Vincent didn’t find the answer at the bottom of his drink, so he called for another with a slam. Thankfully the glass didn't break and cut up his hand this time.
“Last time I warn you, Vincent!” Shayna called from behind the bar. Vincent just waved at the glass. He heard her sigh but also heard her grab another drink.
“You’re a good girl Shayna, never change,” Vincent muttered into the plastic bartop.
“Yup.” was all she said, a weariness in her voice. Vincent heard her approaching and finally looked up. She was a small pretty girl, with long straight black hair, a plain tank top, a little too much tit showing, piercing green eyes, and most notably dimples in the corner of her mouth. He had a theory, that all that other shit is superficial. What you really want in a woman were dimples. It showed she liked to smile and have a good time. His own testing seem to give some credit to his theory.
“And you’re not nearly as much of an asshole as you think you are,” she said softly handing him another draft. Fuck, if only he were ten years younger.
“That’s because you’ve only seen me half in the bag.” Vincent didn’t waste any time on finding the bottom of this glass.
“From my experience, it’s how they act wasted that is the real sign.” Shayna gave him a small smile and went to another patron. Vincent stopped drinking long enough to tip his glass to that before downing the rest of it. He was about to slam the glass again but thought of the small smile and placed it on the bartop instead.
The smile reminded him so much of Shannon, fuck even their names were similar. Shayna was the spitting image of Shannon in her twenties. A slight curl to the hair, hazel eyes, and a little more meat on the bones, and bam, Shannon at twenty-four. The same Shannon whom when he was ten years younger he took home. The same Shannon to whom he had told his dreams, the ones he hid from even himself. The same Shannon had given birth to two of his kids. The same Shannon that…
Vincent spun on his barstool to look at the rest of the bar, to find something interesting, anything. Behind him was the rest of the bar area, small booths full of dirt and emptiness. He turned at a small hoot to see two guys playing pool in the back. There were three tables back there but of course, Roger was the one being used. Roger was covered in food stains, spilled beer, and blood. But for some reason it was the lucky table, Roger may be a slob but he was dependable. There was one night, there was a lineup of about eleven people all waiting to play a game. Anytime someone lost they would just go to the back of the line and wait. All these people waiting to play with Roger, the other tables being used to place beers and spectators on.
Vincent couldn’t believe it, he had just been here two times before. He had gotten a few drinks in before working up the courage to ask a random guy in line why he didn’t just play on another of the tables, he just laughed and shouldered me off. Feeling like he was missing out on something, Vincent got in line. Took about thirty minutes before he was up. When it did get to him, he carefully picked out his cue and broke the racked balls. At the end of the night, Vincent still didn’t get the appeal, but he did go home a hundred dollars richer. He learned to depend on Roger that night.
Vincent actually felt more in common with that damned pool table than most of the people in his life. Like Roger, he felt the stains and spills of life and others on his soul. Others would use him, play games with him, and pay him no heed, but they never left him alone, they always came back wanting more. Vincent had never played another game on poor Roger after that first night.
He looked over at the sudden sound of another person sitting on the stool beside him. He had no idea where he had come from, he hadn’t seen him around or heard the door open. The man looked like the opposite of the patrons here. Where they wore jeans and leather jackets, this man wore a striped red dress shirt, straight red dress pants, and what looked like genuine Italian leather dress shoes. His long wavy blonde hair hung around his shoulders, accentuating a strong jaw and tight face.
“How was the meeting? How many points are you up this quarter?” Vincent asked deadpan. The man just sat there looking at all the bottles on the rack.
“Guessing you got demoted, maybe your papers were in the red?’ Vincent added a little sarcasm to his voice. Again the man just stared at the bottles on the racks. Shayna looked over from the cash register, probably at Vincent's voice, and gave a shocked look. She looked over at the door and then back to the man. She did a small shake, put on that cute smile, pulled her shirt down just a tad lower, and walked over.
She stood there for a second, waiting. After about thirty seconds she gave Vincent a questioning look and he just shrugged.
“What can I get you?” she asked him. The man gave her a questioning look.
“You don’t have what I want,” he said, almost sounding soulless.
“We do have a more selective inventory,” Shayna said, turning and opening a cabinet door underneath one of the racks with a key. Inside were liquors Vincent had never heard of in his life. The man looked genuinely interested for a moment but quickly lost it.
“Not in there either.” was all he said.
