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Unhappy Hour

Posted on Mon Jun 10th, 2024 @ 22:15 by Sarah Bright & Alastair Temple & Matteo Beneventi
Edited on on Tue Jun 11th, 2024 @ 21:48

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: The Blue Door Inn, New Cresthill
Timeline: 5:00pm, Tuesday, December 15, 1992
4945 words - 9.9 OF Standard Post Measure

Sarah walked down the street, coat collar turned up to guard against the wind. She might not feel the cold the way most people did, but a strong breeze could certainly remind her of it. By now it was dark, this deep into the closing month of the year, which always felt strange to Sarah; she was barely an hour out of official school hours, and already she felt like she ought to be getting ready for bed, and not still out and about town. She was pleased to discover that her bicycle had a working headlamp, a feature she'd overlooked during her initial purchase what now felt like a hundred years ago, and not just a few months. She missed Charlie. Her bike was fine, but riding it in the dark, on icy roads in winter while wearing a skirt was not exactly her idea of fun. She would like to have her car back, even if it still had a few dents and dings, but she wasn't holding onto hope--Charlie had looked like a goner, for sure. But that was why she was here in town, to find out from Mhairi just how bad the bill would be.

Reaching the iconic blue door or the aptly named inn, Sarah tried not to dwell on whether her bike would soon become another casualty of village fuckery. It was chained up only a short distance away in a bike rack adjacent to the inn, but she'd seen that movie already, hadn't she? She dispelled the thought as the pulled open the door, trusting that today would deal her a better hand. For a moment she was taken back by the noise, and the sight of so many people she didn't know clustered together in a small space. She was more like the stereotypical quiet, demure librarian type than she was to the contrary, and pubs were really not her thing. But this was where Mhairi had suggested they meet, and Sarah was not about to argue. Besides, maybe getting her face known to more of the locals in town would save her stuff from getting smashed up in the future. Or that was the hope.

Sarah didn't see Mhairi yet, so she moved up to the bar to decide on something to drink, and ask if they had a menu. She was reminded that she ought to feel hungry, too.

It turned out, Matt had soon realised, that there were certain priorities that transcended the boundaries set out by logical consequence and any semblance of equality. If you were a small town baker, for example, even if your establishment was locally renown and very popular, you still ranked lower on the list than purveyors of beer, wine and spirits when it came to scheduling productivity-saving repairs. He had spent at least some of the morning, completely unexpectedly, helping board up an empty window pane after the overnight wind had worked it loose and had frankly been surprised that Gabby was still waiting on the replacement glass that would allow her to restore some semblance of calm to her daily routines. The pub had sported freshly replaced windows within 24 hours of the rock-tossing incident, which just went to show that you could deny a Scotsman his bread at a pinch, but leave him dry-mouthed and all hell broke loose.

It also probably didn't help that the two Greggs stores seemed to have shop-fronts made of solid titanium.

As much as it seemed a little strange to have life return to normal so quickly, Matt was at least interested to note that the vandalism hadn't curbed the enthusiasm of the regulars. It took a lot more than a rock, the publican had declared, to deter a parched man and though Matt understood that, it still felt like the shock had worn off far too quickly and that there was a very hurried rush to sweep the entire incident under the rug. He worked for the establishment known to be the most tolerant of outsiders, unless you counted the middle pub which many didn't because it seemed to exist purely on divided loyalty, and yet most of them looked sheepish and just a little uncomfortable at any mention of the attack's motivation. Mutants were still welcome, as long as they kept a lid on things and ignored the increasingly long list of transgressions directly aimed at them, apparently. He had offered to ask for new festival posters to replace the damaged ones and been met with an awkwardly cleared throat and an assurance that it 'wouldn't be necessary'. If he was honest, he was still annoyed about it.

Still, there was a job to do and it was fast becoming one of the few in town that he'd remain welcome to, so the bartender pushed himself away from the back bench where he'd been leaning in brooding introspection, and approached the newcomer in a quietly distracted way. "What can I get you?"

Sarah was still deciding whether or not to take off her coat when the bartender approached her. She looked up, and for a glimmer of an instant she thought he looked familiar. The nagging feeling went as quickly as it had come though. Unlike memories at the edge of recollection, like buoys bobbing in rough seas, this one has surfaced for only an instant, before staying submerged for good. She dismissed the notion and focused on his question. What would she have?

