Bars really did begin their happy hours astonishingly early, even on weekdays. With his first pint, Gordon wondered just how many people took advantage around the city since he was the only one partaking in this stereotypical McWhatever in the moment. By the time he moved on to whiskey, he really wasn’t bothered by the idea that anyone would judge him. As long as he had the money to pay, he was a valued customer, and that was really all the mattered.
“Did you have your heart broken today?” the bartender asked as he poured the second shot of Bushmills. The first had disappeared the minute before.
Gordon had been assessing the wisdom of ordering shots versus fingers of liquor, but he didn’t want to appear too desperate. He could let the smaller serving warm his veins, then figure out his next move. If he seemed to be blowing too much money in one place, he could always shuffle on to the next. “It doesn’t matter if I did. I’d be just as alone either way,” he said with the patient self-loathing of a drinker.
The man just nodded at him as though he could see through the situation and understand without knowing the depth of his pain. “The only reasons I’ve seen a man drink like that lately are girls or jobs. You don’t seem like a fella who’s all that concerned with the corporate world, so I went for the other option. Plus, you know, the date and all.”
“Yeah, cheers to that.” Another shot down. He would have to seriously rethink his approach in this place. He didn’t imagine that he’d be recognized and approached due to the hour and the general celebrity-ignoring atmosphere of New York, but distantly, he did worry about giving too much away and exposing himself. “I’ve been away for a while, business and the like, and the girl just blows me off when I spring to surprise her at work. What’s up with that?”
“Sounds like she’s just ungrateful to me. Or she has something to hide.”
“Yeah. Yeah! She wouldn’t even let me in the door. Kept me outside while she basically told me to fuck off.” He pushed the shot glass forward and nodded to the other man to indicate that he wasn’t calling it a night before the sun went down. “I don’t get why she has to treat me that way. I’ve given her everything, you know? I just love her so much, and I don’t get much back. She made more money than me for a while, and now I make more than she does. I don’t know if she’s uncomfortable with that or what. She’s been at the same shitty job for years, but she won’t leave now, even though we’re comfortable. It’s some kind of pride thing, but she hates what she does. I don’t fucking get it at all.”
The bartender took his shot glass and swapped it for a tumbler, which he filled generously before sliding it back over. “Sounds to me like she doesn’t want to need a man, if you ask me. I’m sorry. You can try to give her the world, but if she doesn’t want to take it, then what’s the point of handing it over to her? You’re just going to be burnt. Did she say what the problem was?”
Gordon gave a shrug and gratefully took a swig of the whiskey. Money wasn’t an object, and he was sure he had more than enough in his wallet to cover the tab. “She just said that I had to respect that it gave her something to do while I was away. Which yeah man, whatever, but at least do something that interests you? I don’t get why she wants to just torture herself and why that’s more important than spending time with me.”
“Sometimes you’re just not meant to get it.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I ever got her at all or if we just had chemistry. Physically,” he added. Looking at his glass, he frowned. It was empty again, but it had been so much bigger than a shot. He wasn’t sure how that happened, but he pushed it back for a refill regardless.
“Is this the place for the Lonely Hearts Club Band?” a voice purred. The owner slunk her way onto the stool next to Gordon. She wore a low cut red dress, simple in its styling but generous in how the hems sliced to give a glimpse of thigh and breast. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders to tumble in loose waves nearly to her waist, while her skin remained fashionably pale.
“Well, it’s not where the party is, so if you’re looking for that, I’m afraid you’re lost,” he remarked. He was struck by this woman’s smooth skin, her wide eyes, the subtle freckle on her cheek. It had been so long since he’d met a woman who was stunning enough for him to notice, especially one who didn’t know who he was because she happened to be at some music industry event. Beautiful women tended to need a reason to talk to him, but he didn’t get the sense that she was aware of who he was. So much the better.
“Well, good. I’ve never been much of one for parties.” She nodded her head to the bartender, who immediately set about mixing a dirty martini for her. “I’m afraid I’m something of a regular here. Just the constant state of my life. Always the bridesmaid and all that. And what about you? What’s your story? Bridesmaid as well?”
Gordon laughed and started to notice just how loose the liquor was making him. None of his words seemed to come out without his mouth distorting the sounds. “I’m afraid I just don’t look that good with tulle.”
“I’m impressed you even know what tulle is.”
“I have many opinions dedicated strictly to tulle. You wouldn’t want to hear any of them.”
When she giggled, her lips stayed pressed together while her eyes crinkled up. Something about that was so charmingly shy, so different. He knew he wanted to see her happy. “I have a feeling that you’re a rather opinionated man in general,” she ventured.
“What gave you that impression?”
“Well, there aren’t a lot of guys who would be in bars at this hour. You don’t look like you’re just bored, so that means that you’ve probably suffered a crippling blow to the ego.” She didn’t sound judgmental in the least, and she even gave a cheer of delight when her dirty martini arrived, complete with extra olives.
“Well, what about you? Is it a bit early for you as well?”
“No, I’ve already finished with my work day. But you probably don’t care about what I do anyway, so we won’t go into it. You, however, have been here a while. Laid off or day off?”
He looked down and had to admit that he didn’t look his most presentable. His general uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and a hoodie were the rockstar style of choice, but he could see how the casual nature could scream unemployment. “Independently wealthy,” he informed her. He pulled himself up enough that he thought that he was assuming some sort of flourish, but it just made her laugh more.
“Okay, okay, I won’t ask. You’re a funny guy. Maybe a stand up comedian.”
“That’ll be the fallback option.”
“As soon as that independent wealth stops suiting you?” she asked as she popped an olive between her teeth. Perfectly aligned, perfectly white. Was she being suggestive doing that, or did she not realize how she teased him?
He looked at his new drink and let the amber liquid swirl around for a bit. “I think I have enough to pay off my tab. That’s about as far ahead as I’m thinking.”
“That’s a shame. I had my eye on later tonight.”
He had to hold his breath to get his eyes to stop swimming when he looked at her. The knowing smirk, the lingering gaze, the way her hand was creeping across the bar to touch his. How could he misread any of this? “I have—”
I have a girlfriend. I have a life. I have a broken heart and all sorts of emotional bullshit and really ought to be left alone with it. I have to get home for dinner. I have to apologize. I have responsibilities and can’t let myself do this. I have to prove to everyone that they can rely on me. I have to walk away.
“I haven’t had any lunch, so I was going to get dinner soon, if you’re interested in a bit of company. If those olives aren’t enough.”
She plucked another from the toothpick and let it roll around in her mouth a moment as she let her gaze trail over his body. “You’re in luck. I really don’t feel like spending tonight alone.”
When he kissed her, she tasted like a regret he had never wanted more.