“I didn’t realize you hated yourself that much.” She startled him as she took the empty seat next to him at the bar.
“And you know this about me how?” He played it casual, barely turning her way.
“By looking,” She swung down her purse on the back of the stool, sliding off her fur cape.
“And you hadn’t looked before?” he glanced at her a little more this time, his suave nonchalance betrayed by curiosity.
Their eyes actually met this time. She’d finished settling herself on the stool. “I just didn’t have the eyes to see it. And yes. I’ve watched you before.”
She was studying his face and he did his best not to give an inch. Sure, he was curious to know what she was after. Why would someone like her just breeze in on him so unannounced in the middle of his weekly routine? She’d never done it before. How did she even know where he’d be?
“You post about it all the time, darling. Your little musings from the Church Street Pub. One can’t be a fan of your work without knowing about it.” She looked at him as if he were half-mad. He hadn’t even asked. “Your face says it all,” She shrugged, pulling out a cigarette and putting it to her lips.
He picked up his lighter off the bar and leaned toward her.
“Thanks, dear!” She smiled, not expecting his generosity.
“Of course,” He cracked a little warm smile in return. He tried to make it smug and failed.
“You really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, you know.” She was full on smiling at him now, unafraid to show her enjoyment of his company.
Where on earth had she even come from and what was she doing in his life?
“Now I’m not that much of a mystery!” She blew out an exasperated puff of smoke. “I just want you to take care of yourself, not sit here and mope over a perfectly good scotch!”
He glanced down at his drink. The ice was melting a little too much into it.
“Now what is that? Macallan?”
“Oh, bourbon. Pardon me. That one’s a little smoother. I’d have thought you’d be drinking something with more bite.”
“Because you might as well be honest about the shit of life. Drink something that stings, you know?”
He laughed. “You never stop making guesses and never stop making observations.”
“Well I don’t hear you talkin’ – Hey, Macallan double shot-” She turned back toward him after the bar tender walked away. “Are you complainin’?”
“Well aren’t you just full of questions.”
“And you of stunning remarks.”
“Oh gosh!” She spewed smoked. “Let it rest! I’m not being serious!”
“Then what brings you here? What brings you to interrupt my self-loathing musings over a bourbon without enough bite?”
He watched her recoil at the sting of his words.
“Well if you don’t appreciate my company I might as well go. I’ll drink my scotch another time!” She rose, cigarette in one hand, trying to grab her purse and cape with the other.
“No, wait.” He’d grabbed her wrist. Her gold bracelet dug in at little under his grip.
“What? You can’t stomach someone not wanting to take your crap? I came here because I don’t want you to hate yourself. But you’re hell bent on making me hate you too. So let go of me and let me alone!”
He dropped her wrist. A sudden silence fell between them. An audible regret.
The bar tender awkwardly set down her scotch at her place, glanced between them and moved on.
He didn’t want her to go, but he wouldn’t stop her after that remark.
“Fuck this!” She grabbed the whiskey and downed it, slapped some cash on the bar and grabbed his hand. “We’re getting some air.”
Outside the night was cool and the sounds of the city quiet after the buzz of the indoors. It made it easier to think.
She leaned against the brick wall, standing on one foot, the other tucked casually up by her knee. She offered him a cigarette. He took it without a word, lighting it against the end of hers. He took a slow drag, letting himself relax.
“Look, I do appreciate the company. I’m sorry for the fuss. I guess I’m just surprised. People don’t just do this.”
“Yeah, I do some pretty stupid shit. Don’t I?” She laughed, tapping her ashes on the brick window sill.
“It’s not that. I mean, maybe you do. I meant caring. Noticing you’re having a bad night and showing up out of the blue to stop it. It’s unheard of.”
“You just take for granted that people don’t care.”
“Because they don’t.”
“Yes, they do. You just don’t have the eyes to see it.”
“If only I could see the world through your eyes.”
She smiled, extinguishing the last sparks of her cigarette. “You know, I’d always let you try.”