The Last One for the Foreseeable Future
S. I. Mette
Are you locked up in a world that's been planned out for you?
Are you feeling like a social tool without a use?
Scream at me until my ears bleed.
I'm taking heed just for you.
Ah yes, another one.
Another going away party; same guy, but a different group of people this time even though his friends were the same everywhere it seemed: young, beautiful, successful. Whether they came from Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Yankton or Vermillion, they were all that same crowd of people you see when you go into a bar and see one corner or, in this case, half of it taken up at eleven on a Saturday night. It was like being in the presence of a living and breathing Abercrombie & Fitch jeans ad. From upwardly mobile families all of them- no rag tag trailer trash among this group (as is so wont to show in places such as this) to perhaps commingle or believe they have the chance to do so with such a pretty crowd. All in college or just beginning at the University of South Dakota or what the high brow PR department that caters to those that hand their money over for a new Division I education call, "U." with emphasis on the 'dot.'
The bros and dudes surrounding the man of honor were your typically loud, casually dressed conformists. Their hats cocked off to the side with curls of freshly showered glistening hair sprouting out from underneath like weeds coming out of a piece of busted concrete. They were "good guys" and each one smart as a whip with the guffaw, wit, or obstinacy toward those that they could smell out in the crowd that were not their equals. These were the guys in grade school that would pick on others. Not just because they could, but especially because they could. These were the ones that would be accepted without question because their parents had an outdoor pool (and not one of those that sit on top of the ground and slosh water over everything and make the yard around it brown and soggy after a summer of constant use, but the kind set into the ground) or the kid would be one of the first ones to have sex in his class, or the first to get a car; any myriad of reasons. Did it really matter? It was the kind of kid that everyone would accept because he could go in and out of the various stupid clichéd groups that inhabit every school from the first instant that kids walked in. Hell, even the kids getting picked on were sometimes thrown a 180 when the same guy that tripped them in the hallway after 4th period math with "stupid nerd!" or "know it all!" issuing from their mouths would be at their desk a week later asking if they could get a little help on their algebraic equations. They would do this all with a subtle smile cloaked in condescension. His make was that of gestalt or chameleon- the nice guy, the bad guy, the winner, the prick that would make fun of the hat or haircut or anyone deigned asshole or dorky; the sweetest kiss ass to those teachers or parental figures that hadn't caught on yet. They were all of these and none of these.
The chicks were something else too. Though they did wear clothes, it was difficult to tell especially at a time and in a place such as this with the lights down and all; they looked practically naked if you didn't take a closer look. When they went out they knew how to cut loose; blondes, brunettes, and always in a group like this, that one single sultry redhead. They knew how to flaunt it and work it to the chagrin of their current man or to the ogling patrons that passed in and out. The skirts they wore barely hid anything at all. Some were even daring enough to wear nude colored thigh-high stockings to go with their knee-length patent leather ("hooker") boots. Their chatter was like that of birds: quick, flighty, hurried. Hundreds of names or pop culture references come to mind to explain each and everyone of their styles of dress or manner. These were girls of the 21st century and everything at once could be fashionable or detestable to them. They were, as the guys, covered from head to toe in their own real or imagined ugliness.
"These chickies are smokin' hot!" This would be the same refrain that could be heard from the other corners of the place as others looked on or stopped in mid conversation to smile at something someone else said and end up glancing in the crowd's direction. They had the hierarchy of some unspoken court and those being the most important would sit at the booths against the wall and others would either stand nearby as if they were a cadre of bodyguards or sit on the stool-chairs placed around small tables three feet away. If anybody had the sense to notice and mention the similarities between this scene and that of the greaser gang that John Travolta and Jeff Conaway ran back in Grease, it wouldn't have been heard let alone appreciated because of the absolute racket of drunkenness and raw energy in the air.
However, unlike that lovable bunch, these were of the worst sort that you could imagine if it came to hypocrisy. They were foul and fashionable all at once and like all things this group was the sum of its parts and more and they had been drinking and carousing for the last two hours at the Main Street Pub in downtown Vermillion.
The hour of eleven began to list toward a quarter past when Tyler Martin, one of the man of the hour's dude friends, warbled out a noise from his mouth at the approach of more drinks from the bar. The three waitresses that serviced the crowd of friends around the man of the hour brought more shots and just a couple chasers for those chickies that couldn't handle the high octane fuel they were throwing down their throats in great draughts.
