Cherry Land Chapters

Illustration by Nik Garvoille

Amber takes a swig from a bottle of Miller Light. She perches herself on a black barstool at the AC Tap while Martin feeds dollar bills into the jukebox. Kyle, his toothy smile gleaming in the dim light of the bar, stands besides Martin who laughs and runs his fingers through his black hair. Amber scans the tin signs pinned to the ceiling and wonders how two years can just evaporate.

Gina swirls her vodka and lemonade, adjusts her black V-neck and taps Amber on the knee, “How much did you make tonight?”

“130,” Amber says over the beat of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” “How about you?”

“90,” Gina shakes her head. “Thursday nights have been slow lately. I think the kids going back to school and, who knows. But, I’m freaking out because I’m going back in like a week and I just want some more money.”

“Labor day weekend should be busy.”

“I hope so,” Gina exhales and searches the crowd. “So, Martin is cute. What happened between you two?”

“Oh, it was just –“

“Hey, Amber. What do you want to hear?” Martin calls from the jukebox. Kyle waves her over.

“I’ll be right back,” she says.

“Go, go,” Gina says and takes a drink from her skinny straw.

Amber walks around the crook of the bar, passing two white-haired men heckling the female bartender about the pickled eggs, comparing them to parts of their male anatomy.

A small beanbag soars over her shoulder, smacking the wooden platform and slipping into one of the holes. The tosser, a woman with heavy eyeliner, jumps with her arms raised, her red heels clapping the tile floor. The table beside her erupts in cheers.

“I did it! I told you, Tim. I told you I was good at this,” the woman slaps the arm of a man in a denim shirt. He shakes his head with a grin.

Amber places her hand between Martin’s shoulder blades. Kyle smiles, his cheeks beaming red from a summer’s worth of kayak tours.

“Three credits left,” Martin says. “Amber…call it.”

“Dude, we gotta go skinny dipping tonight,” Kyle says, hunching down and lowering his voice like he’s telling a secret.

Amber laughs and clutches the neck of her bottle, “What a thrill.”

“I’m sensing sarcasm, Amber,” Martin says. “Three credits. Three credits.” He punches in M-I-C-H-A-E-L J-A-C and scans through the songs. “‘Thriller’…‘Beat It’… ‘Dirty Diana.’”

“I’m all ready for swimming. We don’t have to go naked,” Kyle points to his faded orange swim trunks.

“We don’t all wear swimsuits to work,” Amber says, pointing to her blue work t-shirt.

“Dude, when’s the last time you went swimming?” Kyle turns to Martin. “Do they have lakes in Croatia?”

“Ah – they have seas,” Martin raises his brows. “I lived just up the hill from the Adriatic Sea. What about Springsteen?”

“There he is!” a voice booms over the entire bar. Casey fist pumps the air, his Green Bay Packer t-shirt waving like a flag around his midsection. Brittany follows, clutching an oversized Coach purse. Tyler, Jordan, and Dustin file in next, lining up along the bar shouting, “Martin! Martin! Hell yes, man! Welcome back!”

Martin opens his arms for hugs and handshakes and pats on the back while Amber presses ‘play now’ to “Dirty Diana.” She squeezes by her line of friends.

“Hey,” Amber pats Brittany’s long brown hair as they hug. She smells fruity shampoo and citrusy perfume, conscious of her body’s lack of sweet-smelling products after a seven-hour waitressing shift.

“He’s back,” Brittany says, moving along to greet Martin.

“He’s back,” Amber repeats.

“Amber!” Tyler tousles her hair. She pulls off his straight-rimmed black Billabong cap to retaliate. Jordan’s hemp necklace rubs against her check as they hug. Dustin scratches his brown beard, “We’ll have to jam while he’s here. Did Martin bring his guitar?”

“I think he’s got everything in his car.”

“Lucky bastard.”

Gina sucks on her skinny straw, “What are his plans?”

“Portland,” Amber says.

“Lame. You two would be cute together. I totally see it. You two could travel all over the world…and play songs in coffee shops…have hippy little kids.”

“No,” Amber laughs. “Nice thought though.”

Brittany whispers something in Casey’s ear while Dustin and Martin talk music: “I’m hoping in Portland to really get something going. Dude, you should come!” Tyler and Jordan watch golf highlights on the flat screen TV above a basket of assorted candy bars. Amber checks her phone. Her mother called. Her sister sent a text: “Martin’s there?! Brittany texted me. OMG, call me when you can!”

“Amber, this was you!” Martin says, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She shuts her phone. Martin sings along, “Dirty Diana – nah, Dirty Diana – no.” Gina and Amber laugh as he attempts a Michael Jackson imitation, moon walking, kicking his right leg, then raising his heels from the floor.

“Shots!” Casey shouts. “One – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight. Eight shots of Jager.”

“Is that a good idea?” Amber asks to no one, her friends huddling up to the bar.

“It’s always a good idea,” Martin says. “I have the stuff that you want. I am the thing that you need. We are going swimming tonight.”