My Anonymous Friend
I don't know why I keep coming back here, but I do. It just seems that every time I feel like life is letting me down, I find myself standing outside this bar, hoping I'll run into her again. I'm never disappointed. She's always here. Or at least, she's always here whenever I need her.
I wonder if she comes every week. I wonder if she looks for me, when I'm not around. I wonder if she actually sits around and waits to see if I'll show up. I doubt it. She doesn't seem like the waiting type.
I pull open the door and slip inside. I get a few stares, but I've been here so many times that it doesn't even bother me anymore. I've been showing up, on and off, for the last couple of years. Sometimes it's every two months, sometimes it's every other weekend, but somehow I always end up here again. Deep down inside, I know what I'm here for.
I see her right away, over on the dance floor, swinging her hips to the music. I don't know her name. I only know her shock of artificially red hair and her captivating smile. I only know that every time I see her, her hair smells of cigarettes, and her breath of alcohol.
She doesn't know my name either. I've never told her. I think she likes the mystery. I think I like it too. Names don't really matter. She gives me everything I need, and sometimes I try to do the same thing for her.
We don't talk much, not beyond simple little things like "I like this song", or "it's full tonight", or maybe even "your hair is pretty". Usually, I just walk inside, order a drink, and sit at the bar. It takes a few minutes, maybe until the current song winds down, and then she's sitting next me, smiling that unique smile, and making some sort of comment about the way I look tonight.
Most of the time, we just end up sharing drinks and maybe a dance. She really likes to dance. She's my age, maybe a couple years older, and I don't know what she does. She told me once she wanted to be a dancer, so I guess that means she isn't at the moment. I only know that she doesn't go to the local college.
I remember the first time I came here, on a dare during freshman year. I'd been drinking with my best friend, and we were going to call it a night, but as we passed by the lesbian hang-out, we just had to dare each other to go inside. I was drunk enough to do it. And then I came back outside to find my friend had ditched me, so I stayed.
That was the night I met her, the mysterious girl with the piercing green eyes and the quirky smile. We stayed on the dance floor for hours that night. We still do sometimes, if I feel like I have some energy to burn or some frustration to kill. Other nights, we get a table and make out in the corner. And on some rare occasions, I even let her take me home to her rented basement apartment.
Tonight I do the same thing I always do, push my way towards the bar and settle into the only empty spot. The place is kind of full. It is Friday night. Labour Day weekend too.
I've taken two sips from my beer when there's a tap on my back, and my nameless friend is standing next to me. "Haven't seen you in a while. You cut your hair."
I like that about her, how she just touches me to get my attention, instead of draping her arm around my neck like some of the other women here. I also like that she doesn't flatter me all the time, she just points out that I got a haircut, to let me know she noticed. She always notices, whether I change my hair, or I get a new pair of shoes. It's subtle, but I like it. It makes me feel special, even though I really doubt I'm the only one she's this nice to.
I smile at her, and point towards a newly vacated table, one with enough space around it for the two of us. I can tell she wants to dance some more, but she knows I won't go up with her until I get a drink in my system.
She nods, grabs a beer of her own, and follows me to the table. "Dance later?" She always asks, even though she always knows exactly what I want. I don't know how she does it.
We're actually yelling at each other, to make ourselves heard over the music, and I know that if I do this all night, I won't have any voice left tomorrow. But that's okay, because we don't really talk much anyway. Maybe she just doesn't mind not talking. Maybe she respects me enough not to push for something I'm not that comfortable with. Still, I don't feel awkward when I'm with her. I don't feel like someone desperately needs to break the ice. And I guess that's a step in the right direction.
For a few minutes, there's silence between us. We sip our drinks and watch the other patrons on the dance floor. Some of them are really beautiful, from a distance and through the haze of cigarette smoke, but at least I'm self-assured enough to admit that now. When our beers start running low, she looks over at me again, the question in her eyes. I'm not sure I feel like dancing anymore, but I take her hand when she extends it. Sometimes I like to indulge her, just so it doesn't seem like I'm always the one using her.
The dance floor is crowded, and the music is fast. My anonymous friend falls easily into the rhythm though, and her infectious excitement soon has me twirling around her. She's wearing a short black t-shirt and those low-rise jeans I'm too self-conscious to buy. Her navel ring is sparkling in the multi-coloured lights, standing out proudly from her bare midriff.
