Ryan sighed as Alex vanished up the stairs.
He turned his head just in time to see Steph sag backwards into her chair. The brunette slowly turned towards the bar, folding her arms and dropping her head into the crooks of her elbows.
I’m just gonna leave her be for a minute.
He decided to check on the rest of the customers, most of whom had been openly watching the argument. Though they quickly turned back to their drinks and food as he visited their tables.
“You guys need anything?” he asked as he got to the Lethes.
“We’re fine. Is Alex okay?” Riley asked quickly. “She didn’t look so good.”
“She’ll be fine,” he assured them. “She just needs a minute.”
“You two need to make peace with each other,” Eleanor said sternly. “It’s been a rough few weeks for Alex. And she needs the two of you to help her, not be at each other’s throats.”
“I know, I know.” Ryan rubbed the side of his head. “I’m working on it.”
“Work harder.” Eleanor folded her arms. “Fighting over what happened at the town hall isn’t going to help. And being caught in the middle isn’t fair to her.”
“I promise, Eleanor, I will do everything I can to make things better.”
He took their credit card, cashing them out and clearing their table after they left. He spent a few more minutes busying himself around the bar, neatening up a few more tables as a couple of other patrons walked.
Steph hadn’t moved when he returned behind the bar, the brunette not acknowledging him at all as she buried her face in her arms. He retrieved a bottle of whiskey behind him, filling a glass before setting it down in front of her.
She lifted her head at the noise, finally revealing the tears streaming down her face.
“On the house,” he offered.
Steph didn’t answer, or wipe the tears away. She just slowly picked up the glass and took a generous swallow, setting down what was left as she stared into it morosely.
“You, uh, want another one?” Ryan asked carefully.
She didn’t answer.
“Maybe something stronger?” he offered. “Or smoother?”
“… I always fucking do this,” Steph muttered so quietly that he barely heard her.
“Fuck everything up, as soon as I find someone that I really like.” She sniffed, rubbing her nose with her thumb. “I just…” her voice trailed off, her eyes still caged on the drink in front of her. “God damn it, I’m such a fucking idiot.”
Ryan gave her a sympathetic look. “She just needs a few minutes, Steph. She’ll be okay.”
“I know she’ll be okay. That’s not the fucking point.” She finally looked at him, blinking through the tears in her eyes. “I hurt my girlfriend. I caused her pain after I told her that I was gonna do everything I could not to screw this up, because I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It was an accident, Steph,” he assured her. “She’s not going to break up with you.”
The brunette dropped her gaze. “… maybe she should.”
“Hey. Cut that shit out.” Ryan leaned forward, resting his arms on the bar. “The whole town knows how much you care about her, after your little radio announcement yesterday. Everyone who knows you two has been talking about it. And you know what they’re saying?”
She looked at him with a hesitant expression. “What?”
“That you deserve a girl like Alex.” He paused. “And that Alex deserves a girl like you.”
Steph sniffed, finally wiping her eyes. “… are they really, or are you just trying to make me feel like less of a piece of shit?”
“I have definitely heard it said.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“You think I’d lie to you just to make you feel better?”
“Yes.” Steph’s answer was immediate. “In a heartbeat.”
Ryan sighed, rapping his knuckles on the bar before he continued. “I promise, Steph, I really am sorry for how I acted at the town hall. I know I fucked up. I’m trying to make up for it.”
“You’re not kicking her out of the upstairs apartment.” Steph phrased it like an order instead of a request.
“No, I’m not. She can stay as long as she wants.” He glanced at the stairs. “Though I might ask her for some rent eventually.”
“And you’re paying her to work here.”
“It would be illegal if I didn’t.”
“Like, really well.”
“Free room and board on top of her paycheck, Steph. She’s probably the best-paid waitress in the state at this point.”
“… okay.” Steph took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I’ll, uh… try to hate you a little less.”
“Appreciate it.” Ryan pushed himself back upright. “You should probably go check on her.”
Steph nodded, wiping her eyes one more time as she stood. She made it halfway to the stairs before she stopped, hesitating for a few seconds before turning back to the bar. “I need something really quick.”
Alex slowly patted her face dry with her towel, having washed it for the third or fourth time.
Her headache was still there. It had receded greatly, but she still opened her medicine cabinet and retrieved the bottle of aspirin, taking two and swallowing them with water from the sink faucet.
Okay. Hope those kick in soon. Alex took several more deep breaths, as she slowly stood upright. Oof. That still takes some effort.
Maybe I’ll sit for a few more minutes.
There was a timid knock on the door behind her. Alex had a feeling that she knew who it was. “Coming,” she said weakly as she left the bathroom, placing one hand on the wall to hold herself upright.
As expected, Steph was on the other side of the door when she opened it. A bright blue aura surrounding her, with shades of dark purple emanating throughout.
