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Last Ditch

by Millie Bauer 5 months ago in Series
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A Life of the Wolf-Hart story: Chapter 3

Last Ditch
Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

Lia wakes up from an uneasy sleep, again. She hasn’t slept well since Carl and the falls. She wonders if she’ll ever be able to sleep well again. Jared has fully ghosted her. He won’t speak to her at all and she’s given up on him ever coming back. He was right, there’s not room in her heart for him right now. There’s barely enough room for Jayna. Lia doesn’t even have enough room in her heart to love herself anymore. And there’s that little part that feels like she’ll always love Carl…despite everything. Lia shakes the thoughts of Carl from her mind and looks at her phone on the nightstand: it’s 6:18 am. Too late to go back to sleep, but earlier than she wanted to get up for work. She stretches and gets out of her bed, walking a few short steps over to Jayna’s Pack-N-Play.

Jayna is still sleeping soundly in her bed. Lia brushes the little bit of peanut brown hair from her daughter’s eyes, even though she knows it wont bother the baby. Lia then turns on a low lamp in the kitchen and starts cooking them breakfast. Their apartment is small, but manageable. It’s technically a one bedroom, but due to insulation issues, the bedroom is too cold and too loud for Lia to feel comfortable sleeping in there. So, her bed, Jayna’s crib, and the couch are all crammed into the living room. There’s also a bin full of Jayna’s toys, mostly second hand blocks and some stuffies at the moment. There’s a small end table by the door, with Lia’s kicked shoes underneath. Jayna’s diaper bag lays on the floor by the couch, along with Lia’s backpack. Her backpack that usually has her laptop in it, but it is currently plugged in on the couch, ready for Lia to come over and pull up the news or a show to watch while she eats breakfast.

In the other room is the most storage, Jayna’s stroller, her new car seat for when she grows out of the infant seat, and a closet of clothes for both of them. Lia mostly wears the same clothes she had in high school. It has barely been a year, but she already needs to get some new clothes, as a lot of these aren’t fitting right. There’s a bookcase with mostly children’s books for Jayna, as well as some old school assigned books, and a whole shelf and a half devoted to cookbooks.

In the kitchen is the high chair, Lia practically trips over it just to get around the room. She scrambles up some eggs for her and her daughter, while also making a bottle of formula. She decides to make herself some tea before she starts the bottle, hoping Jayna will stay asleep long enough for her to get everything ready. She lays out a plate for herself and one for her daughter, both plastic and covered in flowers. She also pops a bagel in the toaster for herself and starts slicing an avocado. She hears a small whine from the Pack-N-Play and before she has time to finish plating her food, Jayna is up, fussing for her morning bottle. Lia grabs the bottle, testing to make sure it won't burn her daughter, before setting her up in her high chair for her morning routine.

After breakfast, Lia changes Jayna’s diaper and dresses her in a pink onesie, yellow sweatpants, and a yellow sweater. Lia searches for some matching socks, before giving up and just grabbing some green ones to keep Jayna’s feet warm. Lia then sets Jayna in her Pack-N-Play with her favorite banana shaped teether and a mirror strapped to the side. Lia puts on some music while she gets ready, doing her makeup while watching Jayna closely. Lia knows her regulars prefer when she wears the red lipstick, even if it’s not Lia’s preferred style. She puts a little shimmery pink on her lids, and lines her eyes. She lightly blushes her cheeks and nose, just to give her face a little bit more life. Jayna babbles to herself in the mirror, and Lia listens to her daughter’s “stories” imagining what Jayna must be saying to the little green eyed baby in her mirror. Once Lia is dressed for work: a black polo, black skinny jeans, and black restaurant shoes, she brushes Jayna’s little mop of brown hair, not that it’s needed, but it makes Jayna happy, and Lia loves to hear her little giggles in the morning.

At 9:30am there’s a familiar knock on the door. Lia still approaches the door with caution, until she hears Beth’s voice through the door,

“Just me, Lia, I brought Starbies!”

