"Me neither. This is crazy. Wow." A small laugh bubbled out of her. "Here I am, talking to you about what you did and…and wow. I'm going to shut up now." Dawn took a long sip of her drink. She also didn't want to revel how holding his hand made her feel. They were slightly big and warm with some calluses, yet his skin were almost soft too.
Sage couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him, garnering looks of surprise from his co-worker nearby.
"Were you hurt?"
"Not badly, just a small scratch. Nothing a disinfectant and antibiotic can't heal."
Sage nodded. "I'm glad."
She shook her head as if the straighten her thoughts. "I'm sorry but I still can't believe it. I've been beating myself up that I should have done something more to thank you, and I never thought I could. And here you are."
Sage's mouth quirked a little; he was touched yet amused. "You don't have to, Dawn." Funny how he didn't have qualms about saying her name. "I did what everyone else should have done."
"Maybe so, but most wouldn't. Will you let me do something? Can I at least buy you a drink?"
Sage paused in thought. He didn't know what to say; on one hand, it wasn't like he was being asked out like Louise did earlier, and on the other, if he did say yes, what would happen? He was a stickler for rules. At least, he tried to be. The conversation he had with Carl a long while back came to mind.
"By the way, kid, try not to date the patrons. Fancy people or not. Better yet, just don't." Carl's rough voice spoke, an unlit cigar in his mouth as he gave his precious bottle of liquors a thorough cleaning.
The place seemed scarce of patrons despite the supposedly busy hours. Sage knew sometimes they'd have days like this, and sometimes either a half or full house. There were a few people working that day, and Sage was washing the glasses by the sink while listening to Carl for advice. He had only started working there for a few weeks and this was the first time Carl mentioned it.
"Why?" It wasn't that he was against it because rules are there for a reason, but he was curious as to what the reason could be. It was an odd thing, and he had never heard of other bars who applied the same principal. Then again, this was the first bar he worked.
"Good question. Why? Well, kid, take it as a liability to the business. Jealousy, stalking, and threats aren't uncommon 'round here. We've had to put a restraining order before. Too much risk for the employees and business. Take Chen for instance," Carl nodded at an Asian-American man in his late-twenties wiping a lacquered table. "He's been there. Chen, tell him how you got that scar."
The young man paused wiping, grinning at his boss and fellow co-worker. The grin made his already handsome face held a note of dangerous charm to it, despite the subtle but jagged white scar marring his left eyebrow.
"I dated this pretty girl for a while, 'bout two months. She went nuts one night at this bar and threw a flute at me when she saw me talking to other women. Had a good aim too," He said impressively but sobered up a second later. "But I knew that was it. That was really scary."
"You sure you were just chatting the ladies up, boy?" Carl asked with a smirk. He loved to joke with his employees – they were also family to him.
Chen laughed. "I may look like a rogue but I don't live like one." Then, he continued where he left off and wiped the remaining tables.
Carl turned towards Sage, who had been absorbing the information like a newfound revelation. "See, kid. Now that's just one of the stories you'll hear here. It ain't all bad though, there are some who has it better. We just try not to make it a habit for the most part, that's all." Setting the newly polished bottles aside, Carl took one from the shelves and poured himself a glass. "But suppose there'll be a time where you fancy a lass, I wonder what are ye' going to do 'bout it then?"
He let loose a hearty laugh, the remaining employees who heard his remark chuckling with him, before he gulped down his drink.
Indeed, what would he do now? Sage wondered and then cast that thought away. It wasn't as though he liked her.
Dawn. It was a very pretty name, and he had the brief thought that it suited her like a glove.
As practical as he was, thinking too much over a kind gesture shouldn't give him a headache. He did what any other person should have done, and while he did know that not everyone would do what he did, Sage didn't quite understood the insistence she placed on him for that, like he should have received a gold medal.
But he laid it out; she wasn't asking him out on a date or for something else. She was just trying to pay him back for he did.
The fact that it took him a while to analyse this was ridiculous. But then he remembered something.
With an appreciative smile, he said, "Thanks, Dawn. But I'm not supposed to drink on the job, even if a little."
That bit was true – Carl would have a fit if saw his employees drinking while working, even if they weren't completely drunk.
Dawn's expression was a little crestfallen. She had no idea some bars had the dos and don'ts for their employees. She only assumed that all bars were the same. Then again, this doesn't seemed like the usual bars her friends took her to for a casual night out.
Her mouth parted slightly. "I'm sorry. Oh! How about just gift cards?" She then began to rummage the contents in her bag.
Despite her red face, she was determined to at least give him something. Even though she knew now that he worked just around the area where she lived with a friend, and his name too, it was unlikely that they would meet again.
Sage quirked his brow, amused at that. Apart from his mum who would hand him gift cards whenever he went back, he had never had them offered by a stranger. She was lovely yet odd, but in a way that doesn't make him uneasy. Perhaps it was because he had never met anyone like her before.
