There I was. I had finally done it.
It had been the same routine every week for as long as I could remember. Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. However, it had been the same since I had started living on my own, fresh out of college several years before. Throughout my week, I would spend countless hours debating with none other than myself over whether or not I wanted to go out that weekend. This week was slightly different only because it marked a momentous occasion—that being that I had managed to survive yet another year, against all odds. No, it was not my birthday that I would have been celebrating. It was my first death day.
I found myself sitting on a barstool at a bar in a public place. It was quite the difference compared to my usual Friday evening of sitting at home on a couch with a precooked meal and a pay-to-watch film on. The longer I sat there, the more I wondered why it was that people did this sort of thing. I was surrounded by the sound of strangers’ voices and laughter, growing steadily louder as the evening progressed and the alcohol flowed, all accompanied by the background music none of us had chosen to listen to barring the mutual decision to go out.
Once or twice I thought that the reason I was not enjoying myself as much as I believed that I should have been was because I was on my own. Perhaps the idea of going out and having fun did not rest with going out, but with the company that we kept. We had been conditioned to going out with them rather than inviting them around to our houses to watch films while we ate TV dinners. There was nothing for it, though.
To my left, I heard a laugh. It was a female laugh and it rang genuine. It was kind of cute and feminine. I turned to the sound. She was pretty; she had long brown hair and she wore glasses that looked a bit too large on her heart-shaped face. She caught my eye as she reached to take a sip of her cocktail. The smile she gave me was inviting and I glanced over at her companion, another woman. That was encouraging. I moved to stand and stopped short as a man joined their company. He hugged both women and sat down at their table, signaling to the bartender to come over. I stayed where I was. It felt like an intrusion to go over to them now that there were three of them and they were probably expecting more. Three is a crowd, after all.
Every time that I considered approaching a stranger in the hopes of befriending or speaking to them, interested by the sound of a particular subject or the sound of a voice or the cause of a laugh, I was faced with the prospect of intruding on someone else’s conversation. It was daunting to think about talking to more than one stranger at a time – it had taken a massive toll on me only to leave my house that night, after all.
I had been sitting there for just over an hour before I felt ready to leave. I dropped the cash I owed for my drinks along with a tip for the bartender beside my otherwise empty glass. There were two blocks of ice sitting at the bottom of it, surrounded by the transparent gold of whiskey. I had had two glasses. That had been pleasant, admittedly. I stood from my stool and turned around, ready to make my way to the door. There was a man standing before me who stopped me from taking a step forward.
He was smiling at me, sort of. Only one corner of his mouth was tilted upwards, causing a tiny dimple to appear in his cheek, and there was a lightness that touched his eyes. They were a deep and rich chocolate brown and they were fixed on me.
“Hi there,” he said. His voice was smooth, carrying the undertone of an accent. Spanish, I thought. It was nice.
“Hey,” I said. I could not help but return his smile, though I was on my way out of the door. He seemed to have plans, on the other hand.
“I hope you’re not leaving yet.” He said, glancing down at my hand. I had been using it to push the stool back in beneath the bar. Both of our eyes caught the bills I had put down on the counter beside my glass. “I was hoping you might let me buy you another drink.”
The bartender had made an appearance by this point. I could feel him watching the interaction surreptitiously while he pocketed my bills, removed my glass, and wiped down the surface directly beneath it with a damp cloth. He faded into the background after that.
Normally, I would have walked away. There was something about doing so that felt wrong at that point in time. I had gone out for the evening to have a good time, despite how impossible that had proven to be, and had given up long before the dark-haired man had shown up. I did not want to be a defeatist. He was giving me the opportunity to stay and potentially have the good time I had gone out for. Besides, my mouth had involuntarily returned the smile that he was reserving for me.
“Sure,” I said. I pulled out my stool again. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the bartender observing us with raised eyebrows. “Why not?”
The man’s smile grew wider as he pulled out the bar stool beside mine, taking a seat first. As I sat back down, he extended his arm, offering me his hand. “My name is Carlos.”
“I’m Nate,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it. His handshake was firm and his hand was warm in mine.
I could not help but notice the contrast between our skins as he removed his hand from mine. There was something about it that made my heart rate rise. It was quite a beautiful difference, however subtle. I was a fairly pale man, having spent a fair amount of my days in the comfort of a dark room behind a computer screen, but I was okay with being pale compared to Carlos. His skin was darker; a golden brown the perfect shade of caramel fudge. My skin looked white beside his, almost like marble, in the best possible way. I felt the warmth of a blush creeping up my cheeks as I wondered what the other parts of our bodies would look like pressed against one another. I hoped that Carlos would not notice.
The bartender returned to us, a friendly smile planted on his face. He looked smug somehow. “What can I get for you gentlemen?”
Since I had already had two glasses of whiskey, I ordered myself a rum and cola. Carlos never took his eyes off of me as he ordered his own drink, a craft beer that the place had on tap. The bartender went to get our drinks, his tattooed arms seemingly less fascinating to me than they had been before Carlos’ arrival. I had been staring at them all evening, both trying to discern what his sleeves were as well as trying to pluck up the courage to simply ask him.
As it was, I found that my eyes were instead locked on Carlos just as his were locked on me. He was really attractive. Alongside the caramel skin and deep chocolate eyes, his face was chiseled with a sharp jawline and strong cheekbones, the faintest shadow of a neatly kept beard. His black hair was long, the tips stopping at his shoulders. It was thick and curly and I had the fleeting thought of running my fingers through it.
“So what are you doing here all by your lonesome, Nate?”
“I wanted to celebrate another day of being alive,” I said. It was the truth, even if I had given no context.
“I can definitely drink to that.”
The bartender, following his cue, placed our glasses in front of us on the countertop. I was normally a shy guy, happy to let others take the lead, but there was something about doing things that I would never normally do that gave me a confidence boost that night. I picked up my glass and raised it into the air in front of Carlos. I was rewarded with a grin as he raised his own. We touched their rims with a gentle clink and took a sip. “To another day of being alive,” I said softly.