Even from the outside, the bar looked like a small girl squeezed between two large men in suits on a loaded train from Dublin. The pale gray bricks of one wall merged noisily with the bright red bricks of another and yet the only indication a business existed in the uncomfortable space between spaces was a dirty white sign with faded black numbers. A nondescript door adorned the front of the business and it was through this door that Charlie entered, wondering if he were in the right place after all.
The hallway led only a short distance before transitioning into a proper barroom setting, complete with copper handles upon glass doors and a neon sign that cast the room in a dizzying glow. It certainly wasn’t enough to fall asleep in, but warm and safe from the rain that threatened to fall for the third time that day. Besides which, neon lights concealed away any multitude of bodily functions that must’ve been present as he walked. Yet, as he passed through the glass doors, greeted by the distant sound of a game on the Tele, he was stopped from going any further by a strong hand on his chest.
Charlie followed the hand to an arm roped in muscle. That arm was attached to a man with a mess of curly blonde hair that was tied back in a samurai knot on the top of his head and a short braided goatee. He wore a plain black shirt with the word security printed on the front and a small pink bow over his chest.
Charlie shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m looking for someone. I’m here about a party?”
The bouncer grinned. “You see any bouncy castles here? Though there might be a clown around here somewhere.”
“No. That’s not what I mean –“
“I know it wasn’t,” The bouncer said, losing his smile. “You really think I believed you were here for a party? That the management was going to squeeze an actual bouncy castle complete with little puppies wearing bow ties into an establishment such as this?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Charlie said, backing up.
“Now don’t go running off, either. The boss would skin me if I drove away a paying customer,” The bouncer said. “I only meant there aren’t any parties here. Leastwise, none that would cater to a man of your distinction.”
Charlie got the feeling he was being sarcastic again, however, a cursory look around the room proved the man was right. He was overdressed, save for the bartender, and the party he’d been surprisingly invited to didn’t exist.
“They told me eleven sharp,” Charlie sighed.
“Got stood up, did you?” The bouncer said, clucking his tongue. His expression softened as he took in the defeated man. “It’s a good day for it, i’ll tell you.”
“Leo, will you cut it out and let the man in?” A woman said from across the room.
Both men turned to watch as the girl who spoke slid out of the chair she had been occupying and walked across the room. Walked, hell. She moved like a slow burning flame until she was standing in front of both men with an impatient smirk on her face.
“A party huh?” Leo smiled. They watched the girl return to her seat, smiling as if she expected the company. Tit for tat, after all, but as he stepped forward, he was again stopped by Leo who this time pulled him in close enough that he could smell the licorice on his breath. “You’re going to buy me a drink later so we can have a chat. Understand?”
“Just name your poison,” Charlie said, his eyes drifting back to the girl. Perhaps the night could be salvaged after all. She smiled in return and he was drawn to her as if he hadn’t any other choice.
“Anika,” She said, leaning back in her chair as he approached.
The small movement was calculated, pulling up her dress just enough to expose a shapely leg and upper thigh. Charlie noticed the way she was sitting in her chair, making it look as if she wasn’t just seated, but occupying it as if it was not a simple thing made of wood but a throne and she a queen.
“Charlie,” He said, trying to stare at anything but her legs or pale blue dress.
“I’ll take a jack and coke,” she said, “and tell Ray to go easy on the ice.”
He ordered two. The bartender said nothing but handed he his drinks with raised eyebrows and a smirk when he saw Anika. Charlie began to believe he was once more the butt of some joke, but the smile Anika gave him when he handed her the drink was worth it.
“I never asked what we’re celebrating,” Charlie said.
“Life,” Anika said. She appraised the drink, swirling it in her hand before taking her first sip. “The pursuit of happiness. Noon on a Thursday. Take your pick.”
“I was supposed to meet with some friends,” Charlie said. “I think they stood me up.”
“Their loss,” Anika shrugged. “Listen, don’t let Leo push you around. He roars like a lion, but he’s really just a pussycat.”
