You could tell a lot about a man by what he drank.
Being a bartender had its perks. You didn’t just have to be good at mixing drinks-it was a social job, as important as any therapist or doctor but often twice as accessible. Pay a few bucks for a beer and you could spill your life story to a kind face cleaning a glass on the other side, aware that the both of you would end the night knowing the other person’s name. Course, that wasn’t to say it didn’t affect the bartender’s life to a degree.
Suddenly all you had to do was take a look at whatever someone chose at an open bar and get a glimpse at their troubles. Young men with highballs trying to look cool to their peers. Women with their hands grasped tight around martini stems, eyes shifting for any suspicious people trying to get near it. Mug after mug of the cheapest beer she had on tap, watered down and dished up to sad men at the ends of the bar-the type she’d have to scrape off her stools with a broom when the morning came.
Ramona felt this man was on the latter half, despite the fact that he’d only nursed one beer for the hours since he’d arrived. That’s what got her so curious.
In all her years of bar ownership, Ramona had never seen a man look quite as sad as this one. Dressed in all black, he would have blended into the corner like a shadow if he hadn’t taken off his helmet. He had a rugged outline-a square shaped jaw set hard on his face framing a pair of exhausted eyes that either looked like he was about to cry or he’d finished crying a long while ago. Between slow sips, he’d taken to cupping the top of his mug, tilting it slowly in a circle, his gaze off somewhere else.
“Guessing your friend isn’t coming?”
He looked up when she spoke, his eyes just a little wider, as if he’d been startled, “Huh?”
Ramona nodded to the barstool by him, “Your friend? Kept saying you were saving it for someone.”
“Oh…” The man sighed, leaning back on the counter, “Yeah, sorry… can’t have anybody sitting by me.” He looked like he’d realized something, hissing through his teeth, “Shit...you had that rush earlier, right? I could’ve-”
“Hun, you got here way before that rush.” She smiled, picking up a few glasses as she walked a little closer to start cleaning, “A guy has to keep his seat warm, right?”
He gave a half smile, looking back at his mug, tilting it again and stared at wherever the beer ended up sloshing to.
Ramona set some mugs in the sink, looking over the man for a few minutes as she grabbed a glass to polish, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
He didn’t seem to hear her at first, but nodded after righting the glass, “Yeah, guess I’m in town for uh...business.” His hand gripped the handle of his mug, taking a swig from it, his face screwing up after.
Ramona laughed, “Hey, you wanted the cheap stuff.”
He looked up quickly, “No! No, it’s uh, it’s fine. Just kinda cold is all.”
He’d been nursing that mug for hours now. The condensation had long dried out.
Ramona wasn’t about to question it though, blowing on the glass to buff out a water stain on the side, “Well, Mexico City’s a good place to do business. Mostly for all the non-work stuff.”
“I’ll have to take your word on it.” The man said, picking up the glass, draining the last of it in a few gulps to plunk it back on the counter, fishing some bills out of his jacket to set under it, “Thanks for the drink.”
Ramona started to nod, but looked up when his words sank in, “Wait, have you seriously not toured the city? When do you head back home?”
He’d picked up his helmet, starting to put it back on before giving pause, “Uhhh...tomorrow morning?”
A man dressed in black had entered her bar hours ago, staying right up till close. Normally this would be the kind of scenario that would get a bartender murdered. But...what the hell, he was kinda cute in that sad puppy sort of way. Ramona pulls off her apron, “Okay! So we got a couple hours-”
The man blinked, “Huh??”
“Well someone’s gotta fix this!!” Ramona came out from behind the bar, purse over her shoulder, “Granted the restaurants, museums, and everything else fun is closed, but I can still show you something before you go, right?”
“Wait, you really-”
“ Hey. I want to. ” She let her hair down out of it’s ponytail, walking up to the man and giving a smirk. “Besides, I gotta thank you anyway. Most of my usual creeps didn’t get through the door soon as they saw you at the end.”
He gave a laugh, the startled look still stuck on his sad face, looking pretty unsure of himself for such a big, strong-looking guy. “You’re...sure about this?”
Ramona smiled, “Just for a little bit. We’ll get you back on that plane or boat or whatever right on time, don’t you worry Mr…”
“...Riggs.” He put on his helmet again, clearing his throat, “But uh, just Eddie is fine.”
“Ramona.” She offered a hand for him to take. He seemed to consider it, but with that helmet on it was hard to tell what he thought about it as he walked by. He held the door for her, so he was probably just shy about it. He struck Ramona as the type of guy who’d had one great love that’d broken his heart years ago and just… hadn’t found anybody that fit the same.
