Friday, May 6, 2022

Free Fiction Friday: Deep Thoughts, Cold Drinks

Today is Jeremy Mitchell's fortieth birthday... but he's not particularly excited about the occasion. He's hoping to fly under the radar but Liz, the bartender at his local watering hold, O'Riley's Bar, isn't going to let that slide. On a day for deep thoughts, Jeremy is about receive a welcome surprise—and maybe the chance at something special.

Deep Thoughts, Cold Drinks by author Shaun Kilgore is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available in Kilgore's Five Stories #14 which is sold through various online retailers.

Deep Thoughts, Cold Drinks
Shaun Kilgore

Today was Jeremy Mitchell’s fortieth birthday.

He had lived on the Earth for four decades, living the same kind of workaday existence that all of his friends did—that all his family did. Just about everyone did except those fortunate enough to be wealthy or aren’t able to keep it together each day due lives of depravity or addiction.

Most of those years had been happy ones. Jeremy would have been the first to admit that. He suffered no extremes of abuse or deprivation. His father had made a decent living and Jeremy had benefited from those labors. He had not always seen eye to eye with his father but in the end, when he lay dying, when Jeremy had witnessed the once strong and vibrant man reduced to a pale shadow of himself, he had taken the first step into a different sort of world.

Jeremy sat at the counter sipping a cold beer in O’Riley’s Bar. That local watering hole was the place that had become like second home to him in the years since his marriage had imploded—only because he spent more time (and money) there than he did in the ramshackle old house he rented.

That house was not much of refuge for him. He lived alone, not even a pet to keep him company. Not that he would have gone and gotten one. The responsibility of taking care of the poor things didn’t sit well with him at that point. He had thought he would be able to have the second chance at an active and varied social life, but things hadn’t quite worked out that way. It was just another little point of criticism Jeremy had taken up with himself in recent times.

On that day, his day of days, Jeremy had stepped through the front door of O’Riley’s about an hour after they opened and had taken up one of his usual spots at the bar. He was almost the first customer of the day. David Cristoph was already there waiting before the doors opened at 3:00 p.m. for Liz, the Tuesday bartender, to show up. Over the last two months, he had become as reliable as Old Faithful—well, maybe the fucking electric bill anyways. Cristoph just wouldn’t give up chasing the girl. But she wasn’t having it. And that gave Jeremy just a tiny ounce of pleasure at Cristoph’s expense.

No, Jeremy didn’t worry too much about being second place today. It wasn’t like he been first place before in life. Always the odd man out, missing opportunities to the more aggressive loudmouth types, whether it was for a job, a girl, or anything under the sun. Kind of like David Cristoph. The man seemed to swagger everywhere he went, dressed like he walked out of an issue of GQ or Esquire. He had a way of leaning on the bar and simply pointing to some of the ladies that showed up on the bigger nights at O’Riley’s that almost guaranteed that one of them would eventually be sharing his bed later that night. Just the way it seemed to be going, or so Jeremy had concluded. Meanwhile, I get to sleep alone every damn time. So what, right? Not trying to find a reason to bitch.

Jeremy hadn’t wanted to wake up in a deep, brooding mood on the morning of his birthday. He just had. All the damn clich├ęs about turning forty had rolled over him like a pile of boulders. By the time he drank his third beer, Jeremy was just trying to find a lighter note to cling to instead of the fucking dreariness. The handful of text messages that appeared from family and a few friends did help a bit too. He knew he’d find his way out of his funk eventually. That’s what he’d been doing his whole life.

Finishing the latest Bud Light, he slid the empty bottle forward on the counter. He sat back in the bar stool and watched Cristoph talk to Liz. With a weary sigh, Jeremy realized he couldn’t entirely blame the guy for his persistence. Liz really was a gorgeous woman. She was just about 5’ 8” if Jeremy had to guess, with slightly curly black hair down her shoulders. She wasn’t some skin and bones supermodel type at all—you know the kind you feel like could use a few extra meals so they actually had those lovely feminine curves to them. No, Liz had them alright and in just the right measure. She was Jeremy’s type—that’s for sure. Even in the dark gray O’Riley’s t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, she was killer hot.

“Come on, girl. Give a guy chance, will ya. We could have a nice night out. Some dinner, a little dancing... Who knows what else could happen?”

