DISCLAIMER: No, this Elli is not me.
“What are you doing, El?” Oliver asked as he rested his hands against the bar. Redwood eyes stared at her from beneath a black fedora, his gaze far graver than she had ever seen before.
“I’m doing the right thing.” Elli downed a shot of whiskey as if the words were too much to swallow sober. She set the glass in front of the bartender expectantly and Oliver sighed, pouring her a second.
“If this is the right thing then why are you sitting in front of my bar?” A tuft of wavy brown hair hung over his eyes like a curtain as he plucked a couple of dollar bills from the register. Thrusting a man’s twenty into the machine, he handed him the extra bills and a Heineken before turning his attention back to Elli. Tension thrust the veins in his arms toward the surface of his skin and she could only imagine how fast his heart was racing. He poured her a white knuckled drink and thrust the bottle back on the shelf.
“What’s bothering you?” the columnist asked as she threw back her glass.
“Wrong question.” Oliver handed an older gentleman a Coors and thanked him for the tip. Then using a wet rag he began scrubbing down the counter with such fervency, Elli feared he might wipe off the paint. “What you should be asking yourself is why you’re so convinced going back to this guy is the right thing.”
“He loves me, Oliver,” Elli said as she fiddled with one of the peanuts from the bowl on the counter. “I owe him this much.”
“Loves you?” The straw fell for the young bartender as he slammed the tattered rag in a bucket at his feet. “Eleanor Campo, you wouldn’t know love if it hit you in the face.”
“Excuse me?” That sparked a flint in Elli’s temper as she stood up. “Well if you’re such a scholar on the subject, why don’t educate me?” Oliver stared hard at her and she glared back. “Well?”
Shaking his head slowly, he walked over to her. Resting his forearms on the countertop between them, he closed the gap until only inches stood between them. “Love isn’t evident because of what you feel. It isn’t defined by the warm and fuzzy stuff you women like to talk about. You want evidence of love?” He pushed dramatically away from the bar and threw his arms out wide, “You’ll find it in your choices, El. It’s the decisions you make out of the sake of compassion. Love is a matter of will, not emotion.”
“So then you’re validating me,” Elli remarked, her words beginning to slur a little as the whisky took effect.
“No. I’m not,” the bartender grunted.
“Then what are you saying?”
“You think this man loves you?” Bitterness coated his smooth, soprano voice. “This guy has done nothing but guilt trip you since you left him. He tries his best to hurt you hoping it will drag you back to him, and so far it’s seem to work. But that’s not love, lass. Love is when you’re willing to put another person first. Their welfare becomes greater than your sacrifice. You make the tough decisions, and you do it with an open heart because you’ve invested in something that matters more than yourself.”
“So then maybe you’re right. Maybe this has nothing to do with love at all. But I’m tired of hurting people, Oliver.” Torn and tearful, Elli fiddled with the glass in front of her. “I just want to do the right thing for once.”
“Then start by doing what’s right for you. Tomorrow call this guy and tell him you’re not doing it. Let him know you’ve moved on.”
“How? What do I say?”
“You’re a journalist. Find the right words. It’s what you do.”
“That sounds so cold…” she muttered.
“Sometimes life is cold, El. That’s just the way it goes.”
Elli sighed and slapped a ten on the table, but Oliver slid the bill back to her. “Your money’s no good here. You know that. Just go home and get some rest.”
She reached for the ten and paused as her hand rested on his. “You’re a good friend, Oliver. You know that?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Yeah, I do.”
Squeezing his hand, Elli slipped a friendly kiss against cheek. Oliver watched as she slipped out the back with eyes downcast. “If only there were a tonic for heartache, sweetheart,” he whispered as she walked out the door. “We both could use a shot of that.”