I wearily push open the door of the bar. They have a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window and I am desperate. I’d come to New York City six months earlier convinced I was going to be the next big thing. After all, in my home county I am a BFD; but that doesn’t mean jack shit here. In Sweden, everyone knew my name; I’d been famous since I was a kid. Hell, I’d been named Sweden’s sexiest man five times! But in the Big Apple, I am just another pretty face. I’ve been on countless auditions, but nothing has come of it. I don’t want to go back home because I will feel like a failure, and I don’t want to give my father the satisfaction of being right. That fucker said I wouldn’t amount to anything and I was a fucking idiot for leaving my home and family for something I’ve have no future in. My father, ladies and gentlemen, what a winner he is.
I’ve spent the last two days searching for a job because I’m almost out of money. I was fired from my last job because I bailed on a shift to go to an audition. In all fairness, I did tell my manager that I needed the day off, but he was a fucking prick and scheduled me anyways. I guess he was pissed at me since I’d fucked his girlfriend . . . twice.
The bar is nearly empty, but that isn’t surprising given the early hour. There is one patron sitting at the bar while the bartender dries glasses and hangs them in the racks above the bar. There are staff members moving around the room, lowering chairs to the floor and wiping off tables. Musicians are sitting on the stage quietly practicing songs as someone works the sound board. Another crew member climbs among the lighting, replacing bulbs as needed.
I approach the bartender hoping he can point me in the direction of the owner. “Excuse me,” I say as politely as possible.
The bartender snaps without looking in my direction, “What?” He is a muscular black man wearing snug black pants and a black button-down shirt. The bartender turns to me with a look of irritation, but his demeanor instantly changes. Now that he is facing me, I can see that he has no hair on his face or head. When he saunters (yes, I said saunters) along the length of the bar to stand in front of me, I can see that he is wearing purple eye shadow, fake eyelashes, and purple sparkly nail polish. He licks his full lips as he looks me up and down. “Well hello Handsome! How can I help you? It will be my absolute pleasure to serve you.” The bartender gives me a flirtatious smile and wink. I can’t help it, I laugh; I’m European so being hit on by a gay man doesn’t bother me.
Trying to gain his favor, I smile flirtatiously. “I was hoping to apply for a job; I saw the ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window.”
“You’re hired,” the bartender says instantly. “You can be my eye-candy every night.”
“Don’t mind Lafayette,” the man sitting at the bar tells me. He rises, and moves towards me. He is a slender looking guy in a three-piece suit. “My name is Sam Merlotte, and this is my bar,” he says while extending his hand to me. His hand shake is surprisingly firm given how scrawny he looks.
“Eric Northman,” I respond. It’s not my real name, but American’s cannot pronounce my name properly.
“So Eric, you ever work in a bar before?” Sam gazes at me, assessing me. His brown eyes stare intently from beneath the mop of shaggy brown hair, a startling contrast to the businessman look of his suit.
“No I have not,” I answer honestly and I see the interest fade from Sam’s face. I try to recover by saying jokingly, “But I’ve been a frequent customer in bars.” My heart sinks; I can already see the ‘thanks but no thanks’ look on Sam’s face.
Before Sam can even speak, Lafayette interjects. “Don’t you even think about turning him down Sam! It’s Friday night; we’re gonna be slammed, and I’m not manning this bar all by myself!”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Who’s the owner here? Last time I checked, it was my name listed as proprietor.”
Lafayette gives Sam a haughty look in return. “And who do you think it is that makes you all your money? It damn sure ain’t the waitresses since there is only half a brain between the four of ‘em!” Lafayette gestures towards the waitresses that are roaming the floor of the club before slapping his fist against the wood of the bar. “You need me Sam, and I’m tellin’ you I need help behind this damn bar!”
I watch the exchange between the two men with avid interest. It seems as if Lafayette has changed Sam’s mind because he turns back to me with a sigh. “You do whatever Lafayette tells you,” Sam orders. “Normal uniform is black dress pants and a black button-down shirt. There’s a shop two blocks over where you can get the shirt; those pants and shoes will do for tonight. This is a trial basis only. If you manage to survive tonight and tomorrow then we’ll talk about you having a job. Understand?”
“Yes sir!” I nod my head emphatically as I vigorously shake Sam’s hand. Sam walks away from the bar mumbling under his breath about “fucking diva bartenders”. I don’t care; I have a fucking job!
“Thank you,” I exclaim to Lafayette. “I mean it, I really needed a job.”
“Oh don’t thank me yet Handsome,” Lafayette says solemnly. “You’s gonna be run ragged tonight and tomorrow. If you survive, then we can talk about how you can thank me,” he says with a wink and a smirk. “I suggest you do as the boss man says and go buy yourself a black shirt. When you get back, we’ll go over the basics to get you through tonight.”
Holy fuck do my feet hurt! Lafayette wasn’t kidding when he said the bar would be slammed. Every table is occupied and there is very little space to maneuver around the club. We have worked nonstop since seven and it’s almost nine now. The band has played background music for the last half hour, and the patrons seem to be getting restless. Fortunately, most of the patrons have simple tastes in drinks: wine, beer, and scotch neat. The crowd definitely has a Mad Men vibe to it. I knew when I entered the club it wasn’t a neighborhood dive, but I had no idea the clientele would be so high-end. The men are dressed in designer suits while the women that accompany them are wrapped in jewels the colors of the rainbow.
There is a lull at the bar which allows Lafayette and me to catch our breath. “You weren’t kidding when you said this place would be packed. Is it always like this?”
Lafayette nods his head before taking a healthy swallow from his bottle of water. “Friday and Saturday nights are killers. It’s the only nights when we have live entertainment.”
