Sipping an Extra Pale Ale, hand pumped and served room temperature, Brian waited for Alexa. The last time he saw her she was an eighteen year old senior and he was a sixteen year old sophomore doing his best to conceal what he assumed to be an unrequited crush. When she strode through The Abbaye’s doorway and their eyes met for the first time in seven years, his jaw unwittingly dropped.
“Hi there! Welcome to the neighborhood, stranger!”
“Thank you. And hello!” Be cool, he thought. “It’s been ages.”
“Really, it has.”
They flashed their individual headlines: a brief summary of college life from each of them, her job working with troubled teenagers, his much-less-interesting job in accounting, and, finally, how she managed to buy a home in Northern Liberties.
“So, you been to any other bars yet?”
“Well, this place just opened and I love it, then there’s North Third and Standard Tap and Azure who also have great food and beer lists.” She spoke of local homeowners in the collective. “If any of us need a contractor, we can always just go down to happy hour at Seven Hundred. Electricians, plumbers, general handymen, they’re always there when they get off work.”
“What’s the deal with Finnegan’s Wake?” Brian asked.
“Oh,” she frowned. “Bad news. Crazy-frat-party-land. The neighborhood association fights them all the time, but apparently its owned by a group of city politicians, so they get away with whatever they want. These kids park on all the nearby streets and then break bottles when they leave the place, scream and shout, it really sucks. I catch them pissing on the side wall of my house all the time, in the alleyway.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the vibe here.”
She nodded. “You said it.”
They agreed to meet for drinks again later that evening, and though Brian didn’t sense that she was any more attracted to him now than she was in high school, the slightest glimmer of hope was enough.
That night, they went to her favorite bars and he paid for the drinks. Their conversation had that effortlessness so often felt among young, increasingly buzzed people with many friends and experiences in common.
She asked him to walk her home and though he couldn’t be sure whether it was strictly for safety or, optimistically, for a night cap at her place, the glimmer of hope was alive and well.
As they approached her house, she began, “Would you like,” but was interrupted by the sound of a bottle breaking against brick, and then loud, drunken laughter. She turned toward the alleyway and then back at him and for the first time all night he was indecisive. Testosterone told him to walk into the alley and confront the perpetrators, but what he really wanted was for them both to pretend they hadn’t heard the loud noise and for her to finish her sentence. When she fell silent and just stood there, looking down at her red ballet flats, he felt compelled to act.
“Why don’t you go inside?” He said. “I’m just gonna see what that’s all about.”
“It’s okay,” she said. For a moment he thought she’d suggest that they go inside together and forget the newly broken bottle, but then she continued. “I’ll come with you.”
She stood back as he confronted two visibly drunk guys, one of whom was relieving himself on the side wall of her house. As the first punch landed on Brian’s left cheekbone and he fired back, nose cartilage crushing beneath his fist, he knew that his chance with Alexa had come and gone.