Sean left the shop and walked across the street towards the pub. He and Graham had deposited the cash in the night safe outside the bank, gone back to the shop, and locked up. Graham headed home to his family. It was Christmas Eve, cold but comforting. There were people on the streets, last minute shopping, laughing and smiling. Sean turned his collar up against the wind coming up North Street.
Those last few paces before you open the door of your favourite pub are delicious, aren’t they? They are filled with expectation, taste, smell and noise – the anticipation of the first pint, the look around for familiar faces and the song on the jukebox. Heaven.
Colin nodded at him across the bar and began to pull a pint of bitter into a straight glass. Sean put his coins on the bar, picked up the glass, and drained a third of the pint in one long draw. He smacked his lips, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and put the glass down. Colin smiled at him.
“You working today?” he asked. Sean nodded.
“Bastard, ain’t it.”
“Was,” said Sean. “Just finished.” Sean took his pint and grinned at the barman, who mouthed the word ‘fucker’ at him. Sean moved away from the bar and stood on the bottom step of the staircase to the upper floor. He looked across the packed bar, spotting a few friends, nodding and raising their glass at him, until his gaze reached the far corner. There, his face a picture of laughing joy, stood his friend. Sean looked at him, raising his glass across a sea of heads, until he caught his friend’s eye. His friend put his half smoked roll up between his lips and waved at Sean to come over. He waved with both hands, showering those around him with London Pride bitter. Sean grinned and began to push his way through the crowd.
“Sean!” someone shouted in his ear. He turned and Tom from the Uni grinned at him, raising an empty glass.
“Back in a bit,” shouted Sean, knowing he wouldn’t be but also knowing it was a polite way of saying ‘I would come and have a drink with you but you’re a boring fucker and I have more important fish to fry.’ He moved on.
All Right Now came on the jukebox and the noise level rose even higher. By the time Sean was nearly at the far wall, half of the pub was singing the chorus, drunkenly, at the top of their collective voices.
His friend reached over the girl he was talking to, half-filled pint in hand, and yelled,
Sean clinked glasses with him. His friend leaned over the girl’s wet shoulder and sang into Sean’s face, “All right now, baby itsa all right now.” Sean grinned at him. His friend grinned back, looking at Sean’s pint.
“Where’s mine?” his friend asked.
“In your hand, mate.” Sean replied in time-honoured fashion. His friend grinned back at him.
Curly hair worn long, well below the collar of his blue and white checked cheesecloth shirt, blue jeans, flared below the knee, thin silver chain around his neck.
Loud laugh, broad smile, deep brown eyes, endlessly attractive.
Suddenly, Sean was aware of someone tugging his sleeve. He looked down at a girl, gazing up at him.
“Hi,” Sean said. The girl had long blonde hair, blue eyes and a round, smiling face.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Annie.”
“Sean,” he replied, turning towards her to give her his full attention. He looked down at the empty glass in her hand.
“Drink?” he asked. She smiled up at him again.
“Vodka and orange. Thanks.”
Sean turned and tapped the back of the nearest guy at the bar. The denim jacket and long hair turned to him.
“Sorry, mate,” Sean said, “Give Colin a shout when he’s free?” The guy nodded.
Half the people in the bar turned, including Colin, serving at the far end of the bar. Sean stood on tiptoe, pointing at his pint glass. He held up two fingers then gave the barman the v’s and turned his finger and thumb into the shape of an o. Colin nodded.
Sean turned back to the girl.
“Not seen you in here before,” he said.
“No. I work in Dolcis, in the High Street. We normally go to the Brittania after work but my friend wanted to come in here today.” She pointed at the back of the girl with the wet shoulder. Sean nodded. He felt a dig in his back. He turned and Denim Jacket nodded back at Colin who was holding up the vodka and orange. Denim jacket passed it over and Sean passed it to Annie. The two pints of Pride came next. Sean took one, passed some coins over to Denim Jacket, and took the other pint. Denim Jacket passed the coins to Colin.
“Thanks, mate,” Sean shouted at the back of Denim Jacket, who raised a finger in acknowledgement.
Sean looked over the head of the girl with the wet shoulder. His friend looked up. Sean passed the pint over the girl’s head, dripping beer on her.
“Sorry, love,” his friend said to the girl, winking at Sean. Sean grinned back. He turned to Annie who was watching the exchange. Her face lit up.
“Ooh, do you know Liam, then?”
Sean nodded as he drained his first pint. Her face was slightly flushed, her eyes wide. She took a sip from her glass.
“He’s lovely, inee?” she giggled.
Sean laughed, having been here before. He knew how this went, how this played out.
“Yes. He’s lovely,” he said, more into the distance than to her face. Her gaze turned to Liam and she moved in beside her friend to talk to him.