On the morning that she was going to leave her boyfriend of nearly ten years, Claire took her time showering and getting ready for the day, while Steve pressed the snooze button three or four times in a row. (This was one of the many habits of his that she wouldn’t miss.) After she had finally wrapped herself in her bathrobe and wandered into the kitchen, she could hear his electric razor humming in the master bathroom. She gave Steve a few minutes to finish, then made herself a cup of coffee and took it back into the bathroom to towel-dry her hair and start applying makeup while he got dressed in their walk in closet. After a while, she heard his voice on the other side of the door. “I’m leaving, Claire. I’ll see you after work.”
Claire grinned at her reflection in the mirror. Actually, I’m the one who’s leaving, she thought. “Bye!” she called, leaning close to the mirror and carefully curling her lashes. She swept on her mascara, and when she heard the front door close, she threw open the bathroom door and scurried to the kitchen. She waited for Steve’s mammoth Escalade to start, peeking through the curtains as he backed out of the driveway. When the coast was clear, Claire grabbed the brand-new roll of extra-large Hefty bags from underneath the kitchen sink, hurried into the bedroom, threw off her robe, and quickly got dressed. She pulled her damp hair into a rough ponytail as she looked around the bedroom, trying to decide where to start.
Claire had spent the last week and a half preparing to leave. She paused for a moment now, recalling the moment she realized that their good relationship (at least on the surface) was no longer what she had thought it was. She had spent two hours at a New Year’s Eve party sitting by herself, watching TV. As the couples around her locked into their romantic embraces at midnight, Claire raised her champagne flute to the television set and downed the entire glass. Steve, true to his nature, had likely forgotten that he’d brought her to the party; he had never been the type to swoop in just in time for the big, romantic New Year’s Eve kiss. As usual, Claire’s life was nothing like the fiction she edited.
She had set her glass down and wound her way through the crowd inside to the massive sliding glass doors leading out to the pool deck. Nearly everyone had come inside for the countdown, except for a couple leaning up against the tiki bar, clearly still in the middle of their passionate midnight kiss. Claire was just turning to go, to give the couple their privacy, when the man shifted a little, pressing the woman’s back against the wall, and Claire recognized his profile immediately. Steve.
She couldn’t help but watch as the woman cupped Steve’s face in her hands. “I love you,” she said, just loudly enough for Claire to hear.
“I love you, too,” Steve had responded, brushing her long, curly blonde hair from her face.
Claire had considered confronting Steve in the days following the scene, but she wasn’t sure what good it would do. Sure, it would probably give her some satisfaction to let Steve know that she’d caught him, but she didn’t think he’d care. Besides, she didn’t want to stay and work things out. She couldn’t be bothered to put up a fight and she was too tired to argue. Claire knew that at this point in their relationship, some couples would have had long, serious talks. Some would have considered couples’ counseling or an intervention from friends or family. But Steve wasn’t a talker. He didn’t take anything seriously. He probably didn’t even realize there was a problem. And once Claire was done, she was done.
Snapping out of her reverie, she opened the closet and surveyed the contents. She reached in and grabbed armfuls of clothes, piling them on the bed. When the closet was emptied of her belongings, she started filling the garbage bags with clothes – hangers and all. She did the same with all of her shoes, and then with all of the contents of her dresser. When she tied the last bag shut, she dragged them all down the hall and piled them by the front door. Then she returned to the bathroom with another garbage bag and filled it with all of her toiletries, makeup, and bath products. This bag went into the hall with the others.
She took a good look around the office, trying to figure out what else, besides her laptop and external hard drive, belonged to her. She had already emptied out her filing cabinet and stored her work in a cardboard box in the closet. After New Year’s, as her decision to leave Steve gained force, Claire had quickly finished the projects she was working on and let her clients know that she was finally going to pursue her writing career, instead of editing everyone else’s ideas. In reality, she didn’t know what the hell she was going to do, but she certainly wasn’t going to tell anybody else that. Now, she hoisted the box onto her hip and lowered it onto her desk.
