So This is The Taste of Nothing?
“When I was a boy, my father drank, drank a hella lot. He'd come home from the mill, sit down in that ol' chair of his, and go through a case of beer a night. Usually he wouldn't start feeling it til' after I went to bed, and I'd hear him and my mom yelling and screaming. He'd call her things like slut, whore, whatnot. But sometimes, sometimes Pop wold stop off at the bar before coming home. On those nights...on those nights he was right and ready before bedtime. And it was those nights, he took a might interest in me. One night, I was at the kitchen table, doing my homework. I was about nine, maybe ten. “Boy!”, he'd say in that rough voice of his, “Why you messin' round with that? You ain't gonna be nothing!” And then he'd try to help me with my homework. Then...then, when I got my math wrong he'd take off his belt...”
The old man's voice trembles and he pauses to collect himself. That's fine, Cole thinks, the story wasn't too interesting anyway. One thing about A.A., everyone seems to tell the same story. Everyone has that sad, defeated look on their face, and they choke down cigarettes by the carton. Cole shakes his head, wondering why he came. He doesn't need this, he shouldn't spend his last night here with these people. Old, broken down men blaming their fathers because they can't handle their booze. Cole rises from his seat, and heads out. The old man in the front stares at Cole, and shakes his head, then continues with his story.
Outside, Cole light up a cigarette, and in-hales deeply. This, he thinks, is what he is going to miss the most. Sweet, sweet nicotine.
“Got a light, cowboy?”
Cole turns around, and a short svelte brunette is standing in front of him Her eyes are a vicious green, with dark mascara surrounding it. Her hair is long and curly, and slightly disheveled. She's dressed simple, but nicely, Cole thinks. Tight jeans, boots, and a black tank top. Her left arm has an intricate tattoo of a Koi fish, brightly colored in stark contrast to her dark wardrobe.
“Sure”, Cole responds as he lights her cigarette with his zippo.
“Thanks”, as she exhales smoke, “You know, first timers are supposed to go up to the front, and say a little something. You're breaking the rules, mister.”
“Neither did you.”
“Oh, I never do. I just like to come and watch. Kind of my Tuesday night tradition. I'm Strawberry Fields.”
“Strawberry Fields? That isn't your name.”
“Oh, but it is. Since the day I was born!”, she says with a smile.
“I don't believe you, Fields. Show me your license, then.”
“You first, stranger.”
“About that”, Cole bites down on his lip, “The, ah, the Judge took it. I don't have a license right now.”
“Well then, I guess we're on the honor system for tonight. What's your name?”
“Well Cole, you don't seem like the type to rape on the first date, want to go grab something to drink?”
“We just left A.A.” Cole says baffled.
“I know, doesn't it make you thirsty? Come on!”, She says back while grabbing Cole by the hand In what may or may not be a good idea, he goes with her.
To Cole's disdain, they walked past Sinners on the way to whatever bar Strawberry Fields was taking them to. And of course Rocco was working the rope tonight, and he easily spotted Cole.
“Mr. Schofield!”, the big man yells out. Cole sighs, but walks over to him.
“How you doing, Rocco?”, Cole asks while he shakes his hand.
“Can't complain. Quiet night so far. Are you and your lady friend coming in tonight? We have your usual table free.”
Cole bites down on his lip, as Fields looks at him with wide eyes. He turns to Rocco, shaking his head.
“Not tonight, Rocco, we aren't dressed right for Sinners.”
“Oh, they won't mind if it's you, Sir.”
“Right, ah, be that as it is, we actually are headed somewhere right now, so...”
“But that can wait. Rocco, is it? We would like to come in tonight.” Strawberry Fields interjects.
“Right this way.” Rocco tells the pair as he lifts the velvet rope. The long line of people waiting to get in shout and curse in disappointment, as Cole and Strawberry Fields walk into Sinners. The club pulses with music as Cole and Strawberry Fields are led up to the V.I.P. Section over looking the dance floor. Below them, women in short dresses and men in tight shirts dance to the music. A sexy waitress named Rochelle leads them to an area with a nice couch and a bottle of Cristal already waiting for them on the table. Strawberry Fields looks at Cole and mouths “Holy Shit!” to him.