“I’ll be honest with you, Eddie. I might’ve been cheating just a little.” She offered as they walked down the cobblestone streets, street lamps the only light source beyond some stars in the sky. “This is sort of my walk home too.”
“And you figured I’d scare the creeps off here too?” She couldn’t see his face, but she could tell he was smirking at her by tone alone.
“Alright, maybe!” She waved a hand, “Maybe just a bit! I mean, worked back at the bar. Most times I can never get those folks to leave. Not even if I wear a turtleneck.”
Eddie seemed to wince at the very idea, “Sheesh… well, it’s a desert. Guys get thirsty, right?”
Ramona gave a laugh, “Yeah, yeah. They just come at me cause it’s somebody they’re used to. Plonk them down in front of any prettier girl here in town and they’d piss their pants in fear. Get a gal like me who’s listening to them talk about some daddy issue for hours and suddenly they’re confident that their pickup lines are gonna work!”
Eddie snickered, “You’re making me wish I hadn’t scared them! Would’ve liked to see some of those attempts!”
“Pfft, seriously, you wouldn’t. They’re pathetic.”
“Oh yeah?” He stuck his hands in his pockets, giving a sort of head tilt, “Cmon. Give me an example.”
Ramona rolled her eyes, smirk still on her face, thinking back to some of the best she’d heard as she walks alongside him, “Okay, lets see… Oh! How about this one?” She cleared her throat, turning to him, “‘If kissing you were a sin, I’d happily walk through hell.’”
Eddie sputtered, “What??? That’s not cheesy!”
“It is when it’s coming from some fifty year old guy after five shots of Tequila!” Ramona laughed, wagging a finger, “Especially when it’s said in Spanish.”
“I guess, but I think you can give me a worse example.” Eddie leaned a bit closer. “Cmon.”
Ramona huffed, “Okay...how’s this? ‘If only you were a contact lense so I could have my eye on you.’”
Eddie recoiled, his giggle sounding almost pained from sympathy for whatever poor schmuck tried that, “Okay, okay, that is pretty cheesy.”
“I tried to tell you!”
“Yeaaah, yeah you did!” Eddie shrugged, “Should’ve listened.”
Ramona laughed, letting it trail off, her eyes settling on the skies as they walked along the street. Some of the few bars that were open later then hers were starting to shutter their windows for the night, the warm glow of the street lights guiding them onwards. “... Ojalá la mitad de las estrellas brillaran tanto como tus ojos.”
Eddie looked over at that, his head tilting a bit, “Uh...sorry, my Spanish is kinda rusty…what’s that mean?”
Ramona had a sort of sad expression on her face, getting ready to answer before she seemed to spot something up ahead, “Hold that thought-it’s over there!”
“Huh?? What is?” Ramona had started charging on ahead, remarkably fast for a woman in heels, Eddie almost struggling to keep up, “H-hey! Hold on a sec!”
When he finally got close, she was catching her breath, grinning at him while he panted under the helmet. “Well? What do you think?”
Eddie had to lift his helmet enough to get some air in, and when he brought it back down what stood before him was a massive fountain. It was lit up almost purple in the night, the lights reflecting off shoots of water designed to go up the fountain. Standing at the top, almost as if she was guarding it, was a nude woman holding a bow and arrow, her knee planted firmly on a rock to balance herself upon, hair flowing in an unseen wind.
“...Okay, that is pretty cool.”
Ramona let out a sigh, “I’m just glad we got here in time…” Right on cue, the lights went off on the fountain, the water stopping its flow to rest calmly in its basin. “The city planners usually turn it off a little early to save power. Usually I try to plan closing around the time they do so I can see her.”
“Does it have a name?” Eddie asked.
Ramona nodded, “Diana the Huntress Fountain. Or in Spanish that’s ‘Fuente de la Diana Cazadora’.” Her hand pointed towards the bow she held strongly in her grasp, “Her arrow is to shoot the stars of the Northern skies.”
Eddie gave an amused hum, “What, did the stars like… hit something she liked?”
Ramona hummed in kind, “Hard to say. Some folks think it’s cause they’re the only target that’s a challenge anymore. She’s just that good.”
Eddie made a soft ‘huh’ sound, nodding his head as he considered it, “She’s gotta be a pro with that rockin’ bod she’s got going on.” Ramona snorted, laughing as Eddie stiffened, quickly trying his best to backpedal, “I-I mean it’s a really cool statue! She’s got a great figure! Look, it’s not weird to find a statue hot, right??”