Lia breathes a sigh of relief and let’s her best friend in. Beth comes in, carrying her 17-month-old daughter on her hip. Desi is also in pink and yellow today. Beth holds her phone, keys and a tray with 2 starbucks frappes in the other hand. She sets Desi down and Jayna squeals in joy from her spot on the ground by the couch. Desi runs over to give Jayna a hug, accidentally tumbling over her in the process, but both babies are laughing, so who can complain?

Lia and Beth sit down to enjoy their frappes while going over the day’s schedule

“So, you’re working till 7 tonight, right?” Beth asks, watching as Desi shows Jayna her bear and the girls laugh more at something only babies can understand.

“Yeah, I’ll pick up Jayna at Abuelita’s after that. Thanks a million for coming to grab her, by the way, I know it’s not necessary, but I appreciate not having to drive all the way out there just to basically come right back for work, you know how traffic coming in usually is.”

“No biggie, I need my fix in the mornings anyways,” she shakes her already mostly empty cup, the plastic straw spinning around the opening in the lid, “ plus it’s nice to get out of the house every once in a while. I love Abuelita, and she’s been so nice to take us in, but sometimes I wish we had enough to move out on our own, ya know?’

“Trust me, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I know, but hey, maybe we’ll be able to buy a duplex, ya know, like we used to say when we were kids?” She playfully nudges Lia on the shoulder, and both of their faces fall when they see Jared’s note on the table. Lia had called Beth crying about it, but they hadn’t really talked about what had happened at the falls. Beth knew Carl had found her, knew Carl had broken Lia’s phone, but Lia wasn’t ready to tell her everything yet.

“He still hasn’t called back?”

Lia sighs and shakes her head, it’s all Beth needs. She drops the conversation.

“Look at the time, let’s go girls!” She smiles and stands up, holding her hand for Lia to take it and follow her, which she does. They’ll talk when Lia’s ready to talk.

Beth and Lia swap cars for the day, so Jayna’s car seat doesn’t have to be moved to a different car

“Soon, you’ll get a bigger car seat!” Beth tells Jayna happily. Lia kisses her daughter on the forehead in her carseat.

“Love you, Jaynee girl, Mama will see you later tonight.” she reaches over to give Desi a little hug in her carseat “Have fun, Desi!” Lia and Beth hug before getting into each other’s cars and driving off for their days.

Lia pulls into the employee spots behind the bar to find some extra cars there, including the sheriff’s cruiser. Frank, the owner, is there arguing with someone from the sheriff’s office, who is holding a clipboard. Lia raises her hand in a polite wave as she enters the back door. She drops her bag and fleece jacket in her locker before making her way to the front to start opening for the day. She greets the morning cook and the dishwasher, before making her way to the front to start opening the bar. She sees Kimmi, the opening waitress, behind the bar, getting the till set up for the day.

“You could’ve left that for me. I don’t mind opening my own drawer.”

“No big deal, sweetheart, just figured I’d stay out of the boss’s way a while. You saw him arguing back there?”

“Yeah, who’s that guy?”

“The new deputy” Dom pokes his salt and pepper hair from the kitchen, before coming through the door and lowering his massive frame onto a rickety old chair which groans under his weight.

“Uh-oh…that’s never good news” Kimmi shakes her head as she counts the drawer.

“Why, what’s wrong?” Lia starts to clean the bar top and get all the garnishes ready for the day.

“Ya know the night bartender, Miss Eva?” Dom asks, procuring a coffee seemingly from thin air.

“Yeah? She’s been here a while, right?” Dom and Kimmi laugh, both raspy from decades of smoke breaks out by the dumpster

“Nah, chile, I have been here a while. Miss Eva, she’s been here, what, 6 years?”

