One moment, I’m standing at the bar thinking of Brandon’s hand in my back pocket ordering us his go-to cheap beer. The next, I have two cheap beers in my hand and no one’s hand in my pocket. A wave of stress crashes, leaving me coughing up water while I hold onto my beer buoys.
I never liked when, he left me at the bar. Brandon was the man to see when we were out, constantly floating circle to circle. We’d go out, and he’d wrap his arm around me as a claim, an easy segue into introducing me to everyone as his girlfriend. When he left, I was nothing more than a bucket of chum and unreturned affection left for the drunken pool sharks.
Slowly, I doggy paddle around the bar looking for that curly red hair I love to run my fingers through. I come up with nothing. In a panic I realize I should talk to people, try to make this search as direct as possible.
The bartender seems like the most reliable option; her short hair bouncing between her shoulders and ears as she flips open beer taps and mixes drinks, while her eyes dart up and down the bar to catch the quick flick of the wrist signaling for attendance.
“Hey, um I lost my boyfriend, I was wondering if you noticed a big tall guy, red curly hair?” My words hang in the air while two parallel gold streams fill pints.
“Sorry babe, everyone’s coming and going it’s kind of hard to keep track of specific ones.” Her words are sincere, and useless. I empty half the buoy in my right hand and continue treading through the bar.
I stop at a group of girls, dressed to the nines in whatever it is that’s in the window at Forever 21 this week. Their chatter dissipates quickly as I approach. Their glazed over eyes give me the feeling of being the outsider of a clique I didn’t realize till now I wanted to be a part of.
“Hey girls, I was just looking for my boyfriend. Tall dude. Curly read hair. Looks really good in the cheap t-shirt he’s wearing.”
My words are met with silence and eyebrow arches. The one in the sparkle top steps forwards, dominating the group..
“You lost your boyfriend?” Her face is sympathetic, but her words are mocking. The lip-gloss coated grin of the girls surrounding her gleam like the teeth of rabid dogs.
“Lose is such a…I’d like to think I just…misplaced him, and was hoping that you’d be able to help me out. I mean if you’ve seen him.”
I finish the beer in my right hand and wait. I’ve already decided they aren’t going to help, but their overly done smokey eyes look familiar. They leave me paralyzed trying to pinpoint why.
“You know, the most careless girls always end up with boyfriends. You just trick these men into you’re adorable little helpless world. Then they fucking leave you wandering the bar while they fuck someone in the bathroom.”
Her words come out slurred. The group of girls around her supports the weight of her slipping words with their grins and glares. I start the beer in my left hand in hopes that it gives me an idea on how to respond to this. It doesn’t. There is no way she knows about Brandon’s brief slip up that first month of our relationship. It was a while ago and she’s clearly fucked up. I swish away from them, before she’s able to obliviously sting me again.
“Fuck her Janis.”
The girl with the hoop earrings consoles Sparkly Top Janis. After a few angry phrases I can’t hear, they begin to dance. Keeping their bodies close to each other, while their eyes look around the room for people watching them have a great time. I watch in fascination, while I try and decipher if I know Sparkly Top Janis, or if she’s just the most common brand of white girl with brown hair.
Thoughts of Sparkly Top bounce out of my head as my forehead hits the broad exposed right shoulder of the guy standing against the pool table. He turns towards me with a grin. The gap in his front teeth is so wide I could crawl through it and comfortably sleep in his mouth.
“Someone needs to pay a little more attention to where they’re going”
I begin to wonder how his face stays together with his teeth pushing apart his lips and raising his cheekbones at such harsh angles.
“Ha, Ha yeah, so clumsy. Gotta get that under control. Um, actually I was looking for someone, was wondering if you’ve seen him. Big muscle dude with curly red hair. Usually responds to Brandon.”
This man hasn’t seen anything other than the ass of every woman who has walked in here, but it’s worth a shot. Right?
“Brandon? Yeah. Can’t say I’ve seen him.” He leans towards me, a breeze of beer and cigarettes hits my face.
“Looks like your beer is getting pretty low, and with no sight of Brandon, maybe you’d let me take his place. Help a lady out.”
He reaches out and runs his fingers down my arm, while his eyes scan my body. Suddenly I wish I wore a garbage bag out. Bile rises up in my throat, and I contemplate throwing up on him out of spite. Spite vomit gets you kicked out of the bar, and being kicked out of the bar would add more challenge to my current situation. I decide walking away is the best plan of action. If I’m going to get kicked out, it’s going to be after I find Brandon. My worry is beginning to bubble into anger, quickly.
“Whatever bitch. I was just trying to buy you a drink!”
I let his generous words ripple off my back and make my way to the bar’s front door. It’s time for me to talk to someone who knows what’s going on when it comes to people coming and going.
