"Do we have to listen to this stuff?" Sid said, rolling his eyes.Mitch chuckled, leaning up against the Wurlitzer jukebox - his pride and joy - running his finger up its side, following the bubbles in their ascent, stopping to buff a smudge off the juke's brightly colored surface. "Come on Sid, it's not that bad," he laughed, heading back to the bar, his shoes squeaking as he crossed the vinyl tile dance floor.
Redoing the floors was another addition Mitch had splurged on, specifically getting the whole bar decked out in bleached pine. The Dusk to Dawn was right off Hollywood Beach, and patrons that dropped in during the day for a bite to eat or a cold beer would end up tracking sand in from the beach, but it looked so great he was glad he had made the improvement. After all, it was his place, to run as he saw fit, from choosing the music, to deciding on the decor. The whole Eighties thing was an endless playful debate between him and Sid anyway. Heck, if Sid really hated the music so much, he wouldn't keep coming back.
Sid lifted his head slowly, looking at Mitch
through bloodshot eyes. "Please, just play something from the Nineties?" he
begged. "Anything, even that Hootie and the Blowfish crap, just no more Eighties! My
God Mitch, we listened to that stuff in high school! I don't know why you miss those times
so much. I hated my high school years, and everything associated with them," he
Mitch grabbed Sid's glass, placing it under a football shaped beer tap with 'Bud' blazoned on it. "Maybe this will stop your whining," he laughed, filling the glass, and handing it back to Sid. Sid slid the glass greedily to him, and harumphed. No such luck, Mitch thought.
"And the hair for God sakes. I've never seen anything so ridiculous," Sid belly ached some more.
Mitch shrugged. Maybe the Eighties weren't as great as he made them out to be, but in his mind the Eighties were the time when he had dreamed the special idealistic dreams of a teenager. When he remembered the Eighties, all those dreams, as well as the way he lived life so carefree came flooding back to him. Maybe that's why he was stuck in a mental time warp. Hearing the music made him remember wonderful times, how he had danced to Eighties music in his room, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, forgetting about his biggest concern at that time, namely his homework.
"That awful music, MY GOD! Wham, and Duran Duran.. that FLUFF!"
But Mitch had already tuned him out, his mind going back to all the Eighties movies that had made him and his friends, Sid included, laugh out loud, spending their days talking about how hot Phoebe Cates was, or how cool Spiccoli was, even if he was a moron.
"I mean, look at me! Do you see anything resembling the Eighties in me?" Sid said, waving his hands at himself, spilling some beer on his black pants.
Mitch looked Sid up and down. He had just gotten off from work, and looked it, slouched over the edge of the bar, nursing his beer, his brown eyes bloodshot and weary. Sid worked at an upscale record store, which didn't require much in terms of a uniform, but to Sid, it was enough of a bother. A nice pair of slacks, a clean white shirt and a nice tie was enough. His slacks were well wrinkled, the same with his shirt, which had a stain or two, even an ink stain from the pens he kept in his right breast pocket. Sid's tie was plain black, thinner than most ties nowadays, pulled loose and hanging down from his neck from an unbuttoned collar which was turned up.
Sid's face was long and tired looking, his light brown hair slightly spiked, cut all too short for how thin it was. Mitch bit back a laugh, realizing just then just how much his friend resembled a big Eighties star, Corey Hart. "I plead the fifth," Mitch grinned, not wanting Sid to get any louder than he already was.
Besides, Mitch thought, he wasn't much himself. He was, well, average, nothing extraordinary about him. At 5'11, Sid towered over him (or so Mitch thought) at 6'4, and was just a little bit overweight, or, as he liked to say 'too short for his weight.' Mitch rolled his blue eyes at Sid, who cackled at his lackluster retort, as he noticed a customer coming into the bar, the sunlight flushing in around the person as the door opened, brightening up the Dusk to Dawn, silhouetting whoever it was. A familiar voice suddenly let him in on who it was...
"Mitch..buddy, sweetheart the usual.." he heard a woman's voice call out from her silhouetted position at the door. "I really need it today.."
