Amanda sat at the hotel bar, elbow on the counter, chin in her hand. By the entrance one of the cleaning staff mopped suggestively. The bartender arrived, rubbing a silver shaker with a dish towel.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No.” Amanda drooped on the stool like a wilted straw. “You’re closing, huh?”
“We’ve been closed for fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, sorry.” Forcing her watery spine to straighten, she gave him a weak grin. “What do I owe you?”
“I have your hotel room number, Ms. Kurtis. The charges will be on your bill at check out.”
“That will be a nice surprise.”
His half-grin dripped with concern. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, usually a woman like you doesn’t sit at my bar all night, especially dressed like that.”
Amanda snorted, and cast her gaze down at her cherry-red, halter-top dress, the slit exposing half her thigh. “What do you typically have?”
The bartender shrugged. “Business men mostly, here for conferences like the one this week. Or folks stuck overnight because of a flight cancellation.”
“I am here for the conference all right, but I guess I don’t qualify as a business man.” She shoved her empty glass at him. “I was supposed to meet someone.”
“Sort of.” Setting her purse onto the table, she jostled out her beeper, one typically blaring during the Stock Market’s open hours. Now, however, the screen remained dark. “He paged me a while ago for a drink. I knew he’d be late. I should have known he wouldn’t make it at all.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. I guess I thought there might be a chance. He’s not the kind of guy to make the same mistake twice.”
“What kept him?”
“What always has: his goddamn ego.”
“Oh.” Storing his shaker, the bartender flipped his towel over his shoulder. “What are you going to do next?”
Amanda scowled, the drumming of a distant hangover beginning at her temples adding depth to the furrows. “What are you, some kind of social worker?”
Undaunted, the bartender smirked. “I like to help out when I see a glum face.”
“Glum isn’t the word for it.” She chortled. Seizing the edge of the counter, Amanda kept her bitter humor from wobbling her off the stool.
Amanda shook her head, and then thought better of it as the glass bottles and slab of ebony bar swirled. “Stupid. I mean, I actually thought if I stayed here long enough he might show, or at least call again. I thought that this time, things might be different.”
“This guy’s worth a second chance?”
“I thought so. But I guess he doesn’t feel the same way.”
“Is he famous or something? A professor? Executive?”
“All of the above. He’s a PhD in Economics. The keynote for tomorrow’s closing festivities. He’s going to be talking about new ways to raise capital. The theory he’s been touting to all of the papers and talk shows. Probably will get him a Nobel if he stays on track.”
“Sounds like he has his hands full.”
“I know. I just…I don’t know, let my imagination get away with me. Let me think of all the possibilities, of the future. Of me being one of those things on his list again. Stupid.”
“What does the future look like now?”
“Full of pillows and aspirin.”
“That’s sounds promising.”
“I guess I’ll find out in the morning.” Sliding off the stool, Amanda braced herself on the counter until her legs steadied. “Thanks.”
“It’s part of the job.”
“I doubt that.” She dug a twenty out of her wallet.
“The drinks will—”
“Be on my hotel tab, I know. This isn’t for that.”
“You don’t need to—”
“Consider it a tip.” She heaved the bill across the counter, gave it two pats, and then regained her balance with two hands on her purse.
The bartender kept his gaze steady. “Can I give you one last tip then too?”
“Sure, shoot,” said Amanda.
“Sorry,” said the bartender.
“No.” She raised a hand, muting his apology. “You’re right. It’s advice I should have followed years ago.”
Rapid knocks against the glass dissolved the bartender’s smile.
“Boss?” The attendant with the mop hovered by the front door.
“We’re closed,” said the bartender, glancing along the counter as if dealing with another problem in the vacant space.
“Yeah,” said the mop-wielder, “but, I think he’s here for her.”
Swiveling on her heel, Amanda faced the pointed finger being thrust at her as Don communicated in pantomime with the bar’s cleaning staff.
The bartender snorted. “That him?”
“Yeah,” said Amanda, her heart pounding against her ribs as if to break free.
“I know. Thanks, again.”
Striding toward the doorway, Amanda wavered into a spill of light flooding the threshold. Don stopped his gesticulations and a smile crept onto his lips, regret hovering at the corners of his mouth like worn bookends.
The mop-wielder unlocked the door, and held it open as she neared.
Amanda nodded her head. “Thanks.”
She strode through and the bar’s entrance snapped shut, locking behind her with a clack.
“I’m so glad I caught you,” said Don.
Amanda gripped her purse. “Good night, Don.”
Taking the only other route to escape, Amanda strode toward the lobby.
“Wait, I can explain.” Don matched her gait.
“You don’t need to.”
“Dinner ran late, and there were some reporters with questions, and then I need to go over my notes for the speech tomorrow—”
She spun to face him.
“I don’t want to hear this.” For a moment, she clenched her eyes shut, as the same scene rose out of the past and replayed in the half bottle of gin drowning her system. Dragging in a deep breath, she met his gaze again. “We had our chance.” She leaned forward, brushing a kiss onto his cheek, and then retreated to a prudent distance. “Go back to your notes.”
“I’m better than this, Don. Better than being someone’s second, or Hell, third default, summoned after everything else’s been taken care of. I’m better than it now, just like I was better than waiting around for you seven years ago, just to be shelved.”
“I made a mistake then. I don’t want to make it again.”
“Neither do I. Have a good night, Don. My best with the speech tomorrow, and all your success after that.”
Putting her heels into action, Amanda marched across the plush carpet and stabbed her finger at the elevators’ up button. Her gaze downcast, she ignored his dumbstruck presence lingering in the corridor and the claws clutching her heart. The former vanished and latter lessened, as she entered the elevator and the doors shut, carrying her upward toward the future somehow just now, opening up before her.