There was a snatch of lyric from the current song being played from the loudspeaker overhead that flashed hard in the brainpan of our hero of this story.
It was this:
Well, no one is getting out alive
This time I've really lost my mind and I don't care
So close your eyes and kiss yourself goodbye
And think about the time you spent and what they've meant
To me it's nothing.
Chris Bishop, our hero, sat in an alcoholic haze surrounded by his twenty or more friends and wondered not for the first time tonight how exactly he had gotten so drunk, so fast. He figured that, elementally, he was going off the deep end one last time before he was shipped off to Boot.
More shouts and whoops went up as the tenders at the bar fished out more glasses at the behest of a fellow that had the scratch to dole out for literally everyone tonight. Neither Chris nor anyone he knew recognized the fellow in the shrinking gaps that the growing crowd afforded him. The fellow produced another hundred dollar bill to add to the one already on top of the brightly finished cherry colored wood of the bar. Todd Ratingen, the owner of the Pub, told his ID checkers at both doors to the establishment to let people out if they wanted, but to not let anyone else in as the crowd inside was reaching capacity as their friends were calling others to get the fuck there ASAP if they wanted to get their free drink (drunk) on.
Chris felt sick in more ways than one and he felt trapped in this place of tomfoolery and debauchery. He couldn't tell any of those around him that because he felt they would never understand or even begin to recognize what in God's name could be wrong with this simple gathering.
What could be wrong, Chris? It's your party after all, 'ol buddy!
"He's not here." Chris said this under his breath to no one in particular.
Most of these people he had never said more than a thousand words to except for the six or seven gathered closest to him; and even then they didn't move him so much as his friends from junior high and high school had done just a few short years earlier. These were drinking buddies and their flakey girlfriends. That's it. That's all folks! But to be fair, these 'peeps,' as the term is so used, were those that he would eventually be relating to anyway because these were the types that ruled the world later in life- that is, if they didn't get caught in the spring traps of alcoholism, dissolution, and apathy. Chris abhorred the idea of doing just that- associating with these people when he knew it made his skin crawl and dance with dumb disbelief. He thought of his older friends. You know, the ones way back when- even though it really wasn't too 'way back when'. Those you could say anything to because they understood unconsciously or fundamentally that growing up required a certain kind of understanding that these folks forgot or cast aside when they discovered or were introduced to that new truth for those that wanted to get where they thought they wanted to go, to climb that ladder: quiet treachery and faithlessness.
He sighed to himself, but nobody noticed.
Chris Bishop had accomplished a lot in his 22 years on this earth and he had ahead of him a bright future indeed. He earned it after all and fought hard to get where he was even though circumstances concerning his career weren't entirely in his hands. He could thank his parents, but mostly his father for that one. Whether it was his 3.7 GPA he painstakingly maintained while attending college or his Bachelor's with honors in Business and Accounting; he did as he was told in matters of future career goals, like a good son. His decision to join the military was, to him, natural and another step that he knew he had to take on the road to a successful life and career. And this decision, perhaps the first real one, was his and his alone. Everyone (not quite) was behind him including his parents after some sour talks with shouting interspersing the more civilized portions of the whole argument- but all of it after the fact.
"But why does it have to be the Marines, Chris?" his mother had asked him when his father hadn't the nerve to say anything at that moment. Chris, of course, had his reasons (honor, a sense of purpose and drive like he had never felt in his four years as an undergrad, a feeling to prove to himself that he was as strong as he thought he was- these were but a few), but felt explaining them fully to his parents at that time wouldn't have cleared the air as he would have liked. His father after all could be a very stubborn man if he didn't like something or felt that he was in the right.
Chris only said, "It doesn't really matter now because I've already signed the papers. Besides, it's a good move for me- please, believe that."
