Lee had the night off, and along with Roshaunda, we were going out. A band called Werebears had a gig inside an abandoned storefront, and they’d rented the space out for the night. A friend’s birthday party or something. Roshaunda probably knew, and we’d heard that one of the breweries and the Dry Fly guys were manning the bar. Though I did not know the band’s music outside of the blurbs I’d read, I needed a good time. The cold weather had gnawed at my edges with more persistence than usual, and I didn’t need another person telling me to find a sense of humor. I needed to soak in all the good feelings I could get before I had spend Christmas in Malibu.
When I stepped onto my front porch, Lee and Roshaunda had just parked the truck in the space across the street. They didn’t live together, but lived in the same building and seem to alternate who spent the night at the other’s place. Friends learned long ago not to question the logic or financial smartness behind their setup. I just figured Lee preferred having an escape route, even if it was one only an apartment floor away. And anyway, it wasn’t my business.
After hellos and the obligatory admiring of Roshaunda’s rather mod red and white dress, we drove back into downtown so as not to make her walk far. “Don’t you look dashing this evening,” she said and put one manicured nail to my shirt. She’d dusted some gold flecked powder over her dark cheekbones. “All Mr. Rock n Roll and dangerous with your long black hair.”
My hair barely hits my collar. “Dashing, that’s me.”
“Baby, you make him uneasy when you say stuff like that,” Lee said. “Compliments give him, like, hives.”
“Shut up, Lee.” I laughed. “Thank you, Roshaunda. Tell your friends.”
At ten minutes to nine, we arrived to a full venue. Somewhat predictably, the show didn’t appear to be anywhere close to starting, but a DJ had the crowd enjoying the wait, playing a mashup of “Electric Avenue” and “A Town Called Malice.” The bass rattled the windows up front and Lee paused outside the door for a cigarette.
Roshaunda made a face. “Ugh, baby, I told you to get your fix before we left so you could brush your teeth. I don’t want to smell that breath all night.”
Lee shrugged. “Sorry. Go on and get a drink.”
“Shit, I’m going to have to be drunk, aren’t I?” She looked at me. “You keepin’ him company?”
I nodded, and she gave us an exasperated sigh before going inside. Lee apologized to me again. “You shouldn’t be breathing this stuff in, Dom. Go get a drink too.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“Nah, if you end up with a third round that’s lung cancer, I don’t want you knocking down my door.”
“If I end up with a third round, Lee, they’re going to have to put me out of my misery.”
“Don’t say shit like that.”
“Sorry. I’m trying to be more upbeat tonight, but it’s not happening yet.” I looked around at the other smokers, all exiled to the outdoors. Some smoked with gloves on, others removed just the one, while others had the red, dry hands of those who never bothered with gloves at all. A group of people waited to cross the street just behind them, and one man with dark hair wore a familiar grey wool coat. An old flutter rose from the back of my brain and I swallowed.
“Coupla vodka sodas and we’ll have you sorted right out,” Lee said through an exhale.
“Right,” I watched the man approach and squinted his face into focus. My glasses need replacing.
“I know she hates it, and I’m trying to quit, but if I don’t have this now, I’m just going to be thinking about it all night and I don’t want to get all moody and shit.”
“You don’t have to justify it to me,” I said. The man walked closer and loosened his scarf with one long finger. I lost track of what Lee said next and wondered what my hair looked like. Before I talked myself out of it, I called out, “Michael, hey.”
His eyes shifted our direction, also squinting before brightening with recognition — Thank God. “Dominic! Wow, it’s been forever,” he said and held out an arm. We shared an awkward hug and he smelled fantastic. “How are you?”
My heart just fell out of my chest and landed on the sidewalk here, Michael, but I’m great. Really. “Oh, I’m good, good. Just, uh, you know, been writing and stuff. Trying to keep warm.”
He smiled. “Well, you won’t do it out here.”
“Ah, you may have a point there,” I said. Lee cleared his throat. “Oh, this is my friend Lee. His girlfriend knows whoever’s birthday it is.”
I know, I know, way to make sure to mention the girlfriend.
Lee held out his hand and they shook. “I’m his friendly neighborhood bartender,” he said.
“Michael and I went to college together,” I said. “We were in the dorms the first two years.”
Lee’s eyebrows raised my direction for a moment before he nodded at Michael. “Ah. The old bunk mate. That’s cool.”
Ten years since I’d last seen him, and he still looked great. Older, of course, though better off than me. He had the kind of blue eyes that made people forget what they were saying mid-sentence, and it took the first few months of school to keep my thoughts in order. Now, skills rusty, I had to put in much more effort. “Dominic was the tidy one,” he said to Lee.
“I believe it,” Lee said. He pressed out his cigarette against the brick wall. “I’ll let you two catch up. Roshaunda’s going to be pissed if I don’t get inside soon.”
Lee can tell when I’m all stupid with desire. “What are you doing in town?” I said.
“My grandmother died about a month ago, so I’m helping my sister sort out her house and stuff.”
“I’m so sorry. Were you close?"
He frowned. “Oh, I don’t know. She still recognized me at the end, so I must have made an impression.”
“Still, that’s rough.” I pressed my hands into my jacket pockets.
“Harder on my sister, really. She was taking care of her. I just want to help her out, and she’s got two kids now, so.”
I tried to remember his sister’s name, but couldn’t. Something with an S? I’d only met her once when she came down to Pullman with some friends for a basketball game. “How long are you staying?”
“Through Christmas, I guess. See how long it takes. The woman accumulated a lot of junk over ninety-two years, and we’ve got an auction place in the Valley handling the art and some other stuff in storage.” He sighed and smiled again. “I’m sorry, here we are out on a Saturday night and I’m Debbie Downer.”
That made me laugh. “Well hell, you’re in good company. Not two seconds before you walked up, Lee was giving me a hard time.” I glanced through the window, where I could see the two of them sitting near the end of the makeshift bar. Roshaunda was drinking a martini. “Are you still living in... San Francisco, was it?”
He nodded. “I am.”
“Must be, uh, warm?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said. “Veronica and I busted up about a year after, but I had a job and, you know...”
“May as well make something of it.”
“That’s right.” He stared at me, and his arm started to extend again before he drew it back and cleared his throat. “You look good, by the way. I heard about you getting sick again, but I never found out if you’d recovered. So... it’s good to see you.”
Hearing that pleased me to an embarrassing degree. “Got my hair back, can’t complain.”
“Still. I should have called or something.”
“You’re all right. I was looked after. You had your own shit going on.” The weird thing about having some sort of personal misfortune is how often you end up consoling the people you tell, rather than other way around.
“Well, thanks. I did, I guess.” He tilted his head towards the door. “Should we stop freezing out here and go get a drink?”
One of those brave/masochistic moments. I poked at this a little before putting it up, and may continue to do so. NaNoWriMo novels: A giant hunk of marble that isn't anywhere close to art. Or even nice countertops.