Close – A Short Story

I’ll never forget his deepest brown eyes. They were always so focused on mine.
I always loved the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me.
The curls of his dark beard were tight and thick, a give away of his Mediterranean heritage.
He rarely smiled with teeth, but it was beautiful when he did.
Our jokes were quiet and dry; told between eyes and pursed lips. I knew him well.

I’m unsure when I lost him, but I’ll never forget those things. I’ll keep them with me no matter what.

~

I wasn’t hard to find on a Friday night.
Months earlier my roommate and I had stumbled haplessly in to a dive bar and never left. The music was cool and old, as were the drinks. My hands were never lost for a scotch on the rocks. I would always resist the urge to scoff at her vodka and cokes. Friends don’t judge each other, I’d song in my head as she sipped through her straw. Her lip gloss was bleeding. I’d tell her later.

Each night was a feast of live music and spinning decks. This night my favourite DJ had just remixed the chorus of Etta James’ Prisoner of Love. I watched a couple slow dance and a young girl in creepers twirl on the spot. I took another gulp.

I was tired from a long week and determined to drink. Going home before kick out wasn’t an option. We were friends with the bartenders and had a reputation to uphold.

I made a gesture with two fingers to my mouth and my friend nodded her head. She’d man the table while I’d chat aimless with the bouncer, cigarette in hand. I might have had two this time.

As I put one foot in front of the other I realised the scotch was going down well. The stairs felt shorter than they where when I arrived.

It was a crisp June evening and I hadn’t grabbed my jacket. I huddled close to my bouncer friend as he lit my smoke for me.

‘How are you tonight, mia cara?’ He cooed as I gazed down the blurry ally way.

‘Not bad. It’s fresh. I’m ready to party.’ He smirked and bowed his head.

‘When are we going to party?’ I’d been waiting for that.

‘Soon darling, soon’ I responded flatly. A group of young men were walking towards us. I stepped to the side to allow my friend to do his job. They each whipped out their ID’s. A couple of them glanced me up and down. I spotted a dark fellow at the back of the group looking at me quite intently. I spun my back to them and took another drag. I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I couldn’t make decisions on attractiveness at this time.

~

I rejoined my girl. Her long blonde hair flicked over her shoulder as she turned to me. ‘That couple are my favourite’ she purred. I glanced at the pair who were now swing dancing to a song I was unfamiliar with. I took a sip of my drink.

‘See anyone we know yet?’ She shook her head and sighed.

‘Thankfully. I’m starting to think we need a new local’. We both scoffed at the comment. This place could have been created by us, for us. Our kinda music, our kinda drinks, our kinda darkness. It had old style booths and candles in mason jars. The toilets were covered in graffiti. The staff drank with you and the bands stayed to socialise.

I felt someone watching me and turned my head slightly to see the same man from outside standing by the bar. He moved as I looked. Odd. ‘Is he attractive?’ I asked my companion. She put her lip gloss down and squinted towards the bar where I had tilted my head.

‘The beardy one or the tall one?’

‘Beardy.’ I finished my drink and glanced back to make sure there wasn’t anyone for her to get confused with.

‘Very,’ she answered quietly. I tilted my chin up and raised my eyebrows. Often our definitions of attractive were quite different. ‘No, really,’ she pressed. ‘You’ll like this one.’

I placed my empty glass back on the table and collected my clutch. ‘I’ll be back. Your lip gloss is running’.

I imagined her scrambling through her bag for her hand mirror as I sauntered away and smirked. I couldn’t see the man anymore but I saw my dearest bartender part the crowds to blow me a kiss. You have to be subtle when you’re going to skip the line, so I moved to the side and took a stool. I had hoped this might attract the stranger to my corner but I waited alone for a repeat of my usual.

When I made it back to the table my girl was now adjusting her hair. ‘Stop it. You’re fine.’

‘That’s alright for you to say, you aren’t going to run in to an ex here,’ she had a hint of stress in her gaze.

‘If we see him, I’ll murder him. How’s that?’ She grinned wickedly at me and chewed on her straw.

‘Excellent.’

~

Half an hour passed before I felt his presence next to me. It was a quick sweep past, and then next thing I knew the deepest dark eyes I had ever seen were gazing directly in to mine. He had knelt down at my table and placed his drink next to mine.

‘I’m sorry to disturb you, but would you like another drink?’ My glass was empty, but I don’t like to owe people things.

‘I’ll come with you,’ I responded, and my friend dutifully faded in to the background.

At the bar I could feel his closeness like a furnace. Did people usually stand this close when they didn’t know each other?

‘I’ve seen you here before. Didn’t your friend have pink hair last time?’ I laughed and nodded. No need to explain her wig fetish to a man we don’t know. He nodded and looked in to my eyes again. I forgot what we were talking about. I saw my bouncer friend appear over his shoulder, a shadow across his face. I looked away and sighed. Men are tiring, I thought.

A fresh whisky was pushed towards me and I was guided back to the table with a gentle hand to the lower back. He let me sit before he pulled up a chair. At this point he turned to my friend and she raised her gaze curiously.

‘Do you mind me joining you?’ He asked gently. She was pleasantly surprised. Her head shook with a smile and she turned back to the music. That was when those eyes returned to me.

I can’t tell you what we spoke about, how long we danced or which route we took back to mine, but when he kissed my hand at the door and walked alone up the city street I knew this one was different. I slept restlessly, between sighs and possibilities.

~

Two weeks later we had been out three times. The first night was dinner, the second was drinks on my balcony. The third was Riverfire.

The sky was lit spectacularly. We were perched on the riverbank in the most perfect spot, surrounded by groups of people drinking and cheering. I couldn’t help but notice his eyes on me when they should have been on the display. I grinned to myself and absorbed in this moment. I would remember this too. This was a feeling I hadn’t known, and I was starting to think it was the only feeling in the world that mattered.

An hour later, tipsy on cheap wine and butterflies we wandered hand in hand through the CBD. We took the long way home. The buzz of our surroundings was intoxicating. So was his company. I knew this wouldn’t be the end of the night, so I was in no hurry. I felt no urgency with him. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be; when it’s more than just lust and a drunken adventure.

I hadn’t known this specialness. He didn’t have to tell me in words that I was magic to him. I felt it in his closeness, the way he watched my movements and smiled when I made a bad joke. Adoration? Perhaps just appreciation. Pure and sweet appreciation.

~

When we reached my door I scanned my key card. My roomie was out with her flavour of the month. We would be undisturbed.

It was then that he tugged my hand and pulled me in to his embrace. His lips pressed firmly against mine and I felt him breathe me in. We stayed that way for a touch longer than you should. I thought of the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me, the way he rarely smiled with teeth. I let myself be lost, and then he pulled away and I was back. The hallway was still red, the door was still open, my head was still in the clouds.

~

I’ll never forget his deepest brown eyes. They were always so focused on mine.
I always loved the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me.
The curls of his dark beard were tight and thick, a give away of his Mediterranean heritage.
He rarely smiled with teeth, but it was beautiful when he did.
Our jokes were quiet and dry; told between eyes and pursed lips. I knew him well.

I’m unsure when I lost him, but I’ll never forget those things. I’ll keep them with me no matter what.

Those were the things I remembered when his hands closed around my throat.

~

My body was found a week later in a small patch of bush land along the riverbank. A dog had sniffed me out on his morning walk. I was partially clothed, heavy bruising visible around my neck and wrists. The police said I was the third to be found in this way in the past six months. I was on every front page for the next two weeks, then when no more bodies appeared in the following year, people forgot my name and my story.

They never did catch him, the one who took my heart and my life; the one who never felt anything at all.

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