Chris's father, a catholic man, was president of a small, but prestigious insurance company based out of Sioux Falls and though he believed whole heartedly that Chris was destined to be a first class CPA, he allowed the notion that after a time in the military Chris would see the light, as it were, and come to work for his father. But Chris had different ideas about his future. He detested accounting and though he had at one time took an interest in the world that made his father successful; he knew it wasn't for him. Throughout his early life he never really questioned his parents' decision to take decisions out of his hands. However, it couldn't be said that he wholly enjoyed it either. He did enjoy his little rebellions when he could. Like the time he took up skateboarding for three whole summers starting when he was 13, or destroying in the night those quant little Christmas decorations that festooned the lawns of people that for some reason or another didn't take them down after the first of the year; the occasional smoke at fifteen or drink at sixteen; things of that nature that in themselves never really harmed him or anyone else. Chris, after all, loved his parents very much and knew in his heart that he could do no wrong by them. But, now he was getting out from under their yoke and was finally believing he had his destiny firmly in his own hands for good or ill. He had few regrets, but the only one that seemed to stand out from everything in his life besides that his parents had made his decisions for him is that due to his hard work and dedication at the behest of that decision, he had lost touch with his older friends- those who couldn't climb the ladder of success, his particular one anyway, and it made him bitter that they could drop out of his life one by one by one like ducks in a shooting gallery. He knew in his heart that this was an inevitable thing that he couldn't control, but why did it have to be him? It was a thing that, when it caught him off guard, would spread in Chris's chest like heartburn and leave a dry coppery taste in his mouth. After all was said and done, why had it been him- why had his oldest and best friend, Jesse Quintana, become estranged? Why the hell did he flake like so many of these people around him were apt to do at the drop of a hat?
Chris sank a little deeper into his seat next to his girlfriend, Melissa. She was in conversation with another chick across the table about the fellow who was buying the whole bar their drinks, in her hand burned a cigarette.
He remembered one of the last conversations he had had with Jesse before tonight. It was mostly just empty air on the phone like he was trying to tell someone close to him that he saw their mom and dad die in a horrific accident.
"So I joined the United States Marine Corp," Chris had said quickly and bluntly. It had to be said and he didn't know how to break it gently.
(Why did he feel he had to tiptoe around the subject?)
There had been a pause and then Jesse had said, "Really?"
Chris didn't think that Jesse sounded incredulous at his statement, but it was there like a bruise that would rear up after a cheap shot to the cheek and jowl.
"Yeah, man, I think that I had to do this. It'll be good for me and will help me to get a leg up in the world. Plus, they'll pay off all my student loans in three years. Pretty good, yeah?"
There was a pause and then, very quietly, "Yeah, that sounds good."
"I wanted to call you and tell you that because you deserved to know."
Jesse didn't say anything to this, so Chris continued and told him when he was shipping out to Parris Island, South Carolina and when he hopefully would graduate to go to Advanced Individual Training. Throughout this Jesse simply would say, "Alright" or "uh-huh" or some other noncommittal answer. It was maddening to Chris to hear this, but what had he expected to hear? Their friendship had been going downhill ever since Chris started dating Melissa in his junior year. It's like the guy was jealous or something! The conversation had lasted less than four minutes and really only half of that was taken up by conversation that was only one way.
Just what the hell happened?
Something occurred to Chris now and it was this: Had he himself flaked on his friend? What could be wrong with trying to find your own way (the way out) and be successful? Didn't everybody want that? He shook his head- no, it couldn't be his fault. He knew this instinctively, but hadn't worked it entirely out in his head. Yes, he ran with this group, but he also felt that, fundamentally, he had no allegiances to them.
Chris checked his phone again to see if Jesse replied to his text message from earlier that evening about coming out to enjoy the festivities.
There was nothing, of course.
Melissa turned to her boyfriend then and kissed him on the cheek playfully and said that she had to go and use the ladies room. Chris got out of the booth, very carefully, for he was slightly cross eyed with all the booze, but mostly, it seemed to him, with the realization that his oldest and best (?) friend could well be lost to him for good now. Melissa managed to get out as delicately as she could, a beautifully nylon clad thigh brushing against her boyfriend. She and a couple of girlfriends left him, picking their way through the crowd of hollering, drunken idiots. Chris had to go as well, but stood deciding whether he really wanted to cut a swath through the ninety or so people packing the place. It looked like it would take perhaps ten minutes or more to elbow his way through everyone. His decision was soon out of his hands as Phillip Dwyer and Cory Marsten turned to talk to their best 'bud' that was leaving them in less than two weeks.
"Hey, man!" Cory ventured, a half finished beer in each hand (double-fisting it tonight are we, the thought passing through Chris's mind without effort). "Where the fuck are you going again?" Chris's friend had to shout this because the speaker above them was playing something very loud by Cake.
