“This is not an easy story to tell… but it’s mine to tell.”
Chris looked around the room at the curious faces staring back at him. He had meant to do this after his birthday, but, birthdays being what they are, he ended up inebriated and shirtless instead. He fought the urge to smile at what memories he could piece together of the night. This had to be a serious conversation.
“If you could just let me get through this, don’t say anything, just … listen.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
I used to work in a bar at Tucson International Airport. It’s not there anymore, but it was franchised after a famous lady pilot named Pearl Egates. The main attraction was this famous, daredevil bartender, Jake Peters… but everyone called him St. Peter.
He was the sickest bartender on the west coast, other bartenders would fly out to that airport just to sit and watch him work. I was no different. Ever since the first moment I saw wine being poured into a glass, I knew I wanted to be a bartender. While other kids wanted Tonka trucks for Christmas, I wanted a martini shaker and a bottle opener.
The day I arrived at TUS, I remember sitting on that bar stool in awe. I was too nervous to introduce myself, so I just sat there, watching, hoping to soak up whatever it was he seemed to have in spades. Then, suddenly he stopped and looked at me.
“Hey, kid. How about giving me a hand?” he said.
I was frozen, I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat there with this look on my face. Then, he smiled and laughed at me a little. “C’mon, kid, I ain’t gonna bite ya.”
I scrambled quickly behind the bar and stood beside him.
“You know anything about this stuff?” he asked.
I shrugged and said “A little.”
The crowds poured in, and he started off giving me the easy drinks, the rum & cokes, the screwdrivers and whatnot. Some lady came up and asked for an extra dry martini, and he let me try my hand at that. I remember my hands shaking as I interacted with the customers shyly.
At the end of the day, he just looked at me for a long time. “How long have you wanted to be a bartender?” he asked me.
“Forever,” I said.
He just nodded. “You did good today. You could do great. If that’s something you want, meet me back here tomorrow.”
“Wait… what?” I asked, completely stunned.
“You got a job, kid,” he said as he walked away. “Come tomorrow, you may also have a future. Don’t be late! In fact, be early.”
I left that bar feeling higher than any plane that had ever taken off from there. I went back the next day, eager and early. Jake gave me some pointers, was patient but still put me through rigorous trials. Soon the days became months and I was worlds better than when I had started. Jake began to tell me these legends, old stories about ancient bartenders.
He said the kind of bartender I was born to be was a guardian of one of four elements. There were Mixers, Jugglers, Shakers and Muddlers. He put me through so many tests, to see what element was mine. I remember the first time I held a muddler in my hand. It was like I could feel electromagnetic waves pulsing through me. The grip and twist was so natural to me, it was like I never needed to do anything else.
Jake explained that the elements were more than just a skill. Mixers could juggle and shake just as easily as Jugglers could muddle. But, your element, that is where your power lie. When you are in you element, you held magic over everyone and everything around you. He also warned me to be careful. As with all power, it is so easy to use it for evil, with the lure of fame and glory always at your back.
He wanted me to hone my other skills, felt that it was our duty to protect the divine order. He discouraged overuse of any one element, lest enemies of the order find out who I am. I probably should have listened to him, but all I wanted to do was muddle. There was no time where I felt more like who I was meant to be, and I was just so… damn… good at it!
He was right about the magic. I quickly became well-known, as did the Pearl Egates Tavern. I accumulated regulars… then fans. I was drunk with power, and as my skills grew, Jake and I drifted apart. He chastised me for playing fast and loose with ancient traditions, and I told him he was a jealous old fool who didn’t want to see me succeed.
From that day on, we worked together, but he was no longer my mentor… or my friend. We divided the bar, he stayed on his side, and I stayed on mine. One Christmas, the terminal was particularly busy. In the dead of winter, in the middle of the desert, a crazy old farmer was able to grow a small garden. The real star of the garden was this beautiful squash. It wasn’t the largest, but it was by far the most perfect. The exterior was flawless, it stood straight and proud and was the loveliest golden color. Because of the circumstances around it, national news had dubbed it the “miracle squash”. Some crazy guy had offered the farmer 1.4 million dollars for it.
I couldn’t be bothered to take too much interest in such things. I was too busy putting on a show for my adoring public. It was the Christmas season, so every night, I tried a new treat. Each night they tested me. They were ravenous, wanting more exotic fruits, wanting me to do three, sometimes four at a time. On that night in particular, I was up to six – six cranberry mojitos. That’s when I saw you, Jamie.
You were waiting on a flight, and had stopped in the bar for a quick drink. A girl pulled you and another guy over to the bar.
“Hey, Muddles, these two guys want one too!” she slurred.
“I’m on it!” I yelled.
I grabbed two more glasses and added more fruit. Eight mojitos at once. I had never attempted anything like this, but one look at Jake’s stern face and I wanted to flaunt my skills, to show him that I was better than he ever gave me credit for. So I held my muddler extra tight, and I dove into that sweet abyss. It was too much fruit, most of it was barely being muddled, but I refused to stop, I bared down with all my might, my arms quaking. Then it happened.
I felt the bone in my wrist snap. The pain shot through me, but I was too proud to let it show. I finished up the drinks as quickly as I could, pouring them down a straight line with the applause of the masses ringing in my ear. Round after round I went, my wrist throbbing. One final round and I was glad it was over.
I don’t know how I missed the cranberry. It plopped into your drink, full and round. it hadn’t been muddled at all, it must have been sitting at the bottom of the pile… at the bottom of all my hubris. You sucked it up through your straw and started choking immediately. I couldn’t reach you in time. Someone was able to get the cranberry out, but you were still coughing pretty badly. You ran to the bathroom, but…
You left your bag unattended!
