DW, an Army vet, has published 9 novels. His day job is teaching elementary school. In his spare time, he camps with his wife of 30+ years.
A Voice from the Past
Rick finished putting a beautiful head on a frosty mug of beer. He put the mug on Cindy's tray next to one he'd already prepared.
"Looks like it's gonna be a good night," Cindy said as she lifted her tray. "The place is already filling up."
"We need a good showing tonight to get the summer started right. This is Memorial Day Weekend, after all. The start of the fun-in-the-sun season here at the beach."
Cindy left with her drink tray. Rick turned to check on the customers at his end of the bar. What had been the last vacant stool was now occupied by an attractive brunette in an American themed halter top that both maintained a shred of modesty while revealing that the woman wearing it was toned and tanned.
"Four years of college, four years of med school, a grueling internship, five years as a resident, and when I finally set foot on Buzby Beach again, I find my high school sweetheart working as a bartender. Oh, how the mighty have fallen."
Rick stared at Andrea for a long moment. Then he turned to Bobbi and said, "Can you handle things here for a few?"
Ghosts at the Bar?
Bobbi looked up from the drink she was mixing. "Sure, Boss, I got this."
"Thanks," Rick muttered as he walked behind her to the door at the end of the bar that led into the kitchen.
Andrea called out after Rick, "It's been fifteen years, Rick. Aren't you even going to say hello?"
Rick didn't answer. He didn't look back. He pushed through the door and into the kitchen.
"Whoa, Rick!" said the restaurant hostess when her boss burst into the kitchen. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Damn close," Rick sputtered. "Carol, you'll never believe who is sitting out at the have right now."
Carol smirked and said, "The ghost of Captain Gregg."
"Who?" Rick asked. "I've never heard of him."
"Captain Gregg was the ghost in that movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," Carol explained. "It's a classic from the late Forties."
"The Forties was a little before my time," Rick said. "And no, no ghosts are sitting at the bar. There is someone I thought I'd never see again."
"A woman, I take it," Carol observed.
"An old girlfriend," Rick revealed. "My high school sweetheart, Andrea. I haven't seen her since the night of our graduation. I left for ROTC orientation training the very next day and never heard from her again."
"What are you going to do, hide back here in the kitchen until she leaves?"
Rick grimaced. "I don't reckon I can hide out back here long. What I should do is find out why she's here."
Andrea was still occupying the barstool. Now, there was a glass of white wine in her hand.
"I guess that whole army thing didn't work out for you did it," she said to Rick when he reappeared behind the bar.
Rick snorted. "It did for a while. I was on the shortlist for Major when my military career was cut unexpectedly short, along with both my legs."
The glass Andrea was raising to her lips slipped from her fingers and shattered on the bar. The wine it held spilled out as it fell, soaking the left side of Andrea's halter top.
"You son of a bitch," Andrea hissed. She got off her stool and, after a scathing glare at Rick, bolted for the exit.
Bobbi made a clucking sound with her tongue.
"What?" Rick asked.
"You just did a lousy thing," Bobbi informed him.
"As lousy as Andrea turning down my marriage proposal because, quote, I am not going to spend my life following you from one lousy base to another, unquote. She knew I always planned on taking ROTC and becoming an Army officer. Andrea never said a word about not wanting to be an officer's wife until I asked her to marry me the day before I left for orientation. After I left, she never talked to me again. No letters, no phone calls, no contact at all for fifteen years. Then, tonight, she suddenly shows up here in my restaurant talking crap, and you think I did a lousy thing."
"Andrea obviously came here tonight because she wanted to see you," Bobbi said, shaking a finger at Rick. "Maybe her attempt at humor was cover for how nervous she was about facing you again."
"Or maybe she came to gloat because she's now a hotshot surgeon and she thinks I'm a bartender," Rick countered.
Bobbi's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong with being a bartender?"
Rick shook his head. "Nothing! That's my point. I love tending bar. I love owning this restaurant. Andrea's got no business looking down on me, on us."
"Either way, Rick," Bobbi said, pointing toward the door, "you should run after her."
"Not on these legs," Rick replied. "These are my work legs."
"Ha, ha," Bobbi said mirthlessly. "You're not funny. Just go after her."
Rick shook his head. "Andrea's long gone by now. I doubt she'll ever come back."
Bobbi pointed the soda gun at Rick. "Unless she's waiting outside for you to come after her."
Rick raised his hands in surrender. "All right, don't shoot. I'll go out front and see if she's there."
Andrea wasn't in the lobby. Rick knew Bobbi would give him an earful if he didn't check the parking lot. Andrea was sitting in one of the benches along the front porch. She looked up when Rick walked out.
"I wondered if you'd come after me," Andrea said when he looked her way.
Rick shrugged. "I wasn't going to. Bobbi insisted."
"Bobbi, the hot blond bartender? Are the two of you together?"
Rick coughed. "Only as business partners. She owns fifteen percent of the restaurant."
"How much do you own?" Andrea asked. "I assume you're a part owner, too."
"I hold seventy percent of this place," Rick informed her. "I also have a forty percent stake in Frenchie's place in Wrightsville Beach. You remember Frenchie?"
"Francois Devereaux," Andrea recalled. "How could I ever forget?"
"It must not have been too hard," Rick taunted. "You forgot about me the day after I proposed. Then you went off to college and forgot all about everyone and everything back here."
Andrea looked down at her hands and took a deep breath. When she looked up, she said, "You're right, Rick. I wanted to forget all about Buzby Beach and the boy whose heart I'd broken. But I never did. Not a day has gone by in the last fifteen years I haven't thought about you."
Rick shuffled closer to the bench Andrea was sitting on. "Why did you come back now, Andi?"