Chris got the gist of what he was saying and answered, "Parris Island."
"PARRIS ISLAND!" This came out just as the music hit a line where the melody wasn't quite as strong or as loud, though all the music coming from the juke tonight seemed awfully loud to Chris.
Enlightenment flooded into Cory's face and he said, "Like in Full Metal Jacket!"
Chris knew where this anecdote was going because he had heard it about twenty million times since he began to let everyone know that he joined the Marines so he wasn't perturbed when Cory started relating the dangers of Boot Camp according to Kubrick.
"Hey, Private Pile, you better do good or they'll kick your fuckin' ass!!" Cory got really close to his face on saying 'ass!' that Chris thought for a brief moment to throw his fist into Cory's stupid grin. He, of course, didn't because that could have started something quite unforeseeable in this place at that particular time. Cops and shipping out soldiers or sailors didn't mix for that could delay or disqualify him from going and nothing in the world was going to stop him now. Not when he was this close.
"I'll do my best, dude, I promise." Chris said this with a smile that didn't touch his eyes in the least. Phillip, a might less drunk than Marsten, said, "Hey man, don't worry, it's gonna be awesome. Kill some ragheads for me!"
Chris held up his hand then to stop the republican spiel that Dwyer inevitably went into when he was in his cups, and said, "Gotta go piss." Before they could say anything more, Chris turned away into the crowd taking a deep breath of smoke filled air and plunged in.
He didn't know where he was going, but he did have to use the facilities. A new song issued from the speakers in the four corners by Moby (and Gwen Stefani? He thought), thumping and bumping its beat over the crowd that was the most he had seen in the Pub- even during homecoming.
He made his way methodically through the throng shaking hands with those that recognized him and congratulated him on his future endeavors. They moved and swayed as the waitresses, Beverly, Angela, and a cute blond whose name he didn't know, balanced trays of shots over the wildly gesticulating crowd. It was late spring now and school had been out for more than a month, and though there were a lot of townies here, his group fully made up a quarter of the patrons that made cheers to their (and his) good fortune. Talk abounded of the fellow at the bar. "Who is he?" and "That guy is fuckin' awesome!" and all manner of speech concerning him, but as to any of it being true nobody knew or seemed to care as they were carried away by the mood of the night and the moment. He caught another glimpse of the guy now as someone bent down very carefully with their drink above them to retrieve a fallen cigarette. The fellow was dressed in a tuxedo and looked to be greatly enjoying himself. He was surrounded by a gaggle of girls and a pack of sweaty guys trying to mack on those same girls. He seemed above the throng, in his own world, taking time minutely to nod or speak animatedly about something that made his eyes goggle.
Then there were shouts and whoops as the music was turned down in mid song as Todd, the manager of the Pub, took time from his drink pouring to get atop a barstool and call everyone's attention. It took about a minute to quiet the sotted crowd into something resembling indoor voices as he announced that because of the generosity of the fellow buying everyone drinks, he was going to match the guy for every drink he bought the bar with a round of his own. At hearing this the whole bar went into peals of shouts, screams, and laughter at the prospect of getting not one free drink every fifteen minutes or so, but two.
It was midnight on the dot.
The people around Chris surged forward then and he took a step back (as much as he could in a mass such as this) as he didn't want to be crushed. He tried spying if Melissa was making her way back from the restrooms yet, but, of course, didn't see her through the crowd. He checked his phone again for he thought he felt it vibrate in his pocket.
where r u?
The text was from Melissa. He texted back, lost in crowd
He simply stood there with his empty drink glass in his hand, thinking, when Angela came back from taking a turn in the booths by the windows where the rest of the party was, and plucked it out of his hand. He said, "Thank you," absently, and dug into his pocket and to tip her a buck, but she smiled and asked him to give it to Beverly as her hands weren't free- in them she balanced a precarious tower of empties. They curved inward and behind her, naturally accommodating the shape of the glasses.
After another minute his pocket vibrated again and he opened it.
im at th bar. by th vid lott. come and get me K?
He shook his head at this. Considering she was studying to be a Human Resources Manager, it sometimes maddened him that she could text like an illiterate.
ok, he texted.
And before he could even think about picking his way through the hoot and holler:
luv u and want u, my soldier;), came the reply.
