The bar lounge was busy as usual regardless whether it was day or night. There were polite murmurs from customers and patrons in the crowded room, the occasional burst of laughter heard every now and then, and the soothing and tantalising melodies from classical to jazz serenading them. On some nights they would have a jazz pianist play for the audience, depending on Carl's mood.
It made for a lovely ambience.
Sage liked the atmosphere, and he liked his job very much as it went well with his preferences of enjoying peace and the pleasant buzz of people talking in the room.
He worked alongside his co-worker, Cameron, who worked efficiently in preparing drinks and engaging in a conversation with some patrons – mostly women – sitting by the bar. Sage multi-tasked his duties by attending to the new ones coming by and preparing three drinks, sometimes showing a flair of his skills which he had adapted in his training.
He tried to go about his work as quietly and politely as he could. It was a little hard to do considering that he had to be social and welcoming. Although he didn't mind it, this was the only thing that jabbed at him, despite working there for a long while. Because of this, he was often the brunt of his coworkers' joke, like his friend working beside him, Cameron.
As if he knew what Sage was thinking, Cameron, who had been serving the customers with a broad smile and easy-going demeanour, turned to Sage, his mega-watt smile still present. "I still wonder why Carl hired you when you're barely sociable, considering you know, that that's part of the requirement to work here." He said jokingly.
Sage's mouth quirked a little. "People work in mysterious ways, Cam."
He raised a brow at him. "Again with the mysteriousness? Well, I'm not exactly complaining. You do pull your weight around here even if you're almost mute."
"Action speaks louder than words." smirked Sage, grabbing a couple of glasses and began rinsing them.
Cameron heaved a sigh of annoyance and this showed when he spoke, "Look man, good thing I don't mind this from you, but if you don't watch yourself around others, they're going to think you're a weirdo."
Sage let out a small chuckle and was about to retort something when he was intercepted by Cameron again.
"I swear to God, if you say something about how you can't please everyone, I'm gonna –"
A feminine laugh broke into their conversation. "Oh, leave him alone, Cam. You're just jealous because we think he's the most handsome chap around here." A woman with blonde hair and green eyes spoke, winking at her boyfriend Cameron before smiling in jest at Sage.
She then turned towards her friend sitting beside her. "Don't you think so, Louise?" Louise sported a pixie-cut hairdo, and had been eyeing Sage admiringly, the corners of her mouth curved.
"Yes, he is delectable." She said seductively, a hint of European accent in her voice.
Despite himself, Sage felt his face reddened and it was made worse when his friend, Cameron and his girlfriend laughed. He nodded in acknowledgement and tried to gain his composure which kept slipping.
Relax. This is not the first time you're being flirted with, Sage reminded himself calmly. They say that to everyone here.
Sage didn't consider himself a catch among the ladies, but he appreciate the comment nonetheless. He knew better, however, to let himself get engaged with Carl's patrons, so he did what he always do then, the second thing he learned over the years – the first being switching on a necessary amount of charm; and then, changing the subject.
Cameron shook his head slightly, smiling as knew what Sage was doing when he cast a professional smile, saying, "Would you like another glass of wine, miss?"
Louise shared a look of amusement with Jessica before saying with a coy smile, "Call me Louise," before shrugging, "And sure, why not?"
With Cameron's shift nearing the end for the evening as he prepared to leave with his girlfriend, and they bid their goodbyes, Sage was left to converse with Louise, the woman who seemed to be at least a couple of years older than him.
Rule #2: Change the subject. If you're uncomfortable, do that. If you can tell they're onto something, apply that. Keeping up the professional approach has to be your goal when you're facing your patrons, despite them being a challenge or not. If they have a goal – and they always do coming here – then so do we. Put them down but in a way that doesn't leave a mark on anyone. That's how you leave the club, yours, and the customers' pride intact.
In this line of profession, Sage made a mental note to always remember Carl's advice coupled with Thea's if he wanted to make no major mistakes at work, and so far, his reputation was unblemished. Thea's voice echoed in his mind, firm with a touch of humour when she gave this advice during those training:
They can prove to be difficult especially the stubborn and flirty ones. Take note, men or women always have that slight inflection to their voice which means they want something from you, besides the drink.
