't want her son to be alone, Ed.'
I guess Pop's silence shut her up that night because she never asked again, as far as I know. It's too bad because I would have enjoyed living in Boston, even though their home was, and still is, in that hoity-toity section for the truly élite known as Chestnut Hill; talk about Snobville.
After Pop died I had to get Mrs. Cope to help me run things. I was only eighteen and not even old enough to have a drink, let alone operate a bar. Mrs. Cope was great, she galvanized into action and soon we had a crew of locals, and occasionally some college kids who wanted to work on the Cape for the summer.
The Swan Dive had been a popular place with both the natives and the tourists for a while by then, so the place pretty much sustained itself. I always had a good head for numbers and I was able to take over the bookkeeping within a few months. Then we hired Mike, and shortly after that, Tyler, who taught me how to tend bar and who became my best friend.
Shit. I really didn't want to think about Tyler and his sad little story either, so I put him away for the night too.
I remember shaking my head to free it of the memory of my father and Tyler, and all of our lost dreams as I walked past the bar and turned the corner. It was a chilly night for June, though not unusual for the Cape. I reached into my pocket for a pack of cigarettes, but it was just a habit really, because I'd quit two years ago. I still missed it though. I stopped for a few minutes and watched as the moon grew dim over the canal when a cloud passed over it. The fog was rolling in and an unexpected shiver crawled down my spine.
I remember thinking about cats and graves.
My back stiffened further when I heard a sound coming from the direction of the bar, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the door slam shut. Somebody was on the terrace over the bar that was between the two apartments.
What the fuck?
I sighed in relief when I remembered that Mrs. Cope had told me last week that the new tenant had arrived on Thursday. It had been my only day off and I'd spent it in Boston with Esme and Carlisle.
Carlisle had been my mother's baby brother and was now the only surviving member of her family. Even though her parents had disowned her, Carlisle came around as soon as he was old enough to drive himself to the Cape. We didn't see him often when I was a little kid because he was always away at school. He became a doctor and specializes in blood disorders. He's filthy rich, but he's a decent guy, and his wife, Esme, has always been kind to me. They're constantly trying to give me money to help out with the bar and stuff, but Pop wouldn't have gone for that at all, so I always thank them and shake my head no. The bar has done alright on its own, greedy bitch that she is.
Besides, after ten years of trying hard for a kid, they finally had one. Alice is now four years old. Last year she was diagnosed with some form of Autism. She rarely ever speaks, but when she does it's bizarre. Like she'll be in the middle of twirling for the zillionth time and suddenly she'll stop in mid twirl and say something really random.
'You have green eyes like the moon. I'm going to call you Moon. You look like a moon. You have a big head and you have green eyes. Leprechaun's are green, too.'
And then she'll resume her twirling. Last weekend she was sitting on the floor playing with a top watching it spin for what seemed like hours. But she stopped suddenly, looked straight up at me, and said very clearly:
'You're going to get married next year. Priests and nuns don't get married but Edward's do.'
Esme overheard her and chuckled in the kitchen. Esme laughs at everything Alice says, she is so relaxed around her it's amazing. You'd think it would be fucking heartbreaking for her to try for a baby all those years only to end up with a child that has special needs, but she isn't upset or disappointed in the least, and neither is Carlisle. They both adore Alice, and tell me all the time how intelligent she is, and what a privilege it is to be able to see the world from such a unique perspective. I don't know, maybe they're right. Alice is without a doubt one of the most beautiful little girls I've ever seen and she is certainly well-organized; her dolls are all lined up against the wall in order of hair color and height. She has seventy-eight dolls according to her records. Yep, at four years old she can already read and write. She can also do math in her head, and if you give her a date she can tell you what day of the week that occurred. I was born on a Friday, as it turns out. It's really quite impressive; I could use her organizational and mathematical skills at the bar. Besides all that, I love her to pieces. I'm the only one she lets hug her, like really hug her, for any length of time. That's the only time I ever see Esme get emotional over Alice's ways.
We'd had a really great day together eating our way through Faneuil Hall and later, after Esme's mother picked up Alice, we capped off the night with a few drinks at the Union Oyster Company. I crashed on their couch for a few hours to sleep off my buzz and didn't get back to the Cape until the early hours of Friday morning.
Shit. I'd completely forgotten that Pop's old apartment was finally rented after all these years. I had no time to set up interviews and I left Mrs. Cope in charge of everything. I didn't even know the name of the renter, only that she was a young woman and had paid the first three months rent in cash. Honestly, I was too busy and exhausted to care. If Shelly Cope said she'd met her approval then it was fine with me. Mrs. Cope is the only constant in my life since Pop cashed his last chips in, and I trust her explicitly. Hell … I love her. She's bat-shit crazy half the time, but she's crazy as a fox too.
Last week she looked at me when I was wiping down the bar and said, 'Brace yourself Teddy; there's a new moon coming. Change is in the air.' She always says shit like that, and I usually just smile at her indulgently as I open the register or get the deposits ready to go to the bank.
I started walking again and thought about the new tenant. I wondered if I should go up and introduce myself when I got back from the market. I really wasn't interested in getting involved with her personally, but I didn't want to be rude either. It was inevitable that our paths would cross eventually. I let out a groan and shrugged my shoulders in resignation; I wasn't really a sociable guy when I came out from behind the bar, and making friends wasn't high on my list. I hoped she wasn't expecting to make nice with me on the regular, and start dropping by for coffee and shit. I mean, yeah, I might be a little lonely, but I don't want to get myself mixed up with a neighbor, either.
I stopped for a minute to hear the bells from Saint Mary's of the Sea announce to the good people of Seaconch that it was nine o'clock. I started to walk faster, hoping that old lady Souza would let me in when she saw it was me, since I knew she closed up at nine. If she had already cashed out I could run by with the money tomorrow night. But I needed to get the bar ready early because I was meeting with the bank tomorrow to discuss a loan so we could add another restroom and expand the kitchen. Mrs. Cope has been after me for the past two years to do both.
I stepped off the curb and began to cross the street, when this heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sob rang out in the night. The cry was so damn loud and pathetic that it forced me to stop dead in my tracks; I was rooted to the spot. My heart practically pounded out of its chest as I looked up at the roof, searching for the source.
'Are you okay?' I called. I heard a gasp, followed by a flash of what appeared to be dark hair as she darted back inside the apartment.
And that's when I saw her for the first time.
These recipes are for those of legal age only. Please drink responsibly!
Sincerely, Edward A Masen, proprietor: The Swan Dive.
Suffering Bastard Cocktail
1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
4 ounces chilled ginger ale
Pour ingredients into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and top with ginger ale, adding more ice if needed. Garnish with a sprig of mint or an orange slice.