Fool Me Once

By Ruth Park

"Hey Phil! Give me another!"

Phil looked up from the glass he was drying to see Chris put his empty mug down on the bar.

"You going to pay for it?"

"Just put it on my tab."

Phil gave a sigh and set the glass down. "Look Chris, I'm not giving you another beer till you pay your tab."

"What? Are you serious?"

"Yes, it's been awhile since you last paid it and you owe quite a bit now."

"Aw, come on Phil. You can't be serious, you never bother Larry about his tab."

"That's 'cause Larry pays up." Phil was starting to get agitated. "I'm serious, Chris. I want my money."

"Well, Phil, I'd love to pay you, but things have been really rough for me lately."

"How so?" Phil asked.

"It's been horrible," Chris stuck his elbows up on the bar and leaned forward resting his head on his palms. "Me and Patty had a huge fight. I've never seen her so mad in my life. She left and took the kids. I'm worried she's going to file for divorce.

Phil frowned. He'd just seen Patty the other day. She had said they were doing just fine. Little Amy had gotten a part in the school play and her parents were both so proud of her.

"I'm not buying it Chris. I've seen you and Patty together. You too never fight."

"What?" Chris looked shocked. "How could you not believe me? Have I ever lied to you?"

Phil thought for a second. "Well, there was that one time in Chicago…"

"That! You can't still be mad about that little incident! Look man, my wife is going to leave me. You can't imagine how horrible I'm feeling."

Chris was really laying on it thick. Phil was starting to think maybe he was wrong. Maybe everything wasn't all right. Maybe, they really did have a fight.

Phil gave another, more exasperated sigh. "Look Chris, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to call you liar. It's just, well, I saw Patty the other day. She said you guys were doing great, kept going on and on about Amy getting a part in the school play. Look, let's forget about the tab for now and this next one will be on me."

Chris ran a hand through his hair. He looked exhausted. "Thanks Phil, I owe you one."

"No problem Chris. I hope you're able to patch things up with Patty. I'd hate to see you two get a divorce."

Phil poured another beer for Chris and slid it across the bar to him. Chris grabbed the beer and took drink, and Phil swore he saw him smile. Just a small one, but a smile all the same.

Duped again, just like in Chicago.