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Tears twinkle around her eyes, delicate glass beads that threaten to shatter at any moment. She had cried an awful lot that past year but nothing compared to the tears she cried that night a year ago, when sudden tragedy had hit. Right now, she sits in a 70’s themed bar, complete with a disco ball that hangs in the center of the room and faded neon lights that light up the bar’s name in dancing letters that look almost as drunk as some of its patrons who are slamming tens of shots at the counter: Luke’s. She sits at the counter herself, though far at the end, furthest from the door. That way, when she faces towards the wall, no one will care to bother her as she swirls her straw around her cherry martini glass.
Exactly a year ago, she sat in this spot; except a year ago, she had faced the door, and had raised her glass at everyone who had walked through it. She had gone through two glasses of the same drink that night, and it was as she was asking the bartender for a third that a man burst through the door to announce the earth shattering news: her fiancé was dead. The man’s exact words were different but they had meant the same nonetheless; as her glass shattered into a million pieces against the cold, tiled floor, so had her future and her heart.
She hadn’t been in that bar in a year and the last time she was in it, she had been awaiting her beloved fiance. Though he worked shifts all day and late into the nights, he still made time for them to celebrate their fifth anniversary. She was elated of course, as they almost never had the chance to go out together, and she barely minded that their celebration had to be so late that it was practically early morning. But he never arrived that night. He never arrived anytime after that either, thanks to the city bus that had slammed him into oncoming traffic.
She had barely left her house since that night, barely taken a drink from a bottle. She had promised herself that no matter how broken she got, she would not drown her sorrow in the bottom of a bottle like her father had once done not too many years before. Tonight she had allowed herself to go out because it had been so long and moving on was the one promise she had never been very good at keeping. Maybe tonight on their anniversary she finally would.
The noises of the men pounding shots and the couples dancing skin against skin on the dance floor bleed around her like wet watercolors that trickle into one grey, indiscernible mess. She can feel the bass of the music pulsating deep in her bones but she takes another sip regardless; she dares herself to think of anything but him, though the endeavor is in vain. It is her second drink tonight: she wonders if there will ever be a third.
The first thing that finally clears amidst the haze she is lost in is a man in a bowler hat. In fact, she sees the hat long before she even sees the man and she thinks to herself it looks rather ridiculous. She watches as the purple tied rim comes closer and closer to her, until it sits down at the stool next to her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the hat says, and she would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of the vision if it wasn’t for the man underneath it. When he comes into view, she snaps out of her dream-like thoughts, and the world comes crashing down around her; the bumbling men and their low grunts that sound more like the thing you’d expect to come out of a gorilla; the women on the dance floor and the sounds of their dresses rubbing against the men’s belt buckles; even the music blends into one cohesive song with the bass that still echoes inside her.
She wants to say no, not on this night, the timing isn’t right. But unfortunately for her, when she looks down, not only is her glass empty, but so is her wallet. She curses herself for not bringing more, although she knows not bringing more was an earlier attempt at making sure she couldn’t get too drunk.
“Only if it’s a cherry martini.” She half expects the man to walk away at the sound of her voice which by now is hollow and broken from the tears that have been threatening her all night.
But when the man does walk away it is only to get the attention of the bartender and when he comes back, he hands her the drink without making her pay the price of telling him what is wrong.
“You waiting for someone?” is all he asks as he sips from the rim of a clear copper drink himself.
“Yes.” She would have spoken more but on this night she figures she didn’t have much to say. And why bother saying things that didn’t need to be said in the first place?
“I am too.” He copies her, not saying an excess of crap, and in that moment she is thankful that the purple bowler hat with the respectful man beneath it walked over to buy her a drink.
“Why does it feel like the people we want to see the most take the longest to come?” She looks up at him, surprised by the sudden question that bursts the bubble of silence that had peacefully rested between them the last five minutes.
That was a question she had known the answer to for quite some time now. “It’s because they aren’t coming.” That was when he began to look at her. Not up and down like someone inspecting a mango and deciding if it was ripe enough to eat; but instead searching her eyes, as if trying to find a long lost treasure.
The man frowns. “Well, if that’s the case, I have a proposition.”
“Well perhaps I am in the position to listen.” Her face remains unchanged. The droopy edges of her mouth have long set and dried, though there is a new found twinkle in her eyes that might not have been found when she was sitting here alone moments ago.
“We stop waiting. For just one night. If they really aren’t coming, we have at least a night to spare. We’ll make it perfect. Finally give ourselves one night that we don’t have to wait for.”
