Jim was absentmindedly wiping down the bar when she flooded into the room. The second he glanced lazily in her direction, he was awestruck.
The dark and dingy hole-in-the-wall bar this newcomer discovered was thick with stale sourness, lost hopes and runways. And when she walked in, the crisp mid-morning light she brought in with her was like a sign from the angels. There she stood in the doorway, all curves and sureness, with the light brushed along her edges like a halo, signalling something new on the horizon. It was all so prophetic and surreal that it struck regulars into a stupor-silence. She was too beautiful to reprimand. Too soft and inviting. They’d happily deal with the cold air she let flood into the room. So long as they could watch her move.
She didn’t meet eyes with Jim right away (no one ever pays attention to the bartender), but that didn’t stop him from staring at her, mouth slightly agape. She scanned the interior of the bar with her creamy brown eyes; she was obviously looking for someone, and it was even more obvious that that someone wasn’t there. Her dark brows furrowed slightly, forming shallow waves of carmel skin in the center of her forehead.
When she turned her head towards the bar, Jim found himself standing a little straighter, flexing what little muscle was on his sinewy, freckled arms. He grabbed an oily glass from the counter in front of him and tried to look purposeful as he wiped it down with a flimsy white and blue checkered towel. Jim gulped in anticipation, mouth refilling with saliva, and he began to breathe heavily the nearer she got to him. She found the corner of the bar to the left of Jim, and she drummed her fingers on the sticky wooden counter without once looking up.
She was the kind of woman who asserted attention, and she commanded that as Jim stood watching her, trying to build up the courage to walk up to her and ask her what she’d like to drink. Now that she was closer, he could drink her in more greedily. It was clear she intended to stay for a while. As he looked her over, he noticed the simplistic beauty of her: she wore a soft black tank top that hugged the curves of her shoulders and chest in a demurely seductive way. Her full lips were tinted in a deep red that complimented her rich brown skin. Her hell fell against her shoulders in thick, honey brown curls. Not her natural color, Jim thought, but captivating nonetheless.
Jim tried to imagine him standing next to her with his arm draped across her shoulders, and he thought what a sight that would be. They were polar opposites in almost every way. He was a lanky-tall, red-freckled man with bright red hair he kept shaved short to draw less attention to himself. She was a medium-height caramel brown goddess with thick ringlets of hair and curves that would send any man wandering down a rabbit hole for hours on end. Yes, he thought, what a pair we’d make. But he had to try nevertheless.
Slowly, Jim worked his way over to her, cleaning a napkin away her, refilling a bowl of peanuts there. He didn’t want to walk straight up to her. That would be too desperate. And he had a better chance with her if she didn’t take him in all at once. When he was close enough, he laid down a wrinkly white and red Budweiser coaster in front of her and asked what she was drinking.
“Whiskey neat,” she answered and that was that.
Jim gulped. Usually people waited until the sun was somewhat on its way down before they started on the harder stuff. Or they’d at least have a Coke to chase the whiskey to keep up appearances. Something they could sip sparingly after gulping down the fire.
She still didn’t look up at him. She simply twisted and flipped the coaster while she waited for her drink. He grabbed a shot glass, poured a double and set it in front of her. It didn’t last two seconds before she scooped up the glass, tilted her head back and gulped it down without a single grimace. She set the glass down and said, “Another please.”
This went on for about an hour, and in that time Jim learned three things about her: her name was Lena, she was from Alabama, and she was looking for a good time tonight. That last fact she blurted out while she tried to keep her bleary eyes steadily gazed on Jim. His heart flipped at the implication. Soon after most of the patrons stumbled their way out into the cold night to wobble their way back home, Lena and Jim stayed on, drinking shots and talking shit.
When he locked the door and told Lena it was closing time, she didn’t move a muscle. She sat on her barstool facing Jim, with her elbows leaned back on the bar behind her which stretched her body taught. She shucked her shoes onto the floor before crossing her legs just so, and she never took her eyes off of Jim. “So what if the bar is closed?” she coyly challenged. “So what?”
