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Joanna and Matt arrive at Stenny’s at about 7:30pm on this late January Thursday evening. A not atypical mix of regulars, semi-regulars, and unfamiliar faces are at the half-full bar. Most are drinking but a few are not, and they look mightily annoyed.
Ray is one of them. He’s keeping his hands busy by shredding napkins as is his wont, but his vodka & tonic is missing.
“Hey Ray,” Joanna says she kisses his warm, furrowed cheek. “Who’s on tonight? Where’s your drink?”
Ray says, “Melissa is on but I haven’t seen her.”
“How long have you been here?” Joanna asks.
“About 10 minutes.”
Joanna sees Stan has a drink. “Hey Stan,” she says. “Where’s Melissa?”
“Mary Ann came out from whatever hole she lives in and asked her to come to the office,” he says.
Stan is in sync with other regulars in his dislike for Mary Ann. Joanna is not aware of any specific run-ins the two have had, and makes a mental note to follow-up later. Her focus right now is elsewhere.
“How long ago?” she asks Stan.
“Seventeen minutes.” Stan is very precise, a good trait for a programmer.
“Hmm,” Joanna says. “I hope Melissa isn’t on Mary Ann’s shit list. But I’m surprised at both of them for leaving the bar unattended for seventeen minutes.”
“Eighteen now,” Stan says.
“I’m sure there’s a good reason,” Matt says. “Just relax, Jo.”
“Fuck you, Matt. You know I hate it when you tell me to relax. It makes me more tense.”
“Well, calm down then.”
Whatever retort Joanna would have made is cut off by the sight of a grim-faced Melissa turning the corner, trailed by Mary Ann and a young woman Joanna has never before seen. All three go behind the bar.
“This is interesting,” Joanna says. She’s talking to herself because she’s still pissed at Matt.
“Your attention please.” Mary Ann says. Her tone is commanding and everyone obeys.
“We have hired a new bartender. Her name is Caitlyn. Please say hello, Caitlyn.”
“Hello,” Caitlyn says.
“I trust that you will all welcome Caitlyn warmly, and show patience as she learns the ropes.”
“Is she replacing someone? I trust that is not the case,” Stan says, mimicking Mary Ann’s phrasing.
“Not at this time,” Mary Ann says.
Joanna looks sharply at Melissa, who is staring straight ahead, apparently looking at the far wall.
There are no further questions, perhaps because there is no precedent in the history of bar patronage for such an interaction, if that’s what you can call it.
“Carry on,” Mary Ann says and heads back to wherever she came from.
Melissa and Caitlyn are standing within a couple of feet of each other, but not in any way together—they look about as comfortable as would Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie if they suddenly found themselves in the same small space.
Joanna says, “Melissa.”
Melissa turns toward her; her expression clearly says Don’t say anything, and Joanna doesn’t.
Joanna decides not to be pissed at Matt any more, and says, “How strange is this?”
“Very,” Matt says. “I think the temperature in here just dropped fifteen degrees.”
Joanna hears Melissa say to Caitlyn, “Say hi to Ray. He’s a regular, treat him like gold. Can you get him a vodka & tonic? He likes Grey Goose.”
“Grey Goose tonic?” Caitlyn asks.
“No,” Melissa says. “That’s a brand of vodka. Do you know what vodka is?”
Joanna has been a recruiter for 25 years, has interviewed over 20,000 prospective employees, and has developed relationships with hundreds of clients. With that experience, she’d be a complete idiot if she didn’t recognize that what Caitlyn will say next will be extremely telling.
“Yes, Melissa, I know what vodka is. But I do need some training, from you and the others. Aunt Mary Ann made that clear.”
“Oh shit,” Joanna says.
“Ouch,” Matt says.
“Fucked-up,” Stan says.
“Can I have please get my drink?” Ray says.
“Sure thing, sweetie,” Melissa says, pointedly ignoring what Caitlyn just said.
If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”