The Garrison




The Garrison




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Friday nights in the Garrison Lounge were a tradition for Cher and me, a few hours of dishing about our week over girlie drinks.

The Garrison was dark and plush, booths on a raised deck all around the perimeter - each one safe, quiet and isolated. Little oases of seeming privacy in a room that buzzed with weekend energy.

We'd have just a few drinks, just enough to ease us out of work and study mode and into the night. Me and Cher, and very occasionally, Rach. Cher was Rach's best friend. They were each finishing degrees at the Uni and I was a working stiff and Rach was my best friend. Which all sort of made Cher family.

Some Fridays, again very occasionally, Cher went on dates instead of to the Garrison, some fellow student or young businessman. Men liked Cher on first sight, but second dates were few and far between. She was the smartest person I'd ever known, really brilliant, and after a first date most men found her as intimidating as she found them dull.

I… well, if I wasn't playing Cher's second fiddle or meeting up with Rach or both of them at the school for something or other, I'd head home from work and hang out alone, or maybe go for a Friday evening bike ride if the weather was nice.

The Garrison was really my whole Friday. My whole weekend, even. The favorite part of my week, anyway. Cher and laughs and drinks, people-watching and Mike playing cheesy requests and wonderful, soft jazz at the grand piano, brandy snifter stuffed with tips.

An ever-changing cast of hotel patrons and worker bees decompressing and cruising for weekend fantasies around the room. Fodder for our semi-tipsy in-jokes and silliness. Atmosphere for our place.

We were the old regulars after just a year, and Garrison's was ours. Rach said she didn't get our love of the place, and we had to admit that the rare occasion she came to sit in on a Friday, it did seem to dampen whatever it was that we loved about it, the magic of our secret tree-fort of a bar. Like that very night. Our perfect booth with the perfect buzz, inside and out.

I told Cher a stupid funny joke I'd heard and she laughed hard and loud, enough that she sloshed her drink onto the table before she could set it safely down. Enough joy slopping over that I giggled too.

Cher's laughs were worth it. Her whole face contorted into a perfect mask of humor and fun. A smile or laugh from my best friend's best friend was always something.

I didn't have to look, but I knew every head in the Garrison had turned to look at her, to see her laugh, and I smiled at the feeling.

Everything was perfect. A moment that was enough to make all the rest of life worthwhile.

Cher mopped at the spill of sticky cocktail and Barbara ("not Barb") appeared out of nowhere to do a more professional clean-up with a damp towel.

"Am I gonna have to cut you two off?" She grinned at us. "Two Grasshoppers would be a record for me having to call Thor over."
Cher barked another laugh. Thor was our name for the non-existent bouncer we'd decided every bar should have, even if the Garrison's version of drunk and disorderly was usually a patron singing along to Mike.

Barbara grinned at Cher, and then smiled another way entirely, almost a smirk.

"Are you two in the mood for another round?" Her smirk twisted into a quick, joyous grin. " A free one?"

"Hunh? I only spilled a drop…" Cher looked at me in confusion. I was sure I was no help.

"No, not on the house. From those guys." Barbara pointed past her waist at one of the tables on the main floor. There were two men smiling at us, and when they saw us look - or Cher, I thought - they both raised their highball glasses and smiled even wider.

"Uh-" Cher looked back at Barbara and then at me. We had a deal: neither of us left with other people. Or she didn't. I never had the opportunity.

"For both of you."

"What?" Cher looked as confused as I was.

Barbara broke into an even wider smile as she stood away from the now-spotless table, fresh paper napkins under both our drinks.
"They said, and I quote, 'Would you please ask those two laughing ladies if they would accept a round of drinks from us?'" Her smile got even bigger when she didn't have to talk around it. We stared at each other. At Barbara.

"Well, ladies? Will you accept?"

Cher's eyes grew wider than Barbara's grin as she looked at the men again, and then to me, just as I swivelled my attention from Barbara to her.

Barb knew, of course, or suspected, anyway. Or, more likely, she thought I was gay. Sometimes it felt like the whole world thought I was gay.

Cher and Rach were the only ones in the whole city who really knew, apart from my shrink. And all the other shrinks and doctors and specialists he sent me to… and the people at work who must've noticed all the changes….

One of the reasons I loved Fridays at the Garrison with Cher was that she didn't care how I acted, didn't expect me to be any normal way, and I could relax. And Barbara and the other staff had somehow created a space where I felt safe doing it. Being me.

