Seven Stools.

The sting of aged whiskey brought raging fire to his hairless cheeks, an empty glass now resting on the edge of the counter. Above the seating section was a row of televisions, all playing the same weather programming save for the one in the far left corner, underneath the neon sign. The restaurant was dimly lit and nearly all of the chairs had been positioned on top of the stable chairs, dusty pads remained in the air as the floor below had been swept twice. Only seven stools remained vacant at the bar counter, and he was occupying one of them. With enough gel in his hair to sculpt a statue, he placed his plastic card in the hand of the bartender and ordered a pint of the draft. What was he doing here exactly? He thought to himself as the chilled liquid coated his nicotine stained tonsils. As he placed the cup down, the bell above the door chimed and a young fellow, with smoky red eyes, approached the bar. Before the boy, who smelled of ash and cinnamon, readjusted his seat, the gentleman greeted him with an overly gleeful smile. “What brings you to a bar tonight? Don’t have anybody to spend it with?” he comically asked.

“The same thing that brings me to a bar each time, to drink,” the boy sarcastically responded. It was clear that he was in no position to talk, but the man believed otherwise. He twisted the band upon his finger, a large silver nugget, embedded with red gems, a class ring given to him upon graduation.

“You’ve come to the right place,” he nervously added. The boy cracked a half-baked smile, the kind teachers give children who lack knowledge but have charisma. The young woman tending the bar had on a crimson shirt, her face covered in an extra layer of glitter as the symmetrical snowflake earrings twirled under her lobes. Her somber mood slightly rose as she neared the boy sitting at the counter.

“Small world, I didn’t know you were here” he smiled.

“Long time, no speak. I’m hanging out in these parts until I save up enough to get out,” she said while handing him a menu. “What are you in the mood for?” As the boy flipped through the pages, the man sat, bewildered, as the two strangers in front of him recognized each other. Plenty of nights he had come to this same bar, taking up this same seat, and yet he’d never received the same warmth upon his arrival. What made this boy so different than he, and why was he once again, alone at the bar?

“So did you come here by yourself too?” he asked. With his hand pressed against the alumninum can covered in condensation, the boy shook his head and took the first sip of the night.

“I’m waiting for some friends. We haven’t seen each other in awhile.” The man’s s grin retracted and his eyes grew dull and black, matching the shirt he was wearing. Friends, a concept that seemed to evade him on this evening; leaving him to brave the night. Even this stranger, who had never visited this bar before-he would know because he’s there all the time-was welcomed in a way that made him more than a customer. He belonged.  Yet the man, with his fist resting upon his chin, failed to understand how he’d done it.

The bell chimed again, and a young woman with cheeks full of marshmallows and gingerbread skin entered.  With a swift turn, the man observed the woman while she scanned the tables and chairs. Her lips curled forward and bared a sensual smile as she headed towards the bar. For a brief instant, the man imagined her running down the aisle, gliding into his arms and cradling his isolated soul; but the illusions, as they always do, lifted, leaving him alone on one of the seven stools. She sped past him, and joined the boy, the same boy who had entered the same way he did, by himself; and yet, how was it that this boy, who looked more lost than found, was surrounded by friends? Four chairs remained as he downed another glass of the amber ale. In his stupor, he tried to play around with his phone, possibly to catch their attention, but an illuminated screen can only yield temporary enjoyment to those who are old enough to remember a time before them. The liquid courage built up within his belly and the man finally decided that it was time for him to fix his situation, even if it meant invading a peaceful moment. “How do you two know each other,” he asked, immediately regretting his intrusion as the girl leered over her half-empty cup. She said not a word, her facial expression alone could sway any seasoned judge; but the boy responded, mostly out of pity. As he explained the basis of their friendship, leaving out sacred details, the chime of a bell rang out.

The boy hastily ended his explanation and stood up to greet whoever was approaching them, and the man could not see for he turned his back toward the door. There was nobody to join him, and this new person would be taking another seat, leaving three left. Surely somebody would enter this building with no other intentions expect to not be alone on this night. Was that too much to ask for? All of his associates were busy opening presents with their children or snuggling up with their significant others, while he sat at a bar, trying to push his way into the conversation of three reunited friends. Conversation on Christmas Eve is what he desired, an opportunity to share his opinions with something other than his lukewarm beer; but his fate had already been decided by himself. As the last of his talking points spilled out of the corner of his mouth, the man twisted his ring once more. Next to him, the three friends were exchanging stories and sips, preventing him any chance of intruding anymore. What, then, would fix his loneliness? Hard liquor, a packed cigarette, or a long stroll down the abandoned streets all seemed viable options, yet the cure-that was now lost-could’ve been found, occupying one of those seven stools.

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