“Citizens of Haven Springs, that was Bottled Genie, the newest single from The Black Waterfalls.” The radio Steph had convinced Ryan to install in the Black Lantern broadcast her voice from the speakers above Alex, and she glanced up to see them as she worked behind the bar. “Coming up next, we’ve got another special request from some chick. Let’s keep this Pride Month rolling with what might be the coolest lesbian rock band in Seattle, LGBFU, and their smash hit Tasty Skittles.”
Across from her, Charlotte smiled as a rock song started blasting. “She’s been playing a lot of requests from some chick lately,” she remarked coyly.
Alex smirked back. “Yea, she has.”
“Must be someone important to her.”
“Well, dating the town DJ has it’s perks.” Alex shrugged. “So, how much longer will Ethan be with his dad?”
“Until school starts again, later this summer.” Charlotte sighed as she absent-mindedly rubbed her finger along the rim of her wine glass. “Is it pathetic, that I really miss him while he’s gone?”
“He’s your kid,” Alex reminded her. “Of course not. Besides, I miss my little buddy too.”
“I know. I think he likes you more than me.”
“That’s because you make him do homework, and I get to be the cool babysitter.”
Charlotte gave her a bemused look. “Trade you.”
“No way.” Alex put her hand to her chest, offended. “I want him to like me.”
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she pulled it out quickly to see the text.
Steph: I don’t have their album 🙁
Alex: How can you not have Melee by Savannah Prime? I thought it was a law that record stores in Colorado MUST have at least one copy.
Steph: I could’ve sworn I did. I think I sold it at some point. How about I play Frenchie and the Dingos next?
Alex: Eh, I’m not in the mood for that heavy of a bass track.
“Whatcha doing?” Charlotte teased. “Texting the girlfriend?”
Alex looked up. “… how’d you know?”
“You get a funny smile whenever you text Steph.”
“Wha- I do not!”
Ryan reappeared around the corner at that moment, setting a case of whiskey bottles down on the bar. “Don’t what?” he asked, dusting off his hands.
Charlotte looked at him. “Ryan, what does Alex do whenever she starts texting her girlfriend?”
“Aside from that dorky smile?”
“I- okay, first of all, I do NOT have a dorky smile,” Alex protested. “And second, I don’t make a face whenever I text Steph!”
Her phone vibrated in her hands again.
Steph: Whaaaaaaat about Sunshine Saki?
Alex: They only had, like, one good album. And I already checked, you don’t have it.
Steph: Taco Trawlers?
Alex: They have too many maraca players.
Steph: They only have one.
Alex: Yea, and that’s too many.
Click-click! She looked up to see Charlotte holding up her phone. “Got it.”
“Your dorky smile.”
“I do not-”
“See for yourself.”
Alex blinked at the photo Charlotte showed her. … wow, that is terrible.
“Do I really do that every time?”
“Consistently,” Ryan agreed as he started re-stocking the bar behind her. “I’ve actually been meaning to say something.”
“So for the past two weeks you’ve just been letting me embarrass myself?”
“It’s not embarrassing, it’s adorable,” Charlotte assured her. “I’m guessing that it’s been going well?”
Alex sighed, resigning herself to her facial expressions as she smiled. “It’s… great. Like, really, really great.”
Charlotte tilted her head. “… why the hesitation?”
Alex bit her lip, glancing around the bar before settling her gaze on Ryan. He quickly put his hands up. “Hey, look at that. I have someplace to be, far away from the girl talk.”
They both chuckled as he left, before Alex turned back to Charlotte with a guilty face. “I, uh… feel a little bad about how slow we’re taking things,” she admitted quietly.
“Because… I don’t know. I feel like maybe we’re moving too slowly.” She scratched the back of her neck. “I mean, it’s been two weeks. But we still haven’t…”
“Ah.” Charlotte nodded sympathetically. “I see.”
“Do you mind if I offer my point of view?”
“I got to know Steph pretty well after she moved here last year.” Charlotte scooted her stool closer to the bar. “It was a rough adjustment for her, especially after she broke up with her last girlfriend. One of her coping mechanisms was to download a dating app and try to go on as many dates as possible.”
Alex blinked. “Really?”
“Yea. We were actually a little concerned for a while.” Charlotte nodded. “She was basically throwing relationships at a wall to see what stuck. And none of them worked out. If you ask me, her going slow and doing this right with you is a good thing.”
“… you really think so?”
“I do. And you know I’d say something otherwise.” Charlotte smirked. “I think you guys are doing fine.”
Alex sighed in relief. “Good. I was a little worried.”
“Well, don’t be.”
“So…” she leaned onto the bar. “You want to tell me about these relationships?”
“Oh, hell no.” Charlotte shook her head vehemently. “I’m not spilling dirty secrets. Ask your girlfriend.”
“Yea, I’m good.”
“How are things between her and Ryan, by the way?”
Alex took a slow breath. “Better,” she allowed. “We hung out a few nights ago, and she laughed at his corny jokes. And made fun of him for giving up on his dating app.”
Charlotte frowned. “He gave up on his dating app?”
“Something about there being too many bots. I dunno, I was only half-listening.”
Her phone buzzed.
Steph: Okay, I got it. Cockroach Crash.
Alex: Ugh. Gross.
Steph: Excuse me?! What’s wrong with Cockroach Crash?!
Alex: Their music sounds like Valkyrie in a washing machine as it tumbles down a rickety set of stairs!
Steph: They are one of the best Punk bands in the country!
Alex: You know what they say about putting lipstick on pigs, right?
