She heard the door open and then close, but at the busiest time of day Junie didn’t have time to look and see who it was. The Squire said he was going on a milk run to the Dairy Cooperative and she was tending the bar on her own. She was so frazzled that when someone had asked for a piece of pie, she’d given him the whole pie, a knife, and told him to cut his own slice. There was no time for precision.
At some point, she glanced over and saw a young man standing next to her behind the bar, and realized she didn’t know him. He was pulling a pint of stout into a cider glass, and without letting the head settle passed it across to a patron. The customer looked at the boy, at the glass, then at Junie. She shrugged. The man put some coins on the bar and walked away.
“You’ve never done this before, have you?” she asked the boy.
He shrugged. “No, but I do well enough.”
“Is that so?”
“Watch, I’ll do it again. That couple over there asked for two more.” He reached for two more cider glasses and she put her hand on his arm.
“I’m not sure who you are,” she said, “but you’re slowing me down. Why don’t you go back out there with the rest of the customers and let me get back to it.” She waved vaguely toward the open area of the bar.
“But I’m here to apply for the bartender position,” he said. “I can serve drinks, and you don’t have time to get to everyone.”
While pouring a glass of wine with one hand and reaching for a second glass with the other, she shook her head. “This is really not the best time.”
“This is the perfect time!”
She turned and looked him square in the eyes, then narrowed her gaze. “What a persistent little urchin you are.” She looked him up and down. “Also a bit cleaner than I’d expect, I’ll give you that.” Then she clapped her hands over her mouth lest the voice of her cranky aunt escape again. She turned her back to him and started wiping down the bar.
His face reddened. “I am NOT an urchin!”
“Well, then who are you?” she asked without turning to face him.
“I was a Brother at the Cathedral School, but I’ve left them. I need a job and a place to stay. But I’m not a beggar, so if you really don’t want any help I’ll leave.”
Junie leaned against the bar and sighed. Another former Brother. Did any of these boys actually graduate? On one hand, they knew how to work hard and keep the books. On the other hand, they could be cocky pains in the ass. Which was to say that Martin could be a cocky pain in the ass. Now here was another one certain to be argumentative and leave the front door open. She didn’t want to make a decision on new staff without Martin having a chance to interview them, but given the circumstances, she relented.
“Fine,” she said. “I really do need help and you’re the best applicant we’ve gotten so far. Before you it was that guy with one shoe who’s always passed out in the alleyway, and before him a woman that insisted I speak with her puppet.” Junie shook her head. “So what’s your name?”
“Milo,” he said, excitement in his voice. “I can start right now. What do you want me to do?”
She held up her hand. “It’s very busy so I don’t have time to train you, so here is how to make yourself useful.” She pointed over to the wall. “See those tubes over there?”
He glanced over and saw tubes with liquid in them, some of them that appeared to be more full than others. “Yes.”
“Good,” she said. “Those tubes are gravity feeders into the taps. We fill them from the other side of the wall in the morning, but I’m going through some of them really quickly today because of how busy it’s been.”
“Okay,” he said, still unsure of what she needed.
She continued. “I need you to watch the levels in the tubes and figure out how quickly we’re going through them, so we’ll know when to top them off again.
He frowned. “Are you saying,” he said slowly, “that you’d like me to calculate the rate of change of the level of the surface of liquid in a container?”
Junie looked at him. “Calculate the rate of…” She silently mouthed the rest of his sentence, looking up toward the ceiling as she considered what he’d said. “Well, yes. I suppose that is one way of saying it. You Churchies can make anything sound complicated. Martin does it all the time.”
Milo hung his head for a moment and then looked toward the tubes on the wall. If this was what it would take to get the job, he would do it. He’d do it while cursing under his breath, but he would do it just the same.
Junie went back to pouring drinks, and before long was ordering Milo to refill the gravity feeders, clear tables, empty ashtrays, and wash glasses. He moved quickly, but not efficiently. If he was to last, he would learn.