I looked up at Dulcie in surprise. That was not what I’d expected to hear when she sat down opposite me in the break room. Well staff room really, we hadn’t started work yet so we weren’t in a break. Dulcie was an over sharer so I had expected some lewd details from her weekend, had even been a little bit excited to have something to tell her about. Nothing as explicit as her weekends but that dance with Tate, our second dance, had been worth talking about. Or so I had thought.
“Wow,” I managed to say as the look on her face didn’t tell me if this was good news or bad news. She just stared at me, waiting for more so I added, “A baby. Exciting?”
“Ah yeah well, maybe.” Dulcie cracked a smile but it’s tight and uncertain. “The thing is…” she shrugged and looked down at her hands that were locked around a water bottle. “I’m not sure who the daddy is.”
“Oh,” I said because really, what did you say? I wasn’t the judgemental type and I knew Dulcie had a couple of men chasing her from all of the sharing she had done before. If I thought about it, I probably wasn’t that surprised. “Well um,” I cleared my throat. “You must have some idea, right?”
“Yes!” Dulcie protested then burst out in laughter and I joined her, getting that it wasn’t really funny, this was more a stress relief laugh. “It’s probably Orson or Art,” she said when the laughter died down and I thought ‘that’s not so bad’, then she kept talking. “Or Ben or Tate.”
I flushed hot then cold and thought I was going to throw up. “Excuse me,” I said with a frown, sure I hadn’t heard what I thought I had. Maybe she’d said another T name, like Trent.
“I know,” Dulcie moaned and covered her face with her hands. “How stupid am I? Sleeping with the boss!”
I sucked in a deep breath, then another. Yoga breathing to calm be the fuck down while I thought. Orson: the name conjured a picture of a tall dark haired man with a closely trimmed beard. Art was shorter but wider through the shoulders, no beard and his light blonde hair was cut short but he had overly long sideburns. Both were regular’s at the bar and I had seen Dulcie flirting with both of them.
“Art with the sideburns?” I asked and Dulcie nodded and a soft smile bloomed on her face.
“He’s really nice, doesn’t talk much but really knows how to treat a lady,” she said with a sigh.
“Orson is the big guy with the beard?”
“Mmm,” she said with a sly smile and a little shudder. “He’s gruff and rough, really knows how to treat a woman.”
As much as we both knew who Ben was, I was interested to hear her reaction to his name. “So Ben as in our boss,” I prompt.
“He’s really sweet.” A blush rose over her cheeks. and she shrugged. “It just happened one night after work.”
So that left one. “Tate?”
She made the same sound she had about Orson, “Mmm.”
Under the table I dug my fingers into my legs so I didn’t reach across and slap her! Instead I choked out, “Really?”
Dulcie went red again, the blushing harlot! “Well he is delicious,” she said, her voice low as she looked at the door to the room, making sure it was closed. “But well, I’m not sure…”
I was hung up on the word ‘delicious’. Did that mean she had tasted him, and if so how, where, in what context? Had she kissed his lips, his chest, lower? My chest felt tight and I realised I needed to breath.
Unaware of my plight, Dulcie talked on. “That night I left with him and some others.” The first time we danced, I remembered it clearly. He’d said he’d left her at a club. “I know I was with him but I’m not sure if…” she broke off to shake her head and blush again.
“You don’t know if you had sex?” I was amazed by how reasonable I sounded as I tried to help Dulcie complete a sentence.
“Oh no.” She shook her head decisively. “I know I did, I’m just not sure with who. I had a bit to drink,” she said defensively. “I know Tate was there but so was Art so…” she shrugged.
I thought about how Tate had looked that night, what he had said. Could he have been with Dulcie, had sex with her, then come here to see me? Or gone from me to her?
“Wow,” I said softly, feeling unreasonably betrayed since neither Tate nor Dulcie owed me any kind of loyalty or fidelity.”So what do you remember from that night?” I asked, might as well really rub it in.
“Huh?” Dulcie frowned.
I shook my head, realising I didn’t really want all the sordid details, then I shrugged carelessly. “I just thought it might help you work out who, though I suppose you don’t know if it was that night anyway.”
”No, not exactly. I just know I am, but not exactly when.” Dulcie sighed and took another sip of water.
The alarm on my cell sounded, letting me know it was nearly time to start my shift and I stood up quickly, eager to get away from Dulcie and this conversation. “Well, anything I can do to help,” I said inanely as she stood up too.
“Thanks Poppy, you’re a good friend.” She smiled and reached over to pat my arm. “Just talking to you helped. I’ve been so stressed about the whole situation.”
