A wary sheen glistened off the lights as the day wound down. Less customers had trickled in, wanting their sugar-filled coffee on steroids, and less writers took up the overstuffed chairs. At least, not the regular writing crew Cooper recognized who were always hunched over their laptops typing furiously away at god knows what kind of story. There had been some interesting ones—those stories. Some funny. Some not. Some he’d rather forget.
Cooper still shuddered every time he passed the graveyard over on Cherry Tree Lane.
The guy in the corner of the shop didn't seem to be one of the writerly types. Not yet. No tell tale signs of caffeine lackage, or cramped fingers needing a break. The poochy, twenty-something fella did a lot of furious clicking though. Cooper desperately hoped the guy was some sort of gamer. He didn't want to find out what else the customer might be doing with the cafe's internet. Cooper's lip curled at the thought of less than desirable possibilities. Some nasty shit went down a couple of times, internet stuff that involved the cops, and Cooper hated calling the cops.
Free WiFi and its wonders, attracting all the weirdoes out of the woodworks and giving them an external respite to drive everyone else bonkers.
A quick glance to his watch set Cooper roaming about the store, letting the few remaining customers know they were closing in five minutes. Several head nods were given along with one 'give me a sec' later before the flurry of packing began among the regulars. The not-so-regulars, well they, of course, were chatting away, not caring how long they kept the staff. They were also the ones who ignored Cooper when he went around picking up their plates and cups.
Manners. So twentieth century, yeah?
When the regulars left, Cooper locked the doors and began a wipe down of the counters while Ross did spot check of the shelves. The one group of adults got up and asked to be let out, but a group of teenagers and corner mystery man didn't show any signs of moving. He signaled to Ross to start cleaning up the equipment. Dumping the coffee usually did the trick for getting rid of any unwanted stragglers.
Cooper hit the music, thankful for a small respite. But the sloshing sound of coffee dumpage quickly replaced the silence. The kids' heads all popped up, their eyes squinting in a creepy ‘Children of the Corn’ kind of way. Head tilt and everything.
"You closing?" asked the one with the purple sweater.
"Been closed," Cooper answered. "If you guys don't mind heading out so we can clean up for the morning crew, we'd appreciate it."
A chorus of 'sorrys' went up and the teens began to gather themselves up. Apparently, it was a process. Cooper meandered over to the pooch guy, wiping tables and checking the bar station as he went. Finally, when the kids were getting their coats on, Cooper went up to the man's table.
"Can I take your cup, sir?"
"No, I—" The guy looked up, blinking rapidly. He glanced around the store. "Have you closed?"
"Oh, I, uh, can I use the restroom before I go?" he asked as he closed his computer immediately and packed up.
"Is the PADS location at the church on Cedar?"
"Uhh…" Cooper had no idea what "pads" were, besides feminine hygiene products.
"P. A. D. S. The local homeless shelter for the night," explained the man.
"Oh, uh." The guy was homeless? "The is a church on Cedar. We also have the First Methodists over on Fifth if it's not at that one. You could check there."
Cooper peered over his shoulder. The group of kids were waiting at the door.
"Can you let us out?"
"Uh—" He needed all of them gone.
"I'll be right back. Just hold the door." The poochy tummy guy headed toward the bathroom.
Cooper sighed and went to the store front. He flipped the top lock, turned the center, and pulled the floor bolt on the door. He almost got trampled in the rush to leave but managed to jump out of the way. The teens filtered out, thanking him, one apologizing for keeping him and Ross.
Okay, so they weren't all bad.
Stretching as he stood back up, Coopers knuckles grazed the low ceiling of the doorway. Damn. Exhaustion curled its way around him like a boa constrictor and wouldn't let go. Rubbing furiously over his short blond hair, Cooper tried to wake up. Only another half hour and he could go home, pass out for a few blessed hours.
He let out a sigh and turned, jumping back because poochy guy was right there. Like right there. As in right in front of him. God, his heart jumped.
"Thanks for use of the bathroom." The dude didn't look homeless. His clothes were nice and he had a computer, but then, what did Cooper know?
He shrugged, fidgeting with his fingernails. "No problem."
Poochy went out the door and pulled his jacket close. His face became pensive as he looked up and down the street before taking off. If he was homeless, Cooper hope he found the PADS place he talked about. The temps were supposed to nose dive into the twenties tonight.
"Hey, Coop. You gonna help close or what?" Ross yelled.
"Don't get your underwear in a bunch," he called back. "Just closing the damn door!"
Cooper reached for the top lock, stopping mid-reach. Evelyn stood on the other side of the door, waving at him.
