Pulling to the side of the road, I find a parking space about a half mile from the bar. As I crack the door, the crisp cold air of winter seeps into the car and brushes against my unprotected cheek. The weather is a stale cold which would become snow if there were any moisture in the air. As I take my first few steps out of the car, I witness my shallow breath hovering in the frigid air momentarily before evaporating into nothingness. After a few minutes of brisk walking, I arrived at the bar around ten. Nearing the door, I approach the constant stream of smokers funneling in and out of the bar; tempted by the thought of smoking but quickly dissuaded by the frozen December air.
Stepping in from the cold, I make my way to the bar. Before I can take a seat, I’m hailed by a group of guys who I almost didn’t recognize as friends-of-a-friend of mine. From their confident smile and the urgency of their conversation, I could assume they were already drunk. Glancing over, I noticed the abundance of empty glasses on the table and I no longer had to wonder. They had either been there for a while or were drinking for a greater purpose. I decided both reasons were equally as likely and both reasons were good enough for me.
Leaning awkwardly toward the bar, not wanting to get too comfortable in my seat, I attempted to pass the time. Partially forced by social standards and somewhat legitimately interested in what these “friends-of-a-friend” had to say, we began talking through the usual routine:
“Yes, the weather is cold.”
“No, I don’t really care for sports.”
(Insert obligated laugh here)
“So what do you do? Me? Oh, well I…”
“Nice talking to you too, I’ll see you later”.
(No I won’t)
I can honestly say, If not for that one friend and those few happenstances where we crossed paths, I wouldn’t have been greeted at all. They would have been nothing more than strangers amongst the crowd of “young”, “hip”, and “fashionable” people who now call this bar their Mecca.
After a brief conversation, I double back to the bar, this time closer to the entrance so I could casually watch the door for some familiar faces. I make eye contact with the bartender and she is immediately aware of my presence. Walking over, she smiles generously as if she had rehearsed the look for hours before work. Smiling, nodding, agreeing with what I have to say and laughing if and when appropriate, she obviously has done this for some time. I order something dark (the usual) and without a second glance, she’s on her way to the tap. As I begin looking around, waiting impatiently for my drink, I notice the clock on the wall. Whether broken or purposely turned off, for as long as I can remember the time has always been set to a quarter past five. Never losing her permanent smile, the bartender returns with my drink in hand and I tell her to keep the tab open. Within a few short gulps, the glass I empty and my thoughts begin to fill the void. They say the first drink is always the hardest; they also say it’s the easiest.
Pulling my phone from my pocket, I notice the time: It’s 10:42PM. While waiting for what I hope is coming, I order another drink—make that two more drinks—and I begin to feel a buzz while scanning the bar for another distraction. Several tables over, a gaggle of giggling girls are sitting in the corner of the bar. One of them notices my gaze and I quickly find something, anything, more interesting to look at. The “friends-of-a-friend” from earlier are still drinking and across from them, at a table in the back, a young couple is drunkenly making out. It’s no Rodin, but it’s sure as hell passionate.
I’ve always found a kiss to be the most direct way to get to know someone. Whether they kiss hard and fast, soft and slow, it’s all just a physical definition of their personality. As I thought about what a kiss should feel like, I began thinking about the last time I received a good kiss. I’m not talking about a drunken, half conscious make out session with a stranger, but a real kiss with someone I actually like. I then thought about what kind of kisser I was and what that said about my personality. It had been a while, and I couldn’t exactly remember how long, but knew it was long overdue.
In an effort to appear busier, or at least less like a lonely drunk, I begin fumbling with my phone and have another drink to take the edge off. Raising the glass to my lips, I hear the door open and a cold breeze rips through my clothing. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me but as I look back, over my shoulder towards the door, I instantly recognize that smile. With a purse in hand and a look on her face which reminds me of a good book or an indie movie (none of that Hollywood crap), she commands my attention.
I can’t say I’m surprised to see her. Part of the reason I come to this bar is because there’s always that slim hope of running into her. The other reason is the alcohol, but that’s obvious. I wouldn’t say I feel awkward for coming to a bar under false pretenses but I’m certainly not the only one: The group of girls in the corner get dressed up and come to the bar to be fawned over; the “friends-of-a-friend” come to make conversation and get forgetful; the drunken couple comes to tolerate each other for another night; and I come here for her.
She walks in, each step set to the beat of the music playing loudly through the bar’s speakers. With my drink still in hand, I open my mouth to say something but without even a glance, she walks past me and towards her friends. For a moment, I forget she is the keystone in our friend-of-a-friend relationship; she is the friend. So, undeterred and slightly intoxicated by expectations, I grab my drink and walk slowly towards the group. As I approach the semi-circle of people standing in a clump, they begin to move away from the bar towards the back.
The young drunken couple from earlier are now sobering up and arguing over something petty. A few moments later, the girl leaves; her steps heavy with anger and amplified by the fine point of her heel. Her stumbling Romeo not far behind. With the space now cleared, we all take our seats and I eagerly greet my new friends hoping to get a seat next to her. To my chagrin, I’m left sitting at a separate table facing in the opposite direction. Looking to my right, I see a mutual friend talking to the person sitting across from me and explaining something vaguely interesting. After a few minutes of trying to catch up with the conversation from both tables, I stand up to get another drink from the bar. In a drunken hurry, I bump into the chair loud enough to embarrass myself and make eye contact with half the table. Smooth.
In an attempt to escape the conversation, I make my way to the overcrowded bar and carve out a place near the front. The bartender is talking to an older man who, from a distance, seems slightly more intoxicated than myself (if only slightly). As she talks to him, she begins to regurgitate the exact same disposition as before; nearly identical in every way and equally as effective on him. Waiting near the bar, I look over to the tables and notice an unexplained absence. Before realizing who was unaccounted for, I feel a slight nudge against my hip as I’m moved farther down the bar. Standing beside me in the starry low light of the bar, she looks at me and smiles so powerfully that Leonardo himself would be hard-pressed to recreate it.
(I don’t intend on finishing this story. In my mind it is complete, but with an abrupt ending. This was more or less an experiment to see what I could write freely and where my thoughts would take me.)