He watched the familiar form approach, black cowboy boots clicking their way across the floor. Hopping on the shiny wooden bar top, Jess deposited her usual cargo behind the bar, nabbing a handful of peanut M & M's from the glass jar concealed there. Her long hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail, wispy strands pulled loose by riding top speed in her little red Wrangler. Raybans sliding perilously close to the end of her nose, she winked at Mitch, her hazel eyes sparkling, as she saw him slide the ice cold Screwdriver across the bar to her.
"You're a doll," Jess smiled, taking a hearty bite out of the extra big orange wedge he always included in her drinks. Vaulting playfully over the bar, she took a seat next to a silent, brooding Sid. "Hey Sidster," she said, affectionately giving his slumped shoulder a punch, "what the haps?"
All Sid could do was grumble, from his slumped position on the bar. "Oh.. nothing much. Just doin' my best to tone out that noise," he said, groaning motioning back to the CD Jukebox with a lackluster tilt of his head.
Mitch chuckled, watching what was almost a daily display - the light banter that added some character to his existence as barkeep. "Don't mind him. He's still in denial.."
Jessie peeled off her shades and tossed them on the bar in front of her, to offer herself a clearer look at Sid. "Denial huh? About?" she continued, sipping for all she was worth on the straw in her drink.
"The usual," Mitch teased. "Guess ole Sid would prefer to have been from a more eclectic generation.."
Sid sat up now, showing his friends he still had some reminisce of backbone in him. "Listen to that drivel.. that isn't music.."
"Oh, I beg to differ," Jess said, twirling the straw in her glass, a silent indicator to Mitch that she needed a refill. "That music takes me back to a simpler time, where all I had to decide was how big I wanted to poof out my hair.."
Mitch was eating it up, speedily mixing Jessie's drink so that he could rib Sid some more. "Eighties Rock hair," he moaned.
"Shut up," Sid grumbled.
Jessie knew that there was something else on Sid's mind, there always was. But Sid wasn't really the type that offered up information easily, preferring to have his barmates ferret it out of him. He would be out of luck that afternoon, because she wasn't in the mood, having enough stuff on her own mind to deal with.
"Let's just say I have bigger fish to fry, Sid. I wish all I had to do to fix what was bothering me was drop some quarters in a juke.."
Mitch switched his attention from harassing
Sid, to playing local psychologist to Jess. Usually pretty unflappable, even by bar
standards, he could see the frustration furrow a line between her eyebrows. Grabbing the
Absolut, he added an extra medicinal splash into Jess's glass. "Zach again?" he
asked, quietly, setting the drink before her.
"Isn't it always?" she sighed. "I mean look at me," she said, showing Mitch the dark smudge on her white cotton button up shirt. "He sends me down to South Beach to interview and shoot some pictures of the latest object of his desire.. Candi Daniels.."
"Candi Daniels?!" Sid asked, visibly perking up at the mentioning of the Super Model's name.
"Yes, CANDI DANIELS.." she said, shoving Sid, hoping beyond hope that he would go back to crying in his beer. "Not only was she a prim Dona that drank only French bottled water, and nibbled rabbit-like on only ORGANIC fruit and veggies, but her brain was as vacuous as her poundage.."
"Hisss," Sid said, clawing in the air in Jess's direction.
"You know he gave me this assignment just to piss me off. The guys back at the office begged me, offered me big time bribes for me to switch assignments, which I would have gladly done, but Zach slipped into his Napoleon persona and told me flat out that 'he wanted me on it because he wanted a woman's perspective.'"
Mitch watched as Jess stared blankly into her drink, as she spun the straw around and around. "I don't know why you even put up with his crap, Jess." Ever since high school, where Jess had been editor of their school paper, it was clear to Mitch that his friend was meant for bigger things.
"Maybe because the guy's a hunk, and he's loaded?" chided Sid.
"You love him so much *YOU* have 'em," stated Jessie, wrenching her long golden brown hair free from the wine colored scrunchie that held it roughly in place.
