Back to the Past

Ringo sat on the high metal chair at the bar. He was smoking nervously, almost feverishly, his hand trembling visibly and his eyes absent.

So, he dragged powerfully on a cigarette, it was Kayden.

He could be mistaken, but the thought itself, that it might be Kayden, threw him off balance. He didn't like that feeling, especially since he hadn't expected it to be that strong. Of course, some sentiments, memories...but such confusion? On top of everything else, Kayden—if it was really Kayden—was nothing like he used to be. From the high school star, a strong, attractive boy, he had somehow turned into a dull, downcast, middle-aged man. Disgusting, to tell the truth. It was painful for Ringo to see what had happened to his adolescent dream.

"Pour me one, Ben, will ya?" He held out his glass, in which half-melted ice cubes rattled, in a hand that was suddenly sweaty.

"Sure." The bartender took a bottle from the shelf, raising his eyebrows in a voiceless question. Ringo nodded and Ben filled his glass with the golden liquor.

"A rotten day?" The bartender's friendly voice shook Ringo out of his deep thoughts. As if surprised, he looked at Ben, guessing right away that the bartender was just doing his job: pretending concern for a customer. Or maybe he was really concerned?

"Huh, not really." He frowned, showing signs of annoyance.

"Not really, my ass!" Ben smiled widely. "But I won't ask you to cry on my shoulder. Have a drink on me, though."

"Thanks, Ben." Ringo smiled back and took a sip, toasting to his benefactor. "I'm fine, really. I just remembered something that's been pissing me off. You can consider your professional duty fulfilled." He gave Ben a wink, forcing his lips to smile carelessly.

"Lucky me! I don't like this part of the job, you know?" Ben said honestly, with a laugh.

"Then you're not very suitable for this job," Ringo observed.

"Who knows?" Ben paused. "You really think so?"

"Dunno." Ringo shrugged. "It was just a joke. But seriously? People need to talk sometimes and not everyone has friends. And even if they have...sometimes it's easier to confide in a stranger."

"I know. People talk to me often enough."

"You don't like it?"

"Naaah! I'm okay with listening, if that helps...I just don't like asking them to do it. I feel awkward forcing people to open up. It seems a bit phony."

"Why? Isn't that what they need?"

"Well, maybe. That's why I try." Ben laughed quietly. "I manage, somehow, although I have a hard time pretending to act like a shrink or something."

"Good luck, Ben." And I'm sorry I won't tell you my story. You know me, I know you, so it won't work. Ringo stood up, a little calmer now, and dug through the pockets of his fashionable leather coat. His hands stopped trembling, his heartbeat slowed down. See, Ben? It helps when you talk. Even if I don't open up to you, it's enough just to exchange a few words. Small change clinked on the counter and Ringo left, waving his hand in a gesture of goodbye.

"Yeah—see you, Ringo!" The bartender shouted after him, following Ringo's tall silhouette with his eyes until it disappeared behind the door.

For a good three hours Ringo shuffled aimlessly around, searching people's faces with restless eyes. Stupid as it was, he felt obsessed and disturbed. Exactly what was he looking for, he didn't know.

A cold, gusty September wind wrenched the tails of his coat. He pushed his hands into the pockets and buried his dark head in his slender shoulders.

Well, probably it hadn't even been Kayden. Ringo's imagination was just playing tricks on him. So many years had passed; why would Kayden be there in the first place?

Stupid. Ringo shook his head impatiently. He was angry at himself for that unreasonable reaction. Why on earth would he go mad upon seeing someone who looked similar to Kayden? Why would that make him feel so jittery? The man was a part of his long-forgotten adolescence; an experience he had learned from, and had left behind. The pain and anxiety that attacked him when something reminded him of the past were just ridiculous.

He stopped, threw his head back and gave a sarcastic laugh. I'm pathetic, aren't I? Slowly, with a visible effort, he moved on, trying to ignore the impression the event had left glimmering in him, but still he involuntarily fixed his eyes on strangers as if looking for someone. It didn't even cross his mind to decide whether he wanted to face that someone or was afraid of meeting him.


Wrapping his arms around his chest to conserve the remains of his fleeing warmth, Ringo brushed the dust off his Doc Martens.

"Hi!" he heard behind him and turned around. A face the color of bitter chocolate smiled widely, showing a set of perfect teeth, as white as snow.

"Oh, hi, Marc." Ringo's teeth chattered. "What are you doing here?"

"Actually I'm on my way home, but as I had no plans for tonight I thought I might drop by. May I?"

"Sure, come in!" With fingers numb from cold Ringo dug out his keys and opened the door to his loft. The spacious, modern interior belched out a cozy warmth, caressing the owner's stiff limbs and red nose.

"Shiiit, I'm so fuckin' cold." Ringo energetically rubbed his hands, trying to bring back the circulation in their tips.

