She's late again.
Not that I'm surprised, since every single time that we make plans, Hannah swoops in forty minutes after she said she would, smiling that winning smile and acting like she's right on time. I always plan on saying something, really, I do, but there's something in the way she sits across from me, rests her chin in her hand, and smiles like I'm her favourite person that makes all my plans fade away.
I check my watch. I've been sitting here for forty-five minutes just waiting for her to walk through the door, like I do every Friday. The waitstaff probably take bets on me.
Finally she bustles in, hair tied up in a perfectly messy bun on the crown of her head, skin flushed prettily. She looks pleasantly rushed. Beautifully late.
"Hi, love," she says. Sometimes she kisses me on the cheek hello, but she kisses everyone on the cheek. She calls everyone 'love'. To her, I am just another someone.
She orders a drink and brightly asks about my day, but I can tell she is only half-listening to me. The other half of her is tapping her feet impatiently, fingering the coaster, aching for a drink. Her eyes flick longingly to my half-drunk vodka soda.
Sometimes, if I have something that I really want her to hear, I buy her a drink before she arrives. When I was promoted, I had a double gin and tonic waiting for her when she came in an hour late. I remember how her eyes fixated on the glass before they even glanced at me. I remember wishing she looked at me even a quarter as lovingly as she looked at her alcohol.
Today, I don't have anything interesting enough to warrant her undivided attention, so I don't order for her. Besides, it would have just sat there for half an hour until the ice melted, diluting the straight alcohol, and she wouldn't have liked it. It isn't just a fuzzy head she craves; it's the burn, the sear, the sting of alcohol in her throat. She only really likes gin for the way it numbs her lips.
After we've gone through the usual pleasantries, I ask about Jake, her most recent boyfriend-of-the-week. She rolls her eyes impatiently.
"He's so into like - Buddhist crap. Like I'm sorry I can't be zen all the frigging time."
"You dumped him?" I bite my tongue against the 'already?' that threatens to escape.
"He had a rock garden, Kate." She stares at me blankly. "A fucking rock garden. Rocks don't fucking grow."
I am about to correct her misconceptions on the purposes of rock gardens, but she grins before I can, then giggles.
"I'm just shitting you. God, you're so gullible sometimes!"
I smile back and laugh a little. I'm not upset, even though I normally hate when people prey on my naivety. She is the only one who could ever get away with pointing out my flaws.
She sighs distractedly, contentedly, because breaking up never seems to bother her. "But yeah, I dumped him. Whatever. I've got this new guy I think. He's cute." She finishes her drink and orders a second. "What about you, who've you got on the boyfriend front?"
I can't help the wry smile that crosses my lips. I may be gullible, but she is oblivious, and I want to laugh outright at how ridiculous her question is. Instead I shrug. "Oh, you know. Nothing serious."
"Yeah, we don't do serious, right Kate?" She grins and reaches for my hand across the table. "It's way better to have fun with boys than bother with dating them."
I swallow the lump in my throat as she squeezes my hand. "Right," I answer, and she takes her hand away. Her fingers wrap around her glass and cling to the alcohol like it's keeping her alive. It's the alcohol that keeps her looking at me right in the eyes, puts a pretty red flush across her cheeks, and makes her smile real. For the millionth time, I wonder if it's wrong for me to love her borderline alcoholism so much.
By the time she reaches her fourth drink, she has started laughing a little harder at my not so funny stories. When she laughs, she places her hand onto my waiting one, linking us across the table through a thin buzz of drunkenness for a few seconds.
On her fifth drink, her hand is continuously touching mine and her eyes are focused on my face, a by-product of needing something steady to fixate on through the double vision. It's only when she's drunk that she really looks at me.
She asks for the bills. It's always Hannah cutting our time short, never me. If I had my way, I would keep her in this bar for hours just to watch her drink.
When we get outside, her hand squeezes mine again and she pulls my body into hers. She doesn't hesitate. She doesn't let me savour the half-second before our lips meet, she just smashes them together in a kiss that I have felt so many times before. She stays there for a few seconds before breaking off of me.
"For practice, Kate," she says coyly, like she does every time. She says it like it's obvious. She says it like it's a secret.
She says it like she's the one that needs convincing.
I nod, but only because I am supposed to. She grins all the way up to her eyes and kisses me again, twisting her tongue with mine. I feel her lipstick rubbing off on mine. I taste the gin and tonics. Can she taste that I stopped ordering alcohol for myself as soon as she arrived? Can she tell that I can't imagine losing even a little memory of her to a few vodka sodas?
She isn't drunk enough to go further, but she does anyways. Her hand slides down my side and I shudder closer to her when she touches me where she shouldn't. I don't want to stop her. I never want to stop her.
"Hannah," I murmur against her, and reluctantly ease away from her mouth.
"What?" she asks with a smirk. Drunkenness dances in her eyes. I wish it wouldn't weigh on my conscience to let her do something she wouldn't normally do sober.
I plaster a softer smirk on my face, because that will make my question okay. Joking makes everything between us okay. "Is that for practice too?"
She laughs, then bumps her hips against mine. "Lighten up, Kate."
"I'm lightened," I answer, but I don't pull her lips back to mine like I want to. I wait for her to inevitably release my hands so we can go our separate ways.
"You don't mind, do you?" Her eyes are suddenly wide and serious, but I want to laugh. I want to laugh, pull her violently to me, and kiss her senseless, kiss her for real, not just for fucking practice.
"'Course not," I answer with equally wide, surprised eyes. "It's not like it means anything." I shrug. "It's just practice."
Her expression relaxes. "Good." She bites her lip. "Good." She lets go of one of my hands and tugs the other one a little.
"I'm drunk, Kate. Walk me home?"
I nod, because that's all I can do. I can't ask her to kiss me again. I can't ask her to come home with me. I can't tell her that our weekly drinking sessions are the highlight of my week.
She loops her arm through mine, and we walk the few blocks back to her building. While she searches through her bag, goodnight kisses flash through my mind, clichéd movie scenes of women fiddling with their keys to stall for time. Hannah isn't stalling for time, she's just trying to feel her way through the mess in her purse, because seeing the small metal key isn't really an option anymore.
"Need help?" I offer.
She breathes a laugh and holds her purse out to me, dropping her head lethargically against my shoulder. With Hannah's welcome weight on me, I purposely take longer than I should to pluck out her key and place it in her hand. She immediately pushes herself off of me and twists around to unlock the door.
"All good?" I ask.
"All good." She smiles. "Thanks, love."
She kisses me on the cheek and disappears through her apartment door. I stand in the hallway for a moment more, then turn away. Hannah lingers on me, on my lips and my tongue and my hands and my shoulder. Her scent swarms my senses, somehow stronger now that she's gone.
I retrace my steps through her building, down the elevator where she held my hand, past the steps where she kissed me last week. I glance down the road toward the bar we just came from but resist the urge to return. I want to go back and buy five gin and tonics and feel like Hannah does. I want to drink myself to the point that Hannah does, when she can't stand up without my help, when she gives in and kisses me because she can.
I turn away from the bar and walk home without the slightest hint of a stumble to my step.
I think about Hannah.
I ache for a drink.