He approved of the thick wooden tables in the bar. People shouldn’t have to drink off of plastic tops. And the glass felt solid in his hand, heavy. Made it feel special, even if it wasn’t really.
He kept his head up, not alert, anymore, but watching the small space. He took another sip. The dry burn of the alcohol balanced the sweetness. He was drinking alone, and didn’t have to impress anyone.
The blinking light on his phone stayed off. Of course there wasn’t a text. It had been close to an hour, and he didn’t expect one now. He could sense the distance, though, like a rope that frayed before it snapped. Funny, how you could feel that through a piece of metal and plastic. Longing had a sapping power. He didn’t want to move, just another drink.
The music played, blending overhead with the dim lights and the detached fuzz from the liquor. He liked this song. He knew it, anyways, and smiled a little.
He was going to over-tip the waitress, he knew that, too.
She brought another tumbler and he stirred the ice as he watched her walk away. Was this four or five now? He hadn’t lost track, he just hadn’t been counting, raising his empty when he needed a new one, and then flirting mildly when she came over.
Numbness was a terrible thing, he decided. But right now, secretly, he felt important, too. It could have been the tables and the glasses or that song he knew, but there was something else, as well.
He had a feeling that when the proper moment arrived, he would recognize it, and that’s how things got started.
Because it was funny how love was just one single word when people use so many others to say it, he thought as he played with the condensation on the outside of his glass. He knew for a fact that he used two or three. He would have to be on his guard.
His fingers hovered over the buttons on the phone, and then he pulled them away. The song had changed, now. He set the screen face-down. There was no sense in letting the dark diode mock him.
He finished another drink. The warm glow told him the waitress had been generous with that one. He was grateful for the small favour. He suspected she’d seen this before.
She walked past and he studied her. There was a faint wash of scent, something light and clean. It killed him. She wasn’t short, but she wasn’t tall either. Brown hair and a small nose. When she turned her back to him he shifted his eyes away, catching himself, feeling for some reason that it was only now that he would see too much. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him, and he wished it was real.
For a second he felt the charge, the initial spasm of energy that the brain locks in forever. That’s why people came to places like this, to be cocooned, to feel better for a while. Of course it was a game, but it was a game both sides were playing.
“Goodnight,” he said as he stood to leave. He counted the bills from his wallet and left them on the table. He wasn’t going to use one of his words even though he knew he’d be back. He put his hands in his pockets and went to the door. He’d seen a moment and recognized it for what it was.
Sometimes the beginnings are also the endings. That was something he would have to get used to.
The exit from the bar did not free him, though.
He shrugged his shoulders against the mist. Unsure of where to go next, he tracked aimlessly towards the river. He watched the buildings idly as he passed them. They never seemed to change. That disappointed him somewhat.
When he reached the splintered railing at the edge of the water, he stopped. Fog obscured the far bank. He could continue walking with no direction or turn to go home.
He kicked a pebble into the water. It splashed into ripples that disappeared into the restless chop of the current. He began to feel doubt, and it was far easier to succumb to than the truth.
Then he was moving again, focusing on his own footsteps as he silently vowed that he would not stop until he reached his bed, a safe haven that would silence the thoughts that danced behind his eyes.
But two low vibrations from his phone seduced his resolve.
Conditioned muscle memory betrayed him and the message was read before reason replaced traitorous habit.
He read it again and half-grinned. It was from her and he knew before he pressed the keys to respond that his mistake would begin in the replying at all. He looked down the road past the rows of street lights and parked cars and convinced himself he could capture and keep the perfection of infatuation.