Watch and learn
There had to be a secret initiation or something to the wonder behind a barkeeper’s patience, Nora thought not for the first time while yet another drunk customer opened his heart to her. Whether she asked for it or not. She was normally far happier just waiting the tables but today of all days the three barkeepers all decided to take a sick leave at the same time. If not for the fact they hated each other to the core she would have assumed they were doing it on purpose. And of course her boss just made her fill in. Then again, as she took a look around the place, today was just one of those days. That had to be it. She just couldn’t focus on anything. And even if she did, she noticed she was not really enjoying it. Everything just seemed kind of bland and grey today. She had gotten no reply from Kailyn about whether she finally got things settled with her brother. Even though it had been three days since they saw that DVD. Three full days! Nora was fairly sure that had to be enough time to walk up to a guy, tell him sorry and be done with it. But no, apparently not.
The customer left, another was well underway of being just as drunk. The day did not promise to get better any time soon. If she didn’t home soon she really wasn’t sure she’d survive the day without yelling at someone. “Hey there.” The vaguely familiar voice startled her. She looked up from the bottles she was busy sorting for the umpteenth time today and saw Harold step up to the bar. It was the strangest thing. Just a second ago the day could not look worse, and suddenly she felt a grin flicker over her face. What was up with that? He beckoned her up with a cocky smirk and only now did she realize she was still half kneeling from reaching for things. She was painfully aware there was a deep blush spreading on her face yet she just got up and in what she hoped to be her best unshaken voice asked: “What brings you here?” “I was just curious. I know you came over the other day when I was away for work. Sadly, because I would have enjoyed your company. So I thought if you don’t meet me, I have to meet you instead. Or would you rather I didn’t?” His smirk told her he was way too sure she didn’t mind. Too bad he was spot on! “We always welcome paying guests.” Her all encompassing gesture didn’t fool anyone, but he nodded sagely. “A clever business model, I must say. I could stand to learn a thing or two from you. Maybe over a drink?” “Smart-ass.” Still, minutes later they were bantering and even joking about the weather as Nora tried fighting down the nervous realization that he was flirting with her. Her! And in all honesty, she had no clue how that made her feel. She wasn’t used to being flirted with. Not. At. All! She was no stranger to it either, but somehow… somehow this was too much for her. Overwhelming. She eyed him, searched for the clue that he was merely joking. Of course she remembered how Kailyn and her had talked about him before. And true, her eyes only needed to scan the room once to find maybe four or five guys who by any definition were hotter than him. But that said, he was by no means unattractive. And there were just as many girls present, all of which she felt dwarfed her own presence. Part of her brain suspected he just wanted to gain something. The other, significantly larger half was swooning over his attention. And she hated it.
“You know, if you really wanted my company that much how come you were not around?” “Even I have to work occasionally.” Finally! A topic that could distract him from her! “What do you actually do? I know Kailyn mentioned you working on some project.” “That? It’s not mine.” “What? But I know she told me how there are even people coming over to work with you on it.” He nodded as he took a sip from his drink. “They do, but that’s just because I can help them with my opinion and a few tricks I picked up. They needed someone to show them how to edit video files. And I do some of that since it’s a hobby of sorts.” Video. She blinked, her tongue suddenly feeling like it had a will of its own. She had never taken the time to tell him that she saw his video and liked it. Now seemed like the perfect time to—“So I do help out on that, but do other things for money.” “Makes me curious.” Had she just batted her eyes at him? Nora groaned internally. Was she a teenager or what?! A second later she froze as she realized she was playing with her hair. Leaning towards him ever so subtly. Fuck. This was not even teenager level, this was just plain stupid! She cleared her throat as he just swirled the liquid in his glass for a never ending two seconds. “If it really does… I could give you a peek?” That sentence was utterly harmless and yet she felt shivers run down her spine as her brain wrestled with her tongue. “Will Kailyn be there?” How had that come out? But whatever the reason she was glad it did. The timing felt off to admit she already knew some of the things he did. Because his brat of a sister decided to spy on him.
“Would you want her to be there?” Was that… insecurity in his voice? Or loneliness? She was scared of being able to tell. “Are they things you can’t show me with her around?” For heaven’s sake, why was she starting to tease him now? Harold laughed heartily and her ears were pleasantly surprised by how much they liked that sound. Liked making him happy.
“No, no. I do have those too. But I’m the kind of ancient caveman who starts with the innocent things for the first date.” In the span of two fluttering breaths they both realized what he just said. “Err, you know? Figuratively speaking. I mean, sure it can be. But… Oh, screw it. You can come along or… Either way, I’ll pay and wait outside. Or something.” His silhouette had already disappeared between the shadows of all the other guests by the time her brain registered things other than his beet red cheeks. She had never finished a shift faster and was out the door a mere twenty-five minutes later. He did have the best timing possible, that at least could not be denied. But until she saw him freezing and leaning against his car she thought for sure he would already be gone.
Nora didn’t remember the drive home. She remembered how he talked about things. How the sound of his voice in her ears blurred with the lights of passing cars and traffic signals. And how he could have told her about yesterdays weather forecast for all she cared because not a single fragment of their conversation stuck in her head. But she clearly remembered smiling giddily. And never once meeting his eyes that were glued to the road as if afraid to glance her way.