Jim walked up to her slowly, and she never moved a single muscle. Just her chin which she arched up towards his face the closer he got to her waiting figure. He pressed his hands on the bar, so he could lean over her in what he hoped was a sexy move. She still didn’t move; she kept her eyes on his, and as she curled her sensuous lips into a coy smile, Jim could no longer contain himself.
Soon they were covering each other in sloppy, whisky-scented kisses, and there was no time to remove all of their clothes. There was no question about it. She had had Jim. Right there on the bar, while he tried to catch up and figure out what the hell was going on. There were no complaints from Jim, as he poured his hands over her soft brown flesh, and as she moved and moaned and continued to allow him to do so. She had him.
Jim fell so hard for her that night, it was a wonder he hadn’t broken right through the floor.
Jim was wiping down the bar and wondering how the hell he got there. Not in any existential kind of way; he knew what he was about. That night a few weeks back with Lena was an exploding star, full of passion and flashes of brilliant lights. What a start it was. But now here Jim was, floating in the great black void, watching the pieces of their passionate night together float away into endless space. The star had done its work and had nothing else to give.
He was back in the same bar where Lena had fucked him over in more ways than once. Nothing came of that night of drinking with Lena, that first day she turned up. He had hoped that it wasn’t just the booze that brought them together, that it wasn’t just her hurt feelings that left her so open to him that night. Jim felt something more, something real with Lena, as they shared drinks, told stories and flirted in the moments in between. He’d told her things that he had never let slip before, and he knew that wasn’t just the booze talking. He wanted to open up to her; she just felt right enough to do that with.
When she came in the very next day, and looked at him as if they’d exchanged no more than a few stories and jokes, he knew he’d got it wrong again. But Jim had to play it cool. He had gotten further with Lena in that one night than he’d ever gotten with any girl, and he still had hope that something more would come. He knew they were meant to be more than a one time thing.
Maybe she had had too much to drink and couldn’t quite remember it.. Or maybe she was just embarrassed Jim thought as she approached the bar with her head slightly downcast. When Lena sat down in the barstool just in front of him and flashed him that coy smile, he knew she remembered. She just wants to take it slower, he thought. He could do that. So long as it meant she was sticking around for a while.
“Whiskey?” he asked.
“With a Coke this time,” she answered with a little laugh.
Lena sat there slowly sipping on whiskey-Cokes for a few hours. When things were busy with Jim, she sat contentedly on her own in silence, flipping coasters, eating peanuts and absentmindedly watching whatever happened to pop up on the television. It was a Friday, so Jim got more and more busy as the clock ticked closer to 5pm, but Lena stayed put, kept drinking whisky-Cokes and occasionally got up to go to the bathroom. Jim was hoping that this was a sign for another round of sex when the clock struck two in the morning and he had to lock up for the night. She looked game to Jim, smiling shyly at him every time he walked by, lighting up with a smile when he leaned on the bar to talk with her for a while.
Those hopes were dashed when a newcomer walked in. With volumes of magnanimity, this beautiful man walked in the door and headed straight to the bar. It almost looked like he was making a beeline to Lena, but Jim was too busy at the time to intervene. All he could do was watch as he slid in a seat to the right of Lena, leaving only one barstool between them. Their eyes met, and with a knowing ease, Jim watched the newcomer brush back his blonde curls and extend a hand to Lena. She enthusiastically extended hers and beamed right back at him. And there the two of them stayed, talking, laughing, toasting drinks. Jim fumed silently around them, trying to listen into anything that passed between the two.
He learned that this newcomer was also called Jim, and after he officially met him, and after it seemed like he’d made friends with the entire bar, new Jim decided it was only fair for him to go by another name. Jim had seniority in the bar, so it was only fair. As new Jim contemplated what his new name should be, a few patrons sitting near to them started chiming in. “Well, how about we call old Jim, Slim?”
