It’s a Tuesday night, and Ward spots trouble within half an hour of starting his shift. He’s already spent an hour prepping vegetables – Phil needs to get himself a damn kitchen hand already – and now he’s juggling bar service and table waiting. It’s not a busy night per se, but he makes sure he has a handle on everything. If there’s one thing he can do, it’s manage himself.
She’s stirring up shit from the corner stool of the bar. Not overtly, but Ward can spot her sowing seeds between the truckers who’ve stopped by for a drink at the end of a long shift. The men are on the verge of getting rowdy. Ward hates rowdy.
The woman is laughing now, and he glances irritatedly at her end of the bar, but he’s pulled away by the arrival of a group. By the time he gets back, the truckers are all but banging on the bar for their next round. Ward’s not flustered. He doesn’t have it in him to be flustered.
He pours out a few pints, placates the men for a few minutes, then hurries back over to the table. It’s a slow night, but that’s no reason to keep his customers waiting. He’s told Phil over and over that he needs to hire more staff.
He ducks into the kitchen to hand over the order for his table.
“How’s it looking out there?” Phil calls from behind the grill.
“Not too bad,” Ward replies. “A couple tables. More at the bar.”
Ward resists the urge to roll his eyes. “One trouble maker, but I’ll deal with her if I have to.”
“Her?” a voice demands. Fitz has ducked in from out the back to grab the growing pile of pots and pans that need washing. “Did I hear that right, Ward? You’re getting trouble from a girl?”
Ward hears a laugh from out the back, and grits his teeth.
“Simmons!” Fitz calls, hoisting the pile of dishes into his arms and carrying them back to the sink out back. “You’re never gonna believe this.”
“Go take care of the bar,” Phil says. “May can cover the dining room if she needs to.”
Ward gives a stiff nod, and heads back to the bar. Before he is in sight of the truckers, he hears cheering and laughter. Frowning, he hurries over.
The woman is standing behind the bar, mixing drinks. Ward stops for a moment, taken aback. No one goes behind the bar. He has never been in this situation before. She is shaking the cocktail shaker like a professional, but even as he feels the tiniest spark of admiration, he storms over and lets himself behind the bar.
“You can’t be back here,” he fumes, grabbing her by the arm. She juggles the shaker into her other hand and sets it on the bar.
“Hey, let her go!”
It’s one of the truckers protesting, and the others soon join him.
“Yeah, hands off, buddy.”
“At least she’s serving.”
Ward drags her off to one side. He can see that almost every trucker has a drink in front of them, some beer, some liquor, some cocktails.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demands. “This is theft. I could have you arrested for this.”
She rolls her eyes. “They all paid for their drinks, asshole. Some of them almost double. You’d be surprised how much people appreciate a friendly smile.”
“What’s going on?”
It’s Phil, come to investigate the noise. He folds his arms, looking from Ward to the woman and back again.
“She jumped behind the bar,” Ward tries to explain. “The customers-”
“Look pretty happy,” the woman pipes up. “Don’t you think?”
Phil looks around them at the laughing truckers. “They’re not fighting yet, which is a bonus,” he admits. “Let her go, Ward.”
Ward releases his grip on the woman and she rubs her arm, giving him a dirty look.
“Have you worked as a bartender before?” Phil asks her. He looks curious, not pissed. That’s mildly concerning, Ward thinks.
“Five years, on and off,” she shrugs. “Amongst other things.”
Ward rolls his eyes. Yeah, that’s not suspicious or anything. “Phil-”
“You handled our Tuesday crowd pretty well,” Phil says. “What’s your name?”
The woman thinks for a moment. “Skye.”
“What’s your real name?” Ward asks, rudely. Phil shoots him a look. Ward does not like where this is going. Phil is nothing if not predictable, and he’s always looking for a new stray to bring aboard. That was how Ward got started, after all.
“How about you come back tomorrow night?” Phil says. “We’ve been looking for a new bartender for a while now, and you seem to be pretty comfortable up there.”
“It’s a small bar,” she shrugs, like she’s not considering taking the job on the spot. Ward can see past it, but apparently Phil is choosing to ignore anything he doesn’t want to see.
“I think you’d be a good fit,” Phil says. Ward is radiating disapproval, and Skye looks the waiter up and down, thinking.
“You really don’t want me here, do you?” she asks him. Phil’s lips quirk, but when Ward glances at his boss, his face is neutral. He doesn’t answer her.
“I guess I’ll be back tomorrow then,” Skye grins. She grabs her bag from the bar and blows a cheeky kiss to the nearest of the truckers, earning a slew of pleas to stay just a little while longer.
The bell on the door chimes as she disappears outside, and Ward rounds on his boss.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he demands, glaring at Phil. “We don’t know who she is! She gave us a damn fake name, and you want to give her a job?”
“Calm down, Ward,” Phil sighs. “We need a bartender. I can’t have you running back and forth between the dining room and here. It’s not practical.”
Ward goes to interrupt, but Phil holds up a hand.
