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“Two-sixty… two-eighty… three hundred… three-twenty.”

Chad slapped the last twenty into my hand with more force than necessary, and I gloated, shoving the money in my pocket. 

“Next time, don’t doubt me so much. You could have started a side bet about whether or not I could get Jack and Matt together. A little faith and you wouldn’t be out your twenty bucks.”

Chad put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed, leaning close and dropping his voice. “Um, AJ? Do you have to regularly get your head deflated or have you found a homeopathic means of keeping the ego in check?”

I laughed. “Hey, I earned this ego.”

He slung an arm around my shoulders companionably and we both turned to watch the new happy couple. They were on the couches in the lounge area, sitting far closer than I’d ever seen them sit with a death grip on each other’s hand. Occasionally, Jack would lean in to give Matt a kiss. Besotted as they were with each other, the rest of reality had disappeared for them, and I doubt they’d even noticed me collecting my winnings let alone guess what it could be for.

“Much as I hate to see you win all that money, you did good, kid.” Chad ruffled my hair and walked away.

I went back to work, cutting orange slices for garnishes and slinging drinks. Alex shuffled into the bar enclosure and grabbed several glasses to make drinks for a happy hour table. I checked the beer cooler, and then clapped him on the arm.

“I gotta go get a couple cases. Keep things moving here for a few?” He nodded and tried to flip a bottle of vodka Cocktail style, nearly dropping it when he took his eye off it to wink at the guy directly in front of him. I laughed as he trapped the bottle between his thigh and the drink well.

Nearing the walk-in cooler, I heard something slam and raised voices.

“…not fucking good enough, Chad!” That was Matthew, the bar manager. I was surprised to hear him yell. He’s about as unflappable as Santa.

“What the fuck do you care? It has nothing to do with you!” Chad shot back. I debated turning around and leaving them to it, but the bar was low on Bud Light, Coors Fat and another one that slipped my mind right then.

“This bar is not your personal brothel. You don’t get to plow through the customers like a Twink a Day calendar!”

Uh-oh. Wonder who he picked up this time.

“Oh please, Matthew!” Chad shouted. “I don’t hear you yelling at Alex or Chris, and they’re worse than me! Hell, Alex walked out of here last night with two!”

“Alex has never been punched in the face for his indiscretions,” Matthew reminded him. I winced. That wasn’t Chad’s fault the guy’s brother was a homophobe.

“Okay then,” Chad growled. “I’ll be more like Saint Matthew, alone every night and afraid to approach someone, taking my blue balls out on the hired help.”

“Chad!” Matthew barked, angrier than I’ve ever heard him. “This is a business. If you can’t respect that and have some discretion, you can leave. At least Alex and Chris make it clear their hookups are for a night. They don’t get guys coming back in here pining for them the way you do. I expect better out of you.”

“Oh, so because I leave a better impression, I’m a slutty fuckup? Nice.”

In the dim hallway, I narrowed my eyes. What the hell? Chad’s right; he’s nowhere near as bad as some of the guys. Maybe it was Chad’s age compared to the barely-twenty-one Bopping Twins that made it okay for them to hook up with customers, but not the 29 year old senior bar lead. It was bullshit.

I took that moment to interrupt, strolling in like I hadn’t heard anything. “Hey, guys. Chad, can you help me carry a case? I need Bud Light, Coors Fat, and Sam Adams Pale.”

“Yeah,” Chad gritted out, grabbing one of the boxes and stomping back out front.

“Little hard on him, aren’t you, Boss?” I asked, working to keep the judgment out of my voice.

Matthew stared at the floor, hands on his hips and jaw muscles clenching and unclenching. “No. He can’t be that blatant with the customers. You guys should flirt, have an occasional hookup if you want, but our regulars aren’t Chad’s personal black book.”

“Uh huh,” I said slowly. “Plan on having the same screaming match with Alex and Chris?”

“Yeah, if I need to. I haven’t seen them acting up like Chad, though.”

And why is that? Because your attention is on Chad more than the rest of us?

I snorted. “Then you haven’t been watching close enough.” Matthew looked like he was going to chew my head off, but I held up a hand. “I’m not saying you’re wrong about us getting with customers. All I’m saying is make everybody subject to the same rules.”

His shoulders slumped. “You’re right. I’ll talk to them.”

I squinted at him, tilting my head sideways. “Something on your mind, Boss?”

“No,” he snapped and pointed at me. “And even if there was, it’d be none of your fucking business, AJ.”

“Okay,” I replied cheerfully, smiling as I stacked one case on top of the other in the cooler and hefted the load back to the bar where Chad was busy slamming beers into the fridge. I wanted to tell him it’d be fine, tell him what he’d been too angry to see, but I knew he was too pissed.

Still, it looked like I had a new project.