They looked at Jim standing there behind the bar and were stunned to see a bright fire bursting in his eyes. His translucent white skin flushed a deep red, his eyes turned black, and he clenched his jaws so tightly, it looked like his teeth would shatter to pieces. They had only been joking, but it was obvious they hit a nerve. The bar fell into a quiet hush as they tensely waited to hear what old Jim would say.
“Not Slim,” was all he could spew out as he held back angry tears.
“Well, how about this,” new Jim intervened,” You keep going by Jim. I’ll go by Jay.”
Jim nodded curtly and whipped away to busy himself and calm down. He’d nearly embarrassed himself, and no one knew why. Jay kept his eyes on Jim, watching him with his piercing blue eyes. A slight smile crept up on his face as he contemplated what other weaknesses Jim had locked away.
The night wore on and more drinks were had, and soon Lena had that look in her eye. Only this time, Jim noticed, it was zeroed in on Jay. Jim withered away like a pile of gray ash when he realized the way Lena looked at Jay. It was coy and seductive, as she had been with him all those nights back, but there was something different, something more open and more engaged that moved her body in sensuous alignment with this newcomer. Something that wasn’t there when she had lured Jim into her web.
He wasn’t surprised to see Lena and Jay leave together before closing time. He wasn’t surprised that she, like everyone else, was taken in by Jay’s overpowering charisma, his undeniable likeableness, his captivating ice blue eyes and sandy blond curls that flopped easily over his ears and forehead as if they too were so besotted with him that they needed to hug him close. No, Jim wasn’t surprised at any of this. But he wasn’t happy either. He locked up, cleaned down the bar in a flurry and slammed the lights off. As he walked the few blocks it took him to get back home, he thought angrily about what Jay and Lena were probably up to now, and when he got home and slammed his front door shut, every inch of his skin was covered in red patches of resentment like hell fire.
He wanted to burn something down that night. He passed out before he decided what it should be.
“Come on, Slim,” he pleaded, jokingly giving Jim’s arm a nudge.
“Don’t fucking call me that, Jay,” he spit back, recoiling from his touch.
Jim was already way past his breaking point. He had had enough of Jay, and he could feel the heat rising from his lungs, up through his throat and stopping short, just shy of his earlobes. Jim was red all over, and if Jay didn’t stop talking soon, he was sure to break.
Jay held his hands up, surrendering to the rising fury heating up the room, but it didn’t seem to calm Jim down. Instead, his hands clenched so tight his nails were starting to cut into the palms of his hands. Careful Jay, Jim thought.
Normally, Jim loved this sense of righteousness, this power he held over people who’d done him wrong. It was rare for Jim to end up being the better man, especially when it came to Jay The Fucking Saint. But Jay had crossed a line when he went after Lena, and he knew it. He was willing to do what he could to help Jim feel better about it all, but when it came down to the raw truth, Jay didn’t really care that he’d hurt Jim’s feelings. He got what he wanted, but he just needed to be the good guy despite it all. It seemed as if he’d had everyone in the town convinced of his pure motives for being there and for going after Lena. Everyone except for Jim. Jim saw right through his good guy act.
After an uncomfortable silence, they moved away from the front door and sat down opposite each other in the living room. Jim had let him through the threshold, and in Jay’s mind he was halfway to forgiveness. He watched Jim settle into the sofa across from him with his arms crossed over his chest in defiance. But Jay could see that Jim’s breathing had slowed, and the patches of red around his face and neck were slowly disappearing. Perhaps that meant he would be able to convince Jim to see things from his point of view. Jay had a way with words and playing on people’s emotions. He could get almost anyone on his side with the right turn of phrase. And so with the utmost confidence, Jay started talking game:
“I’m sorry, Jim,” he said in a hush while looking down at his feet, “It just kind of happened, you know?” He’d pressed his hands together with his elbows resting on his knees and his body leaning forward. It was a submissive pose he was well adept at emulating when the situation called for it. Jim needed to see submission, however subtle, and Jay thought this might be the way to get him to soften to his pseudo-apology. When he looked up to meet Jim’s eyes, however, he saw the angry black fire was still there, burning in his eyes. So I need to do more, huh?, Jay thought as he finished explaining himself and braced for Jim’s reaction.
