Chapter 1: Hello Stranger
Olivia is shutting down at 8 o’ clock at Ed’s bar and grill. It’s been dead all day. She got permission to close early. “Figures, people don’t want to take the chance mixing drinking and driving while it’s raining.” She sealed all the containers, put them in the refrigerator, cleaned the grill, shut down the fryer’s, Scrubbed them and is cycling the white powder through them. While that process is happening she begins wiping off tables. The only thing she has left to do is mop and stack chairs.
Veronica, who is the fry girl. Went home three hours early. Her back hurt. Probably from all the, “hard work” she does two day’s a week. Veronica refuses to clean the fryer’s because, “It’s like, greasy, and brown like mud. Totally gross.” So now Olivia get’s the pleasure.
Despite the fact that Olivia hates slow day’s, it’s best that it was. The cook called in due to a hangover. So it was just her and veronica. Olivia know’s the menu but Danny wasn’t hired to disappear on lunch breaks only to come staggering back. That’s what she got though. Once a great chef. Now a stumble bum. The catch is he can’t be fired because the supervisor’s his father. “He’s having a rough time, but he’ll come around.” Danny’s father often say’s.
“Fantastic! We hired Jesus. He doesn’t show up when you call or text, but he’s always on time. according to his dad… who is my boss.” Olivia groans then throws a rag on the table and takes a deep breath.
“Looks like your having a bit of a crisis.” The stranger say’s, shocking her, she spins around to see who it is. “We’re closed. How did you get in here?” Olivia asks. The man replies putting up his hands in defense. “The door was open and the lights are on.” She brushes past him. Pushing the door open. The lights that wrapped around the building were on and beaming.
She walks back in, taking another breathe. “It seems like you’ve had a hell of a day. I can relate. Tell you what, I’ll give you a tip and buy you a drink. Let me see what we got here.” The stranger fumbles around in his coat pocket’s revealing eleven dollars and six cents. Along with a coupon for a buy one get one free laundry detergent. “How’s that for a deal?” He asks. “You get a free drink and clean clothes.” The stranger runs his hand through his soaked black hair. Laughing at his own stupidity. She laughs as well, although insincerely . “I can buy my own drinks. And I think a laundry coupon might be the worse tip I’ve gotten since that one guy who drove a mini-van, put a Chucky Cheese token down my cleavage.”
“Wow! Are you serious?” He said. Olivia nodded. He crumpled up the coupon and put it back in his pocket. You have to let me buy you a drink. I don’t want to be in the same category as this Chucky Cheese guy.” Olivia smiles, pulling out a glass to make herself a drink. “So who are you, and why are you in such a need for a drink at this particular bar?”
He stands up and extends his hand toward her. “My name is ray, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Olivia’s was dwarfed compared to his.” She blushes and returns the compliment. “Olivia, it’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” He sits back down. “Well aren’t you formal.” She said. Now Ray was embarrassed feeling over the top. “Manner’s came above all else in our home.” She finished mixing her drink. So what are you having. He eye’d the wide variety of bottles on the shelf. “ummm how about… I’ll let you pick.”
“Not much of a drinker aye?” She said with a grin. “Your body is a temple was the second rule in our home.” Ray said. She thinks to her self. “At first glance this guy had a menacing look to him. Now he appears to be a sheep.” Olivia say’s, “try this.” She cracks open a dark brown bottle. What is it. “It’s an almond IPA.” Ray smells it before drinking. “I didn’t poison the god damn thing so drink it.” He does as he’s ordered. “mmm.” Ray takes another gulp. When he set’s the bottle down. It’s half empty.
“Now that’s how you drink a beer.” Olivia howls. She put’s the tiny straw to her lips and sips her vodka-tonic. So what do you do? Breaking eye contact he thinks of something to say. “I’m… a nomad. I suppose you could say.” Meeting her eye’s again. She cocks her head to the side and bunches up her face. “What the hell does that mean?” She asks. “I’m a traveler.” He replies, avoiding what she’s asking, while remaining incredibly vague. “I was asking what you do for work.”
He repeats, “I’m a traveler.” I saved up money. So that I could explore the states.” He looks at a bottle of whiskey on the shelf in small print that say’s made in Ireland. “I just got back from Ireland actually. I’m not from there.” Pointing out his obvious tan complexion. “I’m from Spain.”
Once irritated, now impressed. She tilts her head back. “oh.”
