JM CONNORS - SPLIT
Thursday night, early December. We sat huddled around a sticky table, crouching on high stools, and drinking overpriced pints at the Golden Lion Pub on Bishop Street. I’d arrived about a half hour earlier with Tristian Lafleur and Mike Greely, two guys I’d known since my undergraduate in the English and History specialization. During our masters, I’d split for history, while they went onto into English, but we still did our best to meet up once a week, shoot the shit, and find an excuse to delay our research for another day or two.
The bar was swimming that night, even more so for a Thursday. Wasn’t hard to see why. The semester was winding down, and folks were peeling off from the university like a steady stream, disappearing off to wherever they had family. Plenty of professors, the kind that were mostly divorced or considering it, sat around the bar, slamming Heinekens and gossiping about who sold out for tenure and whose recent publications were the worst. Fellow grad students stood on the back patio, huddled around heat lamps, smoking cigarettes and bitching about grading, while undergrads filled every corner, laughing, flirting, and moaning over deadlines. The one thing we all had in common is that while we were in here, the university and all its demands and expectations was out there, half a block down the street. For one grubby Thursday night, this was freedom, incarnated as five-dollar shots, offensively faux-Irish cocktails, and a messy buffet table of too many chips and not enough salsa.
“Get a load of that.” It was Mike, motioning towards a table by the fireplace. “Prof. Bourdieu’s sitting with Kelly.”
I glanced over, spotting the prof and his grad student huddled in front of a chimney replete with stockings and tinsel. Jacques Bourdieu had a reputation around the History department. In the late 70s, early 80s, he was a force to contend with in Early-Modern studies, his thesis being that the rise of German influence in the 1800s could be correlated to rising cultural Chauvinism. More recently, he’d become infamous for pursuing his graduate students, particularly women like Kelly. She was driven, talented, and most important of all, blond and 5'11”. Word around the department was that she had a history of dating older men, including her previous supervisor at MUN.
“Think he’s gonna score?”
I sized them up from our table. She sat upright, was shaking out her long golden hair. She was someone’s imagination of Venus come down to earth. He slouched, had his top two buttons undone. He waved his arms as he spoke, his voice booming and proudly half in the bag.
“Nah. He’ll blow it,” I said.
“How you figure that?” asked Mike. “Too old for her?”
“Nah. He’ll make a move. It’ll suck. Things will go poorly, and in four weeks’ time we’ll learn she has a new supervisor.”
Mike chuckled, unconvinced. Bourdieu had been one of his favourite profs during our undergrad. Tristian, on the other hand, nodded in agreement.
“Poor bastard thinks he’s still got game.”
“He’s got more game than either of you lazy bastards,” Mike said.
“Fuck off,” I replied. “When was the last time you got laid?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“That girl from Early Modern Drama?”
“No, that went to shit,” Mike frowned. “This was just some girl I met at Hurley’s around closing time.”
“Does she have a name?”
“You’re a fucking romantic.”
We all laughed and cheers, slamming back half our beers each in the process. After we caught sight of our waitress and ordered the next round, I turned the conversation to the topic that was really on all our minds.
“So, Mike, who’s this girl Evan’s bringing tonight?”
Mike chuckled. His younger brother Evan had been single for as long as any of us, but without the slew of one-night stands, sloppy hand jobs, and other nonsense that kept our libidos satisfied and our phones filled with single name contacts we wished were in our lives. Where the three of us have been the kind of worthless guys women loved to fuck and forget, and were mostly alright with it, Evan was different. He was an all-or-nothing kind of guy in everything he did. Always the first to have one-too-many, to be found singing along to Killers songs in the back seat of a cab. The kind who always told women he loved them before he liked them, who thought about moving in before they’d even screwed. His mind kept thinking of big romantic gestures. Expensive hotels near Niagara. Sightseeing at old monasteries in the townships. Which cities looked the best in fall. Hell, he was the kind of guy who started thinking about marriage the moment he found himself crushing on a classmate.
It hadn't exactly been working out for him.
“He hasn't gotten laid in what,” I asked, “four years?”
“If ever,” muttered added Tristian.
“Bullshit,” I said. “What about that girl from Korea? Or that other one from Rimouski wasn't he seeing”
“Seeing is the right word, because that's about all he got up to as far as I know.”
I shook my head, disbelieving. I turned to Mike for a second opinion. He winced.
“Story of my brother's life. Like most guys out there, half his exploits are creative elaborations.”
“And the other half?”
He flicked his fingers into the air. “You tell me.”
“Fuck man.” I fell back in my chair. It's not as if any of us at the table had been lotharios in our teens but being a virgin in your mid-20s? That had to be hell on Evan’s self-esteem. I mean hell, there we were, talking like his virginity was some kind of urban legend. Shows how much we were programmed. Fuck. At least, if he was bringing a date along tonight that could only mean good things. And maybe, just maybe, that he was learning to tone down all his over-the-top romantic nonsense.
I sat up. “Well, you know what this means? We gotta do whatever we can for him tonight. I'm talking all out wingmen here, boys.”
Tristian nodded, while Mike looked unconvinced.
“Yeah, well, there's not much of a window. He told me she's leaving tomorrow, flying back to St-John's.”
“For how long?”
He shrugged. “A month? A year? Forever? The fuck do I know?” He looked us over, raising a finger and suddenly getting very serious. “So, if either of you yahoos fuck it up, or even think about poaching, I'll fucking slam you. My brother needs this.”
Seeing Mike that way, I couldn’t help but laugh. He was a big guy, with four inches and easily fifty pounds on either Tristian or me, but with his bushy red beard and crystal blue eyes, he looked more like an angry Chris Kringle than a genuine threat. “I'd hate to miss that. Where the hell are they then?”
