Lurking Hope (Part 2).

A stale stench of alcohol hangs in the air, making its way into her nose, causing it to crinkle a little. Her lips are stretched into a smile that hasn’t been this wide in a time too long, and her chest consists of the much treasured contentment that probably has something to do with the greater amount of whiskey that drowns more and more of her blood. She tilts her glass further up, until the brown and bitter liquid has disappeared down her throat, wrapping her mind in a much needed buzz, making it void of all worries, and numbing her senses beyond the capability of feeling the discomforting bite of reality.

The room is alive with lopsided smiles, much like her own, slurred and senseless conversations shared among companions and the occasional bout of drunken laughter. She doesn’t know whether to be glad or full of dread to be sitting here, having walked by this bar every single day, on her way home and throwing a glance in its way, with a consideration to step inside, but never being able to do so because there was always something urgent to be get done before the sun’s first sprinkles of light across the sky, something too important to be forgotten, even momentarily, over a drink to ease her nerves. And so she dragged her feet away every time, no matter how forceful the tinge of wanting something so close to her grasp, yet not close enough, dwelling in her stomach. She walked past, every fucking time.

And now here she sits, with an empty glass resting in front of her. And yet, she is unsure of whether it was worth the flick of the wrist that tossed away everything that she had built for herself into the ocean. As is one of the faults of human nature; one can never be too happy with a situation, regardless of the desire of obtaining it before it’s sitting right on your lap. Grayson waves down a bartender and asks for another drink, feeling the need to forget anything and everything, and redo her entire life in this short span of one night. It could be possible, if she does everything in one night that she pushed aside her entire life with a promise to return. Again, the faults of human nature; our promises usually stand null and void, despite them being made to ourselves.

And there it is, the postponed, drunken realisation that punches her in the head making it snap up from its previously bowed position, in the blink of an eye. Her thoughts still fuzzed behind the thick fog of whiskey-induced ideas, one of which she can’t help but think is a work of pure brilliance, deeming herself to be a fucking intellectual prodigy. Another glass is placed in front of her, filled to the brim with the liquid that may look like piss, may taste like it, too, but fuck, does it work wonders.

“Shouldn’t you slow down there, boozy?” The voice of her new found companion for the evening breaks her string of thoughts, as delicate as it is.

She turns her head in his direction; a knowing, yet lopsided smile planted upon her lips, she says, “Last one, I promise.”

With that she picks up her glass and tilts it up higher and higher until the very last drop of whiskey has been emptied into her system and the minuscule amount of uncertainty in her has been transformed into pure determination. Setting the glass back down with a brute force, she hops off the barstool and makes her way to the door of the pub; a resolute look upon her eye and the questioning calls of her inquisitive new acquaintance and that of an angry, unpaid bartender ringing in her ears.

“Where are you going?” She hears from behind her, making her turn halfway to answer the question by one or the other of the two calling out to her.

“To hit the reset button!” She calls back, and turns back to the door, stumbling her way through the tightly packed room. Pushing the door open, she steps out into the sea-kissed wind that lays upon her skin like a warm, silky shroud, making its way into her lungs and finding a residence in her chest, bringing upon her, a sense of freedom that wasn’t there, yesterday, though it’s the same air that she breathed. She looks around, noticing things that she had been too preoccupied to notice before, the first of many things being that she noticed barely anything at all when her mind was abuzz with new business proposals for obnoxious clients. She notices the soft smiles that have pulled up lips on the many faces that pass her by, notices the subtle scent of the sea in the air, and how company finds itself in the sky with the moon, one’s hand intertwined with another’s, even in loneliness itself, among those who seek the company of others, and of course, herself.

Speaking of which, she is quite aware of the lingering presence beside her, one she notices in her peripheral vision and can’t help but wonder why. Why is he so insistent in accompanying her? The question evokes out of her, a sense of curiosity mixed into a considerable proportion of suspicion towards the blonde, whose playful expression that she hasn’t failed to notice, has grown into a more sombre one. 