Her eyes fell on the wall of framed photos behind the desk. Pictures of Claire with her family, Steve with his. Pictures of Claire and Steve with their friends. Where were the pictures of Claire and Steve together, just the two of them? Although they’d had a lot in common when they were in school together, Claire hardly recognized the man she’d been with for the past decade. When they attended parties, it always seemed like they showed up together, went their separate ways, and then eventually went home together. As their friends began settling down and getting married, Steve always managed to find new people for them to hang out with. As their friends were starting families, Steve was still planning crazy frat-boy-style vacations with the guys. Claire rarely kept in touch with any of Steve’s friends’ girlfriends or wives, because once they started having babies, Claire felt like she no longer had anything in common with them. As a result, she didn’t really have many girlfriends. Steve only seemed to be worried about his next real estate sale, or the next house he flipped, or the next seminar he would attend.
As Claire reached to pull down one of the frames, a related thought flashed into her mind. Pictures.
Booting up her laptop, Claire checked that the printer was loaded with paper and the ink cartridges were full. She connected the external hard drive and located Steve’s “secret” folder, which was really just a folder within a folder within a folder – the one with his porn collection in it. He’d asked to use the hard drive from time to time to back up business files. It wasn’t hard for Claire to find what files he’d really been saving. She selected every picture and was about to print them when an odd photo caught her eye.
In the middle of all of the pornographic images and naked women, this one stood out only because the woman was fully dressed. She was seated in a restaurant, beaming at the camera, her long, curly blonde hair cascading over her shoulders. The woman from the party.
Claire scrolled through the images slowly and spotted another of the same woman; in this one she was standing on the beach, her hair flying in the wind, carrying a pair of sandals while her maxi dress billowed around her legs.
And another picture. This one was a selfie, an extreme close-up of Steve and the woman. Steve was grinning at the camera while she gave him a big kiss on the cheek. His face was tomato red, and Claire recalled the awful sunburn he’d gotten last summer. It was the only time he had ever gotten sunburned. He’d been out playing in a Fourth of July golf tournament with his buddies and had forgotten to take sunscreen.
Clearly, this woman had been around for some time.
Claire selected all the pictures again and starting printing them. As the printer hummed to life, she plucked the picture frames off of the wall that contained her family and her memories. She went around the house collecting other picture frames and carefully stacked these on the coffee table.
In the living room, Claire gathered up the books, movies, and CDs that belonged to her. She wandered into the garage and rummaged around, relieved to find that Steve had saved and flattened several cardboard boxes from the time he had relocated his office at work. She grabbed a few, found a roll of packing tape, and took them back into the living room. She put three boxes together and filled them with the things she had collected.
Claire sat back on her heels and looked around at the partially emptied entertainment center. Was that really everything? She wandered from room to room.
In the office, the printer sat silent; it had run out of paper. She removed the stack of lurid pictures from the tray, reloaded the paper, and pressed the “resume” button before she continued her walk-through.
She and Steve had been together since college and had lived together for eight years. It was Steve’s house, gorgeous and immaculately decorated, thanks to his real estate and interior design connections. As Claire stood in the middle of the bedroom, she felt a sudden pang of sadness. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked around. She wasn’t sad because she was leaving; she was sad because she’d spent so much time with Steve and had nothing meaningful to show for it. The fact was that Claire and Steve really didn’t have much of a connection these days. They acted like an old, miserable married couple. And they weren’t even married! Claire couldn’t remember when she had given up on the idea of getting married to Steve. She went through a phase where it depressed her and made her sad; eventually she just accepted it. As Steve said, lots of people lived in long-term relationships without ever getting married. And what would really change if they did? To Steve, marriage was just a piece of paper.
She tried to summon up some happy memories with Steve, something that she could look back on fondly, but there was nothing. Her best times with him were when they were with friends and family. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d felt really happy alone with him. In fact, she couldn’t really remember the last time they’d done anything special when it was just the two of them.
It was time to face facts. Six Hefty bags of clothes and shoes. A bag of toiletries. A box of files. Three boxes of books, movies, music, and pictures. That was it. Ten years of a relationship and it would all fit neatly in the back of her Jeep.
Satisfied that she’d gathered up all of her belongings, Claire started taking everything outside. When the last bag was loaded, she went back into the office and packed her computer equipment into her satchel. She grabbed the photos off the printer and added them to the first pile. She stared at the stack of dirty pictures and thought about how she used to think she was actually sort of lucky. Steve’s penchant for Internet porn rather than making love to her had seemed to pale in comparison to the serious drama going on with several of their friends – affairs, infertility, foreclosures, divorces, drug problems. She laughed bitterly to herself now.
