The next few weeks, Fleming came in, ordered her Club Soda, chatted with Gil and watched the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar. When available, she always sat one stool away from him. There seemed to be some sort of understanding that no one ever sat right beside him…at least she had never seen anyone sit there.
Night after night, he stared into his glass, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. He never glanced toward Larry and Mel when they started getting rowdy, nor did he ever glance toward her.
Gil had noticed her watching him every time she came in. He finally leaned over and whispered, “you’re wasting your time on that one.”
Fleming said “well, then what’s your story?” Gil smiled and said “my story is my story and if and when I get ready to tell it, I’ll tell it.” She wondered if that was psychological mumbo-jumbo or if Gil was just a private man.
He told her that owning a bar and being everyone’s counselor had its advantages but it also had its drawbacks. He said “I listen to people’s problems, much like a priest, only I can repeat everything I hear.” That was followed with a burst of laughter.
Fleming queried “and you know nothing about him? Not even his name?”
“Nothing,” Gil echoed. “And I figure, like me…if he wants to tell his story, he will but he hasn’t told it to me. He looked at her, as if telling her to mind her own business and said “and I haven’t asked.”
Fleming said “he just looks so…lost.”
Gil said “most of my regulars, and there are many, look the same way. They come here to drink and forget and for a while, they do. But when they wake up the next morning, their problems are still there, only they’re there along with a screaming headache.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.” Fleming said. Gil looked at her and said, “yes, and I still do my little dance with the devil from time to time, but not as much as I used to.” He looked at her and winked. “We all have to have our pity parties now and then.”
The next night, Fleming came in and sat down right beside the man on the last stool at the end of the bar. She waited to see if he would react in any way, but he didn’t even seem to notice.
Gil was watching the scene unfold.
After a few minutes, she looked at him and came right out and asked…”what’s your story?”
With eyes that couldn’t be bothered to look into hers, he said “what makes you think I have a story?”
Fleming said “because everyone has a story.”
He smugly said “and what makes you think that I want to talk to you?”
She said “oh…so you’re one of those people.”
He actually turned, looked at her and sneered as he said “what do you mean…one of those people?” She said “one of those people who think they’re special.”
Gil was watching and listening with intensity as their conversation began its infancy.
Fleming’s straightforwardness must have piqued the interest of the man on the last stool at the end of the bar. He said “well, Fleming. You’re a bit of a smart ass aren’t you? And you’re pushy.”
She was surprised that he knew her name. Had he asked Gil about her? Or had he just heard her tell him, while they thought he was immersed in his whiskey?
She ignored the implied insults and asked “who broke your heart?”
The man on the last stool at the end of the bar stood up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it beside his glass and walked out.
To be continued______________________