“Banging in the alley. I hope.”
The conversation died down as we sipped our beers and scoured the room, almost meditatively. None of us had any grand intentions or plans other than to get ourselves shit-faced and slurring and to take one for Evan if it came to that. The night might have gone that way, with the whole lot of us stumbling out to catch the last metro, or drinking the place to the ground, had Evan brought any other woman as his plus one.
It was ten minutes to eight, just as the last calls for Happy Hour were making the rounds through the crowd, when some jackass snuck a couple of Christmas songs into the playlist, causing the drunks to joyfully sink along. It was in the middle of a Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time when I looked up and saw Evan pushing his way through the crowd. There was a light brushing of snow on his shoulders that tumbled like dandruff as he inched his way towards us with his date in tow. Underneath his open winter coat, I could see that he was wearing his usual dress to impress: pants two-sizes too large, big belt buckle, Anamanaguchi band shirt stretched over button up plaid, with an old grey blazer overtop.
He looked every bit the gamer nerd he tried his best to be.
She was something else entirely.
She moved with a confidence and ease that few lucky women in their late twenties ever found. Where Evan had to push and pat his way through the shoulders and backs of other patrons, the crowd thinned around her organically, like it was her birthright. She wasn’t slim but knew how to dress to her curves. She wore tight black jeans, white top, casual pumps, silver purse under her coat. Her hair was dark and asymmetrical, her lipstick so bright it could have stopped traffic. She looked every bit the kind of woman any heterosexual man wished was sitting next to them, the kind of woman most guys were too scared to approach nine times out of ten. She seemed every bit that woman who, where you finally found yourself turning your head to talk to her, knew she was out of your league, but maybe, just maybe, gave you a chance and blew your fucking world to pieces.
She didn't belong in a place like this, and from first impressions, with a guy like Evan. Not that any of that should have mattered. I was happy for Evan, wanted to be more than anything else in the world. But when I saw her walking up behind him, that nagging, awful feeling from deep inside my guts started to flare. It wasn’t that I was madly attracted to her. That, I could have lived with. It was what I did virtually every other time I’d seen a beautiful person in a public space, walking with someone by her side. Just take a breath and move on. But this time there was something else.
The problem was that I’d met her before.
It happened one night, about a month and a half earlier. I was at the History Department Halloween party. It was the first party I’d attended since entering the master’s program. Mike and Tristian had screwed off earlier, so I was on my own. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t feel very good about barging into the fun conversations all the undergraduates seemed to be having. The drinks started at five bucks and worked their way up somewhere past no thanks. Fortunately, I had a mickey of Smirnoff tucked into my back pocket, so I kept myself entertained and a happily sauced, until I bumped into her at the bar.
If it had been anywhere else, nothing would have happened. I would have seen her, and her me, and that would have been that. But on that night, our bartender was slow, too busy being distracted by a handful of suspiciously-young undergrads at the other end of the bar. I had been trying to get a beer to slow down my pace for the past five-ten minutes when this dark-haired woman in a Dracula cape and devil horns pulled up beside. I looked her once over, trying to figure out what her costume was.
She noticed me staring at her.
“Can I help you?” She asked, a little bit of snap in her voice.
“Just trying to figure you out. I see you got horns and a cape. Does that make you a poor man’s Christopher Lee?”
She scoffed. “Speak for yourself. What are you supposed to be?” She pointed at my getup. I was wearing torn jeans, and an old-plaid shirt, both of them drenched in fake blood.
“Hold on.” I put on the pair of plastic glasses I’d bought from the dollar store and smeared with fake blood earlier. “Now what? Who am I?”
“Close. Was going for Pearl Jam fan after a skateboarding accident.”
“That’s specific. Where’s your skateboard?”
I tossed up my hands. “Went up in flames. Shoulda seen the fucker. Real blaze.”
She rolled her eyes, took a step back and held out her cape. I saw that she was wearing black leggings, tank-top and boots underneath. “This was supposed to be a sexy devil, but what can you do when you’ve only got forty-five minutes to spare and no costume?”
“Coulda painted your face white and went as a sexy mime.”
She smirked. “Maybe next year.” She turned back to the bar and tried to get the bartender’s attention.
“It’s no use, he’s taken.” I pulled out my mickey of Vodka and set it on the bar between us. “However, I can make a mean Vodka and lime, but unfortunately I’m all out of lime.
She glanced at the bottle before reaching over the counter and plucking away a handful of lime wedges.
“Okay. Show me what you got.”
I pulled two shot glasses from the stack beyond the bar, squeezed a slice of lime into each before filling them to the brim with vodka. “I you like it cold, I'm sure I could sneak around and steal us some ice.”
She shook her head. “No point diluting a good thing.” We clicked our glasses and shot them back. When it was over, she gave me a sly look, and then the bottle.
“Got another one left in there?”
I lifted the bottle and gave it a shake. “More than enough.”
I smiled, and she smiled back.
“You're not from our department, are you?” I asked.
She batted her big eyelashes. “No. Psychology Master’s.”
“Shit. Almost done.”
“Two months and I'm out of here.”
I was in the process of pouring us another shot when the bartender spotted us and the illicit bottle.
“Hey man, you can't bring that in here!” He shouted, pointing a beefy hand in my direction.
Before I could respond, she flipped him the finger and nodded towards the teens at the end of the bar.
“Tell that to the jailbait at the end!”
We looked each other in the eye, laughed, and took our shots. I was about to ask her if she’d come with anyone when a group of older students, mostly in their late 20s, early 30s, waved at her from the entrance.
“Ah, duty calls,” she said as she stepped away from the bar, but not before giving my forearm a brush from her hand. “See you around the party.” She winked and disappeared.