With a sense of calm that surprised her, she peeled off a few sheets and flung them up into the air. They scattered over the desk and the floor. She did it again and again, making her way all around the house, throwing the pictures of naked women in the air like confetti. Once every room was completely covered and she was all out of pictures, she shouldered her satchel, grabbed her purse, and worked her house key off of her keychain. She slapped the key down on the kitchen counter, right on top of Steve’s selfie with the blonde, and let herself out.
As Claire drove north on I-95, she couldn’t help feeling as if a weight had been lifted. The closer she got to the exit that would take her to her parents’ house, however, the more apprehensive she became.
She hadn’t spoken to anyone about her decision to leave Steve. She didn’t really have many friends to talk about it with; most of her friends were his as well. She didn’t want to bother her sister, Cookie, with the news because she was busy with her own family. She wasn’t quite sure how to tell her parents that she’d just spent ten years in a relationship that had gone nowhere…
And that she was coming home again.
She had just been home last month for Christmas. Sometimes she visited for Thanksgiving, but her visits to Palmetto Park usually only occurred in December. She (and Steve, when he actually came with her) usually arrived on the afternoon of the 24th and left the evening of the 25th.
Palmetto Park: population 928, about to be 929.
When Claire told people where she was from, she liked to joke that the tiny town of Palmetto Park had one of everything – one grade school, one high school, one restaurant, one dress shop, one hardware store, one feed store, one gas station, and one stoplight. It did, however, have several churches and lots of cows.
She didn’t think she’d be staying in Palmetto Park for very long. Just long enough to figure out what she was going to do. She was fortunate to have a lot of money stashed in her savings account, so she estimated that she would have enough to live on for a while before she resumed freelance editing. Maybe she’d take some time off from that line of work. Maybe she really would start writing. She could always find a little part-time job on the side. The good news was that her parents owned Bradshaw’s Hardware, so if she had to, she could always work there while she sorted things out.
Still, she wasn’t sure how her parents would react to her just showing up on their doorstep after all this time. She hoped they would be glad to have her and would welcome her with open arms. Claire hadn’t exactly been a model daughter, though.
Caroline, who went by Cookie, was Claire’s older sister and the perfect daughter. After graduating from high school, she went to community college in Palatka, met a young lawyer in Gainesville at a University of Florida football game, convinced him to buy property and build a house in Palmetto Park, convinced him to marry her, convinced him to have two kids … and never strayed too far from home.
Claire, on the other hand, had gone away to the University of Miami, where she met Steve, and they started dating their senior year. After graduation, she stayed in Miami and got a job as a freelance copy editor. Steve bought a house and Claire moved in with him.
When they started dating, Claire hadn’t really expected Steve to be “the one.” He was a frat boy, so he was a good time, and they had fun together. But the longer they stayed together, the more Claire began to imagine, as most young women do, what life would be like as Mrs. Steven Hoskins. During those first few years, Claire began to wonder if, when, and how Steve would pop the question.
Ten years later, that still hadn’t happened. It didn’t matter how many weddings they attended, how many times Claire had caught the bouquet (twice!), or how many of their friends celebrated anniversaries and started having children. Claire and Steve never really talked about marriage.
Despite her wondering, after awhile, Claire couldn’t quite picture herself being married to Steve. She didn’t get those fanciful, girly feelings thinking about walking down the aisle in a big white dress anymore. She also didn’t want to bring it up and have Steve think she was nagging him to take the next step. Instead, Claire wanted to be swept off her feet; she wanted romance.
Steve rarely even used a broom, so she definitely couldn’t picture him sweeping her off her feet. His idea of romance was ordering pizza and watching something from Netflix with the lights turned off. Claire couldn’t complain about her jam-packed walk-in closet, her collection of Fendi bags, and her overflowing jewelry box. Steve was great about showering her with expensive gifts. But Claire didn’t care about those things anymore.
What she really wanted was a man who would be home around the same time every night. She wanted to cook dinner for him, or at least try. Or maybe even cook dinner together. She wanted to sit at the dining room table in their fabulous house and eat and share a bottle of wine and tell each other stories about their day. She wanted a ring on her finger (it didn’t have to be a big one), she wanted a wedding (small, intimate), and some day, she kind of wanted to start a family.
