I pulled the umbrella out of my drink. This wasn’t a celebration. I ran it under my fingers, closing it under the weight of my palm. The plastic felt hard and sharp against my skin.
I turned back to my signature vodka cranberry – ah, the drink of depression. If sadness could be infused into a beverage like ginseng into a smoothie, this pink succubus would be the epitome. I liked it: my sad friend, mourning with me, it too, slowly diluting with the influence of cold, unforgiving intruders. I took another sip, than stirred the straw around for a few moments, piqued by the methodical rise and fall of the cubes, tinkling and bouncing against the hard glass. So carefree. You’d hardly know they were slowly fading, shrinking, losing themselves to the absorbing power of the drink.
“You okay there, darling?”
I glanced up at Kate, the bartender, realizing I had allowed a lone to tear to escape down my cheek. How cliché. I did my best to smile.
“I will be.” The tear settled nicely on the pad of my finger, rippling into tiny droplets as I flicked it aside. I focused on my drink; I wasn’t in the mood to talk.
“Well, just holler if you need anything, ok?” And Kate disappeared into the kitchen.
That was sweet of her.
She was such a perfect fit for this establishment. Her hair short and loose, her clothing baggy and unassuming…everything about her cried, “Hey, tell me anything! I’ve been through it all, and none of it matters in the long run.” She’d pulled quite a few people out of suicidal slumps during her work here. It’s a shame she couldn’t get a shrink’s salary to go with it. The bar was equally inviting and understanding. Not fancy at all – no special glassware, leather chairs, or high-class décor. Nope. This place should have had a sign over the door that said “It is what it is”.
No more, no less.
That’s why I liked it here. I had my doubts that the wall hangings came from anywhere other than garage sales and thrift stores, and yet they had a certain class about them. Clearly they were not chosen indiscriminately. The owner took great care to make this place look presentable, while avoiding any hint of luxury. It was a human place; a people place. A place for the imperfect.
And there are a hell of a lot of us.
I gave my drink another stir, thinking back to just a few months prior when everything came crashing down. I’d screwed up. Big time. I still remembered the day when I started putting distance between me and Lucas. We’d been together for four years but things had happened quickly at the start. We moved in together, bought furniture together, started making plans together all within just six short months of dating. We were blissfully happy for so long. And then I fucked it all up. And I don’t know why.
Don’t go there right now, Alexis. I forced myself to contemplate the pink potion reclining lazily in my glass. I love Lucas, I think. I just…sigh.
I don’t know what had happened; how I had gotten so lost. I just… stopped feeling like he loved me. Sometimes I felt like he hated me.
A break-up song came on over the radio behind the bar. Great, just what I need.
The music cooed on about a big fight. Yelling. Screaming. Tears. Yep, that sounded about right. At least I’d had the decency to start the conversation with Lucas – albeit a very tense one – instead of waiting for him to get sick of my sabotaging antics. That was a point in my corner, right?
Yeah, don’t start patting yourself on the back, Alexis. That doesn’t exactly redeem you from what you’ve done. I took another sip of my sweet, tranquilizing friend.
I clenched my eyes shut at the memory of our first big fight. At first it was just him yelling; he was so angry. And surprised. He was completely blindsided. Not that I blamed him, but he was normally so… agreeable. I’d never seen him like that. It was a bit of a revelation. Why had he never gotten angry with me like that before? Surely I’d made other mistakes worthy of his ire.
Then as I got worn down by the accusations and the insults, I began flinging them back. I don’t know why, it was so stupid. It’s not like I was in a position to take a stand, but I wanted to understand. I didn’t think I was a bad person – why had I let things get so out of hand? Surely I had some worthy excuse somewhere! I recalled myself pacing the kitchen of our small apartment, wracking my brain, trying to deal with it all. Then my instincts took over and I jumped into self-preservation mode calling him unloving, a coward, and a whole host of other names I don’t think I could repeat, even to my worst enemy.
I took a long swig of my drink. Ahh. The cool liquid felt good against my tense and dry throat. Our relationship wasn’t that bad, was it? I shuddered as I remembered the thunderous resonance of the door slamming as he stalked out on me for the last time. That was a week ago. I still hadn’t heard from him. Yeah, it must’ve been far worse than I imagined. He said he felt betrayed even before the absolution of my financial treason became known to him.
Another tear. I let it drop delicately into my glass. Yes, drink your tears, Alexis. You deserve to live with them.
“Ok, tell me, who’s the guy?” Growled a hoarse voice. Huh? I hadn’t noticed anyone sit down next to me.
I looked to my left to find a cute guy planted on the bar stool, all smiles and raising his eyebrows with high hopes. Oh, God. Not now.
I granted him an impassive stare and then went back to my drink.
“Oooo, must be bad.” He teased. “Husband?”
Boy did you pick the wrong girl to fuck with today.
“Common law,” I snapped, attempting to close the conversation.
“Well, we men are assholes, you know that now. Light beer, please,” he gestured toward the bartender. She winked at me as she turned to grant his request. I returned a look of disgust. Oh no, this is not what you think, my dear. It’s way too soon.
“Women can be pretty big assholes too,” I muttered unapologetically. He didn’t know whom he was dealing with.
“Ooooooooh, so you’re a lesbian? In that case, I want to hear the whole story. Don’t leave anything out.” He settled into his stool, anticipation glowing in his eyes.