“Well, maybe I can mix you up something anyways? I have a few off-menu stuff I’ve wanted to try.” Shayna asked. The man looked up at her, right into her eyes. She looked transfixed. After a few moments, he looked away and Shayna seemed to shake herself.
“It’s what you want so I will accept this ‘drink’.” The man said ‘drink’ as though he was tasting the word for the first time. Shayna blushed for some reason and went off to make a drink.
“You got her all flustered,” Vincent commented, chuckling to himself. For three years, Vincent had been coming here, he had never seen Shayna lose her cool. He gave the man another look over. He wasn’t any prettier than the man whose nose Shayna had broken.
“I did not mean to cause her any discomfort,” he said. Vincent would be lying if he wasn’t just a bit jealous of Shayna’s reaction.
“I don’t think it’s really ‘discomfort’ on her mind,” he said trying to hide the weird jealousy. The man turned on his stool to face Vincent, and when their gazes touched he knew immediately why Shayna reacted the way she did. It was like sharing all your intimate wants with another soul. While they accept them without judgment and validate them. Validate you. It was like truly sharing the space of your mind with another being.
The man looked away and the experience left, leaving him feeling empty and lonely. He shook himself and looked towards the bottles on the rack. Silence dropped between them, only the sounds of pool balls smashing into each other and Shayna working on the drink.
“I didn’t mean you any discomfort.” the man offered suddenly. Vincent recoiled for a moment but realized he was being silly.
“It’s fine.” Vincent offered, a weak smile on his face.
“Why do you not speak the truth?” the man asked again with that alien emotionless tone.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Vincent asked, unreasonable anger rising.
“Yes.” the man answered. Vincent was suddenly on his feet, grabbing the man by the collar and his other fist raised.
“You take that back you bastard” Vincent demanded. Shayna hurried over and put the drink down away from Vincent.
“You sit the fuck down Vincent, or I will have to get you to leave,” she yelled. Vincent didn’t move.
“You were uncomfortable and you said you were not. Do I not understand your language quite right?” the man asked again looking into Vincent’s eyes. For a moment when their eyes met, Vincent was holding his divorce lawyer in the same way and he was punching. He didn’t stop.
Vincent let go of the strange man and sat back down, with a smile on his face.
“I’m sorry.” Vincent offered, looking at both the man and Shayna. Shayna nodded seriously and untensed.
“You confuse me, Vincent.” the man said.
“Get in line,” Vincent said, grabbing his empty glass and shaking it.
“Here you go sir, if you don’t like it I’ll refund it for you, it’s only my third time making it.” Shayna offered a smile and went to grab Vincent another draft.
“I believe I am the only one here to get in line.” the man said, looking at Vincent, actively avoiding eye contact. Vincent gave a small snort of laughter.
“I meant I confuse a lot of people in my life, hell just ask Shayna here, she’ll tell you,” Vincent said.
“That's an understatement,” Shayna muttered as she gave Vincent his drink. Vincent picked up the glass and offered his glass for a toast.
“How about we toast to our wonderful and patient bartender,” Vincent said. The man just looked at him oddly.
“For christ's sake. You grab that glass of alcohol there, knock it against my glass, and drink. It celebrates our young bartender here.” The man looked ready to ask another question but instead grabbed his drink and knocked it against mine. Before Vincent could take his drink, the man put the glass over his mouth and knocked back the glass without his head. He got most of it down but spilled some onto his immaculate leggings. Before I could even think to do so, Shayna showed up with some napkins.
“That was a weird drink,” he said ignoring the napkins. He put his glass on the bartop very similar to the way Vincent had earlier. Sighing, Vincent grabbed some of the napkins and put them onto his pants.
“Now you wipe with them.” Vincent made the motion in the air with his hands. The man awkwardly did so and then Vincent put the used napkins on the bar.
“So, how was it? Weird in a bad or good way?” Shayna asked a little giddy.
“I believe it was morally positive.” the man said. Shayna just looked at him for a second before grabbing the napkins and glasses.
“So, you got my name, what’s your name stranger?” Vincent asked, now openly facing the man.
“Desire,” he said with a straight face.
“No wonder your so strange your parents must’ve been quite the pair.”
“I do not have parents in the sense that you have parents.” Desire said.
“Ahh adopted then?” Vincent asked.
“That’s the closest summation to your own experience, yes.” Desire answered.
“Well your not missing much,” Vincent said.
“What are you doing here Vincent?” Desire asked. The sudden change of subject caught Vincent by surprise.