It's hypnotic, watching her move, feeling the music beat into my temples. I like dancing with her. I like the way she loses herself in the song. I like the fact that she dances the same way no matter who she's with. I like that she doesn't run her hands all over me like some of the other people are so fond of doing. But what I really like, is that dancing with her isn't about anything else, it's just about the music and the movements of her body in front of mine.
I watch her for several songs, trying vainly to keep up with her, but I really can't. Still, it's an hour later when I stumble off the dance floor, tired and thirsty. I know she's not tired yet, but I can't dance anymore. I'm also dying of thirst, and I'm sober enough to realize that alcohol will just dehydrate me some more, but maybe I should do something about the sobriety rather than the thirst.
It's a few songs later when she finds me at the bar again, and I'm already more than halfway through a fresh drink. "Tired already?"
"Yeah. Long day."
She smiles, nods her agreement, and asks the bartender for a glass of water. She's sweating as much as I am. As she leans past me, I can feel the heat coming off her body, and I can't help looking down the smooth expanse of her back.
In the time it takes me to finish the last few sips of my beer, she empties her glass and sets it back on the bar. "Wanna go outside and get some air?"
"Okay." I stand up a little too quickly, and for a moment the room rushes around me, but it settles soon enough. I should probably take it easy on the alcohol.
Once outside though, the fresh air does wonders to clear my head, and I can even start to feel the faint gnawing of hunger. As the door closes behind us, and the music becomes muted, I'm suddenly struck by how loud our breathing sounds in the silence of the night. We've never done this before. We've never stepped outside the dimly lit confines of the bar other than to make the short trip to her bed.
For a while, neither of us moves, and there are only the sounds of the nightlife, the occasional passing car and the periodic beat of the club music behind us. I want to say something, but I don't know how.
My fantasy's been shattered. When we're standing out here, alone in the night, it seems like we're human again, just two girls in the city. I look over at her, and she doesn't have that surreal magical aura about her anymore. Out here, she's not in her element. Or maybe it's just that I've become so used to seeing her self-possessed confidence that I can't picture her being like this.
She takes two steps forward, sits down on the curb, and stretches out her legs. Tentatively, I sit myself next to her, closer than I would to a casual friend, but far enough so there's a little gap between us.
"We're not going back, are we?" I think she already knows the answer to that., but she asks to be sure.
"I'm not, but you can if you want." I give her an exit, an easy way out, even though deep down inside, I'm hoping she won't take it. I'm hoping she'll stay here with me.
"Nah. I had my fun for the night."
I pick at my shoe. "So what now? It's still early."
"I don't know, maybe head home. Unless you have something in mind." She sounds hopeful when she says that though, and I wish I had the nerve to ask her to kiss me. So it takes a few minutes, but in the end, I realize that out here, I don't have the courage I sometimes manage to work up in the bar.
There's a part of me that wants to get up and walk away dejectedly, but the rest of me is afraid of leaving, afraid of seeming like I don't care. Maybe I really need her more than I'm willing to admit. I'm tired of the lie I'm living. When I'm with her, I can actually be myself, even though I'm not quite sure who that really is. And she doesn't even know my name, but she knows me better than the rest of the world.
"What do you think of me?" I want to hear her say it. I want to know how she sees me.
"I think you're nice. I think you're pretty." She doesn't look at me when she says that, her eyes angled out across the street. She faces forward, and she says it in that offhand kind of way, but somehow it means so much to me.
I slide over, so that we're touching at the hip, and I follow her gaze over to the stray cat on the other side of the road. "That's not what I meant. Who do you think I am, outside of this place?"
She crosses her arms over her knees as she starts to speak, and her eyes stay fixed on the cat. "I think… I think you're a decent person, trying to find her way in life. I think you're out, but only to yourself, and maybe your closest friends, if they stayed your friends after you told them. And you wear your hair in that short stylish mess because it's a subtle way of letting out your secret, but it's not quite short enough for that. You're shy, or maybe you used to be, but you try really hard not to seem that way. I'm willing to bet you don't wear makeup usually, only when you come here, and it makes me feel special even though I'm probably not the reason. And I think, that you're a little on the thin side, but that's from the stress and not because you have an image problem. You don't seem like the type. I like to pretend that you're a student, and you get really good grades, and you're studying something exciting, like art or music maybe. You're probably tamer, away from here. And to be honest, the first time I saw you, I never thought you were the dancing type. I think you come here, every now and then, when life's being cruel to you. I never ask you what it is, but I think you come here to vent. I think you come here sometimes, just to lose yourself in the arms of a nameless stranger. But mostly… mostly I try not to think too much."
