I saw Him coming through the door out of my peripheral vision and kept eating. He didn’t go to the counter to ask, merely strode over to the soda fountain and filled up my water bottle that was half-filled with brown fluid. He came and sat down across from me at the table. He took a big swig off the bottle, then screwed the lid on.
“What’s the point of Coke without Jack?” He mused. He lay back in the chair, two legs on the floor with the chair tilted back against the wall.
“Quite the nutritious meal you have there,” He said. “Two burgers to go with the fries, I see. Hope that doesn’t slow you down at the gym.”
“I’m not going to the gym,” I said. “I’m just going to go back and walk dogs for a little while.”
“You just can’t plant your face far enough up that place’s ass can you? You’re going to have to go home and write this post eventually. Whatever. I’m patient. And apparently so are you. Patience of statue, really. Of course, you have no other choice. God knows when you’ll ever get laid again anyway.”
I stopped and winced. I didn’t even have to look at Him to know He was smiling. Not the grin, either. A big, wide, toothy smile. Well, the three teeth that were left. I put my burger down and glanced up at Him.
“What did you say?”
He leaned over onto the table and His filthy, ashen face inches from mine.
“Get … laid.” He said slowly. “At the rate you’re going, I’d say you’re on pace to have sex again …” He glanced at a watch that wasn’t there. “Never. I expect it’ll carry on like that if you keep making your dating choices the way you’re making them now.” He drank.
“Going out with her wasn’t about getting laid,” I said and started on my second burger. “I really liked her.”
“Oh, and she obviously liked you too!” He exclaimed. “After all, she nicknamed you “Gorgeous” and she touched your hand in that special way and that was a pretty knock-out outfit she had on last night too. Of course, all the flirty flirty nonsense ceased right when you … come on, say it …”
“Tried to kiss her,” I finished and stuffed a handful of fries in my mouth.
He giggled maniacally. “And … what …” He stifled back laughter. “… next?”
“She pulled away,” I said.
“She shrunk away from you like the Black fucking Plague is what she did,” and burst into His trademark cackle. When He had gotten His eruption back under control, He continued. “What was that she said?”
“She said something about not kissing people like that,”
“That she just wanted to get to know me first.” I mumbled.
“And all that horseshit about she wants to focus on herself right now and not think about a romantic thing and blah blah blah.”
I couldn’t take his taunts any longer. “I told her that I had asked her out on a date and she had said yes and in my book that meant she was romantically interested in me.” My voice was rising and becoming shriller. “And she had texted me asking if I liked all younger women and I told her that she was smart and funny and that was what I liked about her and …”
He made the motion of the world’s smallest violin playing on His shoulder. “Yes, yes, and last night she fed you that song-and-dance about how she goes out on “dates” with friends and people just to get to know them, right? Face it Ahab. She took you for a Thai dinner and a sushi dinner because she lives with her mom and probably can’t afford it herself.” He took in a big mouthful of Jack and Coke and swallowed. “Frankly I’m amazed you didn’t see it yourself when you invited her over for a dinner you would cook and True Romance at your place and she switched it up to going out for sushi. The power of the skirt will get you every time.”
I had lost my appetite. Another old friend had returned to visit me as well. The pain of rejection is always acute, but this time it brought its brother embarrassment with him. Not embarrassment that it had happened as we were walking down the sidewalk. No, this time is was the humiliation at the notion that a younger woman as beautiful as her would be attracted to me.
“A 22 year-old just smitten with a 38 year-old zero like you. Yep, Y’know, at her age, it’s kind of socially acceptable to have a job jockeying old people around the airport. At your age? Means you’re a Grade A, First-class, No-Holds-Barred burnout.”
He drank the last of the Jack, then wiped His mouth. The sky had become sunken and dark. The sun had vanished behind a wall of dark clouds.
“How long did you think about it?”
My hands froze as I was wiping my mouth.
“Come on. How long? 5 minutes? Half hour?”
“I know you thought about it cuz I was there with you. For 2 minutes, you thought about drinking,” He sneered.
“Academically,” I whispered.
“Bullshit. You thought about going to your old liquor store just down the street from her house and getting a little vodka, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said, a little louder this time. “I thought about it for a couple minutes and then did what Luke always said to do and played out the tape in my head.”
He leaned back against the wall again. “Doesn’t really matter. I’m not worried,” He said as He picked at His fingernails.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It’s pretty simple really,” He said. “See, even if you somehow manage to get the girlfriend and get married, all it takes is a divorce after 10 years or so and you’ll come back to me. Or you lose a job, one where you take care of those animals you so cherish, or some other such tragedy occurs. Doesn’t matter. I know you will come back eventually because someday, the whole reason you got sober in the first place is going to disappear.”
“I got a sober for a lot of reasons.”
“Maybe, but the biggest ones are 67 and 68 years old. And yes, they may love you dearly and would do anything for you. But they’re gonna be dead someday. Then you’ll have no one to hold you accountable because they will be gone. You’ll ignore calling your sponsor. I’ll convince you that people go off the wagon all the time so what’s one slip. And I’ll sneak up the same way I snuck up last night, sitting in the back seat of your car and you none the wiser,” He cracked open the flask He had produced from His cloak. “And I’ll slowly steer the car to the bar the same way I almost got it in your head to steer towards the liquor store. It’s only a matter of time. So, as I said, I’m patient. We’ll see.” He took a slug.
“You didn’t almost do anything,” I said and quickly gathered the remains of the meal and headed towards the trash can. I looked over at the counter and the employees were gone. There were no cars in the parking lot or the drive-thru. None passing on the street. Just me and Him in the motionless, timeless void of my heart. I turned and stared back at Him.
“It’s never gonna happen because-“
“Because, because, because.” His smile lowered to a complete, dead-pan stare. “We’ll see.”