“I’ve never really been one to enjoy staying in place. It just get’s…” She interrupts. “monotonous.” He leans back, and points at her. “That’s the perfect word. Exactly.”
“I haven’t been anywhere too extravagant like Europe or Japan. But I definitely have been around.” Olivia say’s bashfully. Feeling minuscule compared to his fancy excursions. “Tell me where you’ve been.” He say’s curiously. Olivia starts out with her head down fumbling with a napkin. Admitting when she was 16, she dropped out of school. “I ran away from home. I’m from a small town in Michigan. I ran to Chicago.” Ray asked, “did you tell your parents where you were?” Olivia’s confident voice became soft. “Yeah, they disowned me.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” he say’s with contempt. “I’m not.” Olivia replies with a stern voice.
“I got into the party life for a while. When I turned 18 I moved to Boston. Dated a few scumbags. Did some more partying. Almost burned down my boyfriend’s studio apartment, accidentally. I had to move back home. But my parents, still wanted nothing to do with me. So I lived with my aunt and uncle. At this point I was twenty… one. Worked two jobs moved to Houston Texas by twenty two. I met some good friends there. Started maturing. Actually worked my way up to become manager at this shitty little diner called Lucky’s.” She begins to laugh. After taking another sip of his beer. He smiles and asks why she was giggling.
“I just always thought it was ironic that diner was called lucky’s of all names. It caught fire twice. It was ransacked three or four times. Bus-boy found a homeless man dead, face first by the dumpster when we opened once.”
“Jesus.” Ray say’s before taking one last swig of his beer. “Yeah it was a dump, But it was never dull.” She try’s to remember where she went after Houston. “Hmmm” She glances stares at the blank space on the wall of the room trying to remember. “ahhh, Cleveland! I met the nicest man. His name was Robert. We were married for about… a year and a half. He wanted to have kids and me stay home with the little terror. The pooping, puking and peeing. The never shutting up with the questions. Not to mention doing the same routine over, and over, and over. I’d rather put a shot gun in my mouth and redecorate the walls with my brain matter. You know what I Mean? So, now I’m here. A bar and grill, manager in phoenix Arizona. What about you? What’s your story.”
“I’m a… I’m a soldier. High ranking. My family also has a military background.”
“Is your family pretty intense then? Like, super strict. I here military families can be pretty cut and dry.”
He looks up and thinks how to word what he wants to say. “Yeah, for sure. They can be drill sergeants at times. I would compare it to… a really religious family, I guess our father who art not in heaven. Was are Shepard. Because he had hand to hand combat training, killed people, and was a 230 pound screaming drunk. We were his sheep. Because we were only kids.”
Olivia picks up her drink and sips the last of it until it makes a slurping noise. “Well it looks like we’ve finished our drinks. It’s still early enough for me to say I got out early.”
Ray smiles, not knowing that he’s doing it. Olivia put’s her palm up. “That wasn’t an invitation!” His Big dopey smile sinks into what could be described as a cartoon with his jaw dropping on the floor. “But… I would like to buy you a round next time. Then we can focus more on your mysterious background of being a traveler.” Ray happily agree’s. Olivia writes her phone number on the wrinkled laundry coupon. Next to that she writes “Those who can’t tip, can’t XXX.”
After reading her note in the parking lot. Ray say’s with great confidence. “Oh, I’m going to rob a bank so the next time we meet… yeah, It’s on!”
The next time they meet. It’s at a different bar where she doesn’t have to clean up after her mischievous co-workers. It’s brighter, and decorated with class. The walls are red, the pillars unpainted sequoia wood. The dishes have a design around the rim. The prices are moderately more expensive then where Olivia works. Making the bar and grill feel even more trashy then it already is.
Carrying a juicy steak that came fresh off the grill. With a side order of one baked potato and coal slaw. This teenage bus-boy who by the looks of it, is Veronica’s age. Finds table six. Where an older well dressed gentleman is dinning alone. Just as he’s about to set the tray next to the table. This bus-boy didn’t quite spread the stand out far enough and his tray dropped. “Ahh Christ, look what ya friggin’ did!” Ashamed the bus-boy begins Scraping up the coal slaw onto the plate with his hands. While the brooding giant behind him narrates his faults. The bus-boy grabs the baked potato. Anxious to get the hell away from everyone’s leering eye’s. Forgetting how hot the potato was he drops it back on the ground. Sour cream, cheese and all, splat back on the carpet. The bus-boy stabs the potato with a fork. Put’s it on the plate. Then stabs and lift’s the steak, putting it back onto the plate as well. The steak is covered in fuzz from the carpet. The carpet is covered in steak juice. The man spots the apologetic manager running over with a coupon for a free meal.