“Grabbing a few drinks before heading home, and apparently having to help a stranger understand how to give toasts,” Vincent said.
“Is this not a den of sin? From what I have understood, people drink when they need fun, need an escape, or need a vice.” Desire asked, again looking into Vincent's eyes. That strange connection formed again and he found himself truly thinking about the question.
“It’s to escape a world I hate and cannot do anything about,” Vincent answered, shocked at his own words. Only a moment of reflection though proved their truth.
“I don’t know if those are the only reasons people drink but you caught me.” he laughed awkwardly. Desire just continued staring, emotionless.
“What do you hate?” he asked. A visual list of people sped through his head.
“It’s not the shortest list,” Vincent answered, feeling suddenly sober.
“Who’s Shannon?” Desire asked and the blood drained from Vincent’s face.
“Who the fuck are you, really?” Vincent asked, sitting straight. He eyed the door noting Desire was in the way. He thought quickly and remembered a way out the back.
“I’m Desire. I have not misled you, Vincent.” Desire answered.
“Fuck off with the whole child act. What do you want with me?” Vincent asked.
“I want to find my Brother. But you cannot help me with that. For some reason I cannot fully understand though, you interest me, Vincent. Through all that you want, one name kept coming to the forefront, Shannon.” Desire said. Vincent calmed down a little bit and thought back to the feeling Desire seemed to cause him.
“What are you?” Vincent whispered, almost afraid of Shayna hearing him.
“I am simply an elemental force outside the universe, tasked simply with one thing. Desire is the closest approximation to that one thing.” Desire said. Vincent stayed quiet for half a minute before he burst out laughing.
“Fuck off.” Vincent said. When he turned back to the bar, he put his arms down… on a wooden table. Vincent stopped his chuckling and looked up suddenly. The walls were much closer and painted a light blue. He found himself sitting at a large wooden table in the kitchen. A very familiar kitchen. He stood up on the linoleum floor and took in the scene. The sink was empty, but the dishwasher was going. The stove looked like it had been cleaned recently and the stainless steel fridge housed an assortment of pictures. He walked over to the familiar fridge, the same fridge he had dreamed of so many times.
There was a picture of him with his arms around Violet at her graduation. A picture of Taylor holding his bat over his shoulder at his first baseball game. A picture of Shannon smiling on the beach of their first vacation together. A picture of the four of them laughing on their new couch in their new home. In this home.
The tears started without Vincent even noticing them.
“Where’s daddy?” Violet's voice sounded from upstairs. Vincent went still. He wanted to believe so much. He walked slowly into the white-walled hallway. “I wanted to give him something.” she continued, her voice echoing off the high ceilings. Vincent continued down the hallway until he made it to the large foyer at the front. He walked slowly over to the elegant metal stairwell spiraling to the second floor. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, suddenly heart beating.
“My presents are better!” Taylor announced. Every time he started up these stairs he would wake up before reaching the landing. Vincent found himself glued to the spot.
“I don’t think daddy’s gonna be home today.” Shannon's exasperated and saddened voice echoed out into the foyer and Vincent ran up the stairs. Shannon told him she and the kids had something special planned for his birthday and god be damned he would be there. He reached the landing and before he was his bedroom door. Without waiting any longer he ran to it and threw it open.
And there was his family. On top of their walnut bed, on top of the white blankets laid Shannon, with Violet and Taylor on each side of her. Violet looked over with her purple eyes, and Taylor sat up looking over, his raven hair bouncing messily around.
“Daddy!” They said simultaneously. They both quickly got up and started yelling about whose presents were better. Now openly crying, he kneeled down and brought them into a hard embrace.
“What's wrong daddy?” Violet asked, worry now in her voice. Vincent, still holding onto them leaned his head back to get a good look at their beautiful faces.
“I just love you both so much,” he said between his weeping. They hugged him again and then started screaming they need to get their presents. Vincent let them go and stood up. He was about to tell them, not to leave him again when he found Shannon's lips on his. The attraction was matched by his disgust. He wanted to but found he couldn’t pull away. Eventually, she was the one to break it off.
“I thought you weren’t going to come again,” Shannon whispered.
Desire was on the foot of the bed. Vincent suddenly remembered what happened and looked around frantically, finding only him and Desire in the room. He looked at the bedroom door to find it now closed.
