He woke up early just like he always did. He couldn’t sleep in anymore. Once his mind had turned on again, it was off to the races.
He brushed his teeth, a hot shower running and warming up the bathroom. He watched himself in the mirror, slowly fading away as it fogged up.
He put his toothbrush back in its holder, then looked at the bottle of pills sitting on the counter next to it. He picked them up, turning the bottle over in his hand.
They helped him feel better.
The street next to his house was busy with foot traffic but not many cars. People in his neighborhood liked to walk, especially on sunny days like today.
Nicholas locked his front door, then looked up at the tree in his front yard. It had been damaged in a storm a few months back and he should have had the whole thing ripped out. Now it was an eyesore in the neighborhood.
He walked for about a block. The old trees and the sun always made him feel a little better. He turned onto main street and saw his regular bar. Alex was just outside it, unlocking the door. A black cat walked up to him, rubbing against his leg.
Alex kicked it away.
“God damn cat,” he yelled, then stomped the sidewalk, trying to chase it away. The cat bolted down the sidewalk, then turned to look back at them. Alex cursed at it then looked up and saw Nicholas approaching. “Stupid stray keeps coming around,” he said. “Nick – you doing all right?”
“I’m fine, just going to Atzinger’s to grab a sub for lunch,” he said. “How are you?”
“Still passing out poison to people and getting paid for it,” Alex smiled. “Been a while since you’ve been around. I was worried you weren’t well.”
“I can only take so much poison,” Nick smiled, then shrugged, “Just keeping to myself a little more lately. Saving some money too.”
“Well, you’re missed. Come by tonight. First drink’s on me, all right?”
“I’ll try, no promises though.”
They both turned suddenly, hearing a car squeal.
They saw the black cat run across the street to the opposite side of the road. A car full of teenage boys laughed as they straightened their car out and continued down the street.
“Son of a bitch is going to cause an accident,” Alex said, “I hate black cats. Something about them. I’m not being superstitious. They just have an extra dose of stupid. If those teenagers ever hit that thing, I’ll sneak them a drink.”
He turned to go inside.
“Take care, Nick. See you tonight.”
“Thanks – you too. And maybe,” Nicholas said. It was easier to drink alone at home.
In the evening, he walked back to his spot on the rocks just outside the tree line. He looked across the sand at the water, then up and down the shore.
He had always loved the solitude of this spot. Where had that woman come from the night before?
He opened up his violin case and lifted it to his shoulder. Closing his eyes, he listened to the waves again, breathing with them.
He ran his bow across the strings, reuniting his music with that of the ocean.
After a few songs, he saw a form out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw the woman again, standing on the shore, watching him.
Damn it. Go away.
But evidently unable to read his thoughts, she stayed.
He finished his song and did not start another even though the sun hadn’t set yet. He began to pack up his violin.
The woman looked back up at him, then began walking toward him.
“Are you finished?” she asked him.
“Yes, for now,” he said, not lifting his head. He did not want to talk.
“I had thought you would play longer,” she said.
She continued standing in front of him while he packed up. He stood up straight and looked at her.
“I don’t normally play for an audience.”
Her eyes were deep, and studied his face. Then she smiled.
“You play very well – do you play professionally?”
“Sometimes,” he answered.
“Will you be back again tomorrow?”
He sighed, frustrated.
“I don’t know,” he said, avoiding any more eye contact and hoping she would walk away.
“Play one more song,” she said.
“I’m packing up to leave,” he said.
“Well, you owe us a song then. You shouldn’t have stopped.”
She motioned out toward the waves.
He finished packing up his violin and then began to walk back toward town. She walked alongside him.
“I’ve lost people too,” she said.
“Why do you say that?”
She met his eyes.
“That music, it speaks. I wanted you to know it’s not just you – you’re not alone.”
Her words echoed in his head: you’re not alone. Anger boiled up inside him. Where did she think she had a right to say that to him?
“Look, I don’t mean to be rude. But I’d like to be alone,” he said, stopping in his tracks.
She met his eyes again, and he saw in them what he felt in himself. His anger dissipated as he realized she mirrored his own grief. He took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry. Who was it for you?” he asked.
“My sisters,” she said.
He took a deep breath, then looked out at the water.
“Losing people can feel like losing yourself,” she said.
“My name is Nicholas,” he said, extending his hand.
She took it.