This was precisely why Claire felt good about her decision to leave, even as her immediate future gaped wide open in front of her, embarrassingly uncertain and empty. She’d already wasted enough time with Steve. Things might not have been all that bad, but she deserved better. Her only regret was that she hadn’t realized this sooner. She was much better off on her own for a while.
Even if that meant heading back to Palmetto Park.
Claire’s stomach tightened as she tried to predict her parents’ reactions to her homecoming. Her dad would probably be relieved; he didn’t seem to care for Steve all that much, just like he didn’t seem to care for Claire’s choice of college or living situation. He always kept his opinion to himself, however, knowing that Claire would eventually figure things out on her own. Her mother would probably be disappointed and would compare Claire to Cookie, because in their mother’s eyes, Cookie had done everything a girl was supposed to. Husband? Check. Kids? Check. President of the PTA? Check.
Claire wondered if going home was such a good idea.
Of course, she really had no other alternative. Even though she’d always made sure to keep her savings account generously padded, she couldn’t afford a place in Miami on her own. Plus, once she’d made her mind up to leave, she wanted to get as far away from Steve as possible.
She would make the best of things in Palmetto Park. For now, it seemed like her only option.
Claire pulled into the driveway of her parents’ house. She hopped out of the car, opened the gate, drove through, and got back out again. What a pain, she thought, knowing that she’d have to repeat the whole process every time she came and went.
She parked toward the rear of the house and grabbed a garbage bag of clothes with each hand. As she proceeded to the back porch, she could hear the cows and pigs in their fields snorting and squealing their greetings. She trudged up the steps and, even with her hands full, managed to get the door open. She marveled at the fact that her parents still lived in a place where it wasn’t necessary to lock the doors when you left for the day.
She squeezed her way through the mudroom. Checking the place out as she went, she bumped into a kitchen chair. It didn’t look as if her mother had changed a thing in the kitchen in ages. The same big wooden fork, knife, and spoon hung in a diagonal line on the wall behind the table. The same blue-and-white-checked curtains decorated the windows. The same red ceramic vase held a bunch of artificial sunflowers on top of the fridge.
When Claire dropped her garbage bags in the doorway of her old bedroom, the one she used to share with Cookie, she realized that things hadn’t changed in here either. Of course, when she’d been home to visit, she’d slept in her old bedroom, but this was the first time in a long while that she’d really paid attention to her surroundings.
The white wicker furniture had been repainted at some point, but the Easter-egg-pastel plaid bedspreads were the same. Lifting up one corner, Claire could see the same old flowered sheets that had been on the beds for as long as she could remember. The little round table between the two beds still had the same threadbare yellow tablecloth; it still had the same milk glass lamp on it. The alarm clock looked like something from the 1980s … well, it was.
Claire turned in a circle, surveying the room. Peering closely at the walls, she could tell that the paint was the same pale shade of blue, although it appeared to have faded over time. Both of the big dressers were still in the room. One of them – Cookie’s – was empty. The other one – Claire’s – was still dotted with mementos from years ago. The top of hers was cluttered with jewelry boxes, a snow globe, perfume bottles, and small picture frames. Even more pictures were tucked into the edges of the oval mirror. Claire lightly riffled through a few of the pictures’ curled edges. In addition to a photo of Claire and Cookie each holding tiny, squinting piglets, there was one of Claire, Daryl Walker, and Justin Sullivan (“Sully” as the guys called him) sitting on the tailgate of Daryl’s truck and a picture of Claire with Dylan Cooper at homecoming their senior year. Cooper. She smiled at the crowns sitting crookedly on their heads before making sure the picture was tucked back into the mirror frame.
After a few trips back and forth, Claire managed to empty her car. She left everything in a pile on Cookie’s bed and figured she would deal with the issue of where to store things later. She wasn’t really in any hurry to finish up at the house but she knew what she had to do next. She took a deep breath, forced the air out in a rush, and squared her shoulders in resignation. It was time to break the news to her parents.
The closer she got to Bradshaw’s Hardware on Main Street, the more her stomach churned. She couldn’t help but picture her parents’ reactions to her news: Her dad would tell her, “Whatever makes you happy.” Her mother, on the other hand, would probably think she was nuts.
As soon as the chimes jingled on the door and announced Claire’s presence in the store, Connie Bradshaw knew something was wrong.