“Hey,” the brunette greeted in a small voice.
“Hey.” Alex found it in her to give her girlfriend a small smile. “You wanna come in?”
Steph nodded. Alex stepped back, letting her into the apartment before closing the door behind her. Then she frowned as she noticed that the brunette kept one hand down, hidden so she couldn’t see it. “What’s in your-”
“I’m gonna apologize,” Steph interrupted. “A lot.”
“Steph, it’s not-”
“And I want to make sure you know just how much of a piece of shit I feel like for hurting you,” Steph continued. “Especially after I told you how much you mean to me. So… I got this.”
She held up her hand, showing the glass she’d been hiding. And the bright green liquor inside it.
“Oh, God,” Alex breathed, the sickly-sweet smell finally hitting her nose. “No, Steph, really, you don’t have to drink that-”
Too late. Steph put the glass to her lips and tilted her head back, swallowing the whole shot of Bedazzled Kiwi Schnapps at once.
The cough exploded from her chest almost immediately. Steph fell against the wall as she started wheezing. Alex grabbed her, steadying her girlfriend as the brunette held her hands to her stomach.
“Oh, that’s so bad,” Steph gasped as she grimaced.
“I tried to stop you,” Alex offered.
“Doesn’t matter.” Steph tried to take a full breath and coughed again. “I deserved it.”
“Come on, over here. Let’s sit.” Alex dragged Steph towards the couch, helping her down before retrieving a bottle of water from the fridge. “Here, drink this.”
Steph accepted the bottle, quickly guzzling half of it in one go while Alex sat down. “Ugh,” she grunted. “I don’t know how you did that without puking.”
“It was a close call,” Alex admitted.
“I bet.” Steph looked at her, taking a deep breath. “Alex, I am so fucking sorry.”
Alex slowly nodded, reaching out and taking Steph’s free hand. “… I didn’t realize you were so angry at Ryan.”
Steph scoffed. “He called the girl I care about a liar in front of everyone. While she was covered in blood and barely walking, after his father tried to kill her. Of course I’m angry at him.”
“He really does feel bad about what happened.”
“I know. He told me.” Steph took another slow breath. “I didn’t realize I was so mad at him that I was gonna hurt you. I swear if I had known, I never in a million years would’ve started that fight. And I promise that I won’t do it again.”
“Does it still hurt?”
She ignored the dull pain in her head as she shook it. “It’s okay.”
“… all right.” Steph sniffed, rubbing her nose as she looked down at her lap. “Told you I sucked at this ‘girlfriend’ thing.”
“You’re doing fine, Steph.”
“No, I’m not.”
Alex bit her lip, then tugged on Steph’s hand as she pulled herself closer. The brunette looked up just as Alex leaned forward, slowly planting a kiss on her lips.
She could practically feel her girlfriend melt beside her, as she squeezed her hand back. As they broke apart, Alex watched Steph’s aura change from the blue-and-purple mix back to the bright gold it had been when she’d entered the bar.
“Damn, babe,” Steph breathed, smiling.
“Yea. Though I’m still sorry.”
“I forgive you.” Alex smirked. “But you really need to finish the bottle of water. And maybe gargle some mouthwash.”
Steph winced. “Is it that bad?”
“Yea. I’m not kissing you again while you still taste like that.”
They went back downstairs after another ten minutes or so, to see Ryan back on the laptop while standing behind the bar. He looked up as they approached, quickly closing it. “You two okay?”
“We’re fine.” Steph nodded at the laptop as she sat down. “You don’t have to close your naughty video for us.”
“Oh, good. I was worried our friendship had degenerated too far to watch porn in front of each other.”
“Gross,” Alex remarked dryly as she sat beside Steph.
The brunette’s smirk slowly faded, as she drew in a breath while folding her hands in front of her. “I am sorry for being a bitch when I came in here,” she said carefully. “I know you feel bad about what happened. I am still a little mad. But I promise to be civil and try to get over it.”
Ryan nodded as he leaned on the bar. “I do feel really bad about how I handled that. And like I said, I will try to make up for it.”
He held up a hand, his little finger extended. “Pinky promise not to fight anymore?”
Steph looked between him and the finger incredulously. “Pinky promise? Are we back in fucking kindergarten now?”
“Hey man, you don’t break a pinky promise.”
The brunette shook her head, the reached up and hooked her finger on his. “Fine. Pinky promise.”
Alex relaxed, breathing an internal sigh of relief. Thank God.
“Okay.” Ryan stood back upright. “Now, I know you came in for your lunch break, so I went ahead and put an order in. You wanted to try our new ethically-sourced vegan burger, right?”
Steph glared at him intensely. “If the burger you put in front of me is not one-hundred-percent beef, you’re going to be picking all of your teeth off the ground with broken fingers.”
Alex smirked as Ryan put his hands up in surrender. I’ll take what I can get.