There was nothing special about the bar that Melony was sitting in. It was a quaint place. Shiny red counters and red walls covered in photos and newspaper clippings that had been there since before Melony was born. She was sitting atop a wobbly barstool, her favorite one with the chipped legs, writing on some wine-stained paper with a thin black ink pen.
Melony had decided to dawn a low cut yellow dress that night. It was hot outside, mid-July in the middle of Los Angeles. She was feeling the effects of the heat. It was the time of the year when she had to give in to wearing as little fabric as she could on her body, filling the odd gaps that would appear with jewelry, thin scarves, and other entities. The whiskey she had switched to after two glasses of a fine sauvignon blanc was sitting in the tumbler beside her, so she took a sip of it and sighed.
It wasn’t that she was going through writer's block. Things had just been slow. Sitting in a peculiar old bar with rare customers seemed like a grand spot to try to speed up the process. Or maybe that was the liquor talking.
“Well hello,” A deep and decidedly male voice spoke from the left of her. She looked up and found a grossly handsome, well-chiseled man standing beside her.
He was sporting a flashy jacket that looked straight out of the seventies. His hair was all over, though seemed oddly put together. There was a shine to the dark brown strands. She almost wanted to reach out and touch it. The stranger's jawline was defined and easy to look at. His deep green eyes and full lips were captivating. Melony shook her head once and got her wits in check.
“Do I know you?” Melony spoke in a higher pitch when approached by strangers. She didn’t know why it always happened but it did.
Perhaps she did know this man. Maybe she had met this man once at a party, a gala, or possibly an exhibition. She found all the faces seemed to merge the more she attended soirees.
“No, but you might want to with the way you’re looking.” The nameless man laughed and reached his arms up to stretch. Melony thought it was a sleazy move she had seen far too often in bars throughout the city.
Los Angeles was like a double-edged sword. From one hand it fed her and helped her flourish. From the other hand, it dumped wretchedness and its worst on her. She usually forced herself to grin and bear it. It was the way the city worked, the way the world worked.
“Pardon me?” She had taken everything this city had thrown her with a grain of salt though she had to meddle against fate this time. Simon & Garfunkel’s, Baby Driver, was playing in the background. Due to the lack of patrons, it seemed to echo louder than it should have.
“Your not looking too hot, darling. Appears you're in a tough spot. If we keep talking, I can doubtlessly make things better. Make your life brighter and all that.” He winked at her. Melony shuddered and had to make sure the disgusted scoff she had waiting didn’t slip past her lips.
Melony had crawled from the bottom of the gutter to get to where she was now, and she deserved respect. She had taken up the attention of unfit company countless times. The part wasn't difficult to play. Instead, she realized she cared less and less about how well she played it with each new rotten encounter. What did she gain from entertaining these types of people?
She was not grinning now, and rest assured would not be bearing a night with the company of a self-entitled, lousy man. One who thought he could dust off the same, sordid moves and try them out on a different woman every night.
“You think that’s going to get you far with someone like me?” Her tone was hostile and bit the air as she spoke.
The man's eyes widened, then he raised arms to display that he wished to cause no harm. Melony thought the act was hopeless but saw no reason to point out his flawed shot at redemption. A redemption that he wasn’t going to receive. Devilish eyes and looks that could cut through even steel weren’t going to be the saving grace that secured this stranger yet another conquest.
“Well, I thought it might get me somewhere, yeah. Don’t see what I said that’s upset you.” The man's eyebrows screwed together and he rested his back against the bar, elbows resting on top of it as he stared Melony down. “I’m just trying to lend a hand to someone in need.”
Melony did scoff this time. Of course, a man like him would see someone like Melony as “in need”. He was all burly with thick eyebrows and a smolder that he probably practiced in the mirror when he was alone. She wouldn't let more of her time go to waste on this conversation.
“I’ve heard it all before, you know.” Melony picked up her tumbler and watched the whisky glimmer against the glass under the red lights. “Tell me, what do I get out of giving people like you, my attention? Do I not seem busy to you?” She motioned towards the papers she had spread out over the bar. Just to be cautious, she pulled her purse closer from where it was sitting in front of her.
The stranger was silent for a few beats before he sighed. “Look, I'm rather intrigued by you now with all this attitude your showing. I can tell your special. How about I pay you and we go somewhere quieter, then you let me have a look, yeah? Then you let me help you out.”
Alarm bells and hazard signs flashed red in Melony's head. Everything around her was red. The bar, the walls. The chairs, her mind. It was a red overflow. Nothing about that was comforting. She couldn’t believe that she had just been propositioned so publicly in the quaint old bar.
