Thomas was going back to a place which he hoped he’d never see again. The bar where he’d met her, the bar where he’d met Emily. It was one of the nicest bars, albeit one of the only, in their village. It was where him and his friends went to pre-drink before a big night out when they were home from university, especially when there were too many people to do it at someone’s house, because they could get quite a few taxis into the nearest town, and it was cheap enough whilst remaining quite classy.
It didn’t smell like the inside of a toilet like some of the bars that they’d tried nearer to the clubs. It wasn’t dimly lit, with fairy lights all around the perimeters and beams, giving it a cosy feeling. It was perfect for a date; it was perfect for a nice meal earlier in the evening. It was a multifunctional venue, slightly rowdier at the weekends and on Friday nights, which gave it more of a party vibe – the students would leave their houses and have a few drinks at the bar with the intention of getting drunk. But, on a week night, like this evening, it was almost empty. Very chilled. Exactly what he needed after how the past few months had been.
He had managed to avoid this place since he and Emily had ended things little under a month ago. It was such a central place to everyone that he knew, and he knew that she came here with her friends fairly regularly from the five years that they were together. Although he had decided that he was going to move on, he wasn’t quite ready to bump into her; he wasn’t sure how he should act around her.
Peter, his best friend from school, was late – as usual. It was inherent in his personality. From a young age, Peter had been late for everything. Everyone had learned to tell him they were meeting half an hour before they were, but he became wise to this and started assuming that they were meeting half an hour after whatever was suggested, meaning that on average he was about forty-five minutes late every time.
Thomas set himself up to face directly towards the door so that he could see exactly who was walking in. It would be a disaster for Peter to have to walk around and find you because, if you weren’t immediately obvious, he would walk straight past you and claim that you weren’t there.
Thomas was not prepared for all who came through the door. Everyone who he used to go to school with strolled in and he found himself regretting his choice of seat. Some of them pretended not to recognise him; like him, they didn’t want to fake happiness to see someone they barely knew. They didn’t want the awkwardness of a conversation motivated by small talk and politeness. They didn’t want to have to pretend to know someone that they hadn’t seen or spoken to for five years, someone that they barely knew to begin with and knew even less so now.
However, a few of them, to Thomas’s horror, decided that they were going to be nice and start a conversation with him. The first was the school’s best athlete, possibly in years, whom competed in all the district athletic competitions and most for the county; she dislocated her knee before she made it to national level. Her name completely escaped him after five years of no contact. Awkwardly, she asked the standard questions like what he was doing now and whether or not he was still with Emily. He couldn’t get used to the fact that he’d had to start saying no to the latter. He never thought he’d have to do that and despised the reaction he got: “Oh, that’s such a shame; you were so good together.” He wanted to tell them all that they didn’t know what they were talking about because they didn’t know what his and Emily’s relationship was like by the end.
The next person to enter and not pretend he didn’t know Thomas was Charlie, who Thomas spent many years with at both secondary school and primary school; they played football together. Thomas was much more excited to see and speak to him than he was to speak to the girl that did athletics. But, Thomas quickly got distracted from the usual questions of how he is, what he’s doing and whether he and Emily are still together when Emily herself strolled into the bar. She was beaming, glowing even, for the first time in months. She had dyed her hair dark, chocolate-brown, replacing the medium, ash-blonde which it was when he’d last seen her a month prior. She looked so different; she was happy.
Catching Thomas’s eye, he witnessed her body freeze. Quickly shaking it off, she reached for the hand of the guy walking next to her. Thomas felt his heart drop; Charlie spun around to see Emily and this guy walking away from them, still hand in hand. They sat at a dinner table nearby which displayed a ‘Reserved’ sign, a candle and rose decorating it. Thomas yearned for that to be him, taking a pretty brunette in a red dress out for an amorous meal at her favourite restaurant.
Charlie rapidly excused himself, unknowing of what to say in this situation. It wasn’t long before Peter arrived but Thomas couldn’t stop looking at Emily and this guy. She was reaching across the table, her fingers entwined with his. They gazed at each other affectionately, hardly noticing when the waitress came over to take their order. She looked happy.
Despite the hurt he caused her, he did love her and he didn’t want to see her with another man. Although, paradoxically, he did want to see her happy, like she was now, and he did want to see her with someone who could do a lot better than he ever could. He took her for granted and, now, he was the one paying the price.
He knew from the moment they ended their relationship that she was going to find someone else. She was a beautiful girl with a bright future ahead of her. He just didn’t see it coming so quickly. He had prepared himself for the fact that he might see her in here with her friends this evening, but he hadn’t suspected that he might see her in here with another man, less than one month after their relationship ended.