The truth of the matter is that Andrew is quite unaware, himself, as to why he remains in her company. There’s a part of him that tells him that he should stick around and see how things pan out. You see, all the while that Grayson has drank and then drank some more, Andrew had just been there, wondering whether this stranger, who he thought to be different than others, is in fact just another drunken hound who would, in most probability end up unconscious on the floor by the end of the night, leaving him with a bill to pay and shattered expectations. His contemplation to leave her to her luck had almost reached its conclusion, with him slowly sliding out of his seat when she sprung out of hers, making her way to the door; eyes gleaming and a determination in her stride. And though he was left with a bill to pay, his expectations had not yet been put to the hammer. And so he followed her, inquisitive about where this strange stranger may lead him, and to some extent, concerned that she may end up dead in a ditch if he left her alone, given her intoxicated state. But mostly he stays because Grayson isn’t the only one who is need of a drink and another’s company in the drinking.

“So what’s your plan?” He asks, breaking the silence that had settled around them.

Her response is but a simple, yet knowing smile before she turns on her heel and begins to walk away in the opposite direction, leaving Andrew to stand there and look like a buffoon in his befuddlement. He watches her take a few more steps, then she pauses, looks about and finally turns to see that he hasn’t moved from where he was. She places her hands on her hips in an impatient stance. 

“Well?” She calls out to him, her words considerably slurred, “Are you coming, or you waiting for the parade?” 

Andrew blinks a few times, trying to contemplate a reasonable answer, but then realises that the person he’s talking to is really beyond any and all sorts of reason, even when she is sober, so arguing with her while she is drunk out of her wits just seems about as  good an idea as sticking an arm up a crocodile’s ass and hoping that it wouldn’t bite. So, he jogs forward to catch up to the woman clad in formal attire and swaying in high heels, making them click against the concrete as she walks. Honestly, he’s surprised, and impressed, to some extent, that she is able to even walk, given her condition, but keeps pace with her, regardless. 

“Is this the part where I find out that you’re a serial killer, because if that’s the case, I’d like to know, now, so I can call my ex-girlfriend before you kill me.”

“So the last person you want to hold a conversation with, before you get stabbed in the gut, is the woman who broke your heart?”  She asks, disbelieving, “Good sir, your priorities are fucked up.”

Andrew thinks for a minute before coming up with a response, “Two questions. 1) Why do you assume that she’s the one who broke my heart, and not the other way around? and 2) you’d actually stick me with a knife? After all we’ve been through. Seriously? I’m hurt.”

“Two reasons to call a girl you dumped, right before dying,” She starts off, “Either to tell her that you made a mistake and that you still love her, which is useless because now you can’t have her, anyway and she will be left even more devastated than before, or to tell her that you always hated her guts and that’s why you broke up with her, which, again, is useless, not to mention, excessively assholish. And you haven’t known me for more than four hours, now, three and a half for which I sobbed in the sand and then proceeded to get drunk enough to be convinced that this is a brilliant idea; stabbing you would just be one of the things that I may regret tomorrow morning.”

Andrew just laughs at her logic, which he can’t say doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t respond, opting instead to drop the subject, entirely and enjoy the peace that the quietness in the midst of the buzz that looms in the air of the city.

But it seems that Grayson doesn’t agree.

“Why, then?” She asks, turning the corner while she talks, “Why your ex-girlfriend?”

“Does it matter?” He asks, keeping his eyes ahead so as to avoid looking at her, who he knows to be looking at him.

“Well, yes.” She responds, mimicking his answer from before when she had asked him the same question “Because now I’m curious.”

He smiles at this, but doesn’t answer her question. Instead, he asks, “So, where are you taking me?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” She says, her grin implying that she knows something that he doesn’t, which has become quite obvious by this point, much to Andrew’s discontent.

But the truth is, Grayson does not, in fact, know much of what she is doing. And though the what-if-it-were-not-so’s and what-is-to-be-so’s, still wander the corners of her mind, and there is a fist of fear that clenches her gut, she cannot deny that breathing comes a little easier than before, not to mention, a little less strained. She hasn’t a clue as to how she’s supposed to pay her bills, and come morning, what comes next, but she knows that whatever she’s doing, she is doing it now. And for now that is good enough.

It has to be.

They walk together, for a while, silence in their company. There is a lingering sense of relief that invades the two of them, like a minuscule breath of oxygen that has been washed over their bones after they’ve been stuck in a vacuum, choking on reality. The feeling of resting your head on the warm lap of a loved one, after a long day hardships tangled with the feeling of walking through the streets with a complete stranger, en route to doing something that is not only impulsively foolish, but also fuels their bodies with adrenaline, the resurrected mischief that refuses to stay buried. All of it, they feel being pumped into their blood, the idea of not knowing what will happen next making them shudder with exhilaration and anxiety, and goosebumps rise on their skin.

