This story idea came from a conversation between my sister and I. Long story short, we were discussing different types of bartenders and how "trustworthy" they are. The phrase "Don't trust the young bartenders. They're flashy and full of shit" was said and, well, this is what came of it. I quite enjoy this story and the men it centers around, and I believe there will be many more to come. Enjoy!
The chatter among the patrons flowed through the room, echoing off the glass window panes and up into the high ceilings. Their conversations blended together, making them near impossible to follow individually, and instead only bits and pieces were distinct. A peal of laughter, a gasp, someone choking on their drink because of a sudden shock. It eventually became white noise to those not involved in these interactions. Just sounds that allowed one to fall into their own mindscape and leave the present behind, if but for a moment.
Leaning against the far corner of the bar, wiping down the last glass of his shift, Shiloh allowed himself to be lulled into an inner peace, his thoughts centering on going home and seeing Milly. He smiled a fraction at these thoughts. Knowing that his shift would be ending in just ten short minutes and that he would be allowed to leave this swanky hotel lounge to do whatever he wished was pure bliss to him. His free time was priceless, and as such, he treasured it above most things.
Placing the glass back on its appropriate shelf, he glanced at the clock again. Only a minute had passed since he last checked it. He grumbled at this injustice and then sighed lightly. Time would pass, as it always did. Tonight just required a bit more patience than other nights. Shiloh made sure to stay at the farthest point of the bar until his shift finally ended. Should he find himself any closer to the patrons, he would inevitably be swarmed with drink orders that would keep him at work longer than what he wished. On top of that, many of these patrons had reached the point of being cut off, and he really didn’t want to have to argue with several drunk businessmen and other higher ups who thought that if they just continued to yell and curse at the bartender, they would magically get another drink in their hand. There was just no time for that.
A flash of white caught the corner of his eye, and he turned to his right to see a woman approaching him. She had just left the ballroom across the hall which was bursting with colorful lights and loud music, and she was fanning herself with her hand while looking around the lounge, her stride towards the bar never breaking. She wore a simple ball gown with a belt of crystals tied around her waist. Her hair was pulled back in a simple half-up style, and her makeup was subtle. She didn’t look like most of the brides that came through this hotel. Her simplicity was breathtaking, and Shiloh found himself smiling at her despite the fact that she was now sitting at the bar.
“Too hot?” Shiloh poured her a glass of cool water and handed it to her. She smiled and took the glass gratefully, taking a small sip.
“A bit, yes. It’s this damn dress! It doesn’t exactly allow for air flow,” she laughed lightly, then she gestured with her glass. “Thank you for this. I didn’t come here with the intention of getting anything. I just needed a break from the party, and I figured it was probably cooler in here.” The bride smiled again and took another sip of her drink.
“Well, you chose well. This is honestly one of the best rooms in this entire hotel, I think.” They both looked around, appreciating the grandeur of the room. “Congratulations on your wedding, by the way. You are truly a beautiful bride.” Shiloh turned back to the woman, who was now turning a deep shade of strawberry.
“That’s very sweet of you, thank you.” She put her hand up to her face to hide her embarrassment, clearly overwhelmed by the compliment. Shiloh watched as she turned and looked out to the other patrons who were still mingling amongst themselves, completely engrossed in their own little worlds with little worry about the man and woman in the corner. The two of them surveyed the socialites, both becoming lost in their own thoughts. The sound of a door opening and loud music brought them both back to attention, cutting their musings short.
“There you are! I got worried. When I couldn’t find you, I was afraid you had second thoughts about me.” The groom slipped his arm around his bride’s shoulder and kissed her forehead, as she smiled and leaned back to rest her head against his chest.
“Oh, I did. I was about ready to run for a cab, but I got sidetracked by this handsome gentleman. I mean, he knows how to make any drink I could ever want. That’s hard to pass up.” She laced her fingers with his hand at her shoulder, sporting a more roguish smile than just a moment before.
“Damn. That is hard to compete with…” the groom laughed lightly and looked down at his wife, who looked at him with happy eyes. Shiloh felt slightly out of place in this display of love, so he decided to do what he did best. He pulled out three shot glasses and filled them with the best whiskey the bar had. He pushed two forward and raised his own.
“To the newlyweds. May you have a lifetime of happiness and good drinks.” The couple smiled and raised their glasses, clinking them together before they all drank the liquor. The groom began to pull out his wallet, but Shiloh waved him off. “It’s on me. As an apology for almost stealing the bride.” He smiled a crooked smile, and the groom laughed at the comment. Still, the man pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to Shiloh.
“As a thank you for stalling her so I could convince her to stay.” The bride then laughed and got up, thanked Shiloh for his company, then turned to head back to the ballroom with her groom, walking hand in hand together.
Shiloh watched them re-enter the ballroom, then gathered the glasses together to dispose of them for the next bartender to take care of.
