Cole gestured toward a lonely table at the back corner. I noticed it was the closest table to the counter and pretty much hidden from the view. I was glad about it. My eyes were probably still red, and I just wanted to be left alone and not draw any attention to myself.
Cole went to get me the beer he promised and then left me alone. It took me a while to calm down and take a sip, and even longer to turn to look at Cole. He kept his promise and stayed away from me, but as I kept watching him, I saw him peering at me every now and then. He smiled whenever our eyes met, but I always looked away. Twice he brought me a new beer without saying a word.
I felt weird being there after swearing I wasn’t going to have anything to do with the place and its owner. But at the same time… For some reason, I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t go home. I didn’t want to even think about it. My breathing grew short if I tried to think about it.
So, I didn’t think about it. I sat there in silence, keeping my eyes on the glass, listening to the sounds and conversations around me. At some point, Cole had a long, cheerful talk with someone, and I lost myself listening to his voice. He had a soothing voice, so I couldn’t help but relax a little.
I had no idea what time it was or how long I had been there when the people started making their leave and the lights got dim, but I assumed Cole was closing up.
But I still couldn’t leave. I just stared at my empty glass, waiting. For what…?
I heard the sounds of doors being locked, and the footsteps coming my way. Cole walked past me, only to grab two new bottles before he returned to me.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked with a gentle voice. I shook my head before I could even think about stopping myself.
He sat down, and I readied myself to tell him to mind his own business. He was going to ask what was wrong, right? Wrong. He opened the bottles, gave me the other one, and stayed silent. After a few long moments, I peered up at him. He was just staring at the table, taking a sip every now and then, looking like he could use some sleep.
Why was he not saying anything? Why were we drinking beer in a closed bar and he acted like it was perfectly fine that we sat at the same table but didn’t even talk? I hadn’t said a word to him after stepping in a few hours ago, so what the hell was going on? Just… What?
And he was supposed to be the chatty one…
Staying indifferent about his presence was getting harder and harder. I tried not to look at him, but more than once I caught myself taking short glimpses of him. He seemed like he had completely forgotten my existence, but I had the feeling he was doing that on purpose. I tried to do the same, but when my bottle was finally empty, and all that beer I’d drank started making me feel calmer than I normally was, I finally opened my mouth.
“You said you wanted to talk?”
His eyes darted towards me like he had anxiously waited for me to speak, but otherwise his posture stayed calm.
“Yeah… I mean… If you don’t mind?” he spoke carefully.
I just shrugged. I didn’t really want to talk, but the silence was getting ridiculous.
“You… watched the movie?”
“Did you like it?”
“It was… entertaining.”
“Good… That’s good,” he nodded. “And… How have you been?”
I looked away from him. “Just great.”
“Hmmh…” he uttered, sounding like he didn’t believe me. Of course he didn’t believe me after seeing me crying outside his window like a fucking sissy…
I should’ve left at that moment. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t leave. I knew he’d keep asking questions I was never going to answer, making me uncomfortable and forcing all those unwanted thoughts and feelings out of me…
I turned to look at him again. He had a sad expression on his face, but he didn’t say a word.
“Speak like a man!”
Nasty shivers ran down my spine, and I turned my eyes to my empty bottle. The urge to leave felt suddenly stronger, and my father’s voice in my head much louder.
Just once… I wanted to… feel like a normal person…
“I’m…” I tried to focus, but the yelling in my head distracted me, making me feel like a horrible scumbag. Like I was something nasty. “…not…” But just this once… If I just forced the words out of my mouth… “…well.”
“You sound like a sissy! Are you a fucking sissy?”
“I’m not doing well at all…” I practically whispered, but he heard me.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked quietly. “I’m a good listener.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t. Admitting I wasn’t well had taken its toll on me, but my father’s voice was suddenly gone. Maybe he was shocked that I dared to say such things out loud, no matter how hard he had tried to silence me.
“It’s fine – but I want you to know I’m here if you ever need someone to talk to.”
