Chapter Fourteen – Scuffle

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Alice sat back and watched Travis walk out the door. He passed by a group of three coming in, two guys and a girl. Alice didn’t pay much attention to them, other than to note that they were all drunk. College kids, probably. It seemed like there would be a lot of things canceled tomorrow, classes included, with the storm coming in. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
She took a sip of her beer and settled back into her chair, thinking about what had just happened. She felt that knot in her stomach tie up, realizing that it was her fault Travis had left. She shouldn’t have laughed. She couldn’t help herself, but she was no having trouble remembering why the notion of having a normal life was so funny to her just minutes earlier. It didn’t seem so funny now.
The beer helped. Whiskey would have helped more, but she didn’t want to get started down that road. Not tonight, when she hadn’t even been in town long enough to mess up the sheets on a bed. She still had to finish that conversation with Esther, and now she had to figure out how she was going to get back to the Lucas house. She had no idea how big a pain in the ass it would be to get a ride out here, and she was getting sick of running around in the snow.
Mike appeared, telling the newcomers to sit wherever they wanted, while on his way to bring Alice the burgers. He set them down and looked around. “Where’s Travis?” he asked.
Alice felt that knot tighten again, the guilt and shame that she had driven him off, coupled with her anger at his refusal to admit the truth about what happened with their mother. She closed her eyes for a moment before responding, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. “He had to take off,” was all she said.
“You want another beer?”
She did, and she said so.
Mike nodded and turned to the newcomers who were settling up to the bar. One of the boys, the shorter one, took off his coat, revealing a sweat and food stained undershirt. He had the physique of an athlete, and Alice watched as the fellow who had been sitting there when she came in recoiled and glanced over at him. Stinky’s companions were evidently too inebriated to notice.
The girl took off her hat, letting down a mane of fiery red hair, and after some cajoling by Stinky, she took off her coat as well. The redhead had the slightly plump figure of someone who had recently aged into the right to buy alcohol and had, ever since, been feverishly engaging in that civic exercise. Despite his olfactory presence, Stinky wasn’t bad to look at, and Alice could see that he had an athletic build to begin with, which was evidently maintained with a good amount of exercise. She pondered over a sip of her beer what he might look like without the grimy undershirt.
The third boy was taller than the others by at least a foot, and he kept his coat on. The three of them ordered, and the bartender poured them drinks. He handed an extra beer to the redhead and pointed at Alice before disappearing into the kitchen. She was short, maybe a little over five feet, and she tipsily made her way over and set the beer down on Alice’s table. She flashed a smile, but didn’t say anything before turning and heading back to her group.
Alice chewed her burger. Travis was right; it was big. And good. And now she had two of them. She wondered if he was hungry, but then she thought about how big he had gotten and figured he was probably always hungry. Or never. Maybe he put on all that weight by eating constantly. She shook her head. He could take care of himself. She wasn’t going to change who he was. She could be disappointed with who he had become, and she could regret how they had fallen out, but she couldn’t do anything to change it. The only thing to do was to stay on task. She needed to finish her meal and get back to talk to Esther.
Up at the bar, the two boys were joking with each other loudly, and Stinky was repeatedly putting his arm around the redhead’s shoulders, only to have her shrug him off and take a timid step away. He would act like he hadn’t noticed, and then do it again a few moments later. It was obnoxious, but hopefully he would learn to take the hint eventually. Otherwise, Red would have to learn how to be more assertive.
The third time he did it, and Red shrugged him off, the fellow who had been sitting quietly at the bar evidently decided that he had had enough when he turned to the three of them and said, “I think she wants you to stop doing that.”
The bar grew quiet, and Alice got a sinking feeling in her stomach. She could see her future, standing around for the next several hours giving a statement to the police about what she witnessed at a bar fight. She didn’t have time for that. She looked over at the door. She could just leave now.
She looked back over. Stinky had stood up and faced the guy. The tall kid said, “You gonna let him talk to you like that?”
The guy at the bar stood up uncertainly and took a step back. “Listen. All I’m saying is… is that she clearly wants you to stop that.”
Stinky looked over at the redhead and back at the bar patron. “Yeah? What’s it to you?”
The patron looked back and forth between them. “I just meant… it’s not… you should take no for an answer.”
Stinky stepped forward. “You gonna tell me no?”
Alice looked at the door again, then back at the brewing argument. She sighed and stood up.

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