“I hope you enjoy everything. If you need anything, just ask.”, Rochelle says
“Could you bring a glass of water and lime?”
The two sit down on the couch, and Strawberry Fields looks at him with a smile.
“You're a somebody.” She tells him.
“Nu-uh,cowboy. I'm a nobody. You just waltzed into one of the most exclusive clubs in the city and you have bottle service. Bottle service!”
She reaches over, and grabs the bottle of Cristal and stares at it.
“This is worth more than I've made all month!”, she exclaims before taking a swig straight from the bottle.
“There are glasses for that, kiddo.”
“No, no, I've seen the music videos, this is how you drink Cristal!”
Rochelle returns with the water for Cole, and give Strawberry Fields a dirty look, before pulling a 180 and giving Cole the sweetest smile ever. Strawberry Fields laughs as she sees this.
“Here you go, Sir.”
“Thank you, Rochelle.”
Rochelle turns to leave, but is tapped on the shoulder by Strawberry Fields. Rochelle turns to face her, with an incredibly fake smile.
“Oh, darling? We're going to need a bottle of Grey Goose.”, Fields tells her. Rochlle just nods, and walks away. Strawberry Field sits down on the couch next to Cole, bottle in hand, and looks at him.
“That chick hates me!”, she smiles and takes another swig from the bottle. Cole finds it oddly cute.
“Well, she's just used to a different sort of woman, you know, the kind that uses a glass.”, Cole says with a wink as he takes a sip of water. She leans in, gives a wry look.
“So who is Cole Schofield?”
“No secrets between friends, cowboy. Come on, tell me.”
“Fine, okay”, Cole sighs, “My father runs in some pretty high class circles. I've been able to get into places like this since I was 16.”
“So you're rich!”
“Not quite, my Dad is, sure, but me? Not so much. I pay my own bills.”
“But you've used his name to get into places like this, huh? Strange, you don't seem like the playboy party type.”
“That's because I'm sober. I've never had to try and be charming sober.”
“So drink.”, the little brunette says as she swigs again from the bottle. By Cole's estimation, she is ¾ done with it. He merely shakes his head no. Strawberry Fields scrunches her face, and leans in.
“Cole, why were you at A.A. Tonight?”
Cole just looks at her, mouth open, and is about to say something, before Rochelle shows up. She sets the bottle of Grey Goose vodka on the table, gives Strawberry Fields a smirk, and leaves. Cole takes the initiative
“To a fun night?”
“Not going to pour yourself one?”
“Not right now, no.”
She frowns, then winks, then downs the shot with ease.
“Why were you there, then? You don't seem like you're admitting a problem.”
“Well, I don't have cable, so I need something to entertain me.”
Cole laughs, shakes his head.
“What? There's nothing wrong with it! They just need someone to talk to, and I'm a very good listener! You ask me, they need me there.”
“I'm sure, I'm sure.”
She does another shot, and grabs Cole by the hand.
“Come on.” she says, while tugging on his arm.
She leads him away from the V.I.P, down to the dance floor below. The music is loud, the lights strobing, and someone has turned on a smoke machine. All around them, beautiful people dance together. Strawberry Fields takes the lead, brings Cole in close, and slowly sways, ignoring the beat of the music. She apparently has her own beat, he thinks, as he matches her tempo. For the next hour, they dance, neither saying a word. Cole has to laugh to himself, when he realizes this will be the first time he has ever danced sober. Strawberry Fields runs her hands through his brown hair, and gives him a smile. She says something but he can't hear. He just nods and smiles. Apparently, that's good enough, as she rests her head on his chest and holds him tight, as they do a slow dance to house music.