Charlie nodded and stared at the table between them. He wondered how many others had tried burying their sorrows in this very spot, how many whispered secrets and confessions had been muttered through numb lips and thick tongues. He also wondered how much grief he was going to get from the boys in the office come Monday or whether there really was a party somewhere out there where they were laughing at poor Charlie looking for a place that almost didn’t exist.
“Even so, thank you,” Charlie said. “I’m sure he means well enough, but I’m sure I could’ve handled it on my own.”
“Oh I’m sure of it dear, but then you never would’ve met me,” Anika said, “And our meeting was providence.”
“Fate,” Anika shrugged. “Destiny. I’ll show you, darling.”
Charlie nodded, eager to finish his drink and leave now that it was obvious why a woman as pretty as Anika was sitting by herself. Maybe Leo wasn’t that bad a guy if the point of buying him a drink was to get him alone and warn him away. He seemed gruff, but maybe that was just his way of helping. Still, she was good enough company so long as you didn’t drink the kool-aid.
He watched her reach into her purse and remove a small flask which she used to spike her drink. Then, tossing back the drink in a practiced motion, she grunted and slapped her hand upon the table. Charlie said nothing.
All at once, his drink began levitating above the table. Both cups, in fact. The edge of his tie followed suit. Then both cups dropped from their perch, clattering to the ground and spilling his upon the floor.
“Destiny,” Anika winked, rising to her feet. She picked up the glass and settled it in front of him. Within his glass, she poured a drab of clear liquid. “Drink with me if you want to learn more.”
Charlie stared at his cup for some time before remembering to exhale. He glanced around the room, wondering who else noticed, but no one seemed interested. With no customers to serve, Jay kept his attention upon the game while Leo seemed not to have noticed the dropped cups. Perhaps such a thing was common enough in a bar that it didn’t warrant attention, but the levitating.
He picked up the cup, checking it for strings, but he’d felt it pulled out of his hands whenever it happened. No trick there. Had it been the girl? Had she really done it with a simple swig of drink?
“Bottoms up, dear,” Anika smiled, flashing teeth. She was pretty, sure, but dangerous.
He thought about the boys back in the office and then thought about lifting them in their chairs, pantomiming them in cruel sexual positions. Wouldn’t that be worth it?
Anika smiled when he tossed back the drink. Immediately it burned, trailing fire down his throat like a snail coated in napalm. He gasped and dropped the cup, fighting for breath despite his assumed tolerance for alcohol, but this was something different. Through his pain, he focused on the nearest thing to him, watching with equal parts horror and excitement as his glass lifted up and shakily hovered before him.
“How…” He groaned.
“Destiny,” Anika shrugged. “The drink helps awaken whatever dormant thing is within you. I knew from looking at you that we were the same. We’re kindred. It’s no simple accident we’re both here at the same time.”
Charlie lept to his feet and ran for the door. Anika called out behind him, but he pushed past Leo and through the glass doors. Outside it was raining, but none of that bothered him. He laughed, knowing life would forever be different from now on. No one would ridicule him. In fact, they’d want him at their parties. Good ole Charlie. Watch what he can do with a salt shaker and a pint. It’s magic, i’ll tell ya.
He yelped and pushed off into the air, pointing his fist upwards as all the super hero’s must’ve done. Then he was away, rain streaking past his face. He might not have been as quick as a rocket, but he was rising of his own accord albeit as shaky as a fledgling. He was doing it. Then he was falling, the River Liffey rising to greet him like a dear old friend.
“Again?” Leo asked, shouldering past Anika. “This is the third one this week and Jay wonders why we don’t get customers anymore. If he heard you was dropping them in the drink, he’d have those pretty little lashes nailed to his bar.”
“Sod off,” Anika said. “I can only stretch it so far and besides, it looked like he was enjoying himself. Besides, you see the look on his face when he came in? The man needed it.”
In the distance, they could hear Charlie surface, sputtering water and splashing like a dog in a pond. He was laughing.