We met at a whiskey bar in Williamsburg. It was our favorite meeting spot because we could both get to it easily from our apartments. Her from Bushwick, and myself from South Slope. It was strange that we lived in the same city but hardly saw each other. The few neighborhoods that separated our apartments had seemed to grow and swell in the last few years.
“What is her name?” Kate asked.
I could see her eyeing me behind the cigarette smoke. Kate always said you could tell a lot about a person based on their name. She has once exerted that she could never get along with anyone named Jessica, except those girls named Jessica who insisted on being called Jessie or Jess. She got along with them very well.
“Amber,” I answered. It was strange the way her name sounded in my mouth. Like I had never said it before.
“Hmmm” Kate mused, rubbing the condensation of her glass with her fingers.
“Go ahead,” I sighed. “Tell me what you really think.”
“That is one of those names that only works for a certain age group.”
“You mean like Norman works for a sixty year old mailman but you can’t imagine a toddler named Norman?”
“Exactly,” Kate said. “Amber is a name reserved for 15 year olds.”
“What about you, Katherine?” I teased, using her full name.
“Katherine is the perfect name for just that reason,” she asserted, then taking a long sip from her drink. Alcohol was the only thing that could possibly pull her mind from a point she was trying to make.
“I was Katy as an infant, Kitty as a child, Kay through my teenage years, and now I am finally Kate.”
“What about when you get old?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered, thinking. “I can never really picture myself old. Maybe Kathy for a while, and then I will go back to Kitty when I am alone, eccentric, and senile.”
I laughed and sipped at my drink. The ice touched my teeth and I relished the sting for a moment before rubbing my tongue over them.
“And what about David, huh?” I asked.
“David has always been one of my favorite names,” she said, smiling into her drink. “I knew I would like you because you didn’t shorten it to Dave. Idiotic name.”
I raised my drink and the ice cubes shifted in the glasses as we clinked.
“But we are losing the subject,” she stated emphatically. “We were discussing your 15 year old girlfriend.”
“Ha ha,” I mocked.
“How is it going?”
“Good. Fine. You know, it’s early.”
“I like her.”
“More than your previous flings?”
“Well,” Kate sighed, leaning back some, an unconvincing smile on his lips. “That’s something.”
We sat in silence for a moment and tried to figure out if it was uncomfortable. We were used to the silences between us. But it had been so long. I didn’t like that she had started to feel like a stranger. But we had left each other years before, and since then, I couldn’t remember being happier.
“You look anxious,” Kate noted.
“I think we need another round.”
“I’m okay for now.”
A waitress appeared at Kate’s beckoning.
“Can we get two more?”
“How are you, Kate?” I asked hurriedly. She would be drunk soon and I wouldn’t be able to get a straight answer from her.
“Lousy,” she answered. “But what else is new?”
“Nothing, actually. I just got a promotion at work. Finally not behind on my bills. Moved into my new apartment last month.”
“So you are lousy, because…?”
The waitress reappeared then and Kate swiftly replaced her empty glass with a new one. A signal that the conversation was changing to new topics.
“How long have you been seeing her?”
Kate swallowed slowly and left the raised glass at her lips. I couldn’t tell if she was covering a smile or a grimace.
“I didn’t know you were seeing anyone when we spoke last. When was that?”
“Three months ago. And because you didn’t ask.”
“Still, you could have mentioned. Unless you thought it wasn’t worth mentioning at the time.”
Her nails tapped the side of her glass absently. Clink clink clink clink. They were usually painted red or purple. Tonight they were deep green. I instantly thought of Amber’s hands. No polish. Smaller. A few callouses from rock climbing.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I wasn’t sure of her back then.”
“But you are now?”
“I think so.”
“That doesn’t sound sure,” Kate chuckled.
“Would you lay off?”
“You’re being judgmental.”
“You don’t have to be so obvious with your jealousy.”
Kate was silent and she stirred the small complimentary straws in her drink. Bar tenders always gave her two. Even when everyone else in the group got one. I never understood it.
“I’m not jealous,” Kate murmured.
I tried to hide my involuntary scoff as a cough.
“I’m not,” she insisted. “I just feel like it takes more to get anything out of you. I used to read to like a book.”
