[November Breaks] THEN | 12 | Noah

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I’m early, by accident, but also not. I have no idea if he’s going to show, so I’m smoking my third cigarette outside a bar I never go to, trying to come to terms with being not fully in control of the situation. It’s new, but it’s not as wrong as I expected it to be. Decisions keep making themselves these days.

Seeing him in the street on Wednesday night when I went for a drive for no reason other than I felt like I needed to. Running into him outside Alchemy yesterday, miles from where either of us live. It all felt significant enough that I couldn’t walk away. It still does, so here I am. Waiting for someone who’s part bodhisattva, part lightning strike, and I don’t even know his name.

I know next to nothing else about him either, but I can’t shake the thought that it’s been so long since I wanted someone and didn’t feel like they deserved better. There’s no judgment there, only recognition, and I can’t explain any of it. I have no way to know what he deserves or doesn’t. But I want him.

I wanted him last night when he didn’t seem surprised to see me and I kind of wanted him on Wednesday too, all blood and wit and swagger. I wouldn’t credit anyone with being entirely disarming, but he got closer than anyone else ever has and I’m pretty sure he did it without even trying.

When I asked him his name, he said, “No. And don’t tell me yours either. Not yet. It’ll give us something to talk about.” Then he chose this bar for tonight and left, flashing a smile that turned my breath to dust in my throat. 

He arrives as a voice behind me. “You showed.”

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” I put out my cigarette and we walk into the bar. I don’t know if it’s the kind of place he goes to or the kind of place he assumes I go to. Or both.

The bartender greets him with familiarity, and he says to put the drinks on his tab. Fine. If this is a game—and I’m not sure why it would be other than it feels like everything might be with him—he can have that point. We take my beer and his double vodka to a corner table.

He holds silence like a mirror, so I break it. “What happened with that car?”

“Not much, apart from the obvious. We met, very briefly, then we went our separate ways.” He drinks the vodka like other people drink water.

“What did they say at the hospital?”

He pushes his fingers against the side of his face until his jaw cracks. “I didn’t go. I’m fine.”

“Clearly. You look fine.”

“I look better when my face isn’t like this,” he says.

“You still look good when it is.” I’m not just saying that. He really does. It’s unsettling.

“Quality line, tall-dark-and-handsome.”

He wins another round of prolonged silence when I speak. “Yesterday, when you needed to be somewhere else, why did you choose that place in particular?”

“I don’t know. I wanted to get out of the city and I had a feeling about it.” He finishes his drink, then catches the bartender’s eye and lifts his glass with a nod. “What were you doing there at night, hanging around outside a closed cafe? Getting ready to rob the place?” He’s joking, probably, but he looks like he wouldn’t care if the answer was yes.

“Thinking of buying it. And I wanted to get out of the city too. I need to. In general.”

His next double arrives, and he cradles it in bruised hands before taking a drink and setting the glass on the table, next to a coaster, not on it. “You’re what? In hospitality? Property?”

“Neither. Not yet, anyway. I was in security, but I’m making some changes.”

“What kind of security?”

I’ve had this conversation before, but it never felt like this. Other people are usually willing to accept a stock answer and I don’t think he’s going to be. “Personal, corporate, it doesn’t matter. I don’t do it anymore.”

“Ten out of ten intriguingly vague response. I’ve heard similar and their truths have always had a common theme.”

So maybe he gets it. Or he could. And maybe I want him to, on some level. It still has to be on my terms, but I’m willing to let him see more than I usually show anyone. This is new. I throw his curiosity back at him. “What do you do?”

“Also security. Tech.” He drinks, and the pause is loaded and ready to be fired point blank. “It’s an interesting way to work, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“Another flip of the coin and you’d be the threat someone’s getting paid to protect people from.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” He finishes his drink, sets down his glass next to the coaster again and presses his thumb against a swollen split in his lip.

My blood turns to electricity. “Presumptuous.” Not wrong though.

“And accurate?” His smirk is a challenge, a dare. An unspoken ‘your turn’.

I shrug, buying time, pushing buttons. “Speak for yourself.”

“I am. Are you honestly going to tell me I’m not speaking for you, too?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“You’re telling me plenty,” he says, and he stares at me, reading me, burning through my skin. He doesn’t blink enough.

I want to knock back the rest of my beer in one go just to do something, to move things along, but I don’t drink like that and I’m not giving him the satisfaction of dictating the speed of events here. We talk some more without really saying anything until my glass is empty. It’s not about words, anyway. It’s about the spaces between them.

He catches the bartender’s eye again with the same gesture of polite demand, then looks back to me. “We’re having another, and you’re going to tell me your name.”

For some reason I can’t articulate, I’m all right with him phrasing that as an order rather than a request, at least this time. I will not always be all right with it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there is an always. “I’m Noah.”

“Noah,” he says, as if he’d been waiting for this information for a long time and it’s finally falling into place. “I’m Brett.” He holds out a hand across the table and there’s a spark of humour in the formality.

We both grip too tightly. Knuckles crack. Neither of us let go until the bartender comes over and our hands separate to make room for our drinks between us.

“OK, Noah,” says Brett, lifting his third double vodka off the coaster and setting it directly on the table. “After these drinks, you’re going home and I’m coming with you.”