It was the darkest pub, with the loudest music – that’s why she picked it out of the three on the street. She sat at the bar, staring at her beer much more than drinking it, following the bartender with her gaze occasionally – he had long hair in a pony tail, and he looked a little like an actor she liked. Laughter, loud and sudden in the moment of quiet in between songs, made her turn and look at a table of girls. The bartender caught her eye, rolled his eyes and she chuckled. She understood the sentiment completely.
From the corner of her eye she noticed the motion of someone sitting down next to her, and turned to look.
“Hi,” He smiled.
“Hey,” She blinked, confused. She’d seen him before, around campus, and at the concert earlier that night. He stood next to her in line, they chatted a little, she liked him. She lost track of him during the concert.
He ordered a beer, took out a pack of cigarettes. “Do you mind?”
“No,” She lied. He lit one, held it on the side that was farther from her.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” He commented.
“My first time,” She said, shrugging.
“How d’you like it so far?” Her silence made him laugh, which in turn made her smile. She watched as he took another drag. He was pale, tall, his hair falling over his eyes in soft curls, circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in days. His nose was just a little too big for her taste, but his eyes were beautiful, blue-green. In the darkness, she couldn’t quite see the color, but she remembered it from earlier. “I’m William,” he said.
“Alice,” She sipped her beer, an excuse to look away. The silence between them stretched, and Alice tapped her fingers against the bar, drumming out the rhythm of the song playing in the background.
“You don’t go out much, do you?” He leaned closer, so he won’t have to yell over the music. Alice shook her head. “I didn’t, either. You get used to it, it gets better.”
“Once you get drunk?” She smiled.
William chuckled, “Yeah, exactly.”
They talked about random things. How the bartender looked like out of a movie, about the music, about the concert. She learned he liked to listen to songs the same way she did, he liked to know the lyrics, it wasn’t all about the music. Time passed faster once he arrived, and Alice was actually surprised when she took out her cell phone and saw the time.
He noticed, and asked, “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty late,” She reached for her bag, searched for her wallet.
“It’s okay, I got this,” A credit card appeared on the table, disappeared a moment later, as the bartender took it away.
They walked out of the pub together, and the sudden quiet and chill of the night caught Alice unprepared. William said he lived just around the corner; asked her if she wanted to come over to his place, she nodded, following, quiet. It was a bad idea; she knew it was, if only because she knew she couldn’t give him what he wanted. But he made her feel something she hadn’t felt for a while, and she couldn’t just walk away from that. She moved closer to him as they walked, without actually noticing.
He had a small apartment, a living room, a bedroom. The piano in the corner caught her by surprise – she hadn’t pegged him for the type.
“Do you play?”
“Just a little,” Alice turned to look at him, and noticed for the first time how tall he was, how much taller than her. “Can I?”
“Sure. Can I get you anything?”
“Water,” She wasn’t really thirsty, but she was nervous, hoped maybe it’d help.
William brought her a glass of water, and she let him sit on the piano stool, sitting on the armrest of the sofa behind him. Alice drank, sipping the water, trying to quiet her nerves, while he played. She watched his fingers dance on the keys, wished she could play as well.
“Do you mind if I check my mail for a minute?” He didn’t, so she sat at his laptop and logged in to her mail, which was empty. They ended up surfing YouTube for a while, listening to songs, watching videos. At some point William moved his chair a little, leaned over and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his head against her back. Alice froze, her heart skipping a beat. After a moment she closed her eyes, rested her head on her hands. It’s been so long since anyone hugged her, since anyone made her smile like he did, since she felt comfortable in the silence, since the last time she felt like that.
It wasn’t much later, he was standing by the window in the bedroom, smoking, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him. “Do you still miss him?” Alice paused, not following. “Your ex,” he clarified. She didn’t remember saying anything about him, but she must’ve at some point. William took another drag and she watched the smoke curl and disappear before she answered.
“No. Not really. I miss… I miss having someone, you know? Not feeling lonely all the time.” He nodded. When he finished smoking, she said “I’m not feeling so well. I think maybe I should go home,” although she really didn’t want to go, not even a little bit. But this was a bad idea; she let it go on for too long. She got in too deep already, so fast, and she hardly even knew him. She got up, but he got to the door of the room before she did, leaned against the frame, not really blocking her way.
“C’mon, it’s late, stay.”
She stood, staring at the pale skin showing from underneath his shirt, not wanting to go, knowing she shouldn’t stay, she couldn’t give him what he wanted. Not tonight.
“Stay,” and after a short pause, “You’ll just be crying there all alone.” It startled her, how accurately he saw her.
His arm was tattooed, all the way from the shoulder down to the wrist, with names and numbers, so close together at first she couldn’t make sense of what they were. The black ink made his skin look even paler than it was, and he stood out in the dimness of the room. She watched form under the covers as he continued to undress, and then slid into bed. They stared at each other, his eyes shining in the darkness, before Alice turned away. A few moments later, the bed shifted and she felt his arms wrap around her, and he mumbled “I don’t care if you want to or not, you’re getting a hug.” She wrapped both her hands around his hand and brought it closer to her chest. Of course she wanted to. She fought the tears; she wasn’t supposed to cry in here, that was the whole point.
The night passed with troubled dreams and startled awakenings. He was snoring lightly when she first woke up, facing away from her. She spooned against his back and tried to fall back to sleep. The next time, birds were singing, but it was still dark outside, she rolled over and fell asleep again. Eventually the sun was up, and although it was ridiculously early, and she was still tired, Alice couldn’t fall asleep again. She watched him sleep for a while, he looked different, and she noticed that he was beautiful, something she hadn’t really noticed before. When she realized she was smiling, she panicked. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, this wasn’t the plan. She had to get out of there.
She stroked his cheek lightly, watched when he twitched, couldn’t help but smile a little. Did it again until he woke up.
“I woke you up,” she whispered, guilty.
“Thanks,” he was not amused.
“I should go. I didn’t want to just leave.”
She couldn’t get herself to turn away, though, didn’t really want to leave.
“I didn’t even get to kiss you,” William pointed out. After a moment he leaned and kissed her, briefly, and Alice’s heart ached. She couldn’t leave. She didn’t want to. This was going to end in tears, probably hers, but she couldn’t bring herself to care anymore. She kissed him back, her resolve gone, no longer planning to leave. His hand sneaked under her shirt, cupped a breast, and for a moment, Alice panicked again. It went away quickly, and soon enough, he made everything else go away, as well.