Entering his room this time was different. She had been in here twice before, once to fetch him, the other time when Kailyn stole that DVD. Never had she been in here for, well, herself. “When all is said and done, though,” she heard him mumble as his thumb trailed along a list of titles, “I wonder what would be of interest for you to see? All of these are a layman’s works, so there’s not really a narrative or stuff. Most of them are actually just soundtracks that I accompany with some visuals.” Her eyes got locked on a familiar sleek plastic box and her tongue was faster than her brain ever knew: “That one was good. I really adored it.” The words hung in the air for a moment as she settled into a strangely calm feeling of clarity. It just felt so right to let him know. She wasn’t sure if his eyes narrowed for a moment before he with a beaming expression pondered: “I see, so you saw that one already? I wonder when. I don’t recall showing it to anyone before.” Nora simply forfeited the struggle. She had no reason to withhold that information any longer. Not when honestly replying felt so natural. “Kailyn and I saw it together. She promised me she would tell you, so I wanted to wait until you had that talk.” “Ah! Would that have been last time when you came over?” “Yes.” “That makes sense.” He went back to his list for a second before putting that aside. “You see, that one was just a simple meditation aid. To calm down and maybe have an easier time learning new things.” Her legs clenched involuntarily as he said that. Something about learning things while watching his video seemed to spark a buzzing tingle in her lower half. Thank goodness that in case he noticed he was too busy explaining to care.
“I never really showed it to anyone. Might be because I made it after my breakup with Ava. You may have noticed that there is still scribbles on the box because I used that one for a movie we took together.” Part of her wanted to say she’d known that. Or at least guessed so. But that part strangely couldn’t muster the strength to interrupt him as he went on. “I did like how the editing turned out, though, so I made a follow up. Would you like to learn,” it surely was a coincidence he paused just as her lips let out a tiny gasp, “… learn what that next one is all about?” “Y-Yes. If you don’t mind?” “I don’t. Feel free to sit down as I get things set up.” She was seated in time to see him put a sleek unmarked silvery disk in the player. “I do admit it is old-fashioned,” he joyously misinterpreted her stare, “but I have it so might as well use it instead of only the computer.” Finishing the setup he hit play and rose. “Just start watching, I’ll be right back with a few snacks and drinks.” Telling him he needn’t bother would have taken too long. She was quite eager to see what made this one different from the version she already knew.
It started out much the same, at least. Blank black screen. Low, melodic music. Quite nice actually. By the time the glow of a bright dot appeared at the centre she was almost convinced it would be much the same. She allowed herself to smile at that. Honestly she wouldn’t mind, that way she could just stop paying attention. It was much easier to just let the soothing sounds wash over her. Then the dot flared and shrunk, pulsing in different colors. The change was surprising and she watched with rapt fascination how the light began to swirl and flicker. The sounds began to change ever so slightly as well and she found herself focusing on them more and more. She had to listen. As closely as she could. Nora was absolutely convinced there was a voice this time. But what it said blurred and melted into the soft rhythm of the music. So she looked at the lights. Only the lights. She only needed to pay attention to the screen now. Then she would learn to understand. Someone moaned. But she didn’t care. That was not on the screen. And Nora wanted only to learn what she saw on there. She had to.
That thought gave her a wet, warm pleasure. Harold was so right. She learned a lot watching his video. She wanted, no, she needed to ask him if he would lend her a copy. Was she asking him already? She didn’t know because the sound didn’t answer her that. But her lips were moving. She had already forgotten what it was she said by the time the words left her mouth. But she knew that was just right. The lights told her that her body would remember so easily. And the easier her body remembered, the more her mind would forget. Because her mind only needed to remember the lights. And needed to watch them again and again. It did make her idly ask herself why she ever thought she needed to know things besides what the video told her. What a silly notion. She would ask Harold later. He would know. Because he was just so right about things. In fact, she decided, she might better ask his counsel in many things from now on. He would tell her the right thing to do. She smiled, not even caring about the faint trickle of drool escaping her. The video was more important right here, right now. The flickering pulse slowed and shrunk until all that remained was the dot from the beginning. And as even that faded reality slowly clawed its way back to the front of her mind.
“How was it?” Only after he spoke up did she realize Harold was standing next to her, two cups in hand. He offered her one and she was more than grateful for the bitter taste of fresh coffee filling her mouth, rousing her spirits just a bit. “Umm.. Really good. But… ” Her eyes almost lost themselves in the gentle swirl of steam rising from the cups. “But too short?” “Yes… that… that was it.” He really was such an insightful person! Already anticipating what she wanted to say before she even knew it herself. His warm chuckle made her grin. Nora noticed she liked making Harold happy. She liked it a lot. “You know, if I were a generous person I might offer you a free copy of it.” No matter how fuzzy that head of hers felt, these words made her perk up. “Would you? Really? I…,” she bit her lip before throwing modesty in the wind, “I would like that. Like, really like it.” “Would you now?” After a sip of coffee his mouth curled deviously. “I didn’t say I am generous though.” “No, please!” The idea he might withhold it, might not let her see those fascinating lights again, filled her with intense dread. They surely could teach her so much more still! She wanted to see them again, if only one more time! There had to be something she could do to convince him! “Please! Please, I’ll be nice. I’ll owe you something, Harold, but please! Please give me a copy.” “Nonsense. I wouldn’t make you owe me for that. Though it’s true I would like something in return if I do hand a copy over. It’s something I poured time and effort into, after all.” She nodded. It was only obvious he deserved whatever he wished in exchange for letting her see the lights again. Everything he said was so right! “I want a better idea of how watching it can calm someone down. So you could pay me by watching it again, right here.” Could it really be that simple? She felt giddy and excited. “But wouldn’t it be boring for you if all we do is watch your video?” There had to be a catch. “Not at all,” her hopes came true, “I would be happy if you did. Just watch the video again and tell me your thoughts after. Then I’ll give you a copy of both this and the one from last time for you to take home. Do we have a deal?” “Mhm.” She didn’t trust her vocal cords enough for words, but luckily he didn’t ask her to speak. As her eyes settled on the pulsing lights once more, a faint voice at the back of her head wondered if that sensation of a tongue between her legs had been there a few moments ago as well. Before even that fell silent and she melted all over into the lights and what they taught her.* * *