Olivia humorously wonders if this bus boy and Veronica could be related. “Now I feel better about where I work.” She said with a smile.
The manager tells the bus boy. “Go wash your hands, and wait for me in my office.” The boy walks anxiously through a path of chatter and chuckles. Blood rushes to his face. The speed of his foot steps get faster, avoiding eye contact.
The Bus-boy Reaches the grey metal door, after washing the coleslaw off his hands. Turning the nob, while taking a breathe. He steps into his Manager’s office as he was told. Once the door closes there’s silence and his blood pressure lowers. He waits for an outcome which in his mind will most likely be termination. But he’s not sure, so he waits.
Olivia notices Ray found the anxious boy more sad then amusing. Her smile drops. “I’m sure he’ll just get a lecture on…” She uses air quotes. “Everything you do is a reflection on the restaurant.”
“He’ll be fine. Shit happens.” Olivia shrugs it off. Ray looks at her. “Yeah, he seems like a good kid. Now what was that you wanted to ask me at the bar?”
“Oh, like, what brought you to my bar that night. What was your childhood like. Stuff like that.” Olivia replies. “Well, my childhood was… intense. My father as I mentioned was a brute and a dictator. He was paranoid from his past war time. My mother obeyed every command like a well trained German Shepard.” Despite never putting hands on any of the children or my mother. He kept a short leash on are minds. So their were no scars physically. When he… when he drank.” Ray stared intensely at her empty glass of tequila. Ray breaks his trance “Pardon me. This is dampening the mood.”
Olivia put’s her hand on his. “No, your fine.” Olivia’s thumb stroking the top of his hand. “Alright so,” Ray let’s out a small laugh. “The reason I stumbled onto your bar was because i was meeting a woman for a business thing.” He explained. “A business thing?” she repeats.
He see’s that because it was a woman it disturbs her. He leans forward and put’s up both his index fingers as if they where exclamation points. “Hold on, yes I was meeting a woman, but I assure you it was not romantic. He crosses his hands like an empire in baseball as if to say, “he’s safe.” Olivia tilt’s her head back smiling. Now kind of enjoying the way he squirms in his seat. She play’s a little cat and mouse game. “mm-hmm, sure.”
“In fact it makes me ill, to think of this woman in the terms of romance. She weighs a solid 324 pounds. She’s five foot two. okay? Now, her thighs have more dimples then the city of Detroit has crackheads. Her ass cheeks sway into each other like a couple mini-vans parked next to each other at Wal-mart in a level 6 earthquake.” They both burst out in laughter. “So you stare at her ass huh?” continuing the cat and mouse game.
He brings back the exclamation points. “No, no. Obviously I’m not painting a clear enough picture.” Ray say’s going along with the game. “Oh no you definitely are. You see this thick dame and you think to yourself. I got me a woman that’s stacked.” She snaps her fingers and her head starts grooving. “Cause she’s a brick…” Olivia claps her hands. “House!”
He get’s embarrassed noticing people are staring after she clapped her hands not aware of how loud the acoustics were. She doesn’t care. She’s laughing and having fun. Let them judge her.
“No it was a business thing.” He emphasizes in smaller voice. Mockingly Olivia does a fake cough. “prostitute.” Exhales another fake cough. Both of them burst into laughter. Leaving the rest of the people in the restaurant as an after thought.
“I’m a trainer. Yoga, martial arts, Body Building, professional athletes. This is what allows me to travel. You see?” He say’s in a way that’s on the verge of being condescending. “So this woman was a client?” Olivia repeats now taking him seriously. “She called and asked if I do solo training courses or if she had to join a class, because she was embarrassed. I told her if she had the space in her apartment or house we could do it there.”
“So did you… do it, there.” She say’s childishly. As if she couldn’t help herself. He roles his eye’s and smiles. “A-n-y-w-a-y… I’ve been to her house several times and it seems she’s really breaking through she’s lost 22 lbs and is continuing the program. I was on my way back home when I uhhh, got into an accident. Luckily it was only a fender bender. I waited for like, 45 minutes before this cop showed up. To make a long story short. The collision was my fault and the car I hit, took it’s vengeance out on my wallet. So I’m stuck here for quite a while until I save again.”
