Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine.
-Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca Her hair is a white-gold river down her back and her jeans fit her like they were sewn on. Her eyes sparkle and her skin looks like the sun came down from heaven above and personally kissed very single inch of it.
He's glad it's dark. The shadows make it easier to lie. He can't stop looking away from her as she walks towards the bar, right where he's sitting. She's alone. Of course he notices that. He can't not. It's a reflex.
She sits three stools away from him and orders a gin and tonic. He can remember sitting at his parents' bar in the rec room downstairs when they were fourteen, learning how to mix bad drinks and telling their parents they were watching Bambi or practicing their French irregulars. Gin and tonics were the first thing they learned how to make right. Later on, when they went to bars together, flaunting their fake IDs, they'd always ordered a gin and tonic first, to commemorate the old times. He can't believe she still holds the custom. He hasn't had gin in eons. He drinks Guinness now, the darkest beer he can find, to swill away the opposites as if they blended right in.
She sits at the bar, so close and so far away, and drinks her drink like the world is still holding still, even though it's not. Limes and tonic for her soul and gin like water and his life is ripping apart as she sits there and drinks this drink that is the same color as her hair like nothing is the matter.
Why did she have to come here? Last he heard, she was still back home, making her parents miserable and refusing to go to college. Smoking cigarettes on the verandah in her underwear and stepping on every blade of grass in her brown suede boots like she owned them. Which she did, or at least they both always thought so. Breaking the heart of every boy in town like she was born doing it, which she was, and refusing to say she was sorry. Forgetting all about him. He was just another night when she got no sleep, another sweat soaked sheet she had to wash in the morning, another pill she had to pop with her morning vitamins. She wasn't a whore, though, he told himself a million times. Not her. She was just. . .prepared.
You never know when you're going to fall in love, she told him one day as she picked up her prescription and put it in her trunk next to the kitty litter. It's best to not have to delay it when it happens.
He remembers shaking his head and laughing at her, telling her that she worried him and not to get into trouble. She laughed right back at him, and now he knows that he was the one in trouble. It's never pleasant or fun to fall for someone you took baths with when you were too little to speak.
He shakes all over and orders three shots of Jack Daniels as these thoughts whizz through his head at four billion miles an hour. He remembers waking up next to her one morning, being horrified and waiting for the pounding in his head to start, for the room to spin and his stomach to churn, and being more horrified when it didn't. He remembers realizing that this time they weren't drunk, that this time he meant to do it. That she, on the other hand, did not. Or maybe she did yesterday, but today she wouldn't. He remembers watching her get up and walk to the door with no clothes on to feed her cat. He remembers her cool poise, just like now, as if nothing was different. He remembers puking then, all over her down comforter. He remembers how she swatted him upside the head, a chastised puppy, and hustled it off with the sheets like he was four years old and had had an accident or something.
He went off to college after that, in a hurry. He made his parents so happy. They told him they always knew he'd be sensible and realize that she was wrong, that hers was the future that wasn't. He remembers the way she hugged him goodbye, like everything was still the same. He remembers his fingers shaking and the traffic on the beltway thudding out his heartbeat at twice the speed.
He remembers the parties and classes where he tried so desperately to find someone who cared, who cared too much to not know when things were wrong. He remembers finding a girl with night-black hair and green eyes that flitted from surface to surface like a radio signal, taking everything in and gauging every minute change. He remembers losing himself in this girl, this girlfriend, marveling at how different the two she's' were. He remembers the day her flip e-mails finally stopped coming, the day he congratulated himself on finally being free and celebrating by taking the new girlfriend out for dinner and then having sex he was sure she would remember and recognize for what it was. All night long. In a stuffy dorm room.
But now she is here, this vixen with hair the color of water and lightning, and this careful picture he painted over the broken pieces dissolves and he is left with the simple truth: that the two she's' have noses with the same upwards tilt at the ends, and that when they're annoyed, their eyebrows scrunch at him in mirror images of each other. He realizes that this girl from his past still has complete control over his every move, and that the face he kissed every night didn't belong to the right person.
Why is she here? He doesn't know, but he knows it's just like her to do this, to show up right when he least expects her and take his whole world by storm without even asking permission. He wants to kiss her and chop her into little pieces, all at the same time.
He realizes he is staring at her as he downs his amber medication, and she turns and looks at him and smiles that same lazy smile and he knows she still doesn't realize what has happened with them.
she says. I was wondering when you would realize I was here. Surprised?
His brain spins and he cannot find words to say. His mouth opens and closes and she laughs gaily and sits in the seat his girlfriend vacated not two minutes ago to go use the bathroom. All of a sudden, he cannot remember the name or birthday or hair color of this girlfriend, because all he sees is hair the color of gin floating down over her shoulders as she sits down.