“Started off same age as you, might not have even been 18 yet, actually, come to think of it..” Kimmi’s thoughts trail off as Dom continues

“Well, see, she came up with the idea to have ‘theme nights’ at the bar, trying to turn this place into some sort of club or sumthin’. So she’s been advertising to the local colleges, but I don’t know that she’s as good at checkin’ those IDs as you are, Miss Lia.” Dom winks at her, the only lines on his old face are around his eyes. Unlike when other old men do this, Lia feels honored when Dom treats her like this. She feels strangely indoctrinated into this old feeling location. Although she knows all the props are fake, it really does feel like a small old Saloon. But even the signed John Wayne poster is a fake. Just then, Paul comes out from the back, his rags for the day tucked into his belt. He carries out the cheap cowboy hats Frank’s makes the servers and bartenders wear.

“Here, these are in the way back there.” he says, tossing them on the counter in Lia's general direction. Frank slams the doors in the back. Clearly his talk did not go well. Dom shrugs and groans as he gets back up and lumbers his way back into the kitchen. Lia looks to Kimmi, trying to decide how to react to everything.

Kimmi just shrugs it off as well and picks up her hat, and nicely passes the other to Lia. Kimmi sits her’s on top of her Dolly Parton-esque blonde bump of hair. Lia puts hers on, leaving just her orangey copper braid hanging down her back. Lia and Kimmi finish getting the tables ready, setting out stacks of placemats and coasters with the bar’s name on them, The Last Ditch Saloon. Kimmi calls into the back to ask Dom about the daily special.

“Why don’t we ask Miss Lia to come up with sunthin today?” His toothy grin appears in the kitchen window “C’mon now, I know you like cookin’, give me your best Daily Special. You know what we’ve got back here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course! I’ve seen what you whip up when you think I’m not lookin, you've got some talent. Go on, flex a lil.” He laughs with such genuine joy that Lia doesn’t want to disappoint him. But she comes up with a recipe: a BBQ brisket grilled cheese with coleslaw and mac salad. Kimmi writes it on the board, her many bangles scraping slightly against the board as she writes. Both Kimmi and Dom smile proudly at Lia’s idea, Paul even gives a small shrug of approval when he looks it over.

As the morning regulars start pulling up outside, Frank finally emerges from the office, looking more disheveled than Lia has ever seen him. His eyes are bloodshot and sunken in, he looks exhausted and his voice matches when he makes his way into the center of the dining room.

“Morning Roundup, everyone out here!” he barks back to the kitchen. Dom and Paul emerge. All four employees exchange confused glances. No one is quite sure what to make of this. Frank stares around at all of them before starting “Yall know my granddad opened this place nearly 67 years ago. He was just an Irish immigrant with a dream. But that dream ends today. We’re shutting down.” a ringing starts building in Lia’s ears, she can’t believe what she’s hearing. But Frank continues, “

Turns out we lost our liquor license. There’s no way we can stay open without it. I guess Eva was…well she had some ideas to make this place run better, be more profitable. And those ideas I guess included not checking IDs. The Sheriff's Deputy saw some minors drinking here…luckily no one got hurt, this time, but he said we can’t have any more chances. We’ve got nothing. This is yalls last day. Stick around for a couple hours to close everything up and tell all the customers we’re done. Don’t serve anything to anyone. You'll get your last check in the mail next week. Night shift’s already been notified. Someone can get on the Facebooks and say we’re closed for good. That’s all.”

The air is silent as Frank grabs two bottles of whiskey from behind the bar and walks out the back door with them.

“What the FUCK!” Dom is first to regain himself and start heading towards the back, Paul and Kimmi not far behind. Lia just sits there, frozen. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. She keeps thinking over and over, shaking her head as she slowly crumples on the wooden floor behind the bar. She curls her knees to her chest, tears welling up in her eyes. She can hear Dom, Paul, and Kimmi screaming and yelling at Frank in the back alley, but she can’t make out what they’re saying. Eventually, she hears the sharp rap on the door of Mr and Mrs Daunders, surely wondering why things are not running on schedule. Lia can’t pull herself off the floor, she's just stuck, numb and devoid of everything. First Carl coming back, then Jared leaves me, now this? How will I pay the bills this month? Lia burries her head in her knees and sobs.

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Millie Bauer

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