Half an hour later, Mitch arrived at the bar. He used the ceiling light to look himself over in the mirror; despite shaving that morning, his stubble already returned with a vengeance. His sole consolation was that he didn’t appear any more tired than usual, which was still a vast improvement over how he looked during the immediate breakup aftermath.
Waiting for him was a message from Avi. Ok, I hope everything goes well!, it read, and Mitch hesitated to leave the car while those words rattled around in his skull.
He should go back, apologize for…well, not for lying, but for being irredeemably inconsiderate. After this was over -whether or not he came clean about the transgression- he’d not only buy Avi the guitar, but also make sure that he never paid for Starbucks ever again.
That would come later, he resigned, and opened the door.
The bar was located at the outskirts of Middlesex County, an area that encompassed most of the towns directly west of Boston. It reminded Mitch of every other quaint downtown he passed through in Massachusetts. A newly minted progress pride flag hung in the window of the adjoining coffee shop, and some of the tension that built up in Mitch’s neck and shoulders drained out upon seeing it; some of these smaller towns leaned towards the right, and though he never felt unsafe per se, it warranted some degree of vigilance. And it could be argued that this wasn’t a date, that he had no reason to worry about being targeted, but it also wasn’t not a date.
He hurried inside the building to escape the rain and walked up a hallway, the squelching of his shoes echoing off of the walls. He reached a door at the hall’s end with the bar’s name on it, and pushed it open. Stepping into a dimly lit room, he noted the industrial furnishings: Edison bulbs encased in lanterns suspended from the ceiling, exposed pipes, floor to ceiling windows that faced the street. All of the wooden surfaces were stained dark and sealed with a high gloss lacquer, bringing together the entire appearance to resemble a study or an archaic men’s club. Aesthetically, it was definitely Toby’s style. The only thing missing was cigar smoke and rancid bigotry.
“Mitch! Over here!” A voice called out from a nook to the side with several tables were crammed into it. Toby’s lanky form came into view, and he stood up from where he sat. The collared shirt/sweater combination and slacks suggested that he just came from work. He’d grown his hair out again, brunette curls framing his face, right on the verge of being unruly. The hot professor look was good on him.
Mitch approached unhurried, and allowed himself to be pulled into a cautious hug. “Hey you,” Toby whispered, bending over due to being nearly a foot taller.
“Hi,” Mitch greeted, giving two hearty pats on the back before pulling away. Toby pulled out a chair for him, and Mitch laughed at the gesture. “So formal!” He grinned and sat down.
“Well, you agreed to meet with me. It’s the very least that I could do,” Toby asserted. “Which, thank you, by the way. Because you did not have to.”
“Shit. Are we just getting that out of the way?” Mitch rubbed the side of his neck and watched Toby return to his seat. “Because after the last few months, I don’t have the energy for it. You fucked my ex when I was still with him-“
“I thought that you were on a break!” Throwing his head back, Toby rubbed his face with both hands.
“Did you really? Like be honest,” Mitch leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “I’m not mad about it anymore, and I came to hang out, but let’s not tiptoe.”
“I don’t know. I think it was more that I didn’t care about the official status when it happened?” Toby put his head down onto his folded arms, then looked up again. “You were both so terrible, and I was so…vindictive.” He paused when a server came over and took their drinks: a vodka soda for Toby and a lime seltzer for Mitch. Toby’s eyes remained trained on them until they were out of earshot, then he continued. “Maybe I wanted to be the final blow, and went about it in the least mature way. Anyway, your turn for honesty: are you really not mad anymore?”
“Of course I’m still mad,” Mitch responded without hesitation, and Toby huffed.
“I knew it. Should I go?” He abruptly stood up, feet of the chair scraping sharply against the floor, but Mitch grabbed onto his wrist before he got anywhere further.
“But. It’s also complicated.” Mitch explained. “If you didn’t do it, the cycle would have just continued as always. I finally got enough clarity to surrender that the ship was sinking, which was long overdue. So fuck you, you suck, but I also don’t hate you and I wouldn’t have agreed to come here if I didn’t want to see you.”
“So it’s done this time? For real?” Toby’s face was a mixture of concerned and hopeful, and when Mitch nodded, he didn’t bother to hide his relief. With a hand to the chest, he said, “I’m so glad to hear that.”
“Oh, no consolation?” teased Mitch. “Because I’ll have you know that these last few weeks have been a waking nightmare.”
“Uh no, you two together were a nightmare,” Toby scoffed.
“Maybe I should go.” This time Mitch stood, and it was Toby’s turn to grab and keep him firmly in place. He snorted and sat down again.