What did she want? She stood back and he popped the door open.
"You need to check next week's schedule?" He hoped that was all she wanted. He really, truly hoped.
"Oh, no, I'm here for you," she said brightly and wondered in. "I'll help you close."
Why? "No need."
"It's not a problem. I have nothing better to do," she said as she began stacking chairs.
"Let her help," Ross said from behind the counter. "The quicker we close, the quicker we get out."
Evelyn smiled. "Besides, why wouldn't you want your favorite Fag Hag around?"
"Who even uses that anymore?" Good god. And no, just no. He shook his head, frowning, but Evelyn and Ross just laughed anyway.
And then just to prove what a lovely, wonderful person she was, Evelyn picked up the damn broom.
“After we finish here, I’ll take you boys out for a good ole time.”
“No, thanks,” Cooper answered, then got bumped on the back of the head. He turned, rubbing the spot. “What?”
Ross gave a small shake of his head.
Cooper mouthed “what” again.
“Sounds like a great plan, Evie,” Ross said. “We’d love to go.”
No, no. Cooper had plans for his bed. But Ross gave Cooper a pleading look.
“You can just go with her,” Cooper hissed.
“She won’t go without you,” Ross whispered back.
The two of them were up to something, and this was so not his problem. If Ross wanted to go out and have fun, he could manage on his own. No Cooper needed.
The broom banged against the glass, making them both jump and turn toward Evelyn. She bounced up next to Cooper and looped her arm through his. “We are going to have a blast.”
Oh god no.
* * * * *
Music thrummed all around Cooper. Energy flowed with the beat of the lights. Bodies swayed and twirled. People's shouts barely registered but he saw mouths moving. How did anyone ever converse in such an environment?
Of course, Cooper was still trying to figure out how he ended up here in the first place. And why he was dancing. That seemed important to figure out so it didn't happen again.
Cooper nearly toppled over when a mass of limbs, and probably people too, trampled past. How had he end up on the dance floor?
What Cooper really needed—and not the boozy, sweaty smell of other people—was his bed.
Cooper yawned and rubbed his eyes. He looked around for Evelyn and Ross. The two of them ditched him the moment they walked into Stubby's. If he ever wanted to leave, he needed to find those two miscreants again. He had no luck in spotting them though. One would think it'd be easier to spot a curly red head woman fawning all over gay guys and an amused looking het teasing the gay boys.
Bodies moved together. And much like helpless piece of sand caught in an undercurrent, Cooper went with it.
Someone's hands grabbed his ass. Another pair groped his chest.
Cooper jumped when a hand went his pocket and made a grab for his dick. "Jesus!"
Nope. Definitely nope.
He shook "Handsy" off and made a push for the bar; its neon sign a beacon in the dark. He curved and twisted and slid his way through the bodies like a snake through water. He hoped.
Cooper was about five feet from the bar when he got caught in another tidal wave of people.
"Holy shit! Whoa! Watch the hands!" Cooper yelped, jumping away from a particularly aggressive pint sized guy.
The twink—in a flashy tank top and skinny jeans no less—smiled at him. "I'm pretty sure my hands were doing exactly—"
"No," Cooper said, cutting the guy off. "No, they weren't."
The hands were totally not invited to the party. Maybe the bar, but not Cooper’s pants. There was no party there. He turned around and pushed through the bodies. Cooper lunged, and made a desperate grab at the counter. A cheer almost escaped when he managed to hang on and pull himself upright. He leaned against the hard pillar of humanity, sighing in relief.
A bartender wearing more make-up than Evelyn winked at Cooper.
"Congratulations," the man said.
"For making it to the counter." The man smiled. A flash of brilliance in an otherwise cesspool of deprivation. "You looked like you might get trampled so we had a bet going." He nodded his head toward another bartender. "I put five bucks down on you surviving the masses."
"Thanks for your vote of confidence," Cooper answered dryly. He looked for a name. A bright red star on the guy's suspenders said "Harlan". The guy was too damn chipper standing there and smiling at him. Cooper frowned.
Harlan shrugged. "You don't look like a club kinda type but your size helps you."
Cooper grunted. Sometimes. Not fucking tonight.
"Unlike the red head over there." Harlan gestured to the right of Cooper. "She's a natural born clubber. Those poor guys she's got hooked have nothin' on her. Too bad for them and her it's a gay bar."
Oh, please no. The world couldn't be so cruel. But honestly, how many red headed females were in Stubby's tonight?
"She's violating those poor guys."
"Oh yes," Harlan answered. He chuckled softly, leaving behind a small grin. A nice look for Satan reincarnated. "The idiot who brought her here better rein her in soon."
