THE CRESCENT MOON ISN’T exactly a dump.
It’s just seen better days.
The once deep-red and purple velvet upholstery has faded and rubbed into dull gray in many places, leather accents have cracked, and the seams of the wallpaper are lifting. The parquet dance floor still shines like it’s covered in glass, but it doesn’t get much use. It’s not like we have a band come in every weekend. Luckily, the lighting is dim, so the signs of the years stay muted.
According to my grandparents, their parents used to come down here all the time, dressed “to the nines” and drink highballs and do the Foxtrot. I know about seven people who know what highballs, foxtrot, and “to the nines” even mean.
I call them my afternoon regulars and they knew my great-grandparents.
The Crescent is basically a senior center by day, but at night, it’s become a flame to the hipster moths of the neighborhood. Mr. Costanza doesn’t know much about hipsters, craft beers, or computers, which is why he hired me to be his manager.
“Beck, you’re a good egg,” he likes to tell me, patting me with his gnarled hand.
I make sure the business runs and nobody takes advantage of Mr. C. He pays me decently and rents me the apartment upstairs for free so I can save all my money.
The Crescent isn’t my dream. But I do have one.
My own craft brewery. As a nod to my Viking ancestry, I’ve been working on a sahti—an unhopped ale—that I’d like to commercially produce someday. Until then, I have the Crescent and business classes.
Mondays are the only day we’re closed.
Unfortunately, it’s Thursday.
I’m waiting for Tanaya to get here to take over the bar so I can do some paperwork. It’s quiet, but I’ve got two high-maintenance patrons following my every move with their eyes. They just got done with a yoga class down the street. They both work at the bank two blocks over. They’re here more and more lately, and I don’t think it’s the shiny dance floor they’re after. At least not the one with her hands all over me tonight.
“You must work out all the time,” the brunette still wearing her yoga sports bra says, squeezing my arm while she licks her lips.
“Oh that’s subtle, Shar,” her blonde friends says. She’s got pretty lips, too. They’re glossy and red, painted to draw attention to them. To make a guy think about what they’d look like wrapped around his dick. I doubt they wear lipstick to yoga, though.
But the blonde isn’t predatory. It’s “Shar” that’s getting bolder every time she comes in.
“Ladies, will that be all?”
“Is there more?” Shar asks.
I slide a bowl of pretzels toward her. “That’s all we offer.” I wink and move to the other end of the bar but feel their eyes on my ass.
When I first started working in bars, I learned a lot about women. And I enjoyed every fucking minute of it. I didn’t mind being treated like an object then. And I learned a lot about sex. I’m not the roses and poetry kind of guy in or out of bed. I like sex raw and dirty. Once I get turned on, my Mr. Nice Guy fades to black, and I go someplace a little dark and a lot aggressive.
And some women eat that shit up.
But something changed. I stopped wanting to be a boy toy for women looking for a little strange. So, when I started managing the Crescent, I tried to put up some barriers.
It got fucking worse.
Apparently, a lot of women love a guy who promises primitive sex. But even more love a man who plays hard to get, even if he isn’t playing. I don’t mean to complain. I know I sound like a douche when I do. But I’d really like to just tend bar and not worry about how to provide good customer service without literally servicing my customers.
Tanaya pops in, bundled up from the cold, wet night and with someone else right behind her. She directs her friend to the round booth and joins me behind the bar. “Hey, Ank.” She looks around while unwinding her scarf. She’s changed her hair again. Now it’s tight cornrow braids. Last time I saw her, she was channeling her inner-Beyonce (her words, not mine) with blonde waves. Next week, it will probably be a new color. Tanaya is restless when it comes to her appearance, but serious about her employment. “Quiet night.”
She’s disappointed, and I don’t blame her. She only works about twenty hours a week and depends on tips. She’s in college, too, but she goes full-time. My classes are usually online, and I only take one or two per quarter.
“It might pick up.” I nod at the table. “Who’s that?”
The girl she came in with is taking off her jacket. The only word I can come up with to describe her is nondescript.
“That’s my roommate, Annabelle. She’s going to hang out during my shift.”
I raise my eyebrows. I’m not against having a friend hanging out, but I don’t want it to turn into a problem. Tanaya’s a good employee, and Annabelle doesn’t look like trouble, but it’s not exactly normal for Tanaya to bring guests. She used to have a boyfriend who would come in near closing time to pick her up, but she’s never had a visitor during her whole shift. “Why?”
“We had a break-in at our apartment today. She wasn’t really feeling like hanging out alone at night. We’re both kind of shaken up.”
Oh, shit. I reach for Tanaya’s arm. “Were you home?”
She shakes her head. “No. Thank goodness. We didn’t have much taken either. Of course, we don’t have much, but still.”
I fucking hate that it happened. We don’t hear about a lot of crime in the neighborhood. It’s pretty chill, actually. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. It sucks, but what can you do, right?”
“I’ll walk you guys home tonight.”
Tanaya takes over the bar, and I get to the paperwork. When I come out a couple hours later to give her a break, I check the corner and find Annabelle reading a book or maybe a door stopper. It’s huge. That’s something else we don’t see much of in a bar.
I can’t even tell you the color of Annabelle’s hair. It’s not blonde. It’s not brown. It’s not red. It’s just sort of—nondescript. She’s wearing glasses. That’s the most interesting thing about her. Tanaya has always spoken fondly of her, but seeing her in person, it’s hard to imagine them as friends. Tanaya is such an extrovert. She can talk to anyone, and this Annabelle is making it pretty clear she doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
I could learn a thing or two about putting up walls from this one. But then, I depend on tips too. I need to be friendly—I just need to figure out how to send out the signals to make women stop hitting on me.
Jesus, I sound like a douche.
At closing time, I lock up the lounge and instead of going upstairs, I meet Tanaya and Annabelle at the door and walk them home. As usual, Tanaya talks a mile a minute, which is fine since I don’t think Annabelle has much more to say than I do.
We get to the street outside their apartment building and Annabelle freezes. Shit. She’s really scared.
“Hey. I’ll come up. Make sure there’s no one around and everything is okay. All right?”
She nods and gives me the smallest smile I’ve ever seen. Fuck if it doesn’t melt the ice on my heart a little. Here I was beginning to wonder if I even had one.
The apartment checks out fine. Their landlord replaced the lock, and it seems secure. I check the windows, too. But I feel uneasy. Not like that gut feeling you get that something is wrong. Just that I don’t want to leave her...them...here alone. Like it’s my job or my honor or some damn thing to stay. Slay dragons. Provide protection.
Makes no damn sense.