Epyllion

Short Fiction Story By Mary Williams

On this Valentine’s Day, we have a love story to share from another UWF student: Mary Williams. A love story that reminds us all that love in itself is unique. Each love story has its own beginnings and endings and inevitable bumps, so whether you have your own valentine, a clan of galentines or a glass of wine to keep you company, take a moment to immerse yourself into the beginning moments of an all encompassing romance.

I wrote this story because I wanted to capture a universal love story. I wanted my readers to sense the relationship between Alex and Cody and understand that a connection has nothing to do with either gender or background, but rather that it is about the two people and how they turn every little moment into something magical. The world is changing and that can be a beautiful thing when people are able to express who they are and how they feel in a positive way When I’m picking out something to read. I mostly enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but I also enjoy anything that tells a story while forcing us to challenge conventional views. I hope you enjoy my story, and that it inspires you to both follow your heart, and support other people who follow theirs.

Tap on Toulouse

By Mary Williams

“What a strange place.” I thought to myself as I watched two women dressed in matching black tank tops and shorts; one wiping down some whiskey bottles and the other leaned over the bar just enough so that the, two o’clock in the afternoon bar rat, can glimpse amongst her chest, as I presume she took their order. I looked around and noticed beads hanging from the ceiling and windows that clearly hadn’t been washed in decades, a pool table with purple carpeting like velvet, and the two o’clock bar rat noticed me, noticing the bar and it’s unique aesthetics, as I decided to open a tab.

I had only moved here three weeks ago and the hustle and bustle of the New Orleans world made my head spin like the busted wheel on a bicycle. Every night I saw or was a part of something different and crazy, and beautiful in its own way. I could not get enough. I got off work early at the law firm so I thought I would explore and found myself in the bar, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, no longer in any position to judge the fellow bar rat across the glazed oak bar.

“Doesn’t seem too far-fetched for a small-town kid like me.” I pondered, while I counted all the different top shelf liquor bottles and beads hanging from the most expensive bottlenecks which haven’t been opened since the last Mardi Gras. A handful of people sat at the bar, and I observed, wondering what their stories were and how they ended up in those stools at this moment. “Where did they come from?” I wondered but did not dare ask. I am not timid, but I am a choosey chatterbox. Back home, in the small town of Watertown, Tennessee, there is no music playing in the streets, or bars on every corner, and there certainly is no gentlemen’s club, but we do have dive bars. I felt as though I am not so alienated after all.

I chose to sit in the bar corner, a dark corner, and noticed the two sullen bartenders in matching non-slip shoes that were necessary to not slip on drunkenly-spilled vodka tonics reflecting off the black tiled flooring. This bar had little to no one occupying it compared to the well-lit, music blasting, fancy bars just around the corner.

This might have been perfect for me; dirty, just loud enough for casual conversation, the loosely placed ashtrays on the tables which indicated no one cared enough what anyone else was doing, and no one would tell someone not to light their storage inside. It was mysterious and laid back. It was like home, but across the country. It was quiet but screamed out the desires and passions of the careless self-ruled patrons. No one cared, truly.

I took a seat on a worn-out bar stool, and asked the, not so flirtatious bartender, for a beer and an ashtray. I must have looked out of place, or foreign, nevertheless I received my dark tinted beer, which called for a cigarette.

Looking around at all the different people in this hole-in-the-wall bar, I knew I didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit most situations I found myself in, but not because I looked different or talked funny. I just didn’t care about what most people wanted to talk about. It’s always all the same; this leader did this and that person did that, and it just gets old. Something about this place was inviting yet intimidating.

After I finished my beer and another cigarette, I started to make my way to the restroom and on to another bar to see what kind of trouble I could get in to.   

As I walked toward the restroom I notice someone’s phone fall out of their pocket and without a thought in mind I leaned down and picked it up. As I handed it to them our eyes met and our hands touched. Of course, It was the 2 o’clock bar rat, that I had been so infatuated with earlier. Whatever the reason, I searched for words, but nothing came out of my lifeless mouth.

I have never had a problem with strangers and being that I was a chair holder at the annual Fiddler’s Jamboree, I knew I was capable enough to hold a conversation with the best of them.

Something was different, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and my hand was on fire where we had grazed fingertips. I could feel those almond-gold eyes as they danced in my soul and I was entranced.

