I’m by my favorite window, the one that overlooks the watermill that still spins. Most people assume it’s purely decorative but the owner of the brewpub actually uses it to grind the barley he makes his beer with. Out on the water the wheel is all stained and ancient oak; inside it is a sleek steel dancer moving lubriciously through its steps.
I’m honestly surprised when I see her come inside. She’s with two friends of hers, and they seem overjoyed at the sight of the place. They’re used to the bars south of town, depressing little one-rooms that have been slowly decaying since 1987. Dive bars that make other dive bars sad. I look to my beer, hope they don’t notice me in the back. Ten o’clock rolls around and the lights dim. Outside the water wheel is cast in moonlight as the light vanishes from the windows.
After several minutes I begin to relax, confident they didn’t notice me. Stupid. While the wheel glitters in the cool moonlight I hear a glass set down across from me.
“Hey,” she says, over some artificially green drink. What she thinks is a margarita, and what she doesn’t know is all the owner will serve you unless you ask for an actual one. Dive bar margarita. I sip my beer and take my time.
“You been alright?” I’m not really interested but my empathy won’t let me just brush her off entirely.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She fingers the salted rim of her glass. “I’m better.”
“I’m glad,” and I am. If my own breakdowns are anything to measure by, hers can’t have been fun. That’s all I say, though. “How’s school?” she finally asks.
“Won’t start till August,” I tell her. “What about you?”
She’s quiet a long minute again. “Withdrew. Just…too much right now, y’know?”
“Yeah. Makes sense. You signing up again next semester?”
She never answers. She doesn’t even sip her drink. Outside the wheel breaks the water in massive splashes. The mill grinds away at its load.
“I missed talking with you,” she says quietly.
“I missed talking with you too.”
“Are we…I mean, are we okay?”
I start hurrying through my beer. Lucky my tab’s already closed.
“No word. No nothin’.”
Halfway through the glass. The ale is lightening my mind.
“I know. That was shitty of me. But I don’t talk to pretty much anyone when I’m like that.”
Last few slugs and the glass is empty.
“I think you just don’t talk to me. Or…” I wave my hand. “Didn’t talk to me.” I start sliding out of the booth. “I gotta head out. Early day tomorrow. Tell your friends I said hey. Unless they don’t care then…” I smile and shrug. She doesn’t seem amused. I still don’t really care.
I walk out and make my way back. The river is a rushing and gasping thing against the wheel. The spring might turns disarmingly cool within the mist surrounding the banks. The water is shattered as it crashes against the wheel, but it is calmed and remade when it passes through.