That could have been it, but as the night carried on, we found a way of bumping into each other again and again. Another time at the bar, once while out for a cigarette, and another time in the stairwell leading to the washrooms out back. That last time, we didn't chitchat, didn't laugh and flirt the same as we'd done all night leading up until then. Instead, she pushed me against the brick wall.
“Hey.” It was all she said before she pressed her lips against mine. I kissed her back, reflexively, on pure instinct. There wasn't enough time for anything else, even as my hands found their way to her hips, she pulled back. “Gotta get going, but just wanted to say thanks for the shots.”
She winked again, before rushing away to catch up with her friends who were already in their jackets and making their way towards the exit.
“Anytime.” It was all I could muster as she strolled away with a smile on her face and then disappeared out that door.
It was only when she was gone that I realized I had never gotten her number. Never even asked for her name.
I felt a scream catch in my throat. I wanted to run after her, chase her down and get her details, but I found myself frozen to that spot. I couldn't move, didn't dare budge a muscle or blink an eye. I felt sure that if she wanted something more, she would have made an opening, not run away so quickly, stayed just a bit longer even after her friends had gone.
I spent the rest of the night feeling like an idiot and determined to get even more shitfaced. I finished the bottle, drank another two pints, got sick in my washroom later, and tossed and turned under my bedsheets all night, wrestling with the dream of her and the imagined curves of her body.
“Gentlemen!” Evan spoke, trying his best to sound magnanimous. “We have arrived.”
She came up beside him, and gave the table a vague, noncommitted smile. She seemed to be bobbing along to Paul McCartney, her head and hips swaying gently from side to side. Evan's hand found its way to her lower back, and he just stood there beside her, grinning like a contestant at an award show about to receive a prize.
“So, Evan,” Tristian cleared his throat and gave both him and his date an equally nonchalant look. “Who’s your friend?”
“Oh right!” He snapped to attention, sweat suddenly breaking out on his forehead. “This is Pardis.”
Tristian put out his hand and introduced himself, and then Mike did the same. When it came to me, I wasn’t sure how to act, so I decided to play it as cool as I could.
I put out my hand and she took it, turning briefly in my direction, expecting just another a name and face she'd forget by the end of the night, and when she let go of my hand and started sitting down, I thought for a split-second, that's all it was going to be. But then she did a sly double-take, smooth and almost imperceptible, her eyes flashing back towards mine, recognition flaring up behind each dark iris. For a brief moment she was caught off-guard. She suddenly seemed younger, vulnerable, her self-assurance peeled back just a layer. It was like spying something deep inside of her, something secret, something precious. Here she was, in the real and human. The dream had only been the time I'd spent wondering about her since.
I smiled, trying not to laugh. “Pleased to meet you.”
And then just like that, all her layers came back, and sitting before me was the same gorgeous, aggressively confident woman I had met back at Halloween. Only now, with a name.
She smiled back. “Enchanté.
My gaze might have lingered a little longer than expected, because the next thing I knew, Tristian was joking and nudging me with his elbow.
“Whoa now, I saw her first.”
I rolled my eyes.
Mike turned to his brother. “You two need a drink.”
“That I do.” He slapped the table. “What's everyone having? First round on me.”
“More like the fourth by this point,” I corrected, suddenly realizing that the room around me had become foggier in the past half-hour. I’d have to start taking it slowly.
He shrugged. “Guess we've got some catching up to do.” He laughed, and she smiled along. Our waitress came by and everyone put in an order for another round. Evan got himself a rum and coke, while she went for a red wine.
I looked over to her. “Hitting the house wine already? Pretty brave.”
She gave me a sly grin. “Figured I’d see where the night takes us.”
I chuckled and took a sip, realizing, but without intending, that I was already flirting with her. Evan didn’t seem to notice, or care. He sat by her side, practically beaming, proud to have returned with a catch such as her. I sipped my beer and reminded myself to play it cool.
“So how did you meet?” Tristian asked.
“Oh, that's kinda funny.” He turned to her. “Do you want to tell the story? No, I'll do it.” He cleared his throat and leaned in. “Well, turns out we have a mutual friend - Justin, you guys remember him?” We all nodded. “Well, his sister was a having a party at Olde Orchard the other week, and we happened to bump into each other there. As the night went on, I bought her a drink, she paid me back the compliment, and yeah, here we are.”
I kept my eyes on her as he spoke, watching her reaction. She smiled along and nodded but didn’t seem particularly invested in the story. Neither was I for that matter.
It was then that I noticed Mike giving me a strange look. I was about to call him out when Tristian slapped the table.
“Okay, next question,” Tristian asked, “how's the sex?”
Evan opened his mouth, held it there, looked embarrassed. I leaned in, hoping to catch her reaction.
She shrugged demurely. “Mind blowing.”
When the next round arrived, our waitress hung around the table.
“My shift's ending pretty soon,” she said. “Mind if I clear you up now?”
“Sure.” We paid what we owed to that point, knowing we'd reached the point in the night where table service was ending, and we'd have to start fighting for rounds at the bar with all the other commoners. So much for running up the tab.
Mike and Tristian were in the middle of an argument about which Roman emperor threw the wildest parties, when I leaned over to talk to Evan. Before I could open my mouth, Pardis pushed herself up from her seat.
“Gonna go hit the ladies.”
Evan looked up at her like a wishful puppy. She smiled, kissed him on the cheek and went to look for the washroom.
I locked up, watched her go from the corner of my eye.
“What were you gonna say Nick?” Evan asked after he was gone.
I shrugged. “I forgot.”
Seeing her kiss his cheek did something to me. For the first time in my life, I felt a pang of jealousy towards Evan. There he was, with the woman I never had. A woman so ravishingly attractive that I’d spent days questioning whether I had actually lived through that encounter with her, or if I had merely been looking over the shoulder of someone else’s life.