Mitch leaned in towards his friend. There she went. Whenever Jess was struggling with something, she absentmindedly twirled a lock of hair around her right index finger. "Sorry to have to say this kiddo," he said, covering her left hand in his, "but it's YOU that loves the jerk. That's the whole problem.."
Jess lifted her chin slightly, looking at Mitch through her long lashes. "That's just it, Mitchy.. I don't know what to do.. I go on this assignment.. bite the proverbial bullet and all that, even getting down onto the sand to get the perfect shot of the little vixen in the setting sunlight.." Jessie stopped, as she eyed the ugly tar stain she acquired from crawling around on all fours for the perfect shot, all to please her boyfriend, if she could really even call him that anymore.
Mitch met his friends gaze, giving her a small smile. Jessie rolled her eyes, his grin fading with hers. Mitch sighed, grabbing for a bar rag from under the bar. If she was this upset, maybe he should back off. Spotting the M & M jar, he noticed that Jessie had gotten to it, eating all the red and blue ones, which bugged the hell out of Mitch. But seeing the look on Jesss face he decided otherwise, M & M monger or not. "Well, it's the business. I'm sure that..." His voice began to trail off as he saw Jess was clearly in another world, gazing blankly at the front door. Mitch found himself at a loss for words. There was nothing that bothered him more than seeing his friends in bad moods, for he knew what it felt like to be in a slump. Not too long ago it was he who had been overcome with depression.
Mitch took Jessie's hands in his. "I think," he said, "what you need is another big slice of orange for your screwdriver!"
"Sounds good to me," Jessie answered.
"On it's way!"
Watching Mitch head to the kitchen for more orange slices, Sid pulled his stool closer to Jessie with a an awful screech. "So.. is Zach uh.." Sid said, glancing around nervously, "well.."
Jess flipped her long hair to her shoulder away from Sid so she could hear him better. "Excuse me?"
A wicked smile curled at Sids lips. "Is he, Zach, gay, cuz if he has money I don't mind.."
Jess groaned and punched Sid in the arm. Sid let out a laugh like a hyena, a high pitch, loud and obnoxious cackle. His mood seemed to have changed instantly from before. The same man who not moments before sat brooding next to her was now laughing so hard he was leaned way over onto the bar top, stuffing paper napkins in his mouth as tears welled up in his eyes.
Mitch emerged from the kitchen quartered orange in hand in time to witness the spectacle at the bar. Jess pulled her stool away from Sid as he continued laughing, pulling the napkins from his mouth and tossing then behind the bar, missing the garbage by a good yard. Mitch just shook his head. "I don't even want to know," he mumbled, handing Jessie a large orange slice.
Sid tried to hold back his laughter, but a chuckle would leak out. Still, he managed to gather some of his composer back in order to continue quizzing Jessie. "So just what is the relationship between Candi Daniels and Zach?" he asked, motioning in the air with his hands. "I mean are they.. intimate?"
"Sid, please," Mitch moaned.
"What? I'm just curious. I think shes jealous.
Mitch picked up Jessie's Ray Bans. "I think his interest in Candi is strictly professional," he said, "besides, what interest could he have in someone named Candi?"
"I would," Sid said.
Mitch put on Jessie's glasses, which brought a chuckle from Jessie and a snicker from Sid, considering how ridiculous he looked. "I like my Foster Grants better," Mitch laughed, handing the glasses back to Jessie. "So, what exactly is wrong Jess?"
Jess knew perfectly well what was wrong, she just didn't have the heart to admit it to herself, much less to Mitch. To say that Zachary Blair was a philanderer was an understatement. The oldest boy of a wealthy publishing family, the most Zach had to worry about was what color his new car was going to be each year. From the best schools, trips around the world, Zach could have it all, even admittance into Wheaton Hall, the country's top journalism school. As with everything else, his father's money and not Zach's academic prowess, had thrown the college's doors doors wide open for him, the promise of a new state of the art library bringing on a case of selective amnesia in Wheaton's admittance department.
