Vivian, an adrenaline junkie and U.S. Army veteran, goes about her life as a bartender, avid runner, and polyamorous lesbian. Her life in Sacramento, California, is going well until she is blindsided by unforeseen financial issues that lead her to consider a new career.
In an attempt to recharge and take a break, Vivian goes on a motorcycle trip with her best friend, Bear, but the adventure does not turn out to be the carefree break Vivian had hoped for. She returns to Sacramento where her partner, Ang, tries to push her down rather than help her pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, Vivian takes big steps with her other partner, Audre.
Vivian has an epiphany about what line of work she wants to pursue. As things start to stabilize, one of Vivian’s partners commits an act of grave violence, resulting in life-changing consequences for all concerned.
Surrounded by friends, Vivian turns over a new leaf and finally finds the contentment she has sought for a lifetime.
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Concussion and Contentment
Liz Faraim © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Spring 2006, Sacramento, CA
Sweat dripped and bass pulsed as hundreds of women writhed and bumped to the music. Tick, the club DJ, was killing it. The vibe was so good that I was high on it. There was a line at my station ten people deep, customers jostling for position while dancing and shuffling forward each time I finished a drink order. One of my regulars stepped up and waved a twenty-dollar bill at me. She was in her forties, sporting a bowler hat and forearm tats.
“Viv, show me them titties and tats!” she shouted over the thumping and chatter.
I had already stripped down to my sports bra, with my beater hanging from the back pocket of my Dickies. It was hot for April, and the press of sweating, dancing bodies had made the nightclub a sauna.
“Aw, Tig, you know I can’t do that,” I said with a smirk and turned my back to the crowd. Behind the bar was a wall-to-wall mirror. I gyrated my hips to Bubba Sparxxx’s “Ms. New Booty,” which had become a club favorite. I made eye contact with Tig in the mirror as she jumped to the beat, still waving the twenty-dollar bill at me. Shoving down the shyness that crept up, I slapped on the façade of the confident butch barkeep I wore to work. I pulled my sports bra up, just a bit.
She hollered to her friends, “She’s doing it, she’s doing it!”
Amidst the chaos, they leaned to the side to see my reflection in the mirror, their mouths agape, eyes laser focused on me. I kept the tease up for a minute, dancing to the song, pulling my bra up a bit and lowering it again. Each time I lowered it, there was a chorus of “Awwwww’s” behind me. I finally relented and pulled my sports bra completely off. Their hoots and hollers made me grin, and I continued dancing for myself in the mirror.
Just as the song was ending, a bright light flashed in the mirror, reflecting straight into my eyes. I traced the light back along the mirror and saw it was coming from near the front door. Buck, our bouncer, stood on the rungs of her barstool by the door, flashing her Maglite at me. When we made eye contact, she tapped the top of her head three times, which was the sign that the cops were coming. I shimmied back into my sweaty sports bra, which was no easy feat, and turned back to my customers.
Tig pulled me into a hug across the bar. She tucked the bill into my waistband, her rough fingers lingering far too long on my skin. “Thanks, Viv. Looking good. Those tits and tats, you are so fucking hot. If I weren’t married, things’d be different.”
I patted her cheek and ended the hug, doing my best to keep my cool and stay in my role.
“Good to see you, Tig. The usual?”
She nodded and I poured her an Irish Car Bomb. She slapped some more cash on the bar, dropped the shot glass of whiskey and Bailey’s into her pint of Guinness, and chugged the whole frothing mess while her crew cheered her on. She slammed the pint glass down, wiped her mouth on her bare arm, belched, and disappeared into the fray.
Jen, the barback, bounced up to me with her usual level of cheer, and began unloading glasses fresh from the washer. “Tig still trying to get into your pants?” Her voice dripped with disgust as she fingered the American Spirit cigarette tucked behind her ear.
“Always.” I uncapped some beer bottles and rang up my next customer. “You know, I’ve been doing this job a few years now, and know that there’s a certain level of shit we have to put up with if we want those tips. And I need those tips. But it’s getting less amusing when people forget we are human and not a piece of meat.”
Jen nodded knowingly. “How much did she give you this time?”
“Twenty bucks. More generous than usual. She must have just gotten paid.”
“Well, don’t include it when you tally up your tips tonight. When you tip me out, I don’t want any of that. You earned it.” There was a pitying turn to Jen’s lips, and I nodded at her slowly.
