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On the Rocks

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The sound of a barstool scraping against the floor makes her turn from the sink where she’s drying glasses. Sitting at the bar is a bloke wearing a rumpled suit and an expression of pure melancholy. His face is unfamiliar, but the expression is not. He looks like he could use several stiff ones.

“What’re you having?” the bartender asks, setting a coaster in front of him.

“Laphroaig, on the rocks,” the man answers in a thick Scottish brogue, sounding immeasurably tired.

“Ten year okay, or do you want the eighteen?”

“Better make it the eighteen.”

“Rough day?” she says, setting the drink in front of him.

“You could say that,” he replies vaguely.

Over the years, she’s learned not to pry, and at the end of the day, she tries not to care. Everyone jokes about bartenders being makeshift therapists, but she knows this to be true. A pub is a confessional, and she is the one who offers the troubled absolution, whether in the form of kind words or a scotch over ice. She winces as the man tosses back the drink in one gulp.

“Another,” he says, his glass banging down on the bar top.

Wordlessly, she refills the glass, taking note of how skinny he is. Two scotches, she bets, is more than enough, but she never says those sorts of things out loud. She also notices that he is handsome, though not in a conventional sort of way. He’s got a bit of a lazy eye, his face is lean and maybe a smidge too angular, and his lips look thin. His hair though is perfect, brown and tousled and sticking out in every which direction. She’d love to run her hands through it, to see if it’s as soft as it looks. She’s startled out of her fantasy when he finally speaks again.

“Are you married?”

The question catches her off guard. She’s used to patrons, especially the male ones, trying to chat her up, but she doesn’t get the impression that that is what he’s trying to do.

“No, it’s just me,” she finally replies.

“Good,” he says. He sips his scotch, swallows. “I’d stay that way, if I were you. Marriage is like a deck of cards.”

“How so?”

“In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end of it, you wish you had a club and a spade.”

She stifles a laugh, not wanting him to think she’s mocking his pain. “That’s terrible. Funny, but terrible. I’ve never heard that one before.”

He grunts noncommittally, and swirls the alcohol around his glass. “The thrill is in the chase, never the capture.”

She doesn’t bother telling him how cynical he sounds. “Would you like another?”

“I can’t afford another,” he admits.

“Tell you what, mate. This one’s on me,” she replies, pouring him two fingers worth.

“Thank you,” he says, squinting at her name tag.

“Name’s Rose. Rose Tyler.”

“Thank you, Rose Tyler. I’m Alec. Alec Hardy”

“Pleasure,” she says as another patron flags her down.

After that it gets busy, and she gets so caught up pouring beers and mixing cocktails that she doesn’t notice he’s left until a few minutes after he’s gone, leaving only his empty glass and a twenty pound note behind. It’s when she goes to put it into the till that she notices there’s a phone number scrawled on the back of it.

She calls him at 3am, and he answers on the second ring.

“Hi, it’s Rose,” she says, twisting a lock of hair around the hand that isn’t holding the phone. “Did I wake you?”

He asks her if she wants to come over, and without thinking, she says yes. He gives her the address of a seedy hotel in town, and after a twenty minute cab ride she’s standing outside of his room, shifting from one foot to the other as she internally debates whether she’s actually going to knock or not. This is completely out of character for her, to hook up with a random stranger, but for some reason she’s drawn to him. The door swings opens just as she raises her fist.

“Were you going to pace there all night?” he asks, not unkindly.

“No, sorry,” she says, jamming her hands into her coat pockets as she walks past him into the hotel room. He shuts the door behind her, and they both stand there in uncomfortable silence.

When they finally tumble naked onto the bed together and he buries his face between her thighs, she finds that she doesn’t mind his thin lips at all.