The next morning Danny awoke in his bed feeling groggy and tired. He stretched out cracking his bones and flexing his muscles. And then he looked at the digital display of his clock on his bedside table – 09.13 – he was meant to be at school!
He leapt from his bed foot-hopping it down the stairs in search of his dad. Why hadn’t he woke him up?
He could hear the giggles the moment he came down the stairs and as he rounded the corner he could see his dad and Anna at the breakfast table sharing a cup of coffee – Anna had spent the night!
“Hey Buddy,” Carter said spotting Danny starring open mouthed at him. “I’ve made some pancakes. Grab a plate and come and join us?”
Danny did as he was told and settled down next to Anna saturating his pancakes in maple syrup and extra sugar. “Err dad, you do know I’m meant to be at school right now?”
“Yeah about that,” Carter said looking at Anna and winking. “I called the school earlier and told them you were not coming in today. Anna and I have taken the day off too and we are all going to spend the day together instead. How does that sound?”
Danny nearly choked on his pancakes, his dad was normally so strict about him going to school! “That sounds ace dad,” he replied hoping this wasn’t a joke.
“Well finish up your pancakes quickly and go and get dressed,” Anna said. “Let’s go and make the most out of the day.”
Danny did not need to be told twice. He scoffed down the last of his breakfast and then sprinted to his room to change clothes, whooping along the way.
“I think someone’s happy,” Anna said looking at Carter. All he could do was smile back at her. She made him happy.
After many suggestions from Danny, they settled on going to the park for the day. Carter felt like a kid again larking around on the swings with Danny and Anna and chasing them around the gardens.
“Daddy, daddy, look at me,” Danny cried swinging wildly into the air trying to beat his dad. Carter tried to catch him up but let him win, he loved hearing him laugh.
He looked over at Anna swinging gently on the other side of the frames. She looked so serene like a beautiful fairy floating through the air.
After a picnic on the grass, Carter and Anna settled down on a bench while Danny continued playing. They both watched him saying nothing to each other, both trapped in the silence of harmony. It was so easy being with Anna and sometimes Carter had to look at her just to make sure she was really there.
That evening, Anna spent another night at the Starr household. They slept wrapped in each other’s arms and Carter could not remember a time when he had slept so well.
The following day it was back to reality. Danny was packed off to school and Anna and Carter had to go back to work. Carter dropped by Anna’s on their way to work so she could pick up a fresh change of clothes and then they headed to the bar. They both fell through the doors giggling like teenagers. “I can’t believe you just did that,” Anna chuckled.
“Ah just the girl I was looking for,” Vinnie the boss announced spotting the twittering twosome coming through the door. “I have some good news. I’ve been looking at the books and since you joined us my profits have been going through the roof! You’ve really mastered the drinks Anna and you’ve put your signature on all the recipes, plus all the regulars love you.”
“Thanks Vinnie, that’s really kind of you to notice.”
“Don’t thank me Anna, you’ve done all the hard work. And I believe that hard works needs rewarding so I want to make you co-head barman with Carter!”
A thousand thunderbolts of electricity shot through Carter. All the hurt, all the pain and all the betrayal he had locked away erupted and he felt his skin prickling with the head of anger.
“Err, have you discussed this with Carter,” Anna replied.
“No but I’m the boss round here and Carter understands.”
Anna turned to Carter and saw the look of mortification on his face. “Thanks for the opportunity Vinnie, but I don’t think I can do take the promotion, it wouldn’t be right.”
“Nonsense,” Vinnie responded. “Two heads are better than one. I’m sure you two can make it work.” Vinnie turned and walked back to his office leaving Carter and Anna alone.
“Carter please let me explain,” Anna cried, “I knew nothing about this…..”
“I knew I couldn’t trust you,” Carter spat not letting her finish. “The moment I met you, I knew.”
“Don’t do this Carter,” Anna pleaded. “You can trust me. I had no idea Vinnie was going to offer me this job. I was just trying to impress you the whole time, not him!”
“Why didn’t you have the guts to just run your own bar Anna? Instead of coming in here and taking over mine?”
“Is that what you think? Is that what you really think I tried to do?”
“That’s exactly what I think!”
“You know what, its ok to let people in sometimes. Maybe one of these days you’ll figure that out.”
“You don’t understand,” Carter replied. “This place is my life. This is who I am.”
Anna sighed and turned to walk out the door. She then turned back for a moment. “This is not who you are Carter, its only one part. The sooner you believe that the happier you will be.” And with that she was gone.
“What’s all the shouting for,” Vinnie exclaimed coming out to see what all the commotion was about.
“Anna’s quit,” Carter announced. “And good riddance.”
Vinnie clenched his fists – he was furious. “You had no right driving her out of here Carter, this is my bar! You better find me a replacement and fast.”
“I will,” Carter snapped back. “And I will do a better job than your last attempt!” He could tell he was skating on ice.
“Just do it,” Vinnie spat and stormed off.
Over the following couple of days, Carter must have interview a dozen bartenders. They were all rubbish. Some could not mix to save their lives.
Some dropped everything throwing most of the bar’s stock onto the floor.
And then there were the ones who were just plain rude to the customers.
How can everyone be so bad, Carter thought to himself hiding his face in his hands in astonishment. Where are all the good barmen?
