She was on his mind every day regardless of how many times he tried to push her out.
She has a boyfriend.
Every time she invaded his thoughts he had to remind himself that she has a boyfriend.
Torture. That’s what it is. Every day he thinks about her, her eyes, her beautiful smile, the brown of her skin, the way she smelt, the curl of her hair and he knew he was losing his mind. He always saw her brown eyes, they were a rusted amber color that had to be created only for her. He remembered the way she looked at him when she realized just who he was and what they were supposed to be. Forever. Soulmates. She went through so many emotions in such a short period of time. He committed to memory every expression. He felt it as soon as she said her words and he knew she felt it too, she had to but she fought against it. After she ran off it kind of hurt. He didn’t want to admit it but it hurt like hell.
His mind constantly drifted back to the conversation they had after their first meeting; it was extremely awkward. However, the longer they sat in each other’s presence, it felt natural, like they were falling into an easy rhythm. He liked that. He hadn’t had that in a while. Not even with Natalie. With Natalie, there was excitement but she was analytical where he was creative. They worked but there were many times when they didn’t. He could see it now.
Of course, she had something to do with her boyfriend, so she left, and it was like… something inside of him left with her. He missed her and he didn’t even really know her.
It was because of his alleged constant “moping”, that he was dragged out for a night downtown at the new Jazz club The Broken Spoke. Blake and Eric insisted that he tag along with them, it was Open Mic Night and they wanted to be there because women turn up for Open Mic Nights. He was an artist but creative writing was not a strength besides he was more of an illustrator, a painter, a sketch artist…
“Hello! Earth to Mike!”
He blinked in surprise as Eric waved his hand frantically in his face. Blake watched him with a cool expression while Eric tried to stifle a loud laugh. Their eyes focused on what Michael doodled on the pad he always carried around. He’d been absentmindedly doodling and he finally glanced down at his pad and immediately felt embarrassed.
“You’ve been doodling her name for weeks.” Blake murmured as he slipped his hands in his pockets.
“This is sad.” Eric said as he slid into the booth and draped his arm around his best friend. “You have to get over this.”
Blake was mysterious and “dreamy” as Natalie used to say and Eric was so cool and open. It annoyed the hell out of him. He could never be like either of them. Michael was always the reserved one, always had been. Reserved. Not mysterious.
“Look, could you at least go and get a drink? Act like you’re going to have fun? Cool?” No answer. “Cool.” Eric pushed himself out of the booth and walked off, not missing a beat in his mingling.
Sometimes he hated Eric. They’d been friends since freshman year in college and it was because of him that he got out of his comfort zone. Blake came along some time around senior year and he just mixed right in. He was quiet but apparently there was something alluring about him. Eric was the shortest of the three, but he stood tall. Michael watched as he moved over to a booth full of beautiful ladies. They flirted. Eric was brown skinned with light eyes and girls seemed to just swoon. Always the lady killer.
His eyes fell on the girl at the far right in the group. He jumped to his feet thinking he saw… but in the end, it turned out not to be her. He stood there awkwardly for a moment before taking a wary glance at Blake who regarded him with dark green eyes.
“You should go and get a drink.”
Michael plopped back down with a loud sigh. “I don’t want to get a drink.”
Blake ran a hand through his dark hair and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “Listen Michael. I know you can’t stop thinking about this girl, but, there’s nothing you can do. She has a boyfriend and in the end, the choice is hers. Right?”
Michael wouldn’t look at his friend. Eric was charismatic while Blake was observant and seemed to just understand everything. They both knew what happened and they had different takes on what Michael should do.
“Alright.” Blake stood. Michael didn’t even remember seeing him sit down. “We’re here to have a good time. There’s good music, a cool atmosphere. Do something other than draw.” He walked away and Michael wilted. He shouldn’t have left the apartment. He looked down at his pad, looked into the eyes he couldn’t forget and closed the book.
He forced himself to walk to the bar. It was long with three bartenders. There wasn’t a ton of people in The Broken Spoke but it seemed to be popular as all of the bartenders were busy so he slid into a seat at the end. After a few moments of waiting, the tall bald bartender stopped in front of him.
“Sorry about that. There’s always a rush at this time. What can I get you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know in as you’re not much of a drinker or you don’t have a preference?”
“Both.” Michael wasn’t much of a drinker. He’d go out with his friends and have a few, or Eric would throw a party and he might drink but that was never a vice for him. He never knew what to order. The bartender nodded and seemed to think for a moment.
“Okay. I’ll give you something simple.” He turned around and did his bartending magic and slide a tall glass of dark liquid to him. “This is a rum and coke.”
That was one of his dad’s drinks. He tried it and it was… okay.
“Good?” The bartender asked with a raised eyebrow.
The guy moved away to help someone else. Michael sipped at his drink and watched the people in the building. Someone was singing on stage, people were chatting in booths, chatting at tables and some were dancing to the girl’s song. It was nice.
He could see Eric swaying with a leggy girl on the dance floor. He glanced around till he found Blake leaning against a wall talking with a redhead girl. Some people just had it.
