Home > 99 Percent Mine

99 Percent Mine
Author: Sally Thorne

Chapter 1

Nobody taught me this when I first started as a bartender, but luckily, I was a quick learner: When a group of men are walking in, you should work out which one is the alpha.

If you can handle him, you might get a bit of respect from the rest. Tonight, I can pick him straightaway. He’s the tallest and best-looking, with a you’re welcome gleam in his eye. How predictable.

He and his friends have spilled out of a local frat party, bored and wanting adventure. They’re all wearing pastel polo shirts. Well, buckle up, buttercups. If you play your cards right, things could get downright exhilarating. Devil’s End Bar is not for the faint of heart. I see some of the bikers exchange amused looks over the pool tables. By the door, our security guy is sitting up straighter. Weird how we have the most trouble when this type of boy walks in.

I don’t smile at the alpha. “Are you lost, kids?”

“Hey there, mister,” he responds—a jab at my short haircut—and his friends laugh and intone, “Ohhhh shit.”

My name is Darcy and he’s unknowingly made a Jane Austen joke. I doubt he’d get it. The laugh fades out of him a little as I narrow my eyes and stare harder. Alpha Boy remembers I have full control of the alcohol. “But seriously, it looks hot on you.”

My colleague Holly is backing away. She’s too new at this, and she’s feeling their eyes. “I’m just going to get more … register rolls.” She vanishes out back in a puff of gardenia body spray.

I’m still holding my hard stare with the alpha and I get a ping of triumph in my gut when he looks away first. I’m the alpha now. “We must go to the same barber, because you’re looking real pretty, too. Now, order something or get out.”

The boss boy is not used to this from a woman and to his surprise he likes it. He chews gum in an openmouthed way, his avid eyes on my face. “What time do you get off work?”

I imagine a Ken doll left out in the sun too long, and I step on that soft tan head like it’s a cigarette. “Not for a million years.”

He’s visibly miffed. After all, being good-looking is his life’s backstage pass. Shouldn’t it work on me? Am I broken? The light hits his face in a shadowless beige pan of color, and he’s nothing that could interest me. I’m a face snob. It’s all about the shadows.

“What do you want?” I’m already gathering shot glasses.

“Sambuca shots,” one guy shouts. Naturally. The elixir of morons.

I pour a row and take payments, and the tip jar gets fuller. They love being treated like dirt. These boys want the full biker-bar safari experience, and I am their tour guide. Their leader continues to flirt with me, determined to wear me down, but I walk away midsentence.

It’s Sunday night, but the people in here aren’t worried about being rested for work tomorrow.

My grandmother Loretta said once that if you know how to pour a drink into a glass, you can get a job anywhere. She was a bartender in her twenties, too. It was good advice; I’ve poured drinks into glasses all over the world, and I’ve dealt with every possible variant of alpha male.

I wonder what Loretta would say if she could see me now, pouring this beer with an insult preloaded on my tongue. She’d laugh and clap and say, We could have been twins, Darcy Barrett, because she was always saying that. There was a slideshow of photographs at her funeral, and I could feel the sideways glances at me.

Twins. No kidding. Now I’m sleeping in her bedroom and finishing off her canned goods. If I start carrying crystals in my purse and reading tarot cards, I will officially be her reincarnation.

Holly must be picking up those register rolls from the factory. One of the leather-jacket bikers has been waiting too long, and he’s looking sideways at the Pastels. I nod to him and hold up my finger—One minute. He grizzles and huffs but decides against causing grievous bodily harm.

“Are those leather pants?” A Pastel boy leans over the bar, looking at my lower half. “You’re like Bad Sandy from Grease.” His eyes focus on the fake name tag I’ve pinned above my boob. “Joan.” His skeptical eyes slide lower. I guess I don’t look like a Joan.

“I’m obviously Rizzo, you idiot. And if you don’t quit leaning over like that looking at my tits, Keith is gonna come over. That’s him, by the door. He’s six foot ten and he’s bored.”

I twinkle my fingers in a wave to Keith and he copies the wave back from his stool.

“He’s bored, I’m bored, and the Leather Jackets are very, very bored.” I move along the bar, handing out glasses, taking payment, bumping the till drawer closed with my hip over and over.

“Joan’s right. We’re very bored,” one of the younger bikers says in a droll tone. He’s been leaning against the bar, watching the exchange with interest. The Pastels all flinch and stare at their phones. The biker and I grin at each other and I slide over a beer on the house.

I’m sick of their huddling. “Sambuca will shrink your nuts. Oh wait, too late. Now, go fuck off.” They do.

Holly’s big eyes peep around the door when the dust has settled. There is nothing in her hands. She’s all legs and elbows, and she was hired by our boss, Anthony, without being asked a single interview question. Faces like hers are very hireable. She can’t count change, pour drinks, or deal with men.

“I’m always so relieved when I see we’re rostered on together.” Holly sits on the bench and exhales long and loud, like she’s been working hard. Her name tag says “HOLLY” and she added a pink glitter heart sticker. “I feel safer whenever I’m with you. I bet you’re even looking out for Keith.”

“That’s true, I am.” I catch Keith’s eye and he tips his chin up in acknowledgment, leaning back against the wall on his stool. Another bartender tip? Make friends with security. I get these guys drunk, and Keith keeps the lid on this place. It occurs to me that I should be giving Holly these pearls of wisdom. But I don’t want her sticking with this job longer than necessary. “When I quit, you’re going to have to get tougher.”

Holly purses her lips. “How much longer are you here?”

“The renovation on my grandma’s place starts in two months, unless it gets pushed back again. And then I am outta here.” Holly’s glitter sticker stresses me out. “I’d never put my real name on my chest in this place.”

She tips her head to the side. She’d be a great bridal model, in a full white cupcake gown and tiara. “I never thought of making a fake one. Who could I be?”

If my old pal the label maker has any clear sticky roll left inside it, it’ll be a stone-cold miracle. Anthony’s care factor about employee turnover is summed up by this bulk pack of name tags. There are about a hundred more to go before he needs to give it any thought.

“You’d be a great Doris.”

Holly’s nose wrinkles. “That’s so old-lady.”

“You want a sexy fake name? Come on, Hol.” I crank out a label and assemble the tag. When I give it to her, she’s silent for a while.

“You think I’m a Bertha?”

“Definitely.” I serve a few more customers.

“I’m more of a Gwendolyn. Or a Violet?” Dutifully, she pins it on anyway.

I make her hand over her old tag and I throw it in the trash. Maybe I can relax a fraction on my shifts if she continues this trajectory.

“One day you’ll be Dr. Bertha Sinclair, counseling depressed parrots, and tucked up in bed every single night at nine P.M.” I sound like an overprotective sister so I tack on, “Or you might be a vet in the South American jungle, helping the macaws learn to love again.”

She tucks her hands in her tight pockets and grins. “We honestly do more than parrots at vet school. I keep telling you.”

“Hey, babe,” a guy says to Holly. Bad boys love good girls.

“If you say so,” I say to her. To him, I say, “Fuck off.”

She keeps playing our game. “I bet that when I’m performing a diagnostic laparoscopy on an old tabby, you’ll be in the South American jungle, with your big backpack on, hacking through the vines.” She makes a chopping motion.

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