Valentine leaned over Bobby’s piano and dropped a ten in the Pilsner glass he used for tips. “Play me something blue.”
Bobby, who’d been noodling around a version of Moon River, winked and played the opening melody to Happy Birthday. “Sure Sweetie, but keep the ten. You can buy me a round for your birthday instead.” He paused on the high note, improvising melodramatically with his left hand until she smiled.
Val left the bill in the glass and went back to her seat at the bar. Sweet Dixie herself was pouring drinks tonight, so the bourbon sour waiting for her was strong and tart, with an extra cherry waiting for her at the bottom.
She nursed the drink while Bobby played homage to Gershwin.
The broad-hipped barkeep made her way down the bar. “Valentine.” Dix stretched out the last syllable in her molasses drawl, like the holiday. Val never bothered to correct her. “Where’s the Earl tonight?”
Val blinked back tears. The Earl. Aubrey had loved the nickname. I’m sure there was an Earl somewhere in the family, Valentine, he’d said, amongst the gypsies and Celts.
“Oh, sweet thing,” Dixie passed her a cocktail napkin. “What happened?”
Bobby sidled in next to her. She hadn’t even heard him wrap up his set at the piano. “No girl likes to be alone on her thirtieth birthday, Dix.” Val missed the look that passed between Bobby and Dix. “And you handcuffed me to the ivories on this of all evenings.”
“Take the rest of the night, Bobby,” Dixie said. “Take this pretty girl for a beignet.” She leaned across the scarred bar and stroked Val’s hair back from her temple. “Happy birthday, Valentine. Drinks are on the house.”
It wasn’t until Bobby bundled her into the cab of his truck that Val realized Sweet Dixie had pronounced her name correctly.
This moment is a part of something larger, but it’s out of context here, so it’s meant to stand mostly on its own. Hopefully.