I got the late shift so I went straight to work after. I came in and straightened up, then sat at the counter drinking water and reading. The truth is, that’s why I do this job. The lights in here at night are just so and hardly anyone comes in so I can read in peace.

I was tired and the smell of whiskey was the only thing keeping me sane, to tell the truth. I love the warm feel of the bottles all lined up behind the bar, glowing. A few chapters in, I got sucked into the story so I didn’t notice my customer til he cleared his throat inches away from me.

“Good evening, sir,” I said, squinting into his face. I must need reading glasses because I couldn’t focus on him at first. From what I could tell, he looked slightly disheveled. I wondered what he’d been doing all night.

I think I saw a faint smile cross his face at the word sir. It was hard to tell.

“Yes,” he said and paused like he was thinking. “Yes, a double single-malt Oban, neat, please,” he finally asked. He was soft spoken and it was hard to hear him. I really wasn’t doing great tonight. I needed sleep.

“Just a sec, sir,” I said with a little laugh and he laughed too, right away. I got him his whiskey and he sat by the window, against the reflection of all the lights. It was Monday night, and Monday nights are always slow, so I snatched a chocolate bar from my purse and returned to my book. I couldn’t concentrate though. Every few sentences, I’d catch a glimpse of him lifting his whiskey and I’d have to look. Then I’d sneak a little bit of chocolate. We don’t officially serve food here.

“Is that dark chocolate?” he asked, emphasis on the word dark.

I smiled guiltily.

“May I try some?”

I walked around the bar with my chocolate bar. “Here you go, sir,” I put the chocolate down on his table.

He smiled. “Thank you,” he said.

I went back behind the bar and leaned back against the wall next to the whiskey shelves. I squinted at my customer, trying to be cool about it. The lights are pretty dim and it really is hard to see. On the table next to his glass, the guy had a small book, maybe a sketchbook. I tried to decipher what he was doing. He seemed to be doing the same to me. I have to admit, after a few minutes I started getting goose bumps and wishing for another customer, so I pretended to clean up the bar. He must have felt the same way because he pushed the chocolate out of his way and opened his little book. I tried not to look at him.

A lady in cowgirl boots and pushed open the door and to be honest I was thrilled to see her. “Hello!” I called cheerfully. “What are you up to tonight?” I asked as she came to the bar and sat down. “What can I get for you?” I just kept talking, barely stopping to let her order. Definitely not like me.

“Knob Creek on the rocks, please,” she said absentmindedly. She put her feet up on the next barstool and began typing furiously on her phone.

“Here you go,” I said extra cheerfully since I was grateful for the distraction. I set the drink in front of her but she wasn’t even there.

“Mmm,” she said. I couldn’t tell whether she was talking to me or her phone. She finished typing, downed her drink, put some money on the bar, and moved toward the door. Sketchbook guy didn’t even look at her.

Alone again, I fussed with the amber bottles for a few minutes, then changed the music, switching out the nice classical for Beck. In a minute the place was throbbing with white-boy hip-hop threatening drive-by body piercings, and sketchbook creep ought to be getting the message, I hoped. I wiped the already-clean bar and pretended not to watch him drawing in his notebook.

Meanwhile, halfway through the song a bunch of guys in suits pushed the door open, started to come in but then froze when they heard Beck blaring. They frowned in unison and backed out the door. Damn, I thought.

I caught sketchbook guy humming along to the music. Fuck, I thought, as he looked up at me again. He must have shifted his chair by then, or my eyes decided to do me a favor, because all of a sudden I could make him out. He was actually pretty cute in an art-nerdy kind of way. Too bad I’d been giving him the stink eye for so long. He probably thought I was crazy. I mean, I probably was certifiable by then.

My heart about jumped out of my chest when I looked up and saw him inches away. He was smiling and holding out a page from his little sketchbook.

“This is for you,” he said kindly. “Thanks for sharing your chocolate.” There was nothing creepy about him whatsoever. I looked down at the paper in my hand. It was a sketch, a really freaking good sketch, of me.

“Wow,” I said, speechless. I felt bad about blaring the music. The sketch was unbelievable. He got my dark hair, its edges curled. He got my eyes perfect, even showing a hint of the fear I was feeling. And my cute Peter Pan collar so crisp against my dark sweater – I felt like I could feel the fabric if I touched the paper. I couldn’t believe he did this in just a few minutes. Sketching somebody without their permission – is that even legal?

Note: The thing I like best about this story is that it started out in a coffee shop, and when I thought of the title, I knew I had to change the setting. This is my first attempt at a big edit of a piece of fiction, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

8 thoughts on “Distilled

  1. I love this. The heavy sense of atmosphere, the rich depth of character shaded in with few details – just loved it!

  2. Good first attempt… are you sure? I liked this story a lot… and I loved this line… he sat by the window, against the reflection of all the lights.

  3. I also loved that last line.

    Your rewrite was as smooth as an old whisky.

  4. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but I do feel bottles of it lend a certain warmth to a bar. I especially liked the description of the men in suits backing out of the place due to the music choice. 🙂

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