“Man, we were good buddies. My dad always said he was a hard worker too. He hired Jake, my dad did. He worked like a bull too. Back then I don’t think he had much of a home life so my dad would keep him on the road a lot, keep him busy, gave him as many hours as he wanted. My dad basically took care of him.”
Rain pattered against the windshield of the car as her husband smiled and told of his old high school friend. She sat silently next to him, listening, gazing out the window.
“I got excited when he reached out to me, I haven’t heard from him in a couple of years. Shit, I don’t think anyone has. I wonder how he’s been.”
Theresa peeled her eyes away from the passing scenery and smiled at her husband.
“I’m looking forward to it too. Besides, it’s nice to still go out, even this early in the week.”
Tony smiled leaning across and gently squeezed her hand.
“Jesus, John, check the guy who just walked in. He’s a wreck! You going to kick him out, John? He’s not wearing the right attire. I mean, look at his shoes, I can see his feet through the holes! Come on, he’s not even wearing any socks, John. This is outrageous, John!”
The young barman laughed. “Keep quiet, Ray, it’s noon and it’s Tuesday. No one else is here but you. Who gives a care?”
“Well, I don’t like it.”
“Keep quiet, Ray; go back to your drink.”
Ray did that voluntarily, taking another small sip of his martini. John walked to the new man in the bar.
“What can I get ya today, my friend?”
Up close the man was cold and shook even in the summer humidity. He pulled a few crumpled bills from his ragged jeans, looked up at John and nodded courteously.
He tried counting slyly but John saw over the bar. The two bills were dirty and one hung torn, nearly in half. The ragged man put them back in his pocket.
“Just gimme a cup of water for now, I’m uh… meeting my old friend for lunch…”
He cleared his throat and John nodded solemnly and served the man his cup. He went back to Ray at the other end of the bar.
A husband in a fancy sport jacket and a wife in a yellow sundress entered the bar. The ragged man turned away from the moment and took a long swig of his water.
John could feel his embarrassment. The ragged man turned and gave a wave to his old friend who slowly approached the bar with his wife. His wife stepped ahead of him, almost dragging him along. They approached the ragged man and John gave them a second before he crept over.
“I’m Theresa; my husband has told me so much about you, Jake.” She extended her hand with a big smile. The ragged man took it slowly, shamefully eying his friend. The wife spoke again.
“Here’s the bartender; should we sit down or order a drink first? I’m a little thirsty myself.” She forced out a laugh and looked sharply to her husband. John was about to speak. But her husband shook his head and rambled and mumbled instead.
“Ahhh gosh! Damn, today is… it’s Tuesday! I can’t believe I forgot about this.” The husband pulled out his phone and played with it for a moment. The wife stared at him in disbelief. John backed slowly toward Ray who even put his head down and stirred his martini.
The husband talked of some meeting and a conference call he had to make up immediately. He really apologized and said they must reschedule in the near future. He turned as quickly as he came; he never shook his old friend’s hand. A second passed and the wife hesitated as if to say something to the man her husband once knew.
But her lips never moved and she followed him out the door.
John wished he didn’t see any of that.
The ragged man stood defeated, staring at the door for a moment, and then turned to the bar.
His face was empty when he looked at John and waved him over. He pulled out the two dirty bills and very dryly asked for any whiskey he could get with the pair. John reached over and pulled a bottle and glass for the man. John poured a shot and saw the man raise it silently, throw it back and shake himself.
“Thanks,” he said.
John poured a second shot of whiskey and put the glass in front the man.
“Sometimes good is a point of view. These are on the house.” He pushed the bills back toward the man.
The man met John’s eyes and nodded his head.
John turned and made another martini for Ray, who was in need of a refill after all the action on this early Tuesday afternoon. When John turned back, the man had left.
In his place sat the empty glass and the two dirty bills.
Jacob K. LePretre writes in the great city of Chicago, residing on the South Side.
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