by Steven Cuffari
It’s a hot day and Phil and Alex sit in the bar they always sit in talking about everything and nothing. They are at the bar drinking their fifth or sixth beers, still speaking with unslurred speech. Maria comes back from the bathroom stumbling and catching herself repeatedly, never in danger of falling. Her speech is already becoming slurred, but not as much as she and they know it could be.
“I’m going home boys!”
Phil looks at her with longing, thinking that Alex doesn’t notice it, but he does. He ignores it. Phil was his best friend. They were all best friends since childhood.
“Can you tell my brother that we need to talk? He hasn’t gotten back to me in days,” Alex says.
Maria gives him a “do I look like your secretary” look. “If I remember. If I see him. He’s a shitty husband, you know.”
Alex laughs. “Yeah, but you love him.”
“Hey!” Phil interrupts. “No. She doesn’t love him. Not more than I do.”
Maria frowns at Phil and hits him on the shoulder playfully. “Shut up, you.”
The bartender, Ward, interrupts. “Excuse me, guys. Maria, your cab’s here.”
Maria straightens out her hair, yawns and stretches, straightens out her dress and slings her bag over her shoulder. She throws her hands up in the air and hugs Phil and Alex before she struts out.
“Ugh! I don’t know why I’m even going home! I feel great!” Maria says.
“Then stay!” shouts Phil.
Maria stops abruptly and turns around, pointing a finger at Phil in feigned reproach. “Oh, you. I know what you’re trying to do! No. I’m going home.” She puts her nose in the air and walks out. “Bye, bye, boys!”
“She’s crazy,” says Alex.
“Yeah, I know,” Phil replies. He stares at Maria as she disappears in the street.
Alex watches the longing look on Phil’s face. He’s not sure what to make of it and tries to ignore it. “Hey,” he says, hitting Phil lightly on the chest. “You okay?”
Phil snaps out of his trance long enough to say, “Yeah, I’m fine.” He takes a sip of his beer and looks outside as Maria’s cab pulls away. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah, I’m just distracted.”
“I can see that.”
“Just forget it.”
“No man, come on. We’ve been friends since we were five. You can tell me anything. I’ll understand.”
“No, not this. This is different.”
“Come on, don’t tell me you’re turning into one of those ‘the world doesn’t understand me’ type of people.”
“It’s not the world, man. That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Oh. Really? Then what is it?”
Phil puts his head in his hands and rubs his eyes. “Another one, please,” he tells Ward.
“Me too,” says Alex.
“And two shots of bourbon,” says Phil. He downs the second half of his beer.
They wait for the shots to come before they speak again.
“So what is it?” asks Alex.
They raise their glasses to each other and down the whiskey.
“Two more,” Phil says.
“Wow, that bad? You can’t tell me without liquor. Now you’ve got to say something.”
Ward comes back with two more shots, and they down them.
“It’s about Maria. You know I love her.”
“Uh, yeah, we all love her. She’s Maria. We’ve known her since-”
Alex is taken aback. Dumbfounded. But his confusion quickly turns to delight.
By then, they are both beginning to slur their speech.
“Holy shit! That’s amazing. How did you know? Brian told you. Wait, that’s weird. Why did he tell you and not me?”
Phil looks at him and closes his eyes, shaking his head.
“Oh shit. Wait, should she be drinking like this? That can’t be good for the baby.
“It’s mine, Alex.”
“The baby is mine.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? That’s impossible.”
“No. It’s not.”
“But what about Brian?”
“What about Brian?”
“He’s your best friend. He’s my brother. How could you do this to him? To us?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you. This was a big mistake.” Phil waves to Ward to bring him the check.
Alex is shaking his head in disbelief when Ward comes over with the check for them both. Phil reaches out for it, but Alex snatches it away.
“No. Fuck you. I’m leaving.” He pays Ward and grabs his bag.
“Don’t do this, Alex. Just wait.”
“No. Fuck you.” He turns to Ward and smiles. “See you later, Ward.” He glares at Phil, then looks back at Ward. “Have a good night.”
He stumbles through the door and into the street. There are sirens in the background. Typical urban noises surround him. The late-night crowd is alive, but dissipating. He waits for a few moments outside, thinking that Phil might come after him, but he doesn’t. The sound of sirens gets louder.
Drunk enough to be cursing the world, but not enough to be falling on his face, he walks away from the bar and is blasted with the sound of an ambulance turning the corner.
“Motherfuckers!” he shouts. He sees Phil come outside and turns the corner before being seen.
TO BE CONTINUED