What Gil said surprised Fleming. “He just looks so…lost,” she said.
Gil said, “yes, he does. Most of my regulars, and there are many, look the same way. You and I have discussed the ways and the woes of the drink, and how it doesn’t really make problems go away, but you’d at least think the screaming headache would eventually make an impression, wouldn’t you?”
“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 boldly 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 as the scene unfolded. After a few minutes, Fleming looked at the man 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? And what makes you think that my story is any of your business?”
Fleming said, “because everyone has a story.” He smugly said, “I’m sure they do, and maybe some of them want to tell their stories, and maybe some of them don’t. And maybe some of them don’t like nosey, pushy people.”
She said, “oh…so you’re one of those people.” He 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 scotch?
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, pulled a Benjamin out of his leather wallet, tossed it next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
Gil walked over to Fleming, and she said, “well, I must have struck a nerve.” Gil smiled and said, “no. That was foreplay.” Fleming laughed out loud. Not only did he have a delicious sense of humor, he had a naughty side that she appreciated.
She wondered aloud to him her thoughts of whether or not the man would come back. She wondered if she had been too intrusive. Gil said, “only time will tell.” She said, “I have pretty good instincts about most things and I have a gut feeling that he will be back.”
Gil was torn between wanting the man to come back, and wanting him to be left alone. On the one hand, it would be interesting to see the interaction between a man who was fighting demons…and losing, and a woman who was like a reporter for The National Enquirer. She had an “inquiring mind who wanted to know.”
On the other hand, sometimes inquiring minds are not allowed to know. Sometimes, a person is already dead inside. They’re just waiting for physical death, and Gil had never seen a man who was more ready for that than the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.
The next night, Fleming walked in and there he was. She sat next to him and ordered her usual Club Soda. After he served her, Gil was covertly eavesdropping as he pretended to be wiping glasses.
Once again, without looking at her, the man said, “do you have any more questions…about my story…or my heart?”
She looked at him and said, “do you have any more insults?” He motioned to Gil for another drink and said “stick around. I’m sure I can cut you where it hurts.” Fleming didn’t miss a lick when she said, “take a break. You don’t have to be a prick every day.”
As Gil poured another glass of scotch, he knew he was witnessing a game of “one-up-man-ship.” It was just a matter of who won, and he was giving them even odds.
Staring at his drink, the man turned to Fleming and said, “you remind me of someone.” She asked who, and he almost inaudibly said, “someone I used to know.” His answer was fraught with obvious pain and anguish and it was clear that he was not one to bare his soul.
Still, Fleming knew that he had a story but for now, she would be patient. Her sense of humor again caught Gil by surprise when she asked the man, “should I call you Mr. Prick or do you have an actual name?” Gil hoped his little snicker couldn’t be heard.
The man on the last stool at the end of the bar, stood up, pulled a Benjamin out of his leather wallet, tossed it beside his empty glass, turned to Fleming and said, “My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.”
Fleming wondered if the man was being, as he had called her, a smart-ass, or somewhere buried deep in the crevices of his psyche, he had a playful sense of humor. But a sense of humor didn’t match the way he spoke. He had the slow, deliberate, emotionless voice of a serial killer.
The next night, Fleming came in and sat next to him. After a few minutes, she turned and asked, “do you eat?” Curling his lip, the man repeated, “do I eat? What the hell kind of question is that?”
Fleming said, “since you said your name was Forrest Gump, I imaging that you have at least eaten shrimp. Maybe you have even tasted all twenty-one different ways it can be fixed.”
“Are you asking me to have dinner with you?” he said.
Fleming didn’t bat an eye. “Thank you,” she said. “I’d love to, but if we’re going on a date, I think I should at least know your first name, and don’t say Forrest Gump. I want to know your real first name. I mean, I can’t keep thinking of you as the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar.”
He looked at her and said, “not that it matters but, my name is Luke, and you don’t want to go on a date with me. Did anyone ever tell you that you’re pushy?” She smiled and said, “yes, you did more than once, and I take that as a compliment.”
Luke turned away from her and said, “then I must have said it wrong.”
To be continued______________________________