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Thursday Night Regulars

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Yoongi always preferred Thursday nights. Anyone downtown on a Thursday had a plan, a specific want that only weekday drinks and dancing could fulfill. Weekend shifts were too sloppy. On Fridays, escapism was a goal achieved by any means necessary: deliriously drunk or overheated and dehydrated, emotions shifting as quickly as the ill-chosen songs on the overpriced juke box. Of course, Yoongi made more money as he served drink after drink to stressed college students on the weekends. But Thursdays were still his favorite.

He could actually hear the customers sitting at the bar on a Thursday night, could properly listen to their stories, and at this point in the semester, just a couple of weeks away from finals, Yoongi had regulars.

There was blue hat guy, who always arrived right at five o'clock and left exactly two hours later. He nursed just one beer in that window, every single Thursday. He never said much, but he watched the television above the bar as if it poured out the worries of his week and replaced them with the mindless cracks of bats and slides into bases.

The pretty fingers lady was a particular favorite. She ordered an old fashion each week, and Yoongi never failed to fixate on her long, slender fingers wrapped around the slick glass. The first time he ever worked a shift on a night when she came in, she asked him how his classes were going, and Yoongi, after complaining lightly about how difficult an engineering major was regardless of the concentration, assumed the customer also attended the nearby university, and thus returned the question back to her. She laughed shyly behind her hand, fingers shining with the condensation from her glass.

"I graduated from your university almost ten years ago now," she admitted, and Yoongi bowed and blushed in embarrassment. Luckily, he had spoken to her formally and respectfully as he did with all of his patrons and his error only resulted in incessant teasing whenever Yoongi was bartending during her visit. He now knew to ask her instead how busy she was in the marketing firm she worked at down the street.

And then there was Mr. crier. As soon as happy hour ended on a Thursday mid-semester, a guy who did look close to college age sat down at the corner of the bar, eyes puffy and cheeks pink. He let his head hang so he stared down at the brown surface of the bar rather than at Yoongi as most other customers would to get his attention quickly. Yoongi preferred it that way. He barely had to say much when customers came in with money in their hand, a practiced drink order on the tip of their tongues. But when Mr. Crier first showed up, Yoongi had to take the initiative, and he went with the most cliche, robotic of offerings:

"You look like you could use a drink."

With a sad smile and the smallest tip of his head, the silent customer agreed.

"What can I get you?"

"Something sweet and strong," the guy answered as he rubbed at his eyes.

Yoongi nodded unseen and went to add his favorite combination of liquors and juice to a glass. It was a drink he was used to making for his friend Jungkook whose tolerance for alcohol was high but tolerance for the harsh taste of alcohol was low.  

"Let me know what you think." Yoongi sat the glass of pink, cold liquid on a napkin. The man lifted his head from where he was resting it fully on the bar, forehead now as blotchy as his cheeks, and took a tentative sip. His eyes closed in satisfaction and he licked his lips clean of any and all that remained on his mouth.

"That's exactly what I needed." Yoongi didn't have any expectation for what Mr. Crier sounded like, but the voice that fell over him was a bit strained, mostly soft with the tiniest hint of a lisp. Yoongi found himself watching the way his lips formed the syllables.

On any other night with any other customer, Yoongi would have nodded, perhaps given a small smile, and then walked away to complete another round of tending to the bar. Yoongi liked listening to whatever it was his customers wanted to tell him, but he certainly wasn't one to pry, in his personal or his work life. But with doom-and-gloom still looking down toward his feet and an unmistakable sniffle sounding over the pop song playing from the speakers, he caved.

"Rough night?"

Maybe the customer also assumed Yoongi would have walked away because he looked up in surprise at his words. Yoongi would have taken the opportunity to take in all of his features as he for the first time sat up in his chair, facing forward, but he was unable to do much but stare back at the stranger whose gaze was one of sadness, perhaps a hint of anger, too.

"Why do good people with good intentions always get dealt the shittiest hand?"

Yoongi was curious to know what could have happened for this college kid, not much younger than him, to feel like he was somehow wronged by the universe. He was grateful to see that with each sip, Mr. Crier seemed a little less dejected.

