I sit down on the red cushioned stool that’s closest to me and let out a deep sigh. I don’t usually do this; I don’t do things that go too far out of my routine, or my comfort zone, except for work. And I especially don’t go drinking at the bar alone.
But here I am.
I needed to get out of the house, and I needed a drink. One plus one...
Lately, Eric has been treating me a lot worse than usual. I think the stress of his job is getting to him, and he’s taking it out on me. He’s never home and when he is, all he does is complain and talk down to me. I have to do everything around the house because he chooses to work so much, and if the house isn’t spotless, the dinner done, the laundry washed and his clothes freshly pressed by the time he gets home, I get an earful. I’m starting to feel like his live-in maid more than his actual wife.
We got married two years ago, and it all started going downhill since then. He started taking on more clients as a real estate broker; I’m all for working hard, but when it impedes on your happiness, on your relationships, on your whole life, then it’s a problem. Especially since we really don’t need the money. We’re both financially comfortable enough not to want or need for practically anything.
A few months into our marriage, Eric started complaining that I wasn’t doing enough around the house. I work as a photographer, so I often work from home, and he implied that I was lazy for not taking time out of my work schedule to clean, get groceries, and take care of handling our finances. I’d tried to discuss hiring a maid to help around the house so I wouldn’t have to do everything. But, the conversation ended with him saying I was dumb for not understanding that it was logical for me to be doing everything around the house. That hiring a maid would never happen, even if I offered to pay for it with my own money.
Our love life, at that point, had pretty much come to a halt. No more dates, no more sweet moments, no more sex.
I’d tried, again and again, to get through to him. To try and make him see that we needed to fix things, that we needed to start working through this or get some help from a therapist. But he shut me down every single time.
One night, he started saying nasty things to me, calling me names, disrespecting me... I didn’t know how to react. Eric had always been a little dry and always had some leftover anger deep inside him after he was forced to leave the army. But he’d never stooped this low, even during our worst fights. When I stayed despite how he’d treated me, he took it as permission to treat me like crap from there on out.
So here I was, not being able to take another night of me having dinner alone, of him coming home late and me having to sit with him while he ate and complained about work. And hearing how horrible a wife I am because everything isn’t perfect by the time he gets home.
“You look like you need a drink.” I hear a deep voice say to my left as I cradle my head in my hands, elbows on the edge of the bar.
I turn around, and gasp a little too loud when I notice the man sitting a few barstools away. His gruff appearance is a stark contrast to Eric’s clean cut look, and he’s at least twice his size. His brown stubble matches his tousled hair, and his piercing green eyes are framed by long lashes and bushy brows. His square jaw clenches once and I lick my lips despite myself. I look down at the worn down wooden bar, and let out a nervous laugh. It’s rare that a man gets this much of a reaction out of me, but this guy looks like the daring hero from the latest action flick.
“What are you having?” He speaks again, and this time his rumbling voice sends a rush through my entire body.
I feel horrible for feeling this way about another man, but it’s also hard to blame myself too much considering the fact that I haven’t had sex in so long. Not by lack of trying, trust me. Eric just doesn’t see me like that anymore.
I manage to gather my thoughts when I realize the man is waiting for an answer. “Whiskey, straight.”
“That bad?” He scoffs and smiles. His teeth are perfectly straight and white, and I have to stop looking at him before my silent staring becomes awkward. He turns around and orders my drink. I notice the blonde bartender smiling a little too widely, and trying to show off her cleavage not so subtly to try and catch the man’s attention. She doesn’t, but I can’t blame her for trying. The guy looks like he’s been pulled straight out of your manliest, sexiest dreams. That’s when I look around and notice every other girl in the bar is also gawking at him.
Of course they are. He’s gorgeous.
Why is he even bothering with me? Any of these other girls are ten times more beautiful, taller, younger than I am. I want to roll my eyes at the self-deprecating comment, but stop myself. That’s Eric’s doing again. My confidence isn’t what it used to be.
“What do you mean? It’s the south, a lot of women drink whiskey.” My tone could have been a little softer, but I can’t help my sour mood right now. Not even for the handsomest man I’ve ever seen.