I nodded and said, “I can imagine.” Though I really couldn’t.
We went out and got to work on our separate sides of the bar. I saw Orson planted on a stool near Dulcie, growling at anyone who got too close, but no sign of Art. Ben was his usual self, attentive to his work but not saying much, and showing no special attention to Dulcie. Dulcie was her usual self too, smiling and flirting and raking in the tips. She gave no sign that her life was changing, and of course had no idea of the turmoil she had left me in.
Luckily we were busy so I didn’t have much time to think about much of anything. I did notice when Art arrived and snarled at Orson but retreated to a table rather than sitting at the bar. And I did notice that Ben and Orson had some kind of glaring contest that as far as I could tell ended in a tie, except that Ben moved to my side of the bar for a while. And I especially noticed when Tate arrived and took a seat right in the middle of the bar so either Dulcie or I could serve him.
Or neither of us. Ben gave me a hard look as I moved away to wipe down the end of the bar and made myself busy filling up the bowls of snacks. I kept my head down but watched as Dulcie smiled nervously at Orson and went to walk away only for him to grab her wrist and hold her in place.
“What can I getcha?” I heard Ben’s familiar voice and question then Tate’s reply.
“Whiskey and water please.” His voice was curt but when I looked over he had his head down, staring at his cell.
Dulcie got his second drink, that time I was busy loading the dishwasher but managed to hear their exchange. I was waiting for Dulcie to say something, even just, ‘we need to talk’ but she didn’t, and when she caught me watching she just shrugged.
“Can I get you another?” I heard her ask cheerfully.
Then I heard the clink of ice and glass on glass. “Nice night,” she said then and I guessed he nodded in reply as she moved away.
I turned to survey the bar, making sure my customers were all okay. Dulcie was pouring a drink while Ben did a circuit of the room, we were busy but not overrun.
“Can I get another darlin’?”
My body was moving before my mind caught up, automatically reaching for the bottle he preferred. I squeezed it a little too tightly as I stepped close enough to pour the drink and focused on the empty glass, ignored the long fingers cradling it. I resisted the urge to look at him, to make a comment about the fact that he’d just had a fresh drink, and just poured him another. I had no business counting his drinks, it was beyond my duty as a responsible server and as big as he was, three drinks in such a short time wouldn’t hurt him.
So I poured his drink and took his money, all without looking at him. I really couldn’t, not without saying something inappropriate. I felt like a fool as it was, for thinking about him so much when all this time, he had been with Dulcie. Dulcie who was not so subtly jerking her head at me.
“What?” I mouthed at her, not moving any closer as that would mean I would get closer to Tate.
“Come here!” She mouthed back but I shook my head and she scowled but stomped towards me. “I don’t think it’s Ben,” she whispered as she stood close to me, both of us with out backs to the bar. “I worked out that was too long ago,” she added and I nodded.
What had I done to deserve this? Why was I her confidante?
“So that leaves Orson, Tate, and Art,” she told me, in case I had forgotten.
Before I could respond she walked away to serve a drink and I did the same. Ben returned with a tray of empties and a few orders and as I mixed a drink he asked, “Everything okay Poppy? You’re quiet tonight.”
“Sure.” I managed a smile as I shrugged. “It’s just busy and I had a late night.”
“Oh really? A date?”
“No,” I said with a strained laugh, hyper aware that Tate was close enough to hear our conversation. My what big ears you have. Let him listen! He wouldn’t like what he heard. “Well it might have been but turns out the man I danced with wasn’t who I thought he was.”
“Oh? Don’t tell me, he was married?” Ben guessed.
I shook my head. “No worse.” I lifted my head to look at Tate, meeting his eyes for the first time. He looked curious, even mildly amused as he waited to hear what I had to say.
“Worse that married? Was he a Nickleback fan?” Ben joked and I laughed briefly.
“Even worse than that,” I said and Tate frowned, finally sensing I wasn’t joking. “He was a liar.”
His frown turned to a scowl, his eyes pinned mine and I could almost read his thoughts. What was I talking about? I didn’t answer with words, just cut my eyes to Dulcie, then back to him. He followed my visual cue but was still frowning at me, looking confused.
“What did he lie about then lass?” Ben asked as he got his tray set up, waiting for the drink I was mixing,
“He lied about…” I hesitated, my eyes going to Dulcie who was looking at me with a plea in her eyes. This wasn’t my secret to share and my shoulders slumped as I sighed. “Everything,” I muttered as I placed the drink on the tray and stepped back. “He lied about everything.”