Sage remembered Thea's amused laugh at her own joke before she looked him in the eye and continued.
If they are interested in you, that's when their intention shows. When they're flirty, you can flirt back, but don't overdo it. Take it from some of your seniors here, leading them on almost always never end well. Show them you're willing to listen and attend to their needs, but not those needs, Sage. We are not like the other clubs in the city and I intend to keep such decorum that way.
Sage had noticed that her glass was half empty, and he chose to change the topic with that as an excuse.
"So, Sage," Louise drawled flirtatiously as she eyed the way Sage tipped the bottle appreciatively, watching the amber liquid pour out concisely and without splash. She made sure he could see her spilling bosom. Louise found the man attractive when she first came to the bar a couple of days ago, but with the place always full, she hadn't had a proper chance to strike a conversation. There had been men who tried to get her attention that night, but she ignored them. Her eyes were set on Sage and she wanted to see what he could offer.
And now that she finally had, as well as knowing that he had steady hands made her smile in anticipation to herself. If she didn't know any better, Louise would have thought Sage was playing hard to get.
She chuckled inwardly. It didn't matter that he doesn't seem much like a talker, she wanted him right then, especially when he got all flustered at her compliment. She wanted him and his skilful hands on her person and she hoped to bring him to her place for a little rendezvous tonight.
"Do you have anything to do later?"
Sage had been unaware of what the woman was thinking but when she said that, he knew what that meant. Her voice had a catch to it and he almost had a knowing smile breaking out on his smile. A slight frown then almost marred his expression as he wondered if this was one of Jessica's ploy to get him laid. Besides Cameron and him, every one of their co-workers seemed keen on playing these dangerous games with their patrons, some due to boredom and a challenge, and others to lean in on their good graces in favour of a generous tip.
While Sage admitted he was in the very latter sometimes, he just didn't prefer to engage in such games. He also remembered seeing the baffled expression on Cameron's girlfriend's face when he told her he had no time for that.
He needed to accumulate more money for his future and send some back home. Romances or one night stands….weren't in his list at the moment.
In all his years of being there, he had only been flirted a few times with the usual compliments; the way he worked and how attractive they thought he was, so he had no idea how to thwart off bold advances such as this. Sage began to feel uncomfortable and he wondered where was the other co-worker who was supposed to fill in on Cameron's duties. He needed to excuse himself in a way that doesn't embarrass both parties, and soon, if he wanted to keep working there.
With a practised smile, he said, "I'll be manning the counter all night." Then, in a subtle attempt to wave her off, he continued, "Is there anything else you need, miss?" He avoided calling her name, worried that she would consider that a permission to be intimate and informal.
Perhaps he shouldn't have said it despite his good intentions, because Louise seemed like an example of 'patrons who are easily led on'.
With a charming smile that Sage had no doubt would render other men speechless and pant-less, she purred boldly, "Just the one I'm looking at."
Louise's brows quirked a little but made no comment when Sage didn't call her by her name, even though she had allowed him to. She added a look of obvious interest which reminded Sage that she certainly didn't beat around the bush. "When are you getting off? There is a restaurant not far from here with a stunning view. We can go to my place later and have some fun." She winked at him for extra measure.
Dear God, she really doesn't beat around the bush.
Sage would not deny her attractiveness. She was attractive and knew it, and if he was a lesser man, perhaps he would have chuck his bosses' advice away and take up on her offer to have a good time.
But he wasn't that kind of person. He respected Carl and Thea too much and knew better. Besides, he didn't feel attracted to her, nor did he want to have 'some fun' after work either.
There was laundry waiting for him at home.
Sage tried to calm down and think of an answer that would save both their pride. But what could he say that would make her leave him alone? In all the years he worked here, as pathetic as it was, he hadn't had anyone actually making a bold move on him. Sage felt like the first time he started working there; unsure and anxious. This was more than just theory, he had to be practical about this situation. Finding the best excuse or diversion had never seemed so difficult for him now.
'I'm sorry, but I have a girlfriend.' A lie, common and overused, but one he was tempted to use.
But, he mused, she seemed to be quite close with Jessica, even though he hadn't seen her around before. Jessica could have told her things about him. Dare he risk to be called out on his bluff?
