Chapter 26

On the other side of the bar, things were going a bit less genially. Roy had kept an eye on Chad after his little revelation, however it seemed his blond co-bartender had re-implemented the usual levels of control. This conclusion was based on the fact that after staring at Angela for nearly three solid minutes, Chad had blinked a few times and then gone right back to work. If anything he was looking over at her less, instead making drinks and attending to customers with relentless speed and efficiency. After nearly twenty minutes Roy allowed his worry to subside a bit. It had likely been a silly concern in the first place, after all who was more in control of his actions than Chad?

Roy was able to hold onto that delusion until he heard the glass shatter.

It came right after Angela completed her toast from atop the table and leapt into the arms of a waiting man. What the others didn’t see was that upon being caught, Angela had kissed her landing pad on the cheek and grabbed his ass before hopping out of his arms and going about her business. It was standard flirtation for someone trying to move product, nothing Roy hadn’t seen hundreds of times. For someone coping with newfound feelings, however, it was enough to make him squeeze the bottle in his hand ever so slightly.

As soon as he heard the sound, Roy glanced at Chad. The blond bartender had his right hand still half open, beer dripping through his fingers and running down his wrist. The bottle of domestic had fallen onto the mat below them, brown glass twinkling intermittently as club lights reflected off of it. The two things to be thankful for were that it hadn’t broken anywhere near the well of ice, and that Angela’s shot show had created a lull at their bar. Chad was restocking when it happened, which meant there was no need to explain why he’d accidently broken a bottle and had nothing more than a wet hand to show for it.

With the reaction time of a man who is accustomed to covering a lot of mistakes, Roy leapt into action. First he threw a bar towel over Chad’s hand, squeezing it once to grab most of the moisture. Next he grabbed the broom and dustpan from a nearby closet and swept up the glass with as much delicacy as he could muster. They’d still need to do a thorough job cleaning it later tonight, but it wasn’t as though either man behind the bar was in danger of accidently cutting himself. Once the glass was disposed of, he made a quick round at the bar, making sure everyone who was floating around it was either served or didn’t want a drink. Only once all that was accomplished did he turn his attention back to Chad.

“Are you going to be able to hold it together tonight?”

The words seemed to snap Chad out of whatever stupor he’d been lost in since shattering the beer bottle. “What?”

“I asked if you’re going to be able to hold it together tonight,” Roy repeated. “Because, if not, then you need to open up some skin, fake an injury, and get home.”

“Of course I can ‘hold it together.’ Look at who you’re speaking to.”

“Right now I’m speaking to the guy who seems to be dealing with things like jealousy for the first time in a long while, if ever. A guy who just destroyed a beer bottle when watching the girl he likes smack someone else on the ass. A guy who is going to see a lot worse than that as the night wears on. Angela is a shot girl. She is going to flirt like her rent depends on it. Men are going to leer at her, though I at least doubt anyone will get handsy with that girl. Well, they won’t do it twice, anyway. Now I need you to be straight with me: are you okay to keep going tonight?”

This time Chad stopped to consider his answer. Roy had raised many valid points, and between the two of them he was doubtlessly more experienced in matters of unintentional emotion reactions. While thinking, Chad finally finished drying his hand, though the mildly sticky sensation remained even when the beer had been toweled away.

“In my opinion, I should be able to suppress any overt outbursts,” Chad said. “I’ve set all the usual controls in my brain back to their standard levels. While this does help me keep a more even keel, it unfortunately does not undo what occurred when I let them lapse.”

“In other words you can’t take away the knowledge that you have feelings for her?”

“Deeper than that, I’m afraid,” Chad clarified. “I cannot untemper my thoughts or memories of her. All of them now exist through a lens of romance. My ability will allow me to stop the chemical reactions, however the memory of them and the knowledge of what I should be feeling is another matter.”

“So even you can’t turn off love. You know, Chad, some days I almost think there’s a real guy under there,” Roy informed him.

“Your sentiment is noted and appreciated,” Chad replied, throwing the towel he’d finished using into the trash, just in case minute glass particles had gotten on it from his hand.

“I just mean it’s kind of funny that it turns out, despite all our differences, it turns out you and I both have the same weakness,” Roy said, allowing a small chuckle to escape.

Chad’s interest immediately perked up and the scowl vanished. Nothing held his interest like training, and learning about his own weaknesses was one of the best ways to grow past them. “What weakness do we share? If you are thinking it is mind intrusion, as is often the case with physically-based fighters, I must inform you that I’ve already made myself immune to such tactics.

This time Roy’s chuckle came out as a genuine guffaw. He grabbed his fellow bartender in a side-arm hug and gave him a squeeze, then pointed across the bar to where Angela was talking to a large group of clearly intoxicated men.

“Women, Chad. That’s our shared weakness. Both of us are weak to beautiful women.”

“Ah.” Chad would have debated him or lectured him on the silliness of such an idea, but the fact that he was unable to tear his gaze away from the booze-peddling blonde seemed to prove Roy’s point.