“You good over here?”
“Are you here alone?”
Silence. Awkward shuffle.
“I might as well be.” He nodded to where his two friends were. “They’re doing their thing.”
Blake was tall and long, with his dark curls and green eyes. Girls just loved him. He and Eric were polar opposites but they had the same affect on people and neither one of them cared about soulmates.
“Not much of a ladies man?”
Michael turned away from his friends and leaned his elbows atop the bar. The bartender watched him with dark eyes. It was intense.
“What, you going to be my therapist now?” Michael chuckled.
“Well you know, we do do that sometimes.”
The intensity cracked when he chuckled and swiped a few glasses left on the counter. Michael always wondered if that was a real thing and apparently it is.
“Everyone doesn’t do it but I enjoy it. I went to school for psychology. People are interesting.”
“Is that why you became a bartender? To practice?”
“Nah. I like bartending and it just so happens I can talk to people. I wear a suit and tie during the day. Not much interaction with different people.”
Michael didn’t have to worry about not having people to talk to. He worked in a museum as a tour guide on the brink of becoming an educator. He saw hundreds of people a day. He loved art and wanted to be as close to it as possible. One day, he wanted to see his paintings, old sketchbooks, original comic drawings put into a museum to be seen by people forever. He always loved the idea of “forever”.
The bartender was called away, so Michael sipped more at his drink and turned back to the crowd. Eric was now sitting at a table with three different girls. One of them seemed intrigued by him and the other two were watching and talking amongst themselves. He searched the room for a tall figure and found him talking to the same redhead he was talking to before and even from far away, Michael saw something different in Blake’s body language. Michael watched for a moment and like he could feel the stare, Blake’s green eyes cut in his direction and they were wide. He’s never seen that look before, not on Blake but in the reflection of Theo’s eyes.
Did Blake meet his soulmate tonight??
Jealousy crept through his body at the thought. At the sight. It clawed its way from his stomach through his chest and he tore his eyes away from them and he tried to push it away.
“Ready for another one?”
He jerked hearing the voice of the bartender walk up to him.
“What?” The words caught up with him and he noticed his empty glass. “No.”
“I think you do.” The Bartender mixed another drink. It seemed stronger this time.
“It’s so easy for some people.”
He had no clue if that was actually Blake’s soulmate, or if she was single, or if she was even interested in falling into that black hole that was fate. But it was the fact that someone who is indifferent to soulmates, someone who is so casual and so unbothered looked so…
“Hey.” His eyes snapped up to face the tall man before him. The Bartender’s expression seemed a bit worried. He wasn’t angry, at least he didn’t think he was. “I don’t what happened in the two minutes I was gone but get it together.”
“You don’t know me.”
“No. But you’re different now. Why?”
Michael clenched his jaw. This man was not his therapist and he didn’t have to tell him anything. Plus, it wasn’t like he was that much older than him, it wasn’t like he was this adult who had all of the answers. The bartender’s eyes flickered away from him for a few moments before settling back on him.
“So, you buy into this whole soulmate thing?” Silence. “Look. We’re human and we have free will. It’s not true love.”
“Yes it is.”
“No it’s not.”
“How do you explain the feeling then? You must not have met your soulmate.” Forget the sip. He drank.
“I have actually.”
Michael arched an eyebrow at the bartender’s words. It was impossible for him to have met his soulmate if he was so nonchalant about it. His parents are soulmates and they were in love. They argued because they’re human but they loved each other like they need each other to live.
“Then how can you say that? If you’ve met your soulmate then you know how it feels to hear your words and feel like every breath in your body–.”
“Because I make my own way. Just because I met my soulmate does not mean that I’m going to fall for her. She’s a stranger to me.” The Bartender rested his hands on the bar and spoke with a calm demeanor which irritated Michael. “I work in an office because it’s what I have to do but this is what I prefer to be doing.”
“So what?” Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Are you saying that fate pushed you into your office job but you go against it by being a bartender?”
“We choose our own path. Just because the universe says you’re supposed to do this with your life, or be with that person, doesn’t mean you have to listen.”
Every since he was a little kid, Michael knew what he wanted to do with his life. He loved art. He did different kinds and wanted to be around it as often as possible. That’s never changed. Michael liked signs. Whenever he felt there was a sign, he’d follow it. It lead him to greatness in many ways. Maybe not right away but life isn’t perfect. He ended up in the museum because he met someone randomly one day who worked there. He took it as a sign and applied. Look at him now, he’s moving up and he actually loves the museum.
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that you have to ignore it when a sign does come. People ask for signs all the time.”
“If you can’t find direction on your own–.”
“So you’re one of those then? One of those people who just ignore it when something is put right in front of you for a reason?” Michael ran a hand through his hair at the thought. The Bartender watched him. It made him uncomfortable. Michael wrapped his fingers around his sketchbook tightly, trying to maintain the stare.
The moment broke. The Bartender pushed off the counter and turned away from Michael. He spoke to the brunette bartender who nodded and smiled. He turned back to the young artist and rolled his shoulders.