It was at Wheaton that Jessie and Zach had first met. Fresh from a post football victory party, Zach and his entourage had plowed right into the back of Jess's Wrangler in the Rattskellar parking lot.
"What are you some sort of idiot?" Jessie had yelled, racing out the car to survey the damage.
There he had sat, like the Cheshire Cat, a big, inebriated smile across his handsome face. "Yes, gorgeous," he had purred, eyeing Jessie hungrily, "a fool in love with your loveliness.."
Amidst peels of laughter from his frat buddies who hemmed and hawed all over his black convertible BMW, Jess demanded Zach's driver's license and insurance information. "Puhleez Mr. Wonderful," she had scoffed, "just give me your information, so I can get my car fixed, and get the hell away from you and your croanies.."
"Such harsh words from such a pretty lady," he answered, pitching forward slightly from the effects of what Jess was sure was a night full of beers. Zach braced himself against Jessie's shoulder, and handed her his wallet, struggling to keep his macho bravado intact. "Bah," he said, shaking his perfectly layered hair out of his eyes, as he looked back at the damage to Jess's car. "Why even bother fixing it? Gimme a call tomorrow...errr.."
"Jessie.. what a pretty name... look at this guys! I'd say this is a total loss.." His frat brothers agreed, shaking their heads sadly in mock disgust. "Call me tomorrow, and we'll drive on down to the Jeep dealership in town, and you can pick out whatever new Jeep your little heart desires.. on me.."
His little speech had been interrupted then by the sound of retching coming from the back seat of his car. "Uh.. no.. actually it's all over your back seat.."
No matter what the circumstance, Zach always 'fixed things' by throwing some of his daddy's money around. He had kept his word, buying Jess a new car the very next day, customized plates and all, even throwing in a CD player, and a case full of the hottest CD's. All of Jessie's friends thought she was nuts when she had played hard to get, not wanting anything to do with the dashing yet conceited Mr. Blair.
Through the remainder of their college years, Zach and Jess had dated casually, off and on, and at graduation, Jess had thought she would never see Zach again. But fate would play a hand on that day too, dealing Jess a hand even she couldn't refuse. It seemed that Mr. Blair Sr., hearing that Jessie and not Zach had graduated with top honors in the School of Communications, had berated Zach, asking him how he could have let 'some girlie' outshine him in his field. That had been it. From that point on, it was Zach's mission to make Jess his, and outdo her in his father's eyes, no matter what it took. Blair Publishing offered Jessie a job as a reporter on their trendiest publication, "The Wave," and artsy newspaper, based out Fort Lauderdale. Jessie jumped at the chance, knowing that it would be a great launching point in her career. A few years covering celebs and clubbing, and she would head for the New York where the big boys were.
Eventually she had moved in with Zach, quickly getting used to the high life it offered her, meeting influential people, and vacationing at the best spots in the world. Heck, even their sex life had its moments, when Zach was happy, and Jess decided that the good definitely outweighed the bad. Zach told her repeatedly that he loved her, even talking of marriage, which God knew would make her parents very happy. She had made the decision to live her life day to day, making the most of what her existence offered her, hoping that, as Zach matured, and learned the publishing business from the corporate side, that their lives together would grow into more of what she had always wanted - a contented, sharing relationship between two equals.
But that dream was slowly unraveling at her feet. With each new betrayal, each new socialite or model she caught him cheating with. With every lie, Jess found herself resenting not only Zach, but herself, for allowing herself to be fooled this way. Coming out of her daydream to glance up and see Mitch searching her face for the truth, Jess picked up her shades as a distraction, fumbling for her purse behind the bar. She really didn't wanna go into it, not with Sid the Schmuck, so eager to rib her some more about her failings with Zach. Mitch knew her just about better than anyone else in the world. She also knew that no matter what clever ruse her quick wit could muster that she wouldn't be able to fool him.
"Yeah, you're right Mitchy," she said, stuffing the glasses roughly into her purse, "your Foster Grants ARE a lot nicer."