Much dancing later, the pair returns to the V.I.P section. Strawberry Fields goes off to the bathroom, and Cole gets a moment alone. He stares at the nearly finished bottle of Grey Goose. He remember the first time he had Grey Goose, he was 15. Cole and some friends broke into his father liquor cabinet, took turns taking shots while playing darts. Cole threw up the entire night and swore he'd never drink again. Didn't quite stick.
“Would you like me to pour you a drink?”
Cole looks up, slowly. First he follows the toned, long legs. Then he examines the yellow dress, following every curve of her body, before coming to her face. Tan, with blue eyes and perfect lips. Her blond hair is straight tonight, framing her face.
“Hey there, Cam.”
She smiles, pours herself a drink, and sits down close to Cole. She sips the vodka, ever so slightly, and looks at Cole.
“Haven't seen you in a while, thought maybe you forgot about me.”
“That'd be a hard thing to do, Cam.”
“Where've you been hiding?”
“Quiet evenings at home, I guess. Just dealing with everything.”
“You know, you can always invite me home.” Cam purrs. She is showing just enough cleavage to make you want to see more. Cole can't think of anything to say, so he just nods.
“Who's the girl? She doesn't look your type.”
“What's my type, Cam?”
Cam leans in close, and whispers “Me.” into his ear. She nibbles on the ear, and kisses his neck before getting up.
“Give me a call when you finally decide to have fun, Cole.”
Cam walks off, passes by the returning Strawberry Fields.
“Enjoy it while it lasts.” Cam hisses. Strawberry says nothing, she slightly shrinks at the sight of Cam, and lets her walk by. She walks up back, and sits down on the couch.
“So...friend of yours.” She asks, dodging Cole's eyes.
“Somewhat. You want to get out of here?”
She nods yes, and Cole takes her by the hand, and they leave Sinners.
“Did someone get hurt?”
They had been walking the streets, uncharacteristically silent. It's a warm spring night, but not many people are out. Few people go to the bar on a Tuesday night, even fewer go from one bar to another at midnight on a Tuesday night. Cole doesn't respond to Strawberry Fields,hoping she'd let it go.
“I, I mean, if you don't have your license and you were at A.A....” Her voice is beginning to slur. In his head, Cole tries to add up all the drinks she's had tonight. More than you'd expect from the tiny brunette. She stops walking, and looks at Cole.
“Cole, I'm serious, just tell me. Did someone get hurt?” She looks at him with those green eyes.
“Yeah. Yeah, someone did.” Cole tells her, weakly. She doesn't say anything. For a moment, the pair stand in utter silence on the street. It is almost as if they were the last people in the world. Strawberry Fields turns and begins to walk away, leaving Cole standing alone. After a few steps, she looks back at him, and reaches out her hand.
Cole catches up to her, and she holds his hand. She gives it a squeeze as they walk the street.
Strawberry Fields is smiling, and Cole hates her for it. She took him to one of those places, that used to be a row house but has shifted into a neighborhood bar. The kind of bar Cole has never really been to. It's small, first off. You can see the entire place from the moment you walk in. It's less crowded, and less beautiful people. The selection is limited to domestic beers and cheap liquor, and don't even bring up bottle service. None of these reasons warrant hate, of course. No, Cole hates her lovely smiling face right now because she convinced him to do karaoke. And he is sober. After butchering Don McLean's “American Pie”, Cole heads off stage to few applause and much laughter. Strawberry Fields, herself, is giving him the widest smile in the place. As Cole sits down, she begins a slow clap.
“I almost raised my lighter!” she squeezes out, in between laughs.
“Hey, at least I did it. When am I going to see you up there?”
“Never. I only sing at funerals and in the shower. And I'm not naked and you're not dead.”
The waitress comes by, and drops off a beer and two shots of whiskey. Cole gives her a confused look.
“They're both for me, cowboy. “, she manages out, before downing the two shots in quick succession.
“Maybe you want to slow down.”
“I'll be fine, Cole. I'm a big girl, I know what I can do.” She mutters out.
