The day had continued with no massive incidents. There were a few rowdy tables but they were soon escorted politely to a side room, leaving the main hall in a peaceful state. Jason glanced around the room and couldn’t help but notice that not only did the place seem completely empty of any mass panic but, in actual fact, everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives. Everyone except one. A woman was sitting at the main bar staring at her glass of wine, a serious look on her face. She seemed flat compared to everyone else. Her drink had been sitting in front of her for the past ten minutes but she had made no effort to drink it. She just stared at it, unmoving and altogether unimpressed by her spectacular surroundings. She intrigued Jason. Deep down, he knew it was because her outside mood matched his own inner one but he told himself that the reason he went to talk to her was because it was his job to ensure that everyone in this room at least looked like they were having a good time. He looked around at his staff to ensure that they were all busy. When he was satisfied, he made his way over to her, picking up the empty wine glasses next to her full one and beginning to tidy them away.
“The wine is the good stuff I assure you.” Jason offered as a start in conversation.
The woman looked up, momentarily startled by his interruption into her reverie. She had red hair, the kind of colour that could only be found in a bottle, and large saucer shaped eyes. She reminded him of someone straight out of an anime cartoon. She blinked at him and Jason could actually see her brain working through the comment he had given her. Either she was incredibly slow or he had interrupted an extremely deep thought process. He decided to help her out a little.
“Your glass? We only sell premium glasses here. So you’re fine to drink it.”
The penny dropped and the woman gave Jason a small smile.
“Oh,” she said. “Thanks. Sorry. I was miles away.”
“You okay?” He asked.
She gave a shrug. “Just trying to work out whether it would be a good idea to drink the wine at all. Not too sure if I even should.”
Warning bells rang in Jason’s head. Which group did she fall under?
“Have you got your entrance card?” He asked.
The woman looked at him for a moment, clearly not getting what he was talking about. Once more, he saw the penny drop in her expression.
“Oh, you mean that little card with the barcode on it?” She said, picking up her bag. “Yeah, I’ve got it somewhere.”
She rifled through her plain canvas bag and pulled out the small plastic card. Jason took it and ran it through the scanner. Her name came up on the computer; ‘Christiana Edwards: Practice Innovation Nurse for Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, Forensics department. Category C.’ Next to the title was her picture, the same face but with a lot more life behind the eyes. She was good to go.
“Maybe it’s not so much whether you should be drinking alcohol but the type of alcohol you’re drinking.” Jason said.
“I thought you said this was the premium stuff.”
“It is, for as premium as a good Chardonnay goes. However, maybe you would like something a little different?”
Christiana looked at him curiously, “What did you have in mind?”
Jason threw her his cheekiest wink, one he had experted from countless conversations like this down the line of his career. It had the right effect, a flash of intrigue shot through her eyes and he knew he had started to gain her attention. He grabbed a concoction of different bottles and started to line them up on his work station.
“It’s a little something I’ve had up my sleeve for a while.” He explained.
“Should I be worried?”
“You should be impressed.”
She gave her first genuine smile at that and Jason could see that he had her attention. Whatever had been on her mind had been temporarily put on hold. He decided to capitalise on this while he had the chance.
“I’m Jason by the way.”
He held out his hand to her and she shook it. “Christiana.” She said.
“Sounds exotic.” Jason commented.
Christiana laughed. “I think that’s what my parents were going for, their names are John and Jane.”
A flash of her previous expression shot over Christiana’s face at the mention of her parents and she broke eye contact, sending her gaze straight to her lap. Bring her back. He thought.
“My partner always said that when we had kids he wanted to give them a Chinese name like Ying Wi or something just to confuse people who met them and could see that they clearly weren’t Chinese.”
“Your partner sounds like fun.” Christiana said with a small grin, bringing her gaze back to him. “And a little bit cruel.”
Jason laughed. “He is both of them, definitely. But in a good way.” Change the subject, he thought, unless you want to wear an expression exactly like hers.
Jason decided to concentrate on adding the final flourishes to his cocktail, throwing the mixer and bottles around his person in a way that always got a smile and a clap from his viewers, Christiana included. He opened his shaker and poured the creamy peach concoction into a sugar rimmed cocktail glass.
“Et Voila.” He said as he added the strawberry.
Christiana looked at the drink, clearly impressed but still a little hesitant.
“Trust me.” Jason said. “You’ll love it.”
“If you say so,” she said, lifting the glass to him. “Cheers.”
She took a sip and he watched her expression change. Her eyes widened and she swallowed the mixture.
“Oh my days!” She let out. “It feels like my throat just had an orgasm.”
