I'm early, by accident but also not. I have no idea if you're going to show so I'm smoking outside a bar I never go to, trying to come to terms with being not quite in control of the situation. It's new, but it's not entirely wrong.
Last night, I wiped blood from my mouth and said, "This isn't how people meet."
You were part cornered animal and part bodhisattva. "It is though," you said, "when it matters," and the whole thing was strange enough that I couldn't walk away.
I wouldn't credit anyone with being entirely disarming, but you got closer than anyone else ever has. Curiosity got the better of me, so I stepped around fate and said, "Get a drink with me tomorrow night."
You chose the place and left, flashing one last red smile that turned my breath to dust in my throat.
And here I am, waiting for someone who's half human, half lightning strike, and I don't even know your name. People don't meet like this. Except apparently they do, when it matters. Decisions keep making themselves these days.
You arrive, a voice behind me. "So you showed."
"Did you think I wouldn't?" I put out my cigarette and we walk into the bar. It looks like the kind of place you'd assume I go, not the kind of place you go.
I'm wrong. The bartender greets you like he knows you and you tell him to put our drinks on your tab. Fine. If this is a game, you can have that point. We take my beer and your double vodka to a corner table.
You hold silence like a mirror, so I break it. "Tell me about that death wish of yours."
"It's not a death wish. It's a near death wish." You drink the vodka like other people - normal people - drink water.
"And you saw me and thought I looked like I'd stop at near?"
"I saw you and I didn't know. I still don't. That's why I'm here."
"Because you want to find out?"
"Because I like not knowing. It's a rare luxury." You finish your drink then catch the bartender's eye and lift your glass with a nod. You're not what I thought you were.
You win another round of prolonged silence when I speak. "Do you often start fights with strangers in the street?"
"Not often," and there's an unspoken 'but sometimes' in your tone. "Do you often stop short of landing the final punch?"
"Apart from last night?"
"Apart from last night."
Your next double arrives and you cradle it in bruised hands before taking a drink and setting the glass on the table, next to a coaster, not on it.
I can't stop myself from asking. "All the cuts and bruises, what happened?"
"You know exactly what happened."
"No, before that. You were hurt already."
"Hit by a car. I don't look bad without all this."
"You don't look bad with it either."
"Quality line, tall-dark-and-handsome." The world dims around us. "So, here's a painfully normal question. What do you do?"
"I was in security, but I'm making some changes."
"What kind of security?"
I feel like I've had this conversation before, but not like this. "Personal, corporate, it doesn't matter. I don't do it anymore." I throw it back at you. "What do you do?"
"Also security. Tech. I protect people from people like me. Like you used to protect people from people like you."
"What do you mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean." You finish your drink, set your glass down next to the coaster again and press your thumb against a swollen split in your lip.
My blood turns to electricity. "It's not what you think."
"Don't disappoint me."
We sit in silence again as I finish my drink. You're watching me and it feels like something burning through my skin. You don't blink.
You catch the bartender's eye again with the same unspoken demand, then look back to me. "We're having another and you're going to tell me your name."
For some reason, I'm alright with you phrasing that as an order rather than a request. "Noah."
"Brett. After these drinks, you're going home and I'm coming with you."
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...