Andrea watched him move. She didn't answer his question. She asked one of her own.
"Were you really wounded over there?"
In answer, Rick sat beside Andrea on the bench and raised his pant legs to reveal his prosthetics. "Right leg just above the ankle, left leg four inches below the knee. Do you remember Harold Thatcher? He was a couple of years ahead of us in high school. Harry designed these for me. They helped him get his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. I've got another pair for running and a special set of flippers for swimming."
When Andrea looked up from Rick's legs, there were tears in her eyes. "I didn't know."
"Now you know," Rick stated plainly. "So, why did you come back, Andi?"
"If I had known Rick, I would have..."
"You would have what, Andi?" Rick asked, cutting her off. "Would you have set aside your promising career and rushed to my side?"
"Yes, I would, if I'd known!" Andrea insisted. "Why didn't anyone get word to me?"
"Oh, they tried," Rick informed her. "You did such a good job of cutting all ties that no one had any idea where to find you or how to reach you."
Andrea started to say something but stopped. She stared into Rick's brown eyes. Where in the past she'd only seen warmth and love, and once unbearable pain, all she saw now was oak like hardness.
Rick rose carefully to his feet. "It's been fun catching up, Andi. We should do it again in another fifteen years."
He walked to the door and started to open it.
"I got a job at New Hanover Regional as a general surgeon," Andrea blurted out. "And I bought a condo here on the beach. I've finally come home, Rick."
"Then I guess I'll be seeing you around," Rick responded before going inside and letting the door close behind him.
Back to Work
"You were gone a while, Rick," Bobbi noted when he returned to the bar. "I take it you found her."
"Yes, Bobbi, I found Andrea. She was sitting on the porch deciding whether to come back in or leave."
Bobbi put the frozen daiquiri she just made on the server's tray next to a frozen strawberry margarita and then asked, "Where is she now?"
Rick shrugged. "Either she left, or she's still standing there where she was when I came back in."
"Did you ask her to come back in?" Bobbi inquired with a frown.
Rick shook his head as he poured a refill from the Budweiser tap for a customer at the bar. "Why would I ask her to come back inside?"
Carol walked up to the bar and said, "Because it was the decent thing to do."
Rick wagged a finger at Carol. "Don't you two gang up on me. Your wife is already giving me enough grief."
"Have it your way, Rick," Carol said. "We won't say another word about how you chased off a beautiful woman who also happens to be an old and dear friend you haven't seen in years, will we, Bobbi?"
Bobbi shook her head and kept on mixing drinks.
Rick doubted he'd heard the last from Carol and Bobbi about Andrea, but the restaurant was filling up, and he had to concentrate on keeping things running smoothly.
Last call was at one in the morning. Rick ushered the final customer out at one fifteen. Most of the staff was done with their work and clocked out by one thirty. Rick was sitting alone at the bar sipping on a ginger ale when he heard someone coming down the three steps from the upper dining room.
"Did you forget something, Bobbi?" he asked without looking, assuming it was his bartending business partner returning.
"It's not Bobbi, Rick. It's me, Andi."
Rick turned around slowly and looked at Andrea as if she were a dreadful apparition he could wish away.
When he didn't speak, Andrea said, "Bobbi let me in as she was leaving. I've been waiting until I thought you'd be alone."
"Note to self," Rick muttered. "Fire Bobbi."
Andrea sat in the stool next to Rick's. "Earlier, you asked me why I came here tonight. You might not believe me, but it was purely by chance. I had no idea you worked here, much less that you owned the place. As far as I knew, you were still off somewhere in the Army. I was stunned when I realized it was you behind the bar. I didn't know what to say, so I said something stupid."
She paused and looked expectantly at Rick. He gazed back with a blank expression.
Andrea took a deep breath and then said, "Are you going to say anything?"
Rick chuckled. "I wasn't sure you were done."
With a huff, Andrea said, "I'm done for the moment."
"Okay," Rick began after a sip of his ginger ale. "Let me see if I've got this straight. You're back on the island because you got a job as a surgeon and make enough to afford a condo out here. Coming back to Buzby Beach had nothing to do with me."
Andrea started to interrupt, but Rick held up his hand to stop her.
"Since you've been back," he continued, "you haven't talked to anyone from the old days, so had no idea I was even on the island, which means coming to my restaurant tonight has nothing to do with wanting to see me."
Once more, Andrea started to speak, and again, Rick stopped her.
"To sum up, in the fifteen years since you abruptly ended our relationship, including since you came back here, I haven't crossed your mind until you saw me behind this bar tonight. Is that about right?"
Andrea sniffed and said, "Not all of it. I told you when we talked on the porch that not a day's gone by when I haven't thought of you and wondered where you were, how you were, and what you were doing. Do you know why I never got in touch? It's because I realized how deeply I hurt you when I said no and thought there was no way you'd ever want to see me or hear from me again."
Rick lowered himself carefully from the bar stool. "I've never gotten over you, Andi. There's never been another woman who could get close to me, who I trusted, who I would let get to know me. You ruined love for me. I've never felt it since the day you drove your cutting words into my heart and walked away."
Andrea remained seated until Rick said, "The restaurant is closed. You should leave now. I need to get these legs off and go to bed."
He carefully made his way up the steps to the upper dining room. Andrea stood and followed him.
When they reached the door, Rick held it open for Andrea.
"Aren't you leaving?" she asked after she stepped outside, and Rick started to close the door between them.
"I live in the apartment upstairs," Rick replied as he tried and failed to suppress a yawn. "Goodbye, Andi."
He closed the door between them, locked it, and made his way to the door in the gift shop behind which was the entrance to the private elevator to his apartment on the second floor.
© 2019 DW Davis