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The Brewer (Short Fiction)

I entered this in a short story contest back at the holidays and won. 

The Brewer
by Laura M. LaVoie

The place was buzzing with energy. Most of it was good energy; celebratory actually. The Holiday season was in full swing and people came to this place to have a good time.  That was why the new energy cut through her like a knife when the door opened letting the cool December air into the bar.  She looked up from the bar top she was swiping with a white cloth to see the man cross the room directly to the stool in front of her.

He was the intellectual type. The kind that used “Nerdy” as an ironic fashion statement with a stripey sweater and black plastic fashion glasses.  The negativity dripped off of him.  She didn’t usually tend bar, but it was a nice night for it and they had plenty of staff so she found herself chatting it up with some of the locals and regulars. But this season, there were always the guys like this. She knew it immediately. In town, visiting family but wishing he were somewhere else. She smiled at him, her lip piercing glinting in the light with the movement. She knew she was just as ironic as he was – her facial piercings, black hair with a messy pink streak, and tattoos of hops and grapes wound in vines around both arms shown off by the tank top she wore.  It was cold outside, but it always felt hotter working behind a bar. Across the chest of the black tank was the bar logo: Labyrinth.

The new guy didn’t return her smile.  “What can I get you?”  She asked.

He shrugged and glanced down at the menu she slid in front of him. ”What’s on tap?” he said, not even looking up.

“I take it you’ve never been here before,” she joked, but he didn’t react to that either. “We brew all our own beer so I think everything is good. I made it!”  Her dark eyes glittered as she laughed at herself. He finally looked up at her. She extended her hand toward him, “My name is Aria. I own this place with my husband. He’s the business genius and I make the beer. Where are you visiting from?”
The man shook her hand, but his grip wasn’t firm and he didn’t seem to want to touch her, or anyone else for that matter. She could see him weighing his options – should he engage or just order a beer to send the message that he wasn’t interested in chatting.  “I’m here from Atlanta,” he finally said. “My name is Michael.”

She took the small victory to heart and pressed on. “Well, what do you like?” she asked, meaning more than the beer but he didn’t need to know that yet.

“Do you have an IPA?”

She cringed. IPAs were so trendy; it made sense that Ironic Michael would pick one. “Not this time of year. I brew those in the spring. But, we do have a Pale Ale that is always on tap.  She grabbed a pint glass from the top of the nearest stack, pressed it on the spritzer to get it nice and clean for the beer and turned to the taps on the wall behind her.  The taps all featured the image of a Minotaur. She pulled the one down that read “Persephone Pale” and let the golden beer fill up the pint in a perfect pour. She set it down in front of Michael and watched him as he took the first tentative sip. His face began to brighten, just a little.

“That’s pretty good.” he said.

“Thanks,” Aria replied. “I used Cascade and Willamette hops from Oregon. It gives it a really clean hoppy taste. But not overwhelming. It should taste like spring.”  She knew she had him now that he had tasted the beer. She quickly made sure her staff had the rest of the bar under control before returning to the new guy.

“So, are you visiting for the Holidays?” she asked.

“Yeah. I don’t really want to be here, but I didn’t have much of a choice.” he continued to sip on the Pale Ale as he spoke. He held up the beer to evaluate the color and the white lacing left by the head on the inside of the glass.  She was proud of herself watching him admire her work. “My family is here. I don’t really get along with them.”

“That’s a shame. But I understand. I didn’t really get along with mine either. We had what you might say is some serious family drama. It’s good stuff. I’ll tell you mine if you share yours.”

As Michael sipped at the beer, she knew he couldn’t help but tell his story. “I moved down there a few years ago. I met a girl. Things were really great.  We were together two years in November. But then something weird happened. It was like she was a different person.”

Aria chuckled. “I know the feeling. After I tell you about my family I should tell you about my ex!”
Michael pushed his brownish hair out of his face and regarded her with clear blue eyes. He looked at the pale ale again, but it was getting empty.

“You want another one?” she asked, pointing at the glass.

“What else do you have?” he asked. She knew he would want to try the others. They all did.
“Here’s the perfect follow up to that.” She grabbed a taller, thinner glass, spritzed it and without a word pulled the tap labeled “Aphrodite’s Wit”. The play on words usually went over the patron’s heads. “It is a fruity, spiced wheat beer. Coriander, orange and pomegranate. But don’t worry, it isn’t overly girly or anything.”

Michael drained the pale ale and all but licked his lips. He eagerly reached for the new offering.  He took a sip and she could see him let the warmth wash through him. He continued his story.
“I was going to spend Christmas with her family. I was ready to propose. I still have the ring. But right before Thanksgiving she told me she didn’t want to be with me anymore. She took her things and left. I don’t really know what happened. I heard a rumor that she was moving to Nebraska with some guy. I just don’t get it.”  He hung his head.

