This post is part of a series. [How’d Sylvia get here?]
Those deepest things you might never tell to your best friend somehow always come out to the Thoughtful Stranger, poised entirely out of your own context. First impressions make first derisions, but not with the Thoughtful Stranger. Sylvia found herself telling the woman with the perfect eyeliner much more than she intended: the truth.
“…so I suppose,” she continued, polishing off glass numero cinco, “I came here to find myself. That sounds disturbed. Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Her eyes inside that swoop of perfect eyeliner were smart, intense, thrilled. Maybe Sylvia wasn’t such a bother.
“I sound like a stoned yogi. I’m not. I swear, I’m not really like that…I just mean, it’s a search for self knowledge. ” Sylvia picked at her nails. Caught herself. Looked up with a wine-lipped smile.
“May I say something?”
Sylvia nodded, secretly dreading whatever this Thoughtful Stranger would say. Thoughtful Strangers are always pitted with deep wisdom, clarity even for the murkiest problems. Perspective on the gnarliest complications. Judgment where judgment is due. Sylvia needed another drink.
The woman took a breath, and all her bangles and little coins jingled lightly. Too lightly for the expression deepening on her face. “One does not gain knowledge by drinking alone. Or by walking a thousand steps. Or by running away. The journey is internal, and it’s hard. It’s hard…” her voice faded.
Sylvia was struck. But then again, what else would you expect of the Thoughtful Stranger?
“How old do you think I am?” the woman asked.
“Um, oh I don’t know. I guess twenty-eight?” Sylvia stumbled. Shit, what if she was younger?
The woman smiled, satisfied. Maybe Sylvia hadn’t fucked up yet another social encounter. Misread another cue, like with the Man on the Bridge. She laughed nervously.
“I’m Isabel. Thank you for sharing a drink with me.” She extended a hand, manicured with perfect deep-red nails. Isabel. She was so graceful. But then, you’re always a little smitten with Thoughtful Strangers. “My friends are here now. Would you like to join us?”
Sylvia hesitated. Of course, she’d love to. Of course, she longed to. It was as Liam had said. Find your tribe. Was that Isabel? Artsy songstress Isabel with her layers of bangles and perfect eyeliner? But no, it was already late. Sylvia was pints and pints ahead. And having already met one Thoughtful Stranger, she wasn’t sure she could endure another. Truth telling was so exhausting, and yet she heard herself mumble “Yes.”
Isabel beamed, beckoning these new friends over from the door. Sylvia waited for introductions, staring nervously at the floor. “This is my partner slash drummer, Ivan.” Ivan look tired — hair a little thin, gait a little bowed. But his face and denim were equally tight. He shook Sylvia’s hand.
“And this is our roommate, Noah.”
Sylvia looked up. Felt the color drain from her face.
Noah grinned with smug recognition. The Man on the Bridge.