Normally Sarah did not drink alcohol. She'd never developed a taste for beer or wine, and since liquor did not have the same intoxicating effect on her that others sought after, it was even less of an appealing option. Dates, family gatherings and business encounters were really the only times she indulged to appease social expectations, if only to fit in. The sole exceptions to this were cream liquers, which she saw as a nice treat to wind down with after a long day, and the occasional splash of whiskey in her coffee when the appropriate situation presented itself. This seemed one of those times.

"Scotch coffee, please. A local mid-shelf if you've got some, otherwise Black-label will do." Sarah said somewhat distractedly as she reached down for her messenger bag and retrieved her thermos. Truth be told, she wasn't positive that there was such a thing as Scotch coffee, but Irish coffee was definitely a thing, and it stood to reason that the Scots would have their own take on the drink. "Oh and please use this if you haven't got a fresh pot on. It's from the café just up the road." She added, placing her dinged and dented, yet sturdy metal thermos on the counter. She half expected the bartender to tell her that he wasn't allowed to do that, a line she'd heard several times before in bars back home in Boston. She was rarely a frequent-enough customer that bartenders would trust her brought-in cocktail ingredients... even if it was just coffee. But New Cresthill was a far cry from Boston, and one way or another she would have to learn local etiquette. As she waited for a reply, Sarah glanced down the bar, where in the distance she could see the familiar neon lights of a jukebox beckoning.

The slight hitch of an eyebrow wasn't so much a matter of judgement as it was amusement, which went a long way to improving Matt's expression. Reaching out, he drew the pre-purchased coffee over and removed the lid, peering down into the contents. As was to be expected, staring into a thermos didn't really help with estimation of contents, not when the pitch black of the coffee was difficult enough to pick up in the low, ambient light. "How much is in here?," he queried, using one hand to reach for a shot measure whilst the other stretched upwards for the first of a selection of whiskeys he had a mind to offer.

Alastair made his way inside, the tall man pausing a moment in the establishment's entrance to take in the sights. Business had taken him to New Cresthill this afternoon after school, and he'd taken the opportunity to visit the Blue Door. He'd been here before and enjoyed the atmosphere, and he found himself in the mood for a coffee. With that in mind he stepped inside, unbuttoning the front of his dramatic black woolen greatcoat. That's when he spied Sarah, and smiled, making his way over. "Hey Sarah, didn't expect you here. Hello Matteo, how are things?"

"About eight cups.... or four mugs. Plenty if you're also up for one..." She trailed off as a familiar man's voice called out her name. "...and him." She added, rolling her eyes to the side in a gesturing glance. She looked over to confirm her suspicions.

"Oh hey Al." She said, trying to balance her attention between the two men. She did want to greet her friend and colleague, but she was also in the middle of placing an order and didn't want to come across as ignoring the bartender. Sarah might not know a lot about bar etiquette, but she knew enough to know that that was a good way to get bumped down on the serving order. "I'm meeting someone shortly, but you're welcome to join me in the meantime." Sarah added cryptically as she turned back toward Al and gestured to the adjacent stool. Though technically her upcoming appointment with Mhairi wasn't of a personal nature, it would no doubt heavily feature boring shop and money talk, and might also include a cameo appearance of Sarah crying.

"No drinking on the clock," Matt replied with a faint smile. "Just asking to get the ratio right." He flicked his attention towards the new arrival, who would arguably have been difficult to forget had there been any sort of reciprocal tendency in play. "Good evening, Mr. Tenpull." A slight twinkle in his eye recalled the moment Leo had introduced the music teacher during the festival, just flustered enough to take several attempts at the man's name before finally getting it right. At the time, Matt had felt slightly guilty because it was never easy for his young brother to deal with the way the world brushed the older mutant aside but the moment had been salvaged by Alastair's quick wit and now the memory only served as a slight amusement. "Are you ordering?"

Sarah nodded. She'd been half-expecting that response, but in truth she would've been fine with him sharing just a cup of plain coffee.With her drink order placed, Sarah put some money on the bar then stood as the bartender turned to Al. She gestured to her friend that she would be right back, then made her way over to the jukebox. She couldn't help but run her hands over the machine as she prepared to begin her almost ritualized selection process. Sarah loved jukeboxes, enough so that she actually had a vintage model back in her apartment in Boston--a housewarming present of sorts from her grandparents when she first moved out on her own. This one was old too, and as she scrolled through the song catalog she found that it was random and all over the place, her favorite kind. Some bars catered to a certain crowd and had jukeboxes that reflected that. Granted Sarah was limited like that too in many respects, but not about music.