I took a long sip from my drink and tried to calm down. I knew what I was feeling but didn’t like where things were going. Maybe getting blackout drunk would make things easier.
Evan noticed me slamming back my beer. “Slow down champ! Leave some for the rest of us.”
“Sorry.” I set my glass down. I’d all but polished it off in the minutes since I ordered it. I burped, loudly, and watched as Mike continued to give me a death glare.
“What's up?” I asked. “See something you like?”
“How do you two know each other?” He pointed to her empty seat.
He frowned, apparently unconvinced. I turned to Evan and patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m happy for you bud,” I said. “So, fucking happy.”
“Thanks man,” Evan beamed. “You have no idea what this means to me.”
I nodded, smiled, and then stood up, deciding it was a good time to hit the men's room before getting on with my binge. As I weaved my way through the crowded floor and around bustling tables surrounded by undergrads at least as drunk as I was, I wondered if I was gonna be sick. It wasn’t entirely the alcohol that was getting to me. It was something more, something obvious, that I didn’t want to think about right then.
The washrooms flanked either side of a narrow hallway leading out back to the rear patio. Someone at this establish had the cute idea of labelling each door in Gaelic. The men's room on the right had a single word emblazoned on the door “fer” while the women's read “boireannach.” I wondered how many Jackasses had stepped into the wrong room by accident.
I was about to dip into the men's when I noticed Pardis standing in the hall, halfway down a line of pouting, impatient women waiting for their restroom to free up. Most of the women in the line were taller, and younger than her. Some were texting, others chatting amongst themselves. Pardis, on the other hand, simply leaned against the wall with her arms folded, a scowl across her lips. She seemed to stare absently at the tacky Christmas decorations adorning the wall.
I put my hand against the door to men’s, intending to step inside, but found my attention drawn over to her. I glanced back at the table. Mike and Tristian were laughing as Evan appeared to be telling them a very animated story.
When I glanced back to her, she was looking in my direction. A smile spread across her lips. Without further thought, I stepped away from the men’s room and walked over to her side of the hallway.
“Hey stranger,” I said, leaning against the opposite wall as a busboy rushed past us carrying a tray filled with empty pint glasses. She sighed with relief, grinning.
“Hey. Fancy seeing you here.”
She was giving me an opening. I thought of all kinds of things I would have liked to say. Something witty, something clever. But I settled on something mundane, something disappointing.
“How are things with Evan?”
It wasn’t the question she was expecting. Her face went blank a split-second, before looking detached.
I nodded. No disagreement there.
She sighed. “I mean. I was looking for something nice. And I found it.
“Listen,” she said, suddenly looking upset. “I wasn't expecting to see you again.”
“Neither was I.”
I almost laughed. “No. Are you?”
She shrugged and leaned closer so that no one else would hear us. “Only that things ended so early that night.”
I felt my chest constrict. I glanced around, making sure none of the guys were anywhere within earshot. “Unless I’m mistaken, you’re the one who kissed and ran.”
She looked guilty. “I had a boyfriend at the time, a real one.”
“Oh.” I had considered that possibility on and off in the two months since having seen her last. “You normally kiss strangers at a bar when you have a boyfriend?”
“Sometimes?” She shrugged. “You ever been in a relationship with someone that was doomed but you didn’t want to admit it.”
I nodded. I’d been on both ends of that equation several times before.
“Well this was one of those doomed relationships that went on for several months too long. When we broke up, I’d already felt like I’d been single for months.”
“Yeah, well, the sex was good, so it was hard to give him up entirely.” She chuckled. “But how about you? What’s your story?”
“Me? I guess I’m just in one of those places where I’m seeing two or three people on and off, and not hoping for much out of any of it.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Real blast,” I said, dryly.
The line moved ahead a couple of spaces. Pardis was almost at the door. I vaguely recalled that I had to pee, but was more than willing to hold it in.
“Can I be honest?”
“Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
“Do you think we should—”
Someone from the back of the line spoke up. “Hey! You guys in line or what?”
Pardis peered around my shoulder towards the offender. “We're having a conversation here.”
“Just kiss him already!” She shouted back.
“Grow up!” I chimed in, shouting back. “I'm not her boyfriend!”
“Then get out of the line for fuck's sake!” I heard a couple of consenting grumbles from the rest of the lineup.
Not wanting to start a riot, I jerked my thumb towards the men's room.
“Good talk.” I stepped back and was about to enter the washroom when a final thought crossed my mind. “Happy for you and Evan, by the way.”
“You don’t have to be. He's not my boyfriend either.” She chuckled and then disappeared into the women's room.
When I returned from the men's room, only Mike sat at our table.
“Where's everyone else?” I asked.
“Smoking, or pissing, I guess,” he said.
“Cool.” I took a sip from my pint, and noticed he was still giving me that funny look. Something was clearly on his mind. “Okay, what is it?”
“You sure you two don't know each other?” he asked, rather suggestively.
I thought about telling him the truth but was started to feel annoyed by the question. “Course not, why?”
I heard laughing, looked up and saw Evan and Tristian returning from the patio.
“It's just that I saw you and Pardis having one heck of a conversation down there.” He pointed towards the washrooms.
“You know how it is. We started joking about the signs, and then it got carried away.”
“Ah. Sure.” He scoffed, convinced I was lying. I shook my head, realizing I didn’t give a shit what he thought. It wouldn’t change anything about the time Pardis and I shared back at Halloween, nor the fact that we both remembered it clearly.
Tristian and Evan took their seats and dove back into some conversation about Nazi Germany. Pardis came back from the women’s room a little later.
“You get them mixed up?” Tristian asked.
