Perception

         Jim sat in his usual corner-spot at the bar.  He loved that spot because there was only one barstool on that side of the corner, and Jim loved his solitude. 

        The bar was empty now, except for Jim and a couple sitting in a booth tucked away on the other side of the room.  They were both leaning forward, holding each other’s hands, staring lustfully into each other’s eyes. 

        New Lovers, Jim thought.  Actually, new Lovers having an affair, he corrected himself.  “New Lovers” want to be out in the open where everything can see them.  “New Lovers having an affair” subconsciously tend to hide from the openness of the public and go to a place they don’t typically frequent.  Jim had never seen this couple before.

        Jim was at the tavern at little earlier than usual, the stress of life was closing in on him from all directions, and he needed to find a way to escape; this was the only escape route he knew. 

        He was already on his second Old Fashion when a gentleman sat down cater-cornered from him.  Really?  The bar is empty, yet you want to sit next to me, he thought, keeping his gaze on his half-finished cocktail.

         The bartender approached the new patron, “What will it be?”

        “Old Fashion, WhistlePig Rye, with a smoked glass, burnt sugar, and a Luxardo cherry,” the gentleman replied. 

        The bartender gave him a nod and went to work crafting the specific cocktail.  Specific indeed, as it was the exact cocktail Jim was drinking.

        Jim looked up from his drink and met the gentleman’s eyes.  They were soft and kind, and radiated a lifetime full of wisdom.  Crow’s feet began to form at the corner of the gentleman’s eyes as a small smile came to his face.

         “Hello there,” the gentleman said.

         “Hello…” Jim answered back.  His response hung in the air as he studied the old man sitting cater-cornered from him.

         The old man could see hardship on Jim’s face.  “Tough day on the job?”

         “Tough day?” Jim replied softly.  “Try tough year.  No, scratch that, try tough five years.”

         “Oh,” said the old man coolly.  “Five years of life kicking you in the balls, huh?”

         That brought a half-smile to Jim’s face, even though it wasn’t necessarily funny to him.  “Yeah, that’s what it feels like, alright.”

         “Well, nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know,” the old man responded.

         Jim leaned back in his barstool and took a sip of his cocktail, letting the old man’s words sink in.

         “That’s an interesting point of view,” said Jim.  “I’ve never thought about it like that.”

         “Interesting to some, but a fact to all,” the old man stated.  “Just like whatever goes up, must come down.”  The gentleman kept his gaze on Jim.  “Some people catch on quickly and make the necessary changes to move forward; others have to reach ‘rock bottom’ before they learn.”

         The bartender brought the old man his cocktail and sat it down in front of him.  He picked it up and brought it up to his nose, allowing the scent of the smoked glass to waft up into his nostrils.  He closed his eyes and smiled as he got lost in the moment.  “Here’s to becoming a quick learner,” the old man said as he took a long, slow sip of his Old Fashion.

         Jim took a drink of his cocktail while he sat in contemplation.  “What happens if I don’t learn what I’m supposed to?” he asked.

         “Well, the Universe will keep kicking you in the balls until you do; that is until She can’t stand to watch you suffer anymore, and then She might send a Spirit Guide to help you along your journey.”

         “Spirit Guide?” Jim questioned.

         “Spirit Guide, Guardian Angel, whatever you chose to call it,” the old man replied.

         “Are you a Spirit Guide?” asked Jim.

         “I don’t know,” said the old man.  “Perhaps, perhaps not.”  The old man took another sip of his cocktail and looked over at Jim.  “What do you think?”

         “What do I think?  I don’t know what to think,” said Jim.

         “Do you think it was a coincidence that I sat down at this exact spot when the rest of the bar was open?”

         “I don’t know, maybe you’re a lonely old man and just wanted someone to talk to.”

         “Was it a coincidence that I order the same cocktail as you?” the old man asked.  This caught Jim a little off guard, but the logical side of his brain quickly went to work.  “Maybe one of my friends set you up to this and told you what I drink.”

         “Maybe they did.  Maybe they didn’t.  The Universe works in mysterious ways.  Some people experience a strange encounter and call it a coincidence; others see it as magical, a wink from the Universe.  It’s ALL perception.  It’s ALL whatever we chose to believe.”  The old man sat, took another sip of his cocktail.

         Jim’s head was buzzing from something other than the alcohol.  He looked over at the old man, their eyes locked.  Jim could sense something in those cool, blue eyes of the old man, something he couldn’t explain, something he could only feel.

         “Would you rather live in a world full of ‘coincidences’ or a world full of ‘magic’?” the old man asked with a wink.

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