“Oh no. What happened?” she asked, wiping her hands on her T-shirt and wrapping her arms around Claire’s shoulders in a tired but warm embrace. “You didn’t tell us you were coming.”
Claire’s bottom lip trembled. “Mama, I have some news…”
Her mother’s eyes lit up. “You’re getting married!”
“Not quite,” Claire mumbled, unable to meet her mother’s eyes.
“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
“Not that, either,” Claire said. “I left Steve.”
“You did what now?”
“What’s all this about?” Chuck Bradshaw asked, rounding an endcap display with a bundle of chamois cloths in his hands. “Clarissa Jean! Well, look at you! What are you doing here?” He piled the cloths on a counter and threw his arms around his little girl.
“She said she left Steve,” her mother said, folding her arms across her chest.
“You left Steve?”
“Why would you go and do a thing like that?” Connie asked.
“Because we weren’t in love, Mama.”
Her mother snorted almost imperceptibly. “Don’t be silly. Of course you were.”
“No, Mama. We weren’t in love. We were just going through the motions.”
“What about that house? That big, beautiful house?”
Claire shrugged. “Not my house. My name wasn’t on it.”
“But how could you just leave all that behind?”
“Easy, Connie,” Chuck Bradshaw said, hitching up his pants. “That house, and everything in it, is just stuff. If she wasn’t happy, then she did the right thing.”
Claire shot a grateful smile in her father’s direction before turning to her mother to try to reassure her. “We kept everything separate, all our money, the house, everything. I took what belonged to me and I drove here.”
“And just what do you plan on doing here? What about your job?”
“I’m taking a break,” Claire began.
“You’re what?” Connie asked, her hands flying up to her mouth. “What on earth did you do that for?”
“I can work anytime from anywhere,” Claire said. “Although I was thinking that maybe I could work here part-time while I started writing a…” Her voice trailed off as her parents’ faces fell. “What’s wrong?”
Connie was already shaking her head. “We can’t give you a job. There’s people here that need their jobs. We’ve already got as many hands on deck as we can afford.”
Claire looked at her father in surprise. “Well, maybe I can help out in the office or something,” she suggested.
Chuck shook his head and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Your mother and sister do all that work.”
“There’s got to be something I can do to help out,” Claire said.
“Clarissa Jean, I refuse to put someone out of work when they have been working here for years and they have a family who depends on this job. You surely didn’t expect to just waltz in here and take a job away from someone, did you?” Connie pursed her lips.
“I wouldn’t give up on the editing just yet, sugar cube,” Chuck said.
Claire scuffed the toe of her sneaker on the ground. “I’m not giving it up. Just taking a break.”
The office phone rang in the back of the store. Connie squeezed Claire’s shoulder and headed to the office to answer it, leaving father and daughter alone.
“You staying with us?” he asked.
“I guess,” Claire said. “I’ll pay rent or something if you need me to.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“You sure Mama won’t mind?”
“I’ll talk to her,” Chuck said, putting his arm around Claire’s shoulders. “I’ll even see if we can’t work something out here at the store.”
Claire doubted that would help. Once Constance Bradshaw had her mind made up about things, there was no changing it.
Defeated, Claire left the store without searching her mother out to say goodbye. She drove down Highway 20, heading back towards her parents’ house. Spotting an overflowing makeshift parking lot on the side of the road that she hadn’t noticed on her way into town, she slowed down to try to figure out what kind of establishment had popped up. She didn’t recall seeing it at Christmas. Then again, she hadn’t been home for very long at Christmas.
The building was ramshackle, but perhaps it was made to look so on purpose. The large neon sign over the door said “THE OFFICE.” Unsure what kind of office it could be, Claire was about to keep driving when she saw a sign in the window advertising Miller Beer. A signpost on a tiki torch stuck in a Home Depot bucket had two arrows, one pointing to “BAR” and the other pointing to “XTRA PARKING.” On a whim, Claire suddenly swung into the “XTRA PARKING” lot, intending to grab herself a quick drink before going home to deal with unpacking her things.
