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Holding Hands in Bell in Hand
Words by Allie Antonevich
Image by Claudio Parentela
The cool, still air allows for a great time to rest my thoughts. My hands burrow into my warm pockets, my thumb brushing the pad of my pointer finger slowly. I want this to go well. Meeting Margot allows me to get another chance at love, and even though I try to remain calm, my insides electrify; the currents zinging from my toes to around my body.
It had been two years since Rebecca left. I still hear her heels clacking against the pavement when I slam my door shut. I still hear her singing quietly to herself when she’s in the shower. I still hear the crack of my own heart.
My soul hurt. It craved a companion. It craved waking up next to someone, while the soft sunlight splayed on the white sheets. I hoped tonight would lead to that—not even sex, just the “after” part. The lazy kisses, the warmth of another body next to me.
The faint horn of a car transports me back to reality. My thoughts churn in my head; the thumb finds its familiar place by the finger. I follow my feet until I make it to Bell in Hand, one of my favorite bars in town, as my own heart threatens to burst out of my chest.
I take a deep breath; filling my lungs with so much air it threatens my relationship with gravity. I exhale, my hands reaching out to the knob. I open the heavy door, my world threatening to implode.
Noise escapes through the door and greets me, pulling me by the lapels of my coat and dragging me in. Laughter floats above me, and my eyes scan the busy scene, honing on two empty bar stools at the corner of the bar. I slip past glasses being clinked and murmurs being exchanged, and make my way to the dark corner.
It’s safe here. I slide onto the seat and take my hands out of my pockets, resting them on the counter. My eyes drift back to the door and I wait.
A few minutes pass and I see a figure walk by the window, and then the knob turns slowly. My heart feels like it’s about to burst out of my chest, and my hands escape to the pocket.
She arrives. Her brown hair rests at her shoulders, bangs shadowing her forehead. Her eyebrows furrow as she looks around, but once her eyes settle on my own, her features soften, and her mouth curves upward. She waves hello, and my hand retreats from safety to wave back.
I hope to get the bartender’s attention prior to Margot getting over to me, but it’s no use; he’s busy calming down a large man in a small suit. I watch as the man’s beady eyes threaten to bulge out entirely, spit forming at the corner of his mouth. I suppress a chuckle as I see the bartender throw the towel over his shoulder and divert eye contact.
Margot makes it to the bar stool, sets her small bag on the counter, and tosses me a sly glance. “Henry Connors, it’s been too long,” she says, giving me a quick hug. “How’ve you been?”
“Good, good,” I reply, pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Thank you again for meeting me tonight.”
Margot scoffs and waves her hand away, her face illuminating. “Are you kidding me? I’m so glad we get a chance to catch up. How are you liking Boston?”
"I love it," I say. "I love the city, I love the people, I love the history, I love the concerts." The words are thick and settle in my mouth like sand. I leave out the small detail that none of this is true.
I pivot away from the dangerous territory of what I like to call the truth. I want to run away from it but it still manages to have a firm grasp on the back of my shirt, pulling me back no matter how hard I pump my arms and legs.
“But enough—” I’m interrupted by the bartender. He has two sweating glasses in his hands, the stained towel still rests on his shoulder, and his tired eyes bore into mine.
“Sorry about earlier,” he gives me a quick nod. “But what can I get you two to drink?”
“An Old Fashioned, please,” Margot and I say at the same time, the words perfectly in sync. She looks at me and her eyes crinkle at the edges as she laughs.
“Thank you,” I tell the bartender, and shift in my stool so I’m looking directly at her.
“So you wanted to complete some sort of experiment with me, Hen?” she says, her eyes catching with mine. “Do I have to wear lab goggles? Do I have a lab notebook?”
Laughter spills over and I shake my head. “Arthur Aron’s experiment--The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness; we ask each other 36 questions, stare into each other’s eyes for a few minutes, and then we see if this relationship will go somewhere,” I explain.
“Let’s do it,” Margot says, reaching for the drink that was just set down. Her finger dances up and down the glass slowly. Hesitantly, she takes a small sip, her eyes flicking back to meet mine.
The darkness in the corner wraps us up in an embrace. My legs rest comfortably under the stool, and my hands loosely grasp the glass. Neither of us flinches when the bartender spills a drink next to us.
I take my phone out of my pocket and place it on the counter, scrolling to the first question. I inhale, and my leg begins to bounce nervously.
“Okay,” I say, and then clear my throat. I try again. “Okay, Margot. Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
Margot grimaces slightly and takes another small sip of her drink. The darkness squeezes us in a little bit more as she leans in, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” she says. “I want to be famous for my writing. But just as a well-respected author. I don’t want to be famous like J.K. Rowling, for example. She’s famous for Harry Potter. I want to be famous for my craft. Not for a world I’ve created that people want to live in. I want to develop a distinct, ‘Margot Twellman’ style. Does that make sense?”
