This week I launched my series Talk Nerdy to Me with the release of the first book in the series, NERDY WORDS.
Talk Nerdy to Me is all about the relationships that blossom between staff and customers at Nerdvana. What’s Nerdvana?
Imagine a bar where the wait staff dress up like their favorite comic book characters, where drinks are served in chemical beakers, where patrons can play a round of Dungeons and Dragons or other table-top role-playing games. Picture how fun it would be to hang with friends in big booths and play video games while sipping on an awesome craft beer. Imagine watching people in a glass enclosed room acting out dramas from their favorite live action role playing story lines. Imagine there’s a space for the folks who want to enjoy a drink while perusing their favorite comic books.
All of that and more await the patrons of the city of Cascade Falls, Washington’s newest watering hole, the ultra-hip, geek-themed bar called Nerdvana. Talk Nerdy to Me is a series set around the romances that blossom between sexy, geeky heroes and sassy, smart heroines who meet in the geek-themed bar.
When Olivia Sands walks into the hottest bar in Cascade Falls, she’s swept away by the cosplayers, gamers, and larpers. The atmosphere at Nerdvana is truly a haven for geeks, and Olivia can picture herself spending every weekend at the nerd-themed hangout. Or at least, she could before she finds out the bar’s owner is none other than Dustin Bradshaw, her first crush and the man who fled her life with no explanation four summers ago.
Of course, the years have done nothing to eliminate the magnetic pull between them, and now that they’re thrown together again they’re helpless to fight their attraction. Between working on her bespoke costume business Cosplaymates, attending grad school, and planning her future, Olivia doesn’t have time for dating. But Dustin will stop at nothing to finally make her his, once and for all.
“Come out with me tonight, Liv. You need to have more fun and I want to check out that new bar I’ve been telling you about.”
“Oh, yeah. What’s it called again, Nirvana? Is it some kind of spiritual place?” I asked Jamie. She was always on the cutting edge of the bar scene, and well, everything else.
“Nerdvana,” she corrected me. “As in, a haven for geeks and all things geekery.”
“Um, that could be…interesting.” I stepped out into the cool air and light drizzle the Pacific Northwest is known for. I readjusted the wool hat on my head, pulling it down further to keep my curly hair from frizzing.
“I’m glad you said that because I’m on my way there now. Meet me at Nerdvana in twenty minutes?”
I stifled a sigh. “You assume I have nothing better to do.”
“Come on. Don’t harsh my mellow.”
“Where is this place?” I asked around a laugh.
“Evergreen Peak.” The neighborhood she referred to housed some of the city’s most prominent nightlife.
“Okay, text me the address. I’ll see you there in about twenty minutes,” I said before hanging up.
When Jamie’s text arrived on my phone, I put the address in the GPS and walked a couple blocks toward the bus stop that would take me to my destination. I took a seat and gazed out the window. I stared at the scenery that whizzed by. The lush greenery and historic architecture a subtle reminder of how much I loved the small city of Cascade Falls.
Despite the picturesque landscape, I couldn’t fully focus on it. Somehow Jamie always got me to do things I’d rather not. Like go out in public on a work night, even when the prospect of being among people sounded about as appealing as a cavity search. It wasn’t that I didn’t like people. I was just nowhere near as extroverted as my bubbly best friend. Forgetting about my intense desire to recoup and decompress at home, I shifted my thoughts to my evening. It would no doubt be fun. Just by being with Jamie guaranteed a good time. But still, the idea of my PJs and a starchy dinner had been the one thing that kept me going at work all day. So much for that dream.
My job wasn’t stressful, exactly. I wasn’t cut out for interacting with that many people day in and day out. My work study position at one of the university’s libraries was something I could scratch off my bucket list. I have always been drawn to the smell of old books and quiet spaces. The romantic in me thought the library would be the perfect place to marry those two loves. In reality, working at the library is nothing like that. On any given day there’s a constant stream of noise, the stereotype that library workers are dowdy curmudgeons who sit behind a desk and shush people all day couldn’t be further from the truth. But a big part of me loves it, and it pays the bills while I attend the Cascade Falls University.
Realizing we were approaching my destination, I pulled the cord to request the driver to stop. I got off down the street from where my cell phone told me Nerdvana was located. After checking the cross streets at the intersection, I walked half a block until I stopped in front of a beautiful building rich with old architectural details. I craned my neck to take in the three-story structure. Sure enough, the neon sign that hung from the side of the building read ‘Nerdvana’ in red glowing letters. I looked left and right on the street and didn’t see Jamie, so I figured she must have already gone inside.
