I remember my first conversation with Elli. I had never met a lass with so much baggage before. Heavy emotions. It was like she was taking a one way trip and carrying everything she had ever owned with her. I couldn’t tell where she was going, or what she planned to do when she got there. Honestly, I don’t think she even knew. Yet this woman lugged it along like a mule down the Grand Canyon.
She vented about her job, about feeling alone in a world full of noise, but that was just the surface. Elli Campo had a long story and with it came a tune, and the tune is what I found most interesting. I started to hear it when she slid up to my bar again three days later… a melody like fire and passion. It was hot, and like a child near a flame, I foolishly wanted to touch it.
“Last call,” Oliver shouted over his shoulder. He finished off the Guinness hidden on a shelf below his stock and turned to clean up the empty glasses lined across his counter.
“Then you better make it a double.”
Oh, but he recognized that voice. Oliver turned, his fine shaped brow arched curiously in her direction. “Elli Campo,” he smiled, “You’re cutting it close tonight.”
“What can I say?” She slid up on a bar stool and shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to late nights.”
Oliver popped the cap off a Corona bottle and added a lime before sliding it into her waiting hands. “Should I ask for details?” He winked.
Elli rolled her eyes and took a sip of her drink. “Work, actually.”
He sighed. “You work too much.”
“Tell my sexist boss that,” she snorted, and Oliver chuckled at the unlady-like sound. He sobered though when a serious expression wrangled her mirth. “I think I’m resigning tomorrow.”
“What?” The bartender’s hands froze above the sink, the empty glasses between his fingers clinking together. “Why?”
“I work my ass off, Oliver. I give Muse Magazine everything, putting my life on the back burner, and what do I get?” She pulled a rolled issue from her purse and slapped it on the counter. “My story I pitched on the front cover, with Justin Cadence’s byline.”
Oliver set the glasses in the sink and flipped the water on. Squirting a bit of soap beneath the stream, he wiped off his hands and immediately took a look at the magazine. Sure enough, on the cover sat a local artist she had told him about. The headline, “Raising Rebels”, telling him Cadence had taken her story on how one local band had stirred a protest with its song against captive sea animals.
“How did he get his hands on your pitch?”
“I told you, my editor is a sexist pig,” she pushed the issue over the counter into the metal waste bin she knew was below it. “He gave my story to Cadence ten minutes after I pitched it, and sent me out to sell ad space.”
Oliver leaned against the bar and shook his head. “You can’t quit.”
“Why? My efforts are fruitless.”
“Where will you get income?”
“I’ll figure something out.”
The bartender tossed the rag at Elli who pried it off her face with a smirk.
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” he warned.
“I’ll bite it off and spit it in his face,” she growled over another long swig of her drink.
“Do you have bills, Elli?”
“Well, yeah. Doesn’t everybody?”
“What about the money to pay for them in the months to come?”
She thought about that, then shook her head. “I’ll take on a few jobs until I get back on my feet. I just can’t work for the prick anymore, Oliver. The harder I work, the more he takes, and the second I mess up, he tears me a new one while feeding my prize stories to pigs like Cadence. It’s not going anywhere. I don’t even like my work anymore. It’s… it feels like I’m just a servant, wasting my life as my dreams are mocked by the man who pays me.”
Oliver sighed again. He understood. Her editor, Brock, had embarrassed her in front of her entire staff by giving away her best finds and belittling her with menial tasks. He of all people knew how hard the slap of Justin’s name on the cover had been. As a musician, he had experienced firsthand Cadence’s shotty writing. “Take it from someone who knows,” he said, “You bite, and it’s over, so you better have a plan.”
Elli slumped her shoulders, “I don’t.”
Oliver shook his head. “Then make one.”
She slid him the empty bottle and slouched helplessly in her chair. “I went to school to become a music journalist. What else should I look to do?”
“Look to do exactly what you want… just, make a plan. Be logical about it.” He walked around the counter and slid into the stool next to her. Propping his elbows on the bar, he bumped her shoulder. “Listen: I used to have a temper when I was younger. I was brash, and I believed—foolishly—that I could stand and win against anything so long as I thought it was the right thing to do.”
“So what happened?”
“I spoke my mind to the wrong guy, lost my job, and I was homeless.”
“You were homeless?” Elli’s eyes widened.
A weak smile tugged at Oliver’s lips. “Stripped of everything but the clothes on my back and the guitar in my hand.”
Elli’s fuse pittered out, her eyes full of sympathy. “Oliver…”
Oliver stood. “The point is, you need to know where you’re going, Elli, before you get there. Don’t let your emotions jump ahead of you. Be smart about it.”
She looked at him, those gray eyes making Oliver feel like a million bucks. “This just wasn’t how I saw my career going, you know?”
Oliver ruffled her hair. “You’re the writer. How often do stories veer off in directions you never planned?”
“All the time.”
“Aye,” he tossed her drink and draped an arm around Elli’s shoulders, walking with her out the door. “And yet somehow they always end up better than you thought.”
“That’s journalism,” she smiled.
“No, love, that’s life.” He locked the door and walked her to her car, and Elli realized Oliver might be the wisest bartender she’d ever met.
To be continued…