2008

I had to make up some excuse to get out of the bar. I was there on a date with someone– this was before I met you. Anyway. I made up some flimsy excuse, I had left something in the car or I had to smoke a cigarette or make an important phone call. As I passed him, Tom finished off his beer and said something to the bartender. I tried to make it outside alone so it didn’t look suspicious, but by the time I made it to the door and pushed it open, I noticed a familiar hand on the glass above mine. We were the only people out there. It was nice to be alone again.

“I’m really tired,” he said. “I hate this fucking bar.”

“I do too. It’s okay though. The drinks are cheap.”

He was wearing this shirt, this like plain white button down thing with half the buttons undone and his shirt tails hanging out. I can’t explain what it is about that look that I’ve always loved, kind of an unkempt formality, that slobbish debonair, but I know the handsome face it started with.

“You look amazing,” he said. “You always look amazing.”

“So do you,” I said. Tom looked down at his clothes and checked his hair and face in the reflection of the bar’s blacked-out window as if he’d never actually seen himself before.

“I saw you today out on the street and you didn’t come say hello to me.” He said.

“Robbie came out to say hi so I just said hi to him.  Just because you saw me doesn’t mean that I saw you. If I had seen you, I would have said hello.”

“I waved.” he said. “You were with your boyfriend so I didn’t wanna… you know.”

“Yeah, whatever. That never stops me.”

“I know it doesn’t… I know it doesn’t.”

There was this long old pause where for a while we were just happy being out there with eachother, trying to take in the feeling of being alone before somebody, anybody, came outside and ruined it. I kept thinking that any moment one or more of our significant others would come bursting out that front door demanding to know if anything funny was going on.

“I guess I’m gonna marry that girl,” he said.

“Probably about time.” I said. “You’re getting up there. Biological clock’s ticking. Gotta get while the getting’s good and you’re still pretty and all.”

“Yeah, that’s really true. I can’t keep… you know, doing the stuff that I do.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably marry that guy I’m here with tonight.”

“That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “It is. God, you look so miserable.”

“I thought you said I looked good.”

“The two aren’t always mutually exclusive. You make looking miserable look damn good sometimes.”

Now he laughed, that sharp rueful puzzled laugh that I love so well. “Thank you… I think.”

“You’re welcome. I’m sure.”

Robbie came out hollering about how we’d both disappeared at some critical moment so we looked at eachother and shrugged, heading back inside. I went to attend to the guy I was seeing, thinking about how I should break it off, how I should go home alone again, but knowing I wouldn’t. He was talking to some friend of Robbie’s, some girl, and at least my conscience let up a little. The band was playing and playing well. Tom’s girl was over in the corner not saying anything to anyone, with her skinny little arms all folded up and this pouty expression on her face. I knew the kind of girls that Tom liked and they were never  happy in places like this, around people like us. Tom tried to put his arms around her and she just stood there stiff as a board in his arms. He tried to sway with her, get her to dance to the music and she wasn’t having it.

Robbie was next to me, loudly trying to talk up my date to help me save the night but I couldn’t hear a word either one of them was saying. I got up without apologizing and went to stand by myself off to the side of the stage in front of the band, a good twelve feet from Tom but well within his eyeline. Without so much as a look or a word of pretense, he put his arms around my shoulders and pulled me close– too close. My head hit his teeth. We both said ow and laughed, him rubbing his mouth,  me rubbing the side of my head. Then we started dancing. We danced close and wild and flirtatious and careless, laughing and laughing and laughing, and for just that split second, it was like having the young Tom back, the Tom who was handsome and energetic and just too wild to be pinned down by any woman, even me.

When the band finished playing, he still had his arms around me and said “do you want a beer?” and I said sure and he left me unattended on one end of the bar while he went to buy us drinks, and I had forgotten about pretty much everybody else by then, including my date, who quick as could be had his own arms around my waist, standing as defiantly as I probably ever saw him, before or after that night, and when Tom came back, he said hello to my date, all the while shooting me this look, this betrayed evil angry hurt look, and then he shoved the beer into my hand and said “here. This is for you” and then walked away, not back to his date (who I guess left) or to our friends (who had since learned not to get involved when the two of us were making terrible mistakes) but off by himself to look at his accordian and put some stuff away, and then I looked at my date, who was long-suffering and serious, who no doubt knew what I was up to but was willing to overlook it as foolish little girl stuff, and maybe it was the beer or maybe it was finally being sober for half a minute for the first time all night, but I realized that that’s all it really was: foolish little girl stuff. I said goodbye to our friends and to Tom, from a distance, who glared and barely said a word, and allowed myself to be led back home half-asleep by a man I wasn’t convinced I loved but who I knew would never leave me alone to go and dance around the world with some floozy in a thrift store dress.

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