Barch Nemesis

By Kristen Bealer

Jake flopped down on a stool in the Liquid Dinner and glumly ordered a martini. He'd spent the last four evenings at that bar, and in all honesty would be happy to spend the rest of his life there.

Well, not happy. Never happy. Not now that Helen had started divorce proceedings.

He'd always thought it was rough being married to a lawyer. Now he realized that that was nothing compared to divorcing one. He figured he'd be lucky if he got to keep his fillings once the split was final.

The worst part, really, was that she must have been planning this for some time. From what he could piece together, she'd only been waiting until both the girls were off at college.

It seemed like the door had barely closed behind Quinn before Helen had filed the paperwork. Now Jake was staying at The Dutchman Inn until he could find a decent apartment.

I'll be damned if I take up Mom's offer to move in with her, he thought grimly. The last thing I need is to hear her smug lectures about how she knew all along Helen was wrong for me and why didn't I marry that nice Sarah Jenkins down the street.

At least Mad Dog isn't around to see this. The thought comforted him only a little.

The bartender set the glass down in front of Jake, giving the silently-fuming man a sympathetic look before moving on to the next customer, a short brunette with a permanent scowl on her face. She looked familiar, but Jake was too busy struggling with his own demons to pay much attention.

"Get me a scotch on the rocks," the woman demanded shrilly. "That means with ice."

"Yes, I know," replied the bartender, trying to hide his amused smirk.

"Well, you can never be too careful when it comes to the ignorance of men," she spat with a glare.

"Some men," Jake murmured. The bitterness in the woman's voice reminded him of his father, and he was still trying desperately not to let himself go down that road.

"Like a man who breaks off an engagement not once, but twice!" She laughed caustically. "Damn weak-willed, spineless sack of a wimp--"

"Stop it!" Jake shouted. The brunette looked up, fury in her eyes, but stopped dead when he plaintively added, "You sound like him."

Rage momentarily forgotten, she asked, "Like who?"

"Mad Dog." He growled the name into his drink, which he gulped down before signaling for a refill. "A heartless bastard who only cared about himself."

The bartender brought the brunette her drink, which she accepted without comment. "Sounds like my ex-husband," she replied quietly, staring into the glass.

"Selfish tyrant," Jake grumbled, allowing himself to slide back into the familiarity of ranting. "Sending me off to military school for no good reason."

"Brainless jerk," the brunette said in the same tone. "Abandoning me without even a goodbye."

"Never had a kind word to say, either," Jake continued, downing the next martini the moment it arrived. "Nothing was ever good enough for the old man!"

"Happy enough to live off my paycheck, but couldn't be bothered to say thank you for all the work I did for him!" The brunette gulped her own drink down in turn.

"Only way he knew how to communicate was by yelling at the top of his lungs!"

"Wouldn't lift a finger unless it was to open yet another can of beer!"

"Oh, hell yeah! Drunken old bastard!"

Their eyes met. "Emotionally dead?" she asked.

Jake nodded. "No appreciation whatsoever?" he asked in return.

She replied by launching herself off the barstool at him. Her lips met his, and after the initial surprise he relaxed into the kiss.

After a few seconds, the bartender cleared his throat and they pulled apart.

"Are you...doing anything special tonight?" the brunette asked Jake with a coy smile.

"The only thing I had planned was watching the football game," Jake replied with a smile of his own. "But I can--"

"What?! " The smile vanished from her lips and she recoiled abruptly. "Did you"

Jake frowned slightly. She had the same look on her face that Helen used to get when he got her birthday wrong. "...Maybe?"

"Ugh!" she shrieked, shoving him off the bar stool. As he sat up from where he'd landed, he watched her storm out of the bar. As the door slammed behind her, he could still hear her faintly cry, "Another goddamn football fan!"

He picked himself up and glumly settled back down on his stool. The bartender slid another martini in front of him and said, "On the house."

"Thanks," Jake said, surprised at his generosity.

"My pleasure. It's not every day I get to see someone come that close to mortal peril only to yank themselves right back out of it again at the last possible moment." The bartender smiled. "You, my friend, just survived a near-Barch experience."

Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.