“No, no! I won’t lose them again!” Vincent yelled running to the door. He opened it and ran through, right back into the bedroom. The room was now dimly lit, the smell of incense mixed with the rank of sex filled the air. Some music was also playing but Vincent's anger and suspicion focused all of his senses on the bed.
He heard a woman’s moans mixed with the grunts of a man, as well as the sound of skin smacking and sweat. Getting pissed off at the smoky dimness, he turned the overhead lights on as he trudged fully into the room, to see what he feared.
His wife was being fucked by some guy. All motion stopped as everyone in the room came to terms with what was transpiring.
“It’s. It’s not what it looks like.” Shannon said with some incredulity.
“Who the fuck are you?” Vincent asked the guy. He quickly got off of Shannon in such a hurry he fell off the side of the bed. “Who the fuck is he?” Vincent asked this time to Shannon.
“Harris. Umm Harris, from uh. From. From work.” Shannon was saying distractingly as she wrapped the wet white sheets around her naked form.
“Harris from work. Well, what the fuck was he doing then, if it wasn’t what it looked like?” Vincent shouted, his vision literally blurring between the tears and anger.
“I didn’t mean. I mean, I mean.” Shannon stuttered.
“What's going on?” a small quiet voice came from behind Vincent. He looked around to find Taylor rubbing his eyes as he tiredly walked toward the room. He looked back towards Shannon and the now half-dressed Harris. Taylor's footsteps slowly took over Vincent's anger and simmered it. With a sigh, he turned from the scene and walked out to meet Taylor.
“It’s ok buddy. Me and Mommy just had an argument, but it’s ok.” Vincent leaned down and picked Taylor up and leaned him into his chest. He walked over to Violet's room as the door opened.
“It’s ok Violet, me and Mommy just had a little argument. So I’m gonna sleep with you guys tonight ok?” Vincent asked her. She nodded tiredly and let him and Taylor in.
As he entered the room the lights burned his eyes. He tried blinking out the irritation as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. He heard some yelling, then Vincent saw himself looking down on him.
“It’s ok sweetie, just go back to bed ok?” Shannon’s voice spoke from the bed. He could barely see her, the bed was so tall, he could only see her head.
“No, come here Taylor.” His voice said as the other Vincent grabbed his hand and pulled him into the room. He could see Shannon now crying and Harris half dressed, suddenly stunned.
“Look at Mommy, Taylor. See how the sheets are wet, and see that strange man over there?” Other Vincent seemingly asked Vincent.
“Please, please don’t,” Shannon pleaded. “Not in front of our son Vincent!” The pleas fell on deaf ears.
“They weren’t playing games. That man there was inside of your mother. The mother who promised to be faithful on our wedding night. See, the sheets are wet because Mommy welcomed him into her, to show how much she hates Daddy. She's a slut Taylor, your mothers a whore!” Other Vincent spat. Suddenly Vincent felt himself starting to cry, at what happened at what Vincent did, and at what he could not change. Shannon was now crying with him.
“You can’t do that man, that's so fucked up,” Harris said, as he stepped around the bed.
“So it’s not enough that you took my wife you now want to parent my kids?” The other Vincent said, stepping to meet Harris halfway. Harris stepped back, putting his hands up.
“No. I’m so sorry this all happened, I didn’t know. But that's their mom and they're just kids man. Your gonna fuck them up.” Harris said. The other Vincent stood there for a moment before he tackled Harris into the wall and they crumpled to the ground. After some wrestling, the other Vincent was on top of Harris and just started punching him right in the face. Shannon, crawled over, dropping the sheets and hanging off of the other Vincent, now begging for Harris’ life.
As repeated punches hit Harris on different parts of his head, crunches and splattering could be heard, becoming louder and louder. Vincent didn’t know what to do, he felt as powerless as a little boy.
The whole situation finally broke him. He closed his eyes and cried. He cried and cried until he felt completely empty inside. He cried until nothing more would come. Then he just stood there, a silence falling on the scene.
“You have so many warring desires, so intermingled Vincent. That is what made me curious, a spider web of wants and needs. So now, I finally see and am here to offer it to you.” Desire said. Vincent opened his eyes to find Desire before him. He felt Desire slip something heavy into his hands. Vincent looked down to find a simple handgun.
He hefted it, not even sure what was real now. It had weight, and when he checked the clip it was loaded. He cocked the pistol and looked around. They were still in the bedroom, although it looked a little different. The lights were now out. The blankets were black, the walls painted beige and pictures showed Shannon, a scarred Harris, and his kids. At that, his heart started beating faster again. He looked to the bed and saw Shannon nestled to Harris’ chest. Their heads just poked out of the blankets looking tranquil.