“Tell me about the koi fish? Cole asks, trying to change the subject.
“It was pretty”, Strawberry Fields shrugs her shoulders, “So I went for it. I've got that, a flower on my ankle, and a tree on my back.”
“Any of them mean anything?”
“Just the tree.”, She says looking away, “So, Cole, what's gonna happen to you. With the whole...thing.”
“I go tomorrow for, treatment. I was advised to go to Alcoholics Anonymous to prepare myself.”
“How long-Oh Shit!”
Before Cole even knows what is going on, he's on the ground. He looks up and Strawberry Fields is screaming at some huge, angry looking guy.
“What the fuck, you fucking shit!”, She screams.
“Shut up, you little whore! How many, huh? How many guys are you sleeping around with, skank?” He bellows back. She says nothing, just slaps him twice across the face. He reaches his hand back, as if to hit her, as Cole springs to his feet and tackles the guy. The next thing Cole knows, the man is punching him. And his world goes black.
Cole doesn't know how long he was out, but when he wakes up, he is in the storage room of the bar. Strawberry Fields is sitting across from him, her legs up and wrapped by her arms. Her eyes are glazed over, and she doesn't say anything. Cole reaches gingerly to his eye, which is throbbing in pain. He looks at her, and she finally acknowledges his presence.
“I've never been very good at being monogamous.” She tells him, flatly. Cole stands up, look around. Then he scrunches his face at the smell.
“It smells like vomit in here.”
“Yeah, yeah I know.” Strawberry Fields quietly says. Cole nods, heads toward the door to leave. Strawberry Fields stays seated. Cole reaches out his hand.
Slowly, Strawberry Fields gets up, and walks out of the storage room with Cole.
Cole opens the door to his apartment, and Strawberry Fields goes running towards the bathroom. Cole slowly steps into his kitchen, and pours as glass of water to the sounds of vomit hitting water. He steps into the bathroom, and sets the glass down next to her. She nods thankfully, as she straddles the toilet. Cole walks away, steps out on his deck.
The city stretches out, farther than he can see. To his right, the St. Augustine cathedral shines in the dark. Down below, a few scattered people walk around, but the city is quiet and asleep. The 4 am. bells chime from the cathedral. It took Cole sometime to get used to them when he first moved in, but eventually he got used to them, and they even became his signal to go to sleep. Wherever he was, if he heard those bells, he'd head home. Nothing is better after a night out than the warm embrace of your own bed. Strawberry Fields silently walks out on the deck, stands next to him. She has stripped down, wearing black underwear and her tank top. It's a warm night out, but still, she must be cold.
Her voice is low, and even in the dark, you can tell her eyes are bloodshot. She sways back and forth.
“Hey. How are you feeling?”He says back, rubbing her arm. She doesn't say anything. She turns around, walks toward the apartment. She takes off her tank top, throws it the ground. Cole gets a glimpse of her intricate back tattoo: a large black tree, with crows flying away from it. It covers her entire back, with the roots of the tree going from the small of her back towards under her black underwear. It's captivating, Cole thinks, even beautiful.
“Come on, then.” She mutters as she heads towards the bedroom. Cole follows her. His bedroom is huge, as is his bed. Strawberry Fields jumps on the bed, and rolls her back. She lean up, on her elbows, and looks at Cole impatiently.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Come on.”
Her voice is flat, defeated. In the darkness, Cole can see the outline of her body, and he hates himself for hesitating to answer. But he does.
“No, I think I'm going to sleep on the couch.”
“Whatever.” She rolls onto her stomach.
“What does the tree mean?”
“It reminds me of home.” She tells him, before passing out. Cole walks over, and grabs a blanket. He lays it on Strawberry Fields, and she purrs in her sleep. With one last look at her, he shuts the door as he leaves the room.
