“I just don’t know what to do,” Mason said. He looked up from the laptop he’d been staring at and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “None of the numbers make sense to me.”
“Don’t look at me,” I shrugged. “I am not any better with numbers and spreadsheets than you are.”
“That’s right,” Mason said. “You’re one of those artist types, just like the rest of this bunch.”
I felt a little bad for Mason. As the manager at Sin and Tonic he was the one who had to deal with all the paperwork and accounting crap that I hated. Considering I did freelance graphic design and illustrations you would think I had a better grip on the business side of things. But Mason was entirely correct that my artist brain just wasn’t up for this kind of challenge.
It seemed like he had been fighting with spreadsheets for weeks now and wasn’t any closer to figuring out… whatever it was he had to figure out. I didn’t pretend to understand any of it.
I was just about to tell Mason that maybe it was time to hire someone, a professional, to look at the books. But Grant popped his head into the back office before I could mention it.
”We’ve got a little bit of trouble out here,” Grant said with a worried expression on his face. “Lizzie asked me to get Evan out here for some backup.”
“What is it this time?” I asked. “Is there another drunken fight about to break out? Or is there some creepy guy trying to hit on Lizzie again?”
“If there was some creepy guy then Lizzie would be able to take care of it herself, believe me,” Grant laughed. “This time it’s a poor drunken girl who seems to be in need of some help.”
“What kind of help?” I asked. “Don’t tell me someone’s broken a heel again and needs a replacement shoe from the lost and found.”
“I still don’t understand how shoes end up in the lost and found,” Mason said. “It’s not like somebody can just walk out of here without any shoes on, right?”
“I don’t begin to understand the mysteries of the lost and found box.” I turned to Grant. “Is there something I should prepare myself for?”
“I think it’s a case of a runaway bride this time,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow. I’d heard of the runaway bride scenario before but I’d never encountered one myself. I had to admit that, as cliché as it was, I was sort of looking forward to the day when I ran into that kind of situation. It would make for a hell of a funny story. But not for the girl of course, poor thing.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll go out there and see what I can do.”
I left Mason to tackle his paperwork and spreadsheets alone. I was grateful for the distraction, because I had half-worried that if I stayed any longer he would have tried to pawn off the work to me anyway. That would have been a disaster for everyone.
I followed Grant into the front area with the bar counter. Sure enough, there was a girl sitting slumped over in a white wedding dress. She had streaks of black smearing her cheeks and what looked to be a tiara tucked away in the rat’s nest of her hair.
When she she looked up at me it was with a bleary gaze. Her blue eyes took me by surprise. They were bright and blue, and that color, along with her blond hair, and tiara, made her look just like one of those princesses out of some kind of fairytale. It was a weird coincidence that she looked similar to one of the illustrations I’d done recently for a fantasy novel with just that kind of plot.
It was almost uncanny.
Before I could do more than ask if there was a problem, or question her to see what was wrong — although considering the sight in front of me I had a pretty good idea what was wrong — she blurted out an apology.
It turned out that her credit cards were declined and she had no cash. She didn’t have any way to pay for the bucket loads of alcohol she had consumed.
Lizzie hadn’t told me exactly how many drinks the girl had ordered but from her hazy eyes and the way she wavered unsteadily in her seat I had to imagine bucket load was an understatement.
I reassured her that I wasn’t going to call the cops and asked if she wanted to talk. Her face crumpled and I thought she would burst into tears, but instead she took me up on the offer and started telling me her life story.
I had to feel bad for the girl. Her parents had seemingly forced her into unloved marriage for some kind of business merger reason, and if that wasn’t enough they had cut off her credit cards when she ran out on the wedding.
The longer she talked the less coherent she became, until soon all she was doing was sobbing and hiccuping between words. I nodded with sympathy and listened quietly. A lot of the time that was the only thing our bar patrons needed from us. They needed someone to listen to them and not judge. Being a bartender was almost like being a therapist sometimes. They knew that no matter how bad their day had been, we had always heard something worse.
But although I’d listened to some pretty bad sob stories, this one almost took the cake. We’d had a few doozies in the months since I first started working at Sin and Tonic, but we’d never had a runaway bride leaving a forced marriage and getting drunk off her ass.