"Foster Grants?! You simpleton," Sid chortled, "Loverboy could deck Princess here in a different set of Versaces for every day of the week." It seemed that Sid had downed the last of his tear-laden beer, and had only mustered the courage to serve Jess up a tastier array of tidbits to go with her cocktail.
"Wrong?" Jessie said, averting her eyes from Mitch's knowing gaze. "What possibly could you mean?" she added, quickly pulling out her wallet, and throwing some bills in front of Mitch. "Sid's on a roll.. the next round's on me, as are the tunes.." With that, she hopped off her barstool, and headed over to the security of the jukebox. Good ole Mitch.. the juke was jam-packed with wall to wall Eighties hits. Bracing her shaky hand against the machine, she fed it several dollar bills, and proceeded to select a play list of her favorite tunes. Satisfied with her choices, she turned back towards the bar as her first song hit the air, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
Mitch shook his head sadly, knowing all too well what the significance of her choice in music meant. "Count your blessings, and can the smart mouth," Mitch said, setting a fresh brew in front of Sid.
"What?!" Sid whined. "It don't take a rocket scientist to see what's going on," he shrugged. He leaned back now, backing away from Mitch's sneering face that was quickly encroaching into his beer-scented world. "You ask me, your friend's got the world by the tail..."
"That's just it," Mitch said, in a hushed tone, not wanting to call attention to himself, "nobody asked you."
Part of what Sid said was true. Jess did have the world by the tail, unfortunately the looming presence in her world was a rather well dressed RAT. Never before had Mitch been offered such a privileged view of the world around him than what he had from his position behind the bar. As barkeep, he was gaining valuable material for his own dream project, the book he always knew he would write, if he ever made enough money to offer himself the luxury to sit down and write it. Nibbling on some M&M's, he watched as one of the numerous patrons who had arrived in search of fun, food and unwinding asked Jessie to dance. A familiar twinge tugged at his heart, as he watched Jess smile and join the young man on the dance floor.
Serves you right, he berated himself. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.. How many times had he heard Jessie tease and taunt him with those words? If he just would have studied harder in high school, maybe it would have been HIM and not Zach the Brat (as he affectionately referred to him) at Wheaton with Jess. If he had partied less hard, and drank less beer, maybe he would have had the guts to see if there could have been more between him and Jess than just friendship.
"Shut up," Mitch said suddenly, throwing the towel onto the bar.
"What I do now?" Sid asked, bewilderedly. "You gone nuts or what? Geez.."
"You know Sid, I think that's the smartest thing you've said all afternoon. You're right. I AM nuts.."
As if on cue, beckoned by Lady Luck herself, the door squeaked open, a bright ray of sunlight invading the muted setting of the bar. Lo and behold who should walk into the bar but Zachary Blair.
"Speak of the friggin' devil," Sid chuckled, sipping heartily on his beer. "This is gonna get good."
Dressed in an impeccable dark blue Armani suit, Zach walked over, big as day, to the bar. "Mitchell," he said, as always, charming as a snake, tantalizing its prey before going in for the kill. "How the hell are you buddy?" he said, extending his tanned hand to Mitch.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Blair?" Mitch said, smiling to conceal his gritted teeth.
"What's this with the Mr. Blair stuff?" Zach laughed, "we're old pals, right?" He sat down, just where Jess had been seated only moments before, totally oblivious to Sid's preening next to him, before he continued. "Well, for starters, you can help me find Jess. I know she loves to come here and unwind after work. Have you seen her?"
"Of course he's seen her," Sid chided in, cutting Mitch off. "Why she's right over there," Sid said, pointing to Jessie who was out on the floor, still dancing. Zach looked at Mitch and pasted on the snake charmer's smile again, and turned to give Sid a thankful nod and wink, as he turned to go see Jessie.
"The love between you two.." Sid said, dabbing at his eyes with his napkin, "it's just - touching."
Mitch smiled and looked at the clock. "Hey Sid, it's almost six."
"Yowza!" exclaimed Sid, perking up in his chair and pulling his glass up to eye level, examining himself in the yellowed reflection.