It took a few seconds for Claire’s eyes to adjust to the dimness inside. High-top tables flanked the door – all full, even though it was only mid-afternoon. To the left were two pool tables. To the right, some guys were horsing around by the jukebox near the bank of dart boards. Straight ahead, a few more tables were also occupied, but the bar, thankfully, had one seat open directly in the middle. Claire wiggled the stool out and climbed on, hanging her purse on the hook under the bar. The two gentlemen on either side of her, both wearing flannel shirts and the ugly yellow Caterpillar work boots she’d always hated, took no notice of her and continued talking to their female companions.
The bartender was at the far end of the bar, talking through the window into the kitchen. She turned and strolled down the bar, checking in with each of her customers, before stopping short in front of Claire. “Can I get you something?” she asked.
“Just a beer. Thanks,” Claire said.
The woman nodded and looked her up and down, as if trying to decide whether or not she had seen Claire in the bar before. The bartender slid an icy mug of beer in front of her and continued to make her way down the bar, chatting with each of the customers. Claire noticed that several of the men, whether they were with a woman or not, couldn’t take their eyes off of the bartender. She was tall and thin, but looked strong. Her shiny brown hair was piled on top of her head in a messy knot, showing off a large pair of dangly hoop earrings. She was wearing a pair of tight jeans slung low on her hips, a tight black-and-white buffalo plaid shirt tied at the midriff, which exposed to her advantage both cleavage and a flat belly, and worn knee-high boots. She leaned over and playfully chucked a customer under the chin before reaching under the bar, brandishing a bottle, and pouring a shot. She winked at him before tucking the bottle back underneath the counter and continuing down the line, hooking her thumbs in her back pockets and making conversation with everybody. She stopped at the end of the row, leaning in close to a man in a tight white T-shirt and a camo baseball cap.
Claire looked away and scanned the room, still unable to decide if it was really a crappy hole-in-the-wall joint or just deliberately made to look that way. It was hard to tell. The aluminum-siding walls were covered with everything from rusty old license plates to movie posters to sports memorabilia – some of it even coming from the Palmetto Park High School football team, she noticed. Strings of multicolored Christmas lights crisscrossed the ceiling of the entire place. Claire looked up and cringed at the seven-foot stuffed alligator hanging upside down from the ceiling. Someone had rigged a Florida State Seminoles football helmet in its teeth.
“This is for you.” The bartender had returned, with a bottle of Jack and a shot glass. “From the guy at the end of the bar.”
The bartender placed the shot glass in front of Claire.
“Uh, I don’t really…”
The man to her right nudged her with his elbow. “Drink up. Wouldn’t be polite.” The woman seated on his other side nodded her encouragement.
Claire leaned forward and backward, craning her neck a little more than was probably cool, but she wasn’t sure which guy at the end of the bar had sent her the shot. “Well, tell him thanks,” she said, taking the shot. It burned, and she winced as it went down.
“You made a face! You gotta take another shot!” hooted the man next to her.
“Bar rules.” The bartender winked and filled the shot glass again. “This one’ll go down easier. On me.”
Claire shook her head but could see that other people were watching her, so she smiled, took a deep breath, and then gulped the shot. Thankfully, it did go down a little easier.
The bartender smiled at Claire and the guy next to her before heading back toward the kitchen window.
“You’re not from here, are you?” the man next to her asked.
“No.” Claire turned to him, thinking that should have been pretty obvious, considering she was probably the only girl in the bar with a decent manicure and clean shoes. She took a long sip of her beer. “I mean, I am from here originally, but I live in Miami. Well, I mean, not anymore.”
The woman leaned past the man and held out her hand. “My name’s Jody.”
“Claire,” she said, shaking her hand.
The man grinned and held out his hand, too. “Kyle.”
“Nice to meet you,” Claire said, shaking his hand as well. He gave her a smile and a nod before turning back to Jody.
Claire drank a little more of her beer and caught sight of the bartender talking at the kitchen window again as a short, chubby waitress loaded her tray with what looked like baskets full of French fries, onion rings, and hamburgers. It all smelled so greasy and delicious that Claire leaned over the bar and flagged the bartender down. Before Claire could ask to see a menu, the bartender handed her a shot glass. “This one’s on the manager. He’s busy in the kitchen, but he sends his regards.”
“What?” Claire asked. She looked down at the shot glass. “I can’t drink…” she stopped, remembering that Kyle had told her that it would be impolite not to drink up. She took the shot and then smiled up at the bartender. “Can I get some fries, please?”