It was, quite possibly, the tackiest bar Leta had ever seen. Actual dirty beach sand was strewn across the floor and neon lights flashed green and blue. It was a tiki bar, Corra had informed her excitedly, before pulling her inside. The scene was both horrifying and fascinating, and as she stood in the crowd of patrons, nursing a glass of water, Leta found herself observing more than participating in the party.
At her side, Corra was excitedly explaining the origins behind the carved wooden tiki head adorning a nearby wall. It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d gone off on a history lesson and clearly Cyrus was used to it as he feigned interest perfectly. “So it’s from the Origin then?” he asked politely.
“Yeah, I read all about them in this book,” Corra told him, buying into his ruse. “There’s this legend about how the tiki man was the first man and from him came all others.”
Cyrus nodded slowly, hardly paying attention as he sipped his drink. After a moment, he asked, “That guy?” pointing at the angry face on the wall.
“Yeah, that guy,” Corra replied, a little irritated at his lack of commitment to this conversation.
He eyed the horrifying face glaring at him a moment longer before muttering, “His poor wife…”
Corra appeared ready to launch into the next phase of the lesson, but Cyrus beat her to the punch, turning to Leta and asking, “Why aren’t you drinking?” He raised his own drink, a fruity concoction held in an actual cut of pineapple with a tiny umbrella sticking out of the top. “They may look stupid, but they do taste good.”
It was a moment before Leta realized she was being addressed. With a start, she tore her eyes away from a bright neon mermaid sign. “Wh — actually, I’m not feeling well.”
“When has that ever stopped you?” said Corra bluntly.
Leta almost argued, but she snorted instead, admitting defeat. “Good point. I’ll get a drink.”
Sliding through the crowd of people, Leta moved to the bar counter and was surprised to find herself standing next to — of all people — Fiearius. They locked eyes in surprise and at once, a smirk arrived on his scruffy face.
“You know, if you wanna buy me a drink, kiddo, you don’t have to ask.”
“Nice to see you too, Fiear,” said Leta politely, although she grinned back before picking up the drink menu. The menu featured only obnoxious, sugary, brightly-colored cocktails, the kind Leta would never order on a regular day, but in this instance she leaned in and ordered the drink. But not for herself.
“Here ya go, sir,” said the bartender moments later, arriving with the most ridiculous drink Leta had ever seen. It was in a tiki head mug overflowing with pure sugar-water, complete with a mini umbrella and yellow straw sticking out of it. He did not hand it to Leta, but rather, to Fiearius. “From the lady, here.”
Leta barely stifled her giggles as Fiearius stared in disbelief at the drink, then arched an eyebrow at her knowingly. Then he reached for it — he had to use two hands — with no shame whatsoever.
“I’m flattered,” he cooed sweetly, tilting the straw toward his mouth expertly. “So,” he mused, a suggestive hint in his eyes. “You come here often?”
For a moment Leta simply eyed him. She couldn’t discern between his joking flirtatious advances or his real ones (did he have real ones?) these days. But rather than dismiss him as she knew she should have, she followed her first impulse: she reached to take the glass from his hand and sipped it. “Thank the gods, no. Can you believe that this is my first tiki bar experience?”
“That so? Well I daresay you’ve been missin’ out.” He reached for the mug again, taking it back from her and took a long drink, too long, as if he were stalling. When he finally brought his drink down back to the bar, he glanced over at her thoughtfully and then promptly looked away.
“So,” he began abruptly. “What’s new?”
Leta blinked. In all her time aboard, Fiearius had literally never asked her any form of niceties, and for one moment, her stomach turned over. Did he — ? No, he couldn’t possibly have known.
After a spell of silence in which Leta simply stared, he cleared his throat and changed the subject, glancing around the bar casually. “Suppose this place was Corra’s choice?”
Glad for the awkward moment to pass, Leta laughed. “Yes, how’d you know? She loves places like this. And Cyrus is over there pretending to like it, for her sake … “
“Is he still on that?” Fiearius groaned as he lifted his drink to his lips, but it stopped a few inches away and suddenly he pointed at her instead. “I’m blaming you, by the way. For encouraging him.”
Leta looked through the bar. Corra was still lecturing Cyrus on the decor, if the way she waved her hand around was any indication.
“I make no apologies,” said Leta, raising her voice with dignity. “He should be happy. Besides, I don’t see you setting him up with anybody.”
“Fair point. Let’s change that, shall we?” Suddenly, Fiearius spun around on his stool and scanned over the crowded bar. Then he unabashedly pointed to a nearby woman in a short grass skirt and coconut bra holding a tray of drinks. “How about her?”
“That’s a waitress,” said Leta composedly.
“Yeah, she’s a working girl. He’ll like that.” Admiring the woman a moment longer, he added, “He’ll like the skirt too…”
Leta wrinkled her nose. “He’d probably be allergic to it. What about her?” she added innocently, tilting her head toward a woman who was awkwardly climbing onto a table to dance.
Fiearius barked a laugh. “Ah yeah, now we’re onto something. How ‘bout the blonde in the corner who looks like she’s about the vomit?”
“She’s on the short list,” Leta confirmed at once. “And what about the guy holding her hair back?” She pointed. “He’s quite handsome. Is Cyrus interested in men at all?”
Looking suddenly thoughtful, Fiearius frowned. “Y’know, I’ve always wondered. I don’t think so … ” He shrugged carelessly and added, “If you think that guy’s so handsome, why not buy him a drink yourself?” He grinned suggestively. “Nothing more appealing to a guy than a girl handin’ ya a tiki head with a pink umbrella.”
“No thanks. I’d rather not.”
“Why not?” Fiearius asked, nudging her with his elbow. “No harm in it. Why not order another mug of tiki brains and go say hi?”
“Because she’s a married woman, that’s why not,” came a cheerful voice behind her suddenly. It was Corra, swinging her arms around Leta’s neck and beaming drunkenly at the pair.
Fiearius didn’t seem to appreciate the interruption. He rolled his eyes at her and turned back toward the bar. But that didn’t stop Leta from hearing what he suddenly muttered sharply under his breath.
“She ain’t married yet.”
Even Corra heard it. Leta felt her smile drop off of her face in surprise. No, she wasn’t married yet, and the nastiness in Fiearius’ voice made her suddenly feel very warm around the neck, like a spotlight had been forced over her head.