Bars. God, I hate bars. Hate 'em with a passion. Dark, crowded, and full of people I can't stand, acting like assholes. Still, here I was, sitting at one, working slowly on getting wasted. Why the hell not? Just got the brush-off from the guy I'd been dating. Bastard hadn't even had the guts to tell me to my face. He'd sent me a text message. Fucker.
I dont thnk itll wrk
He couldn't even be bothered with punctuation. But he said I couldn't be bothered to get serious, so we were even.
I was two shots of whiskey and a beer down, working on a second beer. I hadn't had this much to drink since college. Since... fuck. I wasn't going to think about it. Not now, not ever if I had a choice, though it never seemed like I did. Maybe if I pickled my brain it'd work better. I slammed down the rest of the beer and signaled for another. I wasn't wasted yet, but I was on my way. A miserable fucking end to a miserable fucking day, and I knew the morning would suck just as bad. Good. That's what I wanted right now.
Wish and sometimes the gods hear, but the gods are sick motherfuckers. What I heard was a voice I'd not heard since college, one I'd hoped to never hear again.
My drink turned to acid in my guts. Richard Gagnon. Richard fucking Gagnon, the bastard who broke my heart and stomped it into little goddamn pieces. The man who still haunted my life five damn years later. Five years and a thousand miles, I thought it was far enough. Guess not.
He still looked as good as he ever had, long and lean, blonde hair done perfectly, a fuck me smile on his face. Tan chinos, a green polo shirt that matched his eyes, gold chain around his neck. The one I'd given him for his twentieth birthday. He had a woman on his arm, near as tall as he was, wearing the sort of slinky red dress that most women look stupid in. She just managed stunning.
"Ricky," I said, my voice as flat as I could manage. He'd always hated that name, and I took a vicious little pleasure in seeing that smile falter. "Been a while."
"Too long," he said, recovering quickly and acting like it hadn't happened. "Bill, I'd like you to meet Michelle. Michelle, this is Bill."
She gave me a winning smile, as sincere as his was practiced. She held out her hand to shake, and I took it by reflex. She had a firm grip, too. For a moment I wondered if maybe she was a transvestite, but the dress was tight enough to make it clear that her curves were real.
"I'm so glad to meet you," she said, and sounded like she meant it.
There was space at the table, and years of manners kicked in before I could think. "Won't you sit down?" I gestured at the other side of the table. There were a few stools scattered around, and Rick grabbed two without blinking an eye.
"Bill here..." Rick was interrupted by the chirping of a cellphone, his by the way he reached for his pocket. The damn thing had a tinny version of Queen's 'We are the Champions' as its ring tone. I rolled my eyes at that.
Rick grabbed the phone out of his pocket and made an apologetic noise. "It's work, I've got to take this. Be right back!" And with that he breezed away towards the door, chattering into the phone. He was making broad gestures the person on the other end would never see. I was amazed he managed to make it out without smacking anyone. Michelle, I noticed, was watching him with a fond smile. So very fucking swell.
She turned back to me, looking a bit less sure. No big surprise, her date had just dumped her on someone she didn't know, but then he always was thoughtful that way.
"Sorry about that," she said. "He's always getting calls after hours." She sounded like it was her fault he was being a rude bastard.
"Yeah, well, it happens," I replied. I signaled for a waiter. "Want a drink while we wait on him? On me," I added. What the hell, she seemed nice, I could afford it, and cleaning up after his messes was a habit I couldn't seem to break.
"Thanks," she said. "A Cosmopolitan," she told the waiter.
"Another whiskey and a beer to chase it," I added.
"You, um..." she started, after the waiter left. She was looking at the glasses in front of me. I assume it was clear I was drinking for a reason. I flipped open my phone and showed her the message.
Her eyes widened a little. "Said I wasn't willing to get serious," I explained.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, sounding like she meant it.
"Yeah, so am I," I said. He'd wanted me to meet his goddamn mother. The last time I'd done that... hell, the last time I'd done that was with fucking Ricky. Met his mother, his father, and all his cookie-cutter, picture perfect family. Smiling and nodding and keeping my hands to myself. Bastard.
Michelle looked uneasy again, since that conversation'd petered right out.
"Rick didn't have time to introduce us properly," she said, pulling out a stock starter. It was a good save, I have to admit. "I'm Michelle Hennesy."
"Bill Rothman," I said, matching her introduction.
She brightened. "You must be the Bill he always talks about. From college. He says you were friends."