“I know. Aren’t southern women also supposed to be charming and sweet?” My blood starts to boil at his comment and I clench my glass, but before I can reply, he continues. “You’re married, the rock on your finger makes that clear, and the size of it plus the way you’re dressed tells me that you’re well off. All of those things make me wonder why you’re in this shithole all alone on a Friday night, drinking whiskey, and using that tone with a perfectly nice man who just paid for your drink. So I’ll ask again. That bad, huh?” He stares straight into my eyes, boring all the way to my soul, and I feel naked.
We stay silent, holding each other’s gaze for a few seconds, and then I break. I huff out a heavy breath. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being a complete jerk. I am usually a lot more charming and sweet.” I give him a halfhearted smile, and he slides over to the stool next to me. My breath hitches as I get a whiff of his cool zesty scent but I try to focus on my words. “My husband has been treating me like shit, and I can’t stand it anymore. I’m basically his maid, he doesn’t even look at me anymore, never mind touching me, and according to him, I’m dumb and useless. It’s been like this for like two years and he doesn’t want to do anything about it. I don’t want to even think about divorce but if things don’t change... There’s only so much disrespect a person can handle.” I barely pause as the words come pouring out of my mouth.
The handsome stranger just nods slowly while looking down at his pint of beer. I let out another deep breath, feeling like I just took a load off my shoulders by finally talking about this with someone. I haven’t told anyone, not that I have many friends to talk to. It just feels good to finally say it all out loud, no matter if this poor stranger has to be kicking himself for talking to me right now. I take a big gulp of my drink.
“Why are you even still with him? He sounds like a pretty big asshole, and an even stupider man for letting a woman like you slip through his fingers.” I look up and he’s looking into my eyes, his upper body tilted slightly towards me, and I can feel my eyes widen slightly as I take in his proximity. I glance at his lips before I can stop myself, and I see him do the same. Uh oh. This spells trouble.
I clear my throat and lean back a bit to put some distance between us. “Uh, so do you have a name?” My voice trembles lightly, but I desperately need to take my mind off the one-way trip to makeout town this is headed on.
“Yeah, it’s Jackson. What about you?” He swivels on his stool and our knees touch briefly. I feel a jolt of electricity shoot straight to my core, and to add to that, he reaches out to shake my hand. I hesitate for a second, thinking that I don’t want to touch him, but that it would be weird not to shake it. I lift my hand up and place it in his.
I feel another zing as our hands touch, and my legs squeeze together imperceptibly—or so I thought before I saw the corner of his mouth twitch up. His warm hand enwraps mine and I can feel the roughness of his skin against the softness of mine. I imagine what it would be like for him to envelop his whole body around mine, skin to skin, in my bed. But, once again, my eyes widen and I shake the thoughts away. When I realize we’ve been holding hands for way too long to be considered a handshake anymore, I pull it out.
“Ava. I’m Ava.” I whisper a little lower than I’d intended to.
He turns his face away but I can see him crack a smug smile as he reaches for his beer. He brings it to his lips and I can’t help but stare at how his plump lips mold the edge of the glass, and how his Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows.
I grab my drink and down the last sip. I clink the glass back on the wooden bar and take a deep breath. “I have to go.” I say matter-of-factly. I grab my purse and hop off the stool, my white heels clicking as they land on the floor.
He doesn’t say anything, just twists towards me a raises a brow.
“I just... I’m not a cheater. And you’re making me...feel things. And if I don’t leave... I don’t trust myself.” Was what I managed to get out. Being completely open with him was actually not that hard considering I’d never see him again. And, my quickly downed glass of hard liquor also helped.
“I see.” He says, getting up in turn. “Well it was a pleasure meeting you, Ava. I hope your situation will get better. I truly do. You deserve better.” His low voice has me leaning into him, but I snap back as soon as I notice it.
“Thanks.” I answer, climbing back into my awkward shell. “Uh...” I gulp, taking a step back. “I wish you good luck on... I didn’t ask a single question about you except for your name. Gosh, I must seem so self-centered. And pissy.” I chuckle, shaking my head.
He takes a step towards me and I take one backwards. I fear that if he gets close to me again and I catch another whiff of his scent, I might do something stupid like reach out to touch his skin.
He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off. “I’m really sorry, thanks for listening to me. I... I really have to go.” Then I turn around and practically run out of the tiny bar and catch a cab back to my house.
I stand in front of the white door of my perfect suburban house for a long while before resolve takes place, and I get back to my lonely, miserable life. At least I’m grateful for having stepped out of it if even for a few minutes with a stranger tonight.