“Do mine eyes deceive me? Does my Shiloh actually have a heart?” The teasing voice cut through the white noise, breaking into Shiloh’s thoughts of leaving in a timely manner. Shiloh sighed loudly.
“Alejandro,” he said with exasperation. Alejandro beamed up at his taller coworker, showing true joy at the encounter he just witnessed.
“You have no idea the joy I am experiencing, my friend! I have known you for three years, and that was the most heartwarming thing I have ever seen from you!” Alejandro grabbed Shiloh’s left arm and shook it with enthusiasm, his joy grating on Shiloh little by little.
“Yeah, well, take it in. You won’t see it again.” Shiloh handed Alejandro the glasses he had collected, gave him a salute, and walked towards the computer to clock out. Alejandro flowed behind him, dumping the glasses in a tub nearby.
“No, no, no! Why are you this way, my friend? What is wrong with you? You never show any semblance of love or affection. Do you know how much better your life would be if you just let love in your life?” Shiloh paused his typing to look at Alejandro, his face blank.
“Alejandro, we’ve been over this. You play that role. You are the young and exotic bartender who flirts with all the patrons and make them feel special and loved, and I am the boring old bartender who asks what you want and gets it for you and moves on. That’s why we work so well together. We fit all the rolls a bartender needs to fill. Don’t make this into something it doesn’t need to be.” Shiloh finished his typing and began to walk back to the end of the bar where he could finally leave for home.
“Ok, first off, I’m Puerto Rican. You know, a United States territory? If that is considered ‘exotic,’ I worry about the state of this nation. Second, I am not saying you need to act as I do. All I am saying is that it would not kill you to show a soft side every now and then. Allow yourself these moments of love and happiness.” Alejandro crossed his arms, annoyed with his stubborn friend.
Shiloh sighed again. “You know what I mean. You’re not white, which, for some of these people, is “exotic” enough, and I have plenty of love in my life! Milly fills many of those empty spaces. Also, just because I don’t get chummy with our customers, doesn’t mean I don’t show love to people in my life.”
Alejandro approached Shiloh and put a hand on each of the taller man’s shoulders. “Shiloh, understand that what I am about to say, I say as someone who loves Milly: she does not have the capacity to give you the love and happiness you need in your life.” The two bartenders looked at each other, Shiloh expressing mild annoyance at Alejandro’s words and Alejandro keeping his expression very serious. Then, a look of realization washed over Alejandro. “Also, why have you never shown this love to me, huh? Am I not important enough to you to be shown kindness from you?” Alejandro pouted his bottom lip at his friend, looking truly pitiful.
Shiloh rolled his eyes. “I’m not fighting with you about this again, Alejandro.” Shiloh grabbed a towel to wipe down the counter, hoping he could slip away after completing the last task he had to do every work night.
“All I am saying is that we have been friends for a while now. Is it not odd that I have never been to your apartment or gone to get a meal with you or met Milly in person, rather than just see pictures of her on your phone? I know you and I differ in many ways, but I had hoped we were better friends than what you make us out to be. What person only knows his muchacho in the workplace?”
“A work friend,” Shiloh said without missing a beat. Alejandro huffed an indignant sigh. Shiloh turned to look at him. “Alejandro, we hang out in the work place. That’s what we are to me. I’ve told you you’re my favorite coworker I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing a shift with. When I’m here, we shoot the breeze together, we laugh, we work, and then we both go home and do our own thing. That’s worked pretty great so far, right? Why change a good thing?”
“Is it a crime to want to further pursue my friendship with my coworker? Shiloh, you are my best friend. You have been since I started this job. I want to be friends like you see in the commercials! We go to football games, we go to bars and clubs, we go out for food! Why is that such a bad thing?”
Shiloh leaned against the bar, the heels of his hands pushing against his eyes. A low growl came from him as he held that position, working something out in his head. Alejandro simply stared at his friend, very aware that this typical tantrum would end momentarily. When Shiloh finally stood again, he looked to Alejandro and pointed to the hairline at his temples.
“Do you see this,” he asked, looking very tired in that moment.
“An early salt and peppering of your hair, but you pull it off quite nicely, really. You look quite distinguished,” Alejandro said honestly, taking a moment to admire what he was observing.
“Right. I’m going grey. It means I’m old. You’re 23 years old, and I’m pushing 36 this year. I’m an old man who doesn’t like going to clubs or football games or stuff like that. You wouldn’t like seeing me on our days off.”
“Shiloh, you are only as old as you feel! If you do not like going to these things, however, we can always do what you want to do! What is it you like to do, my friend?” Alejandro smiled hopefully to Shiloh.