"Jesus," Chris breathed out in a small breath. He didn't want to be there. His energy seemed to have left him even though he had had several shots that had an aftertaste of Red Bull in them from the mixer. He should've not only been drunk, but also bouncing off the walls with all the caffeine zinging through his system like an electric wire. He wanted to leave right then and there and if they didn't like it, fuck 'em. All he had wanted that evening was to have a drink and a meaningful conversation with his oldest friend that he had known since he was ten years old. Chris knew that as the time grew shorter to his going away that prospect was quickly becoming an impossibility.
But, no- Chris shook his head and rationalized to himself that if he did leave the going away party early and without telling anyone at that, he would be saying to these people that he didn't want their company. This would put him in a nasty spot socially- although he craved, almost irrationally, to be placed in that position. He just didn't seem to care when the shackles of his life were finally coming off.
So quick to replace the old ones with the new, huh, Chris?
He threw that thought away as quickly as it had come to him.
However, it could also be implied that that went ditto for Melissa. He couldn't do it- leave, that is- even though he could probably get away with it by saying he was sick.
NO, NO, NO!
The guy in him still, after all the rigmarole of the evening coupled with the crushing realization that he was at last a grown up (even though he was only 22), his heart and mind seeming to have calcified with that realization- he still wanted to have sex with the finest piece of ass he had managed to lay his hands on from his whole time in college. He needed comfort and if drunken sex with her in the small hours of the morning was the only way then, goddammit, he would do that quite rightly. Melissa would never forgive him if he left tonight anyway. He supposed that she loved him in some way because though she did run with that same crowd of jeans ad flunkies, she also had her own opinions about things that she wasn't afraid to stand up for. Apparently the world, her friends, or life at USD hadn't twisted that out of her like so much grey water from a soiled dishrag.
He breathed in some more of the smoke and clatter of the place and pushed on toward the bar where the people were at there peak density of jackassery.
Getting up to the bar took about ten minutes with interruptions galore. If it wasn't the ten guys in front of him wanting drinks, or the two girls drunkenly supporting a friend between them who was only 10% conscious and feebly asking for a cigarette, or another guy literally falling out of his stool to the left of Chris, he supposed he could have gotten there a bit easier. Chris hit the end of the bar just as he passed two meat heads that were about two seconds away from going into fisticuffs. He got Bravo's attention from the other side of the bar, fifty shot glasses of the same stuff- Jägermeister- were lined up like a chorus line.
"What can I get you, bud?"
"Water." Chris's head swam.
Bravo fixed it up neat as you please and gave him the plastic cup. Chris took the short straw out and placed it on the beer stained bar top among the ashtrays and other empties. Chris hunkered over and downed the water in two seconds. He belched and looked around for Melissa. He didn't see her and was about to check his phone again when someone clapped him on the back (Jesse?) and began speaking to him hurriedly:
"Yo! Man, get a load of this shit: This girl next to me says her friend was in Chicago, like, three weeks ago and she was, like, raped and shit-"
Chris turned and noticed that he was right next to the fellow in the tuxedo who was buying everyone drinks like he was the King of England.
"Ah, wait- she didn't get raped, but fought off the guy in her hotel room and kept yellin' 'I have AIDS. I have AIDS!' Can you believe that shit? She said the guy got her drunk at the bar and followed her back to her hotel and then hit her over the head with one of those bibles they keep in the room!"
Chris at first didn't know what to say to this guy's story it came tumbling out so fast he only understood half of it. Before he could say anything to this intrusion, the guy was going back to the young lady that had told him this story, but found that she was gone.
"Hey, man, where'd that bitch go to now?" The guy said this with half amusement and half astonishment, like he'd been chatting her up the last three hours, trying to get into her pants, and she just up and walked out on him because of some faux pas that was socially reprehensible.
Chris finally got a good look at the guy that everyone was so hurriedly discussing when he came up to the bar. He was indeed wearing a tux, but it looked like he'd been wearing the thing for about three days. The resplendent bowtie or cravat was gone like it had never been there. The lapels of his coat were dirty with something that Chris didn't want to look too close at, and the guy looked like an absolute train wreck. If Chris had been half as drunk as this guy was now, he would consider himself lucky to be alive. Definitely a train wreck. But, Chris got the idea that it wasn't because the guy was so hammered that he couldn't stand- it was something else entirely- and he was sure the guy was going to trap him here like the woman and tell him every single thing wrong with him.
