The Coke machine was dripping quietly in the corner while she mopped. It always seemed so still during cleanup after a long, loud Saturday night. Even though it was colder than normal for the second week in December, the bar had been packed to capacity. Tony, the bouncer, was sitting in the corner opposite the dripping soda station texting his girlfriend. How a guy who was only 5'6" could throw down like he did always amazed her, even with those strong shoulders he wasn't the biggest guy. Tony was like a tall Italian Wolverine. He'd had to work hard tonight, so he was relaxing while she finished her closing duties. If he had been manning the door or she hadn't been on mop duty, they might have stopped him from coming inside.
"Hey beautiful." Her head whipped around so quickly at the warm, deep voice that her neck cramped up. He was just standing there, half leaning on the bar as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His jeans and t-shirt were dark blue and soft looking. His open coat looked warm and so did his satisfied but questioning half smirk that always reminded her of a puppy asking for permission to kiss her face. James... She dropped the mop.
Alice had to remind herself to breathe. She also had to resist the urge to jump into his arms and kiss him. Her body wanted to, pretty desperately, but her brain was still in a shaky sort of control. She had a death grip on her apron, just in case her resolve slipped. She could almost smell his cologne. The mop was still on the floor. Tony finally looked up.
"This guy bothering you, doll face?" She bit back a bitter laugh and shook her head towards him. Alice shoved her shaking hands into her back pockets and forced what she hoped looked like a reassuring smile to the man quickly going into bouncer mode. As satisfying as it would be, watching Tony throw him bodily into the alley, he didn't deserve that. At least not yet.
"Nah, I'm alright." He was already half out of his booth and at the reassurance and fake smile he slid back to where he'd been sitting. James took the reassurance to Tony as a sign that it was all clear to move towards her. Suddenly panicked, she stepped back quickly, narrowly missing tripping over the giant yellow mop bucket as it wheeled away. This time Tony was up and standing next to her. If her hands had been out, instead of in her pockets she probably wouldn't have stumbled and almost fell.
"Something ain't right here, sweetness." Tony put himself between the former couple and held out his hands. He pointed to James. "State your business buddy." Tony wasn't a big guy, but he carried himself in such a way that people knew he meant business.
"I'm not here for any funny business, I just wanted to say hi and let Alice here know I'm going to be in town for a while." This made sense to Tony, and Alice's reaction aside, he looked like a decent sort of dude. Clean cut, well spoken and wearing good clothes at least, which in his experience tended to mean that he was alright. He shrugged and pointed to Alice and spoke to James again.
"I ain't going anywhere and I'm driving Alice here home unless her boyfriend comes and gets her. So don't think you're gonna get anywhere with her. Alice is a good girl. A nice girl. She doesn't need or want guys coming around here and trying to scare her..." Tony poked James' chest for emphasis. "...and if I find out that you're being a creep to this good girl, I'm going to take it real personal. Ya dig?" If it had been any other short guy trying to intimidate a tall guy, it would have probably been funny. But there was a reason Tony was such a great bouncer and it didn't have much to do with his vocabulary. James looked understandably shaken and took a couple steps back toward the door.
"Right." He looked from Tony to Alice and back to Tony. "Okay, I'll leave." Back to Alice. "I'm going to be in town for a while, and if you're available, I'd like to take you out for coffee." Back to Tony, with his hands up in a calming gesture. "Just to talk. I know her from Denver. We were... friends." He swallowed hard in the pause and walked backwards toward the door, hands still up. Alice turned to Tony.
"Its okay Tony. I got this..." She walked over to the bar and grabbed a napkin and a pen. Her hands weren't shaking anymore, but she was still a bit uneasy about what she was doing. Had to be done, though, or she would be kicking herself for the rest of her life. Walking back to James, she held out the napkin and looked him straight in the eye.
"I'm off on Monday after two... I have class till then. Give me a call Sunday and we'll figure out where to meet. Just coffee." James opened his mouth to say something else but Alice cut him off. "You better go, before I change my mind." He pressed his lips together, looked down and nodded. With his head still down, but a smile stealing onto his face, he turned to the door. He was almost there before he turned back quickly.
"Nice to meet you, Tony. Alice, I'll talk to you later." And with that, James was out the door and walking down the street almost as suddenly as he had appeared. It was lucky that Tony was standing close by Alice because as soon as James was out of sight through the windows, her legs collapsed under her. She would have hit the floor hard if Tony had not caught her. In the background, the Coke machine continued to drip and Tony's phone vibrated with a new text message alert.