We’d met for a beer that had turned into three before we ever got around to talking about anything that had any meaning to either of us. That’s what happens when your best friend moves to another city and you can no longer avail yourself of weekly happy hours. Lots of mundane things had happened to both of us in the two months since we last spoke at any length. Things like the fact that two people whose souls had been so inextricably tangled together – to the point they were indistinguishable – had somehow managed to sort themselves so quickly the two could meet for drinks two months later and talk about the weather.
I lit a smoke and motioned to the bartender for another round. As I exhaled I cornered him in my eyes. “So. Are you gonna tell me what happened? Or do I have to ask?”
“You just did. Ask.”
“No, I asked if you were gonna tell me. It’s a yes/no question.”
“Alright then, no.”
I sighed. “It’s on your mind, so talk. You know, we used to talk about everythi–”
“And now we don’t. Okay? Shit changes.”
“She loved you, asshole.”
“I know. I loved her too.”
“Then what the fuck happened?”
He spent a little longer than necessary pondering his beer before sipping it again. “What did you order?”
“Whatever you had before.”
“It tastes different,” he said, holding his glass up to the light before sipping again.
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
“There was a subject?”
“Yes. Why did you break up with her?”
“Why do you care?”
“I’m just – it’s just –” I downed half the glass’s contents like what I wanted to say was a prize hiding at the bottom, just waiting to be revealed. “Because – look. You used to tell me everything. We used to –”
“And now we don’t.” He tipped his own beer down his throat and I watched his Adam’s apple bob twice. Regret doesn’t go down easy. “Now we don’t,” he said, setting the glass down on the bar. “Now we meet each other for beers and talk about the last album that got released and whether it was any good, or the last book we read. We talk hockey, or college basketball. Now? We’re bros. We don’t talk about love because you’re incapable.” He excused himself and walked towards the men’s room.
I motioned the bartender for a final round. After conducting a hazy mental calculation of the delicate equation of beers drunk over time consumed, I called a cab. Alone, I glanced up at whatever the fuck was playing on one of the bar’s five television screens, as though I was interested. I wasn’t.
When he returned to his barstool, I spun around. Our knees knocked and I left my legs there, pressing on his. “What did you mean, incapable? Incapable of what?”
I lit another cigarette and turned back to whatever the fuck it was I wasn’t interested in watching, and tried to ignore the burn. I know love, I have loved, I do love. I do. Just not … exclusively. Not … to a full stop. “Why do you say that? I’m capable of love. I’ve loved many times. I love –”
“Just don’t. She loved me. I loved her too. You get the answers to the questions you ask. Sometimes you get the wrong answers because you didn’t ask the right questions.”
“You never answered my question at all,” I said, spinning my knees away from his.
“I asked you why.”
He leaned over, sliding his barstool closer to mine. Usually I’d feel crowded, but here it felt right. It felt like old times, like how things should be. I felt myself softening. He lay his arm across the bar in front of me, palm up, and I couldn’t tell whether he was offering or begging. “It wasn’t enough,” he said. “That’s the best answer I can give you, I’m sorry. I told you it wasn’t the right –”
“Well what the fuck do you want me to ask? Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind? You know I’m for shit at asking questions. What do you want from me?”
He leaned back. “You told me she loved me. I told you I loved her too.” His calm, even demeanor infuriated me.
“But you didn’t –”
“No, I did. I did love her,” he said, finishing his last beer and glancing at the headlights crossing the front windows of the bar. “I did. But not as much as I loved you.”
© 2013 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller