182 - ladder
his was the place. Lance's Spanish was shaky at best, but the writing on the large sign matched what the innkeeper had scribbled on his notepad. He pulled his rental jalopy off the road and into the little gravel parking lot in front. The engine eagerly came to a halt as he turned the key.
The sky above was mostly dark now, but the slightest glimmer of dusk's orange glow hung onto the edges. The road was quiet. This was a sleepy town, especially now in the off-season. Lance wondered what he was doing here.
His hands clenched the steering wheel as he worked up the courage to continue his journey. Two minutes passed. He released his grip on the wheel, pulled open the door, and stepped out onto the gravel. It shifted underneath him as he transferred all his weight to it.
Lance slammed the car door shut. The locks didn't work. Security seemed to be a secondary concern to residents here. Nobody would want this thing, anyway. Deliberately, he treaded toward the entrance.
Swinging open the dirty glass door, Lance found a quiet restaurant waiting for him. The place was not as empty as the parking lot had suggested. There were a few occupied tables spattered about the dining room, and a few lonely souls perched upon stools across the bar. Lance saw him there, seated at the very end.
Trepidation and excitement overtook him simultaneously. Nobody in the place had taken notice to his presence, and he knew he could still walk away. The door was right here. Turn around, get back in his car, back to the inn, to the airport, on an aeroplane, and back home. It wasn't too late to save himself from this.
But Lance felt his chest full, unlike how it had ever felt over these past few months. That feeling alone compelled him to stay, and to walk cautiously to the bar. He was standing right next to Fernando when the seated man finally noticed him.
Lance was desperate to understand the expression in Fernando's eyes. He had imagined how this scene would play out hundreds of times since he began his search. Would there be joy and celebration? Anger and cursing? Lance had never been sure, but he certainly didn't imagine the slightly-bemused indifference he now read on Fernando's face.
"So, you found me," Fernando said flatly. Lance could hardly believe he was hearing his voice again, live and in stereo.
Lance slowly nodded his head. "Mind if I sit down?" he asked. Fernando gestured at the empty space next to him, and Lance slid onto the stool. The bartender appeared, and in broken English, took his order. Fernando ordered another gin and tonic.
The two men sipped at their drinks for a while before Fernando picked up the conversation. "How did you know I was here?" he asked.
Lance sighed. "I heard things. Well, I asked. Some of your old friends said you'd gone home. That was all I knew, and when I got here I just asked around. Didn't really think I would find you. At least, not on the first night."
"I'm here most nights, so it wasn't some feat. Maybe they told you I'm drinking away the pain? That could be true. Or perhaps I've just been here waiting," Fernando said. Lance looked at him, more puzzled than ever.
"Then, why did you leave, without a word? I knew things hadn't been alright. No, they were bad, I admit," Lance said, voice cracking, "but to just walk away from it all, from me. That was worse than just giving up."
"That morning, I got in my car, and I just wanted to drive forever. Away, to the sea, mountains, wherever. I just couldn't live like that anymore," Fernando answered, his voice now fighting back emotion, too. "I guess we all make mistakes, don't we?"