“You know, it's funny,” Evan said. “I had that same problem the first time I came here. Signs messed me up. Only I chose the wrong door. Ended up hiding in a stall in the lady’s room for twenty minutes, waiting for an opening to sneak back out.”
“As you should,” she said. “We're a proud species, us women. If there's one thing we don't enjoy, it's trespassers.”
We laughed, and for a time, all was good. Drinks flowed, conversations followed. We shit-talked the Renaissance, bitched about America, and complained about the sad state of Canadian politics. We debated how much Neanderthal DNA was present in humanity, whether our ancestors killed them off along with all the wooly mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and giant sloths, or whether it was God or simply the weather that had done the wet work for us. To the latter, Evan was a firm believer in our ancestors’ guilt.
“Never underestimate our fellow man's ability to annihilate everything he touches.” He pronounced it like it was some great wisdom for the ages. Lifting his pint, “To our maniacal ancestors, for making us the apex animals we are.”
I might have been inclined to argue the opposite, that our ancestors were actually little more than big, dumb, and very horny animals, and that it was nature that took its course, but I was having a hard time keeping track of what everybody was talking about. It wasn’t just that I’d passed the reasonable five pints limit I’d set for myself, it’s that my eyes kept finding a way over to Pardis, and hers towards mine.
I found the sober part of my mind pulling me back, questioning what I thought was happening. There was no way we were being as obviously flirty with one another as I felt we were. She was being the good date, listening to his stories and joking along, and I was being the good wingman, being charming and fun, and never stealing the spotlight. And yet, something very real was going on across the table between the two of us, some secret conversation spoken entirely through sights and gestures.
It was honestly freaking me out. If I wasn’t so drunk, I might have been able to think rationally about it, but at that moment all I could do was feel the power of her gaze and the burning feeling that was slowly igniting in my chest.
When our glasses were getting low, I volunteered to hit the bar for us. Evan jumped up as soon as I did and promised to help me carry our glasses back. The bar itself was almost three rows thick with people lining up, hoping to place an order. When we finally wedged our way towards the counter, I noticed how Evan's gaze kept falling towards the polished surface, like someone in its reflection had caught his interest. When I looked down, all I could see across the warped wood was a twisted reflection. I couldn’t even make out my face from all the shapes and blurs.
“Can I ask you something?” It was Evan.
“Sure. Fire away.” I tried to look attentive. I was suddenly feeling vulnerable myself, wondering why he had decided to follow me to the bar away from all the others. Maybe he had caught me glancing at Pardis. If he called me out, I realized I’d have to be honest with him. I wasn’t looking for any more subterfuge that night.
“You think she's outta my league?”
“No, your mom. Of course, Pardis.”
I hesitated, then knew there was only one answer. “Hell, yeah she is.”
Evan laughed. “Same here.” He loosened up and glanced back to the table. “I mean, my fucking God. I don't even know how this happened. Part of me - a large part - doesn't believe it. Can't believe it. Like I walked into some fucking dream. Or that I’m living some other guy’s life.”
I knew that exact feeling. I’d been struggling with it every day since that night back in October. “I've heard of worse dreams.”
“I kinda wish it wasn't real,” he said, ignoring my comment. “You know? She's so hot it's scary.”
“You’re a lucky man.”
“Not lucky enough.”
“Because she’s leaving tomorrow?”
“Yeah. That's why this night is so important.”
The thought of her disappearing from all our lives for some indiscriminate amount of time filled my guts with dread, but I kept it down.
Evan turned to me, looking more serious than I’d ever seen him. It was weird seeing him like that. There was almost a desperation about him, something animal that he was trying to keep under control.
“I’ve honestly gone all out for her. We met up after lunch, walked around the Old. I even took her to Terasse Sur l'Auberge in the Old Port, for fuck’s sake.”
“I can think of worse ways to spend a day.”
“That’s because you’ve got no imagination.”
“Sure.” The first of our pints arrived. I lifted mine from the counter and took a sip. There was something that had been troubling me all night since they arrived. I had to ask. “Listen, have the two of you, well, you know?”
He shot me the side eyes, blushing. “Sure. Kinda.”
“Okay, we haven't had the chance for everything yet.”
“Fuck man,” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What the hell are you doing here?” It came out more slurred than intended.
“Her plane leaves in a couple hours. There wasn't gonna be time for her to meet you guys and then, yeah you know.”
I shook my head. If I had her by my side, I sure as hell wouldn't be spending the night at the Golden Lion with us usual jackasses. “You're fucking crazy.”
“No, I've got a time table, okay. It’s all planned out. St-John's isn't far. I'll visit her for New Years. She doesn't know it yet, but I already bought my ticket.”
I stared at him blankly. Evan was going all out again, and Pardis didn’t seem like the woman to be into that sort of thing. In fact, she didn’t even seem to be all that into Evan to begin with.
As we grabbed our drinks and returned to the table, I noticed she had her eyes on me the whole time.
When we reached the table, Tristian had changed seats, causing there to be an empty chair next to Pardis.
“Guess I'll see what life is like on the other side.” Part of me was glad to be sitting next to her, but it also meant no more illicit glances. And as the conversations resumed, she seemed to clam up. She never turned her head or shared one word. So much for whatever ideas had been going through my mind earlier. I was in the middle of deciding whether I should finish my drink or just hit the road when I felt a hand press softly against my thigh.
I didn't need to look under the table to know whose it was. I caught her grinning like a thief from the corner of my eye as she feigned paying attention to the conversation Tristian was having with Evan about Jack Kerouac and whether he was a sellout or the real deal.
