"What to get for you and your skittish friend this fine evening, Miss Shira?" the man at the bar asks, pointing at my best friend Aaron on the right of me. He is visibly shaking, and his blond locks are covering his wide, frightened eyes.
"Same old, same old," I say, putting an arm around Aaron, comforting him. The man at the bar, Phil, nods his head and pulls out a bottle of lemonade and two cups.
"You sure you don't want anything in it? Just a little punch?" he says, looking up to me pleadingly, as if he wants to get me drunk.
"Yeah, I'm sure, Phil." Phil nods again and pours the juice into the cups, handing them over.
"On me," he grins, and I thank him gratefully before dragging Aaron over to a table in the back. I practically shove him into a seat and then sit down at the other.
"Why are we here, again?" Aaron mutters, looking down at the table and fiddling his hands anxiously.
"Celebration, dummy! We got through seventh grade. We passed seventh grade. We survived seventh grade. Somehow. But we did!" I exclaim loudly, putting up the glass of lemonade to my lips, then spitting it back into the cup. "Don't drink the lemonade, I think Phil drugged it." Aaron looks at me with a petrified expression, and pushes his drink away from him and into the middle of the table.
"How often do you go to this place?" Aaron whispers, looking around nervously.
"Every Sunday evening!" I answer excitedly.
"Do you ever get kidnapped?" my friend asks. I chuckle and roll my eyes, shaking my head. "Or drugged?" This time I don't shake my head, but continue laughing.
"This happens pretty often, but I'm good at noticing if there's stuff in it," I say, trying to reassure Aaron, but only making him even more afraid of his surroundings. "Awe, c'mon, Aaron! You'll be fine!" I punch his shoulder playfully and he flinches, pulling his knees into his chest and resting his head on them.
"No, I won't," Aaron muttered, putting his hand through his hair.
"You're such a wimp, Aaron!" I joke. Aaron looks quite hurt, and I specify that I was just kidding. He just nods, looking at the floor intently.
"Can we get out of here?" Aaron asks quietly.
"Soon," I answer vaguely, looking around the grungy, dark room for anyone I might know. Of course, I know all of them. They are what I call, The Regulars. They come every Sunday evening, like me. They may come every evening for all I know. I've never asked. Most of them are tall men that come here to wash away the stress of their jobs and get drunk. It can get dangerous at times, but when it does, I always high tail it out of the bar and down the road to the tiny apartment that my father and I call home.
I don't have a great relationship with my father. He hates to go to work, thinks it's stupid and not fun. He likes to skip it, a lot. Doesn't understand the concept of money, I guess. He doesn't care if I go to the bar. Well, his drunken self doesn't care. But he's always drunk. A couple of years ago, I got a job washing cars every Saturday. I have had that job ever since. It's not much, but if I didn't get that $7 an hour, we would probably be living in an alleyway, maybe even already dead from starvation.
"I don't really want to go right now," I say truthfully. I hate going home to my father. I wish I could stay anywhere but there. Even this shady bar is better than the apartment with ripped carpet and moth eaten couch cushions. Spoiled food and a broken television.
I think Aaron understands. "Why don't you come have a sleepover at my house? I mean, you'd have to ask, but..."
I smile gratefully. "I'm sure he doesn't care. Let's get out of here, shall we?" Aaron smiles back at me and we leave the bar, waving to Phil and asking him not to drug our drinks anymore.
"Can't make any promises!" Phil yells as we walk outside. The air is very cold. Aaron shivers, and I wrap my small blue sweater around my arms even tighter.
"C'mon, my mom's gonna be mad if we're late!" Aaron yells, and I run after him, laughing. And just for a second there, everything's gonna be okay..