“The star” was quiet. There was barely anyone left in the bistro. The hands of the clock held a quarter to eleven as the bartender shooed out the last of the drunkards onto the wintery streets of Godalming. Only one remained, slumped in a corner booth under thick scarves and a dark jacket, facing the counter, waiting. Glasses clinked as they were put in their places and the small fireplace echoed the sound of burning wood. Awareness filled the air as a rag soothed the top of the oak counter before it lazily joined the other cleaning supplies in the bottom cupboard. Finally, the bartender slowly made his way over to the thick scarves and dark jacket.
The clock ticked, loudly.
-“Tell Emma, I’m fine.” The bartender spoke at the scarves and jacket who proceeded to straighten up, revealing a young man with disheveled dark brown hair and bags under his aquamarine eyes.
- “She didn’t send me though.”
- “Eddy, I’m fine.” Said the bartender.
- “You didn’t come to the engagement party, last weekend.” Muffled behind scarves, Eddy’s voice came tentatively.
- “I was out of town.” The bartender cleared his throat hoping to mask the shakiness of his voice.
- “I came ’round your flat, your roommate said you went to the local pub. I looked for you at Flannigan’s and you weren’t there.” Aquamarine eyes searched the bartender’s face as he waited for him to speak.
- “I wasn’t at Flannigan’s; I went to London for the night.” Eddy waited for a little more than “I went to London for the night” but he was met by silence and a pair of raised eyebrows.
- “I see, so what? … That’s it?” There was an edge to the question, the hurt in his eyes sipping through. He took a deep breath to steady himself again before he continued “Chris, I need more than that.”
- “What do you mean? What more could you possibly need from me?” The barman asked.
Eddy dropped his eyes and forced his hands to relax from the fists they had formed at Chris’s question. Dark eyes stared at him with frustration, he swallowed hard before he said, “Your sister worries about you, Chris.”
- “I saw Emma yesterday.” The bartender… Chris countered.
- “She told me.” The sound of the clock was loud, awkward. No one spoke for seconds that turned into minutes.
- “Why did you come, really Eddy?” Chris asked.
- “She said you were moving to the states.” There was no way to mask the shakiness in Eddy’s voice.
- “Yes, I got a job,” Chris said.
- “You have one here too.”
- “A real job, managing a hotel, suit, and all.”
- “Sounds grown up.”
- “I’m not sixteen anymore and you’re getting married.” The retort was biting, bitter.
- “Mother was disappointed; she really wanted you there for the engagement,” Eddy said avoiding eye contact.
- “I know.”
- “It would be cruel of me to ask you to stay, wouldn’t it?” Eddy’s voice rose again, a well of loss.
- “I thought you would though… I was hoping so.” Chris admitted, sighing.
- “Would you stay, if I do?”
- “I’m no masochist.” There was a storm brewing still behind Chris’s dark eyes.
- “I’m sorry.” Eddy’s voice was small, broken.
- “I should be the one saying that.” Chris didn’t mean these words.
- “You can’t blame yourself either.” And Eddy knew.
- “I’m not, I’m just saying. This isn’t anyone’s fault.”
- “I care for your sister, very much,” Eddy said, there was a false assurance there that both chose to ignore.
- “She loves you…” Chris slumped down in the booth facing his friend.
He cleared his throat before adding: “a lot”.
- “And you love her…too much?” Neither of them was sure whether this last statement was meant to be a question or not. Although, it sounded like one.
- “She’s family…Even if that wasn’t the case, I’d still be leaving.” Chris’ cleared his throat again, hands kneading his thighs. He forced himself to stop, choosing to rest them on the table instead.
- “Why?” the clock ticked pleadingly against the newfound silence which then broke into a hesitant: “Is it …me?”
- “Don’t ask me that,” Chris said a little too fast.
- “What do I ask you then?” Eddy swallowed thickly and his eyes brimmed with unshed tears. He couldn’t allow himself to let them run. It wasn’t the manly thing to do.
- “Ask me what you really want to ask.” The words were whispered but they were loud enough in the silence for Eddy to hear, and Chris saw him shiver.