As soon as I crossed the threshold into the bar the soft sounds of electronic music greeted me. I nodded in time to the rhythm. The tune’s slow bass beat was heavy on the use of a soothing synthesizer. As I took in the sounds at Nerdvana, my eyes adjusted to the blue glow that bathed the bar. I scanned to the left and saw a group of guys sitting in a big, oversized booth. When a couple of them let out a whoop of excitement I realized where the bluish light that ensconced the bar was coming from. Half a dozen booths lined the side of the bar, and each booth had a flat screen mounted to the wall. Mario and Luigi bounced across the TV directly to my left. So Nerdvana was a video game bar? Quite a few were scattered around various Cascade Falls neighborhoods.
As I walked toward the bar, I took in some of the other details and realized much more than video games took place in the space. It truly appeared to be a haven for geeks. To the right of the large glass and titanium bar was a wooden staircase that appeared to lead to a lower level. A basement in a bar? Interesting. A sign hung in the open doorway above the staircase that read “RPG leagues forming soon” and I knew just enough about the table-top role playing games to know they weren’t for me.
I walked up to the bar and leaned on the shiny, silver surface and hoisted my barely five-foot frame onto a big, black leather chair. It was comfortable, but clearly the leather gaming chair had been modified into a bar stool. Clever. Between the oversized furniture and the overall gamer feel of the bar, I felt out of my element. I was much more bookish than game oriented. Give me a classic literary tome over a joystick or pair of dice any day.
When a pretty brunette dressed like Princess Leia in the gold bikini appeared behind the bar, I’d made up my mind. I’d hate it here. Scantily-clad waitstaff. Video games. The tech bro vibe. Why had my best friend brought me here? And where the hell was Jamie, anyway?
“What can I get you?” the Leia impersonator asked.
I looked at the plethora of taps behind her. Nerdvana carried a wide variety of craft beer, but I was in the mood for something different tonight.
“I’ll take a gin and tonic.”
“Do you want a beaker for two dollars more?”
Her question roused me from my musings, and it caught me off guard. I wracked my brain. Beaker. What the hell was that? A nerd-themed tapas I didn’t know anything about? Leia held up a glass lab beaker and raised her eyebrows at me. Holy shit. For two bucks more I could drink my alcoholic beverage from a lab beaker. What the hell, as Jamie constantly reminded me, we only live once.
I glanced around again wishing Jamie would materialize and keep me company. The bartender placed my drink in front of me and I plopped my debit card down as a form of payment. I tipped my drink back and took a sip. The gin and tonic was nice and stiff, which was good since it set me back fifteen bucks.
“Liv, you made it!”
I turned toward the bubbly voice I knew and loved. The blue light in the bar made Jamie’s blonde hair glow almost platinum. At least the top half of her hair looked light blonde. The tips of her asymmetrical bob shone a bright hot pink. I’d always admired Jamie’s funky sense of style.
“Hi, can I get a whiskey sour, but can you go easy on the alcohol? I don’t drink much,” she said with uncharacteristic sheepishness. Princess Leia nodded and offered her a beaker. Jamie took her drink in the larger container as well. The bartender passed the sour—light on the whiskey—to her. Of course my friend didn’t drink much, she didn’t need alcohol to loosen her inhibitions. I wasn’t even aware that she had any, honestly. Jamie and I clinked beakers.
“To nerd heaven,” I said with a wry smile.
“Isn’t it awesome? Oh, good news! I think I might have found a job.”
“Great. Where at?” I asked as I sipped my drink.
“Here.” She gave a saucy shake of her head, which caused the stud in her nose to gleam in the light.
Jamie went through things like jobs, college majors and lovers like most people went through underwear. It seemed like she was always trying something new only to quickly grow bored and pick up something else. Life was too short for serious commitments, or so she believed.
“Really? That’s awesome.” I told her about the new job and meaning it. “Will you have to wear one of those barely there outfits?” I asked as I nodded toward Princess Leia as subtly as possible.
“Please. When have you ever known me to give two fucks about a barely there outfit?”
“True.” I bit back my smile as I took another sip of my cocktail.
“Besides, you’re the last person I would expect to question wearing costumes.”
“You know I’m all about expressing yourself through clothes,” I indicated the rust colored vintage crushed velvet blazer I wore and my black top hat. “It just reeks of sexism to see a bartender wearing next to nothing.”
“Oh. My. God. Please don’t go down this rabbit hole.” She shook her head. “I’ll have you know that according to Quinn, it’s completely optional. I don’t have to dress up, but really, who wouldn’t want to get paid to dress in costume?”
“And who’s Quinn?” I asked, feeling completely out of the loop. What was it about this place? It seemed like I’d stepped into a different universe ever since I’d crossed the threshold.
“She’s one of the owners. She’s right there.”
I trained my gaze to where she gestured discreetly to a woman that looked like a fifties era pin-up model, but with an edge. Her black hair was styled in a rockabilly pompadour, she wore a black dress with a cherry print, and her waist was cinched by a wide scarlet belt. Her lips were painted fire engine red, but even from across the room I could tell the color complemented her bronze skin and sloe eyes. Her left arm was covered in a full sleeve tattoo.
