I waited almost an hour, never once looking at my watch, but knowing how much time was passing. Just as I finished my fourth beer, she walked into the bar.
She looked as if she had run all the way into town from Millford, where she worked as a manicurist. It was her way. Everything was rushed, even when it took half the day. It was part of her charm, that harried, frenetic appearance that made you want to hand her a drink and heal her wounds.
"Sorry I'm late."
"Not a problem. I saved you a seat."
The bartender came by and winked at her, as bartenders often did. Beautiful and dangerous women tended to do that to servants of the public will, and bartenders lacked the invincibility required to look away.
"Give me a daiquiri and something stronger."
For most people, the bartender would have insisted on more detailed instructions, but for her they already knew what she wanted. Sometimes I figured they knew what she needed as well, but such knowledge would leave them unemployed.
"Everything okay?" I asked her.
"Nothing is ever okay. Things are just what they are."
"I wasn't sure you'd come after last night."
"You said you were buying. At this point, that is enough for me."
There was a blockade around my mind, reminding me that what I had done was honest but stupid. The two sometimes went hand in hand and I had learned to accept that, but she was yet to reach that point. For her, honesty was dangerous, and although it was a concept she embraced most of the time, it often scared her. Honesty left her without half her defenses.
"I was ready to give you everything, you know."
"I know, that's why I had to tell you that I couldn't. I could, but not really. Not the way you want me to," I told her as our collection of healing spirits arrived.
"I don't think I could handle being number two for the rest of my life. I need more than that. The truth is, I don't think I've ever been number one in anyone's life. They've told me that I was, but people lie through their ass to get laid sometimes."
"I've tried to go that avenue, but it always fucks me in the end."
"No pun intended?"
"I spent a good part of the day trying to decide what I'm going to do with you. I thought about walking away and telling you to go to hell. Then I started thinking about how you are one of the best friends that I have. It never dawned on me until today that the sex and relationship bullshit hasn't been the reason I've been with you."
"I try. That's all I can do, but I can't betray myself. I can't betray my true feelings. Sometimes I use women as bandages. I hate myself later for it, but sometimes I just don't want to be alone. Other times, being alone is all I want. I don't think she's ever coming back, but that doesn't change how I feel. She isn't a threat to you. She just hangs there where I can't reach her."
"Go find her and get some fucking closure before you lose your mind. What is the problem with this bitch?"
"She has what every other woman I've been involved with wants, but she won't take it because she's afraid she'll then become like every other woman. As a ghost she knows that I am hers forever. She's a real bitch that way."
"Is that worth losing me over?"
"I didn't tell you to go. I didn't say I wanted you to go. I want you to stay, but you needed to know about her. At this point not telling you would have been a lie."
"Because I love you too much to pretend any longer."
We talked and drank at the bar for the next two hours, never slowing down long enough to look around. She traced her index finger around the rim of her glass, staring down at the bar and weaving brief, but mostly interesting tales about the men who had been in her life before me. None of it was very pretty and I came to realize she had never known a man who understood the definition of love or romance. She was sad. Her sadness made me love her more.
"You break their hearts because you are in love with their sadness," he told me as he tossed pebbles into the reservoir, never once attempting to make eye contact with me.
"Their sadness reminds you of her more than any other part of them."
"I've always been drawn to unhappy women."
"White knight effect. You have this complex where you are obsessed with helping people. Not everyone can be helped. Sometimes you have to let go."
"Do I need to let go of her?"
He finally made eye contact.
"You have to hold onto her for the rest of eternity. The things you've given her and the things you've promised her, they mean nothing compared to what is really inside you."
"She is inside of me."
"Yes. She is inside of you, in more ways that you could possibly know. Your obsession with helping people stems from your inability to help her. She won't let you. She does in her own little ways, but regardless, you have to give that love to someone when she isn't there. She has simply awakened too much in you."
"This is so fucking hard."
"They all mean something, you know. Being with someone isn't the be all and end all of anything. What you give is what mattered, and you have given much. Just because you break their hearts by not being the man on the white horse, you are still someone they remember. You heard that girl telling you about the men in her past. When she talks about you, she'll tell a different story. You played a role in her life, and it was a role she'll remember as she gets older and looks back."
"Thanks. You're a good bartender."