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Sad Romance

Brian locked the door after saying good-bye to the last customer he would ever serve. He drew in a long breath and sighed, as he looked around, taking in all the memories he had accumulated over the last 20 years. His favorite memory though, would always be Jenny. His love. His life. His always and forever… and his not-long-enough.

He walked behind the bar and stood, for a moment, lost. Memories swimming and swirling. So many of them. Even the ones that seemed insignificant when they happened. Those were suddenly some of the most fond and beautiful of all. Jenny…

He poured himself the same single malt whiskey he poured for her the first time she sat down at his bar. Two fingers. “Two fingers”. How she ordered it. He remembered. He would never forget. He sat the tumbler down on a coaster in front of her and smiled. She thanked him for the drink and smiled back, their eyes locked. Her perfect smile. Her warm, brown eyes. The perfect memory… the most wonderful human being he would ever know. The moment she was transformed from someone unknown, into the woman he needed to know. Into a soul he felt like he had always known and was meeting again, after a lifetime. Jenny…

He took a drink, then put his glass down on the bar next to the scratch that had been there since last Spring when he and Jenny refinished it. They sanded the bar down, then stained it. The second coat of stain had not completely dried, and Jenny stretched herself across the bar to grab a pen from next to the register. The zipper on the front of her shirt left a scratch. He loved how she looked in that shirt, the royal blue one with the gold zipper. She was perfection. The scratch was miniscule and seemed insignificant until now, but the scratch was a reminder of their time together. Brian ran his finger over the small groove. The memory flooded his eyes, then escaped the boundaries of his bottom lashes.  

He poured himself another two fingers of whiskey, throwing it back with one gulp and barely tasting it. He picked up the plastic bus tub, then walked around the bar to start cleaning up. The bar had only been closed for a half hour, so the smoke was still thick in the air, absorbing reds and blues from the neon beer signs. Usually he didn’t mind the smoke, he’d become accustomed to it, but tonight the air inside the bar was heavy. Hard to breathe. Hard to swallow. The moon and streetlight on the corner of Fifth Street and Carmichael shone through the front window, casting a stenciled shadow over the floor and the brown, square bar tables. If Jenny were still here, she would have already called to tell him to hurry home, before the streets iced over, but to be careful driving, because even though she loved him to pieces, she needed him to get home in one piece. She would have also told him to button up his coat and wear the scarf. The black wool one, around his neck to stay warm. He wiped the memory from his cheek and continued to tidy the chairs and arrange them around each table. He poured the half full glasses of beer and melted ice into the tub he carried, then stacked the glasses on the bar and threw away the bottles, each one clanking as he tossed them into the trash can next to the bar.

He worked his way to the corner booth where they used to sit when he would take a break. He stopped and replayed the night in his head when Jenny first said she loved him. She downed a shot of Crown, then turned to him, taking his hands in hers, her gaze paralyzing him. Frozen. Waiting. Anticipating. She stared, the words unable to escape as easily as she thought they might. “I…” Pause. “I…”. Pause. Gulp. “Funny. I had this entire speech planned in my head, but now I just can’t seem to find the words,”.

The silence was too much, “I love you, Jenny. I’ve been wanting to scream that from the roof tops. To tell anyone that would listen. I love you and I want to marry you.” He was visibly shaking, but the release was sweet. Come what may, he said it. He put himself out there. He wanted to close his eyes or hide under a rock until he knew how she was going to react, but her answer was swift.

“I love you too Brian! So help me, I love you so much! Yes, I will marry you! I have loved you from the first time I sat at the bar,”. Tears of relief and pure, unadulterated happiness ran down her cheeks. 

His heart smiled a thousand smiles from her reciprocated love. All the noise around them faded as he cocooned her in the arms that would forever protect her and keep her safe. She could have loved anyone else, but this angel chose a flawed man; a flawed man that wanted to be his best self because of her. Exhale.

He remembered how she used to sit there with her feet propped up in the seat, reading her books until he finished his accounting for the night. Sometimes, she would stare at him over the top of her book, then giggle when he caught her. He would play George Straight on the jukebox, then dance a two-step across the room to her, extend his hand, and pull her up to dance. Brian started to sway as he remembered what holding her and dancing felt like. She loved to spin around the tiny dance floor; her long, wavy brown hair flaring out like a ballroom gown when she did. Her lips always shined from her cherry lip gloss and her smile…. The world’s most marvelous smile, that could light up the darkest of rooms. The world outside of them ceased to exist when he was spinning her around the dance floor. The song would. He would always dip her and kiss her. Cherry. Then, he would pick her up in his arms, Jenny laughing all the while, and carry her to their booth, to get their things, so they could lock up and leave.

The last queued song of the night started to play, bringing him back to the present – Safety Dance, by Men Without Hats – her favorite song. Was it a coincidence or was it her letting him know that she was there, and he wasn’t alone? He opted to believe that it was Jenny’s way of letting him know that she was there with him, walking through the memories, just as he was. He reached across the bar to pour himself one last drink. He held it in the air. He smiled as the bar lights shined through the caramel-colored liquid, “To my heart and my soul… I love you Jenny.”

He sat down in their booth and allowed himself to be wrapped in all of those memories. He kicked his feet up on the seat the way she used to and leaned his head against the mirrored backing, then closed his eyes for a moment. He could see her face, her beautiful, contagious smile; then the image of her last breath flashed in his head. She was so full of life – so pure. I miss you, my darling.

He thought he felt a slight breeze, causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand up. He thought he heard his name, a faint whisper. “Jenny?” His face and eyes were hot. Tears streamed involuntarily down his face. He could almost feel her hand on his cheek. Maybe it was the memory of her hand that he felt. He could hear her voice again, “Yes, my love. I never left you.”

February 20, 2023 21:52

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1 comment

R W Mack
15:38 Feb 25, 2023

I wish the prompt constraints weren't what they were. I can see where you tried working within them and I applaud it. Having written a good few prompts myself for Reedsy before judging and getting my first published story, I refused to write with structural constraints like these. Topic and theme constraints are one this, but fundamental structural syntaxes and such seems a sin to constraints writers with. Good on ya for giving it a go. I hope to see the next story when it's less conservative and allows more liberal creativity so I can see m...

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