Her fierce look had my attention right away. I’d always gravitated toward people who didn’t dress like the status quo. That was one of the things that Jamie and I had bonded over instantly. It was obvious that Quinn had a style all her own. I’ve always loved shoes, so I dropped my gaze down to her feet. Girlfriend was rockin’ adorable vintage black and white patent spectator pumps.
“Damn, I want her heels.”
“Will you get off shoes for a minute and listen? This might be the solution to most of my problems. Remember, my parents, the ultimatum.” She paused and screwed her face up as if just saying the words had put a bad taste in her mouth.
“Um, as if I could forget the stipulation that might rob me of my awesome roommate?”
“Anyway,” Jamie said dismissively, swirling the liquid in her beaker. “I struck up a conversation with Quinn back by the larping room before you got here. She’s going to talk with her partner and give me a yes or no tonight.”
“The what room? You’re telling me there’s a room dedicated to larping here?”
“Ah, I knew spilling that there’s a live action role playing room here would get you to focus on something besides shoes.”
I just looked at her as though she had suddenly sprouted a second head covered with blonde and fuchsia colored hair. I wasn’t a larper, but I knew enough about it to be impressed that there was now a bar in Cascade Falls with a dedicated space for larping.
“Come on, I’ll show you. Grab your drink.”
I gripped my beaker and wobbled behind her. As we walked through the bar I saw more booths with TVs displaying video games and gaming consoles from days gone by. It looked like every vintage gaming system was represented on the various TV screens, from Atari and Sega to Nintendo, Xbox, and Playstation.
As we neared the back of the building, I spied a quiet corner that featured comfy-looking brown leather chairs and teak bookshelves built into the walls. The serene nook seemed more my pace. Until I noticed that a couple of people were flipping through glossy pages and sipping beers from beakers.
“Are those comic books?”
“Yeah, isn’t it amazing? But look over here,” Jamie said and directed my gaze to a space in the left corner of the bar. “That’s the larping room,” she explained as she pointed at a glass area.
The two-story room was completely enclosed in glass walls. I titled my head back and discovered there was no ceiling. Instead, a small cat walk and balcony stretched across the top of the glass room. A few people had gathered to peer into the larping room to watch the performance. A group of men were inside the glass room dressed in fifteenth century garb—complete with breast shields, swords, and capes—and they seemed to be acting out some sort of drama.
“Okay, I think I finally get why this place is called Nerdvana. It’s like a damn nerd wet dream in here.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
At the sound of the deep male voice close to me I jumped, nearly dropping my beaker in the process. I turned my head to address the speaker but had to drag my eyes up at least a foot to look him in the face. Once I met his stare, my mouth wouldn’t work anyway.
Momentarily stunned by his arresting pale blue irises, I opened and shut my mouth several times before any sound would finally come out. It’d been several years, but I’d never forget that face. I started to greet him, but he broke eye contact.
Before I could string together enough syllables to form a coherent sentence, he turned his attention to Jamie. It figured. Between her sparkling personality and brown almond-shaped eyes men—and women— constantly hit on Jamie. The fact that she was a D-cup probably didn’t hurt her chances either. But still, I wished the spark of recognition I’d felt when our eyes had connected had gone both ways. Of course, maybe he just didn’t recognize me. I’d changed a lot since that summer.
“Are you Jamie? My business partner let me know she gave you an impromptu interview earlier. I’m Dustin Bradshaw,” he told her and thrust his hand out toward her.
As if I could ever forget that name. I dropped my gaze to their clasped hands. It was only a professional handshake, nothing more, but I felt like an idiot, just standing on the sidelines watching the two of them. I shifted my gaze to the ink on the outside of Dustin’s right forearm. In what looked to be an homage to the original 1UP gaming system, he sported a tattoo of the gray square controller on his flesh. My brother was a gamer and I had to appreciate the details of Dustin’s tattoo. The depiction of the controller was accurate down to the twin green circles and blue cross-shaped button. Seeing it made memories come back in a rush.
I’d used my fingertip to trace the details of that tattoo on a warm summer night four years ago. God damn it, why was I thinking about what had happened between us when he hadn’t even bothered to spare a second glance at me? All this clearly one-sided reminiscing made me uncomfortable, like every inch of my skin was exposed under a microscope. The fact that Dustin hadn’t acknowledged me made it all that much worse. I wanted to run from this bar like the building was on fire. Of course, I wouldn’t.
A self-professed bookworm, Netflix junkie and all around story geek, Ariel Storm started writing as an adolescent and hasn’t looked back. In her late teens she picked up a paperback romance and was hooked. Her obsession with love stories stems from her desire to shine light and positivity into a negative, dark world.
Although she’s held almost every job imaginable, from working in a restaurant, a call center and public libraries, ‘writer’ is her favorite job title, and one she feels blessed to have.
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