At first, I didn't know how to react. I was excited, flushed from the beer and her touch, but also terrified. Evan would turn over at any moment and notice that something was up, that someone's hand wasn't where it belonged. But Evan, as much as he kept turning his head to check up on her, didn’t bother looking any further than her eyes. Feeling reckless, I slowly moved my hand over the back of hers, feeling her skin, her knuckles, and her fingers. I slid my hand further under the table and onto her thigh, just as she had done with mine.
Having our hands on each other’s thighs felt as close to bliss as I could imagine while still having our clothes on. It was unreal. I felt like either my chest would explode, or I would lose whatever humanity remained in me and pull her lips to mine right then and there. Either one of those might have happened had I not noticed Mike glaring at us from across the table. His eyes were fixed not on mine, but on the angle of our arms they crisscrossed out of sight.
I promptly pulled back and cleared my throat. She did the same, only slower and looking more casual. She raised her hand to stifle a yawn, but not before dropping it back down to give my thigh one last squeeze.
“Gonna hit the lady’s again.” She stood up and went without another word, both Evan and I watching her go. Noticing how she captured my attention, Evan gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder.
“Dude, cool it.” He laughed, and I laughed along. But then I gave it a full ten seconds before I stood up too, ostensibly to go to the men's room.
I found her hanging in the hallway between the washrooms, but she wasn't waiting in line. This time she leaned on the men’s side with her arms crossed, brow down, giving me the kind of look a teacher might give a disobedient child.
“Hey,” I said, no longer sure where things were going. “Listen, I—”
“No.” She grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me closer.
“So that thing with Evan--” I began, trying to keep my hands off her, to stay civilized, but the animal inside was waking up. I couldn't stop from running my fingers along the contours of her hip and stomach.
“Shh.” She bit her lip, closed her eyes, swayed a little to the music. She was drunk, but not nearly as drunk as I was. My throat went dry. I felt I had one last chance not to throw it all away, one last chance to remain a good guy and stick to the plan.
“He's totally crazy about you, almost in a weird way.”
She pulled me close, pressing her lips against mine.
Everything that had happened at the table leading up until then had been subtle, but the time for subtlety was now over.
She thrust me into the women's room, pushing past angry shouts from the women in the queue. Inside, there were five or young six women crowded around the mirror, some touching up their makeup, others playing with their hair and taking selfies. One of them glanced in our direction just long enough to give me the stink eye.
“Get out of here!” someone shouted. Another turned around, her phone held up and taking snaps of us.
“Fuck off,” Pardis snapped, knocking the camera out of her face and pulling me towards the stalls. I fell against her, my chest pressing against hers. We tried every door, but they were all occupied.
“Dammit,” she said, pushing me back towards the way we came. We stumbled into the hallway, our hands all over each other. Not wasting a moment, I pulled her with me into the men's room right across from us. Four men lined the wall, emptying their bladders into frothing urinals. There were two stalls, both closed. I was about to say fuck it and push her onto the counter when a door swung opened and a man stepped out towards the sink. He gave us each a single, uninterested glance as we pushed past him and locked the door behind us.
Inside the stall, she pushed me to the seat. I didn't have the chance to check if the man before had wiped it clean. I didn't care. There she was, looking down at me, her eyes magnetic and ravishing, her hair loose and wild, and her lips so red they might as well have been covered in blood.
She came down on top of me, sitting astride my legs, pressing her mouth against mine. Our hands moved frantically over each other’s body, writhing like wild animals. She had my lip between her teeth, gently pulling, her hands in my hair. I couldn't get enough of her body, her saliva. I had one hand cupped firmly around the contours of her ass, the other up the back of her shirt, toying with the idea of loosening her bra and going all the way in our little barroom gutter. I felt myself getting harder as her hands worked with the buttons on my shirt.
Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the stall door.
We froze, like two thieves caught in the middle of the night.
“Nick?” Mike’s voice. “You in there?”
Shit. Fuck. He must have seen us from back at the table. I had no idea what to say. With her sitting on my lap, her lipstick all over my neck, there wasn't any way of talking around this. I tried to assuage how much anger was in his voice but came up with a blank.
It suddenly felt like I was living through some other man’s unfortunate choices, watching over my own shoulder as the first of the consequences came rushing to meet me.
I glanced at Pardis. She was gritting her teeth and shaking her head. I would have preferred to hide there in her arms, to suddenly become small and insignificant and wait for Mike, but he wasn't going to do that.
Not having many options, I reached around her and opened the door.
Mike stood on the other side, turning slowly in my direction. At first, I thought he seemed concerned, maybe even curious, but when he spotted Pardis standing in the stall beside me his face went red.
“I fucking knew it.” He grabbed my shirt with both hands, lifted me off the seat and slammed me against the washroom wall. I heard my shirt rip and saw a button fly past the corner of my eye. “What the fuck man!?”
I tried to think of something to do or say, but I’ll I could see was Mike’s irrationally angry face glowing a few inches from mine, ready to tear me a new asshole then and there.
A big man over by the urinals quickly zipped up came our way. His black polo, crew cut, and earpiece marked him as a bouncer. He put a hand on Mike’s shoulder, and spoke softly, but firmly.
“Stop,” he said.
“Fuck off,” Mike growled. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Thee bouncer put one hand on Mike’s shoulder and squeezed.
“Gentleman, it sounds like we have a problem.”
For a moment, I thought Mike was going to spin around and clock the man in the face. He was clearly seeing red and though we’d been friends for years I had no idea what he was capable of after he was juiced up with six pint and a whole lot of rage.
Not wanting to start a bloodbath, I spoke up.
“it’s cool. Just a disagreement over how we're splitting the bill.”
The bouncer took one look at my shirt, then at Mike, then back to me. Mike was still raging, but I could see the tension slowly draining from his face.
“Is it settled, or do we have to take this outside?” He seemed more tired than anything else.
Mike tightened his grip on my shirt. The bouncer yawned.