He felt the gun trembling in his hands, from anger or fear he didn’t know.
“This isn’t what I wanted,” Vincent whispers.
“You have many wants and they’re all very important to you. But Vincent, from what I’ve seen and from what you’ve felt tonight, it was her that was central. Anything you do here Vincent is your decision, consequence-free” Desire said. Vincent was gonna argue but found his mouth wouldn’t work.
He looked at his ex-wife and all the emotions he had been hiding from over the past five years came swarming back. The betrayal of the cheating and the full custody of their children. The anger that came from that, was the fear of the dissolution of their family. The most inexplicable was the love he still felt for her.
“Why was I so despicable that you couldn’t love me?” Vincent instead asked of the sleeping Shannon. He slowly put the barrel of the gun to her forehead.
“Because you were never there,” Shannon spoke from the bed. Vincent looked down to see her eyes still closed as she continued. “Because we didn’t talk, and I didn’t know you anymore. Because the kids needed a father. Because I felt unloved and unwanted. And because I was weak and did not want to destroy our family. So instead I hid it and pretended it was just a fling. Pretending that we were still okay,” Shannon said, tears rolling down her otherwise tranquil face.
Vincent felt his anger rise, but also another emotion. One he had only felt in passing. Resignation?
She wasn’t wrong, he had missed birthdays, Christmas’s ditched on plans, missed parent-teacher meetings. He and Shannon hadn’t gone out in years and hadn’t had sex in almost as much time. He didn’t remember the last time they had a flirty moment.
“I should’ve tried harder,” a quiet whisper from Shannon. That admission alone took all the fight from Vincent. He fell to his knees at the bedside. He had just wanted to talk to her but after the fallout, they never did. He imagined every variation of the talk they could’ve had, all the arguments he could make. But the simple admission that she made a mistake took all the fire from his meaningless, imagined arguments and just left a single thought left.
“I should’ve tried harder,” Vincent whispered. Shannon was also broken. And instead of working through it, he scarred her and their children. The scene replayed in his head of Taylor watching his father shame his mother and almost kill another man. He had repressed the actions for so long that he almost believed it wasn’t true. He almost believed it was another person, but now he lived through it. There was no more hiding. Vincent put the gun to the side of his head.
“I know what I want,” Vincent said looking over to Desire. The man’s red clothes now made sense in his eyes. “So you can’t see the blood.” Vincent mused as he closed his eyes.
“I am but the vehicle. I cannot choose what you want but only give you the desire.” Desire said. Vincent thought he heard a twinge of emotion than thought better of it. He took a deep breath.
“I love you,” he whispered thinking of his family, then pulled the trigger.
For a moment Vincent sat there, wondering why he wasn’t dead. He pulled the trigger again and again, more frantically every time the gun just clicked. Feeling despair Vincent threw the gun at Desire and fell to the ground weeping.
“What is your game?” Vincent asked at the end of his rope. The gun disappeared into Desire.
“I am but the vehicle.” was all that he said. Vincent looked again but he was alone on the floor of the bedroom. He crawled towards the corner and curled into a ball. He didn’t know how long he stayed there.
“What’s going on?” a small voice asked from the doorway. Vincent opened his eyes.
“Sleeping beauties awake?” Shayna's voice asked. “Good, I’m done cleaning up, gonna be closing up.” Vincent looked up, Shayna was putting her jacket on. Vincent looked over and found the seat beside him empty.
“What happened to Desire?” Vincent asked weakly. She smirked.
“He left when you passed out. Weird guy, but he’s alright.” he noticed her put a slip of paper into her pocket. Vincent wiped the drool from his mouth and took the jacket Shayna offered him. He finished getting himself together then took one more look at the barstool where Desire had been.
“Do you think bad people can change?” Vincent asked Shayna as he pulled on his jacket. Shayna eyed him from the corner of her eye skeptical. But something in his expression must’ve hit her because her face softened.
“There’s no good or bad people Vincent. There are just people.” She said opening the door to the brisk night air. Vincent looked at her for a long time, the early years of his relationship with Shannon playing over in his head.
“So there might be hope yet?’ Vincent found himself asking. Shayna smiled a little and Vincent turned his gaze away.
“There’s always hope,” Shayna said, a little sadly. Vincent took a deep breath, straightened himself, and walked out the door.