It had been a while since he’d heard from her—so when she told him she’d be up at the bar, that she wanted him to come, he figured he might as well. They had agreed to be friends, after all, and neither of them up to this point had done a very good job. And, anyway, what could be the harm?
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light from the bar.
“Are you twenty-one tonight?” asked the lady behind the counter.
She flashed her school girl smile.
“Well, if you change your mind—” She winked and resumed her vigorous wiping of the bar. The place was unusually full for a Monday night. On stage a sombre guitarist was playing something sad—about an old truck or a lost dog or a love that ran away. A few older couples swayed across the dance floor. Seeing her was a bit of a shock. He had spotted her in a corner by the pool tables; she hadn’t seen him yet. A sign for Yuengling, hanging above the pool table, partially obstructed his view.
A few more steps as he made sure of his composure. It was okay, he wasn’t in love. As he got closer, he could see there were others there—there were always others there now. They hovered about her. For a while they had been his friends too—but only to be nearer to her.
She looked up mid conversation. He felt himself smile involuntarily.
“Oh my gosh! I haven’t seen you in forever!”
She ran up to him. They swayed back and forth, pressed against each other. She held the pose longer than he would’ve like—well after he had already let go and didn’t know what to do with his hands.
“I figured I’d make an appearance.”
He took a seat beside her.
“So how have you been?” she asked.
“You know me—the same old, same old.” He tried to find the right note of disinterest; he hoped she could tell he had other girls.
“You never hit me up anymore.”
“I’ve been busy,” he lied.
“Oh. I thought you had disowned me as a friend.” She pouted, sticking out her lower lip—he could remember when her every gesture had seemed so spontaneous.
“No, not at all.”
“Good,” she said. “I didn’t want you to be like that.” She patted his head like you would a dog or a little kid. “You’re cute.” She smiled, looking more lovely than ever—the lights from the bar made bright her eyes.
“You should always try to be seen by bar light,” he said.
“Why is that?”
“It does nice things with your eyes.” He could compliment her freely now. He wasn’t in love; the words he wanted to say to her were no longer tethered to his heart. She had turned in her chair to face him. He studied her—dispassionately—for a moment: her eyes were big and dark and bright, yes, but her forehead was high and her eyes were a little wide-set for the narrowness of her almost-perfect nose—almost, but not quite. Her jaw was a little harsh, her chin was cleft (he hadn’t noticed before)… but that brought him to her mouth—
He was grasping for straws. She was still the most beautiful person he’d ever seen. She had lifted her pretty little feet into his lap. His chest filled and felt tense; he wasn’t in love. She was playing with the collar of his shirt. She was saying something. By the reverberation in his diaphragm he could tell he was saying something back. Her eyes were looking into his. He wasn’t in love—they were just friends.
He thought back to the night he’d had her at his sister’s apartment. Afterwards, as they stood outside smoking their cigarettes in the rain she asked: “Are you glad it was me?”
He told her she didn’t know it yet but there were about fifty girls who hated her guts.
Later that morning she texted him not to get mad when she told him this, ok? She said that she came with a life she wasn’t sure he was ready for. She said she wanted him too bad. She said that she thought she could do it, but that she couldn’t stop thinking about him and she realized how hard it could get. That if it had just been her she would’ve chose him, but she had someone else’s life to think about. She said he didn’t really love her anyway, that he was young and would have lots of other girls.
And he wondered if she would’ve said that if he hadn’t been in love.
The author’s name is William Erbele. He is a 23-year-old writer, based in Atlanta, GA.