A particularly unstable TSA officer noticed it, and went into a panic, launching a full on investigation. They were just about to go through your bag when you made it back from the bathroom. You screamed at them not to open it, running towards the crowd. That probably wasn’t a great idea. You were tackled immediately by Harvey Huge Hands Hannigan. He had hands like baseball mitts and fingers like italian sausages.
He started interrogating you and you launched into this German tirade. Like literally, you started speaking German. You were drunk and angry and you just lapsed into it… That… probably wasn’t a great idea either. Huge Hands hauled you away, as the rest of security evacuated the area, until they could get a squad in there to check out the bag.
I don’t know what happened to you, but I can only imagine what you had to endure. I started getting worried, but couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Soon, the squad arrived and they were taking swabs of the bag, testing it for harmful chemicals. They found an interesting mix of chemicals on the zipper and were taking extra precautions.
Out of nowhere, you came running through the terminal, shit-faced drunk and butt-ass naked, screeching like a hawk. You took a flying leap over the barricade, tucked and rolled through the agents, then grabbed the bag and tried to make a run for it. You had the bag clutched to your chest, and, for a minute, I thought you just might make it.
Seven TSA officers landed on top of you, and you landed on top of the bag. As they dispersed, you got up slowly, the bag flattened beneath you. You opened the bag to a squishy yellow mess. You let out the most heartbreaking cry I had ever heard in my entire life. You had purchased the miracle squash, and it was ruined. Because of me, you had been stripped, violated, and your miracle had been destroyed.
Later, Mr. Stevens, head of catering, came looking for answers. Once you sobered up, you explained how you didn’t trust checking the squash, since it was so delicate, so you had made arrangements to charter a plane. There was a maintenance issue, so you had to wait. You’d heard of the famous Pearl Egates Tavern and had come to see what all the fuss was about. You weren’t even taking the bag on a commercial flight. You were threatening to sue and the airport authority was looking for someone to swing.
Suddenly, something unexpected happened. Jake came forward, and took all the blame. To my shame, I was too ashamed to speak up. Refusing to be fired, he tendered his resignation and disappeared. I spoke to him one last time before he left. I asked him why he did it. He said as my mentor, his job was to help me cultivate my skill, but also to help me use my powers and magic for good. He said his farewells, and told me not to worry, that I would be watched over in his absence.
I never saw him again. And, with him gone, I couldn’t continue at Pearl Egates. One week after Jake was gone, so was I. I told no one where I was going and, before today, I only told one other person this story – that farmer who grew the miracle squash. I told him the story so he would tell me your name. I knew I had to find you, had to apologize.
I finally tracked you down, but when the time came, again my courage failed me. You were so kind to me. you gave me a job, a home, and a family. Now, Jake is back. I don’t know what’s happened to him over the years, but I fear he’s gone over to the dark side. I have a feeling he’s coming for me, and my first reaction was to just run away again. But, thanks to Matt, I knew I owed you all more than that… especially you Jamie.
Chris looked at the stunned faces staring back at him, speechless. “Hey, guys. I’m not asking for your forgiveness, I wouldn’t presume to expect so much, but please, say something.”
Zac turned to Jamie, confused. “When did you have $1.4 million?!”
Tyler seemed to be working through a puzzle in his mind. “Who the fuck is Matt?”
Joey nudged Tyler. “Not-Chandler,” he answered.
“His name is Matt?!” Tyler exclaimed. “Why the hell do we call him Not-Chandler?!”
“Cuz he’s not Chandler,” Joey responded.
“Jamie are you secretly rich?!” Zac asked.
“Guys!” Chris yelled. “Jamie, aren’t you going to say anything?” he whispered.
Jamie sat completely still for a long while. Chris waited for Jamie to yell, to scream at him to get out. He even braced himself in case Jamie hit him. It was to his complete surprised when Jamie’s patented giggle rolled out of his throat.
“Ah man… I remember that day. Good times. Great mojito, aside from the near death experience.”
“… that’s it?!” Chris asked, exasperated.
“Dude, do you have any idea how many airports I’ve been naked in? I have a foreign name and a penchant for fuckery!”
The other guys laughed in agreement.
“But, I destroyed your miracle squash. Aren’t you mad?”
Jamie just smiled and looked around at the crazy asses in his employ. “I would be, if I believed miracles came only once in a lifetime. But look at us! We somehow all found each other, and look at the result; We have the best bar in Raleigh.”
Chris felt like his world had been flipped upside down. All of this was so unexpected.
“We’ve all got our secrets,” Joey said. “We’ve all got our issues.” He shrugged. “You’re part of the fam, now. Keep calm… and Muddle on.”
“This is not how I expected this night to go,” Chris said.
“HAHA! Words spoken every night in the flower!” Tyler laughed. The phone rang, and he went to grab it.
“Seriously, Jamie, how much money do you have?” Zac asked.
Jamie giggled again, and winked.
“Hey guys, are we open on Christmas?”
“God Dammit! YES, we are open EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. NIGHT!” Jamie yelled.
Chris just sat on the stage, shocked, even as warmth spread through his heart. It really was the most wonderful time of the year, and he was in the best place possible. For once, everything in his life was going right.
Jake turned away from the back door, a smirk on his face. “Well played, Muddles. Well played.” He walked back towards the shade of the trees, noticing a pair of pants on a recycling bin. He picked them up, and continued into the shadows.