Jason pulled back the bar stool, and had a seat. The bartender quickly found him, and asked what he wanted to drink.
“Seven and Seven,” Jason quietly, politely asked.
The bartender wandered off to mix his drink, and the old man sitting at the bar, in the chair next to Jason smacked his empty glass on the shiny hardwood surface. “Oh, yeah! That’s good stuff.”
Jason thought of moving. He didn’t want to sit next to anyone loud, or anyone in a group. Before he could, the bartender returned with his drink, “Seven and Seven,” he placed the drink on a tiny napkin in front of Jason, then turned to the old man, “You want another round?”
The old man didn’t speak, he smiled and nodded yes, and the bartender wandered off again.
The old man looked through Jason. He had those kind of eyes, the ones that see past all the lies, the games, the masks people put on every day. The ones that see your soul, and know the truth of who and what you are.
“Had a fight with your girl, did you?” Jason started to get up, but the old man kept talking, “Nobody won, did they?”
Jason stayed on his stool, and stared back at the old man. He’d always thought he was a good judge of character, but when he looked at the old guy, he saw no lies, no masks. He saw the face and eyes of someone who’d lived live. Someone who’d seen life. Someone who knew.
“Yeah. We had a fight.”
The old guy took a deep breath. “Money?”
“Yeah. It’s always money, ain’t it?” Jason picked up his drink, and chugged half of it down. “So, you’re gonna drown it all, ain’t ya?”
Jason let his drink glass reconnect to the bar with a loud smack. “Yep. We just broke up.” He picked up his drink, and drained it, then smacked the glass down again. “And I’m gonna forget all about her!”
The old guy laughed. “Gonna let a fight about money destroy love and happiness?” He shook his head. “Yep. You’re an idiot.”
Jason, jaw dropped and he stood up, “What!”
“Sit down, and shut up. And maybe I can talk you out of making the same stupid mistake I made when I was young and full of hormones, and emotions, and pride, just like you are now.”
Jason couldn’t help himself. He sat down.
The bartender plunked new drinks in front of them both. The old man stared at his. “See,” he took a long chug. “I was in love once.”
“Yeah.” The old guy finished his drink. “Yeah, everyone has.” He laughed. “But the smart ones stay in love.”
Jason shook his head. “You don’t know what she said, what she did.”
“I don’t need to.” He didn’t smile. There was something in his eyes, some memory, some regret, and perhaps a wish he could go back in time. “I was in love once.”
“We had a fight.” He waved at the bartender, “Another round for us, Bill.” Then he shook his head, and stared at the reflections of light in the polished wood of the bar. “We had a stupid fight.”
Both men sat, waiting for their drinks. When they arrived, the old guy wrapped a hand around his glass, but didn’t lift it. Jason watched him stare into the liquid swirling in the glass. “I was too young, too stubborn, too idealistic.” Jason stared at his own glass. “I hadn’t figured out the truth. And I didn’t want to know the truth.”
“The truth?” Jason stared at his drink, picked it up, and took a swallow. He felt the familiar burn of the alcohol in his throat, and the warmth in his stomach.
The old man told him the truth, “She said a lot of things about you, didn’t she.” Jason nodded. “She called you irresponsible. She called you immature. She told you to grow up.”
Jason nodded, “Yeah. Something like that.”
“Hurt, didn’t it.”
“Hell yeah.” Jason took another swallow. “And she knew it. She let me have it with both barrels.” He looked at the old guy, “Why should I put up with that? That’s it, you know. We’re done.”
Jason thought the old man wanted to cry, but maybe the old guy had forgotten how. “What do you know about fights? About couples?” He looked around the bar, Jason did the same. “You know how many couples break up these days?”
Jason shook his head.
“Damn near all of ‘em.” The old guy took a chug of his drink. “Damn near all of ‘em.” He stared into his drink again, “And nobody stays married forever anymore.” Jason stared at his drink, and the old guy asked, “How long were your parents married?”
Jason shrugged. “Twenty-five, twenty-six years? I don’t really know.”
“Have you ever wondered how they stay married?”
“No.” Jason took another swallow. “Never thought about that?”
“So. How do you think they stay married?” Jason sat silently. He didn’t have an answer. He’d never really thought about it. “Did they ever fight?”
Jason remembered the nights he heard them screaming at each other. The nights he heard the front door slam as his father left. The night his mother cried herself to sleep, and his father came home, and slept on the sofa. “Yeah. They did.”
“Why did they stay together?”
He didn’t have an answer. He’d never thought about it.
“You like music, right?”
“Yeah. A good band is good. But they always break up.”
“All of them?”
“No. Not all of them.”
“It’s not the same thing, you know. It’s not.”
The old man finished off his drink. “Bill. I’m gonna need another.”
“You’re gonna need a cab.”
“Yeah. That too.”
“Let me know when, and I’ll call one.”
The old guy nodded, and resumed his conversation with Jason. “Why isn’t it the same?”
“Bands and couples. They’re not the same.”
“Now you just think about that a bit. And then think about how they are the same.” Jason shook his head. “Don’t band members fight?”
“Yeah, but it’s over a band. It’s not like when a couple has a fight.”
“You saying the band members aren’t family?” Jason stared into his drink. His mind struggled to make sense of the old guy’s words. “You saying families don’t have fights and break up, just like bands do? You saying they stick together for fame and money, and not because they’re a family?”
The old guy shook his head, and tipped his drink again. “I was just like you. Thought fights weren’t supposed to happen to people in love. To friends.” He gently placed his glass on the bar. “I was so fuckin’ stupid.”
He leaned toward Jason, “Dude. Fights happen. You put two people together, and sooner or later, fights happen.” He put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “The smart ones figure that out, and learn to get past the fights.”
He remembered his parents, the morning after the fights. They didn’t act like nothing happened. They talked. Quietly. They apologized to each other. And their lives went on. Together.
“Fights happen. It’s not an ideal world. Not a dream world.” The old guy stared at his empty glass. “I used to love her. Probably still do. Had a fight with her. About money.” He took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “I’ve been alone since then.” He looked at Jason. “She was my girl. My one chance at love. My one chance at being happy.” They guy looked at the floor. “And I fucked it up. Me, and my pride. She’d hurt me in that fight. And I couldn’t get over it.” He took another deep breath. “I couldn’t let it go.”
Jason said nothing. What was there to say?
The old guy smiled. “If you’ve got any brain cells in that head of yours, well. You’ll figure the rest out.”
Jason excused himself. He went to the quiet hallway outside the restrooms, where the pay phones were, pulled out his smart phone, swallowed his pride, and called her.
The old guy sat at the bar, and smiled. “I’m gonna need another one, Bill.”