- “I couldn’t possibly… I… I should not. I can’t.” Eddy stuttered then rubbed his eyes, they were red with unshed tears.
His hands moved across the table and stopped just a breath away from Chris’s own. The bartender jerked slightly but didn’t move away, he simply licked his lips and looked down.
Eddy noted the strain in Chris’s shoulder, the way tendrils of his Sandy Blond hair framed his face, falling from the messy bun he usually wore. He stared at the way, the barman chewed on his bottom lip, which was fuller than the top one. His dark brown eyes still looking down at his hands resting on the table, not too far from his own.
- “Chris, what are you thinking?” Eddy finally asked. The reply came quicker than he was expecting.
- I’m thinking that I’m not sorry I didn’t show up for your engagement. That I’m angry at myself because I missed my baby sister’s engagement… I’m not sorry I was hoping you’d come looking for me tonight…but I’m angry that you really did come looking for me…I’m leaving, and it can’t be helped, not really.” Chris let out a shaky breath, his shoulders sagging as if relieved from some burden.
- “But she needs you here…I…need you here.” Eddy croaked, his face wet. He used his sleeves to wipe the tears away, roughly. He hadn’t realized that they had been running down his face.
- “How do I fit in with the white picket fence and 2.5 children?” It was a helpless question so was the answer that never came. Their eyes evaded each other.
- “I’m doing the right thing… getting married, I’m being a good son to my mother.” Eddy fiddled with a rosary pendant on his chest, peeking from under his scarves.
- “I know; I’m not holding it against you.” Chris tucked a piece of hair behind his ear, a slight flush on his cheeks, his own eyes red.
- “I really do care for Emma.”
- “And that’s enough right?” Another helpless question. They both fell silent for a few more moments. Eddy was the first to speak, his voice small, his face a mask of worry.
- “I’m scared.”
- “I’m not the right person to help you then, I’ve never been married,” Chris said.
- “I’m not scared of getting married.”
- “Then what are you scared of?” Chris did not want to ask yet he knew he had to. He finally looked at Eddy’s face, forcing himself to look into his eyes. It was his turn to shiver.
- “I’m scared of what could happen if I don’t.” Aquamarine eyes looked up from under knitted brows at a silent Chris. “I’m terrified of this…thing. I don’t like that I hate the fact that you’re leaving. I don’t like that I spent the whole day sitting in this corner trying to convince myself that I’m here because of Emma. I hate that I have to remind myself to think about her. I hate that I feel more sitting here looking at you then I do when she holds my hand. And I thought you should know.”
- “What do you want me to say?”
- “I don’t know…I know it changes nothing, I still wanted to tell you.”
- “Emma loves you; it’s always been you. Since we were children.”
- “I know…and you’ve always wanted her to be happy.”
- “She loves your mother too.”
- “My mother adores her.”
- “And I know you’ll be good to her… I’m thankful.” Chris was Emma’s older brother, and these were words he should be saying so he said them.
- “So, you’ll be back for the wedding then?” Eddy asked, and the hope there was crushing for both.
- “I’m her only family.” It really was the only logical answer for Chris to give.
- “You’re my only friend.” Eddy finally breached the small gap between their hands on the table, seeking skin. Chris deliberately pulled back, running his fingers through his hair, and redoing his bun, and then resting them on his thighs.
- “When do you leave?” Eddy let his hands hang awkwardly, his eyes on Chris but not really.
- “Tomorrow night.” Those two words meant so much more than they were meant to. It was all there, relief, dread, longing, and sadness.
-“Can I stay with you tonight, then?” Eddy smiled a familiar smile. Behind the sadness, Chris recognized the 15-year-old boy who had talked him into stealing his father’s last bottle of Jim Beam. Temptation lurked there and he knew that whatever mischief was to come he wasn’t ready to pay the consequences.
-“Emma’s waiting, I’ll walk you home.”
The clock held midnight on the starless night that saw Eddy and Chris leave “the star” together. There was this tingle in the air, a pull the both of them were fighting against, as they walked alone on the snowy streets of Godalming. Past the lone fire hydrant, the empty park where the three of them used to play as children, up the only hill around those parts, then down towards the lonely apartment where Emma was indeed waiting.
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