“Well your certainly not getting any sympathy here. We’ll just have to make the best of it.” Olivia said. While the waiter crept up behind her. “More tequila miss?”
“I’m in a celebrating mood! Why not. Our friend here Mr. waiter, smashed someone’s car to bit’s. Isn’t that great?” Olivia say’s with the up most cheerfulness. Reluctant on what to say to such a staggering question. The waiter Pours her tequila a quarter way up. The equivalent of two shots.
“For whom would it be great?” He asks faking interest. Olivia slides Ray’s glass closer to him. “For us.” Olivia and Ray clang their glasses together, then sip her tequila. Him Canadian whiskey. The waiter walks away pretty sure they’re committing fraud.
They’re having fun sharing stories and aspirations of their lives. As the drinking and giggling continues there’s a lapse in her memory with something ray had said. Olivia is well past tipsy at this time of the night. Some of his stories contradict each other.
He tells her a story from his childhood. He goes on an adventure with his friends. In it he describes these fantastic fables. A story of an imaginative game his friends play. Speaking as if these games are real. Is he a man child? Prior to that Ray said he didn’t have any friends. Stating most people cautiously avoided him because of his temperamental father.
She smiled and nods along. Her subconscious whispered feelings of doubt that he might be manipulating her. “Is he worried he came off too dark. Stop over thinking when your drunk. Nothing good comes from it.”
“Am I boring you?” Olivia perks her head up. “No I was listening. I just thought… that I really like you. I have to confess that this love game is a sport I’ve never been able to grasp. Olivia embarrassingly admits. Ray scoops his fingers under hers. Gently caressing his thumb over her fingers to put her at ease. He looks deep into Olivia’s eye’s, “I feel the same. Don’t let something like a little insecurity force you into self destruction nor doubt.”
She stares into Ray’s eyes and doesn’t say anything. Olivia Pulls her hand away to slap it on top of his. Drunkenly leans over laughing. Olivia’s hair drapes over her face. Olivia combs it back with her hand. “Waiter, Check!”
After an hour and a half of loud drunken stories, bad jokes that have a some what sexual undertone to them. The waiter practically sprints over to hand them their bill.
Olivia decides to play it safe. They’re drunk and it’s basically the first date. Sex is out of the question. “We’ll see where the next few lead.” She lustfully thinks to herself as she stumbles into a cab.
“Do you live in this part of Phoenix?” Olivia asks. “Yeah I live on McDowell Road.” He slowly replies. “Perfect, get in.” Ray plops into the seat, swings his long legs into the cab and get’s a head rush. He shakes it off and shuts the door. The cab driver shifts his massive torso around facing the back. “You two better not throw up back there.” The cab driver hollers at them. Olivia dismissively waves her hand at him as if returning his attitude like it was a bad smell. “Don’t worry about us holding our liquor. We’re fine.” She slurred. “Just drive this short bus to our destination.”
Once Olivia’s home she empties her pockets on the nightstand and flops her body onto her bed. Olivia’s face resting on the cool pillow. Despite having her brain feeling like a glass of whine someone won’t stop swirling. She falls asleep right away with a smile on her face.
Olivia wakes up to sunlight beaming directly into her retinas thanks to her cheap blinds being fully closed yet remaining vaguely open. Wincing while putting her palm up to deflect the sun. She turns over and smiles. Rays thumb traces the side of Olivia’s face. His eye’s puffy and barely open. “I love you.” Ray say’s in a whisper. She grabs the hand that traces her face and pecks at it with kisses. “I love you too.” It’s been 7 month’s since that date. He moved in with her a month ago.
Olivia still works at Ed’s bar and grill. Ed finally came to his senses about his dead beat son and fired him. Ray said he was having trouble finding clients in Arizona and didn’t want to move away from his new love. Olivia asked Ray if he was willing to work as a full time line cook. “How much does it pay?” Which she replies “We’ll work you like a dog, and after paying all your bills you’ll still be broke.” He shrugs it off. “Will I work with you?” She smiles gleefully. “That’ll be the only benefit this place has.” Ray tilts his head up proud of the answer he thinks of. “You and the basic necessities is all I need in life.” Seeing her face light up to his response Ray winks as an extra touch, the final ingredient.