Ilya Fortis is forty and fading. Little is left of the man he once was. When he meets a strange girl in a bar, he expects to be rejected yet again. The lesson he learns that evening will shake him to the core of his being. Sometimes sex is not what it seems.
She did turn to him then and looked him up and down, which would be, he knew, the end of the conversation. Fifteen years ago he’d been handsome, ten years ago good-looking, five years ago attractive. These days he was overweight by at least forty pounds and his brown hair-- too long in the back, too thin in the front--lacked the same luster as his life. His brown eyes had been dulled by years of wanting, and his beard, freshly trimmed, was more gray than brown. His nose was too large for his face, and he hadn’t smiled enough recently to remember what his teeth looked like. His leather jacket was as worn as his visage and, though his blue shirt was a bit worse for the wear, his blue jeans were new, a necessity born of weight gain. He almost stood up and left before she broke the news to him. Another rejection he couldn’t handle.
To his astonishment she smiled again. It struck him like a physical blow. Ilya reeled. He lifted his beer and took a swing to hide his reaction. By the time he placed it back on the bar, she’d turned back to her own drink.
“Do you know the worst thing about bars?” she asked.
Ilya thought he did but didn’t want to name it. “Tell me.”
“You can never meet someone at a bar without suspecting their motives.”
He wanted to cry. His only motive was loneliness, and he knew then she’d never believe it.
“Does everyone have to have a motive?”
“Of course, even if they don’t know it themselves. Do you know yours?”
“How can I tell?”
“Then you don’t.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know much of anything anymore. Only that the nights seem longer, the sun seems further from the Earth even in summer, and the past is fraught with peril for those who would face it.”
She looked startled then laughed, a brittle sound belying the vibrant colors she seemed to radiate.
Ilya looked around but he was the only one close enough to notice. “You sound like I feel.”
He couldn’t believe someone like her could resemble him in any way.
“Yes. By the way, I’m Ilya.”
“Of course you are.”
“Won’t you do the honor of giving me your name?”
“Not yet. I want to know more about you first.”
“What do you want to know?”
“I don’t know. Why are you here?”
“It’s my birthday.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“Happy birthday, Ilya. I’m guessing it hasn’t been a happy one.”
Were any of them? “I guess not.”