Rach got stiff and upset when Cher and I started to goof around with what she called 'dangerous behaviour' - what Cher called 'fun.' We knew Rach was just scared that I'd get attacked again, but it was one of the big reasons why she didn't come on Fridays. She didn't think it was as safe as we did.

Rach would've made Barbara refuse the drinks. Then she would've made me leave.

Cher just stared at me with pie-eyes and then started to grin again, almost like Barbara, but the way only Cher could, and made even bigger eyes.

I was still in my office clothes. A nice silk shirt, but a men's shirt - tie and all. I had five-o'clock stubble! I had years more electrolysis to go! I didn't look anything like a woman right then! I wasn't wearing any makeup! I had my work glasses on!

Cher read my panic like I'd been speaking each thought out loud, and she still grinned. Then she beamed the same smile up at Barbara and used a too-formal tone.

"Could you please tell the gentlemen we'd be happy to accept their kind offer?"

Barbara said "Certainly!" at the same time I said, "Cher!" and before I could say more, she went on, "Your usuals be okay?"

And smiled at us both.

I could only manage a gaping stare at Cher, afraid to even look at the two men. Cher said, "Grasshoppers would be perfect, thank you!"

Barbara flounced off, a spring in her step.

"Cher!" I tried to hiss it quietly enough that Barbara, or anyone in the next booth, wouldn't hear. "What if they come over!?"

Cher hunched down too, as if she was making fun of me, I thought. But then she touched my hand and smiled.

"Then we'll thank them in person."

She looked over and her smile changed. "And they are. Scootch over and make room."

The men were indeed on their way, having abandoned their own drinks for Barbara to collect. Or something. But walking our way, already to the steps.

"Cher! I can't do this! I'm- they're gonna- " My whispered panic was leaving me breathless.

And they were standing at the end of out table.

And we had scootched over and made room, and Cher waved them to sit, or smiled it, or even said something. I wasn't processing just then. And they sat down. One on Cher's side, one on mine.

And they both smiled at us and introduced themselves. Whatever their names were. And we introduced ourselves, too. And they were charming and intelligent, and Dave, the one on Sher's side, was a cyclist too and we got on famously after just a little awkward shuffle to switch sides with Jason without it looking like either or any of us was being cold-shouldered. And they had drinks and we had that round of Grasshoppers and refused another and we talked about bikes and rides and books and, and after perhaps an hour the two of us, Cher and I, made eye contact and then excused ourselves and said good night and thank you to Dave and Jason in town for a convention and both very nice if slightly dull men.

And we both cracked up in fits of giggles once we were in the hotel lobby and out of sight of Dave and Jason and Thor and Barbara and Mike. And all the rest of the Garrison.

"I can't believe that happened!" I clutched at Cher's arm. "They... They didn't- I- I'm not... like-"

"You are a total nerd and so was Dave." Cher steered us in the direction of my car. "And thanks for taking him because I would've strangled him." She grinned at me.

"And you were also witty and funny and smiled very prettily, my dear Michelle. And Dave would've gladly taken you to his room tonight and I don't think he cared one bit if you still had any other bits down there."

She smiled almost sadly. "Because you were you, and happy, and… and that was enough."

I had no idea what to say to that. Enough.

We rode home - I drove her home - almost in silence. Cher kissed my cheek and playfully rubbed it to feel the few hairs that still plagued me.

"I don't know what he thought, or saw, but he definitely wasn't gay and I saw the same girl I always do, so don't over-think it all, okay?"

She smiled at me again, her usual self and all seriousness gone as she unbuckled and opened the door. Then she leaned back in and grinned.

"But if you start pulling men over every time, we're finding a different bar!" She laughed a note and then smiled her perfect way.

"Night, Michelle. I had a great time."

"Night, C. Me too."

My smile might've been a little weird, but I couldn't tell. I couldn't tell anything about how I looked.

I sat and waited for Cher to turn and wave from her parent's front door, and then sat just a little longer.

Cher would call Rach - probably already was - and they'd both be over the next day for breakfast out and they'd both want to know everything I felt all evening and what I thought had happened and whether I thought Dave was cute and did I- if he'd asked- would I?

Was I?

And I didn't know if I was. But he was cute... and funny.

And I'd had a fairytale evening, with a prince charming and pumpkin… and everything. I rubbed at my cheek, where Cher had. It was smooth, except for a couple of hairs near my jaw.

And, apparently, that was enough.

The end.



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