Liz crossed her arms in annoyance, at least Jeremy thought, so but she kept her pleasant smile plastered to her face. She shook her head, almost as if she legitimately regretful for smashing the guy’s dreams to bits. Cristoph frowned as he drank his Corona.

He swirled around the remaining contents of the bottle. “Ah, baby, play nice.”

“Listen, David, I’ve told you before, I’m just not interested. I’ve seen you around here on a Saturday night on the prowl. You’ll have better luck with those ladies than me.”

In the empty bar, with the music down low, her words carried across to Jeremy. Ouch, that had to hurt his ego, he thought.

Cristoph finished his beer and tossed a buck on the counter. He held out his arms, hands out. “Your loss, baby.” Then he slipped his sunglasses down from his head. Smug, arrogant prick. Jeremy shook his head and watched Cristoph leave O’Riley’s. He slammed the door when he left.

Liz came right over to Jeremy. “Sorry about that, Jer. Another Bud?”

“Yeah, thanks Liz.”

She gave him a wink and a dazzling smile. “You’re welcome.”

Once Liz retrieved a cold bottle from the cooler and twisted the top off, she leaned against the counter, setting the Jeremy’s bottle down at the same time. She let out a short sigh and stretched out her arms across it clasped her hands together. Jeremy watched and waited.

She glanced up at him. The slight frown faded as that smile reappeared.

“Sorry, Jer. I guess I let him get to me a little today.”

Jeremy sipped his beer. “Well, I mean come, Liz. The dude needs to take a hint and back off. That’s what… six Tuesdays in a row, right?”

“So you’re counting huh?” Liz eyed him up and down.

“Uh… well. I guess I am,” answered Jeremy. He suddenly felt uncertain whether Liz was amused or upset at the attention. He tried to say something more, but Liz smirked at him and stepped away from the counter, turning around a little circle behind the bar while she swung her arms back and forth.

“I guess he’s been putting on a bit of show, hasn’t he? The jerk.”

Jeremy grimaced. “Yeah, maybe so.” When he tried to go on, he was cut off by his phone chiming. A second later, Liz’s phone chimed too.

She went over to investigate, picking up her smartphone from beside the cash register. Jeremy watched her expression change again. She looked up at him and suddenly scowled.

“Today’s your birthday? Why didn’t you say anything?”

Jeremy shrugged, suddenly antsy. He didn’t want to say it didn’t matter or that anybody actually cared, but the facts stomped on that dark twinge of his mood. Some had posted something on his wall, and more than that, had put something us where Liz—who wasn’t a friend on Facebook he realized—would see it too.

He could only shrug and gave her a labored smile.

Liz wagged her finger at him. “Uh uh, that’s not good enough.” She looked at her phone again. Her eyes widened as she looked up. “My God, it’s your fortieth too. Come, Jer.  You’ve got some celebrating to do!”

Jeremy’s stomached lurched like the floor had dropped out from beneath him. He took a generous pull on his beer. “Who ratted me out?”

“Becca shared the message and made it public rather than just to your page. She did tag you though.”

“Great,” said Jeremy.

She squinted at him, but then her lips parted in a warm smile. “Quit being a sourpuss, Jer.”

Liz moved around behind the bar, pulling two plastic shot glasses from the stack and some of the warm, golden honey whiskey from the bottle into them. She slid one across the bar to him and held up the other between her fingers.

“Well… bottom’s up.”

Jeremy reluctantly held up the shot.

“Happy birthday.” She said it with a wink.

He couldn’t get over how cute she was. He took the shot and winced as the fiery liquid slipped down his throat. He gasped.

“Damn. That’s. Strong.”

Liz laughed.

Jeremy liked that sound. He also liked the way her lips curved when she smiled and the cute dimples in her cheeks. Suddenly, he realized he was staring—and Liz had noticed too. His face flushed beet red. At that moment, the door to O’Riley’s opened and another of the regulars, Bobby Miller, strode inside. Jeremy had turned away from Liz and felt really awkward, but the intense look on Bobby’s face made him genuinely curious.

Bobby hopped into a stool at the bar and slapped the counter with both hands, palms wide. “Lizzy, I’ll take a bourbon on the rocks please!”

Liz’s eyes widened. “Wow, Bob, was it that kinda day?”

Bob snorted then rolled his eyes dramatically. “My day started shitty, and proceeded to get shittier if you can believe it.”