When she finally stopped crying and I suggested I get her home, she told me something that almost made my heart break.
She told me that she didn’t think she had a home anymore.
Then she began to slump over to the side, passing out in my arms as I caught her just seconds before she would have hit the floor.
“Well, this is a situation,“ Lizzie said. “What are you going to do?”
“We can’t leave the poor thing here,” I said. “She didn’t mention anybody that you could call to come pick her up?”
Lizzie shook her head. “She told me that there was nobody.”
That was pretty shitty. Now I felt really bad for the girl.
”I think it’s best if she got some sleep,“ Lizzie said. “I know this is pretty unusual but do you think you could let her crash at your place for the night?”
I raised an eyebrow at Lizzie.
“You want me to take home a runaway bride?” I asked.
“My place is cramped and small,” she said. “There’d be no place for her to get some sleep. Besides, don’t you have that spare room?”
I looked down at the girl. She was already sound asleep in my arms. Her cherub face was flushed and the black streaks on her cheeks made her look pitiful and wretched. She murmured in her sleep and nestled down further into my arms. I brushed a strand of that pretty blond hair away from her forehead. The poor thing. If she really didn’t have anywhere else to go, I couldn’t just abandon her, could I?
“Lizzie, do you think you can go get some things for her to wear from the lost and found?” I asked.
“I can do better than that,” Lizzie said. “I have some spare clothes in the back that I was keeping just in case of emergencies.”
We did tend to have a lot of accidents with customers spilling alcohol and other sticky substances all over us. It came with the territory when you worked at a bar.
“I’ll go get her something really cute to wear tomorrow,” Lizzie said with a chipper tone. “I’ll make sure that she has something to wear that isn’t her wedding dress. I’m sure she’ll feel a lot better if she has normal clothes when she wakes up tomorrow.”
I looked down at the girl again. She had told me her name was Alice. Just like Alice in Wonderland. The same blue eyes and same blonde hair. It almost was like she was some kind of girl straight out of a fairytale.
“Do you think she’ll mind waking up in a stranger’s bed with no idea where she is?” I asked. “Don’t you think she would rather have us call someone?”
“You heard what she said,” Lizzie shrugged. “She said she doesn’t have anyone else.”
This whole thing was sounding more and more shitty for this poor girl. For Alice.
“I guess I have no choice,” I said.
“You’re really good guy, Evan,” Lizzie said with a grin. “”Make sure to give her lots of water and some painkillers for her headache tomorrow, will you?”
As Lizzie went to go get a change of clothes I lifted Alice up in my arms and carried her out of the bar to my car. She clung to my shirt and made a sound of protest in her sleep. She didn’t want to let me go.
The tiny little sound that left her mouth, almost a moan, was enough to make dirty thoughts enter my head. She really was gorgeous, with those pink lips, delicate neck and slim figure.
But I quickly shook off those thoughts. I wasn’t going to think things like that about a poor runaway bride who’d gotten drunk at my bar. I was going to let her crash at my place to sleep it off and then I was going to figure out a way to get her back home. Surely she had somebody she could rely on. It wasn’t like she was completely friendless, right?
As I settled her into the backseat of my car her eyes fluttered open for a brief moment.
“Thank you,” she said in a small, tired voice.
I didn’t know if she was even conscious, or if she was talking in her sleep. But those two words, spoken in such a quiet voice, did something to me again.
Why did I suddenly have a feeling this girl was going to lead to a lot of trouble?
I make sure she was comfortable enough curled up in the backseat before I tucked her feet in and closed the car door.
She really did look like a fairytale princess.
Did that make me a prince?
I laughed to myself. I had been spending too much time drawing illustrations for fantasy novels. This was just me doing a favor for some poor girl. Nothing more than that. She would wake up the next morning and I would send her on her way.
But as I slid into the driver’s side seat, I knew that I was lying to myself.
There was something about this girl.
I peeked back at her. She was snoring softly. I smiled to myself.
Somehow I had a feeling all that trouble she caused would end up being worth it in the end.