By the disappointed and sheepish look on her face, he figured she thought he was declining her offer.
Before she misunderstood him any further, he said, "Can I take a rain check?"
Dawn stopped her rummaging and looked at him in disbelief. "Really?"
"Thank you." Her smile was wide and infectious, and soon, Sage felt his cheeks stretched too.
When she was about to say something, a sudden ringtone cut her off. She cast an apologetic look and muttered a quick 'excuse me' to him, cupping her mouth to the side and murmuring words into it.
At the same time, a co-worker of his needed help to carry some supply boxes and with one glance over his shoulder at Dawn, he followed, though hesitantly, towards the back of the room.
Dawn was irritated at the call she received. Having a relative who worked at the university she enrolled into could be problematic to her. Especially if said relative are close to her parents. She used to wonder how her results reached them so quickly, and now she knew.
Dawn sighed to herself. It seemed as though she would really need to take another class next semester.
Pocketing her phone, she was surprised to see Sage not manning the counter. She tried to ignore the disappointing wave washing over her at that. He must have had a lot of things to do and there she was, keeping him from it with their talks. But she reminded herself that it had been a good conversation.
And he had agreed to have drinks with her. She tried not to feel too happy, even though she felt foolishly so. It was the least she could do for helping her when no one else did.
Dawn hated it, but she had to leave now if she wanted to go to work the next day – and that really wasn't a choice for her. Rent and college fees, oh how you frustrate me.
Searching for a pen and paper in her bag, she scribbled her name and number on it, not forgetting to leave the money to pay for the drinks he made for her and some. Even though he told her one of it was on the house.
She didn't want to be indebted to him anymore than she did, but she appreciated his gesture nonetheless. Just when she decided whether or not to leave it on the counter or have someone else deliver it to him, she saw him coming out from a corner at the end of the bar counter.
Their eyes met and when he was close, she handed him the cash with the paper.
He didn't notice the paper, but a few extra bills and his eyes widened a fraction. "This is a lot. You don't have to, it's on the house."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, I just can't let you do that. We're going to play a game of tug-of-war if you don't take it. And the rest is a tip." Then, she leaned in slightly and said in a whisper, "If others caught on to this, they'll all want it free, and your boss is going to want to blame it on me." She smiled a toothy grin at him.
Sage couldn't help it, he laughed. A surprised, taken aback laugh which drew a few stares to him. Most of them were from his co-workers, who still couldn't believe they were witnessing their least conversational co-worker actually doing just that.
If this was any other day, Sage would be a flaming hot potato, all the while trying to be professional and keep to himself.
This day was anything but, yet in that very moment, he seemed at ease. As though this was a normal occurrence, as though he was a carefree person. Like his friend, Cameron.
"Alright, how about just half of this." Sage took the exact amount of money for the drinks and gave her the rest. "Just how you won't take it on the house, I won't take the rest of it either."
"Okay, but at least take this tip." She handed him a twenty dollar bill. "I really enjoyed the service and our conversation."
Sage was hesitant. He didn't think he did an excellent job, and the drinks weren't the most costly ones on the bar either. It was more than he thought he deserved.
When she saw that he was still on the fence, she said fervently, "Please, Sage. I insist."
When he couldn't hold her determined gaze, he relented and a bright smile lit up her face. After cashing the amount in and handing her the receipt, she murmured a thank you. As she made to leave, he finally noticed the name and number scrawled beautifully on the counter – it slipped unnoticed when he counted the bills.
"Thanks for this, Dawn."
Her face were tinted with a pink hue but she chuckled and tucked a stray lock of hair back behind her ear. "See you next time, Sage."
The bar was almost vacant of patrons now, except for a few of them; mostly single men whose only companion were their branded liquors. Sage was rinsing the stained glasses with care, his usual routine that he was accustomed in doing the late hour before they closed. The encounter with Dawn left him feeling outlandish and surreal, but it also left him feeling great about himself, as though he had achieved something big.
For a man who was a stickler at rules and an avid fan of all things familiar and peace, this sort of thing surprised him when it happened; it jolted him out of place but strangely, he didn't feel as though he was coming undone.
Sage James was surprised at how much it didn't bother him – his acting out of the ordinary. He was the still the same man who liked to work quietly, but he also thought he may not mind talking to people more.
That will surprise Cameron. Maybe I should go out more.
His co-workers who had witnessed the strange phenomenon shared the same notion too. They were puzzled and curious, and had been holding off their questions since it happened a few hours ago.
Someone whistled beside him, and he turned to see Michael, a young Irish man who was just a few years older than him grinning. Michael tugged his black tie loose, the suspenders intact but the tail of his white buttoned shirt untucked. It made for a silly sight but one he didn't care.
