Charlii studied Sam’s face. His lips pointed down as his brows curled and rumpled on his forehead. His eyes caught hers as he approached the bar. He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped and turned his head as a group of five women entered the bar, laughing and out of breath from running in the rain.
“I’ve never noticed this place,” said the woman entering first. She shook off her coat and ran her fingers through slick, wet hair.
“It’s close,” said the woman following her. “And since when do you notice bars, Beatrice?” The second woman laughed and led the group to a table near Charlii.
“I walk down this street every Thursday,” continued Beatrice. Eyes scanned the bar, taking in the candlelight and fine tables. “Are you sure we can afford this place, Alice?”
“Will you sit down,” Alice, the woman who picked the table said. “It’s your birthday, and you don’t need to worry about price.”
“And look what I have,” explained a tall woman with flaming red hair. She held placed a box on the table and opened it to reveal a cake. “Happy birthday, Bea,”
Beatrice’s cheeks blushed, turning her creamy brown skin to silky rose. “Tia, you shouldn’t have.”
Tia, the tall woman, bent over and kissed Beatrice’s cheek. “It’s from all of us. And you deserve it. Relax a little.”
Balder approached the table. “A special occasion calls for special drinks. What will you have, ladies?”
Each of the woman asked for wine or beer. Alice ordered a martini. Beatrice smiled at Balder saying, “Just a pop for me, thank you.”
“Beatrice,” said Tia, taking the cake out of the box. “You’re taking tonight off. Have a drink. Relax.”
“You know I volunteer on Thursday nights. Just because it’s my birthday, doesn’t mean I take off from doing that.”
“Oh, Beatrice,” said Alice, putting a candle on the cake. “The center will get along fine without you for one night. It’s your birthday. Celebrate.”
The other women agreed with Alice.
Beatrice nodded and looked up at Balder. “I suppose,” she said, cracking the faintest of smiles. “Maybe something little, just to celebrate.”
“Allow me,” said Balder and pulled a lighter out to light the candle. “And let me find something special just for you.”
At the bar, Charlii watched Balder walk back and forth in front of the wall of liquors. After two passes, he pulled a golden bottle with a string tied around its narrow section. She raised her eyebrow as Balder placed a glass on the bar and poured its clear, gold contents over ice cubes.
“Odd looking bottle,” she said.
“To remind us of the monks who made it,” replied Balder.
“I smell,” Charlii said and sniffed, “nuts.”
“Hazelnut,” said Balder. “Beatrice’s friend made her a chocolate cake. What else would I server to a woman given to serve humanity?”
Charlii opened her mouth to speak, but Balder turned to carry the drink to Beatrice, blushing even more as her friends sang Happy Birthday.
“Thank you,” she said to both Balder and her friends.
Beatrice smelled the drink then sipped it, smiling as it drink slipped across her tongue and down her throat.
“A monk made the original,” said Balder to Beatrice as her friends chatted and ate cake. “He made medicines in his day. It reminds us of the land and sky, of all we each day, of the pleasure in a ray of sunshine, and the joy in a kind word.”
Beatrice nodded as Tia stood, lifting her glass. “Here’s to Bea, our favorite volunteer and one day, a damn find minister, if you’ll excuse the expression.”
The women laughed and toasted. Beatrice touched her eye with a napkin as a tear filled it. “You’re all so good to me. I hate to leave you, but I’m needed. I can’t tell you want it means that you made this cake for me and brought me out.”
Alice stood as Beatrice stood. “You’re the best, Bea. Even if we only have you for a little while, you make us happy. Happy birthday, best friend.” Alice hugged Beatrice.
Charlii watched Beatrice walk up the steps to the door. As Charlii turned her body back toward the bar, she thought she saw a golden light slip past her eyes. She turned back to Beatrice, but Beatrice had put on her coat and opened the door to leave. Before walking out, she turned back to her friends, waving her hand. “Bye all. Thanks again and be safe going home.”
Charlii frowned, from Beatrice’s eyes, she thought she saw a golden glimmer. Shrugging her shoulders, she turned to see Balder standing in front of her. “Must be getting tired,” she said.
“Perhaps,” replied Balder.