The lights were low and the walls were decorated with flock wallpaper; stark black geometric patterns on an ivory background. Shadows cast across the floor and tables wavered as though unsure of their welcome here, and people stepped in and out of them lithely like dancers. The bar had a small number of people stood at it, stirring cocktails they looked uncertain of having ordered, or holding tumblers of brown and amber liquids with spherical ice cubes in and sipping them as though being forced to. The tables were equally sparsely populated, mostly by single drinkers with more determination that the bar-huggers. There was a low hubbub from disparate conversations, but a determined listener could have sat still in the middle and distinguished the words from each and every one. There was a smell of liquorice in the air as well that might have been from a spilled bottle of cheap Absinthe, but then again might not have been.
A woman in a thin white dress walked through the door and was ignored by everyone. She paused, clearly annoyed by this, and adjusted the front of her dress to expose a little more tanned cleavage, and still earned no reaction. She shrugged, mostly to herself, and adjusted her shoulder bag; pale green leather with a gold leather strap intended to look like chain-link. She looked around, then again, as though unable to believe that she couldn’t find who she was looking for.
He tapped her on the shoulder, having come in to the bar behind her.
“Toni,” he said, his voice a little husky. She half-turned her head, saw him, and then flinched, several seconds too late. His eyes recognised the slight but his face remained otherwise neutral. “Shall we sit?” He gestured to the tables.
She walked to one in the centre of them all and sat down, her bag swinging around to rest in her lap, and her hand cradling it protectively. The man, Jarvis, raised his eyebrows in the direction of the bar, got an acknowledging nod from the barman, and then walked over and sat down opposite her.
“Why did it have to be here?” she said. Her fingernails, long and painted papal purple tapped the table like a demented woodpecker.
“Because this is where we first met,” said Jarvis. “It’s appropriate, we’re coming full circle.”
“We’re coming full circle.” Her mimicry was snide but excellent. The barman appeared at her elbow and ignored her, looking at Jarvis expectantly. “Hey, bud! Bud! I want a drink!”
“Directions on a cold, dark night, please,” said Jarvis. The barman nodded. “And sure, I’ll buy her a drink.” Only now did the barman look at her, and his dark eyes held hers for a moment, quieting her.
“Prosecco,” she said. “Fizzy, too. None of that funny flat stuff.”
When the barman left them she glared at Jarvis. “What was up with him? Is he a faggot? Couldn’t take his eyes off you, could he! And what was that… that thing you ordered? Directions to a big gay fight?”
“Just a cocktail,” said Jarvis. “I think he didn’t like you.”
“Hahahahaaaaa.” Her laugh was too close to a shriek for comfort. “Yeah right, he didn’t like me. He didn’t like you. No-one likes you. All of my friends hated you. You were always just this big lump in the corner, getting fat and staring at people like you’d never seen them before. You never watched tv, and you never listened to any decent music. You were just fat and useless. I’m glad we split up.”
“I watched tv,” said Jarvis. “We just watched different shows, we listened to different music. Your friends did seem to hate me though, even the ones who’d never met me.” His words floated past her, unlistened to.
“You’re so fat.”
“Sure,” said Jarvis. He was wearing a hoodie that she’d bought him a month after they’d met. It was three sizes too large and looked it, but after she’d bought it she made a fuss every time he came out unless he was wearing it. It smelled faintly of wet dog, even when it was fresh from the dryer.
“Everyone here’s weird, you know? Like no-one’s looking at anyone.”
“They’re just hungry,” said Jarvis. The barman appeared again and set a tumbler of blood-red liquid down in front of Jarvis and a champagne flute of pale yellow bubbles in front of Toni. His eyes caught hers again, and she wondered for a moment why they seemed so blood-shot.
“Yeah, I get cranky when my blood-sugar’s low,” she said, picking the glass up. She sipped it, wrinkled her nose against the prickle of the bubbles and then downed it. She set the glass down on the table, and looked at Jarvis.
“Same again.” she said.
Jarvis picked his drink up, and brushed away a little frost that had formed on the table underneath it.
“I said I’d buy you one drink,” he said, and sipped his drink.
There was a moment of peace as the liquid swirled around his mouth, aromas of red fruit and old leather bubbling up into his nose and a hint of sweetness washed away by a sea of bitterness like the regret of old sins, and then, predictably, Toni erupted.
“You cheap bastard!” she yelled, standing up so she breathe deeper and scream louder. Behind her several people at the bar looked round at last. “All I want is one more fucking drink! Is that so fucking much to ask of my ex-bloody boyfriend?”
“Ex,” said Jarvis quietly. She reached across the table to slap him, but someone behind her caught her hand. She tried to pull away, but their grip was like stone; cold and uncompromising. She turned, torn between continuing to shout at Jarvis and wanting to scream at this interloper and found herself looking into another pair of bloodshot eyes. She opened her mouth, but something inside her suggested that this would be a really bad idea, and she closed it again.
“The thing is,” said Jarvis. “The thing is, you never knew what bar you’d walked in to, did you?”
“What?” she wanted to look at him but she couldn’t pull her gaze away.
“Exactly. You were just looking for another mark, another stupid little fuck to take for a ride and bleed dry. And you would have got just the opposite if I hadn’t seen you.”
“What?” She felt incredibly distracted. She didn’t normally listen to anything Jarvis said – well, anyone said, really, except maybe Bethany, but Bethany had been like a sister to her – but now it was like she was being told not to. Only no-one else was talking.
“This is a vampire bar, Toni. Lestatic. The name’s a clue.”
“What?” It sounded pathetic this time, and she could barely hear herself speaking. The room seemed to be darker than she remembered and she was feeling dizzy. Only the bloodshot eyes in front of her were keeping her upright, she was sure.
“So here you are, back where we met, and this time I’m leaving you to your fate. I gave you three months you didn’t deserve and don’t appreciate. I think that’s enough.”
“Jar–?” She had a feeling something important had just happened, but she wasn’t sure what. She inclined her head, trying to hear the voice that had just been speaking, stretching her neck out as she turned and twisted. The light in the bar fell on it, graceful as a swan’s, and for a moment everyone held their breath.