He tried something else. With a practice smile, enough to charm but to also set boundaries, he said with an apologetic look, "Sorry, I'm afraid I'll be busy all night."
Louise laughed, a tinkling sound that made the determined glint in her eye dangerous. "I'm sure you will." She murmured softly to herself before saying out loud to him, "Oh come on, you can do better than that. What, are you with someone?" She looked at him in amusement before a playful smile teased her lips. "Jessica told me you're not with anyone but I'll humour you. I won't tell if you don't." She ended the last bit in a question, making it sound persuasive.
Jessica. Sage sighed inwardly to himself, irritated that his friend mentioned that.
This is just a slight bump in your shift. You've dealt with more difficult things than this. Just keep your cool, he reminded himself.
'I'm not interested in women.' He could use that actually, but why was she smirking at him with a glint in her eyes now? Sage had an inkling that she knew what he was thinking and he felt perturbed at that possibility. How much did Jessica tell her? He reminded himself to have a talk with his friend's chatty girlfriend.
Just when the thoughts racing in his mind seemed to provide no solution, he decided he would be upfront and tell her the truth; that he didn't want to, and wasn't allowed to engage or date the bar's patrons anyway. Before he could utter the truth, someone else had interjected into their conversation.
"Actually, he's with me." A confident, matter-of-fact voice said.
Both Sage and Louise looked up to see a young woman with dark brown locks, standing by the bar. He caught a brief expression of stricken on her face before she composed it.
Now, she looked curious yet at ease when she glanced at Louise.
The woman gave Louise a tentative smile, but Sage could tell she was still nervous by the way she darted her gaze to him and tucked a lock of hair behind the ear. She brushed the same spot again.
Sage was startled and Louise seemed peeved at being interrupted. He didn't know who she was, but there seemed to be something familiar about her, like a new acquaintance whose name teased the edges of his mind.
The woman looked up at Sage now, her hesitant demeanour vanished when she set her eyes on him. She smiled, her brown eyes glittering like the amber liquid in Louise's glass when she stood under the incandescent light.
Again, Sage had the briefest flicker of recognition, but it slipped away when he reach to grasp it.
"Hey, sorry I'm late. Got caught up at work." She smiled apologetically at Sage, her voice breathy yet gentle. She sounded as though she ran a mile just to be there.
Dawn Hayes didn't know what she had just done. There she was, needing a drink after finding out that she hadn't done well on one of her college projects. It was the one with the most mark too, and this means that she would have to take up an extra subject the next semester to make up for it. She didn't know how she was going to handle it then.
Carlisle's Isle, which she thought was both eye-rolling but something she could appreciate, happened to be the nearest bar she came across when she was walking home in the cold winter.
It was an 'I see what you did there' moment and she had to admit, the pun-y in her was having a laugh. It was certainly far from any worst names for lounge bars she'd seen. Granted, she hadn't been to many bars, much more a fancy lounge one like this seemed to be.
Seeking the warmth of the place and wanting to try something new to restore her good mood, the moment she stepped in and locked her gaze on the bar, Dawn noticed a bartender – who was cute, she admitted belatedly – looking extremely uncomfortable, and her mind went blank.
Dawn hadn't realised that she had interrupted a conversation until she registered her own words; words that weren't true but seemed to have some sort of effect on the situation. But what situation did she just stumbled into? And why had she suddenly decided to butt into a conversation between two strangers?
This wasn't like her at all.
For all she knew, they were dating, or was about to exchange numbers and she had ruined it.
Yet, she mused, he had looked like he needed some help getting out of it. It could be that the woman was bothering him.
A realisation had dawned on her and she knew why she did it now. The man reminded her of herself when she was in a bad situation the week before. She truly thought her life would be in absolute jeopardy, but out of nowhere, someone came to her rescue, and she had never been any more thankful for that.
In the quiet town at the park, a stranger had helped her. And without asking anything in return at all.
She had wanted to ask for his name, but had a feeling it wouldn't be a wise thing to do. Maybe because she thought it would be awkward, for reasons she couldn't comprehend.
She wasn't good at making a grand gesture and so she comforted herself, saying that a heartfelt thank you was enough.
So maybe that was why she felt compelled to help another stranger.
Dawn stared at him, just as he did the same. It seemed as though he was at a loss for words. The niggling thought that she may have seen the man before hadn't penetrated her mind entirely, as she worried on something else.