“I can relate more than you might think!” Aria said. “I met this guy. He came to my Dad’s place because of this weird fight with my brother. I saw him for the first time and fell hopelessly and madly in love. My brother was a monster, so I knew this guy didn’t have a real chance against him. I helped him – against my very own brother. What an idiot! He told me he would take me away from my family. I never really got along with them. Like I said, my brother was a monster and my mom hadn’t been faithful to my dad in a very long time. Honestly, my brother was only my half-brother, if you know what I mean. Talk about dysfunctional. I left with him, you know what happened. We were together one night. One night and he just left me there. I was so stupid!”

Michael was listening intently.  “So, what did you do?”

“Well, I picked myself up and brushed myself off and I kept going. I didn’t go back to my family. I met my husband and we’ve been together ever since. Eventually we ended up here and we started this bar.”

“Look at me, then. I get dumped at Thanksgiving and come running home to Mom and Dad. I just didn’t want to spend Christmas alone.”

“Don’t think of it as defeat. I don’t know that your family can be as bad as mine.”

He cracked a smile for the first time. “No, you’re right about that. My folks are okay people, they’re just old fashioned. I’m just not into the same things they are. My sister is pretty cool, though, and I didn’t think I’d get to see her this year.”

“See, you’re already looking on the bright side. And I see your beer is empty. I should have given you a sampler of all five on tap. But you know what – we can call you a cab.”  Aria grabbed another pint and poured another beer. This one was darker than the last two – a clear coppery brown. He smiled when she took away his empty glass and placed this one in front of him. It is our Deo Brown. I think you’ll like it, but it is a bit sadder than the other two.

“Sadder?” she knew he had never heard someone describe a beer that way.
“Not ‘sad’ as in not good, but sad as in more contemplative.” It still didn’t make any more sense to him.

He took the first drink. Since he was getting more comfortable in Aria’s beer making he didn’t start with a small sip but a hearty gulp. She watched at the flavors washed over him – a deeper, richer beer with caramel and chocolate and roasted malts.

“I think I see what you mean.” he said. “This is a thinking man’s beer”

“Exactly. Or woman’s…” she said, smiling. “So, what do you want this year?”

“I would say I want her back, but I don’t think that is going to happen.”

“Trust me, you don’t. If she was willing to throw away what you had then it probably wasn’t that deep to begin with. There are better girls out there.  Or guys. Depends on what you’re into.”

‘No, no…Definitely girls.” he said with a laugh.

“I think you need to work on yourself a little first. Don’t be so needy. I don’t mean that to sound like it did. But there will be someone wonderful out there for you. You just have to know who you are first. Keep drinking, that will help.” She laughed when she said that knowing he would understand it as beer drinking humor. She knew she meant it literally. Deo’s brown was just the next step on his journey to self-discovery. She was proud she could bring joy and even enlightenment to folks with her brews.

Michael gazed deeply into the clear brown brew like he could see his future in there.  He brought it too his lips and drank deeply letting the warmth wash through him.  Aria could see that he was changing inside.  As he drained his glass, she wordlessly walked over to the final tap. It read Dionysos Holiday Quad. She placed it in front of him. He looked her directly in the eyes before taking his first drink.

“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never had anything like this before.

“Well, it is high in alcohol so I’ll definitely need to call you that cab. But also we condition it in wine barrels so you get the sweet Belgian sugar flavor but also a kiss from the fruit of the vine. Drink up.”
She knew Michael wouldn’t be able to help himself.  It was a sipping beer, but it was the most delicious beer anyone would ever taste.  Aria smiled to herself and stepped away to wipe down the bar.  She looked up when the door opened, letting the cold winter air in; flakes of snow swirling magically around the newest visitor.

The woman shook the snow off herself, pulling her knit hat off her long blonde hair and smoothing it down with her gloved hand. On cue, Michael looked up at the stranger.

“Welcome to The Labyrinth,” Aria smiled warmly and motioned to the empty stool right next to Michael. The woman pulled off her gloves and coat. “There are hooks under the bar.” The woman followed the instructions and hung up her winter clothes. She looked frazzled.

Without prompting from Aria, Michael smiled warmly at the woman. It was the most he had smiled since he had been there.

“This place is great.” He said. “You really need to try everything.”

The woman sighed heavily. “Thanks. I’m not really a beer drinker.”

“I think you will be after you try this stuff. By the way, my name is Michael.”

The woman looked cautiously at his extended hand, but took it gently. “I’m Jennifer.”

“Seriously, give this a try.” Michael shoved the holiday beer toward her.  Cautiously she took a small sip. The crystalline warmth cascaded down her body, her shoulders visibly relaxing.

“What is in that?” she said, her amber eyes focusing on Michael’s face like she was seeing him for the first time.

Michael smiled back at her. “I think it is magic.”

Aria walked out from behind the bar and spotted her own husband near the kitchen entrance. “Did you do it again,” he asked her as she approached him, smiling warmly at her.

“I can’t help it. I really hate when people are unhappy. Isn’t that what we’re here for?”

“I suppose we are, Lady,” he said and swept her up in a huge hug with his wide arms. “I had to rescue you, once too.”

Her eyes flashed at him. “Now, Dionysos. Who saved who?”

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