Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Delicate Footwork
Jack was pouring himself another pint when the door slammed in the jam and heels clicked on the tiled floor.
“We’re closed,” he called out without bothering to look over the rim of the mug tilted to his mouth.
“You’re making a lot of solo decisions today,” she said, sitting on a barstool. “Closing the bar early. Splitting the sheets with your lady friend.”
His empty mug hit the counter with a heavy thump. “That’s me. A real man of action once the blur kicks in.”
“May as well keep up the momentum and pour me a glass.”
His hand hovered over the tap handle. “Never known you to drink, Legs.”
“Getting dumped seems a fair enough reason to start.”
He pulled the handle and filled the mug.
“Course, I used to have this guy in my life and he used to say … Never mind that. Just pour, barkeep.”
He slid the mug to her. “Tell me what he said.”
She shrugged out of her jacket. “If you need a reason to drink, then it’s time to stop.”
“The son-of-a-bitch is out of your life now so forget the shit he said. Trust me. You’ll be better off.”
“Forget him, huh? You’re the bartender. Guess you’d know best,” she said, taking a tentative drink.
“There you go. Drink up, sleep it off, start fresh tomorrow. You work on emptying that mug while I lock up the place.”
He shut off the main lights, took out the trash, and locked the back door.
She was at the jukebox when he came back.
He grabbed her jacket from the stool and brought it to her. “Off you go.”
She reached out but lost her balance and bumped into him. “Oh!”
He steadied her. “You’re not going to make a drunken spectacle of yourself are you?”
She put her palm against his shoulder. “No, Jack. That’s your forte. That and selling yourself short.”
A song came to life on the jukebox and he cursed under his breath but didn’t move away when her arm slid around his waist. “You don’t fight fair, woman.”
Her feet danced between his. “I learned that from you.”
He sighed and pulled her close. “Brew in your belly, soft lights, and a good song aren’t going to change things. I’m still no good for you, Legs.”
She nestled her cheek against his chest. “You don’t get to make that decision.”
“Look, I’m proud of you. You deserve the promotion. But you stay with me and your career will eventually stall. Best if I opt out now.”
She pushed free of him. “Please don’t do this.”
He yanked the cord out of the wall and the music died mid-note. “We’re all played out, you and me. Nothing left but goodbyes so let’s not drag it out.”
She grabbed her jacket. “Wherever you put your head down to sleep tonight, Jack, remember this moment. Remember I didn’t want it. Remember this is on you.”
Damn her. Damn this. Damn it. He wanted another pint, another dance, another chance. But there was such a long line of screw-ups and self-destructs riding his heels. “I’m trying to do the right thing here.”
She paused at the door. “Right for who?”
“For you. I never should have brought you onto the task force. You were good enough, better than good enough, but what you saw while you were on it, that never stops weighing on me.”
She locked the door and came back to the counter. “We should carry it together. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing the last three years?”
He sat beside her. “I wanted better for you. You’re bright and beautiful. I’m bitter and broken down.”
“Don’t you get it? Maybe I don’t need you like I did when we met but I want you. I always want you, Jack. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“You’re too good for me, Legs, but I don’t have the strength to keep fighting you. How about we grab a bottle of champagne, go upstairs, and celebrate that promotion?”
“Screw the promotion, Jack. Let’s celebrate us,” she said, leaning in to kiss him.
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