One For the Road
Paul sat at the end of the bar and looked along the wall of faces, each portrait neatly framed in alternating blue and red; Pantones 286 and 185 to be exact. The first couple were recognisable the world over; less so those who followed. As he scanned across he saw a second flare of famous faces, though more so from his teenage bedroom than the press. After that it tailed into strangers, each identically uniformed and equally obscure. Paul let himself tip a nod to the last two frames, Nick and Jane from his academy group, one of them still alive.
The waitress, barmaid, hostess... Paul still hadn’t got his head round who was called what in this country; whatever her job title, she shuffled over, having decided the arbitrary amount of waiting time had passed. Cheryl, it said on her name-tag; Paul decided he’d probably just call her that.
‘Six chicken, corn, fries, bacon-slaw, and three Bud; one now, one with the food…’
‘...and one to come after.’
Cheryl had started the order, but they’d finished it together. Paul felt a flush of embarrassment. What sort of geek goes, alone, to the same bar, and makes the same order as Neil Armstrong did, the night before he flew.
‘You get this a lot?’ Paul sought redemption.
‘You moon boys are such nerds,’ was the condemnation he received.
‘Mainly,’ Cheryl knew the implication. ‘The girls sometimes call in, but they don’t replicate the order. Classier, y’know?’ It was said with a smile. ‘Except that one,’ she cocked a thumb at the picture of Jane. ‘She came in the same outfit and got the timings right too. She even left the same tip.’
Paul instinctively raised his freshly opened first bottle to the picture of Jane, she was brilliant. It was such a shame what… he stopped and shook the thought from his head. He moved his focus back to Cheryl.
‘So, I suppose I wouldn’t be the first to ask you…’
‘For one last fumble before you rumble?’ she raised an eyebrow and pulled a wry smile. ‘You think Neil chanced his arm that night?’
‘Probably not,’ Paul had to concede.
Cheryl leant on the counter in front of Paul, and helped herself to a couple of his fries before looking at him coquettishly.
‘Well, if you believe my grandma, he actually did,’ the chip-stealing server rolled the bait off her tongue. ‘And he got the same answer you will.’
Paul saw the trap, but he was committed now.
‘And that is…?’
‘Not tonight, sport,’ Cheryl laughed as she pushed herself back from the counter. ‘You come back from playing space-pirate, with roses and a proper invitation, and maybe we’ll talk.’
As rejections went, Paul had been stung worse.
With that the atmosphere changed, as a herd of freshmen from UCF pushed their way into the bar, taking the moment, and Cheryl’s attention, as they did.
Paul took a lonely swig of his beer as he looked up once more at the pictures on the walls. It was probably better he got an early night anyway, after all, he was going to the moon in the morning.