She tells him that she’s lived in the same city her entire life and he tells her that he’s travelled around more than half the world. That his chicken curry can make one weep with gratitude and that she almost the burnt the house down when she microwaved ramen with a silver fork inside the cup. That she’s only had flings all her life, and that his committed relationship recently came to a close. The sentences spoken between them are never followed by questions, only acknowledging nods. Time takes a seat to watch the juxtaposition of two strangers who couldn’t be more different than one another and yet entwine together like the old, wrinkled branches of a Banyan tree.

Grayson doesn’t remember the last time she felt this way. The last time she went along with what her heart desired. She can’t help but feel a like a tourist, dropped at the ports of a new and strange city, hers for the exploring, not having stayed in touch with her childish self, in so long. And now that this feeling fills her chest and fuels her wobbling steps, she hasn’t a clue as to how to proceed.

It isn’t long before the duo turn into a familiar street, and the air doesn’t take much time in getting heavier with the added weight of the sudden uncertainty and tension that wafts off her. Her steps that swayed before, from the alcohol, now did so with the hesitance, as though sure of their direction but reluctant to reach their destination. Her expression, unrevealing and hard, cracks in slightest, allowing the edginess to peak, through the slight crinkle by her eyes that wasn’t there before, her pursed lips and her clenched jaw. Not to mention how her hands ball up into fists by her sides and she struggles to keep her pace steadyLurking Hope

All of this, much against the Grayson’s hopes, doesn’t go unnoticed by Andrew. He looks upon her with a questioning gaze, one which Grayson chooses to ignore in order to avoid any and all sorts of confrontation. He’s almost successful in keeping his mouth shut and pretend to ignore the obvious discomfort of his new acquaintance.

Almost.

“Are you alright there, boozy?” He asks.

“‘m fine…” She says, her tone, uncharacteristically, timid.

“Are you sure about that?” He asks,”Because you look like you haven’t taken a piss in weeks.”

Grayson can’t help but smile at his attempt to lighten the mood. She notices how in situations such as this one, he isn’t one to be able to keep his mouth shut, feeling the need to say anything that pops into his head, which is most likely to be deemed highly inappropriate by all parties involved, including him, but he’ll say it, anyway. So, instead of answering him, she keeps her eyes fixed on the concrete on which she walks, focussing on putting one foot in front of the other rather than her companion’s glare.

Andrew, here, only narrows his eyes in response. He feels a tad bit odd, having expected a sharp tongued remark, rather than dead silence. He does get the feeling that this is something that he shouldn’t pry into, something personal and obviously, too touchy a topic to be wanted to be shared with him. So, quite naturally, he pries,

 “What’s going on?”

She’s quiet for another minute or so, her steps slower than the brusque walk from before, and her arms crossed against her chest. When she does answer him, her words are calculated, careful.

“It’s just this neighbourhood.” She says.

“What about it?” He presses, further, “Did you murder kittens in your neighbour’s backyard?”

“Do I look like I belong in a satanic cult, to you?” She bites back.

At this, Andrew smiles, glad to hear her quippy tongue, back at play.

“Well, do people who belong to a satanic cult look they belong to a satanic cult?” He asks.

“Point taken.”

“So what is it, then? He asks, again, “About this neighbourhood?”

She curses silently at her failed attempt to dodge his question, but remains quiet for the most part. Andrew throws looks in her direction, only to find her looking away, avoiding his gaze. He’s about to ask again, when she finally speaks up.

“Almost had my first kiss, here.” She spits out, finally, still keeping her eyes averted from his. She doesn’t like talking about this, she never has liked it, and she’s not about to start, now. Something, of course, which Andrew fails to notice.

“Almost?” He asks, not being able to help himself, “What, you started sobbing when he leaned in?”

He laughs when she flips him off, without looking at him as they walk together. He wants to ask, but he refrains, pursing his lips and keeping his eyes ahead, and following her lead. It’s a struggle, not knowing, a struggle that is clearly visible from the way his eyes begin to roam about, as though looking for something that may distract his mind. So visible, in fact, that Grayson can only sigh and answer the unasked question.

