Beating Heart (Chapter 4)

New to the story? First read Chapter One, Broken Heart, here. Then read Chapter Two, Black Heart, here. After that, it's on to Chapter Three, Bleeding Heart, here

Scent Notes: Butter pecan ice cream with tiny speckles of salt and crystalized honey.

Crystal checked her watch. Late, again, she thought to herself, rolling her eyes so hard her mom would’ve joked that they’d get stuck that way if she could see Crystal doing it now. She was at her local bar, the Broken Heart, which was currently so busy she’d had to wedge herself into the far back corner at a table that barely fit just her in order to have any space at all. It was great, in a way, to see this place so busy, but seeing all these couples holding hands and flaunting their love in her face made her a little testy. All the alcohol she’d had to drink so far wasn’t helping the situation, either, but he was late, as always. What was she supposed to do in a packed bar anyway? She’d had a shitty day at work, her boyfriend was late to meet her for Valentine’s Day, and she was stuck in the back corner of a bar all by herself, surrounded by couples. It wasn’t the first time he was late meeting her here, and they’d had a few drunken arguments in this place, but she still loved its warm, welcoming atmosphere.

The one good thing was that, since she lived close and came here often, she was friendly with the bartenders and they knew her boyfriend had a habit of being, uh, later than expected, so they came to freshen up her drink often. They seemed to like her, and she always caught the subtle looks they gave her boyfriend during their occasional arguments. She also knew that if she got drunk enough they’d let her get food delivered to the bar for her to take home with her. 

Time passed. She texted her sister, “Men suck!” and her sister immediately responded with a sad emoji and the words, “They sure do!” But her sister had a steady boyfriend; she didn’t understand. Crystal tried to keep texting her to fight off the loneliness and boredom, but she stopped responding.

Crystal kept checking her phone, and every time she almost got up to leave and just go home and bail on her boyfriend who couldn’t even bother to answer her texts, the bartender would appear with a drink. “On the house, love,” they’d say and wink and walk away. They always came up with such delicious recipes! Her friend was partial to one that was very heavy on the strawberry and almost looked like blood, but that wasn’t Crystal’s flavor of choice. They had a new specialty for this year, though, was a butter pecan martini. Yes, it sounds odd, but as a butter pecan junkie who also liked booze, this was basically made for her. If they kept sending them to her for free, she certainly wasn’t going to complain.

The bar started to empty out. Her phone dinged; one conciliatory text from her boyfriend. “OMW, bringing food” it said. She knew that “OMW” meant at least another half hour, if not longer. The bartender brought her a bowl of popcorn and another round, yet again on the house. She had to remember to tip them super well, but her memory was starting to get a little fuzzy. Her sister finally texted her a sparkly heart, then, “It’s gonna be fine! He’ll show up soon!” 

Thirty minutes later, she was getting up from the table, starting to walk away and go home and make drunk ramen noodles when he finally walked in the door. By this point, all the other couples in the bar had left to go home and have Valentine’s sex, when her boyfriend finally walked in the door. “Babe! I am so, so sorry I’m a little late,” he said, kissing her roughly on the cheek. She stumbled into the nearest booth. “Where the fuck have you been?!” she asked as the bartender brought her a glass of water and shot her boyfriend the evil eye. He tried to order a drink and the bartender shut him down with a quick “No, we close in fifteen minutes,” before heading into a door marked Employees Only. 

He sighed, and Crystal looked at him skeptically as he slid into the booth next to her. “Look, babe, I’m sorry; I had a late meeting that ran really long, okay?” She took a sip of water, her head spinning. “You work at a grocery store,” she said. “What kind of meeting could you possibly have that went so late? And weren’t you going to bring us food?” She could feel her heart racing, beating, pounding in her chest. How much had she had to drink? What time was it, anyway? Why did he look so pissed off? Is that … are those lipstick marks on his neck? And why does he smell like….

Crystal gasped so loudly and dramatically that he reflexively lurched back from her. “You’re fucking my sister! You smell like her perfume!” He rolled his eyes. “C’mon, babe, that’s insane, you’re crazy. How can you put this on me? You’re the one who’s drunk for Valentine’s day, for our nice date night. That’s so rude.” But she knew it. That’s how her sister knew he’d be there soon; that’s why she stopped responding to Crystal’s messages; that’s why her boyfriend had been so late. Crystal started sobbing. “Babe, shut up, come on, let me take you home,” he said, standing up and trying to grab her arm to get her out of the booth. “No, don’t TOUCH me!” she yelled. He got angrier. “I said, let’s get OUT OF HERE!” “Oh, I am definitely getting out of here!” Crystal responded. She stood up, heading out of the booth backwards, keeping her eyes on her former boyfriend. But she moved too fast and the combination of anger and alcohol made her trip and fall backwards. She breaks her fall by turning on her side and using her arms, but her head still hit the floor. She saw him start to come over to her, and heard someone else start yelling at him to back off. Her vision was fluttering; she could hear them yelling, someone mentioned a knife, then there was a scream, then everything went dark.

Crystal awoke with a start in the booth padded back corner booth of the bar. She was drenched in a cold sweat; her mouth tasted like butter pecan and regret, and she was absolutely still drunk and completely confused. Her brain felt like it was screaming. Was her boyfriend really sleeping with her sister? How long was she out for? What was up with the knife? She let out a small scream when she realized she wasn’t alone in the booth; the bartender was sitting next to her. She handed Crystal a cup of coffee. “Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s alright,” she said to Crystal. “It’s okay. He’s not here. We, uh, scared him off when you fell; we were afraid he might attack you. We don’t stand for that kind of thing happening in our bar or anywhere else. He won’t be bothering you again.” Crystal nodded, then drank a few sips of coffee, trying to clear her head, which ached terribly. She looked at the bartender. “Did you … was there a knife? I remember a knife.” The bartender chuckled. “Oh yeah, this is a women-owned-and-operated-and-staffed bar; we all carry knives. It’s just to scare people off. And it definitely scared him off! No need to fret.” She smiled a wide smile at Crystal, who felt comforted, but her head kept pounding. “I think I need to go home,” Crystal said, scooting out of the booth. 

“You live close by, right? We’ve seen you here a lot. Can I walk you home, make sure you’re okay?” Crystal nodded, relieved. This had been such an awful night; even though it was a short walk, she felt terrible and didn’t want to be alone. “Yeah, that’d be great; thank you so much,” Crystal said. They started to walk towards the door, and the bartender stopped her. “Let me grab you a bottle of water from the break room.” Yes, water would be great, Crystal thought, the edges of her eyes blurry. Did she have a concussion or just too much alcohol? She looked over and saw the Employees Only door cracked open a bit, and was that…. Was that her boyfriend’s foot? That’s definitely his shoe. And was that … blood?! Crystal shook her head, which made her so dizzy she stumbled and almost fell, clinging onto a table for support. She tried to take a step toward the door when the bartender hurried out, shutting the door behind her. 

“Oh wow, you definitely need some water. Drink this; I’ll get you home safe. I promise.” 

“Was that … did I … is my boyfriend….”

“Oh, he’s long gone, honey. He won’t be bothering you again. Let’s get you home so you can rest. You deserve it.” She smiled widely, and the two walked out the door.

Scent Notes: Butter pecan ice cream with tiny speckles of salt and crystalized honey.

Continue on to the next chapter, Heavy Heart, here!