The librarian's jukebox ritual was simple, she picked four songs that fit into the theme of, of all things, a bridal tradition: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Her interpretation of it had nothing to do with weddings really, an ex girlfriend had actually pointed out the similarity to her. The coins went in, and and she made her selections. The old and new songs incidentally both had the same name. Crazy by Patsy Cline, and then Crazy by Seal. As for something borrowed, that meant a song she knew someone else liked. In this case that was a guess. Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins seemed like something Mhairi would like, and so she used it as a focus for a summoning incantation, or sorts. Something blue was never a sad song, as some might guess. It was blue as in blue skies... a song that made her feel good. Without hesitation she picked The Rain, the Park and Other Things by the Cowsills as it made her think of Dee.

With her songs selected and in the queue, she finished the ritual by placing an extra coin on the jukebox's button panel, for the next person to use. It wasn't quite a sixpence like the bridal tradition called for, but it would do. She picked her way back to her stool at the bar, hoping that she hadn't kept Al waiting for long.

"Close enough," Al shrugged a bit at being called Mr Tenpull. It wasn't that far off really, and he wasn't going to correct the man. Gaze following Sarah for a moment as the latter set off to provide ambiance through the means of music. A smile as he recognized the first song immediately, a quick 3/4, the piano notes opening on a minor chord over a minor key, lifting to a major chord, then settling down on a minor again.

"Just some espresso please, thank you," he added to Matteo. Some times it paid to keep things simple, and honestly, he needed a little jolt of energy after all the goings-on of recent days.

With the efficiency of a man used to working in the background, Matt retreated to set both tasks in motion, finishing first with Sarah's flask which was returned and placed in front of her reeking of a little more than roasted arabica. It made an interesting contrast for the fresh aroma of grinding beans already underway to fill Alastair's order. In the midst of it, the shrill sound of the pub phone cut through as an interruption and the bartender negotiated his way around the corner, still tamping down the grounds into the portafilter, to answer it.

"Holy sh--" Sarah cut herself off when she realized she was breathing her thoughts aloud. She looked at the thermos, which was now fully spiked with whiskey. She'd meant for the bartender to just pour enough from the thermos for a mug of scotch coffee... not the whole thing. She hadn't really made the connection when Matteo had asked her how much the thermos could hold, as she was pretty sure no bartender back home would serve drinks to-go. Scottish folk didn't mess around, apparently. Hopefully she'd be able to persuade Mhairi to finish off the thermos with her, as it was no longer suitable for tomorrow's early morning pick-me-up routine, before Valjean got the communal pot brewing. There was no way that much would even come close to making her intoxicated, but still... whiskey breath was not a trait she wanted to have tacked on to her professional reputation. Certainly not when the students were already calling her 'moonshine.' She didn't even know what that was about.

"I didn't mean the whole thing..." Sarah whispered under her breath to Al with a sheepish laugh, feeling awkwardly chagrined at a work colleague witnessing her stocking up on booze. She couldn't help but pour a cup into the cap though; she had after all wanted one, and was curious to see how this regional flavor differed from what she was used to.

Seeing Matteo distracted from completing his order he made an exaggerated sulky face at the bartender before turning his attention back to Sarah. "Wow. You've got plans," Alastair said jokingly, motioning at Sarah's thermos of booze. Yeah it was an easy joke, but those still needed to be said. That was his excuse and he was sticking by it. Alternatively, someone had to say it. "Didn't expect you here, Sarah. How's Charlie?" He'd heard what had happened and was genuinely sympathetic. It might just have been a cheap, near-derelict old Marina, but it was her cheap, near derelict Marina, and she'd obviously cared about the car. His heart had broken when he'd heard Charlie got vandalized, to the point where he was trying to think of ways he could help fix the car.

Sarah displayed a pained but playful grimace as Al took full advantage of the moment. Of course he would point out that he was well aware of how she feared things looked for her at this moment in time. But at least she didn't have to worry about him gossiping about it to the other teachers. Or would she? She shook her head as if to deny the unspoken accusation, thought it was mostly to dispel unwanted considerations from her mind and focus on him... and the warm drink in her hands.

"I'm... uh, actually here to find out. Mhairi suggested we meet up here. I'm not sure sure if that's a good or a bad thing." Sara mused as she nursed her drink.

"Well, it's a thing," Al tilted his head, considering. He hadn't known Mhairi long or talked to her much, but the impression he got from her was that she was a capable mechanic, learning the trade from another capable and very knowledgeable person. Whatever needed to happen to Charlie, if she was salvageable at all, the fact that Mahiri wanted to discuss it in person rather than over the phone meant that she respected Sarah's feelings and reaction as well. "Want me to come along? I know a thing or two about cars and restoring them, I restored Omen myself."