Mitch shook his head and chuckled again. "I've got to go in back for a little bit. Shout for me if anyone needs anything, okay?"
"Got it," Sid nodded, raising his beer to Mitch as he went into the back.
"Hello there cutie," he heard, as he came through the doors. Mitch looked up and saw Sally already getting ready for work, tying a hip pouch around her waist.
"She's talking to me, not you!" shouted another voice from behind Mitch. Mitch turned around and saw it was his friend, Angel. Mitch smiled as soon as he saw Angel, and opened his arms for a huge hug. "Long time no see pal," Mitch said, in a much happier mood than before.
Angel smiled back, flashing white between his beard and mustache. "I missed you Mitchy," he teased, patting Mitch on the back.
Mitch did miss Angel, and thought of him a lot. He was a big part of his life, a brother to hang out with, a father to lean on for anything he needed, including helping him attain his dreams and goals. Angel wasn't much like his namesake in looks however, as Sally had just found out. He towered over Mitch as he hugged him, at close to 7 feet tall. Angel would have been better named Bear, because that's what he looked like, tall as one, and just as furry. He was carpeted in hair, from his long brown curly hair that spilled over his shoulders, to his beard. Mitch loved to kid Angel about how hair he was, claiming that his body hair could soak up all the water in ocean if he jumped in.
Sally nudged Mitch. "I'm off to work," she said, winking at him, and walking out into the bar. "Nice to finally meet you Angel.."
"You too, Darlin," Angel said, watching the waitress leave. "I think she's sweet on you Mitch," Angel said, laughing.
Mitch nodded. "Yeah, she's sweet, but.."
"But, but, but!" Angel roared, "all I ever hear from you are excuses! Mitch, sometimes you just don't have a clue, do you?"
Angel was right about Sally. She was interested in Mitch, but would never do more than tease and flirt with him, wanting Mitch to make the first move. But Mitch never did, because he thought Sally was just being friendly. He liked Sally a lot, and hired her to work the bar because of her personality, and of course because she was easy on the eyes. The customers liked her a lot too, because she was a good waitress and had a great personality.
Sally was shorter than Mitch too, which made him feel taller. She was an adorable Spanish looking girl, with long dark curly hair, that seemed to surround her like a cloud, and her eyes - as dark as they were - still sparkled, along with her smile, that greeted everyone the same caring and happy way. No model, she had a pleasing shape, with a nice chest and a small waist.
Mitch shrugged it off, and just smiled and hugged Angel again. The two were old friends, and Mitch owed his living to Angel. When Mitch had lost his job, Angel, having some money to invest, had decided to go into the restaurant business rather than expanding his lingerie store. Not having a lot of money, he bought the site where the bar and grill now stood, off of Hollywood Beach, and picked Mitch to help him with it. After a year, Angel told Mitch he was half owner and manager. Angel still owned the place, but other than that, the place was his.
It was Angel's way of repaying Mitch for being a good friend. When Angel was running his lingerie shop with his wife Suzanne, Mitch would visit the store and help them out whenever they needed it. The business took off and soon Angel had one of the most successful small business in South Florida. Yet things went spiraling downhill when Sue was in a devastating car crash. Mitch had rushed to his friend's side, keeping Angel company in the hospital until the day Sue died.
Mitch had always felt frustrated that he couldn't have done more, not realizing that to Angel just being there was the most important thing he could do as a friend. Angel would never forget Mitch's kindness. Six month's after opening the Dusk to Dawn, Angel started to travel a lot, and much to Mitch's dismay, after handing over most of the duties at the bar to Mitch, Angel left for New York where he wanted to start his life over. Mitch knew it would be a tough adjustment, and he didn't want to see his friend go, but saw the move as a great opportunity for his friend to put his sad past behind him, and to get back to living again.
"So, what brings you back to Ft. Lauderdale?" Mitch asked.
Angel leaned back up against the boxes stacked waist high in the storeroom, and looked nervously into Mitch's eyes. "Mitch," he said, "I need a favor..."
* * * * *
Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.