Lillian sat at the bar stirring her drink with the cocktail mixer the bartender had slipped into her drink. Her mind was elsewhere, she had come to the cocktail bar after work to help her forget the day she had, had at work. Lillian worked at a law firm as a secretary and today was especially difficult.
She didn’t like to dwell on her mistakes but it was hard to stop her thoughts from wandering back to the dressing down she had received from her boss when he discovered her mistake. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t notice the man who had taken a seat beside her at the bar. He cleared his throat and she turned to look at him, startled to see someone so close to her.
“You look like you’ve had a bad day,” the man said with a sympathetic smile. He offered his hand and said his name was Thomas, but she could call him Thom. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked, gesturing towards her glass.
She looked down and realised that in her day dreaming she had managed to finish her drink. “I’d like that, thanks,” she replied. Lillian was a regular at the bar so a simple nod was all that was needed to let him know that she wanted another drink. She was a creature of habit, rarely straying from the familiar, finding safety in the known.
While she waited for the bartender to mix her drink, Lillian sat back and looked at the man who had joined her at the bar. He had rough features, salt and pepper stubble covered his square jaw. She could see worry lines etched into his forehead, made more noticeable by the receding hairline that struggled to cover his forehead. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he had a rugged manliness that appealed to Lillian.
Lillian noticed that he too was taking her in. She blushed self consciously, not used to catching the eye of a man. Growing up in a house full of sisters, sisters who were tall while she was short, clear skinned where she was freckled and lean where she was plump, Lillian had gotten used to living in the shadows of those more attractive. She didn’t know what to do with this mans interest, waiting for the punchline, a group of friends who had put him up to a dare coming up and slapping him on the back, congratulating him for holding up his end of the bargain.
Thom smiled at Lillian and she felt her breath catch, chastising herself for thinking such things about him before they had even gotten to know each other. She noticed that he had sad eyes, eyes that looked like he had seen more than they should have. Lillian felt herself relax in his company, still unsure how to hold a conversation with this stranger but her interest was piqued. What was his story? What made him take a bar stool next to hers when the bar was empty?
The bartender placed their drinks in front of them and Thom passed cash across the bar. Lillian still felt in limbo, taking her lead from Thom, not sure what he intentions were. Thom put his wallet in his back pocket and Lillian noticed that he was wearing jeans. They looked like department store jeans, strange for this part of town. Lillian was used to seeing business suits and ties, outfits that cost more than her weekly wage. What was this man doing here? Now that she took all of him in, he stood out like a sore thumb, so different from the usual clientele that she wondered how he had gotten past the security guard.
Thom asked if she would feel more comfortable at a table and she nodded. Lillian tending to leave after one drink, the bar stools were too high and made her legs go numb. They sat at a table in the far corner, away from the couple of groups who were also enjoying after work drinks.
Lillian felt her earlier reservations about Thom start to fade away as the conversation flowed between them. She felt like she was talking to an old friend, not a man she had only met twenty minutes ago. They shared stories, laughed and commiserated over the day they had both had. Thom was in town for a business meeting that had gown sour and she found herself sharing her tale of wrongdoing from that afternoon.
Thom watched her intently as she spoke, she felt like she was quite possibly the most interesting person that he had ever met. Lillian felt, for the first time in a long time, like she mattered. As she shared her life in small stories with Thom she felt a warm sensation growing inside her, a feeling of belonging.
Looking down at her wrist, Lillian noticed the time and realised that they had been speaking, huddled in this corner, for over 2 hours. She felt a sudden ache, knowing that she had to leave, to get a good night sleep before work in the morning but not wanting to leave this charismatic man behind. Thom cleared his throat and told her that he needed to leave as he had an early flight to catch. She felt her shoulders slump.
Lillian reached into her bag and thrust her business card into his hand before she lost her nerve. She didn’t know what she wanted from Thom but she hoped that he would call. He smiled at her, a reassuring smile that put her mind at ease. Thom stood, offering her his hand and if felt warm in her grip, his hands surprising soft, not matching up with the roughness of his face.
Thom walked her to do the door, she lived in the apartment building next to the bar. The noise could be unbearable but the rent was cheap. She watched him walk away, his footsteps sure, with purpose. Lillian turned and walked the few metres to her building.
Later that night, Lillian lay in bed, her work clothes changed for her tattered night dress. She played the meeting over in head, remembering the smells, the sounds and how he looked at her as she spoke. Lillian wondered if he would call, if she was nothing more than someone he used to pass the time. She pushed the thought from her mind, instead deciding to focus on the positives of the night. She closed her eyes, a smile starting on her face. For the first time in a long time, she went to sleep happy, she felt needed and desired. She wanted to cherish that feeling before the new day started and it was back to the grind of real life.
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