Al gave a nod to Matteo, still on the phone, as the latter slid his espresso over. The music teacher replied in kind by sliding over a few bank notes, enough for the drink and a moderately generous tip.

Sarah was silent for a moment as she sipped on her drink. After a quiet sigh she shrugged. It was personal business, but it wasn't personal; it was just a car. And it wasn't like she was going to cry again. And it certainly wouldn't be her first time bringing a car guy along for a second opinion either. It was just a difficult choice to make, which went beyond a car, money and parts for repairs, and part of her was hoping to keep the number of witnesses to that to a minimum.

"Sure, I guess..." Sarah said, with some hesitation. She'd had more to say, but trailed off, neither sure about the words she wanted to say, nor whether she really wanted to say them.

"A'ight," Al smiled, taking a sip of his drink. Still hot, but he savored the taste. "Sounds good to me," Beat. "Mhairi is good people, she won't steer you wrong." Part of him really wanted to help Sarah with this. He couldn't stand the idea of something like this happening to Omen. And if he could help in any way, including financially, he would.

Sarah winced as she took another sip of scotch coffee. It wasn't the drink that had elicited the reaction, as the whiskey mixed in with vanilla latte practically chased itself. She'd winced because it seemed like Al was thinking that she was worried over getting fleeced by Mhairi. If anything, the opposite seemed closer to the truth. Sarah had nearly fallen to pieces after the event, and who knew if the mechanic was still expecting her to be in a fragile state. She was probably calling every junkyard within fifty miles to fix up a twenty year old shitbox that wasn't even worth the petrol needed to deliver the parts. She very nearly said those exact words aloud, but decided to mince words instead, as the slang term for junk car she was used to might see very different usage here. She had been ejected from a bar in under five minutes before, but that was not a personal record she was looking to break today. Certainly not before the first song had even finished playing.

"You ever seen the movie Christine?" Sarah said cryptically as she turned to look at Al, her expression offering few insights as to where she was going with this line of questioning.

"I Have. Evil possessed red 1958 Plymouth Fury?" Al smiled. "Fun movie. Except that Plymouth didn't offer that particular shade of red in that model year. Though, I suppose that helps illustrate how rare and special Christine was to begin with," he offered, before taking another sip of his drink.

Sarah smiled a little smugly. She didn't really know Al all that well, but she was not surprised at his concise and overly thorough synopsis and commentary. "I suspect Charlie has that kind of reputation here. You should see the looks I got driving her, and kids ran... screaming. I'm not sure if its me, working at Avalon, or just the car... back on the road again." She visibly shuddered. "Mhairi didn't want to sell it to me, but if it had a reputation, I don't think she knew. She wanted to sell me a red Scirocco, but I guess I kind of figured something like this would happen. and that a red car would only provoke people sooner. Saved myself a few hundred quid in the end I guess." She finished with a shrug. What was left unsaid hung thickly in the air, and might be easy to see for anyone who worked at Avalon, or had fallen victim to small town discrimination and violence. Why go through the trouble of fixing the car up again, if was just going to make certain folks even angrier? It had been bats and a knife this time. What would be next? Molotovs and a gun?

The sound of the phone fitting back into its cradle was promptly followed by the re-emergence of the bartender, who slid a scribbled note across to Sarah on his way to continue cleaning out the coffee machine for the next use. The note itself was a mere courtesy, a habit of sorts so that there was a tangible reminder lest his words fail to stick for any length of time, but the handwriting was illegible enough that trying to decode it without at least some context probably would have been more hassle than it was worth. Thankfully, Matt still consented to add a verbal indicator. "Mhairi said she's been held up but she'll be on her way in a bit." If he'd overheard their conversation at all, he didn't make mention of it, though being tucked away out of sight had probably left him distracted enough to remain oblivious.

"Ah but you don't believe it's haunted or possessed, or you wouldn't have bought it," To be honest, Al didn't quite know what Sarah was getting at, and seemed oblivious to anything unsaid, left hanging in the air. All he saw was a colleague who cared about something, that something got messed up by vandals, and he happened to be in a position where he figured he might actually be of help.

Sarah had been struggling to read the note when the bartender thankfully told her its message. She was not usually one to judge a person for poor penmanship, as she'd been a notorious offender in years past. Tutoring, discipline and loads of practice had improved it greatly, to the point where she was now the go-to wedding invitation calligrapher in her intercontinental extended family, but her personal shorthand for her own personal notes was still admittedly bad. She couldn't help but wonder if the bartender had his own struggles with handwriting like she'd had, or if he simply couldn't be bothered. No matter. She wasn't nearly so rude that she would comment on it. And besides, her friend on the neighboring barstool was intent on monopolizing on her concerns. Though to be fair, she did continue to indulge him with food for thought.