"A chilly guy, aren't ya?" Marc snorted, taking his shoes off and abandoning them carelessly near the threshold.

"Not really. I've just been wandering here and there for three hours, like an idiot." Ringo laughed at himself, but it sounded a bit forced. Marc caught that strange note and knitted his brows.

"Oh well, I see the party coming," he sighed, rolling his eyes in pretended impatience.

"That's actually not a bad idea. I think I need a drink." Ringo went into the kitchen annex. He opened the refrigerator and analyzed its contents, wondering if they should start with beer or skip the preliminaries and roll out the heavy artillery, his Bols vodka.

Suddenly, black arms sneaked under his and closed around his belly in a friendly embrace. Ringo felt a delicate caress on his neck and the dark brown, almost black strands of his hair moved under a warm breath that tickled his skin. He shivered slightly but gently untwined Marc's fingers and slipped out of the hug.

"I...not today, 'kay?" he asked quietly and combed his messy hair that had lost its fashionable design in the wind. He didn't look Marc in the eyes, his gaze stubbornly fixed on the vodka bottles.

"Yeah, sure, I get it." The black man nodded his head and patted Ringo's arm casually. "A tough day?"

"Huh," Ringo sighed loudly. "I just...well, I'm kinda fucked up, you know?" Ringo decided that Bols was the only reasonable choice. Well, no, not reasonable, but he made it anyway.

Marc burst out in a hearty laugh, throwing his head back as he guffawed. "Oh, shit, man," he chortled, "I knew that all along—and you're just now making the discovery of the century?" He patted his thigh and shook his head.

"Having fun, honey?" Ringo wrinkled his dark brows and pierced Marc with a sharp look from his pale blue eyes, his tone nasty. Ringo never used the word "honey" other than as a mockery.

The laughter died on Marc's lips. "You're serious, aren't ya? Sorry. I didn't mean to—" He put on a shamed expression that looked a bit funny on such a tall, well-built man.

"I know you didn't." Now it was Ringo's turn to roll his eyes. "'re like a child," he added, more to himself than to Marc, and his friend didn't object.

They sat in the part of the loft that served as a living room and contained a huge leather sofa, two equally huge armchairs, and a glass and stone table, all drowning in a fluffy beige carpet. Ringo pressed a button on a remote and automatic shades covered the windows, cutting them off from the sight of the gloomy evening sky. A second button turned on hidden lamps installed in a suspended wooden framework. Their gentle light illuminated the ceiling.

"Can I have some juice? I don't feel like drinking it straight." Marc indicated his glass, the ice floating in the colorless liquor.

"I don't have any juice. You can dilute it with water if you want." Ringo took his glass and soaked his lips in vodka.

His guest served himself and sat down on the carpet with his folded legs under the table, watching Ringo across the table. "So, what made this day soooo rotten?" he started.

"Hey, I don't wanna talk about it. It's a long story, very complicated and melodramatic. And stupid."

"Sounds interesting. I like melodramas." Marc smiled; leaning over the table, he clinked Ringo's glass. Then he rested his elbows and forearms on the glass tabletop and waited, staring at his friend in anticipation.

"Yeah, sure." Ringo snorted. "But I don't."

"Well, you owe me for tonight. I hoped for a hot night, you know?" Marc fluttered his tongue seductively.

"Oh, fuck you, Marc. You wanna hot night, go to a cathouse. What am I, your inflatable doll?"

"Hey, hey, don't get mad, sweetie. I'm just kidding. Sure, I was thinking about a little quickie, but I'm not gonna force you to. You know me. Geez, I can see something really shook you up today." Marc rested his chin on his crossed forearms and looked at Ringo with curiosity.

"Something did. Oh, it's stupid. Geez, I—" Ringo stumbled, not knowing how to express his feelings and reveal his thoughts in the least pathetic way. He nervously turned his empty glass over and over in his hands, watching as greasy streaks and fingerprints tarnished its surface. He felt an urge to get it all out of his system, and Marc was not a bad person to talk to. He could even be seriously considered a friend. Well, they had sex from time to time, but so what? It was just a deal, not love or anything. Marc was responsible, caring—why not tell him? What the hell....

"I saw someone today," Ringo started, and he took a deep breath. "Well, at least I think I saw him." The beginning was always the hardest. Now that the first step had been taken, he let himself become immersed in memories and all the unresolved, conflicted feelings he had suppressed and buried under the cover of years of experience.

"Who?" Marc asked gently.

"Kayden," Ringo answered simply, as if it explained everything. He pulled his knees closer to his chest and rested his forearms on them.

"Oh, Kayden."

"Kayden. Yes, Kayden." Ringo repeated that name a couple of times, as if trying to make it more real, more substantial.

"Who's Kayden?" Marc's voice was suddenly sad and a concerned, somewhat tense expression came over his face; but it escaped Ringo's notice as he became completely focused now on his past.

"Kayden is...was...."