vindicated;

She purses her lips around the stick, and then asks the bartender in front of her for a lighter. He hands it to her quietly, and she lights up the cigarette.

Breathe in, breathe out.

She watches the smoke circling her with dull eyes, and for a while, she is entranced with the way the nicotine rush electrifies her body. She isn't much of a smoker.

A man sits beside her, and orders a double scotch. She isn't particularly interested but she spares the man a quick glance. He has hair that is all over the place as if he has just gotten up from the bed, his eyes are of a dark shade but she can't really trust the light. The man is wearing an overcoat but she could see the military uniform tucked just underneath. Ahh, a dog of the military.

She decides to watch her drink instead – bourbon –and sips it placidly. It's been over two months now, since fiance has left her for another woman. Her mother has consoled ther, telling her that there were definitely better men than he. But he was her first love and the man she swore would be the man she was to marry.

At least give me some time to heal.

She thinks she has gotten over him.

But what the hell are you doing, drinking whiskey and getting wasted? Oh, and look, you've even picked up on smoking.

The man beside her shifts and turns to her, breaking her train of thought. He stares at her for a full seven seconds before he smiles ruefully at her and raises his glass. She is taken aback, because this man has then put a hand on her chin and lifts it, and what rights did he have to touch her?The reprisals die on her tongue when he leans in, saying "Smile for me, my dear."

She doesn't know what to do – she is stunned –but her resolve prevails. She gives him a small smile, but she takes hold of his wrist and pushes him back as gently as she could. However before she can even pull away from him completely, the man entwines their fingers. She wants to scream and create a scandal right then and there, though for some bizzare reason, she couldn't find it in her to do so. The man was close to tears, she could tell now that she could see his face from up close.

The cigarette falls to the floor from her hand.

"My best friend died today," he lowers his glass onto the table. "I could have saved him if I just listened to him talk. But I didn't. And now he's gone."

She decides to stay quiet and she feels the man tighten his grip on her hand. "I'm sorry," was all she could offer and she doesn't even know why she's talking to him. Or why he chooses to talk to her.

"His wife and child are mourning. I can't…" he pauses and heaves a sigh. "I couldn't even save my best friend's life. What kind of friend am I?" His breath shudders and he lowers his head. When he looks up again, the tears are flowing from his eyes and she could only raise a hand to wipe them away.

He rests his cheek on her hand as if seeking comfort from it and shuts his eyes with a painful expression.

The want to embrace this man who has opened himself to her without hesitation overrides her senses, so she puts an arm around his shoulders. His body is warm and then suddenly the warmth is gone when he removes her arm around him. He lets go of his fingers and she wants to say, "Don't go yet."

He picks up his drink, and downs it in one gulp. He looks at her right in the eye. "Thank you." His tone is sincere but she can identify that tinge of sadness in his gaze.

With that, the man kisses her cheek, slide a bill towards the bartender and leaves without another look. His perfume lingers and she breathes it in – it mixes with the smoke but she doesn't mind. Very distinct.

The only traces left of their meeting were the tear drops on her sleeve.

She doesn't really understand what has just happened. She wants to talk to the man for a little while more, and is close to running after him. But she doesn't; she stays still in her seat, and continues to sip her bourbon. She wants to know the man's name, where he lives, who his friends are, why he works for the military. She wants to hold him, and ask him, "Will you let me fix you?"

He is a bleeding heart and he wants to know the reason why he is broken.

Her curiosity is left unsatisfied until she finishes her drink and walks away.

She clutches the man's glove closer to her chest under her coat the entire walk home.

The walk home was horrible.

He was left alone and no one could get him away and distract him from his thoughts now. He tried to regret the fact that he pulled himself away from the woman at the bar. But thinking back on it again, would it have made a difference if he had stayed?

There were enough people who had to suffer because of him. The woman would only just add to people he had to depend on, because people didn't realize that he wasn't strong enough – that he was just as fragile as anyone of them, and even harder to piece back together.

But he wanted to protect them. He wanted to protect all of them – it was a selfish ambition, he knew. He didn't care. This was who he was. No one else could do it and he didn't need anyone fix him.

The walk home was serene.

She was left alone and no one could bother her anymore. She could do some much-needed reflection on her life and her choices. She was finally free. But even after all that time, she couldn't push away thoughts of the man back at the bar.