Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Friends Until Their End

“I’ll have a gin and tonic.” Mark took off his coat, folded it, and placed it over his lap. “So what’s up?”

Luke fidgeted on the stool and took a sip of his drink. “You want to grab a booth?”

“Sure.” Mark turned to the bartender. “Hey we’re going to move to a booth. Okay?” He didn’t wait for permission. He stood and tucked his coat like a football. He led the way to a table near the back of the bar. He put his drink on the table and slid into the booth. “Dude, you’ve got me worried. What’s going on?”

“Yeah, we’ll get to that. How are you anyway?”

Mark took his hands and held the edge of the table, leaned into it, rocked to the back of the seat, and exhaled. “Oh hell. I don’t know. …Work. … I’m writing again.” He took a drink. “How ‘bout you?”

“Kids. Everything’s kids. You writing any of the shit I’m hearing?”

“Fuck no. Everyone I wrote for lost.”

The waiter approached. “Are you interested in menus?”

“Sure.” Mark took a menu and handed it to his friend and opened his own. “There’s no fucking way I’m writing for politicians ever again. Anyway. I don’t give a shit about work. So what else is new?”

“Dude there’s nothing new. I just saw you last week.”

Mark took his finger and fished the lime from his glass. “Jesus look at the size of that! Cheap fucks. It’s a wonder there’s room for alcohol.”

“So what’s the writing about?” Luke took a drink, swallowed, and used his tongue to baste his bottom lip.

They spent the next forty-five minutes drinking, snacking on appetizers, and lamenting the elections. The waiter approached. “Can I get you another round?”

“Not for me.” Mark replied.

“Let’s get one more. Do you have to be somewhere?”

Mark settled in his seat. “No. But I’m getting a buzz. Every time we lunch I get wasted.”

They agreed to order one more round. “So what’s going on with women?” Luke said.

Mark laughed. “Got laid last weekend. It’s been so long I almost shot dust.”

“You’re a pig.” Luke laughed. “You’ve gotta find something besides a friends-with-benefits thing.”

“Oh really? Since the divorce you haven’t dated once.” Mark crossed his arms.

“Well.”

“Well. Join Match.com. It’s not so bad. I haven’t done it in a while. Or you can do Tinder but Tinder is just to get laid. You won’t meet relationship worthy on it.”

Luke took a gulp of his drink. “I am interested in someone.”

Mark sat straight. “Really? Who?”

Luke cleared his throat. “Okay. So. You know why I got divorced?”

“Yeah, Mallory was a bitch. Never liked her.” Mark drained his glass. “You know I have to say that. It’s required.”

“I don’t care about her.” Luke signaled the waiter. “Hey, I’ll have another one.”

“Not me. Seriously. I’ve pushed it already.”

“Suit yourself.” Luke emptied his drink. “The reason I got divorced was because I wasn’t interested in her anymore. Being married was like being in prison.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. So. If you knew someone you were interested in, but you didn’t know whether or not they’d be interested, would you tell them?”

“Sure why not?”

“Well, because what if there was a pretty good chance they weren’t interested?”

“Well, what the fuck. Take the risk. Tell her. What do you got to lose? You’re not with her now.”

“Okay.” Luke exhaled and shook his head. He used his fingers as a comb and pushed his hair toward the back of his head. “Okay.” He sounded resigned.

“Do I know her?”

“Him.”

“Jesus! You’re gay?” Mark shifted his buttocks from cheek to cheek and balanced it back and settled against the booth wall.

“Are you surprised?”

“Hell yes.” Mark pulled his hands into fists and tapped the edge of the table. “Totally shocked.”

“I’m gay.” Luke’s shoulders collapsed onto his chest. “I’m gay,” he repeated. He sat upright. “I’m gay.” He smiled. “I’ve never said that out loud before.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. But okay. It must feel great to finally say it aloud.”

Luke laughed. “It does!”

Mark smiled. “I’m glad you’re happy.” His face fell flat. “Oh wait. Are you happy?”

“Yes!”

“Okay. Good for you!” Mark gestured to the waiter. “Hey bring me another one. Wow. I’m stunned. I so didn’t know. Does Mallory know?”

“No.” Luke shook his head. “I have to tell her but … no. She doesn’t know.”

“She’ll be surprised.” Mark widened his eyes and relaxed them when he realized he had made a facial expression. “Wow. I’m kind of speechless here. I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything.”

“So. You like a guy? Why not just ask him out?” Mark picked up his glass and took a drink.

“I don’t know if I have that kind of courage.”

“Oh Jesus! Go for it! Dude, you’re a great guy!”

“It could ruin the friendship.”

“You’re friends with him?”

“Yes.”

“Well he must know you’re gay. I had a gay buddy in college. He told me all about gaydar.”

“Bro I just said I was gay out loud for the first time in my life! I don’t even have gay friends!”

“You’re going to have them now!” Mark laughed. “Dude you look pained. People are people. Asking people out is the same no matter what. You’re a great guy! I love ya and I’m a dick!” He laughed. “Just walk up and tell your friend you like him.”

“You think so?”

“I think so.”

Luke drained his glass and set the glass on the table. “I like you.”

“What?” Mark put down his glass.

“I like you.” Luke crossed his arms and balanced himself on the table with his forearms. “No. I think I’m in love with you.”

“I’m not gay!”

“I think you are.”

“Think again. I’m not gay. And this isn’t the first time I’ve said that aloud!”

“Don’t be a shit.” Luke sat back. “You’re not interested is one thing but don’t make fun of me.”

“Oh my God I promise you I would never make fun of you!”

“Did you hear what I said? I said I think I’m in love with you.”

Mark whispered, “I heard you.”

“And,” Luke asked.

“And I’m not in love with you.” Mark took his hand and strummed the open space in the middle of his chest. “Look bro, I’m not gay.”

“We have everything in common.”

“No. Because I’m not gay.”

“You’ve told me you’ve loved me many times.”

“I tell a lot of people I love them but I mean love like in …” he searched for the word, “like in brotherhood.”

“You’ve never married.”

“Never met the right woman.”

“You’re very emotional.”

“Straight guys have emotions.”

“You’ve kissed me.”

“I’ve kissed you on your cheek.” Mark blew the air out of his lungs. He shook his hands into two fists. “Oh my God. I’m just really open.” He opened his hands and fanned them in front of his chest. “I’m just really comfortable expressing my emotions.” He raised his hands and rubbed his cheeks open palmed. “Oh my God I just never considered any of this.”

Luke took his hand and slowly lowered it. “Okay. I’ve misread this whole thing.”

“Okay let’s just stop for a minute. Everything is too frenetic.”

“Never mind. Let it go.” Luke gestured to the waiter. He scribbled in the air to suggest a check. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Stop.” Mark shifted in his seat. “Look I feel bad. I do love you. As a friend. Like a brother. I do. But that’s it. And I don’t want us not to be friends.”

Luke’s voice wavered between a quake and a shake, “I just told you I was in love with you. We can’t back up now.”

“Yes we can.”

“No. Look I don’t know how to deal with this. I’ve never said shit like this to a guy before.”

Mark held his hands like a priest reading from a lectionary. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Nothing you can do. This is my fault. I misread everything.”

“It’s no one’s fault.”

The waiter put the tab on the table. Luke grabbed it. “I’ll get this.”

“Dude, don’t buy my lunch. Let’s split it.”

“I’ve got it!” Luke snapped.

“I’ll get the next one.”

“There is no next one.” Luke stood up and slid on his coat, knotted his scarf, and pulled out his keys.

“Oh Christ!”

“Goodbye.” Luke turned and left the bar.