Mike tossed up his arms. “Fuck it. I’m out of here.” The bouncer stepped away, letting Mike push his way out into the hall. He was in the process of following Mike out when he noticed Pardis in the stall behind me.
“Ladies room is on the other side.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and then disappeared after Mike. After that, we were alone, save for a man scrambling towards the urinals. I stepped out from the stall and put a hand on the counter to catch my breath. Looking into the mirror I noticed that my face and neck were covered with her lipstick.
“Yeah,” she said. “Your friend's a maniac.”
“It is what it is.” I realized I couldn’t blame him, not when I was the one at fault. I looked back at her and tried to smile. She still seemed ravishing, but I was feeling guiltier than I had in years. It wasn’t a good mix of emotions. “What did we get ourselves into?”
She leaned in and wiped at my face with a wad of toilet paper, trying uselessly to remove the smears of lipstick that covered me like warpaint.
“Nothing we didn't want to happen.”
I stood up and looked over my clothes. My shirt was torn at the shoulder, and I'd lost a button. “What do we tell Evan?”
She shot me a questioning look from the corner of her eyes, like I had just said something insane. “Nothing.”
I surveyed my face once again in the mirror, feeling fortunate that Mike hadn’t slugged me. I dabbed at my cheeks with some soap and water and tried to work away the smears.
“You head back first, then I'll follow,” she said, pointing to the door.
“Right.” I stepped back, letting a man in a hoody waddle past us towards the stalls. I was about to step back into the hallway when I felt her fingers wrap themselves around my arm. She moved up behind me and spoke in my ear.
“I lied about my flight to Evan. It's not at 3:00, it's at 8:00.”
She moved closer, her breasts pressing against my back, her lips touching my ear. She reached down and gave my ass a good squeeze. “The night’s not over yet.”
I had made up my mind earlier in the evening, only it had taken this long to realize it. From the moment I saw her again, I knew I had to have her, and her me. Everything in between was simple discussion, negotiation. I wanted her like I had never wanted anyone else. I wanted her even as it threatened to destroy me, to split me down the middle, tear me into two different men. One, who cared for Evan, his feelings, and whatever friendship we had. The other, pure id. Unhinged and animal, possessive and selfish. It was only a matter of time before I’d leave one half behind and move on with the other.
As I walked back, I realized then that the crowds were thinning out. It was half-past ten, meaning anyone with an ounce of good sense or a class in the morning had already paid up and been on their way. A couple of people around me were putting on their jackets, and a gust of cold air struck my back as someone opened the door to the patio.
When I reached the table, Mike was nowhere to be seen – his jacket having disappeared with him. Tristian looked up, gave me a suspicious glance, but said nothing. I turned in time to catch Evan making his way back from the bar carrying a tray lined with shot glasses. He reached the table at the same time I did.
He gave me a puzzled look.
“What the hell happened to you?” He saw that his brother’s jacket was missing. “And where’s Mike?”
“Men’s room got a little rowdy. He’s probably outside for a smoke.”
“Ah.” He nodded, as if that explained everything, apparently too drunk to care if it didn't. “Anyone seen Pardis?” He looked around as he set the shots in front of us.
“Probably still in the washroom,” replied Tristian with a deadpan face.
Evan laughed. “That's women for you.” He looked up. From the way his face started glowing, I didn't need to look behind me to know that she was making her way back to the table.
“There you are,” he said, and pulled her close for a quick kiss. She turned her head, and he pecked her on the cheek, looking only mildly disappointed. The two of them took their previous seat together across the table, with two shots lined up in front of each of us. We played along. It was all formality at this point. As we lifted the first shots in the air, I caught her looking back at me. Her face was blank, her lips pursed, but behind those bright eyes I could feel her burning for me the way I was now burning for her.
Tristian wiped his lips and pulled out his phone. “Well, it might be time to hit the dusty trail.”
Evan looked surprised. He pulled out his own phone at squinted at the display. “What? It's still early,” he protested, but Tristian was already standing up.
“Whoa, come on, hang around a bit longer,” Evan put up his hands, noticing that the mood had changed but not understanding why.
“Maybe he's right.” Pardis stood up too. “I had a great time, but I really should get going. Gotta get my things and then hit the airport.”
“Hold on.” Evan was on his feet by her side. “I'll drive you. It's cool.”
She shook her head, not looking him in the eye. “You don't have a car. And you're drunk.”
“Then we'll Uber.”
“There's no need.”
“Money doesn't matter babe, only you do. Only what we've got between us.”
Tristian finished his beer and pushed himself away from the table. He put a hand on Evan’s shoulder. “Come on Evan, let's get the hell out of here.”
Evan pushed him back, his eyes still on Pardis. “Don't let me hold you up.”
Tristian smirked, shot me a glance. “Catch you guys later.”
“What the hell is this?” Evan glanced around as we picked up and put on our jackets. Not having any other choice, he took his coat and tried to grab Pardis by the arm. “Come on, let's go.”
She shook him off and made her way towards the exit. I kept pace as best I could. Someone must have fucked to playlist at the Lion, because as soon as I reached the door I realized it wasn’t Christmas music but Tubeway Army’s “Are ‘Friends’ electric?” playing.
Outside, the sidewalks out front were covered in a light layer of snow, intercut with footprints and tire marks where a bicycle had recently cut past. A couple of patrons were idling about, chatting loudly and smoking. I spotted Tristian standing by the street, his coat unzipped and flapping with the breeze. Pardis wasn’t too far off, cellphone in hand. Evan hurried down the steps after her.
