Welcome to my second Crowd Chooses Romance! If this is your first time, all you have to do is enjoy the story segment and post in the comment section which decision you’d like Samantha to make. For April Showers, I let the women who posted a vote every time choose an aspect of this story. Thanks to Janet, Shannon and Jeri for your input on the characters and genre!
Shifting into Love
by Evelyn Aster
The fluctuation almost passed through Samantha’s soul without perception—the emotions of the bar crowd always pervading her and demanding her attention. But as she pulled the cork out of the bottle of wine for the couple that sat before her in the corner, the shift seeped into her lungs like the oxygen entering the bottle for the first time in a century. The smooth jazz music playing throughout the bar crescendoed and dimmed once again—longer than a beat but shorter than a measure.
She paused with the corkscrew in the air to gauge her connection to the bar she tended and owned: the change had been a loosening.
No. She gave her head a slight shake.
It was easy to imagine odd movements in the atmosphere. She put the corkscrew down and picked up a glass, pouring a sip of the maroon liquid into it. The man took it from her—the CEO variety with manicured looks and a tailored suit. He was trying to mend his relationship with the woman next to him. Samantha didn’t know what he’d done wrong—she only knew his sincerity of love mixed with the wine would go far in sewing together the woman’s broken heart.
He sniffed the bouquet and took a sip. When he nodded, Samantha filled the woman’s glass and then finished filling the man’s. The couple drank at the same time, and Samantha watched the hues of a red wave between them, mending the break and making their hearts whole.
The sound of smooth jazz fell away along with the dimmed lights, private booths and floor to ceiling wine racks. The walls and floor waved until classic rock blared out of a jukebox, vinyl booths torn and faded replaced the leather ones, dart boards took over the wine rack area and a pool table with a stained glass light hanging over it took up the center of the room.
Samantha put her hand on her chest and breathed easier. The moment earlier had just been a warning of the change to come—a change that happened all the time like pushing the reboot button on the computer. The pool bar was her home setting—the place she could most be herself.
She walked through the now empty room to the bar in the back with the mirror running behind it. The tight jeans rubbed comfort into her long legs, giving her hips a bit of a sway. She had just enough time for a shot of whiskey before the rowdy crowd arrived; she needed it to take away the lingering unease from the moment before. The bar hadn’t loosened its connection to her; it was as strong as ever. She grabbed a bottle of her best and a shot glass from under the bar. The liquid fired down her throat but refused to assure her that she had imagined the bar distancing itself from her.
She took another shot as a group of men and women entered dressed in jeans and concert t-shirts. They were just here to have a good time—they didn’t require special treatment like the couple had. The second shot of whiskey ran through her blood, convincing her that everything was normal: the bar only had her. They were entwined like lovers in a marble statue; no shift could loosen the bond.
People kept arriving, and Samantha kept the drinks flowing to everyone without ever taking an order. The bar told her what people needed, even if it wasn’t their favorite. A few men in painter’s overalls scoffed at the rum and coke she offered instead of their favorite beers, but after one sip, they quit arguing.
As she sashayed between the bar and the booths, she forgot about the loosening between her and the bar—it had been a mere figment of worry. When everyone had a drink and the bar was filled, Samantha took to the pool table. Her thoughts fragmented when she broke the balls apart, and she felt a rift down her spine as if the bar tried to break from her again. She straightened her back and shook the feeling off again as two balls sunk into pockets. Her opponent whistled and said he was glad they hadn’t bet.
She gripped the cue harder and leaned down again. Outside, a motorcycle engine pulsed its sound into the bar in time with the music. It entered her spine in the slight space the bar had left when it tried to break from her again. Samantha straightened her back without taking a shot. The bar was her home; her better-half; her only love. She had no use for motorcycles and was glad when the engine stopped.
She leaned down again to take her shot and try to woo the bar to complete her again—she knew the bar enjoyed it when her opponent never even got a turn. But right as the cue slid between her fingers, the door swung open and in stepped a man as tall as her slender six-foot height. The cue grazed over the white ball and made a sound that would’ve caused her to cringe, except her heartbeat filled her ears instead.
She slowly stood straight as her opponent laughed, but her eyes were only for the stranger. His unshaven face seemed to match the wanderlust in his eyes and awoke a yearning in Samantha she hadn’t experienced in ages—a yearning for the outside.
When his eyes met hers, the pleasant tingles of new romance played through her body. She turned away from him and the table. She didn’t need this, she didn’t need him. Anyway, he was too young—maybe thirty years to her fortyish. She needed to figure out what was wrong with the bar.
She walked away as if she needed to refill somebody’s drink, but only made it half-way before a hand fell on her shoulder. She knew it was the stranger without turning to look at him. He smelled like musk and motor oil in perfect harmony.
Just when she took a deep breath to steel herself to greet him, her phone rang from her pocket—not just anyone’s ring, but her sister: the only other person with a claim to the bar. The room spun. She didn’t know what to do if the bar was leaving her for her sister. The stranger’s grip steadied her like he was an old friend.
Samantha stood paralyzed with indecision.
What should Samantha do? Escape from the stranger’s grip and answer the phone, or ignore her sister’s call and turn and greet the stranger?