He decided to tweak his online advert slightly:
EXPERIENCED BARTENDER REQUIRED FOR PRESTIGIOUS LOUNGE
Must be: Highly Qualified, Smart and a People’s Person
“Losers need not apply”
He knew it sounded harsh but he was just fed up with all the duds that had been wasting his time.
“Hey, I’m here for the bartending job,” a voice behind him called.
Not another doofus, Carter thought. “Uh huh,” he replied not turning round. “And what can you bring to the Purple Lounge?”
“Well I taught the head barman everything he knows so that should answer your question.”
Carter’s mouth gaped open – it can’t be?!
“Ta da,” Harvey sung as Carter turned to look at him. “Aren’t you going to give your old friend a big hug?”
Carter got off his seat but did not move. “Harvey,” he exclaimed. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the job,” Harvey replied. “Isn’t that what the ad said? A chance to work with the notorious Carter Starr?”
“Gee Harvey,” Carter said scratching his head. “I don’t know. What happened….” He did not finish but just took a deep breath the memories of the betrayal running through his head all those years ago.
“Come on Carter, it will be fun. Just like the old days. Who else do you know who can make a mean Simoleon Sunrise?”
“That’s true,” Carter replied still scratching his head.
Harvey’s enigmatic voice started to quiver. “Come on man, for old times’ sake. I remember taking a chance on you all those years ago, how about you take a chance on me?”
“I remember you taking more than just a chance on me,” Carter snapped back.
Harvey looked down sheepishly at his feet. Carter had been waiting for the moment to confront Harvey for years, and now he was standing in front of him, he did not know what to say.
“Please,” Harvey suddenly said. “Please I am begging you. I’m desperate Carter, I have nowhere else to go.”
Then something suddenly struck Carter, he was not angry at Harvey anymore, he just felt sorry for him. “Ok,” he stated. “But you are on a month’s trial and if I even get a hint that you are up to your old tricks….”
“I’m gone,” Harvey finished for him.
“Ok you start tomorrow. Go home and clean yourself up and I want you back here at midday to start.”
“Thank you so much Carter, I promise not to let you down.”
“You had better not Harvey cause there are no third chances.”
Even though it was only six o’clock Carter decided to shut up the bar and go home early to spend some time with Danny.
“Daddy, daddy,” Danny cried as Carter walked through the door. “Yay you’re home early,” he continued running into his dad’s arms.
Carter picked him up spinning him around and then planting him back down on the floor again. “Where’s Anna,” Danny asked. “Is she coming over tonight?”
“Erm, Danny sweetie. We won’t be seeing Anna anymore. But you still have your old dad.”
Danny’s bottom lip started to quiver and tears appeared in his eyes. “What do you mean we won’t be seeing her anymore,” he whimpered. “Where did she go? Does she not like me anymore.”
“No Danny, it has nothing to do with you. It’s me she does not like. I said something that hurt her and she does not want to see me anymore. I’m sorry darling.”
“Why were you mean to her,” Danny screamed. “I hate you.” He turned and started running to his room. Carter listened to his little feet padding up the stairs and the slamming of his bedroom door.
Carter took a deep breath and followed him up. “Danny darling, please open the door,” he said knocking gently.
“Not until I see Anna,” Danny called back through the door.
Carter tried the door handle but the door was locked. “Danny Starr, you open this door this minute,” he snapped.
“What’s going on,” Bella said coming out of her room which was next door to Danny’s. “What’s all the banging and screaming about?”
“Danny’s locked himself in his room and he won’t come out,” Carter told his mum.
“Why, what did you do?”
“Nothing. Well Anna and I broke up and Danny’s taken the news rather badly. He says he won’t come out unless he sees Anna!”
“Well I guess you better get Anna round then,” Bella replied hoping that this may be a good thing for Carter too.
Anna arrived an hour later. She had been gracious when Carter had rung her and explained what had happened and she had dropped everything to come over.
“Thank you for coming,” Carter awkwardly said opening the door to her.
“No problem,” Anna replied. “Now where is he?”
Carter took Anna to Danny’s room and left her in there talking to him. He waited downstairs with Bella, wondering what they were talking about. When she emerged an hour later, he nearly jumped out of his seat.
“How is he,” Carter asked.
“He’s fine,” Anna replied. “He was just very confused but once I explained everything to him he seemed much happier. He said you can go up.”
“Thank you,” Carter said. “And I am sorry for how things worked out.”
“Don’t apologise,” Anna replied. “I actually wanted to thank you. I thought a lot about what you said, about me not having the guts to go after what I want and you were right. That’s why I took a job in Sunset Valley – the head barman at a new private club.”
She’s leaving! “That’s great,” Carter replied through gritted teeth.
“Well I couldn’t have done it without you pushing me,” Anna replied. They both stood in silence for a while. Every part of Carter’s body was screaming at him to beg her to stay, but still he kept silent.
“Well bye then,” she said before walking out of his door leaving behind a lingering emptiness.
That night, Danny slept in with Carter, but he could not sleep. It was not because of the fact that Danny was taking most of the duvet or that it was 30°C. It was the fact that Carter was plagued with such a deep sense of regret he did not know what to do without himself.