“Wait up!” He shouted, before losing his footing and tumbled down three steps on his ass, hand still on the handrail. Pardis made half a motion to go to him, but he was already back on his feet, wiping himself off. “I might have said or done something in there that you weren’t cool with, and I accept that. I’m a little tipsy, I made some mistakes.” I could tell by his voice that he was getting frantic. He might have had a few shots too many, but he clearly knew something was amiss, that something had changed.
I came down the steps after them. I would have liked to stand by Pardis, but Evan was taking up as much space around her as he could.
“Look, I'll get us the ride right now.” He had his phone in his hand, smiling. “We'll go to your place, get your shit, and I'll lug it all the way to the gate for you.”
“I said it’s okay.” She tried not to make eye contact with him.
“I’ll use my Uber, it’ll save you the money. See, I’m hailing one right now. We’ll make your flight, no problem.”
“There's no point. “
“Let’s go Evan, it’s okay,” said Tristian, cutting in. Evan didn’t pay him any attention.
Pardis was trying to avert her gaze, but Evan was being persistent.
“Why not?” He asked her. “Just give me a reason, that’s all.”
“Because my flight’s not until 8:00!”
Evan reeled back, trying to make sense of the new information. He suddenly lit up. “That's great news!”
She shook her head. She started shaking, looking like she’d explode any moment. “You're not coming back to my place, and you're not seeing me off at the airport.”
“Because I want to fuck Nick, alright?!” She shouted, her air of superiority and self-assuredness suddenly giving away a little. Tristian cringed. Evan’s face went blank. Even the men conversing by the edge of the stairwell went silent, realizing something was happening nearby. “You’re sweet, you’re kind, but I’m just not that into you, okay?”
Evan moved his lips but couldn’t make them form a sound. He spun backwards towards me, seeking confirmation that it wasn’t so. I tried my best to give him a neutral expression, one that showed sympathy, but also one that could let him down easy. I frowned, lifted my shoulders and nodded.
Pardis came over by my side, squeezing up against me in the cold. Tristian took Evan by the shoulder and tried to bring him away. Evan went along with it, still looking shocked and horrified, but then at the last minute he spun around.
“You son of a bitch!” Like his brother, his face turned beet red with the rage. He flailed his arms and his fist was in the air and moving towards my face before he’d even looked to see where it would land.
I didn’t dare move out of the way. I fully accepted whatever was coming my way.
His fist grazed my cheek, and for a split second I figured that would be the end of it. But it kept travelling, and he struck Pardis in the eye.
“Ah!” She cried, flinching backwards, hands going protectively to her face.
Seeing her like that, hurt and vulnerable, caused something in me to slip. I grabbed Evan by the collar and shoved him backwards as hard as I could. I watched as his shoes fought for grip on the snowy sidewalk and he fell backwards, landing on his back.
“The fuck!?” I snarled, lurching over him.
Tristian pushed me back. “Jesus Christ!” He shouted and proceeded to help Evan onto his knees.
Evan was moaning, and for a second I thought he might be really hurt, but then he twisted over and proceeded to vomit right there into the street.
I turned to check on Pardis. She was trying to slowly blink her eye.
“You okay?” I put my hands to the side of her head, trying to see if she was cut or only bruised.
“Ow,” she said, turning her head as her Uber – our ride – pulled up by the curb.
The driver rolled down the passenger side window. “Pardis?”
She nodded and moved towards the curb, around Evan and Tristian who was patting him on the back. I was about to follow her when I noticed Mike coming back down the street with a coffee in hand. He kept walking until he was about a dozen feet from us. Once there, he stopped and stared at me. His face, utterly sunken, given me a look like I was some modern-day Judas.
“Nick, come on.” Pardis was squatting by the back door, ready to get in, waiting for me. I gave her one look, and then turned back to the guys.
And then it happened, the moment I’d been anticipating all night.
I split in two.
All it took was an instant. I was no longer standing on the sidewalk between Pardis and the guys. I was no longer whatever man I had been all evening up until then, but a shadow, a possibility, hovering between the two men I had the chance of becoming from that moment forward. I found myself looking over my own blurry shoulder.
Everything was still, frozen in the cold night, my spirit watching two movies play out before me. In one, I saw, I watched myself climb into the back of the Uber with Pardis, the two of us ferrying off to her apartment where we’d spend the next several hours fucking. Through the other, I stood by the curb, watching her get in the car and go away alone, disappointed and still desiring, but ultimately no different than where I’d been after Halloween.
I tried to swallow, to breath, but found I could do neither. Time still stood still, the world waiting as I made up my mind. Stuck between fulfillment and regret, solitude and companionship, unable to discern which person I’d rather become.
I shook out of it, turned to Pardis. She seemed confused, anticipating, wanting nothing more than to get on the road.
Back to the guys. The betrayal in their eyes already haunting me.
So Nick, What’ll it be?
I followed Pardis into the car and watched as the city passed us by, the snow blurring out everything as we disappeared.
Tristian and I met periodically for a beer in the years that followed. Never more than the two of us, and rarely more than two beers. We would catch up, shoot the shit and claim that we still knew each other, but the truth is that we never did. I saw Evan once, at a conference in Toronto. He dropped out of the program at Concordia and re-entered a year later at McGill.
I never saw Mike again. Nor Pardis, for that matter.
As the two of us stood together before she passed through security, I talked about maybe flying out sometime or putting her up the next time she was in Montreal. She smiled and said okay. She kissed me on the lips, looked back once and waved. By the time she was around the corner and out of sight, I knew that was it. She was gone, disappeared the same as she’d done the first time, only now there weren’t going to be any more chance encounters lining themselves up. No unexpected meetings at the bar with friends, no passing each other in the streets. No more nights entangled in each other’s arms and legs.
I knew what I had given up and lost, what I had traded away, and what I had gotten in return. She really was the dream and I the unfortunate dreamer, the one who slept but never to fully wake.