Cooper groaned then put his head on the counter. He thumped it a few times.
"You brought her?"
"No!" Cooper turned his head, then side-eyeing Harlan. "She dragged me. All I wanted to do was go home and crawl in bed."
Harlan's attention went back to where Evelyn was dancing. "Shit."
Cooper really didn't want to look. He shouldn't look. Maybe he could find a cab and go home. But then Ross and Evelyn would tell everyone at worked he ditched them. No. Wait. The situation might be salvageable. He can say he lost them in the crowd and had to hoof it home. Yeah. He could turn this around. Pretend he didn't know her before things exploded.
A round of shouts went up drowning out the music. Harlan shook his head before he turned his gaze on Cooper.
"You poor fuckin' bastard. You'll be lucky to get out of here unscathed. That is one pissed off group of twinks."
Cooper pushed through the crowd, fuming, hating every moment. Somehow he would find a way to make Evelyn pay for this bullshitery. If she had just listened to him in the first place, a mob of angry twinks wouldn't be pulling her clothes and pushing her around.
But no, Evelyn had to be that girl. The gay guy's girl BFF, helping them get laid and lament over whatever guy broke their heart. No fucking thanks. He didn't ask, she shouldn't have assumed.
One more push and he'd be able to reach her. She so fucking owed him. Maybe she would quit the cafe. No. Good luck with that fantasy.
"You really want to save her?"
Cooper jerked back and glanced to his right. Harlan stood next to him. So the bartender wanted front-side seating or was he worried about the crowd? Harlan bent his head, indicating the direction of the mob.
"You may never be able to set foot in here again if you claim her."
Now that had some merit to it. "I'm okay with that. This isn't my scene."
Harlan gave Cooper a look he didn't understand, but it was quickly followed by a shrug and Harlan gave a curt nod. "If that's how you want it."
"I just want my bed."
"That I can help you with."
Cooper had no clue what the bartender intended until he cupped his hands to his mouth. Like that would really work. Harlan shouted, which caused the mass of gyrating bodies separate like the Red Sea.
"Neat trick. Mind teaching me sometime? I could use it at closing time at the cafe."
"The Jolt . Over on Maple."
"Huh. Well, only if you promise to come back—without her." Harlan pointed to Evelyn.
"Trust me. She and I will be having a long talk after this."
Harlan pressed against Cooper. His head dipped and brought him so close his mouth touched Cooper's ear. "Think she'll listen?"
"Didn't think so."
Harlan moved in front of Cooper and led them into the angry ball of twinks. Evelyn was surrounded from every side, but somehow she managed to come off as the most menacing. Like a dog gone mad.
Evelyn had one hand on her hair, holding it from being pulled on by one of the guys, while the other held the front of her shirt to her chest. Swears, threats, and the occasional kick, each promising to do the twinks more bodily harm came from her. She twisted and turned, her voice sometimes matching the wails in the music.
Harlan put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, loud and long. Immediately hands clapped to people's ears, including Cooper's. Goddamn that was loud.
"All right guys. No need to give us a bad name. Let the girl go."
Shouts from every which way went up.
"The cunt started it!"
"She's feeling up every single guy here!"
"Her hand went down my pants after I told her to back off!"
"Bitch ground up against me and grabbed my junk."
"She pushed everyone off Alan and refused to let go of him when he told to her to take a hike!"
Cooper edged back a step then two. Maybe he could still make it to the door. But the look that Harlan gave him said otherwise. Indeed, a circle had formed around them when he wasn't paying attention.
Ross pushed into the opening. "Evelyn!" Then proceeded to almost run Cooper over as he slid in front of her. "You all right?"
Every twink involved in the spat turned and glared at him.
Better him than me.
Cooper felt absolutely no remorse when the crowd surged toward Ross. Voices rose again, the guys turning on a more favorable target
"Why did you bring that bitch here?"
"Stubby's don't need pussy like hers!"
Ross put his hands up and took a few steps back. "It was her idea. She wanted to give Cooper a good time."
The crowd stopped in their assault. A few of them looked around, probably trying to spot Cooper. He flinched when one of them made eye contact. It was the persistent twink he fought off earlier.
Unfortunately, he was. Cooper sighed and nodded his head in defeat, letting out a long "yeah."
The twink pointed a thumb at Evelyn. "Get your bitch outta here."
She yelled, "I am not a bitch, you pint sized little shit!"
The music stopped. When had the music stopped? A small murmur went through the crowd. The aggressive little twink and Evelyn squared off. Yes, indeed. The night was about to get worse.