Binary Stars

originally published in Devour, Fall 2013

Henry and Roxanne fell in love the way galaxies form: combine nitrogen, helium and a few dashes of lithium over ice … and shake the hell out of it!

Only when the mixing glass freezes to your hand, and the icy meteors have pulverized each other to slush; strain the contents into a martini glass and watch as the icy shards form moons and planets around the rim. Then again, Roxanne preferred her most recent cocktail-of-the-moment, Manhattans, stirred with a long slender spoon. The difference, she insisted, was like sipping from a cool brook rather than a glacial torrent.

Most times, too, she’d forego the cherry unless perched at a place that took their garnishes seriously enough never to serve the red #5 formaldehyde Franken-kirsches that have come to dominate most mise-en-places. She adored our cherries, brandy-soaked sour bings. They're probably the reason why she kept coming back—before meeting Henry, of course.

“Why doesn’t he…?” Roxanne asked, exasperated. “Why doesn’t he show anything?”

I propped my foot on the beer-box and leaned back, creasing my eyes.

“He’s had a rough time,” I said. “At one point he was living in his car, just so he could be near his son. Maybe he’s got a lot of scar tissue.”

“Scar tissue? Ha. I’ll show him scar tissue. We’ve all got scar tissue!”

“I know, I know.”

“Plffff!” she said, palms turned upward as she let out a long exhale.

Ready to pour the rye for her second Manhattan, I asked. “This one perfect, like the last? I know sometimes for your second one you go dry with a twist. . .”

“All I want is to know what he thinks about me,” she said.

“You're about to get your chance,” motioning my head toward the window beyond which Henry was chaining his bike to the rail around the cherry blossom that only bloomed in winter. 

Her face beamed as he made his way in. “Make this one a Rob Roy.”

"Coming right up."

“Nigel,” Henry said, his pet name for me, with a curt nod and exaggerated smile before sinking back to his usual granite face, “a beer would be swell.” Turning to her, he nodded again, “Roxy,” his face a marble pillar.

Exchanging looks, she and I burst into laughter. Uncapping a pale ale, I slid the bottle a few feet toward Henry before disappearing into the back for more Scotch so they could be alone.

Roxanne and Henry continued to collide over the next few months, each time shattering a bit more of the icy casements around their hearts, both middle-aged and living alone, sharing laughs. I was lucky to watch the pieces shatter on the floor. Then, out of nowhere, they were getting married, and I was on the other side of the bar at their wedding while a three-piece ensemble played jazz in the corner of a grand old room.

Henry and Roxanne were beautifully at ease entertaining the room. We ate raw oysters arranged on large blocks of ice, danced and drank champagne, smiled and laughed. We watched very proper folks shed pretenses, as they danced and smiled and rebooted friendships and forgave longstanding feuds in the spirit of celebrating that force called love which binds and sustains us.

Hours later, before getting back into the cab, we said goodbye and for a moment I felt more than just their bartender. I wondered if, now that they had each other—planets cooling into a steady orbit—whether or not they would need me anymore. Sure, there were always meteors and black holes waiting to destroy or suck the life of whatever came their way, but they were bound together now, dual suns, binary stars hovering fierce and close.

I hugged them both under the streetlights, knowing I’d probably never see them again.

To see where I expound on the many variations of the Manhattan cocktail, follow this hyperlink to the original article.

If you liked this story, you'll probably like Cocktails & Conversations from the Astral Plane, my collection of others. Check it out on Amazon with this link.