Cole makes his way to his kitchen. Packed full of the top equipment, it is barely ever used. He opens a cabinet, finds a small bottle of Jamison whiskey. He pours two fingers worth into a cup, and steps back out onto the deck. He leans over the railing, and stares out at the city. And he thinks. Drunk Cole would've had sex with Strawberry Fields, he's sure of it. But Drunk Cole would've never met her. Different worlds. He looks down at his cell phone, notices he has a missed call from Cam. He could call her, of course, and she would come. She has always came, whenever he called, no matter how drunk he was. And the sex was good. Cam was excellent in bed, but the mornings were always quiet. They only work in the hours between tipsy and sober. Cole thinks about what he has done. He almost lets these thoughts get to him, but he shakes it off. Cole's father used to say, you should always mimic your life after a shark. They never stop swimming forward, they can never go back. You gotta be a predator to make it in life, his father would say. So Cole looks forward. Tomorrow he leaves the city. He hasn't decided whether or not to come back afterward.
Cole raises his glass to the city, to the cathedral, to the lights below. He takes a long sip of his whiskey, savors it, and sets the glass down. He heads inside, lays on the couch, and falls asleep.
Strawberry Fields wakes up, lost and scared. Shit, she thinks, I did it again. Blacked out, barely remember a thing. She quietly gets out of the bed, begins searching for her clothes. Her jeans and one sock was easily found, but her tank top? She can't find it anywhere. She opens up a armoire, and finds herself an old t-shirt. She slips it on, and leaves the bedroom.
She sees Cole, and she begins to remember the night before. He sleeps, still dressed in the same clothes as the night before. Strawberry Fields allows herself a smile, walks over to the couch, and runs her hand through his hair. He makes a low moan, and rolls to his side. She notices the tank top on the deck floor, and heads out there.
The morning is inhumanly bright and sunny, and smells far too good than what she is used to. She bends down, picks up the tank top, and walks over to the rail. Strawberry Fields looks out over the city, it's length escaping her view. She looks down, sees the people coming and going, the sidewalks filled with life. She notices a school bus, and frowns. A quick glance of her watch tells her she needs to get going. As she is turning, she notices the glass of whiskey. She grazes her finger on the rim of it, and shakes her head. He almost did it, she thinks, he almost went the entire night. It must've been me, she decides.
She begins to leave, but hesitates, almost writing her number or a note for him to contact her, but she decides against it.
“Good-bye.” Strawberry Fields whispers as she closes the door.
“My name is Anna, and I'm, uh, I'm an alcoholic. It's been five weeks since my last drink. I used to look forward to it, you know? The forgetting, the losing control. I felt like I needed that, I needed that...I guess I just wanted to get away from everything. And I mean, I still do. I still have that urge to...just go, run away, disappear, whatever. But I don't. And it's working out, to an extent. I haven't been late to work in a while, or shown up to class wearing the same outfit as the day before. I'm not...I'm not good with people, still have problems with that, but I have a cat. I saved a cat from the pound, this little tabby who, when he meows, it sounds like he's saying “Hi!” So I come home, and he's there, and he looks at me and he meows a “Hi!”, and it feels good. And he hasn't died yet, so there's that. So yeah, um, five weeks down, and I'm managing.”
Anna smiles, as a smattering of claps emits from the rows of seats. Gilbert, the old man, comes up, and gives her a hug. He gives her a squeeze on the shoulders, and it feels good. She heads back to her seat, when she sees Cole in the back. He holds up a pack of cigarettes, and motions for her to follow him outside.
Outside, Cole has already lit his cigarette as he waits for her. To her, it looks like he has lost weight.
“Hey cowboy, got a light?”
“Of course”, he says while lighting her cigarette, “So...Anna?”
She laughs, and looks at him. He just stands there, staring at her with those blue eyes of his.
“You found me.” She finally says.
“Yeah, yeah I did.”
A silence fills the air, and they look at each other awkwardly. Anna looks at him, perplexed.
It's a good question, Cole thinks. He takes one last drag of his cigarette, then tosses it into the street. He extends his hand to Strawberry Fields, and smiles.