CONTENT WARNING: implication of intent of nonconsensual sexual activity (i.e., includes creepy man at a bar). Please take care of yourself.
I’ve been hanging out at the bar a lot lately. I haven’t even been drinking–Deanna’s Kip Shouldn’t Be Close Enough To Alcohol To Smell It policy is still going strong–but that hasn’t stopped me from showing up several nights a week about an hour before they close, sitting myself down at the very end of the bar as to not get in the way, and nursing hot tea in a margarita glass that Deanna or another bartender brings me if she’s busy. I don’t know where the tea comes from, or why I always get it in a margarita glass, but I don’t really care.
On week nights, it’s vacant enough that Deanna has time to talk, but I don’t always want to. I’ll write in my journal, curate the bar’s playlist, roll my eyes when Deanna groans at my taste. I’ll scroll through Twitter, Grindr, close the apps, check my texts, write some more, change the song, forget about my tea and grimace through drinking lukewarm Earl Grey. I go round and round, trying to satisfy a hollow stomach, hollow chest, empty hands.
I don’t usually go on Friday nights. It defeats the purpose. But earlier there was a customer at the gas station who came in wearing a beanie, and my head turned into putty for the rest of the day, so I came here looking for clarity.
When the group near to me leaves, I barely notice. When someone takes the seat next to me, I don’t look up from my notebook.
“What kind of margarita is that?”
I look up and see a guy, probably in his early twenties, smirking down at me. He’s hot, but in a straight way.
“The kind for a nineteen year old.”
“I see.” He shifts so that he’s angled towards me, grabs the tea tag and flips it over. “Earl Grey, huh? Preferred tea of Captain Picard.”
I look at the tea, then back to the guy. “Who?”
I shrug my shoulders. “Never seen it.”
“Oh damn.” He clutches his chest and leans back in his chair. “Nevermind then.”
It’s a setup, I know, but I fall for it anyway. “Nevermind what?”
“Well, I was coming over here to chat you up, but if you’ve never seen Star Trek I’m not sure I can do this.”
“I’ve seen the Chris Pine ones.”
“Of course you have. It’s Chris Pine.”
I give him a laugh, because straight-hot or no, his voice is coaxing the emptiness from my body one syllable at a time.
He points at my journal. “What’s with the notebook?”
“I’m a Vulcan anthropologist. Studying humanity at its most deplorable.”
He looks around, then back to me with raised eyebrows. “You think this is as bad as it gets? I can show you so much worse.” His hand goes to my knee, and the suddenness of this situation knocks me back a little, but his touch syphons away a little more of the null, and I lean into it.
“Can you?” I ask.
“Why don’t you let me–”
I glance up absently, ready to brush off whoever’s bothering me. It’s one of Deanna’s coworkers–Rob?–who’s glaring at Star Trek dude. I try to catch his gaze so I can let him know it’s fine, but when he does look at me, his severe eyes catch me off guard. “Deanna needs your help with something, kid.”
I hesitate. “But I–”
“Kip.” Rob’s a big guy, and his muscled arms are folded across his broad chest, and sue me, he’s intimidating. I grab my journal, hop off my stool, and walk down to the other end of the bar, glancing back at Star Trek dude as Rob says something to him in a low tone.
“Deanna, do you actually need something or is Rob just trying to cockblock me?”
Deanna looks up from her sweeping, expression comically scandalized. “What?”
I gesture back towards the other end of the bar. “Grey shirt over there? Looks straight, totally not.”
Deanna goes from scandalized to shocked.
“Right? I was surprised too. But Rob–”
“That motherfucker,” she mumbles under her breath.
“Damn, Dea. Rob’s not that–”
“Kip,” she squeezes my arm, eyes lingering on Rob and Star Trek dude. “If you ever see him in here again, if he ever tries to talk to you again, you kick him in the balls and then come get me or Rob or any of the others right away, okay?” She takes her eyes off them long enough to give the same severe look that Rob did.
I stare back for a moment, confused. Then it clicks. “Oh.”
She sighs, runs a hand through her hair, leans against the broom. She looks older than her thirty years, like an industrial age factory worker, breathing in miasmic air and slowly killing her youth. “You okay?” She asks.
I can still feel his hand on my knee. I’m drained, drained of warmth, light, touch. Gravity pulls at my sternum and gut and knees, and I want to join Deanna’s pile of bar debri on the floor, as used as a crumpled straw wrapper. I think if I get any emptier there’ll be nothing left. “Deanna, can I ask a weird favor?”
“Weirder the better, kid.”
“Can I hug you?”
The age on her face disappears like it’s been carried off by a breeze. There’s no hesitation as she pulls me into her side, tousling my hair like I’m a little nephew that needs to be teased. Her fingers press down on the top of my scalp as if to keep me from floating away, her arm around my side gives weight to my existence. I feel fuller.