The bouncer sits slumped on a black vinyl stool. He follows the tiny flashlight he’s using to scan the IDs of an uncomfortable couple. I stand behind them waiting my turn to talk to him.
“ID please” His words come in time with his outreached hand.
“Oh I uh” I raise my hand to show him the black X beginning to seep into the pores on the back of my hand.
“You’re good to go in then.” He says it in the same tone he told the couple in front of me but his face gives away the annoyance my presence seems to induce.
“I am actually wondering if you saw a big tall guy with curly red hair walk out or maybe back in? Like recently?”
He runs his tongue along the thin lips peeking out from behind his overgrown beard. He strokes the coarse hairs, like he’s trying to uncover the answer from between the strands.
“Yeah, haven’t seen him.” His words come out cold. They sit at the bottom of my stomach anchoring me down.
No one knows where Brandon is.
I’m out of beer, but have no form of a buzz.
Everyone surrounding me is fucking useless.
“Do you have a lighter?” I ask the guy at the door.
“Bring it back.”
“Of course.” I won’t asshole. Smiling I grab onto it and make my way to the back alley.
Shuffling through my purse I resurrect the joint I had thrown in there to share with Brandon. A little surprise planned for our walk home.
The lighter sparks. The floral smoke spins in my mouth, flirting with the back of my throat, before I push it out. The waves of frustration begin to calm. I let my legs rest and begin to float. I take in another hit, as a pebble hits my shoe. I look towards the end of the alley where it came from and see Frank standing in the middle in his worn leather jacket.
“I knew you had to be attached to that sweet smell.” He paddles down the alley to me. I give him a peck on the cheek before placing the joint between his lips.
“What are you doing here?” I ask him. Frank was Brandon’s best friend, and my favorite one of his friend’s. He was good for Brandon. His gentle nature made Brandon’s corners a little less sharp. Plus he was always down to smoke with me. The three of us spent most of our time together, but Thursdays were for Brandon and me. Frank knew that.
He blows out the smoke. His features deflate into worry.
“I lost Brandon.” The waters begin to spin around me again.
“Shit, when?” Worry has taken over his whole face.
“When I got here. Maybe a half hour ago. I was getting beers for us. And no one could fucking help me find him once he was gone.” I take the joint from where it sits above the webs of his fingers and take another drag to keep the waters calm.
Frank turns around with nothing more than a huff. He disappears around the corner by the time I snub out the joint and start to follow him. The glitter of the studs lining his shoulders leads me through the bar. The air’s thicker and more humid than I remember it being when I stepped outside. The ripples of people in the bar get between us and for a moment, I lose Frank. In that second, hose red curls surface. Copper reflecting off the exposed light bulbs above him, his long strong arm draped around the waist of the girl with the hoops that earlier consoled Sparkly Top Janis.
Frank enters the frame again, and he claps onto Brandon’s back. He cups his hands around his ear, yelling something I can’t hear before they both turn to me. The tides around me pull me hard. My feet grip onto the bar floor, but the sand covering the floor keeps me from staying in place and I’m pulled back into the reality of our situation.
Brandon was here with his new girlfriend. Thursday’s were no longer our nights. They hadn’t been in, a lot longer then I’d like to admit. When Brandon switched our nights from Thursday’s at the bar to Tuesday’s in the back of the old indie movie theater, I was a good sport. When he stopped grabbing for me in public, I tried telling myself nothing had changed. I held onto hope, until it left me stranded in the middle of the sea watching Brandon float around with Hoops. The way everyone else had for weeks, before me.
I push against the current and wade towards them. How could he be in public with her already? When we got together, it was months before I had met his friends.
As I get close, rage swells inside me. The smell of his Dove shampoo fills my nose as I run my open palm across his jaw line. Brandon stands stoic. Hoops’ mouth hangs open like a drunk suffocating fish. Frank pushes between the two of us.
“Come on Tes, let’s walk back outside.” He reaches for my shoulder, but I pushed him off. I hold my attention on Brandon. I knew they were together, he had told me. Not right away, but he had told me. The last few months of our year had been rocky. He painted me into a succubus, and I believed him. I believed the time apart would bring us back together Hoops couldn’t be more than a phase. Brandon and I were it he just needed some time to catch up.
The sound of my slap shut off the bar noise and brought everyone’s eyes on the girl crashing into the reality of her situation.
“Damn girl, should’ve let me buy you that drink.” The guy leaning against the pool table yells. His words bring me to shore. My search for Brandon was over. Hoops wasn’t a phase, I was. It was time to pick the shells and seaweed from my hair and make my way home.
Kelly Delany spends her days creating hospitality & her nights in the back of a coffee shop. She currently lives in Denver. You can find her on Instagram and WordPress @kellylikescake.