Elise wiped down the worn, stained bar at Manny's with a damp rag. She'd left her curly hair down, and the dark strands spilled around her shoulders. Her best push-up bra was tight beneath her v-neck tee, and the lace fringe showed above the seam, brushing against the swell of her breasts. Her skinny jeans and stiletto boots made sure all eyes were on her when she took the boys their drinks. She had a car payment due at the end of the week, and she needed all the tips she could get. But she had to admit that wasn't the only reason she'd put effort into her appearance.
Manny's was an okay place. It hosted a lot of older men trying to get away from their wives and a few wives who could drink as well as their husbands. Some kids closer to Elise's age dropped in every now and again, but for the most part it was just a low-key, bare bones bar that Manny had opened more for love than profit.
One of the regulars, a gray-haired man came over and gave her a friendly smile.
"How are you holdin' up, El?"
"Just fine, Manny. Do you need anything?"
"Just a beer, thank you kindly."
Elise smiled and popped the top off a glass bottle before sliding it over to him. One of the usuals, who had clearly had a little more than he could handle, practically flung himself down at the bar beside Manny and gave Elise a toothy grin.
"You look real nice tonight, Elise. Give me a jack and coke and keep the change."
She suppressed a laugh at the older man's behavior and squirted the soda in to mix with the ice and liquor before taking the ten dollar bill off the counter.
"You know you get more tips than Alex ever did," Manny told her, referring to her predecessor.
"I should hope so. He didn't have these." She gestured to her chest, and he laughed.
"I'm gonna go now in case my wifey decides to come and check up on me. Can't have you getting' me in trouble."
He winked, and Elise laughed as he moved away to socialize with customers. One of the guys raised two fingers. She poured two beers and walked them over to where a few men and one woman were playing pool.
"Do you need another water, Amanda?" she called.
"Not yet. Maybe something stronger, actually. They're kicking my ass and I'm not even drinking."
"Well, you're just gonna have to deal with it. I know you're the designated driver." Elise wagged a finger playfully at the redhead.
She turned back around to head to the bar and felt a familiar gaze searing her skin. There he was. Johnny had come back from his cigarette break. She felt suddenly self-conscious and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other until she made it back to the bar. She pretended to arrange the glass bottles beneath the counter but her brown eyes were soon drawn to his blue ones. He was the bouncer, and Elise had kept him busy in more ways than one. She was pinched and grabbed and fed lines at least five times a night. And it had only taken a few nights of him coming to her rescue before she decided to thank him properly.
Johnny took a moment to survey the room, to make sure everything was in order, and then he came over to the bar. She handed him a coke and he took a sip. Elise's eyes followed the muscles of his arm as he raised the glass, then trailed to his stubbled jaw line and wavy brown hair. She couldn't wait to run her hands through the thick locks again.
"Anybody been giving you trouble?" he asked casually, pulling her from her reverie.