I hate to comment on my fiction. I usually like to let it just stand on its own, but I feel compelled to say something. I have been wrestling with this story for almost a month. I would clear through one difficult part only to hit another wall. There is a part of me that wonders if stories have a shelf life, after which they sour. I think if I sit on this story any longer, I will never finish it. So I’m putting it here for people to read and comment on, if they choose. I’m curious what people think. I know what I think. But sitting with what I think hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Enough. I don’t want to color your impressions any more than I already have.
The bar was busy without being overcrowded. He sat at the bar sipping his whiskey. Other people didn’t interest him. His thoughts and drink were enough. A simple night by himself is all he wanted. But it was not to be.
“Jack and Coke.” The bartender nodded at the woman who had half-shouted the order. She had curly brown hair, a round face, and brown eyes. He got caught looking at her.
“See something you like?”
“Oh, no… I mean… That is… Sorry.” He felt foolish. First for sharing and then for worrying what she thought of him staring.
She just laughed. There was an edge to it, but it wasn’t mean. Her hand clamped on to his forearm, keeping him from downing the rest of his drink.
“I don’t care that you look. Thought it would bother me a bit if you didn’t see anything you like.”
He felt his cheeks flush a little. Grateful that she had moved her hand again, he drank what was left in his glass down in one swallow. It burned, but it covered his embarrassment.
“So… uh… I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”
The look she gave him was unreadable. “Maybe you just don’t come in here enough.” The bartender had set down her drink, and she took a swallow.
“Look… I’m not very good at this…”
“Trust me, it’s obvious.”
His cheeks got a little hotter. “I mean, I just came in for a few drinks. I’m not looking to harass you or anything.”
“That’s too bad.” She took another swallow of her drink and didn’t look at him.
While he considered what to say next, or even if he wanted to stay, the bartender came over. “Want another one?”
The bartender pointed at his empty glass. Did he want another one? Maybe it would just be better to leave.
“He’ll have another. And if he won’t pay for it, I will.” He turned to look at the woman again. “Sit. Stay. Keep me company. I came in to drink, too. It’ll be more amusing with company.”
This whole evening had taken a confusing turn, but he was intrigued enough to stick around. He nodded at the bartender and added. “But I pay for my own drinks.”
She smiled. It looked forced and yet also genuine somehow, like she didn’t mean it but wanted to. “Fair enough.”
More that he didn’t understand. But he didn’t have to. Drinking at a bar didn’t require the world to make sense.
“So…. celebration or sorrow?”
“What?” It was her turn to look confused.
“Why are you here drinking?”
“Oh. Neither. Just wanted to get out of my place for awhile.”
“Ah. Well, that’s as good a reason as any.”
They sat for awhile, sipping on their drinks and exchanging meaningless small talk. There was definitely something about her, but the conversation never went deep enough to give him any insight. Instead of pushing, he simply enjoyed the company.
The conversation ended when the bartender yelled for last call.
“Wait here. I’m just going to go to the bathroom, and then I’ll take you home.” She got off the stool and walked toward the back.
He got the bartender’s attention. “You better call us a cab. I know I’m in no shape to drive. And she…”
“Her? She’s fine.”
“What? She drank more than me.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“I watched her. She kept downing Jack and Coke like it was water. You served it to her, for chrissake!”
“Nah. We have a deal. She orders Jack and Coke. She even pays for it. But I just give her Coke. That’s how she wants it.”
This woman got more intriguing all the time. The more he found out about her, the less he knew. But there wasn’t any time for more questions, as she returned to the bar.
He followed her out to her car and got in the passenger seat. The night had been odd, and he didn’t want it to end, but he didn’t know what to say to her. After driving a couple of minutes in silence, he realized he hadn’t told her where he lived.
“Uh… how do you know where to go?”
“I’ve lived in the same house for years.”
“I thought you were taking me home.”
She glanced over at him. “I am. My home.”
And that was that. He had no answer for it and stayed silent. He didn’t really object going back to her place, but it was unexpected.
They pulled into the driveway of a small, two-story house. She didn’t say anything as she got out of the car, but curiosity drove him to follow her inside. He was led up a flight of stairs to a bedroom.
Once through the door, she grabbed him and pulled him onto the bed. They began kissing. It was probably the alcohol, but the whole situation felt like a dream.
Then, just as suddenly, she stopped. She curled up against him and just whispered, “Hold me.” Confused, he put his arms around her. Almost immediately he felt her soft, nearly silent sobs as she cried into his chest. He held her like that all night. And in the morning, he left without any explanation.