“Speaking of,” he says firmly, “you should get back to your table.”
Ward fumes silently, then collects himself with a breath. “I think this a really bad idea,” he mutters.
“Noted,” Phil smiles. “Now get to work.”
Ward moves back into the dining room and tries his hardest to smile. Simmons tried to teach him a couple of tricks to seem friendlier. After all, people skills are high on the list of priorities for a waiter. He has only kept his job thus far thanks to his immaculate service and attention to detail. He can remember entire orders without writing them down, can remember every detail about every customer he can decipher from their appearance. His only failing, in his own mind, is that he can’t quite make people warm up to him. But that’s irrelevant, really. Who needs people?
He serves his table, and within an hour they’re gone, leaving generous tips and the faint echoes of praise for the food all the way out into the parking lot. Ward clears off their table with Fitz, and makes his way into the kitchen to clean up after Phil and Melinda.
“You look annoyed,” his other boss tells him, looking up from her pan of pasta. “Did someone try to make a human connection with you?”
“Very funny,” Ward mutters.
“You need to-”
“Make an effort with the customers, I know.”
She turns around, and Ward tenses slightly. Being on May’s bad side is not something he needs tonight, or ever, for that matter. He shouldn’t have been so tetchy. May only jokes around for so long, and then she turns on the ice.
“I don’t think that lesson’s sunk in properly,” she says, her expressionless face absolutely terrifying. Not that Ward is ever scared of anything. “So yes. You need to make an effort with them. And start thinking of them as people, not profit on legs.”
“Sorry,” he mutters, though it’s not all that sincere. May regards him coolly, then turns back to the pasta.
“You want dinner?” she asks.
“I’m not hungry,” he grunts in reply.
“I’ll put your lamb on,” she says, ignoring his response entirely. Ward’s lip twitches, and he turns back to clearing his station before he lets himself smile. No matter how badly any of them screw up, May and Phil always cook them dinner at the end of the night.
“Who was the new girl?”
Simmons has ducked into the kitchen to hover by the warmth of the stove. She has gloves on, her shirt rolled to the elbows, and her apron is splattered with food and soaked with water. Ward has never missed being a dish boy.
“Don’t know,” he says sharply.
“She’s our new bartender,” May says, without turning around. Jemma’s excited squeal makes Ward wince, and he’s sure May’s expression will be identical.
“How long have I been telling you to employ some more women?” she exclaims. “Oh, this is great, I can’t wait to have someone to talk to.”
“She’ll be behind the bar, Simmons,” Ward points out.
“Don’t ruin it, Ward,” she snaps back. “I’ll bet you’ve already made an impression.”
He is silent, and Jemma’s chuckle is infuriating.
“We’re done for the night,” she tells May as she peels off her gloves and sheds her apron into the linen bin.
“I’ve got your pasta on,” May tells her.
“Prosciutto and mozzarella?”
“With just a hint of-”
“You’re the best, May,” Jemma grins, and leaves the kitchen.
“Weird pasta,” Ward mutters. He doesn’t get a response from Melinda, and figures he’s really put himself in the shit with this whole Skye debacle. The woman has managed to infuriate him, and he’ll have to put up with her all over again come tomorrow night.
“Almost done?” Phil asks, as he enters the kitchen. “Dining room’s cleared and vacuumed, doors are locked, anything else?”
“Dinner,” May says, handing him a plate of beef wellington and vegetables. Phil takes it with a grin.
“What would I do without you?” he sighs, and takes it into the dining room. He pulls three more chairs up to the table where Fitz and Simmons are already eating their pasta, and they all sit down together. Ward’s sleeves are finally rolled up, the sign of a night finally finished, and they start to eat.
Aside from FitzSimmons’ constant chatter, the rest of them are silent. Phil and May exchange a little conversation, mostly regarding the books, or the new girl. Ward is silent, still angry at Phil for not backing him up. What right did that girl have to get behind his bar and start doing his job? They don’t need a bartender. Well, they kind of do. But they definitely don’t need her. She’s not a good fit, he can tell.
May clears the plates when they’re done, and Ward yawns. Back to his apartment. He gets the morning off tomorrow. He might go to the gym. There’s some shopping he needs to do. For a moment, he wonders if he could maybe make his day more interesting. But then he shakes himself. Habit is safe. Routine is character building.
He says a curt goodnight and leaves the rest of them at the table. His bike is waiting outside, and he shrugs on his jacket and pulls on his helmet. Anonymous. Ward always enjoys the ride home. It’s nearing midnight now, but there’s still traffic on the roads. Enough for a few people to notice a man on a motorbike rumbling steadily home.
He locks his bike in the garage of his building and climbs the seven flights to his floor. Lets himself in. Dumps his bag and gets in the shower. Within twenty minutes, he’s reading in bed, and just before one, he switches off the light and closes his eyes. His last thought before he falls asleep is of his new colleague, and he grits his teeth even as he relaxes into unconsciousness.