She considers the prospect, and he investigates her expression further, as if searching for some sort of hint. The twinkle in her eye gives it away, and the man knows her answer before it even leaves her lips.
“Okay,” he says back, and a relaxed smile grows on his face.
“One rule though,” she stops him before he can say anything else. “No names. We have this one night, and that’s it. I don’t need another person to wait for.” She holds her breath, scared he might call the whole thing off. But he nods his head. Normally, she would have just nodded back, neutral face still intact. Unfortunately for her, his smile is an infectious one.
Their night is one full of mystery and excitement. Her dry hand is held tight in his calloused hand though that is the farthest they touch. He pays for the drinks and they disappear out into the night air.
When they pass through the door of the bar, she feels as though she has just crossed a great precipice. The night air nips at her shoulders, and reminds her heavily of bitterness felt in the air that year ago; the memory of pulling her sweater tightly around her shoulders, shielding herself against the whipping wind. Tonight she instead takes her sweater off and lets the cold air send electric chills across her goosebumped skin; the feeling is invigorating.
They don’t say much, but their night is full and eventful. They make stops all around the city, taking cabs to the most random places they can find. Although the zoo is closed this late at night, they take turns climbing the tree that overhangs the penguin cage and sees who can turn more penguin heads in their direction. She wins, only because she is the only one that dares to yell into the night.
They speed down the main street in the back of a dusty yellow cab, and suddenly the man yells, “STOP!” The taxi driver slams the breaks and screams at the two as they bolt out of the car, bewitched by the statue that stands in the middle of a courtyard. A once mighty lion is now a rusty green color, his sharp teeth dulled down by time, and a worn patch of silver is on his back from the thousands of hands that have passed over him. The man lays down at the foot of the great king, closes his eyes, and sticks out his tongue, as if defeated by the mighty beast. She laughs and sits upon the lion, lifting an invisible sword up to the dotted sky.
At this he opens one eye, peeking up at her to see an open mouth and smile pinned on her face. She looks up at the sky, arm still raised up. In that moment she looks glorious, with the moonlight milking her skin, her sweater draped across her neck like a billowing cape. It must be a whole minute before she looks down at him again, and smiles knowingly, as if thanking him for letting her have this one moment.
The last place they visit is an empty playground some distance off from the other places they have been. They do not know it is the last place when they get there, but she runs to one of the swings anyways. She kicks aside her flats and lets the sand run through her toes before she kicks off the ground with one great push. He follows her, taking place on the swing besides her and does the same.
“Take your jacket off.” These are the first words she has spoken to him all night. He thinks against it, but only for a moment. At first the sudden coolness is harsh and unnerving, but as it settles, the chill feels almost comforting.
“Look up at the moon,” she tells him.
He follows suit, swinging and pumping just as she is, keeping his sight on the almost full moon, though his eyes long to glance back at her. He begins to pump harder and harder, and soon the swing is barreling through the air, almost touching the sky. She laughs and thinks in her mind that she can swing higher still, and before long, it is as if they are both touching the stars.
“I haven’t had a night like this in a long time.” She thinks about it for a while, trying to count the days. Yes, it had been over a year since she had a night like this; over a year since she had had a night that made her feel like this.
“Me too,” he replies, and makes his way off the swing towards her. Now his eyes don’t waver from her, nor her eyes from his. Then his arms are around her, and they are both standing barefoot in the sand under the moonlight, rocking ever so lightly in each other’s arms.
Her beaded tears that have been gone for hours suddenly return, this time a hammer slams through the thin glass that kept them from falling, and tears gush down her face. The words barely make it out of her mouth, instead they seep out like the tears from her eyes:
“Why does it feel like the people we want to see the most take the longest to come?”
“I suppose sometimes it’s because they want to be there just as bad, but have yet to find a way.”
She pulls her face off his shoulder, and holds him away from her, so she may look into his eyes. Her eyebrows hunch into tight bushels and a puzzled expression seeps across her ******** face.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” She sees a glint of something familiar in his face, though she cannot quite place where it is from.
This time he says nothing, instead squarely holding each of her shoulders, and closing in to place a kiss on her forehead. He turns around and begins to walk away from her and into the vast field that lay opposite the playground where they once swung.
She tries to reach her arm out again, to touch him, to hold on, to get any part of him that she can take with her, but something is holding her back, and all she can manage is to shout the words, “What’s your name? Please at least tell me your name!” But the words are lost in the sudden wind that picks up, carrying them far out of reach.
Though as she watches him fade away until he is nothing but a shadowy haze and fly up into the sea of black, she figures she already knows the answer. The last thing she sees is the purple bowler hat disappearing into the freckled night sky.