“I like to go home, put the tv on, then fall asleep in front of it until I either wake up and make it to my bed myself, or the sun comes through the blinds and wakes me up with annoying persistence. Is that how you want to spend your time? Your precious free time? Not in a bar with young people like yourself, but with an old man who walks around in his boxers and eats crackers out of a box for several meals of the day?” Shiloh crossed his arms, hoping that was enough to scare his friend off and leave him be.
Alejandro again put his hands on Shiloh’s shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said with great conviction: “It would be an honor to sit on the couch you fall asleep on.”
Shiloh stood there for a moment, completely silent. He wanted to be mad at this young man standing in front of him. He wanted to tell him no, it wasn’t going to happen. Tell him to give up. Instead, though, he sighed, and laughed, and rolled his eyes, and nodded. “Okay. Shit, man, alright, you win. I don’t know why you’re so insistent, but I’ll let you determine this one for yourself.”
The young man smiled, then hugged his companion, who did not return the hug but also did not fight it. Once he was released, the older man closed his eyes and shook his head. “How do you do it? All that charm and conniving showmanship at 23. You’re one of a kind, man. Honestly, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, in all honesty, most of it depends on my good looks. The other bits are patience and knowing your audience. Honestly, you could do it, too. You just don’t put yourself out there.”
“Oh, and deal with as many women as you do? No thanks. I honestly don’t know how you do it. The older women, especially.”
Alejandro sighed heavily, but turned to Shiloh with mischief in his eye. “You have to have rules. It’s the only way to make sure things don’t spiral out of control. For me, I only have two rules: One, no sleeping with anyone. Once physical emotions get involved, you get too attached, and I’m not about to ruin a marriage. That’s not what I’m about. Two, make sure no one gets hurt. These ladies, they’re looking for someone to listen to them. To maybe go have lunch with. Have a little attention from someone young and charming. They want to feel 16 again; full of life and bubbly emotions. I don’t mind providing that for them, as long as they know we are not in a relationship in any shape or form.”
“Yeah, but let’s not pretend that the arrangements you have with these women aren’t mutually beneficial. You give them your time, but they do provide you monetary gifts in some form or another. Don’t think that I don’t notice the nice clothes you wear when you go out. Your pictures are like something out of a fashion designer’s magazine. Or that nice ass car you drive around. You’re not a Mother Theresa in any shape or form here.” Shiloh cocked an eyebrow at Alejandro, who only shrugged at the accusations leveled against him.
“I won’t deny that. I do accept their gifts, but if things start to get too involved, I won’t allow them to continue. I refuse to permit these women to feel heartbreak when it comes to me. If they get too attached, I make sure to make a clean break. I may capitalize on a situation, but I am not a man who lacks honor.”
Shiloh gave him the side eye. “I’m going to have a plaque made to hang above the bar. It will read ‘Beware the young bartender: He is flashy and full of shit.’”
Alejandro laughed. “Well then, I will make a plaque of my own to hang below yours. It will say ‘Trust the old bartender: He has seen too much shit and just wants to go home.’” Shiloh laughed himself, a genuine and hearty laugh.
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” he said, finally composing himself, “I’ll get those commissioned ASAP.” He looked at Alejandro, but his eyes were suddenly drawn over the shorter man’s shoulder to an older woman across the room who was staring him down, a look of anger clear on her face. He grabbed a full bottle of brandy from below the bar to replace an empty one sitting on the shelf. “Is that a friend of yours over there,” he asked as he busied himself, not making eye contact with Alejandro or the woman behind them.
The young man looked behind him, waved causally, then turned back to Shiloh. “Yes, she is a regular of mine. I’m afraid she’s becoming a bit too close, as we just discussed. I’m afraid I will have to end things with her soon if she cannot distance herself a bit.” His voice sounded slightly concerned, but mostly tired at the thought of having to have such an unpleasant conversation with this particular customer. Shiloh looked to his friend.
“Is everything alright? You sound kind of anxious. Do you need me to stay?”
Alejandro shook his head. “No, it’s fine. She is rather dramatic, but she listens to reason. I think it will be OK.”
Shiloh looked at him hard, but relented. “If you say so.” He took out a slip of paper and wrote something down before handing it off to the other man. “That’s my address. You can come over next weekend.”
Alejandro’s face fell. “Next weekend? But this weekend is only beginning! Why are you being so mean and making me wait to come see you?!”
“You think I was going to let that comment about Milly slide?” Shiloh gave a sly smirk as he put his heavy jacket on. “You get to wait a week now. That’s how long it will take her to get over such a terrible comment.”
“You know I was only joking. I love Milly! Tell her I said that!” Alejandro had to yell the last bit as Shiloh finally walked away from the bar, his retreat from work far later than what he wanted. The older man held his index finger above his head as he disappeared from sight, indicating his firm stance on making Alejandro wait. Alejandro just smiled and pocketed the piece of paper, intending on holding it as close as a gold coin. To him, it was as good as a piece of treasure: The next step in their friendship.
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cover photo credit: Trevor Gerzen