Two vampires walk into a bar. Sounds like a joke, doesn't it? It is. A gloriously heartbreaking joke—on me. The punchline for that joke will be delivered in the form of a sentence, but not one that might end with laughter. No, this sentence will determine whether I live or not. If I were to bet honestly, my money would be on the latter. My mistake? Walking into a bar. Four glasses of wine and poof, I was vampire. Now, wedged tightly in a corner of a nine-by-nine cell lined with steel and titanium, I wait for a punchline to conclude my life. But I'm starting near the end and not the beginning. Let's go with that. The beginning. The thing that led to this pivotal scene in my life. The event that snatched away my heartbeat and sent me running into darkness.
* * *
I never drink. Never. But I did that evening. The bartender had taken one look at my red nose and blotchy, tear-stained face before setting a napkin in front of me. "What can I get for you?" His voice was low and kind.
"I don't drink," I sniffled. "What do you recommend?" The bar closest to the hospital was the one I'd chosen. Some of the medical facility's personnel were regulars; I'd passed a doctor I recognized on the way in. This place was nicer than most of the bars closer to home—I saw that right away. It boasted polished wood floors and upholstered barstools neatly lined up along the bar. Tall, round wooden tables dotted the remainder of the floor and prints of western scenes hung against walls painted a forest green. Several people were already seated comfortably and drinking, although it was barely six.
"Let's start you off with a glass of wine," the bartender offered a sympathetic smile and selected a bottle of white from a fridge below the bar. "This is a Riesling and those are usually a little sweet. You might like it," he informed me as he uncorked and poured. I watched a few bubbles rise in the crystal glass as I impatiently wiped away another tear. Lifting the wineglass, I gulped down half its contents right away. "Hey, now, let's slow down a little," the bartender cautioned. Nodding my head at his words, I set the glass on the bar, my hand shaking a little. I kept my eyes down, attempting to get myself under control.
It was early January, which is generally Oklahoma's worst time of the year, weather-wise. A light snow was threatening to blow in, bringing sub-freezing temperatures with it. Night was coming early too, along with the heavy cloud cover and I shivered every time someone walked into the bar. I'd chosen the seat directly in front of the door but I wasn't about to move. It was easier just to sit there, I think, huddling into my misery and hoping wine would dull its sharp edges. Pushing my empty glass toward the bartender, I silently asked for a refill.
"What's your name?" The bartender set my third glass of wine in front of me.
"Lissa," I gave a half-hiccup, half-sob.
"Is that short for Melissa?" he asked gently. "I'm Warren by the way."
"No, Warren." I wiped a stray tear off my face with the heel of a hand. Warren handed over a fresh cocktail napkin since I'd run out of tissues. "My father had a terrible sense of humor," I added, accepting the paper square gratefully. "He named me Lissa Beth." The napkin scratched raw skin when I wiped my face with it.
"Maybe he did have a terrible sense of humor," Warren agreed, looking up as the door opened behind me. "I'll be back," he said. After a few seconds, I heard him asking the new arrivals what they wanted. I turned to look; I couldn't help myself. Two men were now seated at one of the round tables off to the side. Warren was taking their order when one of his customers turned toward me, stopping my breath for a moment. Images of black-as-sin hair, exotic features and a Latin background washed over me. Dark eyes narrowed in contempt as the man studied me, his eyes meeting mine for the briefest of moments. A smile quirked at lips that might be both sensuous and cruel. Turning back to my drink, I shivered again and it wasn't because the door had opened.
"That gentleman over there wants to buy you a drink," Warren was back and holding up the bottle of wine.
"No, Warren," I gestured for him to set the bottle down. "Tell the gentleman thank you but no," I said as firmly as I could. "I don't think a woman should accept a drink from a stranger on the same day her husband died, do you?" I lifted my wineglass and drained it. "I'll pay for the next round myself." Numbness clouded my brain after a fourth glass of wine so I sat there, waiting for my head to clear a little before attempting to make my way outside. While I waited, I caught snatches of conversation between the one who'd offered to buy my drink and his companion.
"I say seven days," one of them said.
"Nine," the other countered. I had no idea what they were discussing. At the time, I didn't really care. As it turns out, I wish I had known what they were talking about and I wish I had cared. I have no idea if it might have changed anything, but at least I would have known.
Cold air served to wake me up a little as I sat inside my car. The small parking lot was filling up around me as night deepened, cloudy and moonless. Holding keys in my hand, I eventually recalled that placing one of them in the ignition would make the car start. My Honda was ten years old and dated, but still ran like a top. With Don's illnesses over the years, I hadn't been able to afford a new one. Yes, I know I should have been thinking about funeral arrangements and calling friends and relatives, but I wanted one final bit of space for myself—a suspension between what was real and what I wished were real before dealing with any of it. We had no children but Don had a brother. Both sets of parents were dead and we'd lost contact with most of the cousins and other family. Sighing, I slipped the key into the ignition on the third try. Honestly, I intended to close my eyes for a bit before trying to drive home. My car would warm up after a while and it wouldn't hurt to let it sit and idle while I sobered up. I was too drunk to drive right then and I knew it.
I sat there, blinking stupidly as the locked metal door of my car was torn away as easily as a tissue is lifted from a box. Mutely I listened while it clattered across the hard surface of the parking lot. A tall form crouched down beside me and dark eyes found mine. I was staring at the man who'd offered to buy my drink and his smile was just as cruel as I'd imagined it might be. Lifting a hand to rub my eyes, I desperately fought to convince myself that reality had not just shifted and I truly wasn't seeing what I imagined I was seeing. That brief glimpse of the impossible, trailed by the slightest moment of self-delusion, was the last thing I remembered before I died.