This story is by Tanja Chung and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Anna shifted on the wobbly barstool. However much she tried not to, she felt awkward. Her friends had all stepped out for a smoke, leaving her sipping her Moscow Mule in silence. She’d never been that cool, comfortable solo drinker. Instead, she was the loner in the corner who didn’t know what to do with her hands.
Of course, she could’ve gone out with her friends, but standing in the freezing cold inhaling secondhand smoke wasn’t really her idea of fun. Besides, someone had to mind the table. And as the only non-smoker in the group that someone was always her.
Anna took a look around. Perhaps she’d see someone to strike up a conversation with. But she saw no familiar faces. The tiny, dark cocktail bar was full of hipsters and businessmen; a strange mix that somehow only worked through a mutual love of alcohol. A woman laughed too loudly at her colleague’s joke, while the people at the next table were all staring at their Instagram feeds. The waiter moved expertly through the crowd with a full tray balancing on the tips of his right hand.
“Can I get you a drink?” she heard him ask the new girl that had just sat down with the Instagrammers.
“Gin and tonic,” she said without looking up from the selfie she and her friend were taking. The waiter gave a curt nod. He and Anna shared an understanding smile as he moved back to the bar.
Cold condensation dripped from Anna’s glass onto her leg. She rubbed the dark spots on her dress. A piece of lint caught her eye, so she picked it up. Hmmm, perhaps she should’ve buffed her shoes before leaving the flat. She wondered what she was still doing here. How long did a cigarette actually take? Through the hazy windows she could see her friends laughing soundlessly at missed anecdotes. For a brief moment, she contemplated becoming a smoker, just so she could join their secret club, but she quickly dismissed the idea. Not worth it.
Her eyes followed the smoke rising from the scarfed silhouettes outside. It was like looking at a scene out of a film noir. She half expected one of the women to pull out a gun soon. Her gaze shifted towards the lit part of the terrace, when she noticed him. Wrapped up in a discussion with another shivering smoker he held a cigarette between his fingers as he sipped what looked like an Old Fashioned. He ran his other hand through his beard before tucking it casually into the front pocket of his ripped jeans. She had encountered so many copies of this guy, yet he was unlike anyone she had ever seen. There was something about the rise of his eyebrow and the honest smile that made sure she couldn’t look away. He seemed genuinely interested in his friend’s story. Casually blowing rings of smoke as he listened.
Perhaps when he came back in their eyes would meet. Maybe he’d walk over and introduce himself. They’d spend all night talking, completely forgetting about the rest of the bar. She’d make him laugh – really laugh – with one of her stories. He’d compliment her and eventually lean in, pausing to look into her eyes before he kissed her. Something swirled in the pit of Anna’s stomach at the thought. Perhaps when he came back in, she’d go talk to him.
Freezing air rushed in when the door finally opened. He rubbed his hands together to warm them and looked straight into Anna’s eyes. She gave him a coy smile. For a moment it looked as if he was about to walk over. Anna quickly checked her dress, rubbing away a wrinkle. When she looked back up he was no longer turned towards her. He said something to his friend and simply walked out the door without looking back.
Disappointed, Anna hid herself in the bottom of her cocktail.
– – –
Fuck, it was cold out here. Tyler pulled his scarf a little tighter and took another sip of his cocktail. He winced at the cold ice in his mouth, but soon the whiskey warmed his throat, gently trickling down towards his core. He absentmindedly rubbed his beard. It was a habit he’d developed once he grew it out. His sister always teased him with it, saying he only did it to look smart. When he noticed he was doing it again he quickly tucked his hand into his front pocket and took a drag of his cigarette. He had said he’d quit smoking ages ago, yet here he was again a few drinks in and half a pack gone. In all honesty, he didn’t really want to quit. It was just something people seemed to expect you to say nowadays. Some sort of acknowledgement that you knew you were being unhealthy and stupid, but that it was simply something you couldn’t help. Bullshit. He really just liked it.
Tyler tried to focus on Brandon’s story again, but wasn’t sure what he was on about now. Why did he always run into this bore? And how did he always manage to get roped into a conversation?
“…which is why I told her we just had to do it, you know what I mean?” Brandon let out a bellowing laugh.
Tyler just nodded with a smile. No clue what he was on about.
He shifted his weight and wobbled. Perhaps he shouldn’t have ordered that last drink. He wondered what he was still doing here. The smoke billowed out of his mouth and he tried to blow rings with it.
“What you doing?” said Brandon.
“You look like a fish on dry land.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Tyler and immediately stopped. Brandon raised his eyebrow and shook his head.
“So as I was saying, this girl…”
But Tyler had already tuned out.
He shivered again and looked longingly into the warm bar. Inside people were laughing, sitting closely together at candlelit tables. They didn’t feel this urge to step out into the cold every half hour or so, but simply enjoyed each other’s company. A chill ran up his spine. Smoking should really be a summer thing, Tyler thought wryly. His eyes wandered to the other side of the bar. There, alone on a barstool, she sipped a Moscow Mule. He admired the elegant, confident way with which she sat there, all alone in a bar. Something he’d never be able to do. He’d even prefer to listen to Brandon babble on about his newest conquest rather than stand on his own. This girl, with her wavy brown hair and red lips, looked perfectly at ease though. Collected. Confident. She’d probably be able to teach him a thing or two, he thought with a smirk on his face.
She observed a group a few tables down and smiled warmly at the waiter – a smile that reached all the way to her eyes. Tyler imagined walking into the bar and meeting her gaze, those warm eyes beckoning him over.
“Hi,” he’d say, nodding his head. “What’s your name?”
She’d shake his hand and tell him it was Emily, or Nicole, or Megan. Yeah, she looked like a Megan.
“Do you come here often?” he’d say with a grin, knowing full well the cheesy line would make her laugh. They’d talk, completely forgetting about the rest of the bar. She’d flip her hair and touch his arm as he told her that story about his mum’s cat. He’d compliment her eyes and she’d lean in, pausing to look into his, urging him to kiss her. Only one question left at that point: your place or mine? Something swirled in the pit of Tyler’s stomach at the thought. Perhaps when he went back in, he’d go talk to her.
The heat hit him like a wall when they walked back into the bar. Rubbing his numb fingers together, Tyler looked straight into those sparkling eyes. Deep, sexy eyes. He moved towards her almost automatically. But then, halfway there, she suddenly gave him a curt smile and looked away, rubbing some imaginary lint from her dress as not to meet his eye again. A cold spread through Tyler’s core. Right.
“You know what, I think I’ve had enough,” he said, turning to Brandon.
Disappointed, Tyler rushed out of the bar without looking back.