Once upon a time, I wrote fiction. Exclusively fiction. Then I started writing this blog and writing satire and I sort of drifted away from the whole thing in the name of broadening writing horizons and all that. I recently started writing fiction again and figured that, if there's already an audience, I might as well share.
“Let’s get drunk,” her text said.
“Let’s. Where?” had been his reply and that was how he came to be sitting in the corner booth of Foley’s Pub. She was late, as usual, but he did not bother to wait for her before ordering, as he knew she would neither notice nor care.
She usually preferred to sit at the bar, and he knew that this was because it was easier for her to avoid looking directly at him. “You have a way of looking at me sometimes,” she had said in the dark one night when he asked her about it. “Like you’re looking through me. “ She was still for a moment before shifting her body and moving to lie on top of him. Her hair spilled forward into his face and he pushed it back gently, out of her eyes, as she looked down at him.
“It’s very intense,” she said. He felt as though that had been the moment to say something big, something important, but before he had the chance she had rolled off and was getting out of the bed, searching for her clothes.
The advantage to arriving at Foley’s first was that he could then sit wherever he chose. He liked the corner booth, the way it was darker than the rest of the bar, the way it curved from one wall to the next like a bent elbow. It gave him the feeling of being separate from the rest of the place with the comfort and buzz of conversation still in the background. She would not be as close to him as she would be if they sat at the bar, but this way, she’d have to look at him.
He was nearing the end of his Jameson’s, listening to the ice cubes tumble in the bottom of the glass, when she came in, pausing just inside the door to scan the bar looking for him. He liked watching her look for him; it was a moment where he could see her but she could not see him. And he liked knowing it was him she was searching for.
In a bar as small as Foley’s, it did not take her long to spot him. There was a brightening of recognition upon her face, but it fell short of being a smile.
“Hey,” she said, placing her purse upon the table and sliding into the booth, a bundle of energy and hair and perfume. If she was bothered by the deviation from their normal placement at the bar, she didn’t say so. He had considered offering her an explanation but could see now that it wouldn’t be necessary.
“You need another,” she said, pointing to his glass.
“I do,” he agreed. “And you need to catch up.”
“Yes,” she said and as quickly as she had sat down, she was back on her feet.
“Jameson?” she asked. He nodded. She turned and strode to the bar.
He needed a cigarette and while this was probably the moment when most people would step outside to have one, in these first chaotic, unorganized minutes of ordering drinks and complaining about traffic or weather, he decided to wait until she returned with the drinks. He watched her leaning slightly over the bar as she yelled her order over the music. The side of her shirt rode up ever so slightly when she leaned, just enough that the smallest triangle of skin on her hip was exposed. No sooner had it appeared than she straightened up and it was gone. His mind, however, lingered at that spot for another moment as he wondered if this would be one of those nights where he would later be kissing that very same patch of pale skin, or if he would end the night watching her get into a cab, waving from the window as he stood on the sidewalk in front of the bar and finished a cigarette. It was too early in the night to tell.
“Alright,” she said as she came back to the table and put the drinks down. This was the moment to excuse himself, he realized. If he waited until she sat down, it would appear calculated. He wanted her to sit, settle herself in, and then wait, wondering when he would return. He slid out of the booth.
“Perfect,” he said. “I’m just going to go have a cigarette. You want one?”
He always asked, but only twice had she ever accepted. The first time was the night they met, at Dave and Krissy’s wedding, where she had stood outside in the October night air wearing a sequined black sleeveless dress with heels, shivering as she puckered her mouth around the cigarette. He wished he had thought to bring out his suit jacket so that he might offer it to her and warm her up, but he had left it draped upon the back of a chair, where most suit jackets find themselves at weddings. The city street behind them was busy, and when she would move, her dress would suddenly catch the red tail lights of cars passing by or the yellow glow of the street light. He was intoxicated.
The second was just a few months prior, in March, and was also the only time she spent the full night with him. Her brother had died two weeks prior and she was locked in that sticky place that is after everyone goes home and life settles back in to the daily routine, but before you’ve actually adjusted. He remembered the feeling from when his mother died three years ago. He preferred to smoke outside, even at his own apartment, and so they had sat on the steps under a clear, starry sky, her hair billowed up around her face as she hunched deeper into her winter coat. She said nothing as she smoked, and he said nothing, as he felt that sometimes what a person needs is silence in the presence of another. She let him make her eggs the next morning, over-easy. He made sure to remember so that, if she were to ever agree to stay overnight and let him make her eggs again, he would not have to ask, “How do you like your eggs?” He could simply say, “Over-easy, right?” and she would think it sweet that he remembered.
“No, I’m good,” she said, sitting down and smiling up at him. She held up her beer. “Race you,” she offered.
“Challenge accepted,” he said, turning to walk away. He hoped she was watching, but knew she was not.
The day had been warm and the night air carried a sweet smell to it that made him momentarily regret that he was about to fill his nose and mouth with the taste of a cigarette. It was a clear night and he decided that, if she agreed to go home with him, they should walk to his apartment.
He had never been to her place. He suggested it once, but she simply shook her head, said, “No, your place is better,” and then stared him down, as if challenging him to ask why. He did not. She changed the subject and he never brought it up again.