I think nothing more about it until all the lights in the bar dim. The band goes silent as the stage area is completely dark. A hush falls over the crowd. I lean forward on the bar, curious to see what all the fuss is about; surely it can’t be as good as everyone is making out.
A sultry voice begins humming into the microphone filling the silence of the club. It seems as if all the patrons of the bar lean forward trying to hear the voice better. As the words and music of the song begin, a single white spotlight illuminates the stage. The light seems to create a glow around the singer as if she is an angel. Her voice certainly could belong in the choir of angels. I am entranced as the singer weaves her magic, her voice full of emotion as she sings about finally finding love.
As the last note of the song fades away, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause; I, too, am clasping in appreciation for the beauty I have just witnessed.
“Who is that?” I gesture towards the stage in case Lafayette didn’t hear my question.
“That’s Sookie,” he tells me with a smile. Lafayette’s smile is one of genuine affection as he looks to the songbird on the stage. He hustles to the end of the bar when a patron gestures to him for a drink refill, which leaves me free to watch the beauty on the stage.
From this distance, she looks to be a tiny thing; she looks to be almost a foot shorter than me. But her body is absolutely mouth-watering; her hourglass figure is shown off to perfection in a skintight black sheath dress that frames two of the most perfect breasts I’ve ever seen. Her blonde hair is swept back from her face in some fancy up do that creates a halo around her head. The make-up on her face makes her eyes look smoky while her lips are painted a bright cherry red. She looks like a torch singer from the old forties and fifties movies my grandmother used to watch as she stands with her hands caressing the microphone as if it’s her lover. Her cherry red lips are so close to the microphone that it gives me images of what her lips would look like wrapped around a suddenly active part of my anatomy.
For two hours, the blonde songstress enchanted the patrons of the club. She sang a variety of songs, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Foo Fighters. I was impressed with her selections; she didn’t seem to shy away from anything. She even gave the members of the band a brief rest in the middle of the show; the only accompaniment to her beautiful voice were the notes from the piano as she played. Besides singing, she bantered with the audience, making each person feel as if they were part of her show. She even indulged a few members of the crowd by singing a few requests. Like the audience, I was disappointed when she sang her final song of the night; I could listen to her sing forever.
Once the performance was over, it was as if a switch was flipped. Gone was the feeling of a smoky nightclub; it was replaced by loud dance music that got the patrons up dancing. The bar was once again slammed with customers and Lafayette and I hustled until he rang the bell for last call at 1:30 am. I wanted to weep for joy; my entire body was aching. I had no idea that being a bartender was so labor-intensive. I feel like such an ass now for all the times I’d given bartenders a hard time because they weren’t quick enough to get my drink.
At 1:55 am, the lights on the club came on, blinding everyone with their brightness. It took me several seconds to adjust to the bright light after having been in the club’s semi-darkness for the last however many hours. I began washing the bar glasses as Lafayette wipes down the countertops. He then begins restocking the shelves in preparation for the opening of business later today. I can’t believe in a little over 18 hours we’d be doing this all over again. The thought has me wanting to break down and cry. Sam comes behind the bar to close out the registers for the night. Security works to push the few straggling customers out the door. When the last of the customers are out the door, the security guards bolt the doors closed.
“So how did your first night go Eric?” Sam has a pencil between his teeth as he counts the cash in the register. My eyes widen fractionally; I’ve never seen that much cash at one time in my life. There is easily several thousand dollars in twenties alone.
“It was harder than I thought it would be,” I answer honestly. “My feet are killing me. I don’t know how you do it every night,” I say with a look of respect to Lafayette.
“You get used to it,” he says with a shrug. “But every night isn’t like this; I usually only work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sometimes I’ll work another night during the week, but that’s only if Sam needs me. Sam usually mans the bar Sunday through Wednesday. We had another bartender, but he quit earlier this week. Got himself a part in the chorus of a show on Broadway, the lucky bitch; hope he breaks his damn leg!” Lafayette pours himself a large shot of tequila and tosses the contents back. He pours himself another shot and reaches for another shot glass. “You want one?”
My eyes flicker to Sam, seeing if he has a problem with his bartender drinking while on the clock. Sam sees my concern and smiles around the pencil still in his mouth. “I don’t mind if you have a drink or two once we close; lord knows we all need it sometimes. No drinking while we’re open, even if the patrons offer to buy you a drink.” That seems fair to me; wouldn’t want your staff drunk while working.
“I’d rather have a beer if you don’t mind.”
“Help yourself,” Lafayette gestures to the beer refrigerator. Sam has a great beer selection; nearly a hundred different beers on tap or in bottles and all of them are popular with the customers.
“I’ll take that shot, Lala,” a sweet, soft, Southern voice says while my back is to the bar. When I turn around, I find myself looking into the eyes of the sultry songstress from earlier. Except now, she looks more like the girl-next-door type instead of a sexpot. From what I can see, she’s sans any make-up, has her hair in a loose ponytail, and is wearing a white t-shirt. Lafayette pours a generous shot for her which she easily picks up and downs in one large gulp. She’s absolutely adorable in that she does a full body shiver once she swallows.
She stares at me with interest. “Who’s your friend, Lafayette?”
“Sookie Stackhouse, I’d like you to meet Eric Northman. He’s the bartender Sam hired this evening.”
I extend my hand across the bar to shake hers, engulfing her tiny hand in my own. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Stackhouse.” She gives me a bright smile and says it’s nice to meet me as well.
Looking back on it, I wish I had known that moment was when I met the woman I was supposed to spend my life with. Maybe if I had known just how special Sookie was to me I wouldn’t have let her go.