I could’ve lynched him right there. What a dick. “I was talking about me, for God’s sake. And it’s none of your fucking business.”
“Okay,” he said, holding his hands up in defense. His beer came and I finished off my drink, beginning my getaway plan. But of course, he opened his fat mouth again.
“So what makes you an asshole?” He peered sideways at me, keeping his head forward as he took a swig of his beer. At least he had the decency to feign insecurity in his unwelcome interrogation. An indecent slurp escaped his lips, giving way to drops of spittle he wiped unceremoniously from his mouth.
Sigh. Lucas always drank his beer like that. I smiled to myself – a smile that rapidly melted with the recollection of all the painful memories. I didn’t have the patience for this guy right now. But Kate was nowhere to be found and I needed her to run my credit card.
“What’s it to you?” I bunted, looking him directly in the eye, my words heated in challenge.
He turned and stared right back. There was no intimidating this man. Or shutting him up, for that matter.
“What’s it to me…” He waxed pensive, feigning deep consideration for my off-the-cuff backtalk. “Look, you’re clearly stubborn. You don’t want to discuss this. But unfortunately for you, I find this rather intriguing, and I’m bored. So, open the floodgates already.”
I stared at him in dismayed silence for a moment. Um, what? Did he seriously just say that?
He stared expectantly, tethered to his seat with the prospect of a full and detailed confession; a frog enjoying the throes of lukewarm water inconspicuously set to “Boil”.
I smirked. I didn’t have the energy to discuss this, but I had even less energy to defend my reasons for retaining my privacy. I decided to give in – but I wasn’t going to make it easy.
Sensing my relegation to his inquisition, he probed further. “So…” The hint of impatience in his words did nothing for my frustration. “You say you’re an asshole. It’s not every day a guy gets an admission like that. I’m all ears.” He waved at me in an introductory manner.
Ugh. I took another sip of my lulling libation. He was kinda cute. He had really nice brown eyes. Kind of like Lucas…
“It’s a long story,” I huffed, shoving the evil thoughts from my mind with the commitment of a brainwashed Nazi marching resolutely towards his first brutal kill. “Let’s just say I fucked up one of the best things that’s ever happened to me and I don’t know why.”
I pushed my glass forward. Kate had finally returned and, though I wanted to sign and skidaddle, I nodded for another. Looks like I’m going to be here for a while.
The man looked at me expectantly. “And….”
My hackles went up like a rabid mutt. I almost called Kate back over to cancel my drink order. Did this guy have no sense of patron-to-patron propriety? “Look, I don’t even know you. I don’t exactly feel like jumping on the opportunity to spill my guts.”
“John,” he said, his hand outstretched. “My name is John. And you are?”
I rolled my eyes. “Alexis,” I responded with chagrin, reluctantly accepting his handshake.
“Now, we got that out of the way. What did you do? Be specific. I’m on my second beer and I need the entertainment.”
“God, you just don’t give up, do you?” I replied with exasperation. He just smiled and tapped his fingers on his bottle.
“Ok – John – if you must know, I blew our savings. Every last dime. And we had a lot. I was upset about an argument we had and feeling impulsive, so I drove up to Blackhawk and lost it all on 3 Jacks.”
He laughed. “Wow. Shit, I would’ve been pissed too. You are an asshole.”
My ears fumed with the saturation of his mockery. “Well it’s not like I went up there with the intention of blowing all of it!” I cried. I was getting really upset – must’ve been the alcohol. Letting perfect strangers chap my hide like this had never been my MO. “He told me I didn’t contribute enough to our finances and it pissed me off. I work damn hard for what I get!”
“Whoa, whoa, down girl,” John taunted, ever further fueling my rage. “I get that. But holy shit, your life savings? You’re either overly confident or overly stupid.”
Ugh, this was getting me nowhere. What was I thinking engaging some idiot in a bar over something I was still feeling so raw over?
“Look,” I countered, clutching my hands around my drink in an attempt to contain my anger, “I used to be a very good poker player before he talked me out of gambling. I was going to set him right – show him why I don’t bring home as much anymore and how much money he’s missing out on because of his prudishness.”
“Ok. Alright.” He considered for a moment. He approached his next comment with caution. “You know, I’ve been known to play some poker in my day…”
Okay, am I supposed to be impressed?
“How did you lose it?” The inquisitive look on his face, coupled with the unexpected hint of empathy sent me whirling back a year to the apartment.
Lucas and I had bought our first couch together, and we had just finished hauling it into the living room. He’d turned to me with this same look on his face – frustration mingled with curiosity and just a touch of concern. It was the concern I remembered most. Although I don’t recall noticing it at the time.
“Do you like it?” Lucas had asked. I nodded my head and flopped on the couch, exhausted. He sat behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and nestled his face in my hair. He really liked to do that. My mind wandered forward to just six months later when he tried to do that again and I brushed him off with annoyance. I was mad at him. I didn’t know why, but I was mad. I could still picture the pained look on his face as I walked down the hall demanding some time to myself.
I came back to the present where this guy – John – was beginning to look impatient. Fuck, he probably doesn’t know anything about poker.
“I thought it was a sure win,” I began. “Most small town folk don’t know fuck-all about poker and the other guy looked nervous.” I shrugged. “Nothing shocked me more than to see him place three aces on the table next to our life savings.”
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