Melony was tired of being treated like a piece of meat. She was a writer who had gone to university and finished top of her class. With her degrees, she was worth more than a few pieces of green paper with some president printed on them. There was rage seeping inside of her and she wasn’t thinking clearly enough to cap it.
“How about,” She flicked her wrist that was holding the tumbler and let it splash on the face of the nameless man. Dark brown-tinted shimmering drops of whiskey dripped down his nose to his chin and from his chin down the front of his shirt and his flashy seventies jacket. “You learn how to speak to a lady.”
The barmaid was helping an elder man with seemingly low functioning glasses read the menu across the bar. Thus, there was no commotion following the whiskey shower. It felt trivial, and much less fortifying than it appeared to be in movies. Melony didn’t regret it though, she had seen men like this treat women much worse. It was only fair.
“Well, you’ve got a fire to you,” The man’s tone was deadly sarcastic, even a bit scathing.
The now wet stranger shook his head, a few drops of whiskey flying off the strands while he did so. Melony thought it reminded her of a wet dog shaking off water after it’s been hosed or sprayed. Men were rather like dogs, she decided. Dealing with them as such was the only way to get justice.
“I’d like to see what else you can come up with if you don’t mind. I’ll still pay you, even if you’ve already cost me a hefty dry cleaning bill.” She didn’t laugh when he did.
“I don’t care very much about your jacket, I’m afraid.” A whistle sounded through the room and only a moment later did she realize it had come from the whiskey-doused stranger still standing in front of her.
“Ouch.” He shook his head and crossed his arms, narrowing his eyes. “This jacket’s from ‘74, pure vintage. Not reworked or anything. Pucci only made one that looks like this, impossible to find anywhere else. Going to be a pain to find a place that can handle it with proper care.” Melony tilted her head in mock interest.
“I’ll tell you again, I don’t care very much about your jacket.” She looked away from him and made eye contact with the barmaid, raising her glass to indicate that she wanted a refill.
The worn-out barmaid came over and managed a smile that looked sort of like a grimace. She took the glass, grabbed a bottle that read, Four Roses Single Barrel, and she poured Melony another generous glass. She set it down on the bar and flashed that same half-way smile, half-way frown before going back to busying herself restocking the liquor.
“You should, you know. After what I just told you about it? Do you have any standards of class? Do you have enough wits about you to understand courtesy when you ruin something that belongs to someone else?” Melony shrugged and picked up the glass of freshly poured whiskey. She drank down a fair few sips.
“You know, I normally don’t try this hard to make a deal. You could at least express some sort of interest in what I’m offering. Most people would be over the moon rather than throwing drinks.” Melony shrugged again, setting the glass down before picking up her pen and twirling it between her fingers. The stranger watched her with curious eyes for a few minutes quietly.
She wrote down an opening to a new story, it went like this:
'There’s something entirely unappealing about sitting in a bar alone on a Thursday night. There’s something even more unappealing about sitting alone at a bar on a Thursday and suddenly finding yourself a victim of exceedingly unpleasant company. It makes your bones itch, your heart thrum against your chest in a fit. Your eyes burn, your veins sing explosive melodies. The more you try to keep it together, the closer you get to dousing your poor company in whiskey. If you do this, make sure that no one's watching. Get another glass to commemorate after.'
“I want to make you one last offer, that is if your incivility is forgotten and reformed from this point on.” He raised an eyebrow as Melody neither protested nor agreed. “I’ll double any price you name. Let me take you somewhere more private, well, more suitable for me to take a peek at what you’ve got and then we can get into all the nitty and gritty business. All you’ve got to do is name a price, leave the rest up to me.” How did Melony end up getting the short end of the stick so often?
Was throwing whiskey on a man she didn’t know somehow not enough for him to walk away? She was already internally debating whether or not throwing another glass was worth it. The risk of getting kicked out of the familiar old bar was high.
“You do realize I’ve got another glass here, right?” The stranger laughed for some reason. It was Melony’s turn to furrow her eyebrows in confusion. “Isn’t your jacket one of a kind? Adding more whiskey to it will only do harm, you know.” She picked up her glass and raised it towards the man.
“So you do care about my jacket.” The man countered with one eyebrow pulled up. A finger comes up to point at Melony. “Anyhow, I didn’t plan to be on the receiving end of any more liquids for the night.”
