“Not Really” by Pepper O’Brien

You’re sitting on the other side of the bar when I first see you and it’s weird because I’m afraid you’ll know right away who I am, which is ridiculous because we’re a thousand miles away from my town and I’ve grown out my beard and maybe you don’t listen to my music and maybe you wouldn’t care that much anyway.

You’re drinking whiskey. You’re drinking whiskey alone in a bar and I can’t help but feel scared for you. Aren’t you scared that some asshole is going to come by and bother you? Don’t you hear all the same horror stories I do about women getting harassed in bars just like this one? What are you thinking drinking alo – oh. Oh, I see your friend coming back from the bathroom and she orders a club soda. That’s good, at least.

Someone does come by to bother her, though, and you look sad. You’re sad because she’s forgotten about you in favor of her new bothersome potential assailant and I don’t know what upsets me most. Are you okay? You look so sad and I don’t like it. I don’t want to be weird and keep staring, but you look so alone just now gazing dejectedly into your glass and you don’t even look the least bit tipsy.

I can be brave. Can I be brave? It’s hard for me to be brave by myself without a band and a stage and a bunch of people telling me how great I am. I think sometimes that they’re paid to say that or that they just enjoy lying to see what I’ll do. What will I do now, for example? I could say hello. I could sit with you until your friend tires of the nitwit over there in the stupid beanie.

I’m brave. I order you another whiskey and I swear I’m not trying to get you drunk and I have the bartender give it to you because I don’t want you thinking I would ever try to put anything in it. You can send it back if you want and I wouldn’t mind. Maybe you don’t want another drink, and damnit, I shouldn’t have assumed that you would, but you look so sad that I – oh. Oh, okay, you’re smiling at me. The bartender must have told you it was me who sent you the drink. I’m glad I asked what brand it was. I don’t really drink that much.

You’re smiling and you tuck your hair behind your ear and I don’t know what to do. I’m stuck to my chair and I hope you’ve never seen my face anywhere before because I don’t want to fall in love with a fan. I really don’t want to fall in love with a fan because how will I ever be sure that it’s real? There’s no way I would ever know or at least I don’t think that there is. Is there? Please don’t turn out to be a fan. I couldn’t handle the stress of living up to those kinds of expectations. Can’t I just be myself with the pretty girl in the bar? Except I have no idea if myself is what you would like or want or – oh. Oh, you’re coming over now and gosh, you’re so pretty.

“Hi.” That’s all you say at first, just “hi” and what the hell am I supposed to do with that, right? Because as soon as I say “hi” back I’m unoriginal, but I really don’t know any pick up lines and right now I really wish I did, but I don’t and crap, I need to come up with something because now I’m just stuck in my chair staring at you and thinking about how awfully pretty you are and I still haven’t answered your “hi” and now I bet you think I’m crazy. Well, better crazy than famous, right? Right. Okay. So… hi.

You smile your pretty smile and I really want to stare but I’m not a predator and I want you to feel safe and so instead I look at other things. The tequila bottle shaped like a skull, for example, is behind your head and that seems like an okay focal point for the moment. I’ll look at that. Crap. I don’t want you to think that I think you’re boring or that I’m distracted. I’m so not distracted. I can smell your perfume and it’s beautiful and you’re beautiful and wow, your smile is pretty. Hi.

You giggle and I never thought I’d ever hear a giggle as nice as yours and you sit down next to me and you tuck your hair behind your ear again and I’m sure I could ask for a bobby pin if you needed it. Do you need a bobby pin? It would keep your hair in place, right? And maybe if your hair stayed in place I wouldn’t stare quite as much. Yes, I would. I really hope you don’t recognize me because, you know, there’s just a lot going on in my life right now and I just can’t handle falling in love with a fan, okay, so please don’t be one. A fan. Don’t be a fan. Ask me who I am because you have no idea, okay? That’s really just… all I hope to get out of this exchange tonight. I don’t need sex or a date or a kiss or even a conversation lasting longer than a minute or two. I don’t expect any of the things that people told you to be afraid I would expect. My heart’s only desire in this very instant is that you ask my name because you truly don’t know what it is.

“Do you come here a lot?”

Oh. Okay, so… maybe you don’t want to know my name right now or maybe you don’t really care about the name of the guy who bought you a whiskey and that’s fine because you shouldn’t feel pressured to ask my name or anything. I’m totally okay with going on just like this and we share kind of a cool stranger camaraderie, but not like danger strangers. Stranger… never mind. I’m not dangerous, just neurotic, and I really don’t want you to find that out so I can keep being the nameless guy if you want – that’s okay! I don’t mind. Maybe I mind a little, but I’m not going to say that. Is that dishonest? Have I already started things off badly after only saying “hi”? Maybe I should just answer your question.

“Not really.”

That’s a safe answer, right? If I don’t come to this bar all that much, it’s still a safe space for you and I’m not the creepy guy who hangs around in bars all the time, and even if you don’t ever come here, it comes across as sort of nonchalant and laid back, right? I want you to think I’m laid back. No, wait, I don’t, that’s dishonest again, isn’t it? It is. I’m messing this up already and I’ve said exactly three words and paid exactly six dollars for your drink and have asked myself exactly forty-five times whether or not you could possibly recognize me. Not that it matters now. I really want to tell you about myself and not in a way that’s posturing or over the top like beanie dude talking to your friend. You tuck your hair again and really, are you very sure you do not require a bobby pin?

Please ask my name, I really hope you will.

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