They stopped at the bar, surprised to see the owner actually there. Making their way to the counter, they sat down on the far right. “I didn’t know you were back from your honeymoon. Have a good time?”
He nodded, the only response they expected to hear.
“Good you’re back. Your daughter did well enough in your absence, but she lacks the… experience, I suppose.”
The bartender shook his head, almost as though he said flatterer in his usual fond fashion, without giving mouth to the word. Only then did they notice his work, culminating in the chocolate shake placed in front of them on the counter. A cinnamon stick stuck out through the whip cream.
“How did you do that?
He looked back at them, quizzically.
“I don’t always ask for cinnamon. I was going to, this time. How did you know?”
“…you like cinnamon when you’re down.”
How he could see that, when they had done such a good job pretending otherwise, baffled them. Nevertheless, they took their drink and slipped at it, not getting in the way of the bartender and his other customers. They felt included, somehow. Despite the exclusion they had always taken for granted. Everyone greeted them, but didn’t push it when they didn’t do more than return the greeting. As they wanted, today. How did everyone know?
“Is it okay that I come here?”
The bartender paused, looking at them.
“Is it okay? Without anyone else… that it is only me.”
“You are always welcome here. With your friends and siblings, without your friends or siblings.”
It was true. When had it become true? They didn’t know. Somehow, sometime, they had just belonged. They hadn’t noticed, but it had happened.
They hid their eyes behind their bangs and regained their composure. Then, smiling, they greeted the next person to say hello.