“I pulled away.” She says, finally turning to look at him and his reaction, which, as it happens, is one of confusion, “I just… pulled away.”

“Why?” He asks.

“I was scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Has anybody ever told you that you ask way too many questions?” She asks in frustration.

“Well, yes.” He simply says, “Multiple times, actually.”

“And have you ever considered, I don’t know, just not doing that?”

“Yes, but I haven’t been able to go through with it – Hey, what the hell are you looking at?” He asks, when he notices that most of her attention is now focused on an old abandoned house, which has roof but nothing he would want to stand under, walls, wrinkled with cracks and faded from its young colour, window frames with broken windows and eerily unlit, unlike the others. The front lawn looks like it’s been going through chemo therapy, bare of any colour and life whatsoever and lined with a filthy excuse of a not-so-white picket fence. It probably looks less murder-y in daylight, than it does in the dark.

“So he’s dead?” He questions upon staring at the old excuse for a house, some more.

“What?” Grayson slurs.

“You know, the almost-first-kiss…” He goes, “Is the dude dead?”

Grayson turns to him, then, her eyebrows raised in curiosity at his question, “What the hell makes you think that?”

“Well,” He begins, his eyes turning to stare off into space as a storyteller’s would at the beginning of a haunting tale, “The intent look upon your eye with which you stare at this filthy excuse for living premises, my guess is that the man lived here and after you denied him a kiss, he, so devastated at the rejection-Lord help his troubled soul- took a pistol and shoved a bullet in his troubled little head. And that makes you this guilt-ridden, unpleasant snob that you are, today, who has returned to this old pile of fungus, haunted by his troubled spirit, to summon him and make things right and thereby putting him to eternal rest.”

He finishes with a little proud bow of his head and Grayson just stares at him, her eyebrows raised in one-part disbelief and two parts in response to sheer insanity.

After about a minute and a half of staring, she finally says, “You know for the only one who’s sober between the two of us, you sure make it hard for one to believe it.”

She steps to his side and walks past him, delivering a hard-knuckled punch to his shoulder as she passes him.

“Ow!” he groans, reaching up to rub the side, which was punched, “What the heck was that for?”

“I’m not a snob, you arse.” She says

“Well, what were you ogling at, then?” He asks, following her across the street, still rubbing away at his arm.

“The house that I grew up in.” She tells him in a matter-of-factly manner, stopping in front of yet another house, only this one doesn’t seem to harbour the whole book of Health Code Violations within its four walls, which stands tall and upright, showing no signs of crumbling into dust at the slightest poke of the finger. Light peers out from the cracks in the curtains hung on the windows, rather than a grumbling darkness from cracks in the windows, and all in all it doesn’t resemble any sort of crackhead squat where coming across a dead body is part of one’s every-morning routine.

“Well that explains things.” Andrew says in a matter-of-factly manner, responding to the new information that she has revealed about herself.

Grayson would have recognised the jab had her mind not been whirring and buzzing for the past hour or so, trying to make sense of the simplest things. Only she is this drunk, and everything that should seem illogical to her logic-sought mind, seems to be the most doable thing and it must be done, now. The truth of the matter just happens to be that all the logic that Grayson so desperately clung to has been chewed up, swallowed, digested, excreted and then pissed on only to be flushed down a toilet.

So she asks him to elaborate and he says, “Well, any kid who grew up in a house like that was bound to get messed up in some way or the other.”

Grayson only smiles at the beaming Andrew before delivering another punch to his gut and walks up to the front porch of the house, grinning satisfactorily when she hears a struggled ‘oomph’ behind her.

“You know resorting to violence is not the most sane thing to do, either.” Andrew says, following her, “Whose goddamn house is this, now?”

“Foster’s” She answers as though he and Andrew have been drinking mates for years and so he must know who she’s talking about. But before he can get a word out, she answers his unspoken query, “the almost-kiss dude.”

Andrew raises his eyebrows just as they come to a halt at the front door. The wheels slowly, but steadily, spinning in his head and by the way his eyebrows furrow together even closer than before, Grayson knows that he’s figured it out.

“You don’t mean to-“

“Kill him?” She cuts him off, “no, that’s completely barbaric. “Kiss him in order to un-regret not kissing him in the first place? That I shall do.”

And with that, she delivers her knuckles to the door.

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