Jeremy listened as he sipped his Bud Light as Bobby let loose with his disjointed story. He wasn’t particularly close with the guy, and honestly, he felt bad by the end because Bobby seemed like he had it worse off than Jeremy did. A crappy job and an even crappier girlfriend—well, soon to be ex-girlfriend the way it sounded. That on top of an ex-wife that liked to cause trouble in Bobby’s would-be love life just out of sheer spite.

Jeremy had learned that the folks that called O’Riley’s Bar their home away from home all had their moments where they spilled out all of their troubles in the most gut-wrenching detail. He hadn’t quite mastered the technique.

Liz handed Bobby his bourbon. The man proceeded to drain that one go then requested another one just like it. He slapped the wrinkled twenty dollar bills on the counter. She took snagged them and quickly replaced them with change. Bobby left her a nice tip. Already feeling his shot, Jeremy couldn’t imagine hammering that kind of hard liquor all the time. He just sat back and listened to the man’s chatter. He was a talker; that was for sure.

Jeremy sighed and glanced towards Liz. She was up near the bottles behind the bar, leaning back against the wide shelf. Her arms were crossed and she was watching him again. Jeremy sat up straighter in his seat. Liz smirked.

“Another one, Lizzy,” called Bobby.

Looks like our little moment is over, thought Jeremy.

She was back to work. While she was serving up another bourbon, a trio of guys in dressed in the drab, blue pants and shirts of dealership mechanics wandered through the front door.  The biggest of the three, a burly, Hispanic guy named Gordon nodded in my direction before settling down three stools away. His companions took two more on the other side. They ordered their obligatory Millers and started bantering about their day in the garage and their dick of a boss. Other customers began to drift in after the end of the workday. Soon, O’Riley’s was starting crowd up and Liz was busy hopping around to replace drinks.

Jeremy nursed his beers through the late afternoon, feigning interest in the basketball game, but really just watching Liz working. Occasionally, his phone chimed with new Facebook notifications, most of them Becca’s friends rather than his, wishing him a happy birthday. Sure, he knew them but they were friends on social media. Scanning through them though, that had changed. He had at least ten new friend requests waiting—along with promises of free beers and lots of shots in his future.

That’s unexpected, Jeremy thought.

Just as he was about to finish his fourth beer, Becca herself came through the door, bouncing and bubbly as ever.

“There’s the birthday boy!”

Becca went straight over Jeremy and grabbed him in a big hug. He could almost feel her care through it and didn’t want to the hug to end. She dropped her purse on the counter and took a seat next to him.

“I was telling Liz that you ratted me out earlier. I was just going to let the day go by, Becca.” I tried to sound annoyed, but it was a half-hearted. Deep down, it was nice to be noticed.

Becca gasped. “What! No way, mister. It’s your fortieth birthday for crying out loud!”

She practically yelled the last part. The whole bar took notice.

Gordon and his fellow mechanics raised their beers. “Happy birthday, man!”

Awkwardly, I nodded, then raised my empty bottle. “Uh, thanks.”

“Lizzy, put his next beer on my tab.”

“You got it.” Liz smiled then winked at Jeremy as she retrieved a Bud from the cooler.

Jeremy looked Liz in the eyes. “Thank you.”

“You bet, Jer.”

Becca watched the short exchange. “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

“What are you talking about?”

Becca laughed. “Oh, never mind.”

“Come on, Becca!”

She held a finger to her lips. “Shhh. Chill.” In a lower voice she said, “I think there might be something happening between you and Liz?”

Jeremy’s stomach lurched and his face was tingling in shock. He looked past Becca’s shoulder. “What do you mean? Why would you say that?”

Becca rolled her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious she’s into you. And you sure don’t keep it a secret.”

Jeremy replayed the day in his mind, interpretating the looks, the short exchanges, just about everything he could remember at that point. He looked up at Becca who nodded her head knowingly.

“Shit,” Jeremy breathed. “What the hell do I do?”

Becca glanced away for a second, her lips pursed then she twisted them back and forth. “Just play it straight, buddy. I think it’ll come together nicely on its own.”

Jeremy pulled back the beer and drank nearly half in a hasty gulp.

“As long as you don’t do something stupid,” Becca snapped.

He wiped his face off where some of the beer overflowed and dribbled down his chin. Jesus, you idiot! Nice move!