“I wasn’t sure three months ago because it felt too intense. It scared me.”
Kate continued to stir her drink. I wasn’t even sure if she was listening to me at this point.
“But we talked about why I was being stand offish and well… here we are three months later.”
“Here we are.”
“I think I’m in love with her.”
“Of course you are. You fall in love with every girl you meet.” Her tone was not condescending or accusatory. Just stated like fact.
“I know, but…”
“Are you gonna marry her?”
I balked for a second and had to concentrate on swallowing my drink.
“We’ve been dating six months!” I exclaimed.
“I think I would scare her if I asked at this point.”
“But you have thought about it.” Another statement.
“I don’t know.”
“That’s a yes.”
I sighed and finished my drink. I immediately took up the new drink that the waitress had brought silently. I hated how much I drank when I was with her.
“And she’s thought about it too, by the way,” Kate said. “If you guys have been dating 6 months she has thought about it.”
“Married. 2.5 kids and a dog. Minivans…” Kate mused, smiling bitterly. “Have you told her?”
“Told her what?”
“That you don’t want to have children?”
I swallowed my drink slowly and set it on the table.
“Does she want to have kids?”
“Well, have fun with that conversation.”
I thought I detected a bit of triumph in her voice.
“We had the conversation.”
Why was I still talking? Drop it.
“You said you hadn’t told her you don’t want children,” Kate stated, confused.
“You do what?”
The silence between us was the heaviest it had ever been. Heavier than after the first time I said “I love you.” Heavier than after she had told me she was pregnant. Heavier than the car ride home from the clinic.
Kate’s face had gone paler, her hand shaking slightly as she set her now empty glass on the table. I watched her hand unconsciously move to her stomach and press slightly. I knew this gesture had nothing to do with the baby that was no longer there. She had not wanted the kid any more than I had. She had been the first to insist on going to the clinic. But she had ulcers as a teenager and whenever she felt stressed she felt the ghost-like pain of them in her stomach. I was the only person in the world who knew this.
“You do?” she asked suddenly, her voice sounding somewhat choked.
“Yes,” I whispered.
I could not remember the exact moment. I just remembered Amber asking me and saying yes. Because I did and I had for a while. But the moment of the decision was not there.
“Since her?” Kate guessed.
“I don’t know. No.”
“Well…” Kate trailed off before straightening up in her seat some. “I’m happy for you both.”
“This doesn’t mean we’re gonna have a child, Kate.”
“I’m not gonna go home and knock her up right now.”
The waitress came back over and I expected Kate to cut the evening short and ask for the check. But she ordered another round and asked for a double for herself. Maybe my statement had confirmed in her we would not see each other much after this. Maybe she just didn’t want to get drunk alone.
“Do you…?” I started. “I mean, do you want…?”
“No,” she stated firmly.
I should have known better than to think she would change her mind. She had not wanted children since she was a child and played house with her sister. She had short hair so she had always played husband.
“And it wasn’t me?” Kate asked, her voice very quiet. She was staring at her drink. “You didn’t not want children just because you were with me, right?”
“Of course not.”
“And if I said I did?”
“You said –“
“I know. And I don’t. But if I did…”
I was silent for a beat too long. She noticed and looked away before I caught her eye.
She laughed nervously and drank a long gulp.
“I’m joking,” she smiled. “You don’t have to answer. In fact, don’t. It will only make me feel lousier.”
The conversation moved to other things at her behest. She asked about some mutual friends that she had not seen in a while. We gossiped for a bit, happy that the conversation to move to others’ problems. When the waitress came by again we did not order another round.
It was chillier outside than it had been when we got there. I pulled my sweater closer and shivered slightly. Kate did not appear effected. She inhaled deeply, eyes closed.
“Are you okay to get home?” I asked.
“Of course,” she smiled, her teeth shining in the street lights. “I am full of whiskey now so I will not be so afraid to go home alone.”
We hugged before walking away from one another. But the hug became lingering and awkward. I kissed the top of her head. Her hair smelled like something I couldn’t remember. I knew she would drink more when she got home. I reminded myself to text her to make sure she got home safe, but I was certain I would forget.