The tanner was tired, his weariness bearing down on him like a solid weight. The day had been long, and the next wouldn’t be any shorter. Still, he trudged through the dark, his feet dragging a little but his gaze fixed on the light before him, nearer with every determined stride.
He reached the alehouse and pushed through the door gratefully, breathing in the warm, stuffy air and familiar rumble of conversation. He sank into a seat and sighed as the alewife set a cup of brew before him. The beginnings of a smile twitched at his lips as he reached out and —
— raised the glass to his lips, taking a long, satisfied gulp. The pub was packed on this early summer evening, but he’d found a spot outside in the beer garden and now he was waiting for the arrival of his friends. He was perfectly content to bask in the rare peace of the moment, the sun warm, the beer cold, everything as good as it gets.
His mobile rang, the sharp buzzing pulling him out of his vague reverie. He slipped it out of his pocket, glanced at the screen and smiled.
“Hey,” he said, “I was hoping –”
“– to see you tonight.”
He smiled as she sat down across from him. The colour of her dress shifted as she smiled back, glowing a warm orange, and the jewellery in her eyebrow and lip piercings synced immediately to match.
“Let me get you a drink,” he said. “What would you like?”
She glanced at his own drink. “What are you having?”
“Just a beer,” he said.
“Then I’ll have the same,” she said.
He nodded and tapped the console set into their table, selecting the beer icon. Thirty seconds later, a fresh bottle of beer with their table number stamped neatly on the label appeared on the conveyor belt that weaved its way unobtrusively circled the edge of the room. She plucked the drink from the conveyor and held it aloft.
“A toast,” she said.
She shrugged. “Tonight.”
He raised his own bottle and clinked it against hers and they both drank.