“Of course not.” Charlotte frowned in response to Alex’s question, as she sat at the bar a few days after the town hall. “Why would we fire him?”
“Because he voted no, when the rest of you voted yes?” Alex offered.
“It’s a democracy, Alex. A real one, not some North Korean puppet show. He’s allowed to disagree.” Charlotte shrugged. “Besides, we already knew he was going to. Ryan’s not losing his spot on the council for one vote.”
“Good.” Alex smirked. “Though I’m a little worried that between the council, the bar, and being a park ranger, he’s going to slowly go mad.”
“Honestly, there’s not much work that comes with being on the council,” Charlotte confessed. “I read a couple of things once a month, and that’s about it. We’ve only held a few votes since I took my seat.”
“Tell it to Nana,” Riley remarked dryly from the stool beside her. “I think Jed did more work than you guys thought. She’s been doing a bunch of stuff in her office since she took his job.”
From the third barstool, Steph leaned forward to see Riley around Charlotte. “It’s not, like… super-taxing on her, is it?”
“I asked, but she told me to go away.” Riley sighed. “I’m going to assume that all the reading and memorizing is helping keep her mind sharp.”
“Is that true?”
“If it’s not, I don’t want to know. Can I have another one, Alex?”
She nodded as she took Riley’s glass, re-filling it from the beer tap. It was Friday, just after lunch, and the three other girls were all sitting across from her at the bar. And none of them seemed to be in any rush to go back to work. “Are you all starting your weekends early or something?” Alex asked.
“I just don’t feel like going back right now,” Steph confessed as she plucked a fry from the basket in front of her, popping it into her mouth. “I put on a playlist. And I already read the ads, so I don’t have anything else to do. When are you guys getting more duck fries?”
“The oil’s on a special order. It won’t be here until next week.” Alex glanced at the others. “What about you two?”
“I’m taking a long lunch.” Charlotte grinned. “Nobody comes by the store between noon and three anyway. I left my number on the sign if they do.”
“I’m just tired of my schoolwork,” Riley admitted.
“Fair enough.” Alex set a new beer in front of the younger girl. “Speaking of drama at the town hall…”
“Oh, God.” Riley closed her eyes and rubbed her face with one hand. “Could we not? Please?”
“But I really want to know.”
“Me too,” Charlotte added.
Steph raised her hand. “Me three.”
“I’m glad my failure of a love life amuses you all so much.” Riley dropped her hand. “I told him to stop texting me last month. And made it very clear that I was not interested. He finally took the hint and left me alone.”
Charlotte patted her shoulder. “Good for you.”
“Yea, yea, you told me so.” Riley sighed. “Hopefully he listens this time.”
Alex nodded. “Let me know if you need me to kick his ass again.”
Riley looked at her with a smirk. “Will do.”
“Okay.” Steph leaned forward onto the bar with both elbows. “As amusing as this is, we have a more pressing concern that needs to be addressed.”
“Excuse me?” Charlotte looked at her incredulously. “It’s noon on a Friday, and we’re already working on our buzz. We have the opposite of pressing concerns.”
“Then call it a burning curiosity.” Steph thumbed over her shoulder. “As far as what’s going on with THAT.”
The other three followed her thumb to see a blonde girl with her hair in a long, braided ponytail. She wore a white blouse with rolled sleeves and skinny jeans that terminated in brown boots. A half-finished beer sat in front of her, and her head was resting on one hand as she stared out the window with a blank look on her face, clearly lost in thought.
Charlotte frowned. “Wait, isn’t that…”
“Jessie… something.” Steph looked back at the others, speaking quietly. “SubTerra’s engineer, from the town hall.”
“I didn’t even notice her when we came in,” Riley said in an equally low voice, looking at Alex. “How long has she been here?”
“She was here when I took over for Ryan at eleven.” Alex shrugged. “I replaced her beer about thirty minutes ago, right before you guys showed up.”
“What’s she doing?”
“Something on her phone when I got here. But she’s been quiet ever since.”
“You think she’s okay?” Charlotte asked.
“I mean…” Alex chewed on her lip. “Are there good reasons to day-drink by yourself?”
“She is new in town. Probably doesn’t know anybody else.”
Steph hummed as she looked back at the blonde. Then plucked a new fry from her basket, and before anyone could stop her, chucked it towards Jessie. The fry sailed across the room, hitting the side of her head.
Jessie flinched violently at the impact, looking around wildly before noticing the fry on the table in front her of her. She slowly looked up, meeting Steph’s gaze.
“The tables are only for people eating,” Steph told her. “If you’re drinking to deal with personal problems, you have to sit at the bar.”
“Oh.” Jessie looked down and quickly got up, taking her beer with her as she went to sit beside Steph. “Sorry. I, uh, didn’t know that was a rule here.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “It’s not,” she assured her. “My girlfriend is just poorly trained when it comes to introducing herself.”
“… ah.” Jessie glanced back at Steph. “Um… hi?”
“What’s up.” Steph ate another fry. “So, what’s wrong with your love life that’s got you day-drinking?”
“How’d you know it was my love life?”
“Because when young professional girls like you try to drink away their problems, it’s one of three things; someone’s dead, their job sucks, or they’ve got a love life problem.” Steph nodded at her. “You’re not crying, so nobody’s dead. And you haven’t been here long enough to have job issues yet. That leaves your love life.”
