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The Pipes Are Calling

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Corona Barmaid
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The Pipes Are Calling

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Booze Belt
Saturday night is cold and busy at the Bar. Maya, Cindy and I are hustling to sling drinks, which is fine because it helps keep us warm - something the Bar's usually adequate heating system isn't doing too well tonight. I swore tonight would be the last night of the season for wearing something that shows my midriff and my navel jewelry, but I'm regretting not making that decision earlier. I'm ready to start setting small campfires, using bad tippers for kindling.

Vince was the smart one - he's quite comfortable in his black anarchy sweatshirt. And of course there's always a silver lining to everything... tonight, not a single patron will accidentally leave a coat hanging on a chair or barstool, to be stolen or thrown into the Lost & Found box.

Shortly after eleven o'clock, in walks Redhead with a man in tow. Redhead is a "wingwoman" for hire, and she's been in here several times since she worked my friend Dara for a client, though not in a few months. She looks good, maybe even better than usual - but her client, I'm afraid to say, doesn't. Not that he's dressed sloppily, though I suppose he could stand to be dressed in clothing from sometime this decade... he's just not that good-looking. Plus, he's a little scrawny. I can see why he might need the confidence and the credibility he'd get from Redhead introducing him around.

I am the barmaid Redhead knows best here, and I know she likes to make sure her clients tip well, so it's worth some effort to make sure I serve them their drinks (merlot for her, gin and tonic for him). But with things as busy as they are, I don't have much time or opportunity to keep tabs on whether she's able to be of any help to him. I do notice at one point that Redhead has managed to engage someone in conversation with her client, a blonde woman who's actually got a good few inches on him - but the very next time I turn around they're on their own again.

It's only just past one when things start quieting down a little - maybe the cold is chasing people home, or maybe people have after-hours parties to go to, but it's definitely lightening up earlier than usual for a Saturday. So I'm catching my breath and doing some mental tip math when I see Redhead's client give her a hug, drop some cash on the bar, and head out the door. She sticks around, though, and is just finishing up her fourth glass of wine when I wander over with a freshly poured glass as a buy-back. I slide her client's tip into my pocket.

"Thanks, that's really nice of you," she says as she stops biting her nail and takes a sip.

"What's the matter, did he have a rough night?"

She frowns at me for a moment, as if she's deciding whether to talk to me about it. "No rougher than usual."

"So you've been out with him before?"

"Once a week for two months now," she nods.

I whistle. "That is rough."

She smacks her hand down on the bar. "I just don't get it. I know Danny's not the best looking guy around, but I'm doing the best I can to vouch for him, and they're just not taking the time to get to know him. I feel awful, like he's going to start asking the agency for a refund or something."

"Hey, listen, you can't take it so personally. Whatever it is, some people just don't have enough of it, and maybe that's all that's going on. Remember, this can be a rough town for guys who aren't handsome, rich, or both, just like it can be rough for girls who aren't young, skinny or both - you should know that better than most people. You wouldn't have this job otherwise."

"I guess. Maybe I wouldn't be so upset if I hadn't gotten to know him so well myself already. I just feel like the next time he calls the agency and asks for me, I should... I don't know, tell them to send someone else."

"Maybe that's not a bad idea. Let someone new take a fresh crack at him, and let yourself off the hook."

She sighs, then takes a long pull of her merlot. "Yeah, but I won't."

"Why not? It's not like you won't get other assignments, right?"

"They won't be Danny." Her lip starts quivering, and then she covers her face with one hand. "Shit," she says, shaking a little.

I lean over the bar and lay my hand on her other forearm. "Hey, what's the matter?"

She lifts her hand, and I can see tears in her eyes. "I'm falling for that scrawny little guy," she says. "I started out just feeling bad for him, but he's so nice, and so patient, and such a good person, and I just want to scoop him up in my arms and take him home. I feel like I can't do my job properly because I don't want other women to like him, but I know he'll never see me the way I want him to. We only met because he hired me to be his friend."

"Wow. Well - are you sure about that? I mean, you're a beautiful woman, don't you think he might be able to get past the whole paying you to spend time with him thing?"

"That's -- thanks, I just -- I don't know. I mean, most guys, if they're interested in me, I can tell. I just don't see it with him. And there are strict rules about even giving him my phone number, let alone seeing him outside of our official appointments. If I tell him how I feel or ask him for a real date, I could lose this job. If he doesn't feel the same way about me, I've lost my job for nothing."

"You have a day job, don't you? I mean, business isn't so good that you're earning your whole living as a wingwoman, are you?"

"Well, kind of, yeah, I am," she says. "I'm a grad student, and my stipend is barely enough for rent - three nights of Wingwomen a week is how I eat."

"Sorry, I didn't realize. What are you studying?"

"Clinical psychology."

I'll be damned. I refill her glass, and pour a couple of fingers of Lagavulin for myself. With occasional interruptions so I can serve other customers, Redhead tells me about her grad studies, and about the sliding scale clinic where she already practices individual talk therapy under faculty supervision. And with a gleam in her eye, and a smile she can't wipe off her face, she tells me about Danny.

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