"Ah, always looking forward to the time I could get out of this uniform." Despite staying in Chicago for over a decade, Michael still had that noticeable lilt whenever he speak. He claimed to hate it but Sage could tell Michael was proud of his root, even more so because he could get away with almost anything, and it would put most of them in a better mood
Sometimes, Sage was an exception. Like at that moment when he appraised the clothing state Michael was in. "Your shift's not even over yet, Mike."
Michael rolled his eyes. "Oh there he goes again. And I'm about as done as you are if you actually clock out the same time Anika and I do."
"He's got a point, Sage." Anika, a beautiful Indian woman about Sage's age shrugged. She pulled at her black bowtie loosely, heaving a sigh of relief after a long day. Rolling her sleeves, she rested her elbows on the counter as she sat. Her bright brown eyes gleamed in mirth at her companions' exchange.
"Of course I do, my dear."
"I'm not your dear, Mike." She quipped indifferently. Michael always jest with her and while it was amusing, it could get quite old and irritating at times.
"And I respect that." He replied smoothly with a grin before saying to Sage, who was watching them with amusement. "You should live a little, my man." He clapped Sage's back and raised his brow at his attire. "You're about the only guy I know who still dressed like he's going to some movie award show even at this hour."
Sage glanced at his attire; crisp white dressed shirt, non-creased black vest, and a tie that never knew what crooked means.
"I don't see anything wrong with my clothes."
"Of course you don't." Michael shared an eye roll with Anika, the latter who was chuckling.
"Leave him alone, Mike. He's fine the way he is." She then turned to Sage, her perfectly trimmed brow arched, eyes twinkling with mischief and a smirk making its way to her face. "We're actually curious about one thing."
"And what's that?" Sage asked, actually feeling a little apprehensive with her mischievous look. Anika was usually even-tempered and rarely agreed to Michael's plans despite being close friends, but, he wouldn't put it past her for anything. Especially if it involved Michael. He was done with the last dishes, but with the couple lingering patrons still in bar, he figured there'll be some more to do.
"Yes!" Michael had slid out from behind the counter and he was now sitting beside Anika.
Both of their elbows on the polished counter and hands cupping their faces, they shared a look before asking, "Who was the girl?"
"And now he pretends not to know what we're talking about." Michael made a clucking sound before adding, "The one who made you opened up like the light bulb you are? The one who actually got you to smile more than we could. That girl."
"Don't forget laugh, Mike. She made him laugh. I thought I was hallucinating." Anika shook her head, chuckling.
"Yes, laugh. What happened to Sage the introvert? And don't get me wrong, mate, I love you just the way you are, but this is making me ecstatic! She's gotta be someone special, eh?"
Sage processed them. He knew what they were getting at but he couldn't get over one thing.
"I'm sorry, light bulb?" He smothered a laugh at their annoyed expressions. He shook his head. "If you're wondering if she's my girlfriend, then no. We just met today. Well, not really. I helped her out and we met again."
Anika brow furrowed. "You're saying that you're both strangers? Strangers who met on the street and happened to meet again?"
Sage nodded. "Sounds about right."
Anika whistled lowly. "Wow. That's kinda romantic."
"You mean, interesting?" Michael nudged Anika's shoulder with an impish grin.
Sage raised a brow. "Trust me, there's nothing romantic about it."
"So, she's not your lady friend or mistress?" Michael tried to coax more information out of him, using different terms.
Sage chuckled, the corners of his eyes crinkled. "No, and no. She's just a nice girl," He shrugged, "and I don't know, she made me feel at ease. Like the both of you are. That's it and nothing more."
When the last patrons called for their tabs to be closed, Sage took care of it before clearing the remaining glasses away. Because of that, he missed the knowing glances Michael and Anika sent each other.
"And here I am hoping for something delicious. Like I don't know, you've got a girlfriend that you didn't bother telling us." Michael mumbled before he blew out a sigh.
"Sorry to disappoint." Sage chuckled, wiping the counters clean. There a stubborn stain and he rubbed at the spot harder.
"Well, we're just watching your back, mate. Don't want our best employee to get in trouble with the boss now, do we?" Michael jest before pointing a finger at him with a devious smile, "But I might just pay to see that happen."
Anika laughed and patted Michael's back. "Alright, come on. We're dipping out now."
"Right. See ya later, Sage."
"Good night, guys." Sage replied before adding, "Be safe, Anika."
"You too, Sage."
With no more patrons and the last of his co-workers clocking out for the night, Sage made sure everything was switched off before closing down the bar.
As he walked home in another cold night, Sage couldn't help but thought of the way Dawn smiled at him before she left; the soft look on her face and the way she tucked her hair back.
Michael did have a point, but Sage didn't think he'd need to worry about dating their patrons. He hadn't broken his principal, and in this sense, he doubted he would.
She's just a nice girl who wants to repay me back, he thought silently, all the while subconsciously fingering the paper in his winter coat. There's all there is to it.
Yet why did he feel eager at the prospect of meeting her again?ns 18.104.22.168da2