That's more than anything I've ever heard her say at once, and it's also deeper than anything I've ever heard her say, but somehow, it doesn't sound misplaced coming from her lips. She looks at me then, and even though she was speaking about me, it feels like she's just laid herself bare.
I have trouble meeting her eyes for some reason, but I don't understand why. I don't know what I'm so afraid of. That she's right about almost everything? Because she is. It's eerie, how much she knows about me just from our infrequent meetings in the bar. It's amazing, how she notices all these little things and reads so much into them. I wish I knew half as much about her.
She throws her arm around me casually, and I lean into her to avoid having to meet her gaze. "So do I have it right or not?"
"Pretty much. I'm majoring in math though, not art." I have no artistic ability, although I'm flattered that she would think I do.
"Yeah. Order, structure, logic. It doesn't seem so bad sometimes. I just need one part of my life to make sense." Because I really do. It doesn't make sense for me to pretend I'm someone else. It doesn't make sense for me to be myself only once or twice a month.
"And this? Right now, does this make sense?"
Only half, but I nod for her anyway. On one level, it makes perfect sense, because I'm sitting with her, and everything she knows about it me is true, not some front I put up to hide behind. But on the other hand, this is completely crazy, because I feel so impossibly close a face I can't even put a name too. It feels like we've seen glimpses of each other's soul, even though we haven't exchanged the basic information that defines an acquaintance. In my mind, I know her only as "that girl", and I stopped making up names for her a long time ago. Even when I dream of her, she doesn't have a name. I wonder what she calls me in her dreams. I wonder if she even dreams of me at all.
That's not something I can bring myself to ask. So I close my eyes and breathe in her scent, aware that she would smell like her flowery perfume if she didn't smell like smoke.
One of these days, I'd like to see what she's like away from this place. I know she doesn't smoke because her apartment never has the smell; it just sticks to our clothes in the bar. I know she lives four blocks from here, in a two room basement apartment, and that her place is always a mess. I know that she likes to dance, and that her favourite colour is blue, but beyond that, I really don't know much of anything.
One of these days, I should ask her out on a date, a real one, not these chance meetings we keep having. And we would get to know each other for real. I think it would be good. And I would do it, if only I could find the courage. I would do it, if only I wasn't afraid of losing whatever magic is keeping us together.
"We've never done this before. Talk, I mean. Not like this in any case." She interrupts my train of thought, and part of me thankful for that, although another part is still wishing I could have had more time to work up the nerve.
"I know." Maybe I over-think too much. Maybe I should cut loose just once, and let myself do something stupid.
"Does it seem weird to you?"
"Talking? No. Not really. It's different from what we usually do, but not weird. It feels kind of… natural actually." Which is saying something, coming from an introvert like me.
She squeezes me tighter, and I'm left wondering if she somehow understood what I left unvoiced. "Tell me what you think of me then." She catches me by surprise, but I guess it's only fair.
So I tell her what I think, and let her into my dreams, because this is the real me, and I show it only to her. "I'm pretty sure you don't go to school anymore, and I think you probably do something really unglamorous, something like wait tables or answer phones, but you're probably also really good at what you do. You're smart and brave. You're beautiful and sexy. You're perfect and you know it. You're everything that I'm not."
"I wouldn't be so sure." She stands, looks back at me, her eyes filled with confidence, and all of a sudden it seems like everything's right again. She's stepped back inside the portrait I've painted of her. "Come with me." She whispers, and I'm already reaching for the offered hand.
I remember this, the road to her apartment, the satiny smoothness of her fingers clutched in mine as she leads the way. We're taking it slow tonight. Usually, we only end up at her place when both of us are so filled with lust we practically run out of the bar. I guess tonight is a little different, but the end result is the same. And I know it seems like mindless sex sometimes, but at least it's familiar. When we're together, it feels like she needs it almost as much as I do, and that makes it seem okay.
