We Have Our Orders

“Schnapps, please,” she told the bartender. She took the drink and in a precious few minutes, turned back for another. The formerly vacant seat at the bar by her was now filled with a large man. He looked like he was mostly legs. She could not see his face as he was turned away, watching a game of billiards.
“Another schnapps, please,” she ordered. The man next to her turned and looked at the bartender. “I’ll have one, too,” he said.
“With your coffee?” asked the bartender?
“Sure. Why not,” the man smiled as he turned his head slightly to look at her.
She could not help but stare at him. Not conventionally handsome, there was something oddly compelling and familiar about his face.
“The shop by the Canteen,” he said.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“That’s where I’ve seen you,” he said. “The book shop by the bar on South Street. You like biographies, right?”
“And you like the travel section.”
He laughed, surprisingly a lighter tone than she expected and she somehow she felt lighter too.
His eyes stayed smiling even after he had stopped and he said a bit more serious in tone, “I don’t like to travel really. I’m just trying to do my homework, that’s all.”
She noticed he was at least her age and she was fast approaching 30. Homework? Her confusion must have shown on her face because when he looked at her again, his smile went from his eyes to his mouth again and he explained that he was awaiting orders to be sent overseas for work. Could be England or Switzerland or Turkey.
She said she would give a lot to be able to travel outside of her little office. Before she knew it, she was describing the trapped feeling she had been carrying around for the past year or so. How she imagined all sorts of adventures when she looked at the faces of other subway riders on the way to work in the morning. How tired she felt at the end of a long week of pretense and denial and plastering fake smiles for the rest of the world while her heart broke a little every day knowing she wasn’t living the full life she could be.
She took a deep breath. Where had all that come from? She had thought she was content. Except for some niggling feeling of anticipation that something was coming. She had started feeling it the summer before. But here, at the end of winter, with the first warm breath of spring breathing new life into the city, she thought she was content. But she realized she had been only fooling herself.
“Hello. Where did you go there?” he asked.
She had forgotten she had been pouring her strife out to him. She had forgotten herself. She sat quietly, looking at him, hoping her hopelessness was again tamped down in her face. He seemed to sense she was at a loss for something so he did the only thing he could think of.
“Dance with me,” he said. There was a bluegrass band playing some blues. It was nice. They were an odd match on the floor but they fit like laughter at a funeral.
The evening passed with schnapps and bluegrass and laughter. As the bartender was putting up the last of the clean glassware and turning out the lights, the man leaned forward on the bar stool and kissed her gently, slowly. When he sat back to look at her, he was pleased to see her open her eyes with great effort. A spell that didn’t want to be broken.
“Here’s what I want for you,” he said to her. “Do something that really makes you happy. You’re the only one stopping you.”
She laughed then. Lightly. Not wanting the spell to be broken. “I guess we all have our orders,” she said.

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