We turned to watch as the police pushed their way past the line of women waiting to get into the club. Buck stopped them in the entryway at her lectern. She stood tall, her perfectly pressed uniform shirt tucked into her Wranglers. Jen slapped my ass and hustled back out to gather up empty glasses and beer bottles and likely drop her weed and pipe into one of the potted plants.
I spotted Sheila, our manager, mingling in the press of bodies and waved her down. I pointed toward the cops. She nodded and slithered her way through the crowd the way any seasoned bar or restaurant worker does. Sheila and Buck eventually convinced the officers to leave, which was a relief. Uniformed police in a queer nightclub were bad for business.
The frantic pace kept up until last call. Eventually Tick turned on the house lights and Buck worked her way around the place, breaking up lingering conversations with her usual: “You don’t have to go home, but ya can’t stay here.” As she escorted out the last couple and locked the doors behind them, I posted up on a bar stool and counted out my tips and cash drawer.
My hip itched and I remembered the money Tig had put there. I pulled the sweaty bill out of my waistband and dropped it into my tip bucket with disgust. The rant I had been holding back burst forth to no one in particular.
“Who do the fuck do they think they are, putting their hands all over us like they own us? Like we’re in a fucking petting zoo!”
“Pipe down, Viv.” Sheila lit a cigarette and watched us like a hawk as we counted the club’s money. I grumbled. “It’s just part of the job. It’s part of the atmosphere here. Remember what I told you way back on your first day?”
I turned and made eye contact with Sheila. Her brown eyes challenged me, a crinkle at the corners, her right eyebrow cocked just a hair. She took a long drag on her cigarette and blew it at me. She knew I was a runner and hated cigarette smoke, so I took it as a blatant sign of disrespect.
Speaking through clenched teeth I recalled, “On my first day you said: Know your place, stay in your role. Desirable. Flirty. Available but not attainable. Is that right?”
“Bingo.” She pointed a nicotine-stained finger at me. “If you don’t like it, you know there are a dozen other gals ready to take your spot. This is the only lesbian nightclub in Sac and it’s hoppin’. Adjust your attitude or get out.”
I went back to counting out my drawer. The bills were soggy with a combination of spilled beer and boob sweat. It was amusing how many women used their bras as a wallet, but at the end of the night the damp bills weren’t so cute.
My relationship with Sheila had taken several hits because I had disappeared on her a few times. Once friendly and warm, my boss now barely tolerated my presence, and only because I brought in big money. The customers loved me. Sheila would be an idiot to fire me, and clearly, she resented the fact.
Over the last two years I had beat a thieving customer to a pulp, disappeared because I had to go into hiding after witnessing a heinous crime, and gotten myself hospitalized with sepsis. My attendance at work hadn’t exactly been great because of all that, and Sheila didn’t seem to trust me anymore. Since returning from my bout with sepsis the previous year I hadn’t missed a single shift. That fact alone made me mad that Sheila hadn’t warmed back up to me. Work used to be one of my favorite places to be, Jen and Buck were some of my favorite people, but Sheila giving me the cold shoulder and my growing discontent with grabby customers were souring the pot.
Jen went about clearing the glasses, beer bottles, and trash that had been left all over the bar. Occasionally she would groan and announce whatever disgusting detritus she had found: used condoms and gloves tucked into the potted plants, puke in the corner, empty baggies, whippit canisters, and even someone’s thong underwear.
I finished my count, my drawer balancing out perfectly, and shoved it across the bar to Sheila. I grabbed my gear and walked into the back bar to find Jen and give her a cut of my tips. Buck unlocked the door and followed me out. We walked down Twenty-First Street, which was mostly deserted at the early hour, aside from the occasional person sleeping in a doorway. We reached my truck and I fished out my keys. Buck wasn’t much for small talk so when she cleared her throat, I was surprised.
“Things’ll settle down. Stick around.” Her gravelly voice tapered off as she gave my back a hearty thump, spun on her heel, and headed back to the bar.
“G’night, Buck.” She looked over her shoulder at me and nodded, her mullet flapping in the breeze.
Meet the Author
Liz is a recovering workaholic who has mastered multi-tasking, including balancing a day job, solo parenting, writing, and finding some semblance of a social life. In past lives she has been a soldier, a bartender, a shoe salesperson, an assistant museum curator, and even a driving instructor.
Liz lives in the East Bay Area of California, and enjoys exploring nature with her son.