We're silent the rest of the walk, even if it is only a few blocks, and as we near her building, it feels like I'm on my first date again. Only this time I truly don't want it to end. I'm nervous, a little bit, even though I really shouldn't be. It's not like we've never done this before.
"Love" is one of those words that I hate to throw around casually, but sometimes I don't know what else to call these feelings I have for my anonymous friend. It's almost love, but not quite. I mean, I don't even know her name, and I know that what we have can't really be considered a relationship, but I feel close to her. I feel like I know her because of all those things she shares with me, those little bits about herself that seem meaningless on the outside, but are really what define a person.
I put my arms around her waist as she unlocks the door, and I nuzzle her neck as she pushes it open. We stumble into the darkened apartment, almost tripping over a magazine lying just inside the door. She laughs at me as her arms reach out, steadying me. Wordlessly, she steers me towards the bedroom, and I'm amazed at how quickly everything fell back into place. One minute we were sitting on the curb, sharing deep thoughts, and then the next, we're in her bedroom, doing the same thing we always do.
It used to scare me, knowing that I was having sex with a nameless stranger, but it's not like that anymore. I guess I just don't think about it as much anymore. Live in the moment. The consequences don't matter. Not with her in any case. With her, it's only about the here and now, no promises, no attachments, no excuses. With her, it's only about the firm mattress beneath me and the strong shoulders I'm clutching; it's only about the soft kisses and the look in her eyes as she pauses to rip off our clothes, the tantalizing sensation of skin on skin as she presses herself against me.
I can feel her fingers dance across my neck, trail down my back. I can feel her lips brush by my ear, her tongue tease my lobe. I can feel her thigh, pushed up between mine, grinding its way into my center.
I breathe in, and all I can smell is her scent, not the alcohol and cigarettes, but the scent of her home and her essence. I close my eyes, and all I can hear are the short gasps of her panting breath in my ear, all I can feel is her warmth covering me so completely.
She doesn't scream her release so much as grunt it, pressing down all of sudden and locking me in her grasp. Her tremors set off my own, and I open my eyes to find her head next to mine, her eyes tightly closed and her mouth hanging open.
We cling to each other, until the waves subside, and I think that this must be what it feels like to die. Life is so incredible in its intensity that the transition must be somehow numbing, leaving you with a pleasant sort of haze that defies description and understanding. And even though you don't understand it, you'd give anything to be able to feel it again, to be able to feel anything at all.
So we hold each other a little longer, lost in that world halfway between reality and dreams, trying desperately to pretend that this is forever, and that we won't find ourselves in the exact same place again two weeks from now.
I kiss her gently, part of me expecting her to taste divine even though I know all I ever get is the stale aftertaste of alcohol. I doubt I taste any better. "This can't be love," my brain tells me, but my body refuses to believe. Instead, it wraps itself more closely around the comforting warmth nearby.
One of these days, I should spend the night, just to see what she's like in the morning. I don't have the courage for that though. Spending the night would just make this seem all that more real, and I don't think I can deal with that yet. Besides, if I ever stayed, I would have to explain it to my parents, and I'm really not looking forward to that. So I cuddle her for a little while, until she starts to fall asleep, before I slip carefully out of her bed and gather up my clothes.
I always feel a little guilty for walking out on her, but it seems like she understands me, and that makes it somewhat more acceptable. To my own conscience at least. And she never holds it against me, so I guess it really is all right, but I still hate feeling like I'm using her. I still hate feeling like I could do something with this if only I'd admit it to myself.
I dress hastily in the dark, aware of her eyes on me and not minding at all. I'm in the doorway of her bedroom when she calls out to me, her voice soft and just slightly slurred.
"Am I going to see you again?"
She always asks the same thing when I leave, and every time it makes me pause and think about whether or not I ever will see her again. It makes me hope that, on some level, this means as much to her as it does to me.
But in the end, I guess logic prevails, and I always give her a truthful answer. "Maybe. I don't know."
"Okay. Goodnight then."
I run up the stairs and out of the building. I step out into the cool night air, and the breeze is surprisingly refreshing on my face. I feel awake now. I feel alive.
This life of mine, it isn't so bad. Things could stand to be better, but they could also get a whole lot worse. And if there's anything at all I've learned from my anonymous friend, it's to never look down, and never look back.