“Who was this beautiful person?”

“How do I ask their name?”

“How do I let go of their phone?”

With our hands extended toward each other, it felt like an invite into this bar rat’s world, luckily, we were both holding the phone with our left hands or that would have been awkward…

I let go of the phone, and all too eagerly we shook hands.

Surprised, I thought, “such soft strong hands.”

“Hey, I’m Alex. Thank you for getting my phone.”  

Alex, so confident. My mind started racing, but the only question occupying it was to myself and rhetorical. “Why do I feel like this will be the person that I would give the ability to unhinge my life.”

“You look like you need a drink, what do you think?” Alex said, catching me even more off guard. The bar rat must have noticed how on edge I was, like an anxious, empty-pocketed street performer whose rent is due tomorrow.

I looked around to see if anyone heard but no one seemed to pay attention to us in the slightest, except for the showy bartender at the other end of the bar wiping down some glasses and giving me the occasional dirty side look. But she too got bored of us and moved on to a couple businessmen having a cold one after work before they head home to their wives.

It must have been apparent I was uncomfortable with the idea in the moment because right on cue Alex continued, “Not here, wanna go on an adventure? I have an idea.” Without giving me time to answer Alex laid a couple bills on the bar, swiveled around on the stool, and walked toward the door not looking back.  

I knew I wanted to go but how do I know I can trust Alex? Alex does not sound like the kind of person who sells unfortunate lost souls to the devil, right? I did not think so either, so I waited a moment to make sure no one saw us leave together and headed toward the door.

I tried to look around, but I couldn’t see well, the sun was setting and shined right in my eyes. After a moment I could see well enough to notice for the first time Alex’s shiny black hair from a block away.

And on cue, Alex looked up, saw me, gave me a wink, turned down the alley, and without hesitation I felt myself crossing the street and heading down a dimly lit alley.

What was I thinking? Was this the beginning of a Stephen King novel? These big city fumes must be affecting my brain, I thought.

We came out onto another busy street, turned left and headed up the street, but every couple blocks Alex stole a look back and would give me a smirk as if to keep me on my toes. I was at least a block behind but I still felt myself blushing.

Then out of nowhere Alex turned and disappeared into an archway covered in overgrown vines, almost completely hiding the entry.

I followed Alex through this rugged black walkway, the brightness of the setting sun caught me by surprise when I came into a courtyard filled with all sorts of different people. Tap on Toulouse, the name of the bar shined brightly, outlined with candles and large golden bulbs, like a doorway on Christmas. Except this sign was inviting and the faces in the courtyard lit up like the street lamps. All I could notice were smiling silhouettes where people were standing, and it felt familiar. There was a broken fountain covered in Mardi Gras beads perfectly centered in the courtyard. This was more like it, I mean how could anything go wrong.

I made sure not to interrupt any of the small groups of people that sat around the tables, as I walked toward the bar and out the back corner of the building, Alex waved me over.

From what I could see through the mangy closed glass doors that lead the way into the building, it looked to me like some sort of bar or club with a stage in the corner and a bar that ran along the adjacent walls. Looks fun, I thought, but little did I know, at the time, how much of an impact this place would have on my life.

Alex asked what I liked, and I stupidly responded with,

“I’m not used to y’all’s fancy big city drinks, I’ll just have a beer.”

Why in the world did I say that? I have tried a virgin daiquiri and I thought it was amazing, and that was four years ago at a wedding. I’ll be morbid if I have to drink beer for the rest of my life.

“Actually,” I interjected, sheepishly grabbing the bartender’s attention, “I apologize, all I have ever known is beer and this one time at my cousins wedding a frozen daiquiri, that very well may have been a virgin daiquiri.”

I guess that was funny because Alex just laughed and told the bartender to make me something I would like.

I was skeptical, to say the least, that a complete stranger could guess what kind of drink I would like, but to my surprise the bartender returned with an oddly shaped glass full of a light pink liquid with no ice.

Alex and the bartender just sat there and watched me, as if watching a kid ride a bike for the first time, waiting for me to try this miraculous drink.

I picked it up carefully, so as not to spill it over the tilting sides and lifted it to my mouth to take a sip. It was like an explosion of sweet and pungent, but strong, like Alex’s words as we talked about life. Fruitful flavors enveloped my mouth as I closed my eyes and let the sparkling drink slide down my throat.

