“You’re a chicken-shit coward, you know that, right?” He says.
“Yes, I’m very aware of that.” She says.
“And somehow that’s okay with you? No qualms with that?” He asks, befuddled.
“Nope. None.” She says, then adds, “Not a one.”
He shakes his head, bewildered. “How can you say that? How can you be okay with being a coward?” And before she can respond, “I would hate myself.”
She smiles. It’s a wintry smile, it turns her blue eyes into ice chips. “I never said I didn’t.” She says.
Silence spirals out between them for a long, tense moment. He opens his mouth to speak, appears to think better of it, and closes his mouth again. He takes a sip of his beer instead, and wipes the foam from his upper lip. Instead of carrying on the conversation, he glances around the bar and sees everyone else talking and laughing easily. His eyes settle upon a game of pool, where a group of friends are chatting and laughing as if everything in the world isn’t going to hell just outside the bar’s front door. He becomes engrossed in watching them, longing to be a part of that group. Anything would be better than sitting at this table.
She’s watching him watching the other patrons. If he looked at her right now, he’d see the same longing look in her own eyes that he has while gazing at the pool players. If he turns back to her right now, she’ll have betrayed everything she came here to do, everything her brain tells her must happen if they both are to go on with their own lives. Her heart screams against it, however. She’s got him in her crosshairs, but she doesn’t want to take the shot, even though she knows she must. A single tear escapes her lashes, and she brushes it away hurriedly with the heel of her palm. She takes a sip of her vodka to steady her nerves and steel her spine against the inevitable.
He turns his attention back to her just as she’s setting down her glass of vodka. She’s composed herself again, and there’s no trace of that longing look lingering in her eyes. They’re blue ice again. She’s the frigid bitch he’s accused her of being in more than one argument. It hardens his heart against her further. Somewhere deep in his subconscious he can hear a thick, wooden door slamming shut, and the click of a deadbolt. He’ll never let her in again, and he’ll struggle the rest of his life to let in others. He will always sit in bars and glance around the room, feeling envious of everyone else and the ease with which they trust.
“That’s it, then?” He asks, his jaw tense, clipping each word off neatly—like severing wires with the snip of scissors.
“That’s it.” She says succinctly, her mind in total agreement while her heart rails against the bars of its prison, screaming to be let out, screaming to be set free. Don’t let me die down here!
He polishes off the last of his beer, and she takes little hurried sips of her vodka. Now that the nasty business is finished, they both want to be out of this bar as quickly as possible. It’s better to be outside in the city, blending in with all the other digits—anonymous. He pulls out his wallet and slaps his money down on the table. She’s digging through her purse deliberately while he takes his leather jacket from the back of his chair and puts it on. She’s giving him time to make his exit before her. The only thing exchanging more words can do now is irreparable damage.
He takes a final swig from his mostly empty beer bottle. He doesn’t know why he’s stalling, but his own heart is screaming not to let it end this way, but what else can be done? They’ve agreed it’s over. He looks at her one last time as she’s rummaging through her purse, knowing that she too is stalling, there’s not enough room in that purse for her to lose anything, especially not a wallet. She feels his gaze fall upon her, and looks up unconsciously. For the briefest of moments, he sees her prisoner heart clearly in those clear, blue eyes. For a single second, he sees the woman he fell in love with, but then she’s gone; swatted back into her prison cell by the woman she’s become, and he feels his heart crack along a fault line. There will always be earthquakes now when he merely thinks her name.
He starts to say something, then once again thinks better of it, turns, and walks toward the door, through the throng of bar patrons. She watches his retreating back, a tsunami of conflicting emotions. She starts to call him back, but then decides the damage is done—let it all be done, her mind insists. As he opens the door she pulls her wallet from her purse and pulls out her change. While she’s looking down at her money, he looks back over his shoulder one last time. In the glow of the bar lights her blonde hair resonates with light, just like it did the first time he met her. He takes that final image of her with him as he leaves.
She looks back at the door just as it closes, and thinks, I am a terrible coward.