As far as he could tell, Liz hadn’t noticed. Still, Becca’s snickers made his face go red. “Damn, Becca, you know how I overthink things.”

“Hey, I thought it might be good to catch a clue when you might have a shot.” She held up her hands dismissively. “Excuse me for caring.”

Jeremy knew she wasn’t hurt. Becca was one to exaggerate for dramatic—and sometimes comedic—effect, but wasn’t in the mood for it. He slipped out of his stool.

“Where you going?”

“Just outside for a minute.”

Becca wisely didn’t say a word.

Once outside, Jeremy stood off away from the small circle of smokers who were talking amongst themselves. They were the remnants of the daytime drinkers. Soon they would leave and be replaced by the night ones. Jeremy stared up at the two-story brick building, his eyes dazzled by the green neon shamrock with the name O’Riley’s Bar emblazoned in red light. Other neon lights—the names of beer brands—hung in the windows.

Jeremy paced in a rough circle, taking wider turns towards the parking lot that was nestled alongside the alley. O’Riley’s was often called the hidden gem of the city. One had to know about it or simply stumble on it by accident. The place started as just a name mentioned by some old friends—including Becca—who had spent more time in the bar scene than he had. They were just throwing out suggestions of things to do so Jeremy would just get out of his house and stop living the life of a recluse. Becca, especially, had been adamant that he needed to get on with his life. Even quoted Shawshank, the clever girl.

Get busy living or get busy dying.

After a full month of prodding, Jeremy finally bit the bullet and came out. How long has it been, nearly four years? No, it can’t be, Jeremy thought about it for a moment, mentally calculating the time.

“Wow. That’s crazy.”

“What is?”

Jeremy knew the voice. He slowly turned around and saw Liz standing just a few feet away.

“Uh…,” he began, but stopped when the words started to jumble in his mouth. “I mean, I was just thinking about how long it had been since I started coming out to O’Riley’s.”

Liz took a drag on her cigarette. “How long, Jer?”

Jeremy sucked in a breath of air through his nose, capturing a bit of the tobacco scent with it. “Just about four years.”

“You’re a long-term occupant of the place then, huh?” She smirked.

Jeremy chuckled. “Yeah. Something like that.”

He let his eyes run across her face and down her body then back up again.

Liz dropped the butt and put it out on the concrete. “So, any more plans for the rest of your day, birthday boy?”

Jeremy looked back towards the bar, frowning. “I might call it an early night. I don’t know. Just not feeling very festive about turning forty. You know?”

“I just turn thirty-six in November, so I got a bit more time yet.” Liz crossed her arms and got a thoughtful look on her face. She met his gaze and their eyes locked of a brief, intense moment. Jeremy broke contact first. His heart rate elevated a bit.

She reached out and grabbed Jeremy’s hand. “Come here.”

She led him back towards the bar, but about halfway there, Liz veered off to the side of the building, just out of sight of the front entrance. Strings of yellow bulbs hung from the alcove and half a dozen picnic tables were arranged against the brick wall. Liz stopped and turned around once they were standing next to one of the tables. No was no one else occupying the space. It was just the two of them.

Before he knew what was happening, Liz jerked him towards her, taking her hands and wrapping around his head to guide it to her face. Jeremy felt this thrill like electricity as his lips were pressed against hers. It was a brief connection. She pulled away and looked up at him.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for some time now. Figured it would make a great birthday gift too. What do you think?”

Jeremy, nodded hurriedly, and the words fell out of his mouth. “Uh…oh… yeah, definitely, a great gift.”

Liz touched his cheek. “Happy birthday, Jer.”

She kissed him again, taking a little longer the second time. As they parted, Jeremy just looked at her, amazing that it was happening, wondering if it was some kind of dream.

“Liz… I’ve wanted to do same something before… but I didn’t… I couldn’t figure out the right… the right time.”

“Well, the job’s done now. I’ve got to get back inside. Still got some hours left. Will you stay with me?”

Jeremy stood up straighter, feeling this surge of energy—confidence even—and nodded emphatically. “Absolutely.”

Liz grinned. “Good.”

As they stepped through the doors of O’Riley’s Bar, Jeremy decided for once he would let himself enjoy the night, putting aside deep thoughts in exchange for cold drinks. And great company!

Copyright © 2022 Shaun Kilgore
Cover art: copyright © Robert Adrian Hillman/
Published by Founders House Publishing, LLC
All Rights Reserved

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