Once the doors closed, Jade eyed the liquor, where not so much as a speck of dust dulled the bottles or the glass shelves. The bar’s lights glinted off the bottles, which sat on shelves against the mirror that ran from the ceiling to Jade’s waist, as wide as the length of the bar. It was well stocked for now, though later she knew there’d be a run on the cheaper stuff: Ram Rum, Liquid Courage, Manager’s Reserve, Jimmy Runner, Potato Juice, Blue Label Special, Nirvanic, Captain’s Special Box.
The knock-off Indian booze might all taste like sugary antifreeze, but it had the best names. Jade chuckled and wondered who had thought of them all. In the mirror, the light caught her smile and her blue-and-gold eyes, framed by her almond face, olive skin, and the kinky brown-and-black hair that hung just past her shoulders.
Then she reached down, just there on the paneling, just below the bottom shelf of the mirrored bar, just below the phone that never rang. Jade tapped the spot and the cabinet opened. Unseen and unseeable by anyone but her—though lately she wondered about Rucksack—the cabinet held her true duty.
A soft, silvery light shimmered from no distinct source. The cabinet could have opened to the sky; the small space inside seemed to have no back, no bottom, no sides, no top. All these years, Jade thought, and sometimes I still don’t know. She reached inside, wondering if she would just keep reaching and reaching, but as always her knuckles rapped on the wood at the back of the cabinet, the same deep mahogany of the bar and the doors.
The bottles seemed to float on the light: Green #2, Red #4, Brown #5, Yellow #6, Blue #7, Orange #9, Silver #10. Almost an ordinary day, except that there was extra Blue #7 and Red #4. No Gold #1, Gray #3, Purple #8, or Black #11, but those came only with special circumstances. Two or even three could be combined. All eleven were never supposed to be mixed together, except under personal guidance from The Management. For a moment Jade wondered why The Management had never been able to figure out a twelfth elixir. It was said that they nearly had, just before The Blast, but after the catastrophe they had stopped trying. The twelfth elixir remained a myth that could not be made real.
Jade glanced at the clock. Early the hour and empty the pub, but hot was the day, and people would be thirsty. The news spoke of The Blast and another mirror eclipse. People would be scared, indecisive, unsure. The people would need those extra elixirs, and Jade would be ready to steer them.
She closed the cabinet, rose, and turned to face the doors. Her eyes blazed, but her insides still felt cold. For a moment, her mind faded back to long ago, to another life that seemed further away than The Blast.
“Why are you posting me here?” she had asked The Management.
“Because of who you are,” the three hooded, floating figures had replied. The voices of The Management always seemed at once like three voices in perfect unison and like one voice that they passed to each other like a ball.
“But I’m just me,” she had said.
If they knew her thoughts, they gave no indication. Jade couldn’t figure out if they read minds or not. All you could ever see were the hoods—never a face or limb or any indication of what The Management were behind their cloaks. In a way that still haunted her every move and decision, they had replied, “You are here because you are the best of us, Jade Agamuskara Bluegold.”
She hoped she still was. Lately, she didn’t feel so certain. No matter how perfect the drink, no matter how she steered the drinker down the path that life needed him or her to take, she no longer fully trusted her decisions or her own path. Whoever she helped, her own choices rang in her mind all the time. Who am I now? she thought. Why did I choose this, instead of saying yes in Hong Kong when he asked?
But that was another life ago.
When the pub door opened again, her thoughts returned to where she was: behind the bar of the best pub and hostel in Agamuskara, India. A man entered and sat at a table. His straight black hair hung ragged, as if he’d given himself a haircut after drinking a few beers—a common look with many of the budget backpackers she’d seen pass through the hostel. His clothes suggested a young American, and in his brown eyes hung doubts of his place in the world, how he was trying to find it but had a hard time knowing where to look. He stuck his nose in his guidebooks, a dry thirst in his throat and a yearning in his heart.
Jade ignored him.
A few minutes later, a woman came in, sat at a different table, and quickly buried her nose in her guidebooks. The pub lights gleamed off her short blonde hair. A ferocity burned in her, one that Jade knew well: a brittle wall, hard voice, and driving velocity that concealed intense fear and doubt.
Jade ignored her too. The less you do, she thought, the more they do what they were supposed to do anyway. So Jade stood behind the bar, her back to the tables. After a few more minutes, first the man and then the woman approached the bar. Jade kept her back to them, waiting.
“Excuse me,” the man said.
“Oy!” the woman said.
Jade turned around. “Oh, hello! What can I do for you both?”
“I’ve been here for—” they both began in unison.
“Oh, oh, so sorry!” Jade replied. “What can I get the two of you?”
“We’re not together,” the woman said, looking at the man for the first time.
“No, um,” the man said, looking back at the woman, “I’m, um, over there.”
“I’m surprised,” Jade said. “I would’ve thought you were traveling together.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Why do you say that?”
Jade pointed at the book each was carrying. “You each have Deep’s Enlightened Guide to Spiritual Travel and India Through the Third Eye. Seemed like a for-sure.” Jade shrugged. “Even a bartender can’t be right all the time.”
“Oh,” the woman said, not just looking at the man but also paying attention to him for the first time. He looked at her, then at the worn, identical book in her hand. “Are you heading to Godhpur?”
“Um, yeah,” said the man. “Yeah, I was, I mean, it’s—”
“It’s amazing!” the woman said. “I’ve been wanting to find myself there for years!”
“Me too!” the man said. “Well, I mean, find myself, not yourself. I, um, you know…”
Gotta be Californian, Jade thought as she smiled at him. “You want a Deep’s Special Lager,” she said, then nodded to the woman. Australian, no doubt. “And you want a chardonnay.”
“I’ll bring your drinks right over. Why don’t you sit and swap travel plans.”
They both wandered over to the woman’s table and resumed talking.
Now for the hard part.
While they pointed to the same highlighted sections in their guidebooks, Jade looked at the paths of their lives—how they connected, intertwined, ran together for so long.
How they broke apart.
Falling in love, Jade thought. It’s easier than falling down the stairs.
But he would never show his confidence, and she would never let down her guard. In time, their bright eyes would turn cold, their words sharp. Eventually, there would come a day when they would turn away from each other, preferring the coldness of the world to the frigidity of each other’s company.
That’s the future, Jade thought. It was all there in the paths that only Jakes and Jades could watch—and influence. She grinned as the tapped the cabinet.
Unless I do my job.
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