“You know I had a thing going with her,” Jim shouted as he pushed himself back into the sofa with a hard shrug and hugged his chest more tightly. The red patches began to swell again, and Jay could see Jim grinding his teeth and clenching his jaw in a brisk staccato.
For a while there was no more to say. Jim sat fuming in his corner and Jay cowered smugly in his. They were at an impasse, and neither was sure what to do about it exactly. Jay had never had to try so hard to get someone to forgive him, and he was racing through his playbook to figure out the next best move to soften Jim up a little more. Jim wanted to tear Jay’s heart out, but he stayed put on the couch, fuming rage and glaring fire at Jay whenever he looked at his downcast, saintly eyes.
When enough silence had again passed, Jay began explaining. After that night at the bar, when Lena left with him, they took a long walk and just talked. Jay gazed steadily at Jim and sneered. Yeah, fucking right, Jim thought while Jay prattled on. He knew they must have ended up fucking, but Jay was such a goddamn saint, he didn’t want to make Lena seem easy. But Jim knew the truth. Lena used people until she found whatever the hell she wanted at whatever time it struck her fancy. And Jay was a fucking imposter, trying to seem like the nice guy, but Jim knew he was just another run-of-the-mill manipulator. What a pair Jay and Lena made, using people up until there was nothing left. And Jim was tired of their games.
But the look in Jay’s eyes as he talked about his growing relationship with Lena had somehow convinced Jim that he was telling the truth. Lena and Jay had connected on some deeper level, something that Jim had never experienced with anyone. And understanding that truth didn’t make it easier. Instead, Jim grew angrier and angrier as he listened to Jay talk about his and Lena’s love story unfold, and he began obsessing about how Lena could only fuck him and not love him like she did Jay.
Their impasse was broken. Lena and Jay’s love story shot it with a thousand bullets and blew it up to smithereens with their goddamn real life love. Jim felt the hate rising again to a heat never before felt, and he knew something bad was about to happen.
It was all over for Jim when Lena walked through his door.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Lena?” Jim yelled, leaping up from the couch.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know Jay would be here,” she answered,” I just came to drop off your keys.”
Jim spat at her with his eyes. She didn’t even have the decency to give them to him face to face. She was hoping no one would be home, so she could leave them in his house like a coward. Without having to face up to what she’d done. To all the mess she made. And at this thought, Jim could no longer contain himself, and his body burst into a bloody rage.
He blacked out, he kept going and he let his hands finally do what they willed. There wasn’t much he could recall except for the feeling of crushing flesh between his fingers like putty. He could feel his knuckles landing on bone and cracking whatever made contact with his fists. There were screams and yelps and gasps and two forms crawling on the ground. There was Lena reaching for Jay and a look of pure terror in her eyes when she saw the glint of something silver and deathly above her. There was Jay groaning and gurgling air through a thick pool of red blood that spewed out of his mouth and collected around his head. Then silence. Everything stilled, except for Jim’s rushed breathing as his fury slowly came to a halt.
When Jim finally came to, Jay was on the floor by the couch he had been sitting on and Lena was in the doorway and it seemed like blood was everywhere. When Jim saw the knife lodged in Lena’s left temple, he looked down at his hands. They were covered in deep cuts and thick splashes of redness. He was dripping blood everywhere. He was covered in it, and there was no telling which blood was his or Lena’s or Jay’s. All he knew was that he had to run and never look back.