"We’re just too different."

Those words again.

They still crept around in his brain. Stalked his waking hours without his consent. Lurked in the background, always. It no longer mattered how many times he tried the good ol’ Repress and Suppress now.

Now, he was standing in the middle of a crosswalk, staring at nothing.

And then, there was an abrupt blaring horn and flashing high beams, effectively crashing his consciousness. He jumped and scurried to the other side of the street. Just stop thinking about it.

He lit a cigarette.

The street was quiet again. It was dark. Very dark. Briefly, he wondered what time it was. But he didn’t check his watch. Didn’t check his phone. Didn’t want to know.

He took a deep, satisfying drag. The smoke burned his lungs enough to provide the necessary distraction and he found himself looking around again. There was nothing open but a bar. It was one he had never been to before. He squinted at it. Had he even seen this bar here before? He flicked away his barely-smoked cigarette. The bar had no name. Unless “The Bar” counted--a purple neon sign pointed to the entrance and he found himself drifting toward it. He only paused once he got to the door. He could hear… no, feel, the music inside. The handle vibrated to the fast beat under his fingertips and suddenly his heart was pounding in his ears.

He gripped the handle, pushed the door, and went inside.

It almost seemed darker inside. He had been to dive bars before, but dive bar was more of a gross understatement for this place. Nevertheless, instinctively, his feet knew where to carry him. The sticky floors grounded him and the flashy lights guided. The atmosphere, thick with the shared breath of dancing, laughter, and gossip, buzzed all around him.

"What’ll it be?"

He was staring again, apparently. The bartender was staring back. And then smirked knowingly.

"Oh, uh, whatever you have on tap," he said coolly.

What the hell was he doing here?

Once he received his liquid poison, he turned away on his stool to regard the rest of the room. (The bartender’s eyes were way too evaluative for his comfort.)

It was busy for a Thursday night and overcrowded for such a small town. Strangely, he recognized no one. The space was a simple, cramped box, but he noticed a small mysterious room just around the corner from the bar. And from it came that familiar, skunky smell of freedom. How had he missed this place before? He swigged his cheap beer in five gulps. It was going to be a “keep my bar tab open” kind of night.

"Damn, slow down there," a low voice floated over to him. "The night’s just getting started and you just got here."

He looked over and met a pair of dark brown eyes. But what was probably most striking about the stranger were those bright red painted lips, smiling against the backdrop of an impressively bushy black beard. He was staring again, but this time managed to pull himself out of it without looking too suspicious. Silently, he lifted his glass toward the stranger. The stranger did the same in the other direction. Clink.

"You wanna dance?"

"Yes," he answered automatically, surprised by his own honesty and eagerness. What happened to slowing down?

The stranger just snorted, grabbed his hand, and off they went to join the crowd.

The dance floor was home to the rhythmic stomping of heels and combat boots and everything in between. The stone butches danced with the high femmes who danced with divine drag queens who danced with short silver daddies who danced with nonbinary babes in crop tops and leather pants. One could easily get lost in such a sea of miscellany. And be found again on the other side of the spectrum.

But those two never lost sight of one another somehow. He stared into those dark brown eyes. They stared back. And no matter how many twists and turns and whirls and twirls, their eyes always met again. And when they touched, he marveled at the way the dark grunge of the room faded away, replaced with a color he had never seen before. "Am I drunk?" he asked before he realizing he asked.

"You're a little different, that's for sure."

He laughed without warning. Laughed so hard that his stomach cramped and his binder chafed. Soon, he realized the stranger started laughing as well, tearing up even. Existence was suddenly hilarious.

Alas, he eventually needed air. So he gently took their hand and led them from the crowd, squeezing past gyrating bodies and slick-as-hell dance moves.

Fresh air finally greeted them outside. The night was older now.

"Call me," they said, smiling, red lips still immaculate. That was, until then they leaned down and kissed his forehead.

They would then part ways that night. But not really. Change has a funny way of connecting people.

He called the next day.