Gabe’s mobile phone was ringing again. This time, the call was from his brother. It actually was the second call from his brother in the last twenty minutes, and if Gabe had bother to consider it, he would have counted more than a dozen calls from eight, different callers over that span of time. But Gabe did not bother. Instead, he turned the phone, face-down, on the pub table, and then he turned his attention to the glass in his right hand, as he lifted it to his lips and took a big swig.
The parking lot of the shopping center, beyond the plate glass windows to Gabe’s left, was bustling with traffic, but this sports bar where he sat was almost unoccupied, which he found uncommon for a Saturday afternoon. There were only a few people at the bar. None of their faces looked familiar, and none of them seated together, as they drank, ate, and gazed up to the televisions above the racks of alcohol. One monitor was showing a golf tournament from Arizona, while another played the encore of a boxing match from last weekend. Even most of the tables on this side of the venue were empty. Nevertheless, the staff was making the best of this lull. To the catchy beats of hip-hop music, the waiters and waitresses maintained a good vibe, and showered their customers with attention, while still finding the time to be jovial with one another, as they crossed paths on the dining room floor.
“It’s been a while since you’ve been in, huh?” one waiter commented to Gabe, as he delivered another drink to the table with a wide smile. “I tried to remember. Bourbon Old Fashion, right?”
Gabe met the smile with his own grin. “Yeah, that’s right. You have a good memory.” Then he finished his first drink.
“Well, it’s hard to forget, when a man orders the same drink, every Thursday night, for more than a year,” the waiter replied, but paused to add, “even if that man disappears for a few months.”
“Well it’s a good drink.” Gabe raised the new glass. “I’ve missed it.”
The waiter collected the old glass from the table. “So, what happened to you?”
Gabe was not sure if he wanted to answer that question. Fortunately for him, he would not have to. His attention quickly shifted from the waiter and to the woman entering the bar in a form-fitting, beige, halter dress. It was Savannah, and as soon as her eyes met his, she made her way to Gabe.
At first, she said nothing as she placed her matching clutch purse on the table. She only took a moment to notice that Gabe was no longer in his tuxedo. “Gym shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, Gabe? When could you have found the time to change?”
“You look stunning!” Gabe told her.
The waiter seemed to nod in agreement. “Yes, ma’am, you’re hot!”
“Excuse you?” Savannah replied.
The waiter was left stumbling over his words. “I…I…I am sorry…”
“Look, twink, I’m starving.” Savannah took a seat at the table with Gabe, and pushed her long, black hair behind her ears. “I was expecting to scarf down an entire buffet tonight, but shit happens, I guess. So, I’m gonna need you to fetch me a menu.”
The waiter nodded affirmatively and quickly stepped away, leaving Gabe and Savannah alone at the table.
Gabe to another swig of his drink. “You really do look good in that dress, Savannah.”
“Thank you.” The attractive, young woman got out of her seat to model it, even giving him a short strut and twirl to the music. “I love it. I just wish you had told me what was gonna happen, so I wouldn’t have spent a month’s rent on it.”
“Dammit. I am so sorry.”
“No, you aren’t, but it’s okay.”
“How did you find me? I never told anybody about this place.”
“No, you didn’t, Gabe, but a long time ago, you did tell me that you liked the drinks here. And I knew you were not going to go home – not now, anyway. So, I figured, why not look for you here, too?”
As Savannah returned to her seat, Gabe finished the last of his drink. Then he lowered his head. “I must be the most hated man in America today, right?”
“Well, Gabe, you did leave someone at the altar, in a church, in front of a lot of people. A lot of people. A lot of pretty important people.” Savannah replied. Then she took a moment to accept the menu from the waiter, and she ordered her own drink and a soda for Gabe. As the waiter left the table again, she returned to her friend. “So, um, what happened?”
A long time ago, Gabriel Hager told himself that he did not have the courage of his convictions, and that line of thinking persisted without a challenge for many years. It was not because Gabe did not know what he believed; in truth, he typically researched any subject that managed to pique his attention. It was not because he did not understand what he was doing; in fact, he was the farthest thing from impulsive. No, Gabe usually knew what he believed and what he was doing – and why. He just lacked the ability to stand up for any of it. And so, it was that he arrived here, sitting across the table from his dearest friend on the planet, unable to answer her question about one of the most consequential decisions of his life. Gabe was unwilling to raise his head, mostly out of shame, and he was quietly hoping that he would not have to answer that question. Perhaps, life, itself, would have just intervened and ended the discussion before it began, because, if it did not, he knew that she would never let up.
“Is there someone else?” Savannah asked.
“No!” Gabe quickly replied. “I know you aren’t gonna believe that. No one will. But there is no one else.”
“Well, if it was, you know that I am going to find out.”
“Jeez, woman, it’s not.”
“Then what is it? What happened?”
“Savannah, I don’t know.” Finally, Gabe lifted his head, but his eyes did not meet those of his inquisitive friend. Instead, he looked away, out of the large window. “I guess I wasn’t ready. That is the God’s-honest truth. I mean it. I wasn’t ready.”
Savannah allowed the waiter to deliver their drinks and to leave again before she responded. “Why did you not say anything? It’s not like you guys hadn’t been planning this wedding for months.”
“Everything still felt like it was moving so fast, and everybody seemed so happy,” Gabe admitted. “The only problem was, I wasn’t happy. I was scared to death. I know that I was going to ruin everything, eventually, like I always do.” A singular tear rolled down his cheek, and he casually wiped it away. “I was standing in front of the mirror, fighting with that fucking bow tie again, and all I could tell myself was, ‘there’s still time for you to run’. And so, I did. I walked away. Well, I mean, I got an Uber, and left when everyone went into the chapel.”
Savannah did not have any words. She only looked at her friend in disbelief. It was a look that made Gabe even more uncomfortable when he finally turned to her.
“I know that you think I am a horrible person.” He lowered his head again. “I just couldn’t do it. I should have done it, but I couldn’t.”
Savannah sipped her drink, and instantly proceeded to make a face. “Oh, man, that is strong,” she remarked, as she shook her head. Gabe extended his hand to take the drink, and she gladly gave it to him. “So, Gabe, what now?”
Gabe sat back in his chair, while cupping the back of his head in his hand. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just sit here and get shit-faced, while you eat something, and then I’ll get you to drop me off at the airport.”
“You’re being serious, aren’t you?”
“But what about…?”
“No, Savannah, no. Don’t ask me that, right now – just don’t.”
“Okay. Well, where are you going?”
Gabe paused for a moment to think. “I have no idea, but I will let you know when I get there.”
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