I nod. I want to say something intellectual, something deep and profound. I’m about to comment on how I hope to achieve a Neil DeGrasse Tyson level of “nerd fame”, when my mouth decides to act before my brain and begins to spit out the truth.
“I don’t want to be famous,” I confess. “I would hate it. I would rather be respected by my peers than be venerated by a society where they only know the public me.”
I look back down at the phone, my eyes scanning for the next question. Margot takes another sip of her drink and I feel her eyes settle on me.
“Next one,” she prompts me, tilting her head in a knowing way. I clear my throat once more and begin to read the second question.
The bar gets more crowded as the night progresses, which I didn’t think would be possible. My once bouncing leg has slowed to a stop. The noise of other people threatens our bubble, but doesn’t make an entrance into our space.
Two hours have passed and we’re on question 36. A few empty glasses sit before us, and our legs press into one another’s under the counter. My hands haven’t made it to my pocket for a while.
My eyes scan the screen as I read the sharp question, “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are living? Why?”
We’re both quiet, my pointer finger itches for my thumb.
A man with a large glass shatters our silence. He cuts in between our space, my legs forced away from Margot’s.
“Barkeep!” He bellows, his face reddening, though I’m not sure if it’s from anger or from too many drinks. “We want another round!”
I hear a loud cheer behind me, presumably from his rowdy group of friends. I bite my tongue, willing myself to just let this man be. Soon he will be gone, I tell myself. Soon he will be gone and our bubble will exist once more and we can finish the question.
I push forward, overlooking the counter, to see Margot and I find her already staring at me. Her eyes widen, her mouth quirks upward, and she shakes her head slowly as she looks back at the drunken man. He’s now settled in between us, his arm encircling a pool cue.
I nod my head in the direction of the door and she accepts the invitation. I reach into my pocket, throw some bills onto the counter, and hop off the stool.
I reach back to offer my hand as we slide through the mess of people and alcohol. It’s warm as it laces with mine.
It feels like years have passed once I make it to the door, the laughter and cries of those in the bar clawing at us. I tug her once more as I lean on the door, my weight pushing it open, and we are suddenly enveloped in silence and cool air.
Her hand remains in mine, and my heart is beating so quickly I feel the blood thudding softly in my ears. We begin to follow the sidewalk up a slight hill to the harbor. I feel my insides start to warm.
She squeezes my hand gently, and her words nudge the comfortable silence.
“I think if I knew I would die in a year, I would talk with my family more. We just stopped communicating once my sister died, making her death even harder to deal with. I want to talk to my mum, I want to talk to my dad, but I’m nervous at this point if I reach out to them, my anger will overpower my love and I’ll just make the whole situation worse,” Margot exhales slowly.
I squeeze her hand in return.
“I get too hung up on the past, I think,” I say. “If I knew I would die in a year, I would let things go more easily. I also would need to stop letting potential failures prevent me from trying new things.”
I feel her nod. As we approach the water, the air changes. The wind softly brushes through our hair, and it feels less intimate than a crowded bar, with all of this open space.
We walk to the pier and she turns to face me.
“What’s next?” she asks quietly, her words creeping under my skin.
“Aron says that we have to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes,” I explain. I look away and am comforted. I see that it’s dusk, the palette of pink, orange, and reddish hues filling the skyline.
I set the timer. I look into her blue eyes, and stare and stare and stare. She reaches out and grabs one of my hands as this continues, a nervous smile breaking out onto her face.
I smile back, my eyes catching her features with peripheral vision. She’s beautiful. We settle into the silence, our gazes meeting in the middle and embracing.
Eventually the alarm breaks the silence, and I use my other hand to shut it off and place my phone in my pocket. Margot continues looking at me, this time her eyes sweeping down to my lips and then back to my eyes.
My chest threatens to burst. I lean in closer, hoping that this is the right thing to do, and slowly close the small distance between us.
I’m about to brush lips with hers when she looks to the left towards the harbor, smiling nervously. I see the wind blow through her bangs. She blinks slowly.
“Listen, Henry,” she begins, her eyes now set on the water. My mind whirs, my hand drops hers, and I take a step back. My heart fills with concrete. Of course it wasn’t going to work, I scold myself. What kind of idiot believes in a science experiment?
“No,” she says, her eyes flicking back to my face. “I like you; I had a great time. I just don’t do this… on the first date. With your answers to some of the questions, I think it seems like you still have feelings for Rebecca, too. I am willing to try this out. I just want it to be when it’s for our relationship and not for you to get over someone else.”
My brain clouds with what-ifs. Because even if a little piece of my heart is still mending from Rebecca, Margot allowed me to forget that temporarily. Perhaps she’s even speeding up the process.
“Thank you for meeting me tonight,” she concludes, slipping her hand into mine. “Let’s do this again sometime soon.”
My heart soars, and my mind clears. Everything is okay; my breathing slows. We follow our feet to the parking garage, and her thumb brushes mine.