I opened my eyes to the two of them grinning at me like a bunch of children who just got a shiny new toy.

“So, what do you think?” asked the sassy bartender. I liked this bartender, much more pleasant.

“It tastes like a party on my tongue,” I said laughing at myself.

“I knew it, my strawberry martini wins every time.”

“This is Jonah, the best bartender this side of Bourbon Street,” said Alex, “We have been friends for a while now.”

Jonah reached out to shake my hand, while Alex commented,

“I never got your name, did I? I’m so sorry,” Alex said with sincerity in those glowing gold eyes. Alex continued, “I guess I felt like I didn’t need to know, I had a feeling about you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, my name is Cody”

“Cody, huh…?” Jonah interrupted, “how long have you been in town, Cody?”

“Just moved here a couple weeks ago for work actually” I answered.

“And what do you think so far Cody?” Jonah enticed drawing out the “y” in my name like a siren luring a pirate to his doom.

“Well, from what I can tell there is never a dull moment, and music is always playing, which I love.”

This statement caused Jonah to spin around like he was on a stage and do a little jump in the air, and responded with too much excitement, “that’s because all anyone here wants to do is dance!”

Alex and I laughed, paid for our drinks, and migrated to one of the small iron tables in the corner.

Alex’s intellect was amusing, a complete environmentalist, and a great conversationalist. Alex  was gabbing on and on about a fiery feud with another environmentally progressive construction company, bidding on the overwhelming contract to remodel a stadium in town. Every word somehow pulled me deeper into the conversation, even if it was something I had not been interested in previously.

I watched and listened, well, tried to listen, as this bar rat I just met had talked to me about life and experiences and this contracting deal and whatever else was on Alex’s mysterious mind. I could not hear a thing as Alex spoke. I was beyond infatuated, I was electrified. I watched the curvature of Alex’s lips and suddenly a more exciting the story began to play out. I could see the motion on Alex’s tongue pronounce words with a unique diction and I was in a trance. I found myself only wanting to touch and to feel. Feel where this enchanting person came from. Feel the heat of the enigma before me. How precious, how delicate, how… Incredible. It was that day, I knew there was no going back. I wanted to spend every moment in every bar with this adventure connoisseur, this open mind that bent my feelings and made them something new, something real…

+  +  +

It’s been a couple years since the accident, but I feel enough time has passed to explain who this person really was. This simple bar rat who was not so simple.

So I began, “now babies, you must always believe in something. You may find yourself questioning your life, finding joy in the dark, and dark in even the happiest times. There will be times where you feel unloved, or feel that love is a lie, that love is excruciating and exciting, and whatever you do, believe in every notion.”

They look with blank stares, and Addison turns to me and says in the most genuine and innocent voice, “I believe that you love us” and I reply, “We both did, and I will never stop as long as I live.”

I continue to tell them about our beautifully tragic love story.

Hayden looks at me with confusion and inquisition. I explain that people will think and look and feel things about who you are and why, and it does not matter, the only thing that is of true importance is loving the person you see in your reflection.

This bar rat changed my world. Alex was spunky, and unapologetic, and showed me how to live in this world, where not everything is not what it seems to be in fairytales. I started learning all of this the first night we talked back in that bar, that soon became our bar. Alex always told me “There’s not a whole lot down here that matters; just you and me and the life we lead.” I quoted to my angels.

Like a cat watches flies float around the room our kids longed to hear more as I began telling them about the mishaps, the building of our seemingly spectacular life together. All that mattered was Alex. Now, all that matters is what remains: the memories, the children, and the treehouse.

“Alex and I built something for you before we knew who you were each going to be. Alex loved you both more than I have ever seen another person love anyone.”  More than the trees love the moon, and the fields of Watertown love the stars. “Toulouse” I stated out loud, which Alex and I agreed was the perfect name.
“Our treehouse!?!” Addison and Hayden both chanted aloud as if in competition as I finally told them of this magical place of beginnings, circles of dancing, and the true story of love that came from one trip to that iconic dive bar, Tap on Toulouse…

Gina Castro is a senior at the University of West Florida where she is double majoring in English Literature and Journalism. When she's not researching new stories to write articles about, she is watching knitting tutorials or obsessing over Toni Morrison.

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