He laughed and she took another sip.
“This is amazing Jason. Seriously, you have a talent.”
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
Christiana took another sip which turned into a couple of gulps. She slammed her empty glass down on the bar and looked Jason straight in the eye.
“If I don’t get another one of these, I think I might die.”
“A little melodramatic, but I’ll oblige.” Jason smiled, deciding that he liked Christiana straight away.
By the time he had made her the second drink she was eyeing him suspiciously.
“What’s that look for?” He asked.
“What time did you get in for work this morning?” She asked.
Christiana’s face fell. “There are people that want to drink at 7am?!”
Jason laughed. “I’m sure there are but that’s not why I’m in. These bottles don’t stack themselves you know.”
“Oh.” She said, turning her attention to her drink. “Can I ask you a question?” She asked eventually.
“Sure.” He said.
“Did you... did you notice anything weird about your journey to work this morning?”
Alarm bells sounded in Jason’s ears as he struggled to remember the standard answer for these types of questions.
“Nothing much.” He said. “Why do you ask?”
Christiana played with the strawberry on her glass and stroked her arms, flinching slightly as she did. Jason noticed it then, and the moment he did, he wondered how he had gone the entire conversation without doing so. Christiana’s arms were red raw. Small white blisters had formed over the top. They looked incredibly painful. He opened his mouth to comment on them but was interrupted by her answer to his first question.
“Something just felt odd to me on my way in, that’s all. I know I shouldn’t worry or anything but... never mind.” She smiled sadly and met his eyes once more. “I’m just being silly, that’s all.”
Suddenly Jason didn’t want to lie to this woman. He just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and ask her what she knew. She was quite clearly in the ‘clueless column’ but she had witnessed something, something bad that had obviously scared her and Jason longed to connect with her on it.
“Christiana,” He started.
“Jason!” A sing song voice sounded from behind him. It was Michelle. “How are things going here?”
Jason turned to smile at his new manager. “Can’t complain, just getting to know this lovely lady. Christiana, meet my manager Michelle.”
“Christiana, ah of course.” Michelle beamed, taking Christiana’s hand. “You’re Kelly and Connor’s friend.” Michelle accented the word friend as if to add some extra connotation to it. She kept a polite smile on her face but the genuine expression had faded from her eyes. Jason saw it and from the look on Christiana’s face, so had she.
Michelle let go of Christiana’s hand and pulled out a small state of the art walkie talkie. “Kelly, my love. There’s a guest of yours drinking alone without a friend to talk to. Surely that’s not good hospitality.”
There was silence on the other line. Jason sneaked a look at Christiana to see her looking a little shocked.
“There really is no need-“ She started.
Michelle waved her off. “Nonsense.” She said. “This will only take a minute.”
“I have a table over there, it’s just..."
“Not to worry!” Michelle insisted, her fake smile plastered all over her face and her tone dropping to such a level that Jason knew something was up.
“Kelly, are you reading me, my sweet?” She spoke into the walkie talkie again.
There was another small silence until Kelly’s voice came over the system. “I’m a little busy at the moment Michelle.”
“I appreciate that darling, but there appears to be a friend of yours sitting alone at the bar, drinking. I hardly feel that this would mean she is having an overly Utopian afternoon.”
Another silence. When Kelly came back on the system, her tone seemed to match Michelle’s exactly in what, Jason was sure, was an attempt to mock her.
“My apologies for ruining the decorum of your little establishment, I had business to attend to with her date. He will be with her momentarily.”
If Michelle had picked up on the mocking, she didn’t show it. “Marvellous,” she said. “I will let her know.”
Michelle turned to Christiana. “Wonderful news. Your boyfriend will be out shortly. Hopefully you will be able to have a much nicer time. Perhaps you might want to join your friends over there?” Michelle gestured towards Adam Gammon’s table but Christiana didn’t even look. Instead she planted a fake smile of her own on her face, one that her ‘friend’ Kelly over the walkie talkie was no doubt wearing herself.
“Well I do apologise for ruining any decorum you may be creating. My date had asked me to wait here whilst he discussed some urgent business with his boss, but I will be most glad to oblige in making your day absolutely wonderful.”
Michelle smiled even bigger, if that was possible. “Lovely. I look forward to seeing you enjoy yourself.”
With that, she turned on her heel and sauntered off. Jason watched her leave, unsure as to what to make of what he had just seen. He turned back to Christiana who was downing the last of her second drink. As she slammed the glass back on the table she grabbed Jason’s arm.
“Jason, your boss is a bitch and I would like a pitcher of this to go.”