By the time Peggy got to Dinah’s, the men’s choir from the nearby college had finished their rehearsal and filled the place up. She slipped past tables of young dudes in polo shirts and various stages of figuring out their sexuality poring over the song list to get to the bar. On stage, three women still in business casual were actively destroying “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. Her favorite seat was open, and she draped her jacket over the back and sat down.
“Oh, Aster,” she said as the bartender walked over. “The exact right person I’ve been looking for all my life.”
Aster made an over-exaggerated pout as they threw a coaster in front of her and started pouring her favorite beer.
“Must have been a pretty shitty day if I’m the light of your fucking life.”
Peggy tried to think about the past few hours at work and her brain said ‘nah,’ giving her nothing but a blank wall for a few seconds before showing her the corgi she had seen earlier on the street.
“You have no idea. I did see a corgi.”
Aster’s eyes lit up as they put the beer in front of Peggy. “Was it wearing a purple tutu?”
“I know that dog, her name is Sally, and she is delightful. Did you want to sing tonight? I can squeeze you in before all the college dorks get started on the Disney songs.”
Beer still up to her lips, Peggy shook her head. “I am too tired for all that. I’m just going to sit right here and drink until you throw me out.”
Aster smiled. “Could have just said a usual Tuesday.”
She didn’t know why she liked watching people singing karaoke so much. Even when they sucked. Especially when they sucked, really. The people who had training, or were just naturally good, like this crowd of twenty-somethings who had taken lessons their whole lives, they went up there and did something that came to them naturally, and Peggy liked that. But seeing someone who never sang? Whose entire life was so far away from any form of creativity the last piece of art they had ever produced was a Mad Libs with their kids on their way to the Grand Canyon? To see that person spontaneously decide they wanted to get on stage in front of strangers and kill their vocal chords trying to imitate Whitney Houston always made her day better.
The first kid from the college choir was halfway through ”Poor Unfortunate Souls” when Aster came back over to top her up.
“Peg, I hate to ask, but I have got to take this trash out. I think someone threw away most of a fish. Can you keep an eye on the bar?”
She shrugged. “The fuck you want me to do?”
“Just keep an eye on the taps. Anyone goes for them just be the intimidating bitch I know you can be. Lori’s on her-” they made a gesture like they were holding a joint, “smoke break, she’ll be back in ten and I cannot take this smell anymore. It’ll take me two minutes.”
“All right, fine,” Peggy said, leaning forward on her bar seat. “Two minutes.”
Aster thanked her again and again as they walked by with a trash bag that did, in fact, smell like someone had thrown away an entire fish. A big one, too. Who the fuck brings a fish into a bar and then throws it away? Someone who thought they liked fish but found out they didn’t like fish in the middle of a karaoke bar, she guessed. Maybe it was just something that smelled like fish, but what smells that much like fish besides fish? It had to be food, right? And if something was going to smell like fish-
“Hey!” she yelled at the guy leaning over the bar. One of the college kids, staring at her like a deer in headlights. “Back off or I’ll break your fingers.”
He held up his hands. “It’s cool, man, it’s cool. Where’s the bartender?”
“They’ll be back…soon…”
Aster said two minutes. It had been five. Aster had never been the kind to get distracted, and they’d never leave her hanging. The alley was out back, it wasn’t like they could have gotten lost either.
“Hi, Peg. Where the fuck is Aster?” Lori asked as she came around and behind the bar.
“That’s what I’m going to find out.”
She’d been coming to Dinah’s for a couple of years now, so no one questioned her when she slipped into the back. Benny and Lilah both gave her head nods as she crossed through the kitchen to the door to the back alley.
Outside the night air was fresh and a little chilly and absolutely reeked. The dumpster was directly across the alley from the door. The bag Aster had been carrying, still smelling of fish so badly she could almost see cartoon wavy lines rising up off it, was sitting in front of the dumpster.
A muffled sound from down the alley. She was standing underneath the large spotlight pointed at the door and the dumpster, and it was impossible to see anything outside that perfect circle. Wrapping her arms around her against the cold, she walked down the alley until the light faded.
Aster was standing in the middle of the alley. Somebody had their arms around them. Peggy got a little closer.
Correction. Some vampire had her arms around them, her fangs in their neck.
Peggy had only muttered it under her breath, but the vampire whipped around to look at her like she had yelled it.
“Let them go,” Peggy said.
“Oh, a volunteer for the next course.”
The vampire – a trashy woman with bleached blonde hair and huge roots and ripped bleached jeans – pushed Aster away, hard enough that they hit the wall before they collapsed. And then she was coming right for Peggy.
Peggy waited until she was closer, waited until her reaching arms were just inches from her. She lashed out, grabbing her by her arm and pulling her close to drive the waiting palm of her other hand into her nose. Vampires were strong, and fast, but they weren’t particularly good fighters.
Of course, Peggy didn’t actually have anything on her to finish the job. All she could do was make the situation so annoying the vampire fucked off. The bleached-blonde bloodsucker kept coming after her, trying to use her strength and speed to throw Peggy off balance. Joke was on her, though. She had her own speed, and she hadn’t been thrown off balance since she was a kid. She had to wall run over her a couple of times, and dodge a few hits by jumping on top of the dumpster. Finally, she managed to kick the trashy bitch in the face, breaking her nose. With an exhausted growl, the vampire ran off down the alley.
Panting and aching, Peggy made her way to where Aster was sitting. This was not how she wanted to end her day.
“Are you okay?” she asked, holding her hand out.
Aster only stared at it, and then stared at her.
“What the fuck was any of that?”