“Taking a break.” Silence. Stare. Moves around the bar to take a seat next to Michael. “So it’s obvious you’ve met your soulmate. I can only assume that it wasn’t happily ever after for you?”
“She has a boyfriend.”
Now that he was sitting next to him, he couldn’t see his expression. Not that he really wanted to anyway. He heard the man make an understanding noise. It was quiet again. The only thing making a sound was the band playing in the background. He was sure Blake was still in enthralled with the redhead and Eric was still making his way through the lounge. Here he was, sitting next to a bartender who clearly doesn’t agree with him and he hasn’t moved yet. Maybe he just needed someone who wasn’t close to him to talk with. They always say it’s easier to talk to a stranger about personal problems.
“There’s nothing you can do about that.”
“I know.” Two drinks appeared in front of them and he took one like a thirsty man in the desert. Drink. “But what happens to me if she doesn’t choose me?”
He didn’t want to end up like his aunt. She found her soulmate, according to her, the woman was beautiful and everything she wanted in a partner but she was engaged to another woman. The woman chose to be with her fiance instead of his aunt. Aunt Sharon was still single. He loved his aunt but she always seems sad… would that happen to him if Theo chose her boyfriend and not him? Would he be sad for the rest of his life? How could anyone ever measure up?
“I wish that it wasn’t like this. I’m an artist, I agonize in general,” Soft chuckle. “But I don’t want to be in pain for the rest of my life.”
“You have to make waves for your own life. I mean, what if you have to wait five years or ten years before you see her again? You make your own choices. Life doesn’t happen to you. You happen to life.”
Ugh. He didn’t even come here for this. He came here to have a good time. Well try to have a good time. He’ll probably be up late tonight sketching again. He might have to break out the big guns and cover up that hole in his wall with a new mural or something.
“This whole soulmate thing has people doing things they probably wouldn’t if they didn’t think their life was mapped out for them just because of some magic little words on their body. If we didn’t have them then none of this would a problem.” Pause. “I think you have to just live your life man. My parents aren’t soulmates and they’re happy.”
“My parents are soulmates.”
“Good for them. That doesn’t have to be you though. Artists always make their own way. I don’t think it should be any different from you.”
Michael also couldn’t help but to think about her boyfriend. If Theo did choose him, then what will happen to that guy? He’s been in that position before where he wasn’t the soulmate and he wasn’t chosen. It hurt like hell. Michael didn’t think he was a bad guy and of course he wanted Theo to choose him but… god this is so hard.
Silence loomed over them again. How could he love someone he didn’t even know? That’s what this guy was saying. That’s what kept him from making the choice of going after his soulmate. Michael wasn’t sure if he could do that though. Even without the matching soulmarks, he felt a connection to Theo, he knew he could love her no matter what.
“Hey man.” Eric sat on the barstool on his left and released a huge yawn. “I’m beat. You wanna go?”
Eric waved his arm somewhere behind him without actually turning around to see. “He’s talking to that redhead over there. I think she’s his soulmate. I’ve never seen him look like that before.”
“That’s what I thought.” Well good for Blake. He took a deep breath and allowed himself to come down from being wrung so tight due to the extreme jealousy he couldn’t help but to feel. Now that’s drained away, he felt exhausted.
Eric looked past him at the man on his right. The Bartender nodded at him and downed the rest of his drink.
“Steve!” One of the girls shouted from behind the counter. He made an annoyed noise and jumped to his feet rolling his neck.
“Guess I have to get back to work. It was cool talking to you man. You finished?” Michael pushed the empty glass to his outstretched hands and watched as he walked back around the counter. “Good luck in everything.”
Michael stood to his feet and stretched his limbs, he noticed that Eric was trading eyes with the brunette behind the bar. Michael shook his head and patted his shoulder.
“Come on man.”
He grabbed the back of Eric’s shirt and he stumbled back off the stool. He made a “call me” sign at the girl who winked at him. Michael shook his head.
“You okay?” Eric asked once he got himself together to catch up with his taller friend. Michael shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets as they moved towards the door. Blake was waiting for them with a mystified look on his face. “You get that girl’s number Blake?”
He nodded, his green eyes looking through his friends. “Yeah. Her name is Delia.”
Yep, soulmate. Michael knew because he acted the same way when he told them about Theo. Eric laughed and nodded turning Blake away towards the door. After he had a chance to get his life together, Michael smiled. He was happy for Blake. All the ladies could eat their hearts out.
Just as they got out the door, he realized he’d forgotten something.
“Oh hold up, I left my book. I’ll be back.”
He turned back made his way back towards the bar. He narrowed his eyes seeing The Bartender standing there flipping through his book. Michael didn’t mind people looking at his work but he’d rather if he was showing it instead of them stealing looks. As he got closer, he noticed The Bartender’s eyes were intensely focused on the pages.
The Bartender had a tight hold on his sketchpad. After what seemed like forever, he looked up at the young man before him, his eyes a mixture between confusion and anger. He slammed the book down on the counter and slid it towards him. With a downward glance, Michael saw just what he saw.