“Anyone can have shitty things happen to them regardless of how good of a person they are,” Yoongi reasoned. “You just have to work fucking hard to overcome your circumstances.” He could hear his manager’s words in the back of his head: stop cussing at the customers, Yoongi . But he didn’t try to amend his words.

“And if that doesn’t work?” he asked, voice flat.

“Know when to fold. Wait for the next hand.”

“Provided it’s not the end of the game…” Mr. Crier mumbled.

Yoongi searched the man’s face for an understanding he wasn’t gathering from this words. He wasn’t quite sure what it was they were talking about originally and even less now. Yoongi didn’t have to wonder for much longer, as the cryptic customer downed the rest of the drink and pulled a twenty out of his wallet.

“Thanks for the drink, keep the change,” he said, pushing his chair in snugly against the bar.

Yoongi mumbled a thanks to Mr. Crier’s retreating back and placed the empty glass in the sink.

***

The next time Yoongi heard of Mr. Crier, he was working an odd weekday afternoon shift, having switched with a coworker to study for an exam over the weekend. On most weeks, bartending was the perfect job for a mechanical engineering major since it didn’t interfere with classes and research during the day, but every couple of months Yoongi needed the overnight hours to prepare for the most difficult work. Usually, the afternoon shifts he swapped for were so slow he could get away with keeping his notes out on the bar to get even more revision in. On this particular week, his review of that morning’s lecture was interrupted by Taehyung, another bartender who Yoongi often worked with, and Jungkook stopping by to borrow a calculus textbook.

“Oh, yeah,” Tae started, plopping himself down near the door to the break room where he knew Yoongi kept his bookbag, “What kind of magical signature drink do you make?”

“Huh?”

“Some guy came in on Thursday asking for a pink, sweet drink some short, pink-haired guy made for him.”

“I’m not short.”

Both Taehyung and Jungkook’s eyes conveyed what they dared not say since they knew Yoongi was doing them a favor.

“What did the guy look like?” Yoongi asked before disappearing briefly behind the swinging door.

“He wasn’t that much taller than you actually,” Tae answered loudly enough for Yoongi to hear him from the lounge, just barely stifling a chuckle. “And he looked upset. I asked him like ten times if he was okay.”

Yoongi passed his old introductory calculus book over to them without acknowledging Tae’s words. He knew exactly who it was that came in asking for his drink. It wasn’t every week he got customers crying at his bar; he remembered.

“So what did you end up making him if you didn’t know the drink?” Jungkook asked toward Taehyung, hugging Yoongi’s borrowed textbook against his chest.

“I made him a grateful dead.”

“Tae’s that’s neither pink nor sweet.”

“Yeah, and I’m not short with pink hair.” He patted his hand roughly across the top of his head, seemingly referencing both his height and his hair color at once. “I was never going to win.”

“Win what?”

Taehyung slumped in his chair. “The very clear bartender competition he entered me in to.”

“That’s definitely not what he was doing but for the record, yes, I am winning this competition,” Yoongi teased.

Tae pouted and insisted the guy loved the drink he made him.

“But what did you make for him, Yoongi?” Jungkook asked.

“Your favorite.”

Jungkook’s eyes widened in surprise. “Hey, I thought you only made that for me! We were going to name it ‘The Jeon.’”

“No we were not-”

“Wait, why don’t you make me a special drink? Don’t play favorites,” Taehyung whined.

“Come on, Tae, I am clearly the favorite, Yoongi’s known me longer. You’re losing both the bartender and the best friend competition.”

“Well, he’s known ‘upset-guy’ for like five minutes, and he already likes him as much as you.”

“Mr. Crier,” Yoongi corrected.

Both of his friends turned to him with a question written clearly in their features.

“Mr-?”

“Don’t you have classes to go to? Go, go, give me the book back when you’re done, go go, I’ll talk to you later” Yoongi shoo’ed them.

“Thanks for letting us borrow the book. Tell Mr. Crier we said hi! Workshop new names for the drink with him,” Tae giggled out as he made his way to the door.

Yoongi, burying his face in his hands, couldn’t stop his ears from hearing his manager whisper ‘Mr. Crier?’ from the other side of the bar.