As he finished the cigarette and turned to go inside, he wondered whether to ask if there was a reason she had wanted to meet for drinks or if she had simply been bored. He knew asking carried a risk, as she was far more likely to shrug and say something like, “Who the hell needs a reason to get drunk?” than she would be to say, “I missed you,” or “I hadn’t seen you in so long,” or even, “I just needed a friend.”
As he stepped back into the bar, he made the decision to ask her anyway. Looking over at their table, he noticed she was not there.
He found her at the bar just as she was putting money down for a tip. There were two empty shot glasses before her.
“Guess you weren’t kidding about getting drunk,” he said, placing a hand on her back. She turned, causing his hand to slip to his own side.
“No,” she answered, her eyes bright. “No fucking around tonight. Tonight,” she announced, leaning in closer to him, “-tonight, we drink with purpose.”
His stomach flip-flopped for reasons he couldn’t name. Perhaps it was that, when she leaned in and spoke, he could smell the whiskey on her breath. Perhaps it was the conspiratory way she used the word ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ to refer to the evening. Or perhaps it was simply the knowledge that the more she had to drink, the greater the likelihood she would sleep with him later. It didn’t matter, really. He was excited now by the notion that, together, they were on a mission.
“Well,” he pointed out, “my drink is waiting over at the table.”
“Yes, that’s a problem,” she agreed, taking his hand in hers and leading him back to the table. She sat down before her beer.
He felt confident as he slid in, nearing the bend of the booth but not quite going deep enough in so as to invade her space. He knew how this needed to go and it was too early in the night to move too close. He’d know when the time was right.
“So,” he asked, “for what great purpose are we drinking tonight?”
“We’re drinking to get good and drunk,” she answered. This wasn’t an answer and it didn’t surprise him. He decided to push for one.
“And why are we getting drunk?”
She sighed. “We’re getting drunk for all of the reasons people get drunk. To avoid all of the thinking and the feeling and the thinking some more. Why else do people get drunk?” She was annoyed, but he was curious now.
“And what exactly are we avoiding thinking about and feeling and thinking about some more?”
“Jesus, Ryan,” was all she said before shaking her head and taking a swig from her beer. “Let it fucking go.”
He shrugged, but his feelings were hurt. He picked up his glass, gave it a quick swish to hear the ice clink, and then took a sip. It couldn’t work fast enough.
“Shit,” she mumbled, leaning forward. “I’m sorry.”
He was torn now, trying to quickly decide which would be the better move, to be a little cold so she would feel bad or shake it off and restore a lighter mood. She sat back against the booth and pulled out her phone.
“Here,” she said a moment later, handing the phone to him. “This is why we’re drinking tonight.”
She had pulled up the Facebook page of someone named Adam Greene, a man with a big smile and a shaved head wearing a shirt and tie and staring back at him from her screen.
“Scroll down,” she said, the beer bottle poised at her mouth. She gulped as she drank and slammed it against the table as he scrolled.
He came upon it quickly, as it was posted that day, underneath a string of congratulatory posts. It stretched the width of the screen and read, “June 12th: Adam Greene is now engaged to Jenna Burke. “
“Who’s Adam Greene,” he asked, suddenly wishing he’d never pressed the issue of why they were there. His stomach was once again flip-flopping, but it was not in the same excited way it had earlier. This was a feeling of regret; he was certain he was not going to want to know about Adam Greene.
“My ex,” she said.
“Fuck no,” she replied with a harsh laugh, “boyfriend. Jesus, you thought I had an ex HUSBAND?”
“You’re 29 years old, it’s possible,” he pointed out defensively.
She said nothing, only shrugged.
“So we’re getting drunk because your ex-boyfriend is getting married,” Ryan surmised.
She finished her beer, then looked straight at him.
“No,” she said, standing up. “Click through to her profile and check out the status she posted today. THAT is the reason we’re getting drunk. I want another shot, you in?”
He felt as though the bar was spinning, but knew it was not the alcohol. He looked up at her, standing there waiting for his response. He fixated on her upper lip, a spot he liked to either tease with the tip of his tongue or brush a finger over, depending on his mood, but it did nothing to make him feel grounded. Suddenly, she was a different Kyla. She was one with a past. Kyla, with an ex-boyfriend. Someone who had touched her, someone who had kissed her, someone who had been on the inside of her life. Had she loved him? Had she whispered his name? Had she been small and soft with him?
She was still, standing there looking at him as the bar spun behind her. She was waiting for him to speak, he knew, but he could not seem to.
“You’re doing a shot too,” she decided and turned for the bar.
He watched her walk away, full of visions he had never had to face before. He knew that she would have had exes, of course, but now one had a name. He had a face. He looked down at Adam Greene’s frozen face smiling up at him and felt a flash of anger. Suddenly, she was naked in his mind, her back arched from atop Adam Greene, his hands grabbing her ass the way his own had, her head back, eyes closed, calling out his name.
He hated Adam Greene. He hated that she had once loved him, that she had once fucked him, that she had once told him things she would not tell him.
She was leaning over at the bar, trying to get the bartender’s attention as the crowd grew. He was overcome by a feeling of desire; he HAD to have her that night, he had to be sure she came home with him. He had to reclaim her, even if only in his mind, from this Adam Greene.