A Simple Kiss

“Excuse me,” she said, “Do you mind if I sit here?”

He looked up from his drink, the slow light of awareness creeping back into his eyes. “Uh… sure… I guess. Have a seat.”

He watched the weight fall from her shoulders as she tossed her overcoat and purse onto the bar and settled into the chair.

“She’s quite pretty,” he thought to himself, noticing the how the cold had brought a flush to her cheeks.

“She must be meeting someone,” he thought.

“My God,” she said, finally getting settled in, “You think all the bars are as crowded as this one?”

He looked around and nodded solemnly. “Pretty much,” he said, “If not worse. This place ain’t exactly the trendiest in town.”

She took another glance around and laughed softly. “No, I guess it’s not, at that.”

She bobbed her head in the bartender’s direction, “How long do you think it’ll take to get an order in?”

“On New Year’s Eve?” he said with a chuckle, “Probably never. Let me see if I can get his attention.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of loose change. Sifting through the pile, he picked out a penny…

…and lobbed it at the barkeep’s back. “Hey Jimmy!” he shouted, “How about a couple over here?”

Jimmy turned with a look of irritation that morphed to a smile as he recognized his attacker. “Sure thing, Walt. Just a sec.”

Walter sat back and looked at his companion. “Says he’ll be here in a sec,” he said with a grin.

The woman laughed, “Well! I didn’t know I was in such august company! So how does one become a bartender’s favorite?”

Now it was Walt’s turn to chuckle. “By going broke in the bartender’s bar,” he said with mock sagacity.

Jimmy wandered up and leaned onto the bar in front of them. “Man, this is going to be a night and a half.” he sighed.

“That bad, huh?” said Walt, “it’s not even ten o’clock yet.”

“We’ve already had two people pass out in the john, and I count about 30 others on the brink of doing the same,” said Jimmy.

“And, I,” he continued, “am damn glad I’m not the one that’s going to be cleaning up after.”

“So,” he said, turning to Walt, “What can I get for you and your friend? Best order a lot now in case I can’t get back later.”

The woman watched with some amusement, and turned to Walt with a smile on her lips.

“Well, my friend,” she said warmly, “What’ll you have? Since you gave me a seat, the least I can do is buy you a drink.”

“Well,” said Walt, suddenly self-conscious, “I guess I’ll have another Martini… and maybe some soda for after.”

“And I,” said the woman, “Will have the same, along with a glass of white wine for later.”

Jimmy nodded and set about fixing the drinks, returning a moment later to set them down before the couple.

“Here ya go, guys!” he said, “The wine’s comp-ed on account of the holiday, but that’ll be $12.50 for the rest.”

The woman started to reach for her purse, but Walt waved her off. “No ma’am,” he said, “I’ll get this round.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” she said, firmly, “I’m buying and that’s final. Seriously, you gave me a seat in standing room only.”

Walt started to protest, but she shut him down with a wave, while handing over a twenty dollar bill to Jimmy.

“Keep the change, Jimmy” she said brightly, “I hope the night doesn’t end up being too hard on you.”

Jimmy grinned, “Thank YOU, ma’am! I’m sure it’ll be fine. You have a god time with Walt here – he’s good people.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will,” she grinned back, “He’s already proven to be quite the charming man.”

Walt blushed in spite of himself. He was beginning to like this woman.

He took a sip from his drink and turned in his chair to look at her. She really was quite pretty.

She noticed him looking, and turned to face him. “So what brings you out on New Year’s Eve all by yourself,” she said.

Walt looked down at his drink.

“I come pretty often,” he said slowly, afraid of how it’d sound.

“I knew Jimmy in high school, and he’s always been a good guy to me, so I come visit whenever I can.”

“He seems like a nice kid,” she said, “But a bar seems like a strange place to visit.”

“Well…,” said Walt, a touch defensively, “Like I said, Jimmy’s been a pal. He stood by me when nobody else would.”

“How do you mean?” she said.

Walt shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about any of this with a stranger.

But there was something in here eyes… Something that made him want to talk.

He took another drink and looked down at his hands. “I used to be married,” he began, “But things didn’t work out as expected.”

“When my wife and I separated, things got pretty bad, and I guess you could say I got depressed.”

“Go on,” she said.

“I felt like such a failure, you see,” he said, looking up at her, “I wasn’t comfortable around people anymore.”

She nodded, so he steeled himself to continue. “Why was it so easy to talk to her,” he thought, “I barely know her…”

“I started staying at home a lot; sleeping, mostly. But really just afraid to go out. Afraid of life, actually.”

“Most of my friends drifted away. Can’t blame ‘em, really… Nobody wants to be around a sad sack full of sorrow.”

“But Jimmy,” he said, smiling at a memory, “He stuck by me. He would drag me here once a week to keep me company.”

Walt looked down the bar at Jimmy, who caught his eye and gave a nod as he was pouring a round of drinks for some frat boys.

“Jimmy,” Walt continued, “Showed me that life can’t really be ignored. And that even the worse sorrows do actually pass us by.”

“It took a while,” he laughed grimly, “But eventually I came around to see Jimmy’s way of things.”

“The thing about this place, you see, is that life happens here regardless of whether you want to be a part of it or not.”

Walt gestured at the room around them. “People come in here, have a few drinks, and life follows them in.”

“They carry it with them regardless of how much they may want to hide from it. Watching the people here made me realize that.”

The woman looked at him silently as he finished, her eyes moving back and forth between his and the room around them.

Without either of them realizing it, the time had flown and the countdown had begun.

A cluster of people near the front of the bar had begun the chant: “Ten! Nine! Eight!…”

Walt and the woman looked up and the crowd, then back at each other, the weight of his bar tale between them.

“Three! Two! One!” roared the crowd, and a host of champagne corks launched like fireworks in the smoky air.

Walt smiled as he watched the revelries, then he felt the weight of her hand on his arm.

He turned to see her rise to her feet and approach him. Leaning in without a word, she kissed him.

“Happy New Year, Walt,” she said, looking up at him as she pulled away, “My name is Wendy.”

“And welcome back to to the land of the living.”

Walt looked down at her in amazement, but before he could say anything she began to pick up her coat and purse.

“I have to go now if I’m ever going to make it home by sunrise,” she said, while fishing around in the latter.

Removing a pen, she grabbed a napkin and started to scribble something down.

As she finished, she placed the napkin beneath her wine glass, before turning back to face Walt’s curious eyes.

“Would you tell Jimmy I said goodbye? He was right about you. You really do have the soul of a poet.”

Walt stared, thunderstruck. “What… I mean… How did… you…”

She smiled, “I’ve known Jimmy for some years now as well. He lives in my building.”

“I used to be depressed, too, you see,” she continued, “And like you, Jimmy taught me how to look at life again.”

“Only, instead of a bar, he told me about you. About how you struggled to reattach to a life you’d almost left behind.”

Walt stared, comprehension slowly warming his face.

“After a few months,” she continued, “I knew I wanted to meet you. To meet the man learning to love again.”

“And,” she said, looking around the room with shining eyes, “What better night to indulge in a bit of hope and glory?”

“I’m sorry I have to leave so suddenly, but I left you my number so that we can meet again.”

She pressed her hand to face once again, and Walt felt a tear slip gently from his eyes. “Wendy…,” he said.

“Shh,” she said, “Call me tomorrow. Please? Say you will?”

Walt looked at her, then at Jimmy, who was smiling and holding a glass of champagne aloft like a beacon of light.

He looked back at Wendy, at the shine in her eyes, and knew he would do just that.