“So what’s her name?” The bartender leans over the counter and wipes the condensation ring left behind by Antonio’s last Heineken. His name tag reads: “Joe.”
“Who?” Antonio asks absently. He hangs his head over his plate of home chips, hot out of the grease. He’s waited close to an hour for them—Mother Goose’s has never been known for its fast food service. In that time, he’s typed seven multimedia-long text messages to Elise, and deleted them all, knowing her response will be the same three words: “Fuck. You. Nigga.”
Coming here was a mistake. He’s not even drunk, but he feels the dizzying effects of a hangover coming. He’s cursed Elise out seven different times, but can’t muster up enough liquid courage to hit send. He knows he’ll lose Ryder if he does. Funny how he can lose someone he’s barely even had. He’s already missed Ryder’s first steps, his first words—or more specifically, his first babbles that could be construed into words.
Elise has stolen it all for herself, claiming title of both mother and father. A false superheroine, making feign sacrifices for the sake of the child she keeps captive. Baby mamas—they all have this I-can-do-bad-all-by-myself complex, like they deserve a trophy, a Nobel prize, for raising their own fucking kids. It’s not like you were forced to do it alone, bitch, he mumbles to himself. He’s here—he’s always been here—but she’d rather play victim than accept him back in her life, even if that means her son, her black son, will have the black father he needs to raise him right—not bitter and angry and hating him like his mother does.
“Her.” Joe nods toward the booths by the pool tables, and Antonio looks over his shoulder to see that Renee has joined Tash’s one-woman pity party, which is less pity than party now. A plate piled high with at least twenty hot wings sits between them. Tash goes in on—from the looks of the stripped clean bones stacked on the napkin by her elbow—her seventh one. Her shot glass has been replaced with a glass of water—probably took some convincing from Renee, everyone’s human conscience.
Tash doesn’t seem as depressed as she had when Antonio called Mitchell. Maybe she was only waiting for Renee. Mitchell could be on his way to crash a possible bachelorette party about to begin—Rita not far behind, coming to to light shit up with some trees. A party wasn’t live until Rita’s thug ass arrived.
“You’ve been watching her since you got here. Both of y’all looking at your phones, throwing back drinks. It’s pretty obvious,” Joe continues.
Antonio shakes his head—wrong girl. “That’s my friend’s fiancé.”
Joe shrugs and turns to the tap on the back wall, places a glass underneath. “She doesn’t look too thrilled to be getting married,” he yells over the television in front of him. “I say you still have a shot.” He hands the curved glass, cold brew foaming at the top, to a waitress who sits an orange slice on the rim and takes it to a table under a flat screen showing the Warriors game.
Antonio looks back toward Renee and Natasha’s table. Bartenders seem to have a sixth sense about reading people. They can tell a person’s fears, weaknesses, who they’re pining over as they take another shot. They can tell a person everything they’ve ever done from their choice of booze alone. Antonio bets, in this day, even Jesus could be a bartender. He did turn water to wine.
But the keep’s surely got this one wrong. Antonio will admit that maybe he had a thing for her back in college—she was definitely a sexy drunk—but Tash’s always been crazy about Mitchell. And if there’s anyone Mitchell could love more than Jesus Christ Himself—though Mitchell would flat deny this to ever be true—it would be Natasha. What could the bartender possibly have seen that would make him think she’d even be interested?
He thinks back to his phone call with Mitchell, how Mitchell sounded like he’d just finished a sprint when he finally answered the phone, nearly out of breath, yelling Natasha’s name like a sudden gust of wind. Still, Tash looks fine now. Maybe it was just a little lovers’ spat—cold feet before the wedding.
Joe approaches the counter, wiping his hands on the apron tied at his waist. “When’s the big day?” he asks.
“Damn,” he says, and Antonio looks at him, trying to decipher from his eyes if that comment was surprise at a holiday wedding, or an apology to him for it being so soon.
“Look man,” Joe says, “I’m not here to break up any friendships or ruin any marriages. And I know all too well what it’s like to get dumped on Christmas Eve. That ‘Last Christmas, I gave you my heart . . .’ song still gets to me this time of year.”
“Hmmm,” Antonio grunts.
“But chick is hot.” he shakes his head. “If I were you—”
A hand suddenly slams down on Antonio’s shoulder, and he jerks back. Mitchell stares at him, his coat askew—buttons fastened in the wrong holes—his eyes red, either from crying or lack of sleep. He runs his hand over the tiny balls of naps in his hair that he hasn’t brushed, then quickly shoves his hands in his pockets, as if a mental mirror has just appeared and he sees how awful he looks.
“Hey bruh, you ok?” Antonio asks shakily. He turns to Joe and discretely shifts his eyes toward Renee and Natasha’s table. Joe nods and offers a draft list to Mitchell.
He waves it off. “I don’t drink.” Then to Antonio, “Where is she?”
Antonio spins around in the stool to face the booth by the door, where Renee and Natasha are already watching, frozen in mid-feast of hot wings. Mitchell storms over.
“Mitchell, wait!” Antonio calls after him. He wrestles his wallet out of his back pocket, puts two twenties down on the counter, and slides them across to the bartender. “Uh, just keep the change.”
“Thanks, man. Aye, remember what I said.” He points to Natasha.
“You got it wrong, bruh,” Antonio says as he follows Mitchell to the booth, and then again, quietly to himself, “You got it wrong.”