"Friends?" I snorted. "Yeah, you could say that." That's the way he always introduced me to anyone he knew. His friend. And I always smiled and nodded and played along, because it made him happy. See where making him happy got me.
"It's so sad," she went on. "He said you used to be close, but drifted apart."
I nearly spat out my drink when she said that. "He always had a way with words," I replied. It was stupid, and noncommittal, and gave nothing away. Nothing about him, that's for sure. I felt the old anger rise up again. I was always hiding things for him. I'd lied to my mom about him, lied to his parents about him. We were just friends. Yeah, right, just friends, friends with their dicks up each other's asses so far we could taste 'em.
"He said," she went on blithely, sipping at her drink, "it was something about someone you were dating. I think he still feels a little bad about it."
I didn't want to be a bitter old queen. Hell, I didn't want to be a bitter young queen. I was sure as hell bitter, right then, though.
I gave her a look, trying to figure out what to do. I'd given up hiding who I was. I'd done that for him, and done it gladly, and it hadn't gotten me shit. I owed him nothing right now. Owed her nothing either, but I didn't want to be the nasty ex who went out of his way to make someone's life miserable. I had a little more self-respect than that. Not much, though.
Truth, then. She could do whatever the fuck she wanted with it.
"Yeah, well, he cheated on me," I said. I wanted to say more, a lot more, but I didn't.
She looked a little surprised at that. "Oh, I know how bad that can be," she said, trying to sound comforting. It was a little tough with all the noise. "One of my girlfriends did that with me too. Slept with the boy I was dating. I hated her for ages. We did work it out, though. I know Rick wants to do that with you."
"No, you don't understand," I said. Truth. Nothing else, just the truth. No bitterness, she seemed nice enough and didn't deserve that. "He cheated on me. I came home early from class on our third anniversary to find him knees up on our bed getting fucked by Miguel. Some guy from Argentina who lived down the hall or something."
I watched as she sat back, saw the shock roll across her face. Sad, but I took a little bit of pleasure from that.
"Bill," Richard said, as he slid onto the stool next to Michelle. "Sorry about that honey," he said, giving her a peck on the cheek. She flinched a little. "Had to take that call. Anyway," he said, all smiles and enthusiasm, "how've you been? It's been years!"
"Five years, three months, four days," I said, nearly by reflex. I winced inside as that came out. Not like I wasn't over him or anything. He felt it too -- that smile froze and faltered. Not for long, though. He was always like that. Nothing got to him for very long. Not even me, I guess. "I'm good," I added. Yeah, right. Good.
"Good, good," he said. "How're you and my lovely fiancee getting along?"
That one stunned me. Fiancee? Him? Surprised me enough that I dropped my beer. I apologized hastily and started mopping up the spill.
"Don't look so surprised," he said, sounding a little defensive. "You know I always wanted to settle down."
Right then I wanted to reach across the table and rip his still-beating heart out of his chest. I sure as hell did know he wanted to settle down. We used to talk about it. Usually after we'd had sex, often when he still had his dick in my ass. House, white picket fence, a couple of kids, and a dog. That turned out so very well.
"Yeah, you always talked about that, Ricky," I said, sounding more than a little bitter. "Glad you found someone to settle down with."
"She's great," he said, smiling his winning smile at her and giving her a kiss on the cheek. She looked unsure as to what to do and how to deal with it. I felt a little guilty about that, especially since it was clear he didn't have a clue.
"You've got to come over some day for dinner sometime," he said. "I've moved to the city here. Never expected to see you again, you know, not after you disappeared."
I think I managed to keep my voice steady through sheer force of will. That and the massive amount of pressure I was putting my beer glass under. They make them strong. It didn't break.
"Things happen, you know?" I said. Like, for example, your boyfriend of three years, the one you'd proposed to, putting out for someone else. I'd gone to a lot of trouble to not ever see Rick again after that. It was a big school. It wasn't tough. We'd been in different programs and he'd only had another four months to go for graduation. I slept on a lot of friends' couches until I could find a place of my own.
"So, Bill," he said, blithely going on. I was trying to hold onto my mask of indifference, and Michelle was looking uncomfortable. "You seeing anyone seriously?"
That one hit me between the eyes. Was I seeing anyone seriously? I knew the answer to that, and it made me a little sick.
"No, not since you," I said, before I could stop myself. I didn't want to say it, and regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth. It had been five years, and I'd spent it fuming over him, over what happened. I'd let it ruin my life, ruin every fucking relationship I'd tried, and now he knew it too.