Melony shook her head at his ignorance and twirled the glass in her hands, watching the dark, smooth liquid crawl against the sides of the glass. “Then why are you continuing to proposition me like a piece of meat, being sold to the highest bidder? Why haven't you walked the other way?”
The stranger's eyes widened until Melony thought they might just fall out of his head. Suddenly, he was barking with laughter. A full-bellied laugh that left his body shaking to the rhythm of his diaphragm. He rested his right hand on top of the red-painted wood of the bar and leaned against it.
“Oh hell, you--” The stranger shook his head vigorously and clapped a few times, the sound echoing crisply through the room. A few stranglers looked his way before turning back to their glasses. He ran his hands through his hair before looking back at Melony. “You thought I was…” He laughed again, this time at a more respectable volume.
“Thought you were…?” Melony shifted on the faulty stool. She was intrigued by the change in the pace of conversation. The stranger had caught her attention now. The red lights seemed to keep her from focusing on anything but him.
“Let’s just start again, can we? Just give me a chance. Let me say my full piece this time and then you can say yours, sans whiskey. That’s all I’m asking for. Sounds fair?” Melony put her glass down and rested her hands on top of her pen and paper.
“The terms sound agreeable enough.” The light in the right corner flickered, making shadows dance through the room.
“My name is Elliot McKinley. I’m a publishing contractor for Elder Statesmen. You’ve heard of it? I’m interested in taking a peek at some of the material you’ve written. If it's substantial, then I’d like to discuss the nitty-gritty of business with you somewhere more private, and potentially offer you a contract with the company.” A hefty portion of the worn works that sat on Melody’s many bookshelves had been published through Elder Statesmen.
It was almost unbearable how painful it was for her to save face. Melody wanted to sink into red walls and become another clipping that didn’t get a second glance. In retrospect, there are a lot of things she could have done differently leading up to Elliot stretching out a hand smiling. This time around, Melody could only admit he was quite charming.
She took his hand and shook it, “It’s nice to meet you, Mr McKinley, I’m Melody Pierson. Please excuse my previous behavior. I judged you for something you were not and acted completely out of hand. Let me be the one to cover your dry cleaning bill? It’s the least I could do.” Elliot waved a hand in dismissal.
“No need, darling. I was wrong as well.” Melody frowned and fiddled with her pen top. “Wrong about what?”
“You do have class, and you’ve got a fair share of wits about you." He moved to take a seat on the barstool parallel to Melody. “And please, call me Elliot. Mr McKinley sounds too proper. I’m not an old man yet."
Melody nodded, still struck by how her perspective of this man had been so brutally incorrect. It was like she had painted a wall white and now she had to go back and paint it black.
“So Melody, what do you say? Let me have a look?” She now realized that Elliot hadn’t been eyeing her or her low cut yellow dress up. His gaze was lingering on the pen and paper spread out before her.
Melody gave a sharp nod and rearranged the pages before pushing them his way. She picked up the tumbler of whiskey to give her hands something to do while he read and she waited. She was hesitant about what he would say. She had never shared her writing with an outsider like this before.
The sound of, Your Mother Should Know, by The Beatles floated softly through the charming red bar. It did little to soothe Melody. She let herself drift to the fine-tune anyway. She had loved this song as a child and used to sing it with her father.
“I was right about something,” Elliot shook her from a wave of nostalgia. Melody raised an eyebrow, “You were hiding something brilliant.” He picked up the makeshift manuscript and waved it around. Melody couldn’t believe this was happening.
“So you want to offer me a contract?” She was literally at the edge of her seat. It was hard to keep balance.
“There’s more to it than that, but essentially? Yes, I do.” Elliot gave Melody a reassuring pat on the shoulder. She sighed in relief.
“Well again, I’m so sorry for-” Elliot cut her off. “Save it, darling. It will be a great story and an even better laugh to share over champagne when I introduce you to the team.” Elliot picked up the page where Melody had begun recounting their abysmal first impressions. “You know, you could make a short story out of this. Could even sell it.”
“Yeah?” Melody uncapped her pen and grabbed the paper. “What would I call it?” Elliot pondered the thought before tapping the red bar with purpose.
“First Impressions Soaked in Whiskey and Poor Words.” Melody wrote down the title, the letters gleaming with promise under the red light. “Doesn't it have a ring to it?”
Melony picked up the wine-stained paper to read over the title. “Yeah, it’s got potential.” She hummed, “How would I end it?”
It would end like this:
'From bad, to worse, to better. Terrible first impressions lead to good stories and even better contracts.'