***

Most Thursdays since the one Yoongi missed, Mr. Crier sat in the same corner seat of the bar, looking less than happy--ranging from a stray tear rolling down his cheek to ill-masked contempt--and ordered what was apparently Yoongi’s signature drink.

“It feels wrong to order this when your hair doesn’t match anymore,” Mr. Crier confessed a week prior. Under the stress of upcoming finals, Yoongi bleached over his already-bleached pink hair so that it was now stark white. His hair might’ve been unhealthily dry and his jeans might’ve had an unfixable bleach stain, but Yoongi figured changing his hair was a better option than smoking weed or binge eating to relieve his stress.

“Is that the only reason it tasted good?” Yoongi asked while he poured water in a plastic cup for what he presumed to be the designated driver of the group sitting at the long expanse in the middle of the bar.

“No,” Mr. Crier mumbled.

When Yoongi finished filling the orders from everyone currently seated, he drifted back over to the regular customer with swollen bags under his eyes and dark hair shoved roughly back away from his forehead, as if he had run his hands through it too many times that night.

Yoongi waited, as he did each week, for him to tell him what was wrong. Well, Mr. Crier never told him outright. He spoke in metaphors and far far aways, but Yoongi got the gist. Or at least he thought.

“Feeling...no, being trapped makes you do horrible things.”

“Trapped how?”

“By the people around you, the system you’re born into, the neighborhood you grow up in, your race, your gender, your sexuality, your job. What doesn’t trap us is a shorter list.”

“And that’s why people do bad things?”

“No, that’s why good people do bad things. Shitty people can have every opportunity in the world and still be assholes.”

Yoongi nodded. That made sense to him.

“But some people who feel trapped don’t lash out at all,” Yoongi offered. Every time Mr. Crier presented him with a dilemma, a problem, a concern, he tried to counter with a perspective he perhaps hadn’t considered before walking into the bar.

“Maybe they should, though. Maybe that’s the only way things change. When has complacency ever gotten us anywhere?”

And sometimes, Thursday night conversations with Mr. Crier showed Yoongi a new perspective.

***

The first year Yoongi worked as a bartender, he assumed the closer it got to exams, the emptier the bar would be. Everyone should have been home studying, not out partying. He quickly learned that was the exact opposite of what typically occurred. Maybe it was that students more readily “rewarded” themselves for sessions well studied, maybe it was just that students ignored the inevitability of their most rigorous, cumulative finals by drinking instead, but this close to the end of the semester Yoongi needed help on a Thursday night. Luckily, Taehyung was on the schedule.

Yoongi liked working with Tae. He was never without entertainment. Where Yoongi loved to listen, Tae loved to talk. He asked every customer willing to chat at least five questions, ranging from their favorite class to their biggest fear. He listened with rapt attention, often adding his own commentary or additional anecdotes at the end of each answer, causing both Tae and his doting customer to fall into giggles. Yoongi often listened in, in awe of Tae’s ease and if he was honest with himself, a little jealous.

And it was that same feeling of slight envy that rippled through his body when he saw Mr. Crier, an hour earlier than usual, walk up to the bar in front of where Tae was standing, having a free enough moment to be cutting some limes. Tae pointed toward Yoongi as soon as he registered who it was that was standing before him.

The customer’s eyes followed the direction of Taehyung’s outstretched finger. Mr. Crier’s eyes lit up when they fell on Yoongi’s face, whose features surely conveyed that he was unprepared both for the earlier arrival and the gentle smile on the regular’s face. He didn’t look without worry, as evidenced by the pink on his cheeks and that consistently frazzled wave in his hair, but he didn’t look defeated, either, which was more than Yoongi could say for the other Thursday nights Mr. Crier sat down at Yoongi’s bar.

“Usual?” Yoongi asked as the customer made his way over to his usual seat.

“Two, actually.” He paused briefly. “If that’s okay since this drink seems to be a bit of a secret. Eyebrows over there didn’t even know what it was.”

“Eyebrows?” Yoongi pulled two glasses from a large stack by the sink.

“The other bartender. The one who pointed me toward you.”

“You have nicknames for us?” Yoongi asked. He felt nervous, suddenly, like the regular in front of him could reach into his brain and pull out the nicknames he gave to the patrons of the bar.