Jessie blinked a few times as she looked at her, before the corner of her lip twitched in a smirk. “Someone should buy you a shot,” she noted, taking a sip of her beer.
“Somebody should.” Steph looked at the others. “Judges?”
“Yes, you win,” Charlotte allowed. “But you also lose because you introduced yourself by throwing a fry at her head, and she doesn’t even know who you are.”
“Oh, right.” The brunette flashed a smile. “I’m Steph. Nice to meet you.”
“Jessie.” She saluted with her beer. “Good to meet you.”
“We know, we all saw you at the town hall a few days ago.” Steph pointed at the others. “The cute bartender is my girlfriend, Alex. Riley works for the flower store. And Charlotte’s the town drug dealer.”
Alex snorted as Jessie looked down the bar with arched eyebrows.
“I run the dispensary,” Charlotte quickly clarified, shooting Steph a glare. “Don’t tell people I’m a drug dealer.”
“Hey, I call it like I see it.”
“You’re an engineer, right?” Alex interrupted.
“Yea, the Chief Engineer for the mine.” Jessie shrugged. “Mostly just planning the layout and how it’s going to be constructed.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“It can be, but it’s pretty tedious. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the computers these days. We’ve got a pretty good foreman, so I’ll probably never set foot underground, unless there’s a serious problem.”
“So, what brings you in drinking?” Steph asked coyly. “Boyfriend problems? Girlfriend problems? Non-binary significant other problems?”
Alex whacked Steph’s arm. “Cut it out. She doesn’t have to talk about it.”
“No, but it’ll make her feel better if she does.” Steph looked back at Jessie. “So?”
The blonde looked at all of them again, seemingly weighing her response.
“… might as well.” She sighed again, taking a healthy drink of her beer before continuing. “It’s my boyfriend, from my last mining site.”
“Oh, yea.” Alex racked her brain, trying to remember what she’d heard at the town hall. “You’re from Wyoming, right?”
“Yep. Born and raised on a cattle ranch. Only girl out of five kids, and the only one who wanted to go to college.” She held up a finger. “I was first in my class at UW for the structural engineering graduate program.”
Riley whistled. “Nice.”
“Thank you. Almost made me feel better when my first boyfriend’s mother asked me, during my graduation dinner, what I was going to do with my Master’s degree when I started staying home to watch my future kids.”
Steph raised her eyebrows. “For real?”
“And did your boyfriend tell his mother that it’s not nineteen-fifty-six anymore?”
“No, he looked at me to see what my answer was going to be.” She smirked. “Wyoming is not really known for its progressive views. I was single again within twenty-four hours.”
The others snickered. “Just for that, you get a free refill,” Alex told her as she took Jessie’s mostly empty glass.
“Thanks.” Jessie sighed. “Anyway, my boyfriend… well, ex-boyfriend now… is a heavy equipment mechanic at my last mine near Cheyenne. When I was asked to transfer out here, he said he’d come with me, but he wanted to wait out the last two months on his apartment lease, so he didn’t pay a penalty. I figured it was a fair request, so I said sure.”
“And then…” Charlotte probed.
“One of my friends who works in the admin office sent me a photo of him at a bar two nights ago. Making out with a girl twice my cup size.”
The other four girls collectively sucked in their breath. “Ouch,” Alex commented as she set a fresh beer down in front of her.
“Yea.” Jessie shook her head as she took a sip. “I called him last night, we started arguing, and turns out? It’s my fault for leaving him alone, because he has needs that I can’t meet while I’m over here. Also, my friend who sent me the photo is a nosy bitch who should learn to mind her own goddamn business.”
Steph tilted her head with an inquisitive look. “And… how long had you guys been apart?”
“I know, trust me.” She sighed heavily. “So, yea. I came up with a long list of vindictive shit I was going to do in revenge, slept on it, decided that none of it was worth the trouble, and set my relationship status back to Single on Facebook. Then I told Ted I was taking the day and came down here to start drinking.”
The others nodded. “Sounds like you dodged a bullet,” Alex offered.
“No argument. But one of the reasons I agreed to transfer out here was that he was going to come with me, and now I have to face the prospect of spending three years minimum in a small town, with what I can only imagine is a really shallow dating pool.”
“Mm.” Steph pursed her lips. “Depends on your standards.”
“Male, single, reasonably attractive, and ideally with an IQ in the triple-digits.”
Charlotte snorted. “Setting a low bar, huh?”
“Low enough to be a tripping hazard in hell.”
“How about the guy who interrupted the town hall?” Steph asked slyly. “He’s single.”
Jessie scoffed. “Nobody’s bar should be that low.”
The other girls all silently turned their heads to look at Riley. Who promptly sighed and turned back to her drink. “Screw all of you.”
Steph and Charlotte began cackling as Jessie looked confused, until realization hit. “Wait, were you guys…”
“For a lot longer than we should’ve been,” Riley closed her eyes as she resumed drinking her beer. “Ugh.”
Jessie winced. “How’d that go?”
“He tried to beat up my brother, because he thought that they were sleeping together,” Alex answered. “So I kicked his ass, and she dumped him.”
“Ooh.” Jessie looked at her. “Can I buy you a shot? I only met him the once, but I can tell that you deserve one.”
Riley looked back at her and smirked. “I like you already.”