Gil, rarely out of earshot, looked at Fleming and gave her the, ‘I told you so look’.
Fleming ignored what Luke said and asked, “shall we meet here or do you want to meet somewhere else?” Luke was clearly irritated. He looked at her and said, “we’re not meeting anywhere because we’re not going anywhere.” Having said that, he got up, pulled a Benjamin out of his leather wallet, tossed it next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
Gil walked over and said, “I told you. You’re wasting your time.” Fleming said, “at least I got him to tell me his name.” Gil said, “yep. You did do that, if he was telling you his real name. You know, something must have happened to him. Something so traumatic, he became reclusive and I’d be willing to bet that he’s touch-starved.”
“Touched-starved? What does that mean?” Fleming asked.
Gil said, “it means that people who don’t have physical contact of any kind, become touch-starved. People actually die from it. We’re a societal species and we need contact. When we don’t have that contact, we starve from the lack of touch. Some people are so touch-starved for so long, if they don’t die, they actually think they might die if they are touched.”
He looked at Fleming and said, “I don’t believe that you are touch-starved but something’s missing in your life. You come in here and chat and watch, but you don’t really have anyone. If you did, you wouldn’t be in here every night. I won’t pry, but I wonder what your story is. And I wonder, with all the other men in this bar, why you’re so focused on him.”
Fleming didn’t deny or confirm what Gil said. She just smiled and said, “see you tomorrow night.”
Weeks went by and Fleming and Luke were still playing mental chess. A little ground had been broken, but Gil noticed that Luke was coming in earlier and drinking more.
He witnessed their tete a tetes morph into real conversation. He was an expert when it came to listening on the sly and hearing Luke’s story, made him feel almost guilty for eavesdropping. He knew that Luke was a private man, as was he, but he continued to listen anyway.
Through the course of several days, Luke drank more and talked more. Gil listened to the sad lamentations Luke spelled out to Fleming, after she once again asked, “who broke your heart?”
“It was a girl named Jenny,” Luke said, “and she didn’t break my heart. She left a hole in it.”
Fleming said, “wait a minute. You said your name was Forrest Gump, and now you’re saying that your girls’ name was Jenny. Are you feeding me a line of bull?”
Luke ignored her question and continued. “I met her at a little coffee shop right down from my station. I thought she was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, and we fell crazy in love.”
Then he looked at Fleming and said, “you remind me of her. I don’t know if it’s your eyes or your voice, but you sure do remind me of her…and you’re pushy, like she was.”
Fleming thought she caught just the slightest hint of a smile when he said, “every time she called, she said, “it’s me.” She knew I had caller ID and she knew that I would recognize her number and her voice, but she always said, “it’s me. I’d answer the phone and ask what was up, and she would still say, ‘it’s me’.”
Fleming tempted the possibility of ending the polite conversation and made a 90° turn when she asked, “where did you work?” The old Luke returned as he downed his scotch and abruptly asked, “does it matter?”
Fleming said, “you opened the line of questioning when you said the coffee shop was right down from your station.” Luke snarled, “what are you? A fucking lawyer?”
Fleming said, “no, and you’re right. It doesn’t matter, but I’m guessing that you were some type of law enforcement.”
Luke was silent as he downed another glass. Gil looked at Fleming and held up five fingers. Fleming remembered Gil saying that he knew when a man was trying to drink himself to death, and she believed that he was right. That was exactly what Luke was trying to do, but she didn’t know why, and he seemed bound and determined to tap out.
Gil poured Luke another glass, and watched as he held it up and looked at it, almost as if hoping to find absolution in its warm amber color, and sweet but bitter taste. Without saying another word, he drank it, stood up, pulled two Benjamins from his leather wallet, tossed them next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
He had opened up a bit to Fleming, and Gil was glad, but warned her to be careful. “He’s not going to fulfill your hopes and dreams,” he said. “He’s what we call an emotional cripple.”
“I think I can help him,” Fleming said. Gil looked at her with stern but compassionate eyes and said, “I think your intentions are nothing less than honorable, but I think that you can not. He’s just waiting for someone to lay him all the way down.”
Gil once again asked Fleming, “why are you so fixated on this man?” Again, she didn’t answer, and he knew she wouldn’t. He also now knew that her first visit to the bar hadn’t been happenstance, and her regular visits weren’t because he made a mean Club Soda.
He began to think that Fleming was as much an enigma as Luke. Those two had found each other in a most improbable way, which appeared to have almost been predestined, albeit unsettling and somewhat troubling. Fleming appeared to be full of life, while Luke had an urgency for the angel of death to finally give him peace.
Fleming was drawn to him like a moth to a flame and in Gil’s experience, that scenario was always a dangerous and potentially fatal attraction.
To be continued___________________________