“Well, you guys don’t wear name tags, so I have to improvise.”

Yoongi nodded, understanding even more fully than Mr. Crier realized. “So what do you call me?” he hazarded to ask.

“Tony Montana,” a guy approaching the bar answered. Yoongi gave the new arrival a confused look, but judging by the rare giggle from Mr. Crier, the man dressed in an oversized sweater and tight blue jeans was the owner of the second drink Yoongi sat on the bar.

“Hey, I hadn’t decided if I was going to tell him that or not,” Mr. Crier admonished, but the heat in his words was extinguished by his smile.

“I could have told him the very first nickname instead-”

Mr. Crier shoved his hand over his friend’s mouth and pleaded with his eyes to shut up. Judging by his yelp and the quick retreat of his hand, the friend was bitten.

“Ow, Jesus, Jimin, I wouldn’t have actually.”

Jimin…

With a question on his lips, Yoongi turned back to a couple sitting on the opposite side of the bar with empty glasses sat in front of them.

Tony Monatana...Jimin…

He allowed serving the other customers who walked up the bar to quickly grab their drinks and retreat to their huddle of friends to distract him from the animated conversation happening in the corner. Unsurprisingly, Taehyung wasn’t helping.

“He’s on a date? What a shame, I would have served him if I had known. Dates always tip higher-trying to impress their partner or something,” he mused, rinsing out a beer pitcher.

“I don’t think they’re dating,” Yoongi grabbed the pitcher and dried it quickly, placing it atop a stack of five others waiting patiently to be served to large parties or a lone, drunk patron too impatient to get up and repeatedly order beer after beer.

“And what makes you say that? Wishful thinking?”

Ignoring the suggestiveness in Tae’s words, Yoongi responded instead by asking, “What do I have in common with Tony Montana?”

“Like Scarface Tony Monatana?”

“Mmhmm.”

“I don’t know, the fact that you literally have a scar on your face?”

Yoongi’s hand instinctinvely traveled up to settle on the small scar on his left ear. He was fairly certain Mr. Cr--Jimin--had never been close enough to see it given the dim lighting and the countertop ever-present in between them. He was also fairly certain Taehyung had never seen the movie.

“Can we get another round, Tony?” Jimin’s friend motioned toward him with long, crooked fingers. Yoongi was trying to give them space, more so than he was accustomed to on other weeks when he hovered, silently waiting for Jimin to talk, pouring drinks he imagined swimming through the customer’s mind, easing him of whatever it was that pained him. Yoongi felt almost like a necessary presence, part of Mr. Crier’s Thursday routine.

Tonight, however, he was painfully unnecessary, both in a conversation companion and a pick me up: the blush on Jimin’s cheeks was now undoubtedly from the alcohol rather than crying, and Yoongi was hearing a tone to his voice he hadn’t before; it was light and even when he was mixing a cocktail on the farthest end of the bar, Jimin’s laugh floated over to him, filling him with a satisfaction all together different from serving Jimin his favorite pink drink.

“It’s Yoongi,” he corrected, sitting down two freshly made modified cosmos in front of them.

“I’m Seokjin, most people call me Jin,” the friend offered with an outstretched hand.

Yoongi returned it what he knew to be not that firm of a handshake. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before?”

“No, I’m usually at the Windmill down the street, and usually on Saturday nights. It was Jiminie who dragged me here on a Thursday.”

Ah, so Jin was a weekend drinker. Of course.

“I can see why he likes it here, though. It’s relaxed, the music is good, the bartenders are cute.”

“Eyebrows is single.” Yoongi almost argued the artistic integrity of his clientele's juke box favorites, but he refrained.

“And you’re not?” Jin asked, eyebrows raised.

Without his permission, Yoongi’s eyes flittered over to Jimin, who was listening to their conversation with rapt attention.

“I am,” he answered simply, eyes fixed on the regular whose hand he had never shaken, whose introduction he had never even offered. He could hear his manager’s words firmly in the back of his head: don’t flirt with the customers, this bar isn’t a romantic comedy . He didn't know if he was flirting. But he didn't look away.