Kyle's feet slowed of their own accord as he passed the old bar. He'd had a long day and needed to get home, but he knew Felicity would be asleep and mad at him for being late, frowning even as she slept. The mind numbing effect of his job began to fade, the pain of disappointing her, of being unworthy of her, wiggled under his awareness, ready to emerge back into life.
It was Kyle Forsyck's first week back in New York after two years of overseas assignments. He squared his shoulders, trying to relieve the weight of a lifetime of living in this city. He thought he was returning a new man, a self-made man who could step up to the plate and make a few home runs, but now, as he walked the familiar streets, it was as if his two years away were a two week holiday already fading from memory. The sensations of being a very small fish in a large and dangerous sea were back full strength. He shivered and curved his shoulders against a blast of New York's freeze dried air, which somehow still managed to chill the hurriedly grabbed dog he'd eaten from the cart outside his office building on his way.
Then, it had been a warm fuzzy reminder of days before Felicity's hard and fast rules on food, now, it was a cold lump icing his gut. He wondered if she would know just by the smell on his breath. Like she had always known when he had had even one drink, no matter how many burning breath mints he sucked. He owed it to her to make the best of himself, not return to his old persona just because he was back in New York town. If he got home late enough she wouldn't ask about the promotion and he wouldn't lie.
Kyle hadn't had a drink for two years, and he hadn't had a drink in the last two weeks, but tonight he wasn't sure he could go home without an anesthetic. He walked faster, eyes down to the pavement so he wouldn't be tempted by his old watering hole as he stalked past.
Light from the bar's windows spilled onto the street, golden and warm in the cold night air. One drink wouldn't hurt. He stopped, something was definitely calling him in there, and you know how it is with nature, if you don't heed her call, she starts to shout. So he stopped, retraced his steps and took the first step up to his old watering hole.
The door swung open as someone made to leave, glowing with warmth and the generosity of well being. The man laughed and turned, throwing a joke back through the door and receiving a good bout of laughter as reward. He spotted Kyle standing at the foot of the stairs and stopped the door from swinging closed behind him. You'll warm up in there, his eyes said as they smiled down benignly.
Kyle stepped over this year's resolution and last year's blew away, unnoticed. The man nodded approvingly and went on his way.
Kyle's first breath of warm air filled him, and the knot between his shoulder blades began to unwind. The frown he had become accustomed to wearing, creaked uncomfortably. He felt his picture of the world, and his place in it, shuffle, as memories flipped by. In the old days, when the pressure mounted, when he felt he was being squashed by obligations and expectations, he would find respite here, under the dimmed lights, amid the laughter and the numbing effects of other people's woes.
The bartender was a new face, but the lighting was the same, the furniture unreplaced and the burble of conversation was like a lullaby. Some things, he thought, you can count on to never ever change. The returned New Yorker drank in the atmosphere gratefully, and his step lightened with his rising mood. He felt the cards of fate shuffling, ready to deal him a better hand. His resistance diminished further, and a smile lurked, looking for an excuse to take over.
And there it was. Kyle spotted the blonde head of his old friend Jimmy Dunbar at his usual spot, hanging over a beer. Jackpot! Kyle's brooding was banished – replaced by the mischievous sense of humor that had gotten him and his old time buddy into trouble so many times before. The smile bloomed on his face and a familiar camaraderie flowed into his veins. The pent up breath he didn't know he'd been holding, blew out of him in a long slow, whistle.
Like an eight year old up to tricks, he snuck the few steps to the bar, making sure he made no sound and keeping out of Jimmy's line of sight. He stifled his laugh, leaned over and spoke in a loud authoritative voice, "And don't you sleep with my wife, you bastard!"
The look on Jimmy's face was worth every penny of a million bucks! Kyle whooped in triumph as Jimmy almost jumped through the roof. His bar stool started to topple and Kyle helped it the rest of the way, laughing proudly at his result – Jimmy Dunbar on his ass on the floor and gaping like a goldfish.
"Kyle? Kyle Forsyck?" A dog nuzzled Jimmy's face, clearly worried, and then looked up reproachfully at Kyle.
Kyle's laugh dried up in his still-open mouth. The icy hand dug its fingers into his stomach once again. He cracked enough to step back, look at the door he'd just walked through, and then swivel his eyes back to his old friend. Kyle saw the dark glasses open on the bar despite the late hour, the harnessed guide dog, and Jimmy glaring in his general direction but not at him directly. Was this proof that he should never have entered the bar?
It was Jimmy and Jimmy waited, on his ass, on the dirty bar floor, for Kyle to say something to do something. Kyle couldn't just leave him there and run, but…The cards begun shuffling in his head again, but this time, instead of settling into a hand he could bet on, they fell around him, some face up, some face down, chaos extremos. The floor beneath his feet was on fire and he needed to move or he would be engulfed. Sweat beaded his brow.
"Kyle?" Jimmy was angry now, demanding an answer, but Kyle's words were mired in the ice of his stomach, and it took everything he had just to reach down and take Jimmy's questing hand in his and pull him to his feet. "Kyle? Will you fcking say something, man?" Jimmy thumped his friend on the arm as he had done a thousand times before.
Kyle fought his desire to flee and won. "I… I… Jimmy…I..."
The bartender assessed the situation in front of him. Jim was okay, but the white faced stranger who stood staring - he looked like a candidate for a heart transplant. "You need a hand, Jim?"
Jim turned part way, "No, John, it's fine, just an old friend of mine playing a practical joke."
"Looks like the joke's turned on him, Jim, he's white as milk." The bartender muttered, shaking his head. "I'll get him a drink.'
Jim pulled the bar stool back up and put his friend's hand on the seat. "Here, sit."
John, the bartender, kept an eye on his regular, but Jim was a guy who could look after himself. Despite the surprise he must have had when this guy tipped him out of his stool, he seemed in control of the situation.
A few hours, a number of whiskey doubles with beer chasers and a lifetime later, Kyle watched Jimmy's smile as he explained. "No one else in the world could ever say those words in just that way. No matter how many irate husbands there might have been out there."
"So, just from my voice?"
"And I don't know anyone else who would walk up and tip me out of my stool, like that," Jimmy added.
"Hey, man. I'm-"
"No." Jim stopped him with a hand up in front of his face, "Don't go there, don't even think about it. If I get one wiff of pity from you, you're history."
Kyle nodded, taking a swig from his beer.
"You nodding?" Jim asked.
Kyle's beer sprayed the whole way across the table, to Jim's face.
Jim pulled back in disgust and wiped it with his sleeve. "Christ, whada ya doin'?"
"Decide, Jimmy boy, decide because you're confusing me."
"You're using one breath to tell me to forget the fact that you're as blind as a bat and then reminding me about it in the next."
Jim looked reproachful, but Kyle had hit the nail on the head. He wanted it both ways, the old relationship with no differences, and to be accommodated quietly and without prompting. He laughed. "Alright, alright. You're right."
"So, which way?"
"Let's try the forget the fact way. Worst thing that can happen - I'll end up driving you home when you've had too much to drink, like I've done a hundred times before." Jim lifted his beer, "You still driving the roadster?"