She couldn’t see his face, but she had to guess he was red underneath the helmet, her laugh slowly dying down till she could look back at the statue again, “...There are definitely prettier sculptures around the city. She’s just… always stuck out to me. Maybe it’s just because I get to see her so often and most folks just… walk right by her.”
Eddie seemed to calm down, looking back up at the fountain and rubbing his neck, the night still without the sound of running water going, “Well… I’m glad you showed me.” He turned her way, “It was a cool thing to do. Even if I’m just to ward off creeps.”
“Hey, you gave some insightful art commentary! I’d say that made it worth it!”
His shoulders hunched like he was trying to cover up his already hidden blush, “Yeah, well…”
Ramona laughed, leaning a bit towards him, a smirk on her face, “But her bod really can’t beat her butt.”
He seemed to stand up straight, staring at her a beat and moving around the statue to try and get a glimpse, standing still when he finally did and giving a low groan, a hand to his face, “Damn… you’re right…”
Ramona laughed at that, then bit her lip, quiet till Eddie walked back and finally looked over to see what caused the silence, making her clear her throat and turned on her heel, “Anyway! We’re uh. We’re almost to my place.”
Eddie’s shoulders slumped just an inch, “Right… Guess that’s my cue to go?”
“No! No I mean, not unless you want to.” Ramona nodded down the street, “Plus, they say most assaults happen close to home, so, yknow…”
Eddie looked like he was considering, his helmet turning slightly to look back down the street, his hands shoved in his pockets, “...I’ll walk you to the door?”
Ramona let out a relieved sigh, nodding her head. Once again she offered her hand and once more he walked past her onto the street ahead. This time she had to pause for a moment, looking at his back till he paused to look back at her, getting her to follow along. Maybe that heartbreak was still weighing down on him… maybe she was just assuming something that wasn’t actually there.
In any case, it wasn’t long before they’d reached her apartment proper. The elevator wasn’t working again, so they ended up taking the stairs to get up to her place. At one point she took off her heels just cause they’d finally bugged her enough and the stairs hadn’t been any help, the two more then a little out of breath by the time they reached her door. “Well. Here it is…”
“Yeah...does the elevator usually…?”
“Not work?” Ramona let out a chuff of a laugh, “Yeah. Our landlord doesn’t do shit for this place. But it’s a good workout, right?”
“Yeah, if you’re nuts.” He pulled off the helmet to wipe his brow, “I mean you’re on the sixth floor, like...if you got groceries or something…?”
A breathy laugh came out of her as she pulled out her keys, unlocking the door to step inside, pausing with her hand on the doorframe, “That phrase I told you earlier, in Spanish? Do you want to know what it means?”
He blinked at her. With the helmet off it was so much easier to tell what he was thinking. He still looked tired, but there was a little spark that hadn’t been there before, “Yeah?”
“It means… ‘If only half of the stars in the sky shined as brightly as your eyes.’”
Eddie had blushed a little, giving a confused laugh, his helmet going under one arm as the other scratched his neck, “That one doesn’t seem very cheesy to me...”
“It wasn’t for a time.” Ramona lingered in the doorway. This guy had work to do. She couldn’t just keep him here. She knows he said he could go, but there had to be something… “Eddie?”
“Hm?” He’d already started to put his helmet back on, that bit of pink sticking to his cheeks.
“...Do you cut your own hair?”
He blinked again, brows raising slightly, rubbing the back of his head and giving a more embarrassed look, “It’s that obvious, huh?”
“Juuust a bit, yeah.” She thumbed back inside, “I’ve got an electric razor in here… I could even you out before you go?”
Eddie made a face she hadn’t seen on him before. In a split second, his face had changed from embarassed to a look of absolute terror. Like his stomach had dropped out from under him, eyes wide and trembling as he looked at her, “... You don’t have to.”
Ramona paused at that look he had, her own going to one of concern, “Eddie? It’s...seriously it won’t take much time. Is everything okay?”
“I-I shouldn’t be here-” He took a step back, his free hand moving to wrap around his stomach like some sort of self hug, “You’re really nice but I shouldn’t-I can’t-”
“Eddie-re ally, it’s just a haircut.” Ramona gave her best reassuring smile, “Just breathe, hun. It’ll only take me a second, I swear.”
The poor thing was shaking like a leaf. His eyes kept darting down the hallway. If she didn’t see the empty hall herself, she’d swear it was like...he was scared something was coming after him. She waited till he managed to steady his breathing, the look of fear turning to something else. He looked sad at first, before that spark from before seemed to drain in an instant, and his face became something closer to...acceptance. “...Okay.” When he looked back over, the smile on his face was a tired one. “Thanks Ramona.”
