It was not like he had wanted to go there, but his friend had talked him into going and reluctantly, he had given in to his friend´s persuasions. It was one of the new hip clubs, where dressed-up hipsters met with business people and he knew he´d have to dress-up as well and somehow he felt too tired to put on a clean shirt and shave and go out and be sociable. But John had put on his don´t tell me to fuck off tonight face on, had blabbered about having not been out in too long and other stuff that had made him feel guilty about neglecting his friend. So he had showered and shaved and had even put on a good shirt and they had walked the three blocks to the club John had talked about. There had been a line, but John just went past it, dragging him behind him. However, Tom felt braggy about cutting the line and even more swanky, when John hugged the bouncer, performed some sort of gangsta-like greeting handshake, called him buddy twice (though that could have been his name) and then just entered the club. There was some murmur from people in the line and Tom hesitated to follow John inside, but then he imagined seeing John´s disappointed face, so he hurried to get inside. Beats hit his ears as he entered. It was loud. He felt old and tired as he saw the dancing crowd, the smooth moves of all these young people and the seductive hip shaking of these women in short dresses. He detected John standing at the bar, no doubt ordering beer, so he walked over to his friend and patted him on the shoulder. John spun around and grinned and mouthed something Tom understood as awesome, club, right? so he simply nodded. John forced a bottle of cold beer into his hand and gestured him to make the round. Tom followed him. John greeted people to the right and people to the left and for a moment there, Tom thought John to be a real dandy, the kind of person he himself had been not two years ago. So Tom just followed John around, watched him greet people, exchange handshakes with associates and smiles with the ladies. He was in a good mood; and definitely looking for someone tonight. Tom sighed and played nice, shook hands with John´s friends and nodded when being introduced. It was not like he was trying to be rude. On the contrary, that was as sociable and friendly as possible. It´s been ages since he had been clubbing with John and it didn´t seem like the best idea he had had this week. The club was too full, the people too modern, the music too loud and he was too tired. The crowd, however, didn´t notice his rejection and understood his expression as nonchalance. Halfway up the stairs to the gallery overlooking the dance floor, Tom stepped into someone´s used gum sticking to a step. He stopped and used the step to scrape the gum off. As he continued to climb the stairs, he noticed that John had gone. In front of him were the fancy pants of some other guy and as he turned around, he saw a massive crowd of people he didn´t know and he thought that it might be the chance for him to just leave, but then someone grabbed him by the shoulder and he spun around and there was John yelling something about having seen someone he knows at the bar and he motioned him to follow. Reluctantly, he said goodbye to a night on the couch watching TV. John weaved through the crowd and flirted right and left. They stopped as John ran into Janet, a friend of Susan´s and she threw a nervous glance at him as she hugged John. Tom wished people would stop doing that, but it seemed as if people simply couldn´t help but remind him. As Janet stepped over to him, she hugged him at least twice as long as she had hugged John, covering him in her cheap perfume, and then she grabbed him by the shoulders, put on her condolence face and asked him how he was doing in that oh so sensitive voice that people used around him. Hush, don´t speak too loud, Tom might faint. He managed a crooked smile and told her that he was having a ball, but not even when he really truly was happy did people believe him. It seemed that even after all this time, they wanted him to be writhing in pain, shaken by the thought of her, torn by being alive while she was… well, not. John sensed that Tom wasn´t too happy with Janet´s act, so he told her nicely to fuck off, that is, he told her that they were meeting someone at the bar, and left her standing there. Tom thought that he could feel her glance on him as he walked away, but he didn´t turn around. John had already reached the bar and seemed to have found his victim for the night. She was a blonde, long-legged woman, the kind John preferred. She was tastefully dressed, a bit too chic for Tom´s taste, though. She already hung at John´s arm and he put on his best smile to woo her into trusting him. John´s taste in women fitted his needs. He needed them smart enough to entertain him, but naïve enough to trust his words. He needed them for bed, not for life. His woman of the day turned around and smiled at Tom, reaching over to greet him with a handshake. Tom tried to ignore the bird grip, but her long, false nails scratched his hand as she pulled her hand away and he instantly disliked her. There was something about that fake smile on her face, the way she held on to John like he was a rescue boat and she would drown if she let go off him. Tom realized that she was desperate. And then he saw the cracks in the make-up, the little wrinkles on her face, the slightly hanging boobs pushed up by a wonder bra that somehow didn´t help to cover up the dense connective tissue; the split ends and the fake hair she used to cover it up, the scar on her left arm that told of a fascinating story he´d never hear, and there was a rash in her right knee bend. She was trying too hard to stay twenty-five, even though she seemed to be pushing thirty. Tom sat down at a stool on the bar and ordered another beer. John was busy with his lady and Tom wished him good luck. Though he hated to think of women like that, John´s girl was good for a night – no more. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and as he turned around, a woman stood in front of him that bore remarkable resemblance to John´s girl, though she seemed to be the younger version. She said something Tom couldn´t understand so he motioned to her that it was too loud to understand and she leaned in and yelled in his ear that she was Maude´s sister and that she was delighted to meet him. Tom was polite enough to tell her that he was delighted as well, though the prospect of having to spend the night in a club he didn´t want to be in with the sister of a woman he dislike didn´t help to cheer him up. John´s voice pierced through the loudness. He was heading for the dance floor and Maude scuttled after him. Tom turned around to pay for his beer and took a large sip from the bottle. He had hoped that the sister would be gone, but as he turned around she was still standing there, staring after Maude and John. She smiled apologetic and yelled that her sister was kind of a bitch and that she was sorry her sister had ruined the night. Tom smiled at her and meant it this time. Finally, he reached out to shake hands with her and said his name. She smiled warmly, took his hand and said that she was called Amy. He asked her if she wanted something to drink and she asked for shot and he ordered one and gave it to her. She downed the drink with one sip and banged the glass down on the counter. Tom looked at her in amazement. She took him by the hand and led the way across the gallery to the staircase, down the stairs to the dance floor. He simply followed her. On the dance floor, she suddenly spun around to him and he almost ran her over. Awkwardly, she wrapped her arms around his neck and started to dance with him and Tom thought what the hell and danced as well. He wasn´t the best dancer so he stuck to his shifting from one foot to the other that seemed to be enough for the occasion. As a new song started, they remained dancing and Tom put his hand on her back and pulled her close. He took another sip from his bottle and offered it to her and she drank from the bottle and handed it back to him. As the third song started and the blaring noise of electro sound banged trough the room, she rested her head on his shoulder and he let her. She smelled of fresh sweat and heat and smoke from the smoker´s lounge. He took another sip from the bottle and caressed her back and she understood and moved closer. Though the music was loud and the people around them pushed, Tom and Amy were there and used the other. Tom thought of Susan and Amy thought of her lost love and both of them drowned in these thoughts. And as Amy stepped back to look at Tom, she didn´t see him and he didn´t see Amy and neither wanted to see the stranger in the person standing before them. So Tom took her hand and let her out of the room, out of the club, down the street and called a cab. The music had numbed his ears and they didn´t talk during the cab ride. She had given the driver her address. Driving downtown, Tom looked out the window into the night and felt at ease with the turn of events. Amy looked at Tom. As they reached her apartment, Tom paid the driver and Amy took his hand and they went upstairs. There was no playing around as they entered her apartment, no apologetic niceties; no lies about not having had time to clean up or to do the dishes. Amy dropped her purse by the door and kicked off her heels and then she turned around to Tom. Tom closed the door and took off his jacket and then he looked at Amy. She stood still as he approached her and took her face in his hands. Tom thought that she looked a bit like Susan and that she had the same tiredness in her eyes. The curve of her lips was different and she had blue eyes, but he made himself believe that it was her and not a woman he didn´t know. So he kissed her and she tasted of stale beer. But her lips were warm and soft and her glance behind half-closed lids was inviting and welcoming, so he kissed her again and he seemed to forget that he had just met her. They managed to get through her hallway and into her bedroom and she undressed him and he undressed her and they fell on her bed and he was on top of her and they enjoyed the stranger´s presence. Although unfamiliar to the body of the other, there was no awkwardness in their togetherness and no shyness in their touch. Both pretended to be in love, and they were, though not with each other. Tom thought of Susan as he fucked Amy and Amy was somewhere else as well and while lost in thoughts, they enjoyed the body of the other as a replacement for the body they could no longer touch. And as satisfaction raced through them, Tom opened his eyes and looked into her face and all of Susan was gone and there was Amy and she smiled at him. Her smile was the first thing that touched him and he felt his heart heal. And as he looked into her eyes, there was no more sign of Susan and he thought to himself that he had only seen her there because he had to fuck someone else in order to get rid of the strange obsession of only wanting to make love to someone who was dead. So he smiled back at Amy and kissed her and for the first time in a ages, Tom felt free.


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