This story is by Ann Worthington and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Shenanigan’s Sports Bar, the place it all started. Where they met almost a decade ago and clumsily fell for each other. Thinking back, Hanna was certain they had been in love, spending countless hours together in bed or at the bar. But now she realized it was a relationship of convenience, a way to avoid being alone.
She lifted her chin and inhaled deeply through her nostrils, filling her lungs with fresh air. As she released the breath, she grasped the handle in front of her and pulled open the door. Hanna’s heart pounded as she stepped into the bar. Hummingbirds darted inside her belly. The familiar rumble of male chatter filled her ears as her pupils adjusted to the dim light. The scent of beer and after-shave drifted past, and she resisted the urge to wipe her nose. Dozens of televisions adorned the walls, each displaying games she’d never liked or understood. Football, hockey, rugby, even cricket. Men in t-shirts and baseball caps turned to look as she slipped past them in a red silk blouse, designer jeans, and new leather booties.
It was barely noon, so the crowd had not yet arrived. Hanna chose a seat at the end of the long wooden bar, away from the leathery-skinned man coddling a whisky. As she perched on the wobbly stool, she vowed to keep her distance from the broad-shouldered guy gripping a beer mug and cursing at the nearest screen.
The bartender, with a graying crewcut and raised scar above his right eye, approached. He narrowed his eyes and shook his head when he recognized her face. Hanna held her breath and waited for him to speak first.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here,” he said.
Hanna paused a moment, shifting her gaze to the colorful bottles and tap handles behind the bar. When she returned her eyes to his face, his furrowed brow and icy stare made her heart drop into her stomach.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Five years without a call or a text, and here you are.”
Hanna drew in another deep breath, elongating her spine and pressing her shoulders back. “May I have some water?”
Curtis frowned, but hastily filled a glass and set it on the bar. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“After all this time, you want to talk?” The irritation in his voice made her wince.
Hanna glanced down at the initials carved into the bar top. Thankfully, they didn’t belong to her, but they could have. “I’m sorry,” she said. Hanna thought the words would spill out like she had rehearsed, but they stuck in her throat like a wad of gum. She swallowed the lump and tried again. “When we were together, I hurt you many times.” Her eyes shifted to the scar on his head. She didn’t remember the night she hit him with the bottle, but saw the video on a friend’s phone. “I want to apologize.”
Curtis pressed his lips together and cocked his head to the side, scrutinizing Hanna. He shook his head again. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“Please,” Hanna continued. “It’s important.”
She watched as he shut his eyes and rubbed his forehead, his middle finger grazing the raised flesh above his eye. “I’m sorry I hit you,” she said. “And I’m sorry I screamed at you, and cheated on you. You deserved so much better.” She lowered her head and clasped her shaking hands in her lap, waiting for the explosion. But only silence followed. Curtis turned away, studying his reflection in the cracked mirror behind the bar. When he pivoted in her direction, his rigid jaw loosened, and his shoulders slumped forward.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said. “When they hauled you out of here, I thought you were dead.”
Hanna nodded. “Me too, but I got a second chance, and I won’t screw it up this time.”
Someone down the bar shouted. “Stop flirting with the honey, Curt. It’s like a desert in here!”
Curtis waved to the man. “Just a minute, Jake.” Hanna’s eyes followed Curtis as he pulled a mug from the hook and filled it from the nearest tap, delivering the foamy beer down the bar. When Curtis returned, he faced Hanna and rested his hands on the bar. “What’s done is done. Water under the bridge.”
Hanna sighed, releasing her hands. “You were always so good to me.” The early sting of tears emerged, and she grabbed a napkin to dab her eyes. “I was wrong to treat you like that. Can you forgive me?”
After a few moments, his head bobbed subtly. “You’re forgiven.”
Hanna stared into his brown eyes. “Thank you.”
“What’re you drinking?” he asked.
“Champagne,” she said.
He raised an eyebrow and turned to slide open a low refrigerator. The clank of bottles filled the silence. “This is all I got,” he said, holding up a bottle of Korbel.
“That’s fine,” Hanna said with a nod.
While he peeled the foil from the neck and worked open the wire cage, Hanna gulped the water in front of her, emptying the glass. Memories flooded in like a river overflowing its banks. How she relished the first sip of bubbles on her tongue, the burning in her throat. She recalled the buzz that used to creep down her legs to her feet. The eventual downy fuzz that crept over her brain. How after drinking a bottle or two, she gave in to the urge to sing along with the music, reveal forbidden secrets, or pick fights with strangers.
The pop of the cork brought her back to the present. Curtis placed a glass in front of her and poured the bubbly. “You celebrating something?”
“An anniversary,” she said, pursing her lips to suppress a smile.
Curtis glanced from her face to her hands, waiting as if he expected her to provide more information, but Hanna only smiled. When the glass was full, he set the bottle aside. “Cheers,” he said.
Hanna lifted the elixir, sniffing the faintly floral scent. She wrinkled her nose. It smelled acrid, like disinfectant. She held the glass for a moment, questioning the power of the pale gold liquid. “Cheers to me,” she said, raising the glass higher and pouring the champagne onto the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Curtis.
“Celebrating my happily ever after,” said Hanna. “Five years sober.”
He stared with wide eyes and a gaping mouth.
“Hand me a rag,” she said. “I’ll clean up my mess.”
“No, no,” said Curtis with a grin. “I got it. Congratulations.”
Hanna grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from her purse and placed it on the bar. A warm wave of triumph engulfed her body. As Curtis turned to find the mop, Hanna stepped around the puddle and waltzed out of the bar.