He walked into the bar and his friend was already waiting for him, sitting alone at the end of the bar in a shadow.
“Hey,” he said as he sat down next to him. They sat at a 90 degree angle.
“Best seat in the house,” his friend said.
“No,” he said. “I’m sitting next to you; I’ve got the best seat in the house.”
“Amen,” his friend said. “You still drinking rosé?”
“You know it.”
The bar tender arrived with a glass pale pink liquid.
“Perfect,” he said to his friend. “But maybe just let things happen. You know what I mean?”
“I’m sorry,” said his friend. “Habit. That’s the wine you like.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m grateful. By the way I wanted to tell you, I’m really sorry for not being more grateful.”
“I mean you really have given me so much,” he said.
“Ok,” he said. “That’s annoying. You know how hard it is to talk with someone who knows everything.”
There was a pause. His friend was stifling a laugh. The both started to laugh, and his friend put his arm around his shoulder. He pressed his forehead to his.
“Yes, I know.”
They both started to laugh hysterically. The bar was empty so nobody noticed.
“But seriously,” he said when the laughter subsided. “Really. It’s annoying. You gotta play along with me here, you know.”
“You just did it again.”
“Fuck,” he said. He paused, frustrated. “I know. And you know. You know everything.”
“Listen,” his friend said. “What’s up. Why’d you want to get together. I’m worried about you.”
“I guess to whine at you I guess,” he said. “Complain. Ruminate. Wonder. Express my appreciation. Ask for your help.”
“The usual,” said his friend. “Don’t take that the wrong way. I love you. I’m here for you. All you have to do is ask.”
“Hey,” his friend said. “I saw you on television last night. Great work.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I managed to make everyone mad. Twitter was full of invective from both sides.”
“Just the way you like it,” said his friend. “Pissing off all the right people; everyone.”
“And that’s why I’m alone.”
“That’s what you asked for, right?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“What’s the problem?”
“You have given me a skill at doing that, pissing everyone off.”
“‘He is erudite, knows the data, plays off his friends and enemies weakness, and he’s almost always right; but he’s almost universally hated.’”
“Yeah,” he said, remembering that article. “Everyone hates me.”
“But you love that,” his friend said. “You have always wanted to be obscure and misunderstood.”
They sat there in silence. He downed the glass.
“I’ll be right back,” he said as he stood up and walked toward the jukebox. He put in his card and made a selection and walked back to his friend.
“I love Ashley McBride,” said his friend. “Great choice.”
“Hey,” he said. “Can I buy you a drink.”
“Sure,” said his friend. “Surprise me!”
“Fuck you!” he said, laughing and socking his friend in the arm. “Bartender!”
The bartender appeared and walked toward them.
“How about a flaming rum punch for my friend here,” he said.
The bartender looked unhappy.
“Hey look, mister,” the bartender said, “we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere. Is that clear or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?”
He menaced them with his fist.
At that, all three of them broke up laughing.
“Three tequilas coming up,” the bartender said. They clinked their three glasses and drank.
“God bless,” said the bartender.
“Of course,” his friend said and winked at him.
“You’re an asshole, sometimes,” he said shaking his head.
“Just having some fun,” said his friend.
“Being alone isn’t fun, though.”
“Ask for something different, then.”
“Ask and ye shall receive.”
“You wanted to be the loner, the outsider, the prophet at the gates,” his friend said. “You got it.”
“Yeah,” he said. “But I’m lonely as fuck.”
“Ask for something different,” said his friend. “How about a job and a girlfriend?”
“Why bring him into this?”
“Goddamnit, stop it!”
“Hey,” his friend said. “Name in vain thing. Look out!”
“Where did you learn to be so foul mouthed.”
“This is like a dad joke now.”
He always appreciated the humor they shared. He was grateful for the time. But it didn’t make him feel better. And that made him feel guilty.
“You’ve given me what I’ve asked for, thank you.”
“Why can’t you make me happy with what I’ve asked for?” he said looking his friend in the eye. “Can’t you make me happy too.”
His friend looked him back in the eye.
“You didn’t want to be happy,” his friend said. “You wanted to be right.”
“Fuck you,” he said looking down at his feet on the bar rail. “You’re right as always.”
So many memories and thoughts rushed together at that moment. His brain had learned, over the years, to do so many things. His heart and intuition lagged behind. When he talked with his friend it was still talking, even though his friend knew him better than he knew himself.
“Paul talked about this, remember?,” he asked his friend, feeling a little immortal in the moment.
“Oh him,” said his friend rolling his eyes. “You think you’re a mess, don’t get me started on Paul.”
“You can joke about it all you want, but you gave us this, right?”
“This thing, that we get what we want. You give us what we want and we’re still upset. What the hell is that?”
“You mean the whole whydoidowhatidontwannado thing?” asked his friend lightly.
“Yeah,” he said. “What the fuck is that?”
“It’s free will,” his friend said. “It’s my greatest gift to you. It’s what makes tonight, this conversation possible.”
“I get it.”
“I know you do.”
“I also gave you pain.”
“Suffering is your choice.”
“You can feel, but what you do with those feelings is something I’ve allowed you to decide.”
“He really was special.”
“I need another drink.”
“You need a cheeseburger and a good fuck.”
He waved over the bartender who walked toward them.
He paused for a moment and drank in the scene. He looked at his friend.
“I’ll take a cheeseburger,” he said. “And we’ll both have a Good Fuck,” pointing to the drink on the menu, an aqua colored drink served with a miniature bottle of Corona tipped into it.
“On the way,” the bartender said.
They sat there listening to Bible and a .44 for a minute.
“I’m just not ready to be liked or loved,” he said.
“Well, there you go.”
“Thanks for making me, well, me.”
“No problem. Relax. Remember, I built this whole thing. It all works out.”
“I know, I’m sorry…”
“Skip it,” said his friend. “This is exactly where you are supposed to be.”