It was past time to go. I had to get out of there, away from him, away from the memories. I should have laughed. When I came in to drink I wanted to be miserable. I managed that one better than I'd imagined.
"It's really time for me to be going," I said, dropping some bills on the table. "Gotta catch a cab. Michelle, a pleasure. Ricky, you really need to have that past partners talk with her at some point." Okay, I shouldn't have said that last bit. I'll blame the beer. And the whiskey. And five fucking years of bitterness.
I didn't get three feet out of the bar before Rick caught me.
"How could you do that," he raged. "In front of my fiancee!"
The alcohol had loosened my tongue enough to say what was really on my mind. "What did you expect? You brought her over to say hi to your old boyfriend."
He shook his head at me like he was scolding a wayward child. "I thought you'd gotten over things, Bill."
"After what you pulled, after we were over? You've got some nerve, Ricky," I spat out. I wasn't in the mood for his crap, not now. Not ever again.
"Hey, don't give me that. You broke up with me, Bill. I moved on." The bastard. The total, utter, fucking bastard. Like it was my fault he put out for someone else.
"Excuse me, what?" I was past angry, in the middle of livid, and closing in fast on psychotically violent. I kept my voice in check, though. I was not going to be goaded into a screaming match. I laughed at him instead. From the look on his face that was the better option. "You egotistical, self-righteous bastard. Who was it on the couch screaming 'make me your bitch Miguel'?"
I turned to leave. I'd had enough, and Rick could go burn in hell for all I cared. I didn't get very far -- he grabbed my wrist and spun me around.
"That was a mistake, I admit," he said, sounding a little like he did. A mistake indeed. Getting caught was the mistake he was thinking of, I'm sure. Cretin. "But if you hadn't left we could've worked it out." God, he sounded like it had just happened and he was trying to fix things, like the past five years didn't exist, like he wasn't fucking engaged to someone else. Like he was trying to patch things up enough to have me on the side.
Michelle had come up behind him while we were talking. She heard the tone of his voice, saw him holding me. Her eyes went wide -- I'm sure she knew what was going on as well as I did.
I kind of figured that past fury would be rage, but it wasn't. Instead a sort of calm detachment set in, and I saw him for what he was, a self-centered ass. Hell, I think he even believed what he said. We'd been together for three years, and though I'd been blind to some things, I did know him pretty damn well.
"Yeah, maybe, Ricky. Maybe we could have moved past Miguel. But not John, Stephen, both Mikes, Brianna, Leon, those three blondes on the soccer team, Stephanie, Joan, the Patterson twins, and my own damn sister. Twice. Oh," I added, twisting the knife a little to make sure he knew exactly how much I knew, "the kid who did my mom's yard. He was only fourteen, better hope he remembers you fondly until the statute of limitations runs out."
At least he didn't have the gall to try and deny it, instead just looking at me and gaping. "How... who... you knew?"
"Knew?" I snorted. "After we broke up it seemed like anyone who'd taken a ride on little Ricky or gotten a piece of your ass wanted to 'fess up after we broke up. Guess they wanted to make me feel better or something." Pity it hadn't worked. Then I'd just felt like crap.
Right now I felt like I was flying over all of it. I had the chance to dump on him, say all the things I'd wanted to say for years, rip his fucking head off, and honestly I didn't want to. I saw him clearly, in the streetlights and neon beer signs, just a manipulative, self-centered asshole. One I'd let ruin my life. Hell, one I'd used to ruin my own life with. He was small and petty, and just not worth it. Not worth me.
Michelle had a gaping fish look on her face. She hadn't said anything and Rick still didn't know she was there. Bet the ride home was going to have some interesting conversation, especially since he hadn't tried to deny anything, just explain it away.
Well, I didn't care, he could explain it to someone else. The calm was still there, but the pain I'd been carrying around and nurturing for so long was gone. It was time for me to go.
"Good night, Michelle," I said over Rick's shoulder. He turned and I would've paid a lot of money to see the expression that must've been on his face. "It's been an unexpected pleasure. You seem nice enough -- I hope you're really a bitch, since if you're not you deserve a lot better."
That polite reflex tried to kick in, but I'd said enough to Rick and didn't feel like saying anything more. I turned and walked away, but there was one thing I needed to do before I went home, so I pulled out my phone and dialed.
"Hello, Stephen? No, don't say anything, just listen. You were right, more than you knew. I want to work it out. I'm thinking dinner and a show and time to talk" I said into my phone as I got in a cab. "And yeah, I'd be glad to meet your mother."
* * *
Thanks to TalonRider for edits.
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