“You consider sitting down at the table, but the group already there would probably try to include you in conversation, so you don’t.”
You’re standing by a table in the corner of the room, nursing a cup of cider and trying not to stand out. People around you are talking and moving around and, in one instance, singing. You consider sitting down at the table, but the group already there would probably try to include you in conversation, so you don’t.
A huge guy winds over to the table. He catches your eye and smiles at you, then disappears suddenly from view. There’s a crashing sound and a muffled curse as the man hits the ground. Without thinking, you step forward to see if he’s okay.
He’s sitting on the floor, looking very sheepish.
“Are you alright?” you ask him, holding out a hand to help him up.
“Yeah, thanks,” he says. He takes your hand and pulls himself upright. “I’m Axel.”
“Greg,” you say. Axel’s eyes are deep brown, and there’s a small tattoo on his wrist. He looks behind him and frowns slightly at the table leg.
“That wasn’t very smooth,” he admits.
“I’ve seen smoother,” you agree. “Are you sure you’re alright? That sounded like a hard fall.”
Axel dismisses this with a wave of his hand. “I fall a lot. It wasn’t that bad. Nothing broken.”
“You spilled your drink,” you observe. “Can I buy you another one?” You aren’t sure exactly where this is coming from.
Axel’s face lights up. “I would love that.”
° ° °
You’ll walk into a bar. You’ll go up to the bartender and say, “I’d like a beer.”
The bartender will frown at you. “ID?”
You’ll smile nervously. “C’mon.”
She’ll roll her eyes, gesture at the door. You won’t move. “Out,” she’ll say. You’ll pretend not to hear her. She’ll beckon to the bouncer, expecting you to get the hint. You won’t. She’ll shrug. “Your choice, pal.” You’ll be escorted out of the bar.
You’ll struggle, but you’re only 5’4” and the bouncer, like most bouncers, is as tall as a mountain. So you’ll be lifted out and dropped on the curb. The bouncer, whose name is Axel, will sit down next to you, sigh, and drag a paw-like hand over his face.
“What the hell are you doing here, Greg?” he’ll ask.
You’ll shrug. “I’m getting a drink.”
“That’s not what it looked like.” You won’t say anything. He’ll wait, then shake his head at you. “I work at this bar. I work here.” He’ll rub at his forehead, sigh again. “You know I work here.”
You’ll carefully avoid his eyes, looking instead at your beat up pink Toms. But you’ll feel his irritation. He’ll exhale and push himself up. He’ll turn to go back into the bar.
“Axel,” you’ll say.
He’ll stop walking. “Greg. I need to get back to work.”
“I miss you.” You won’t mean to say it until you do.
“I know.” His voice will be soft, a gentle rumble and a gentle phrase. You’ll wait, hoping for something more, but instead the door of the bar will open, then swing shut.
After a moment, you’ll get up. You’ll push your bangs out of your eyes and take a deep breath. You won’t cry. You won’t. You’ll want to (you always want to), but you won’t.
You’ll feel trapped. You’ll want to claw your way out of the feeling, but you won’t be able to.
So you’ll walk. Quickly, arms wrapped around your torso like they’re holding you together.
You’ll walk down the sidewalk. Past the family owned shoe store that they’ll have converted into a Starbucks, past the swing set where you used to sit with pretty eyed boys and spill all your secrets for a kiss, past what feels like everything.
You’ll walk to the end of the street. And you’ll stop. And you’ll breathe. You won’t think about the dumbass thing you just did.
Once you feel like you can trust your mind and your legs, you’ll sit down on the curb. The tight feeling won’t be gone, but you’ll pretend that it is. Sometimes that works, and this will be one of those sometimes.
You’ll open your phone and tap out I’m sorry, then delete it before you can hit send. I’m sorry won’t fix how many times you’ll have shown up uninvited (unwanted) in his life. You’ll understand that.
° ° °
“Greg? You alright?” Axel asks.
“Yeah…yeah,” you reply. You shake your head. It feels like cobwebs are draped over your thoughts. Axel still looks concerned. “I’m fine,” you add. “I just zoned out for a minute.”
“Yeah, you looked pretty out of it.” He takes a sip of his drink. “What were you thinking of?”
“The future, I guess,” you say.
Axel smiles. “The future, huh. What about it?”
You shrug. “Axel…” You stop. “I’ve got to go.”
“Oh, alright.” He looks puzzled, but he says nothing and stands up with you. “Here, I’ll give you my number.” He writes it down on a piece of newspaper and hands it to you. “Call me, okay?”
“I will.” You won’t.
You take one look back when you get to the door. Axel’s watching you, and you quickly push the door open and step outside.
It’s better this way. You understand that.