The longer he tried to explain to the bartender how he received a misspelled tattoo of the word “triumph” on his left forearm, the more he realized how much more of a triumph it was to survive this conversation than to have survived a suicide attempt.
Of course, he didn’t really believe that. But good lord was it a verbal root canal trying to simplify living a life with the word “trump” engraved in his skin. Was it his fault his inebriated sister wanted to leave a mark of sibling pride on her brother’s body? Technically yes; however, the idea of denying his sister the right to scribble on his arm after putting her through the wringer seemed greedy. Plus, he had come to find the eternal mark endearing. His sister was always with him now, in a sense.
Why the bartender was so intrigued by the damn story remained to be seen. He didn’t seem to be flirting with him, evidenced by the lack of eye contact and willingness to be interrupted by other patrons. He himself, however, could not seem to leave without making sure the bartender was rooted in the facts.
“She graduated high school with honors, I promise,” he said earnestly, hoping this was the sentence to end his captivity at the table. He glanced at the opposite end of the bar, where his friends were giving him an onslaught of one-eyebrow raises. “‘Triumph’ is in her vocabulary. Thanks for the beer –”
“Don’t tell me I worked my way through the crowd to get to the bar for nothing.”
Confused as to who was addressing him, he spun about face to see a handsome man simultaneously out of place at Revolver (see: his starkly colored flannel shirt) and in his element (see: the cranberry vodka in his left hand).
As a West Hollywood staple, Revolver was a fairly low-key bar to run into all types of men. Some nights ran mostly toward an older demographic, but this Saturday night found the bar privy to a younger crowd usually found at The Abbey. All of the plasma screens were projecting music videos for the current hits found during Ryan Seacrest’s morning radio nonsense. Seeing a man in flannel simply didn’t happen too often in the city, though.
A bit disoriented from the immediate jump from the bartender to stranger, he didn’t know what to say to the handsome stranger with the firm jawline and rather large ears.
“Sorry,” the man in flannel said. “Not my best line.” He extended his right hand, the one free of the vodka. “I’m Rylan.”
He accepted the handshake. “Aiden Trighton. Nice to meet you.” Realizing his tone was a wee tight, Aiden threw a smile out on his face. A party trick he became well-trained in in the years leading up to his breakdown.
A hand on his shoulder – Davinia, best friend from college, best dressed female in a gay bar. “Boy, will you stop the socialite kick for a second and get your ass over here so we can celebrate?” Davinia gave Rylan a quick glance-over before adding: “Ryan Reynolds can come too, if he wants.”
Aiden sputtered for hardly a second before the flannel man put up a hand in peace. “I didn’t realize I was interrupting a celebration. By all means, carry on. It was a pleasure, Aiden Trighton.” With that, he dissolved into the crowd as abruptly as he had come.
Davinia led Aiden back to their group. “Who was that?”
“Couldn’t tell you.”
Quite honestly, Aiden tried not to meet too many new people at the bars and clubs. Living in Los Angeles made one aware of the underlying personality many locals shared: the flake, the selfish, the lost. Not that Aiden was any different from the latter. By no means was he done being lost. At least now he had found the long and winding path home. In any case, he never made particular motions to keep in touch with those he met during the witching hours. They never stuck around long enough anyway.
An uncomfortable feeling manifested in Aiden’s mind as he and Davinia re-entered their group. Sudden claustrophobia.
A colleague, Aiden couldn’t focus on who, raised his Moscow Mule. Others in the group did the same as the bar became more clamorous. “Drinks up for Aiden, for proving there’s triumph in sharing your darkest moments on WordPress – not Blogspot!”
Everyone drank their juice of choice while Aiden fake-sipped his beer. He quickly pretended to receive a phone call and slipped outside into the desert-cold Californian air. Past the bouncer was a sidewalk crawling in bar and club-goers slinking about for their next sexual prey (no rape reference intended, so stop it). Aiden quickly leaned against Revolver’s cool, brick wall, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing his hands to take in the soothing chill of the wall’s surface.
Breathe in…breathe out.
One more time, breathe it in, and breathe it away.
Not okay now, but it will all be okay.
Okay. Open eyes.
The busy sidewalk suddenly seemed to bustle less, a form of silent noise taking over Aiden’s senses. His personal calm. His silent, predatory anxiety was retreating, allowing his focus to realign on the man standing in front of him. He wasn’t facing Aiden, though; rather, he simply stood as a part of the crowd and simultaneously distant from it. The bystander who wants to participate but is unsure how to join the stream.
A few heavy seconds passed of Aiden gazing until he broke away. Something made him need to breathe deeply one more time, closing his eyes. When he did, a hauntingly familiar voice reached his ears.
Not okay now.
Aiden opened his eyes.
But it will all be okay.
The man had turned around, revealing himself to be the Man in Flannel. M.I.F. Almost a M.I.L.F. Gender in the way.
Aiden looked at him for a moment, before: “Hey.”
Rylan took a couple steps forward. Not too close; just closer. “That an ‘I’m okay” kind of ‘hey,’ or an ‘Everything is embarrassing’ kind of ‘hey’?”
Shifting his feet, arms immediately crossing, Aiden genuinely quarter-smiled. “I’m okay.”
As they say in film scripts: beat.
“So, Aiden Trighton, why the lack of celebrating?”
It was one of those questions that bared a legitimate need for pause. Aiden did not have a straight truth as to why he needed to leave his friends. Not that being alone was a reflex, but the issue seemed to revolve more around Aiden’s lack of interest in being celebrated. He tried to off himself. His writings were only honest reflections of his experience, not necessarily worthy of accolades. Did honesty deserve celebration? Should he feel the need to be celebrated for his honesty?
“Fuck if I know.”
“Can I ask why you’re supposed to be celebrating?”
Aiden didn’t have to live up to the truth all the time, though. “Some writings I’ve put online have captured a bit of an audience lately.”
Rylan, now a few more steps forward, slowly teetered on his feet with his hands in his pockets. Everyone behind him on the sidewalk appeared out of focus – ghosts in the jubilant night.
“You certainly know how to capture an audience.”
For some scarily unknown reason to Aiden, the two’s eyes were locked; chance of finding the key be damned.
“I doubt that.”
Flannel man smiled a tiny smile. Then put his hand out. Aiden’s eyes flitted back and forth between Rylan’s eyes and his hand multiple times. After a decade of hesitation, Aiden clasped his hand against Rylan’s. Flannel man used the shake to bring Aiden in for an embrace. Aiden was instantly enveloped in a warm scent, one he yearned for the second Rylan stepped away.
“I hope you stay viral.”
Aiden couldn’t breathe again.
But it will all be okay.
One more smile and the flannel disappeared from sight. The sidewalk slammed into focus. Aiden backed up against the cool brick wall of the bar, looking for anything to sober his more-feelings-than-alcohol-intoxicated mind.