The three hits the cushion just to the left of the pocket and bounces right in, as planned. I straighten up with a smirk and walk around the table to where the white ball came to a rest beside the old cigarette burn in the cloth. I know Myles is silently impressed. I avoid looking at him.
Friday night, midnight, and the Dominion Tavern is bursting at the seams with the usual suspects. Punks with multicolored mohawks clad in studded leather jackets with missing sleeves. Hipsters in plaid sporting awkward facial hair designs or buddy holly rims. The whatever misfits – my crowd, standing around the pool tables or parked on bar stools with the usual stream of conversation over clinked beer glasses and jagermeister shots.
Feels like home.
I spy my shot. The seven sits in the middle of the table with a clear path down to the corner pocket. I’ll have to cut the white pretty tight past the eight, no problem. I bend over the green cloth surface, balance the cue on the knuckles of my left hand, focus on the seven and where it’s going to go. The rhythm of conversation dulls away as I steady myself, visualize the sink and stretch the cue.
Myles looms over my back, a hulking 6’4 heavyset Asian man in a long leather jacket and bright red hair. I can feel him there, feel him grinning. It’s pissing me off.
“You’re gonna miss that shot.”
I tell him politely to forcibly inject his cue somewhere inappropriate and my right arm strikes forward, perfectly connecting center-south on the white ball. There’s a clink that’s barely audible over the drone of bar chatter as the white cuts into the seven, sending it careening perfectly between three balls to the corner pocket. The seven bounces against the cushion, twice, rolls out and hits the thirteen, coming to a rest ten inches from the pocket. I straighten up and turn around. Myles smirks like a jackass, like some malevolent techno Buddha, and brings his own cue down to the table.
Echos of laughter and loud, slurred talk close back in around me. It’s a good night, although it feels just like a thousand bar nights previous. Myles sends the thirteen barreling into the pocket I’d just missed. That’s alright, he’ll miss the next shot.
I lock eyes with Hugh, my best friend, over at the bar. He gives me a stupid wide-eyed grin as if to say “Hey! This shits alright!” and goes back to talking to Shannon, his long term problem girlfriend. Surprisingly they don’t seem to be arguing about some stupid bullshit, which is great. She gives him a kiss veiled with a curtain of golden hair and I smile. My adorable dork friends.
Then Nicole walks in.
I feel her in my stomach before I see her with my eyes.
I tell myself I wasn’t waiting for her, like every other night. It’s a lie.
Resisting the urge to walk over and greet her I watch as she sweeps through the the tables by the entrance, throwing boisterous smiles and excited hellos to everyone around her. Party McKay, the big punk bouncer on door tonight, sweeps her into a sweaty bear hug. Her white blond hair sways rambunctiously around her shoulders and she screams excitedly and folds up into Party’s huge chest. Like every night. She does the rounds, saying hey to the punks and the misfits.
Myles shoots on the table, effortlessly sinking something. I turn around, intending to lose myself in the game again, to shit-talk Myles into scratching on the eight. I know Nicole has seen me, she’ll make her way over when she’s ready.
“Oiy, Curt.” I look down. Tiny Kimi, her cute little face pointed up at me in a huff haloed with blue punker hair. She’s holding my beer, Labatt 50. I forgot I’d ordered it. I thank her and give her a 10, ask her to come back with two shots of Jameson whiskey. She agrees, and I see her look over at Nicole, then back of me with a knowing twinkle in her eye before taking a couple more orders.
Clink – Myles sinks another ball. He’s going to clean the table, the bastard.
I smell her before I see her. That familiar smell of hair oils and makeup, of late nights and cheap beer. Stale cigarettes and lipstick. Leather and broken hearts.
I hate it when she calls me Curty.
Or maybe I love it.
I flash her my best cocky smile, like she just walked in and caught me by surprise, like it’s cool to see her but I’m not really affected by her presence. Like the whole reason I’m here, again, isn’t just to see her.
“How’s it going?” I ask her, with my cocky smile still plastered awkwardly to my face. She’s good. Of course she is. She’s always good. She tells me about her day. I settle in to listening, watching her enthusiastic face while she rants on about trivialities of her serving job and people I don’t particularly care for. It’s addictive, just watching her. Watching the muscles behind her snow white skin animate her features, watching her sparkling blue eyes express every word her blood red lips send my way. I touch the white hair on her shoulders, roll it in between my fingers gently while she talks. She loves it when I touch her hair.
My suicide blonde.
I tune out the words, hear Myles sink another ball on the table and laugh. It was the eight. That’s alright, I wasn’t really into the game anyway.
I spy Kimi heading our way, her tight tank drawing male attention all around the room as usual.
“Got you a present” I say to Nicole. She laughs. We take the shots from Kimi. Down the hatch. For a moment there’s just the burn. Then Nicole is tugging me towards a table in the back, a table liberally littered with our friends. Her arm entwines with my own.
For a moment there, like always, like every moment she’s touching me, my heart burns. Her boyfriend will be here soon. I’m just a stepping stone on the way to her real fun. An old friend whose attentions she can feed on, her narcissistic appetite nourished. Most of the time that’s alright. We’ve tried being more, with disastrous results. I tell myself we still are more. More than we’ve ever been. I tell myself we have a deeper connection than what she has with these people she finds, and fucks, and destroys and moves on from every few week. I tell myself ours is a genuine, lasting love. Not just a one-sided affection. That it means something.
I tell myself to shut the fuck up.
She leaves me at our table in the back, off to the bar to kiss the bartenders on both cheeks. I nod to the crowd of familiar faces, take a seat, and light up a cigarette. Belmont, king size. The smoke drifts lazily above the table. Beside me Bea launches into conversation, some in joke at the table I was too late to be privy to. Laughter. Shannon across the table takes a break from an argument with Hugh, to say hi and take a drink. She fliraciously flashes those big eyes my way. Bea’s husband is absent again, I see. Hugh clinks my glass with his own and I take a sip. Myles works his way through the crowd, his head bobbing to some electronic beat only he can hear. Nicole is back, taking a seat beside me. I’m surprised. She rests her silk hair on my shoulder and breathes in the crowd. It refreshes her, enlivens her. Without the bar, the constant socializing, she practically feels physical pain.
I just feel it when she’s not around.
Our bar. Ten years of memories flash by in a second. I light another cigarette, take another sip of beer, and resign myself to falling comfortably into another round of goofy, empty conversation none of us will ever remember. It feels good.
It feels great.
I’m drunk and I don’t remember that happening.
It’s almost last call. Nicole is spreading the word, bringing the bar back to her place just like every night for the obligatory after party. Twenty-plus drunks crowded into a tiny, smoke infested apartment above the bars for another couple hours of drinking and smoking and cocaine and singing and dancing and… and I know I should just go home. I know it every night. I’ll remember none of it, I’ll feel like deaths door for hours in the morning, and I know my wallet will scream my name in hatred, once again.
But of course, that’s folly. How could I not go, and miss out on all the fun?
Miss out on just another couple hours with my suicide blonde?
We file out the doors of the bar, saying our good nights, grabbing our skateboards and jackets and girlfriends and whatever else we think to grab before we leave, and it’s on to really get the night started. I follow Nicole out the doors and onto the crowded drunk-strewn streets.