So, college boy, I missed you, she says. You know, you left me all alone with all of them. I've been so lonely. It's harder to shock them when I'm not dragging the good boy down into the flames with me.
He looks at her and sees a girl who got a 1560 on her SATs and then refused to apply to any colleges. He sees a girl who could level a football lineup with one glance and then ditch them all two days later for the chess club captain. He sees a girl who had three dates for Prom and then spent the whole night sitting on her roof and drinking Kahlua from the bottle instead. He sees the girl who connived him into ditching his own date to hang out with her and share the Kahlua that same night. He sees the girl who seemed so grown-up, but was such a child, such a little tiny girl, the whole time.
He sees the girl he's known since he was a kid. He sees the only one he ever needed.
he manages, It must be hard.It is, she says dramatically. But I guess you wouldn't have gone along with it anymore, anyway. Look at you! Tied shoelaces and matching socks! A collared shirt! College's been good for you. You've changed.You haven't. It's all he can say.
I guess not. I'm still the kid I always was. And you've grown up.
She smiles that smile at him over the rim of her old-fashioned glass and he wants to shake some sense into her. Stop being so selfish! he wants to say. Stop torturing people without meaning to! Look and see what you've done to all of us, to me! Wake the fuck up!
But he can't. She wouldn't understand, anyway, if he told her how he always thought the sun rose and set on her, how her parents had had such big dreams for her, how he'd seen guys in the locker room reduced to tears because she'd inexplicably dumped them in the dirt without so much as a bat of an eyelash. If he explained to her how she was, a breaker of hearts and minds. She would laugh and refuse to understand, tell him she was just having a little fun and really, how could she, insignificant as she was, have such control over these people?
You think too much, she would say. Calm down. Who really cares what I do, anyway? I'm not that important. I'm not worth it.
She would continue to think that she was never good enough, that she never would be. She would continue never to try, to relish in the attention people gave her and then drop them quick before they could let her down again, not realizing she never gave them a chance not to. She would continue to test people for their reactions, to see if they cared, until she stopped remembering that it was only a test and it became an integral part of the way she was.
His brain spins and he can't speak anymore. His stomach lurches and he stands up and walks over to her and grabs her by both arms. He pulls her to her feet more roughly than he means to and, without planning it, pulls her head up to meet his mouth in a kiss that explains to her that everything is not okay. He kisses her for all the people she ever hurt without meaning to or even realizing. He kisses her for the quarterback and the chess captain and her poor parents and every faceless dirty sheet in the laundry. He kisses her for his girlfriend, and maybe a little bit for himself.
He finally breaks away from her, and her face is an unreadable picture.
The bar buzzes. The jukebox plays Neil Young. Yeah, the one with the champagne eyes. Glasses clink and drunks argue loudly.
But the whole world has become limited to the two of them, as they stand and look at each other. Her eyebrows arch the tiniest amount as she tries to process what has just happened. He crosses his fingers and wishes on every shooting star that will fall tonight that she figures out what he has been trying to tell her for almost nineteen years. Because if she doesn't, he knows he will lose her and everything she has ever meant to him, and he will be left only with a green-eyed facsimile that he will never, ever love.
Two hours later, he is still sitting at the bar, a sloppy smile on his face. He stares straight ahead, but he doesn't see the wall ahead of him or the girlfriend at his side, chattering feverishly away to a deaf ear. He is thousands of miles away, on the roof of a house in June, wearing a tuxedo and drinking Kahlua like milk; in the back seat of a pea green Pontiac, making love to the sounds of teenage angst coming through the speakers at the local drive-in movie; out in the janitors' loading dock, smoking a joint before chemistry; drawing circles on her jeans in permanent marker during the Math lecture; listening to her giggle as he falls asleep during his SATs; laying out in the sunshine in the middle of a backyard jungle, baking their skins to a million degrees and talking about a future that never could be.
I'm so excited to grow up, she'd whispered in his ear, her hot breathy giggles sending his nerve endings haywire. Promise me you'll be there when I do?
He slaps another bill on the bar and orders his billionth gin-and-tonic of the night. His girlfriend looks at him with worried eyes.
He turns to the girlfriend, sitting next to him, peering deep into her face as if he might see a different one if he looks hard enough. he says, cradling the gin in his hands, This is for the old times.
A/N- Well, well, well, if it isn't ProxyWonker, back from the dead with another piece of drek for us to review. Sigh. She's so damn needy. Reviews make her so pathetically happy, it's impossible to deny her the faint source of joy in her life by not reviewing. Even though it's out of pity, we'd still feel horribly guilty if we didn't. Right?
Oh, P.S., I don't own the line, Yeah, the one with the champagne eyes. That's from a Neil Young song called Farmer John, which I absolutley adore.