Ducky, you love this girl. You love her and you have to tell her. And if she laughs, she laughs.
-Pretty in Pink
Chicago went bananas the night the Bulls won their first championship. People streamed out of bars, running up and down city streets, in between and around the cars. Major thoroughfares turned into parking lots, but happy parking lots (save for those few poor non-basketball loving souls). For most of Chicago, it was all high fives and hugs, spontaneous renditions of We Are the Champions. But in some places the madness teetered on the edge of violence, in others it spilled over. Bullets fired in the air, after all, will eventually come down. The teeming, inebriated flocks on Division Street flipped a cab onto its back. But for most of us, it was fun; mad, wild fun.
Eventually the outdoor celebrations waned and people hustled, en masse, back into the bars they’d poured out of. The vibe at The March held firm at non-violent levels, but the crowd shortly began to feel like more than the slight weekday staff could handle. Caleb had scheduled an experienced crew with himself behind the bar, Brooke on the floor and Will at the door. This should have been ample even on a very busy Tuesday night.
But this wasn’t busy. It went so far past busy that busy became a fond memory. This was championship busy. People, who were until very recently, the most casual of sports fans, folks who’d always opted for Friends on Thursday nights over the basketball game, swarmed, drunk on Jagermeister and victory. They clamored for beers and shots shots shots! They toasted loudly and dropped their beer bottles. They delayed orders, holding onto Brooke’s arm, reliving the glorious moment of John Paxson’s winning shot. Offkey versions of Queen and Gary Glitter filled the air. It was bedlam.
Fred walked into this chaos: Will was holding two cases of Old Style against the wall with his body, while dealing with three clearly underage girls. Brooke was desperately collecting glassware that Caleb didn’t have time to wash while a drunken inamoratus hovered over her repeating, “It was so awesome! Did you see it? It was AWESOME!” Grinning fools waved bills at Caleb as he whirled around, cracking open two beers in each hand, ringing up an order, making change. Suddenly he stopped, looked around, and made an executive decision. He grabbed the bar mic and barked into it: “STAFF – TO THE BAR. NOW!”
Fred grabbed one of the cases from Will and positioned himself between Brooke and her would-be basketball boyfriend and said, “Let’s go.”
The three hustled to the bar apace. Caleb said, “We’re switching up: Brooke, you’re back here with me. Will, congratulations, you’re a server now. But you still need to get people proofed and don’t go getting tip-happy. Also, do not come up here without glassware. We’ll tell you what things cost.”
“Caleb,” said Fred. “Do you want me to watch the door and help out on the floor?”
“Oh, man, I could kiss you,” said Caleb.
They quickly made the changes., Brooke worked the service end of the bar and moved like a dervish, washing dishes, pouring shots. Will proved a capable server, moving quickly back and forth between customer and bar, cheery and confident. Fred kept on top of everything and anything that got missed. He thwarted fights and kept minors out of the bar. He bussed tables and mopped up spills. He went so far as to tidy up the bathroom after a 22 yr old lost a violent and disgusting battle with his last shot of Rumplemintz.
The evening ran surprisingly smoothly.
Caleb called last call at 1:30 and they made quick work of ushering everyone out of the bar.
As Fred helped Will put stools up on the bar, he noticed that he felt happy. He’d worked really hard and stank of cigarette smoke and spilled beer and the lingering, foul malodor of that poor kid’s upchucked Rumplemintz. But he felt sore in his body in that way you do after you’ve worked hard at a rewarding task. The Heineken that Caleb gave him tasted really good.
“Caleb,” he said on his way to the bar to grab a beer. “Do you think I have a future in tavern management?”
“Yeah,” said Caleb, tipping his bottle towards him. “I think you’d be great.”
In the meantime, Will and Brooke sat in the office. Brooke was tasked with helping Will do his first paperwork. They shared the small space, side-by-side over the scarred pressed wood desk, counting money. The silence between them was thick.
Brooke broke it. “I like you, Will. I like you and I think we should be together.”
Will froze. Time stretched out in unreasonable ways. Brooke stared down at the desk, the dollar bills she’d been marrying into stacks of twenty-five death-gripped in both hands. She was tense down to her toes, embarrassed and afraid.
Will turned to look at her, face in pretty profile, staring hard at the desk. He smiled. Worrisome, frustrating feelings began to gather themselves up, nod a reluctant farewell, and lift themselves from his weary shoulders. Save one.
“I like you too, Brooke,” he said. “I like you so much. I never think about anyone but you. But if we’re together, than people will talk so much shit about you. They’ll say you were only with Teddy for money. I can’t stand for people to think things like that about you.”
Oh, of all the pernicious fictions that young men accept as fact, the most depressing among them is that female virtue is theirs to protect and defend. First of all, that kind of virtue is overestimated to a ridiculous degree, valuable mostly as something the loss of which is easily weaponized. Second, whatever responsibility for it there is belongs to the woman to whom it is attached. And these girls, even all those years ago, worried less and less about being called sluts. It’s an invective that says more about the one hurling it than its target. Brooke, for one, couldn’t have cared less.
In love for real this time, though, Brooke knew that Will’s intentions were good. And she happily expected lots of time to usher Will into a good feminist mindset. So rather than be offended, she smiled.
“Will,” she said, “I couldn’t give the tiniest rat’s ass what people say about me. I only care what you think right now.”
And this time she meant it.
And they kissed. And it was totally romantic.