Pineapple & Lemons

Stone’s Tavern was a hole-in-the-wall bar Nate and Sam had been going to since the first week they moved in together. Nate wanted to say they weren’t regulars, that they didn’t spend that much time at the bar, but they did. Not that they drank a lot. In fact, they rarely ordered alcohol. The small bar was homey and quiet with its trickling array of regulars. Over the years, it was the perfect place to study, talk, or grab a quick meal after a long hunt. 

The two of them were well known at Stone’s Tavern. There were hardly any new people who went to the bar. It was mostly regulars who intermingled and got to know each other. 

They were there when Mick’s wife left him for the gardener and when Harry’s wife died. 

They were there when Sadie’s wife proposed and even threw the happy brides a party post-wedding. 

They were there when Jude’s first grandchild was born–and the other six that followed. 

They all pitched in to run the bar when Joan was in a car accident, breaking both her arms and one leg. 

They were there when Sam graduated from law school and Nate graduated from the academy. 

They were there when he got promoted to detective and when Sam got poached by a big-name firm. 

They were there when Sam’s fiancé killed herself and when Nate struggled with Sam’s overdose. 

The same group of bar-goers had gone through a lot of big life events together. It softened the blow of everything going on around them. He didn’t know any of their last names, but hell, they were more family to him than the family he had. They were a weirdly tight-knit little family of not-so-strange strangers, and he loved it. There was no replacing what he and Sam had found at Stone’s Tavern.

While Stone’s Tavern was usually all dark wood and dimly lit, on that night, as Sam waltzed through the front door, it looked like someone threw a beach up on the small bar. Pineapple party lights were strung across every inch of the ceiling while golden pineapple confetti decorated the bar top. Every table was covered in flimsy pineapple paper tablecloths with matching napkins, paper cups, and plates of nuts and pretzels. Violet helium balloons spelled out Happy Birthday, dangling behind the bar. Joan, the bartender, was decked out in a pink pineapple dress with costume sunglasses. Scattered around the small bar, every one of the regulars wore a pineapple button-up of some sort. 

“Oh, no…” Nate let out, but his words were eaten by every person in the bar shouting at him simultaneously. “You didn’t…”

While he appreciated the gesture, he wasn’t one for surprise parties, especially not when his blood was still pumping from a hunt.

“Happy Birthday, bud!” Sam hollered over everyone. He wrapped an arm around Nate’s shoulders, squeezing him tight and shaking him. 

“Why?” he groaned. “Why did you do this to me?”

“I’m not about to ship the fucking decorations across the country. Joan was all too thrilled to put them to good use for tonight. Right, Joan?”

“You’ve got it, handsome,” Joan replied with a dramatic wink. Pushing sixty with gray-to-blue ombre hair, she was short, stout, and the physical embodiment of a grandma—except she had no kids and had adopted the two of them as her only grandkids. She dropped two glasses of bright yellow liquid in front of them. “Your special order, gentleman.”

“Ah, Joan!” Sam exclaimed. “You’re too good to us.”

“Get in close, boys. I want a picture of my two favorite boys,” she ordered, her hazel eyes misting as she gestured them closer to one another. Nate leaned on the bar, chuckling as Sam draped an arm around him and Joan pulled out her phone. With her lack of technological knowledge, they were going nowhere fast. “Look at you two! I still remember your cute little baby faces the first day—”

“Woah! Joan!” Sam interrupted loudly, feigning his offense. “This face hasn’t been a baby face since the nineties! I’m mature! I’m sexy! This is a man’s face right here!”

“That’s the face of a man who never learned his manners!” she snapped viciously. “Don’t you interrupt your elder, young man.”

“Don’t piss off Joan,” Nate scoffed. 

“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded. “Now, you make sure you send that one to me, darling. I need something to remember tonight by.”

“We’re not getting to the airport on time, are we?”

“Definitely not. Take this.”

“Do I even want to know?” Nate asked, eyeing the suspiciously pale yellow drink. He went to sniff it, but Sam put a hand over it. Instantly, Nate’s defenses went up. “What’d you make Joan give me, Sam?”

“Oh, don’t you do that!” Joan smacked him playfully on the shoulder. “Like I’ve ever conspired with this one against you.”

“You would, and that’s exactly why I’m asking!” 

“Don’t you question me, honey pie.”

“You got it.” Nate drew in a deep breath as he took his glass. Sam’s extraordinarily wide grin wasn’t encouraging. They’d been friends for too long. He knew that face. He knew Sam was up to something. At the very least, he knew whatever it was, it wouldn’t kill him. “No regrets?” 

“No regrets,” Sam agreed, clinking their glasses together. Without a second thought, Sam tossed back the entire drink in one giant swig. He let out a satisfied sigh. “Pineapple juice at its finest. Bottoms up, bud.”

“I’m going to regret this. I just know it,” he muttered. He threw back the drink. The highly acidic liquid shot him straight in the throat, inciting a horrible coughing fit. Nate gagged, trying hard to force it down. Lemon juice burned the back of his nostrils and stung going down. He slapped the bar for Joan to get him water, but she was way ahead of him. “Oh, fuck me…”

“Your swallow game is strong, bud!” Laughing, Sam slapped him hard on the back, spurring another round of coughing from Nate. “Payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?”

Nate faltered and wracked his brain through dozens of practical jokes passed between them. Where the whole thing had started, he couldn’t remember, but it’d become their thing. 

“The coffee,” he murmured. 

“Bastard put crushed ghost pepper seasoning in my coffee grounds,” Sam informed Joan and everyone else listening. 

“You put glue in my soap!” Nate exclaimed. “I had to shave my legs!”

“That was only after you put itching powder in my bed!” he retorted. “My date thought I gave her something! Do you have any idea what that was like trying to explain your dumb ass to her?”

“As long as you paid her well, I’m sure she didn’t care,” Joan said flippantly, waving him off. 

“Joan!” Sam exclaimed. “Woman! How dare you! I’ve never paid a woman to have sex with me in my life!”

“We all see the way you throw around your money, kid.” One regular commented with a hearty laugh. He clapped Sam on the shoulder knowingly. “You’re paying for them one way or another!”

Sam faltered and sputtered as he tried to produce a quick response and failed, his expression comical. Nate eased onto a stool, laughing as his best friend went into full lawyer mode on a small bar of drunks to defend his honor. There was no way in hell they were making their flight on time, but watching Sam lose miserably to a bunch of old men was worth it. Nate had no intention of letting him live it down.