I nodded before anything could stop me, and he smiled. Seeing that made me feel odd. Better. Like it was easier to breathe.
“I’m… sorry I blew you off the other day… I was…” I muttered, trailing off because I couldn’t find the words.
“It’s fine,” he said again with a reassuring tone. “Maybe we can go some other day? My friends are on a vacation and I could use the company.”
I hesitated, but not for long. “I guess… I’m on a sick leave for now, so…”
“Oh, but if you’re sick, you shouldn’t be working out.”
I hesitated for much longer, but I didn’t want to stay silent this time. “Not that kind of sick leave…” I explained quietly.
It took him only a second to understand what I meant. “I see. Well… How about tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” I nodded.
“I’ll be there around five,” he said. “I completely understand if you don’t feel like it, so no pressure.”
I nodded again.
“Another beer?” he asked when I didn’t say anything.
I shook my head. “I should get going.”
“Oh… Can I walk you home?”
His question took me by surprise. “I’ll be fine,” I replied.
“I could use some fresh air,” he said tentatively.
“I… uh… sure…” I mumbled.
But why? Why did he want to walk me home? It was odd, but I couldn’t tell him to leave me alone. I didn’t want to. There was something about him… I couldn’t remember if I had experienced anything like that before… This certain… calmness…
I waited for him while he finished closing the bar, then followed him outside. While he locked the doors again, I stared at the flag moving slowly in the breeze.
“I didn’t raise a fag in this household!”
I turned to look at Cole when he stopped next to me, asking me to show the way. He walked right beside me when I started heading home. The confusion took its hold on me like it had done when I first noticed Cole. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know why I was letting this happen.
We walked in silence and in no hurry for a while. I was so busy wondering why this was happening that I didn’t even try to think of anything to talk about. Too soon, we reached halfway, and he hadn’t said a word, so I peered at him. He glanced at me when he noticed it, and smiled.
“Chilly night, right?” he asked.
“Is it getting much colder? I’m not from around here…”
I stopped to take a better look at him. “Did you not check the climate before moving here?”
“No,” he chuckled. “I didn’t think of doing that, to be honest…”
I frowned at him, but his smirk didn’t go away. Then, I continued walking, my eyes lingering on him for a moment longer. “Yes, we’re getting snow.”
“Nice,” he said, following me. “Do you like snow? You look like a snowboarder.”
“I don’t really care about snow…” I didn’t care about anything… “And I’ve never tried snowboarding.”
“I did. Didn’t go well. Broke my arm.”
I turned my head away from him when I was suddenly reminded of my broken leg. The turning point of my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be there, walking next to him… Maybe I would still be at my father’s mercy.
I nearly stopped again when that thought passed my mind. I was still at my father’s mercy.
“Do you have any hobbies?”
“Oh. I do karaoke.”
“Please, no…” I breathed out. “I hate it.”
“It’s fun!” he chuckled. “I’m terrible at it, of course.”
I couldn’t stop myself from imagining him singing. He had a great voice…
“Squealy little whores every single one of them…”
I shook my head, trying to get rid of my dad’s voice. I just wished he would stop already… I wanted him to leave me alone and not feel disgusted around Cole.
“Did I say something wrong?” Cole asked quietly, and I realized I hadn’t said anything in a long moment. He could probably see how bad I felt written on my face.
“No…” I whispered. “I…”
I didn’t continue. I was getting sucked back into the nothingness I had somehow broken free from at the bar. I didn’t want to go back there… into that empty corner where I had nothing or no one.
“Tomorrow at five, right?” I forced the words out of my mouth, coming to a halt in front of the main entrance of my building.
“Yeah,” he said slowly, and I knew he wanted to ask if I was all right. “I can wait if you want.”
“I’ll be there,” I told him. “I don’t have anything else to do, so I’ll be there.”
“Okay, great,” he said with a hopeful smile.
“Great,” I nodded, and opened the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
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