Cady hasn't lost Mitch. She can't have.
The pub was small, tucked away in a discreet corner of New York City. The tepid glow that emanated from its tall, thin windows was the only light in on the entire street, as most of the avenue's inhabitants had retired for the night, dimming their own lights, or else were holed up in the pub itself. It was eerily quiet as I crossed the decaying pavement, hands deep in the cotton-lined pockets of my trench coat, shoulders shrugged up near my ears in an attempt to warm my bare neck. The sole sound was that of traffic, only a muffled echo in the distance.
The pub itself was careworn, well loved, so to say, much the same as the street it lived on. The front door was old, the once red paint peeling and dirty. It creaked ominously as I opened it, letting out a sudden gust of hot, stuffy air, and a flush of new noises. I stepped tentatively over the threshold, letting the door swing shut behind me. My frizzy blonde hair settled in what probably resembled a lion's mane, as it was no longer blown by the harsh gale.
Had it not been for the volume of the man's voice, I wouldn't have been able to hear his call over the din. "Cady!" Ames was a stout, burly man in his late forties, who had been balding but was now bald. He was the owner of the place, and the bartender, and the resident uncertified brain surgeon, to boot. He bustled through the crowd towards me, shouldering his customers out of the way. "Cady, m' mate!" Ames had a thick Scottish accent, and I couldn't help but smile at him as he reached me, clapping a beefy hand on my shoulder. I winced slightly my newly healed collarbone gave a sickening tug, sending a jolt of pain through my chest, but managed to choke out a somewhat strained "Hi, Ames," all the same.
Ames' face fell as he took in my bedraggled appearance: my blood shot, heavily underlined eyes, and no doubt hollowed cheeks. I couldn't really be sure what he was seeing, as I hadn't seen my own reflection in weeks, possibly months, but whatever it was, it wasn't good.
"Jesus Christ, Cady," breathed Ames. "What happened to you?" he looked at me in horror, his own, equally bloodshot eyes wide.
I laughed lightly. "It's kind of a long story."
Ames shrugged, unfazed. "I have time," he said quietly, concerned. "Whatever you need, mate." I shook my head gently.
I tried to run a hand through my unkempt hair, but it caught in the knotted strands. It took me several moments to extract my hand, but when I did I said, "I really need to find Mitch. Is he here?"
Ames looked at me sadly. "Aye, he's here." He sighed heavily, looking contrite. "But he's not Mitch. At least, not the Mitch you remember." I looked at him worriedly, but merited only a curt answer. "You'll see." He pointed absently at a table tucked in a far corner of the room.
"Usual table," he said dejectedly. I looked at him for a few more moments, confused, before sauntering towards the table that he had indicated.
I elbowed my way through the dense crowd, heart galloping away in my chest.
Ames had been right. Robbie Mitchell was not at all how I remembered him. At least, not on the outside. I froze a few paces away from Mitch's table, hands fidgeting nervously in my pockets.
Unless I had been gone for much longer then I had thought, Mitch was now nineteen - not old enough to drink - yet he sat with a beer clutched in his right hand, leaning heavily on the table. The tall booth seat obscured most of him from view, but I still managed to make out his signature mop of disheveled, chestnut brown hair. No one else on the planet had hair as bedraggled and warm as his was, I was sure of it. His hair, which had gone for at least two years without being properly trimmed, had fallen into his face, and I could only see a fraction of it, but what I did see sent my stomach writhing.
What had done this to him?
I couldn't have argued that I looked much better, but I couldn't see myself, so there was no shock there.
Mitch looked tired. Really tired. Heavy, dark blue sacs ringed his eyes, which were red and puffy. His cheeks had hollowed out, and I had no doubt that he was much thinner, lankier, as his clothes hung like drapes from his body. His shoulders were hunched, and his head hung low to the table as if he were about to fall asleep. He looked completely, utterly beaten.
The sight of him tore yet another hole through my already emaciated heart.
I glanced back at Ames, but he was hidden by the crowd.
I took two more steps, until I was standing in front of Mitch's table. He didn't even look up. From so close I could see his face entirely. He hadn't shaved in what I assumed to be weeks, and a shadow of a beard was already covering his chin and neck. His bottom lip was swollen and split, and his left eye, which I hadn't been able to see before, was savagely blacked. I had to fight to keep tears out of my eyes.
I gathered what was left of my courage, and slid into the booth next to him. Just like that. No announcement, no invitation.
We sat in silence for a few moments before Mitch finally acknowledged my presence. He looked briefly, before returning his gaze to his beer. Then, he did a double-take.
"Cady?" he asked uncertainly.
I beamed. His voice was still the same. "Hey, Mitch. Long time no see." This time I wasn't anywhere near strong enough to keep from crying. Neither was Mitch. The tears welled up at the corners of my eyes, falling hot and wet down my cheeks. Mitch's face blurred, and then vanished from view altogether as he leant over in the pale yellow vinyl booth seat and pulled me to him, hugging me hard. I locked my arms around his shoulder and slid towards him, burying my face in his flannel shirt.
I didn't care that he smelled like beer. I didn't care that people were looking at us funny, because we were smiling and crying and shaking uncontrollably. I didn't care that Ames was chuckling to himself, or that Mitch's beer had tipped over and spilled all over the table. I didn't care about any of it.
Because I had my best friend back, and that was all that mattered.