Oh God, I think I may just ruined a possible date, after all, she began to panic inwardly.
Sage was stunned. The longer he stared at her, the missing pieces started to link itself, but barely. Despite spending an hour at the police station and the last memory of them standing under the lamp post, he still wasn't sure. Unbidden, an image came to mind; a woman with thankful light brown eyes looking back at him with a smile, and with it, an unexpected name.
He shook his head. The last thing he wanted to do was to project the image he had onto another. She could possibly just be another stranger on the street. And was it even the right memory? For all he knew, his mind conjured bits of false memory of how the girl looked and convinced him it was her.
Before he could utter something, Louise's now curious and accusing voice said, "Huh. I suppose this is your girlfriend?"
Her voice turned slightly icy and calculating as she appraised the woman before her.
Louise felt irritated at Jessica for not telling her about this, assuming her friend even knew. There she was, finally having the chance to ask him out for a night out after her interest in him piqued, and she found out he already had a woman. A woman, whom seemed to be pretty at best, wearing a secondhand overcoat from an unknown brand, she deducted with a disdainful grin.
This was Sage's type? Louise personally thought he could do so much better.
Sage felt the tension spike, for whatever reason. He was in between two female strangers, one who wanted something from him, and another was a God sent.
Her presence could be a blessing in disguise.
He pondered over Louise's words and glanced subtly at the one on his right. He caught her startled gaze and silently pleaded with her to go along with what he was coming up with.
Please just play along. It had to come to this but hopefully this works out for the best.
With a small yet charming grin, he spoke to Louise. "Yeah, she is." He then turned to the woman and said the first name he could think of, though by some miracle he hoped that was her name.
"Sorry, Hailey," His cheeks had a pink hue at the lie he just uttered and he couldn't believe he was doing this. He had to keep a straight face. "It's a full house tonight and I don't think I'll be able to get off early. But uh, if you want to wait – "
"Oh!" Dawn was trying so hard not to scream at this sudden and weird twist they were all in, but she told herself to get a hold of herself and go along with his plan. And Hailey? She wanted to giggle at the randomness.
His cheeks were red and she bet hers looked the same too. She glanced at the woman beside her, looking increasingly annoyed at them before turning her attention to him. "That's alright. I'll wait then." Dawn's smile was a little wide than she would have liked, so she toned it down. You look like you're seconds away from busting your own cover. Keep it together, Dawn.
It may have been a cheap act, but fortunately for them, Louise seemed to have bought the lie. It seemed that she was wasting her time not getting what she wanted the longer she stood there. The chase only had a limited time and she was never a patient person. In fact, she was already perusing the room for other eligible bachelors.
Louise had been looking at them while they conversed, getting more irritated when she saw how invested they were in each other. So, they are together, she wanted to roll her eyes. Louise may be promiscuous, but she didn't find any thrill with men who were already with another, unlike some of her girlfriends. That was too much drama and I only wanted harmless flings. She wasn't one to take chances on these things, despite the way she carried herself.
She eyed Sage once more with bitter longing and cast a glare at the woman. Such a shame, really. But I guess he's not the only one out there.
With a flippant look, she turned towards him, sparing Dawn a brief but disdainful glance at her and said with a disappointing tone, "It's such a shame you didn't succumb to my charms, Sage. Most men would have. And we would have had so much fun too." Then, out of nowhere, she produced a card with a sultry smile. "It's still not too late, you know. Give me a call if you want a great time. I'll make the night worth your while."
With a shameless wink, Louise grabbed her fur mink coat and sashayed out of the bar, the curve-hugging gold silk dress on her body drew attention from most males in the bar. A man stopped her and after they exchanged a few minutes of conversation, they left the bar together.
It could have been worse, he thought. Sage felt relieved, and quietly discarded her card without checking it. He was thankful that things ended the way it was, instead of a scene that would not only put him on the spot, but the club's reputation too.
Carl and Thea may not be at the bar today, but that was all the more reason not to mess up their business. They didn't need to worry about their employees' conduct especially on a supposedly trivial matter.
Well, a matter that he shouldn't have had a problem with, if he only knew how to manage himself better in this situation.ns 126.96.36.199da2