Unedited. Subject to change. If I choose an official date, I’ll definitely share it! Enjoy 🙂
“Why aren’t you answering your phone,” Natalie demanded, picking up after the second ring. I knew she’d had her phone in her hand, watching it light up with my name, “punishing” by making me wait an extra few seconds before she answered.
“I was a little preoccupied.” I stared down at the scuffed toe of my designer boots, feeling none of the rage I would’ve two weeks ago over such a thing.
One week ago.
Maybe the liquor was already kicking in, or maybe the shit didn’t really matter.
“You’ve been drinking.”
I frowned, bringing my gaze back up to the neon sign bearing the name of the bar. “And you know this… how? Are you watching me?”
Natalie sucked her teeth, so loud and clear that even through the phone, I felt like she was right beside me. “Nobody has time to be watching you, though I have considered hiring a babysitter for you. To answer the question – you always refer to your lush activities as being “preoccupied”, Keris.”
“So I have a tell, and you just weren’t gonna say anything?”
“Saying something now, boo.”
“Only cause I asked. What do you want?” I asked, and I couldn’t hear it, but I know she let out a deep sigh.
“To save you from yourself,” she quipped. “But since I know that’s not happening, I’d settle for you letting me know you’re okay?”
An unladylike snort burst from my throat. “Far from it. You know that.”
“I do, I just…” This time, her sigh was loud enough for me to hear. “How are you feeling?”
“Like an atomic bomb went off in my life. You?”
“What, Nat?” I laughed, but it felt… hollow. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I want you to say you’re going to go home and get in bed, but not stay there too long without eating, and not keep yourself in a drunken stupor to cope with your current… situation.”
“The only thing I can promise is that I’m definitely not doing that.”
Nat huffed. “Duh. A girl can try though, can’t she?”
I scraped my teeth over my bottom lip as I stepped backward, pressing into the rough bricks of the building. “I… I appreciate you trying.”
“Send me your location. And text me when you get home.”
“Okay,” I agreed. As vital as Natalie was in my life, I had to give her something, and besides that… a little culpability couldn’t hurt. With her on my mind, knowing how worried she’d be, knowing she’d be waiting on that text, knowing how she’d feel if it never came… I’d do right by my friends even when I wouldn’t do it for myself.
Once I was off the phone, an almost foreign desire to just go home nagged at me. Mostly because home wasn’t that anymore, and the place I had to call by its’ name… that place made me want to drink more.
It was the only thing I had though.
The only thing that was still mine, besides piles of material bullshit I’d gladly trade just to have some normalcy back in my grasp. If only…
I laughed to myself, shaking my head as I slid my phone back into the rear pocket of my jeans. There wasn’t a damn thing funny except the complete ridiculousness of me wanting “normalcy”, as if I hadn’t been rejected it for the last fifteen years of my life.
Every decision, colored by a singular focus on not falling victim to the life I’d been prescribed. I wanted to be different.
When I laughed this time, it was at myself.
Sure, my adult life had gone differently than the struggle I grew up with – a generational struggle I’d been so desperate to escape. Tunnel vision was a bitch though, because I’d simply ended up in a different, deceptively worse reality. The shiny, insidious veneer of a perfect life – the closet, the man, the house, the accounts, the job.
Everything I was told would never be mine.
I just had to prove her wrong.
“Home” was just a block or so away, which was how I’d ended up at this bar in the first place. Night Shift had been the closest spot that was still open, so it won by default. Before, I’d have met my desire for a drink at my fully stocked home bar, or visited the exclusive rooftop bar in my building.
Neither of those options were open to me anymore.
Now… I did my drinking at what I’d assumed would be a dive bar, but turned out to be much nicer than expected. With everything swirling in my head, I needed another drink now.
The first hadn’t done enough to dull my senses.
When I stepped back inside, my barstool of choice was still empty – a little surprising in the loud, crowded bar. The singular bartender from before – a gorgeous Black woman who’d taken one look at my face and immediately poured me a shot – had been joined by a new guy, who was apparently responsible for my side of the bar. The woman was at the other end, grinning at basking in the attention of a group of firefighters who’d gathered at the bar.
“I need another Macallan down here,” I called to the male bartender, whose head was down, looking at something on his phone instead of tending to customers. I propped my elbows on the cool polished wood of the bar as he looked up, eyes narrowed, looking for the source of the demand.
I raised my fingers in acknowledgement, and his expression focused into a wolfish grin as he zeroed in on me – a look I was all-too-used to getting. A response I’d carefully cultivated, actually – brows and lashes and professional hair care, a grueling gym schedule, regular appointments with my aesthetician, a breast lift. All part of the illusion.
He stopped halfway down the bar to pour my drink, giving me a chance to do a little objectifying of my own. His weathered gray tee-shirt fit close against the contours of his body, with Night Shift Brewery and Bar across his broad chest in bold, chipped letters. Thick biceps stretched the arms of his shirt, showing off smooth skin the same color as clover honey, punctuated with occasional deep black tattoos.
Mischievous eyes, sculpted nose that could’ve, maybe, been broken a time or two. Full lips, the top one partially bisected with a scar that ran up the side of his face. A light dusting of salt and pepper over a neatly trimmed beard, and a fresh looking, deep-waved caesar.
What a man.
“Macallan, huh?” he asked, sauntering over. When he reached me, he didn’t hand over the whiskey – he kept the glass in his hand while he waited for a response.
I lifted a shoulder. “Something wrong with that?”
He grinned, scraping his teeth over his bottom lip. “Nah, not at all. Just… a little different for most women.”
“I’m not most women.”
“Clearly,” he agreed. “Why Macallan though?”
His eyebrows went up. “Cheaper whiskeys that are smooth.”
“I like to feel fancy.”
The grin came back. “Oh. Well, in that case…”
He winked at me as he lifted my drink to his mouth and downed it, then moved back to the rows of liquor against the lighted back wall of the bar. Glass beer bottle with different names printed on plain stickers where the most prominent things on display, but he didn’t reach for any of those. I watched, brow furrowed, as he pulled a bottle from way up top.
I recognized the tan label and inky black Japanese symbols that decorated the front.
“I’m not feeling that fancy,” I warned as he poured the Yamazaki into a fresh glass for me, and the other glass too, presumably for himself.
His eyes came back to mine, his marbled irises matching the whiskey as they caught the light. “Don’t worry sweetheart – this one’s on me.”