“I thought it was you,” Sandy said brightly at the top of her lungs, going in for a long drawn out hug. Daniel had one arm around her. Sandy pulled back and pushed Daniel playfully at his shoulder. “Where have you been all this time?”
“New York,” he smiled politely, putting his hands inside his pockets.
“Working real hard, I bet.” Sandy swished her shoulders. I cleared my throat and she looked at me as if noticing me for the first time. “Oh, and is this your friend from New York?”
Umm nah-uh. As if I’d remember you and you don’t remember me. Before I could reply Daniel said, “No, this is my girlfriend, you remember, Anna?”
Sandy narrowed her eyes in thought. “Anna…” She tested the name on her tongue. “No, I don’t think so.”
“She’s from here. Went to UCLA,” Daniel tried jogging her memory, weirded out that she seemed to have forgotten.
“Daniel,” I put a hand on his arm, “it doesn’t matter. Not everyone remembers everyone.”
Sandy’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit, I remember you. The girl who nabbed the playboy. I guess that makes you Hugh Hefner,” she burst out laughing at her own joke.
“Yup, and I think we better get going to the Playboy mansion,” I said, tugging on Daniel’s arm. “All my hoes are waiting.”
“Nice seeing you again,” Daniel nodded, and we started to turn.
“Hey, wait,” Sandy quickly said. “Let’s go hang out. We’re all off to Martin’s bar.” Then she turned to me, nudging her chin at me. “You remember Martin don’t you?”
“Oh, we’re kind of tired…” I started to say.
“Oh my God, you guys are such old people!” she laughed. “Besides, Daniel was never tired, were you Daniel?”
“Heh,” was all Daniel could muster out of the corner of his mouth.
I cringed. “Mmkay.” My face tautened as if I bit into a bitter lemon.
“You’re not even going to say ‘hi’ to Martin?” she asked me. “The guy who gave you a job at the bar?” Oh, now she remembers me! She laughed again and bounced on her tiptoes. “Oh, come on. A bunch of us are going.” Then, she looked at Daniel. “And I guarantee you you’ll see a bunch of your old college boys in there. Come on, we’re grabbing a cab now.”
Martin’s bar was nearly exactly how I left it. Messy table tops of peanut shells and beer cups, a cheap, wooden bar top filled with hunched-over patrons calling out to two bartenders for drinks, and behind them, shelves upon shelves of bottles. The one thing that’s changed is that Martin had installed those shelf cabinets with a cage just inside the cabinet, and a padlock and chain encircling the handles.
“See, what did I tell you?” Sandy smiled at Daniel, pointing to his friends sitting in a corner booth.
One of them noticed and yelled out. “Hey, hey! It’s Daniel!” The rest turned and started shouting. “Hey, Hey!” one by one, “Daniel!”
Daniel shook his coat off as they started approaching him. They pulled him in and pushed me out of the way as all but one dragged him. Once I regained my balance, I started to make my way towards the booth.
“Hey, Anna?” Sandy put a hand on my shoulder. I turned. “Martin’s out back. Like usual.”
“Oh, cool. Okay. Thanks.”
“No problem.” She shrugged her shoulders in approval and made her way to the booth.
I started towards the back room when I passed Daniel calling out to me, “Hey, babe, where are you going?”
“To see Martin. I’ll be two seconds.” Sandy smiled and shared a secret glance with her girlfriend. I brushed it off.
I walked into Martin’s office bubbly and bright, and immediately heard his brash voice. “Didn’t I tell you to fucking knock!?” he yelled without looking up from his desk.
“Shit. Sorry, Martin,” I replied in a voice shot down.
He looked up and took off his glasses. “Holy shit. Anna?”
“Hey,” I waved.
“Holy shit!” he grinned and stood, walking my way until he was close enough to pull me into a full-grip bear hug. I yelped as he picked me up off the ground, and then set me down.
“Happy to see me?” I laughed.
“Hell yeah. What have you been up to?”
“New York stuff.” I put a hand on my hip and waved my other hand like it was too cool to mention.
“Yeah, right. When are you moving back to California, then?”
“Oh, Martin…” I rolled my eyes.
“Hey, you know we all miss you down here. And even though Adam’s in NYC too, he misses you, too. He comes down here often too you know. Got a new girl and everything.”
My voice caught in my throat and I had to force it out with effort. “Yeah,” I chuckled. “Living the dream, I guess.” I had to change the subject. “So, what’s the deal with the chain and locks out there? You waging a war or something?”
Martin chuckled and folded his arms over his robust chest. I don’t know how old he was now, but he was still in pretty good shape. The perks of being an ex-MMA fighter, right? I bet he still coaches. He leaned against the desk. “Fucking kids with small dicks and a finger up their asses keep robbing the joint. They always seem to go for the goods, and the only goods I got are the hard liquor. We keep most of the popular drinks under the tables during hours, but the one caged up behind the cabinets are the most expensive. A man’s got to protect his business, right?”
I nodded. “Right.”
We got to talking some more—about work, life, people, anything we could catch up on—until we had nothing more to say and I shook my head in disbelief. “It’s really good seeing you.”
“Yeah, you too. I miss you. And that’s not an easy thing for me to admit, you know.”
“Aww big bear is getting soft,” I teased in a cutesy voice.
“Shup up,” he laughed. “There’ll always be a drink waiting here for you if you decide to move back.”
I smiled. “I know. It was good seeing you, Martin,” I said as I hugged him.
I started to walk away and as my hand clutched the door handle, he called out, “You too, boss!”