As it turned out he was wrong.
"My name is TJ," the fellow in the tux said, holding out a hand. "What's yours?"
This TJ didn't talk like he was that drunk however he looked, and before Chris could stop himself he took the offered hand and shook it. "Chris."
"Pleased to meetcha!"
Chris looked around for his girl again, forgetting that she was by the video lottery machines around the corner as she had told him.
Chris didn't really want to talk to this guy, but found that even though TJ's appearance was unsavory, he didn't really care either way.
I'm gone in two weeks anyway, what the fuck do I care?
"Hey, do you wanna drink?" TJ said this more to Chris than to the multitude of people around him, but everyone was so close in the jungle of drunks that words traveled quickly even though the music was blaring. "Yeah!" Somebody shouted. "Whoot! More drinks from the dude!"
Bravo, who was working behind the bar, cast an eye toward TJ to get the go ahead for another ninety or so shots that he and Todd would have to whip up, but TJ shook his head and that ended the matter.
"Just for this guy."
Bravo poured a shot of Rumple Mints into a plastic cup as Job, the dish washer for tonight, was still elbows deep in the backflow of old empties.
"What's your story?" TJ asked as Bravo fixed it.
Chris told him that he was here saying goodbye to some people because he was going into the Marines shortly. TJ looked at him like he was crazy, but then clapped him on the back again in that friendly manner, laughed and said, "Holy Shit! We got a crusader here!"
Chris shrugged and downed his beverage, not even tasting it.
"You tellin' me that you're gonna go into the land of the infidels ('infeee-dels,' is how it came out) and kill 'em and blow 'em to shit like they've been doin' to us?"
Chris just looked at him, daring the guy to think otherwise even though his job when it was all said and done would be combat support, not combat arms.
TJ regarded Chris closely after he said this and fidgeted with a Zippo that was next to his Marlboros. "That's good man, but I gotta ask?"
What? Like why would I join the Marines and not the Army, or the Navy, or Nat'l Guard? Why do I seem so gung-ho about the whole thing? Why would I ever wanna leave a place like this for something so uncertain as the danger of combat and getting my ass shot off by somebody that did that kind of shit all the time for less than two-hundred bucks, American, a month?
"Why do you look so sad, man?"
At first Chris couldn't believe what he was hearing from this yo-yo's mouth. He had been moping, it seemed to him, all night and no one- not even his head strong and loving girlfriend- had noticed. No one until he started talking with this guy. Chris shook his head and tried to say something like the guy was full of shit, that he was glad as hell to be leaving the Midwest, to do something that he believed in, but that didn't come out. What did come out of his mouth to this total stranger was this:
"It's my friend… I think, no- I know, he hates me for being more successful than him."
TJ simply nodded in response to this and took one of his smokes out and lit it. He breathed out in a long puff, coughed like it was his twenty or thirtieth cig of the evening, and asked, "What happened, man?"
Who the fuck is this guy and why is he reading me like a book? This thought came up naturally, but unexpectedly and Chris's mouth began to tell the tale even before his brain had made up its mind on the matter.
Chris at once told TJ about his friend Jesse and how they had grown up together in Sioux Falls. They'd known one another for almost twelve years and the friendship was the closest that Chris had ever, and, incidentally, would ever know. TJ was very respectful to Chris's charge about Jesse seeming uncaring toward his decision to change his future toward an even brighter one than had been possible. He told him about the phone conversation that had been one way and than back through the whole friendship it seemed. He told how Jesse and him were quite close up until about three years ago when all of a sudden Jesse simply didn't want to come down to Vermillion that often to hang out with his friend. Even if Chris were in Sioux Falls for the evening, the weekend, or some such, Jesse would seem half hearted about doing anything that involved him having a conversation or being in the same room as his friend.
"What the fuck did I do wrong?" Chris took another drink that had been offered to him by TJ. It was almost if he would cry right there, but of course this didn't happen as Chris quickly regained what little composure he had lost in that brief moment.
"I mean the guy always, and I mean always used to say to me when my parents got on me for doing something that they didn't want, 'hey, Chris, don't worry because everything is gonna be perfect forever.'" Chris thumped the bar with his knuckle and said, "Fuck me, man…that just ain't true anymore, you know?"
