He didn’t remember ordering the now half-full drink set in front of him. He must have done so but the night had begun to slide into a hazy vagueness that was becoming more and more familiar, more and more comfortable.
“So then what happened?”
Her voice was slightly drowned out by the ambient noises throughout the bar but it still felt close.
“I’m sorry?” he said, keeping his gaze straight ahead upon his own reflection.
“You never finished your story.” Her northeastern lilt calmly touched each word. “You were walking to the subway, but some guy across the street was yelling ‘Is today the day? Is today the day?’ over and over again.”
He wasn’t exactly sure about the rest of the story, himself. Sure, he had gotten a little bit spooked by the shouting and felt compelled to stroll into the bar instead of continuing on his commute, but lately he hadn’t needed much to detour into whatever establishment was open and serving. Some crazy guy on the street was just a convenient excuse.
Typically quick-witted, he didn’t think his faculties were capable of conjuring up something interesting at this stage of the night, so he figured simplicity and truth would be his friends, for once.
“There’s not that much more to it,” he said with a shrug, his eyes remaining down on the sturdy glass in his hand. “He was at the subway entrance and I just got a bad vibe, so I decided to come in and have a drink instead.”
She raised an eyebrow and cocked a wry smile. He wasn’t sure how long they had been talking but he sensed by her reaction that he must have been rambling and building up this scenario for quite a while.
“So instead of walking past this guy for a fraction of a second, you decided to duck in here, spend $80 on cocktails and tell bad stories to the first cute girl to look in your direction? Well, lucky me, I suppose.” She went back to sipping her Jack Daniels and turned her head to face the bar, ultimately locking eyes with his in the mirror.
They stayed staring for what felt like a half hour but was only two or three seconds. Something about her made him nervous. He was an anxious guy, but he’d felt comfortable in his own skin all night, partially thanks to her presence. That comfort was now gone.
He instinctively looked down and made sure his backpack was still beneath the bar stool. It was. He didn’t know why the paranoia was setting in but everything about the situation was beginning to feel much heavier than it had only seconds earlier.
“I’m glad you’re feeling a little nervous but you don’t have anything to worry about, John.” Her lips hid behind her raised glass as her eyes held steady in the mirror. “These nerves, these fears, that feeling to pop in here instead of heading straight home — I’m glad you’re finally starting to trust your gut.”
Adrenaline was coursing through his body. He was shaking. He hadn’t told her his name.
He finally turned away from the mirror and looked at her side profile, which remained perfectly calm and even held the early stages of a smirk.
“Do- do you know me?” he asked.
“That depends,” she said, rotating back to face him directly. “Is today the day?”
He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, unsure of everything all of a sudden. “The day for what?” He finally asked in a near whisper.
She smiled patiently and said, “come with me,” sliding off her barstool easily and holding her hand out.
“What about our bill?” He asked uncertainly, his mind screaming at him to stay put but some internal force compelling him to see this through. His life had lacked adventure lately, one dull loop of subway commute, work, and drinking himself into a stupor since his wife left with their Labrador, Gary. Despite the nerves and bad premonition, he also felt alive for the first time in months.
“It’s settled,” she said mysteriously, and turned to make her way through the crowded bar, knowing instinctively now that he would follow. John grabbed his backpack and followed her, shaking his head the entire time he watched her long legs navigate the room confidently. Never trust a redhead, he muttered to himself, even as his eyes wandered over the subtle black dress she was wearing. She left the bar and paused on the sidewalk, waiting for him to catch up. “Looks like your friend is gone,” she said lightly, as if they were on a casual first date rather than what felt like it could end up with him in a bathtub, missing his kidneys. “Now, you don’t remember, obviously,” she cooed, wrapping her hand around his bicep and guiding him gently to walk with her across the street and down the sidewalk, “but we do know each other. Very well, in fact.” She laughed at the panic that crossed his face, the twinkle turning her brown eyes an otherworldly shade of golden-hazel. “Don’t worry, John. I wasn’t very memorable back then either, I guess. We’ve both changed a lot over the years.”
“I’m sorry,” he replied, genuinely sad for not remembering. “I’ve had some periods of my life that are pretty much blocked out. I didn’t catch your name.”
“My name doesn’t matter,” she said, as she turned a corner and squeezed his arm excitedly. “Ah, here we are.” He looked around himself, not understanding how they had gotten here, to this rundown hotel not far from Times Square. She walked him into the building, through the lobby as confidently as if she owned the place and punched the button for the elevator. “You’re probably starting to feel really sluggish now,” she said calmly as they stepped onto the elevator and the doors closed. “I drugged you,” she grinned, her sweet smile and demeanor even more terrifying when juxtaposed with those words. She reached for his hand and intertwined his fingers with hers, ignoring his sweaty palms as his breathing slowed down.
“Everything feels so heavy,” he said, leaning on her slightly to steady himself. “I-I don’t understand. Why are we here? Why do you want to hurt me?” He slurred as the doors opened and she dragged him down the hall to an unmarked door.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she said. “Of course, I don’t want to hurt you,” his eyes widened at the way she stressed that word. She opened the door to reveal a staircase and pushed him to walk up in front of her. It was a short flight, but it may as well have been endless as he tried to navigate the steep climb in his now extremely inebriated state. He hesitated for a moment at the top, his hand resting on the door handle that led to an unknown place, knowing this would be a moment he would never get back. She leaned across him and covered his hand with her own, turning the knob and flinging open the door. He stumbled onto the roof of the hotel, blinking at the lights of Times Square as he tried to get his bearings. He glanced down to see her staring at him, her expression nearly unreadable as she whispered, “I just want you to remember.”
The first thing Barbara noticed when her youngest daughter stormed back into the reception hall was the pinched, furious look on her face. She saw Kaia inhale as if she was about to scream; but instead Kaia’s face turned to her eldest sister, the bride. Connie’s head turned to her sister, and Barbara felt her breath catch in her chest as that familiar sweet smile appeared on Kaia’s face. Even from halfway across the crowded reception hall, she could pick out the faint glint of her eyes twinkling—she knew Connie’s eyes would be twinkling too.
A cold weight settled into Barbara’s stomach. Gulping down the rest of her champagne didn’t wash it away. She waved down one of the catering staff, her well-practiced smile feeling fragile; a paper mask that could slip at any moment. Her glass was refilled to the top, with great insistence on her part, and she raised a trembling hand to tap it with her knife.