Ramona didn’t know what to think of the change that went on. Maybe she just reassured herself that he’d calmed down and that was enough. Or that she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since he seemed like such a sweet guy. But if she had any warning bells, they soon stopped as she shut the door behind them and he was inside.
The apartment was small but comfortable-tools of the bar trade were scattered in spots on the countertops, a lamp had been left on when she left earlier, and the couch had a few blankets left on it from naps of the past. A guitar rested against one of the couch pillows, and Eddie had begun to stare at it by the time Ramona came back out with the clippers, “Oh? Noticed that old thing, huh?”
Ramona walked around, giving a self conscious laugh towards it, “Yeah yeah...tried to pick it up a few times before. Never really got the hang of it.”
Eddie picked it up, checking the knobs on the end, “Probably help if you had it tuned right.”
Ramona blinked, “You know guitars, huh?”
“Mostly electric.” He fiddled carefully with the knobs, testing a few chords before going back to fiddle again.
Ramona felt a softer smile coming on at that, plugging in the clippers and grabbing a towel to put over his shoulder to catch any hairs, “Didn’t peg you for the sensitive musician type.”
Eddie gave an amused hum, “Well you’d be right. Used to be a roadie back in the day… don’t really know what I am anymore.” He strums the chords, seemed to like whatever he heard, and set it down to sit up straight on the couch for her. “...Earlier, with that line. Who said that to you?”
Ramona stopped before she could start the clippers, “Oh, it’s kind of stupid… I used to have a fiance.”
Ramona nodded, starting the clippers again, “...It was my fault I guess. I still loved him, but… there was a guy who had another line that spoke better to me.” Her shoulders drooped, “I know… paints a whole other picture of me, doesn’t it? Some girl who just couldn’t make up her mind.”
Eddie stayed quiet. His eyes were on a window in the living room that looked over the city streets. If he focused hard enough, he could just see Diana’s bow aimed for him. But that’s only if he really wanted to.
“Alright… I get it.” The soft buzz of the clippers started as Ramona got close, “I must sound like some sorta monster, huh?” She placed a hand on his shoulder to get her balance.
The sharp jolt of pain brought everything to a halt, Ramona letting out a yelp as she jumped back, dropping the still-buzzing clippers down on the living room floor. She gripped her hand, keeping it clenched for a moment with a hiss, opening it slowly to stare wide-eyed at the red and blistering skin of her palm. Like she’d slapped her hand down on a stovetop pan just to see what would happen. The confused, pained whimper came out naturally and stifled itself when she saw Eddie stand up.
He couldn’t have been that much taller then her. So why did he feel so looming all of a sudden. He’d set his helmet down on the couch, taking off his leather gloves one digit at a time. “You really were a nice gal.” Ramona was frozen, staring wide-eyed as he approached her. In one move, he closed the distance-one hand over her mouth and the other on the small of her back. “So… thanks.”
When he looked at her, he looked so relaxed and relieved, even with the tears starting to roll down his face. “Thanks for making it easier on me.”
He hugged her so tightly she thought her ribs would break. She wanted to scream, but found it a lot harder with one lip melted over the other.
“Well, well, well, look who comes back.” Manny is still up when the door shuts, sitting comfortably by a window overlooking the port. The ocean was dark as pitch, the sun not set to rise for another hour or two, and Manny looks like he’s enjoying the view with a cigar in his teeth. “And you even got yourself a little souvenir.”
Eddie nodded, setting the guitar at the foot of his bed, taking a seat across from Manny. “What’d you do?”
“Eh, nothing much.” Manny sat back, one leg crossed over the other, “Mostly walked around the city, got a drink, tipped a few performers my last few hundreds.”
“That was generous.”
Manny shrugged, “Not much I can really use it for. And we’ll make it back the next town over tenfold.”
Eddie nodded. He looked up after a minute or two, the darkness of the helmet giving nothing besides the unsure tone of his voice, “Did you...see any landmarks along the way?”
Manny considered the question, tapping the cigar against the nearby ashtray, “Mm… just a few sculptures, some nice parks I guess... “
“You didn’t see the fountain?”
“Eh?” Manny hummed, “... I wasn’t looking out for any, no. Just came back here when I was done.”
He looked down at the soft squeak of leather, following the clenched fists up to shaking shoulders and the first shaky inhale from his companion as he put his hands on his head. The muffled sobs were the only noise in the room apart from the gentle lapping of waves outside. Manny just let out a plume of smoke and got himself comfortable, sitting back in his chair as Eddie held himself and cried.
Only thing to do now was let him burn himself out...