TJ crushed out his smoke and took out a wad of fifties that he had tucked away in the left inner breast pocket of his retched excuse for a jacket (Chris believed that if the guy hadn't been buying the whole bar their drinks than Todd would have turned him out on his ear for looking so damned dirty) and began thumbing through them with rapidity. After counting twice, and pulling what looked like about two hundred from the formidable bundle, he seemed satisfied and put the bunch back in his pocket before anyone got too nosy. He called Bravo over very politely, and asked him to wait five more minutes to begin making another round for the bar. Bravo said, "You got it." He took the money that TJ plunked down and walked over to where his boss, Todd, was chatting and yucking it up with three ladies on the other side of the bar. Todd nodded, never missing a beat with the gin and tonic bottles he commanded like a maestro.
Chris told more about how he could buckle down and finish college, something that his friend never did or even tried to do. Jesse had only expressed a cursory interest in going in the first place even though Chris thought the guy to be one of the most intelligent people he ever knew; on par with his own father even. Chris shook his head and knew what TJ was going to say to him before he said it. He just didn't know quite how.
"Chris, I know you're going through a lot of pain right now and I sympathize with you, bro, I do." TJ said this carefully and thoughtfully, as if he weren't drunk in the slightest but only putting the finishing touches on a house of cards and didn't want to upset them. "I'm kinda goin' through the same thing with… a lady friend." Chris noticed that TJ shrugged, motioning to his attire. Chris simply lifted his eyebrows and thought, "Jesus, now is where he traps me and tells me everything."
But, again, Chris was wrong.
"How long again until you ship to go to Boot Camp?"
"About two weeks."
"I think you should try to contact him again and if," TJ held up a finger when he said 'if.' "If he should not respond to something as very simple as a goodbye, then, Chris, I think you should just drop it and move on."
It was point blank and it was what Chris needed to hear, but he didn't want to accept it.
Chris shook his head and asked if he could bum one of TJ's smokes. He was given one without so much as a protest by the dirty, disheveled, rich man TJ. He lit it for Chris who inhaled deeply without coughing at all; as if he had been a veteran smoker for the last ten years of his life.
"You know," Chris remarked. "I think you could be right about that, but what if-"
TJ cut him off, and said, "No, 'what ifs,' in this life, man- just do it and if he doesn't say shit, just let it go and remember the times you did have. That's it, man. That's all you gotta do!"
Chris looked into the guy's eyes and didn't see a trace of falsehood. It was as if this guy really did mean what he was saying all along.
The first of the drinks that TJ bought were now being loaded up onto the trays that the waitresses would carry around for anybody who thought they could use some more liquid poison in their guts. There were many takers still even at this hour. Two drinks were placed in front of the two talking strangers- one for the future Mean Marine, Chris; another for the Patron Saint of Drunks, TJ.
They drank in silence in spite of all the woots and hollers erupting all around them, but only after TJ said this:
"To friends and what they've meant because they are everything. They are everything."
The two sat lost in there on thoughts for awhile. Chris then caught sight of his girl coming around the corner with a slip of paper- probably from the video lottery machines indicating a winner- and looked pleased as punch when she caught sight of her man along the choked and congested bar.
"Hey, man," Chris said turning to TJ. "I gotta go. My girlfriend is looking for me."
TJ clapped him on the back once more with enthusiasm and wished him luck in the service. Chris wished him the same with his woman troubles. TJ said nothing, only smiling, but it looked broken in the haze of beer and smoke that swirled about the place like currents in an ocean.
The rest of the night was uneventful. The party partied itself out and Chris got to bed around three with his girl, passed out on his arm. He didn't have sex with her like he wanted because though he did feel better about the situation he felt it best not to press his luck.
About two weeks later and a little less than one hour before he got on his plane in the Sioux Falls Airport to go down to South Carolina and begin his training and new life, he texted this to his oldest, but not-quite-so-best-friend, Jesse Quintana:
Hey, it's me. I'm leaving in about an hour for training and I just wanted to say that you were the best when we were younger and I wanted to thank you for everything that we saw and did because it helped to make me who I am. Good bye.
He clapped his phone shut and then sat in silence next to his parents and girlfriend for awhile.
Precisely, nine minutes before his flight took off, he received a text message from Jesse, and it was this:
thank you and take care of yourself, chris
That was all he said and, for Chris, it was just enough.
© 2009 S. I. Mette