"Thank you, and this is lovely." Sarah said to Matteo with a smile before he turned his attention to other tasks. She took another ship of the drink, and noticed that she was almost done with the first cup. With Mhairi running late, the rest in the thermos might not go to waste after all.

"I didn't know anything about the car when I bought it from Graeme's." Sarah admitted. It had been love at first sight, but then again she was prone to that particular irrationality. though with things more than with people. She was grateful that Cameron hadn't tried to talk her out of buying it. She wasn't entirely certain that he would've been able to. "I overheard people talking about it in town earlier. Saying good riddance." Granted, Sarah was near sure she'd been meant to overhear, but still. Al was right that she didn't believe in haunted cars. If she were to guess what the fuss was about, she would figure its previous owner for some ornery old-timer with a lead foot, failing eyes, and loads of luck that had all but forced the town to band together to revoke their driving privileges. And just when they thought the streets were safe again, Charlie was back, with a Masshole behind the wheel that drove like the post-apolcalyptic Road Warrior.

The Masshole in her wanted nothing more than to have Charlie Frankensteined into the Road Warrior's Pursuit Special out of sheer spite, but thankfully that was a quiet voice, easily drowned out by one that reminded her that she had to live near this town... as did Mhairi, who would no doubt be seen as responsible for its resurrection.

"What would you do? If someone hurt Omen?" Sarah asked, wishing she could take the words back immediately after saying them. It was not the same. She'd bought a junker, slapped on some duct tape, sunk her first paycheck in for repairs, and named it after her favorite shoes. The amount of time, money, and care Al had put into his car made any such comparison inappropriate to the extreme. "I'm sorry, Al. I shouldn't have said that." She quickly added, bracing for him to put down his drink and walk away.

Alastair was ever more confused at the direction Sarah was going with the conversation. At her apology he shrugged a bit and decided to answer her question anyways, intending to show he'd taken no offense. "Well, first I'd be really upset. Five stages of grief and everything. Then I would get a significant pay-out from insurance. I'd also pursue whoever did it to the fullest extent of the law, with the wrath of someone who doesn't let go, and can afford a good private investigator. Finally I'd see about restoring her," A beat as he lifted his mug, though didn't take a sip yet. "If she's beyond repair, I'd see about getting a replacement. Not the same model, mind - there is only one Omen. Maybe a Hakosuka, those are nice." He offered her a smile, as he took that sip of his espresso.

Sarah smiled weakly, attempting to soak in some of Al's self-assured demeanor, though it was probably very clear that she was unable to mirror it. That all sounded exhausting. Physically and mentally exhausting. Sarah had endured few, if any real challenges in her life, yet to her everything felt like one And whenever she showed signs of buckling under the pressure, her family was there, either to ease her burden, or throw money at the problem to make it go away. It felt like the only significant challenge she'd faced head on and overcame was her education, but even that she hadn't faced alone. Her parents had spent thousands, upon thousands of dollars on private tutors, who prepped her on subjects one, sometimes two semesters ahead.. so she could keep her failures private, outside of the classroom, and most importantly, off of her grade point average.

For ten years Sarah had been an adult, though not an entirely functional one. She was only now starting to realize that many things in life couldn't be prepared for. She was going to have to muddle her way through, and hopefully learn from her experiences. She couldn't help but focus on one takeaway from this experience, to the exclusion of all else: associating with mutants... other mutants was fucking dangerous, and she was scared.

In that moment Sarah felt like a crazy person, even more so than usual. Al's personal reactions to the dilemma she faced had been immediate, sequenced, rational, and would no doubt be effective. In contrast, Sarah was not in a good position to do any of those things. Charlie herself was not insured against damages, she'd refused to get the police involved, and to the best of her knowledge, she could not afford a private investigator, and would likely struggle with the cost of repairs or a replacement. What she had done decisively was put some coins in a jukebox and choose two songs with the same name that perfectly summed up her state of mind, and played them aloud for the entire bar to hear. Not that anyone was even paying attention, let alone reading into her selections.

"Want some?" Sarah asked Al as she began to pour herself another cup of scotch coffee. She doubted he would, given that he'd distinctly ordered a non-alcoholic beverage, but it seemed only polite to ask. Plus it seemed a good cover for steering the subject away from how ill-prepared she was to solve her own problems.


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