Steph: … oh, it’s on.
Alex frowned, an uneasy feeling taking her over. What does that mean?
“All right, once again, that was Tasty Skittles by LGBFU,” Steph announced over the radio a few seconds later. “For our next song request, we’ve got something a little different for some chick.”
“Oh, no,” Alex moaned.
“We’re going to practice something called ‘immersion therapy’, in which a patient is exposed to an object of their discomfort. The session doesn’t end until they admit that a particular item is not so bad.” She paused. “On that note, here’s Homicidal Prom Queen by the undoubtedly best Punk artist in the Pacific north-west, Cockroach Crash.”
Alex winced as atrocious lyrics and harsh guitar riffs began playing over the radio, making Charlotte flinch. “What in the WORLD is that?!”
“One of the worst bands I’ve ever heard.”
“And what, is she going to try and change your mind by torturing the rest of us?”
“God, I hope not.” Alex went back to her phone
Alex: Babe, this is even worse than I remember.
Steph: You will learn to love it.
Alex: No, I won’t.
Steph: I’ve got three albums to convince you with.
Alex still hadn’t changed her mind after the second song.
Or the third. Or fourth, or fifth, or sixth, or seventh…
“Just LIE to her,” Charlotte begged, both of her palms pressed against her temples as a combination of screaming and aggressive drumming emanated through the bar. “Alex, please free this town from your girlfriend’s musical prison.”
“I’m not lying,” Alex protested weakly, as she rubbed her head. “I cannot tell her with a straight face that I like this band.”
“Then YOU do something,” Charlotte turned to Ryan, who didn’t look any happier than her. “Change to a different station.”
“This is Haven Springs,” he reminded her grimly. “There IS no other station.”
“Then turn it off!”
He winced. “…. Steph sent me a text twenty minutes ago, reminding me that I’m contractually obligated not to.”
“Why the hell not?!” Charlotte asked incredulously.
“She put the sound system in. And cut me a discount if I left it on her station during prime air time.”
The front door was practically kicked open as Riley stormed in, slamming her hands on the bar as she glared at Alex. “Make your girlfriend stop,” she ordered. “I cannot take this anymore.”
“Oh my God, what am I supposed to do?!” Alex asked incredulously. “She wants me to admit that this band is good!”
“Then lie to her!”
“Don’t.” Charlotte sighed, dropping her hands on the bar. “It’s a lost cause, trust me.”
“Why can’t you just turn off YOUR radio?” Ryan asked pointedly.
“I totally WOULD, but the controls are in the office, and Nana locked it up when she left to get more supplies.”
“Then why didn’t you go see Steph? The record store is across the street from you.”
“I tried. She locked the front door.” Riley looked back at Alex. “Do something. Make her put on another band, before I take drastic measures.”
Alex sighed. “I’ll try again,” she allowed as she retrieved her phone.
Alex: You need to stop. Please. People are coming into the bar to complain.
Steph: Admit that these guys rock.
Steph: Then it’s about to be a long day for them.
She looked back up to everyone staring at her expectantly. “… don’t hate me?” she asked hopefully.
“Alex.” Riley leaned forward. “I am trying to study while watching Nana’s flower shop, and I can’t focus with these guys playing. This is going to seriously hurt my grades.”
“And it’s not gonna help the bar stay in business,” Ryan added. “Nobody’s going to stick around with this playing all day. We’re literally the only ones here.”
“I don’t have an altruistic reason,” Charlotte admitted. “I just want it to end.”
Alex bit her lip as she looked at her phone.
… fuck it.
“I… have one more card I can play,” she admitted, as she started typing. “I was just hoping that I wouldn’t have to use it.”
Alex: Okay, babe, I’ve had enough.
Steph: Do you finally submit?
Alex: If you don’t stop this, right now?
Alex: The odds of a makeout session tonight are going to drop by 100%.
She tried to keep herself from blushing as she sent the last message, making it a point not to look at the others. Please go for it…
Steph: Wait, for real?
Steph: Like, is that seriously on the table?
Alex: But only if this ends.
There was a thirty-second pause before the next message.
Steph: Damn, babe, look at you playing dirty.
Alex: Only when I have to.
Steph: I’ll stop.
Alex breathed a sigh of relief, before she noticed the blinking dots of more incoming messages.
Steph: Buuuuuuuttttt… you cheated.
Steph: So now, as rules dictate for cheaters…
Steph: You must suffer the consequences.
The song over their heads slowly faded out. “Oh, thank you Jesus,” Riley exhaled, slowly sagging forward until she was resting completely on the bar.
Alex ignored her as she frowned, looking at Steph’s last message. What consequences?
“Okay, Haven Springs, the game is over,” Steph finally announced. “While I do not admit defeat, I have once again received a much more favorable offer from some chick to make this awesome Punk marathon end.”
Charlotte looked at Alex with a raised eyebrow.
“Of course, me being a lady, I will never disclose the terms of this offer,” Steph added. “But let’s return to our Pride music, shall we? Just for some chick, and without reading too much into it, here’s Sapphic Plastic’s top single, Heavy Petting.”
Alex froze, staring in horror at the speakers above her as Steph placed emphasis on the song’s title.
… oh my God, she just did that.
She slowly looked down at the others, all of whom were staring at her silently. And quite obviously trying not to laugh, as her face grew hotter and hotter.
Until Riley let a snort escape her.
Then it was game over. Ryan, Charlotte, and Riley began laughing hysterically as Alex buried her burning-hot face in both hands and slowly sank below the bar.