I squinted as I stepped inside. The faux gold fixtures looked shiny as my eyes adjusted to the light and I felt the waves of steamy heat from the bodies packed in to my old place.
“Hey, girl,” Mike said behind the bar. He was a bald, rosy cheeked Irishman. “Haven’t seen you in a piece. Get you something?”
“Diet Coke, Mike,” I said, my own voice sounding strange in my ears.
“Sure thing,” he said. He didn’t react, which I appreciated.
I looked around the place. I had spent so many hours here, so many long nights and indistinct early mornings. It should look familiar, but it didn’t, the edges too sharp, the wood too imperfectly gouged with scratches where I remembered it as being smooth. Everything was smoother when you remembered it than it was in real life.
I used to tell myself that coming here let me relax, let me be who I really was, let me stop keeping my real self hidden away. What I didn’t realize until recently was that it wasn’t that at all. This was the real me, like I was right now, with the snow melting on the tip of my boot, insecurities and vanities and regrets all mixed up into one.
Mike brought me my drink. It was cold, and he had added a slice of lemon.
“How you been,” he asked me.
“Good,” I said. “Real good, Mike. Thanks.”