Second Taste

 

The bar was getting packed. I kept looking at every new face stumbling in from the cold. Katie was sitting across from me, smiling. Christmas was right around the corner. We had just gotten engaged.

“Strange to be back here,” I said, reaching for my pint and sighing, “Ah, the Duke of Kent.” This was where we’d met, a few years back. This was where I’d learned the ins and outs of being an alcoholic. This was where she’d gotten her fourth job as a bartender.

“Can I just say,” she said, smiling still, “I just wanna say that I’m really proud of you.”

“What do you mean?” I muttered, while my eyes were probably saying, ‘Please, go on. Tell me how much you love me. Tell me I’m the best!’

“When we first met, I was sure something terrible was bound to happen to you. I mean, you were a drug dealer, for god’s sake!”

I looked around us, leaning forward. “No, no,” I said, clearing my throat and whispering, “I never made any money. I just helped people out.”

“You were a mule for a drug dealer.”

“At times,” I replied.

“You were high all the time, too.”

“For the most part…”

For the most part, I often stopped myself from remembering these things. I knew who I’d been. I knew the things I’d done. I was proud of myself, too, for changing, but I still tried not to remember. Katie would remind me every once in a while and I was fine with that. How could I not be?

“They all told me to break up with you,” she said.

“Who are they?” I exclaimed, downing the rest of my pint and slamming the glass on the table.

“Friends,” she sighed, “No one thought it was gonna work between us. You sure showed them.”

“Fuck ‘em,” I muttered, turning in my seat, looking for our waitress.

“I just keep remembering things,” she said, “You’re right; it’s really strange being back here. Everything’s changed…”

“Beer tastes the same, though,” I said.

The place was really packed now. People were squirming by one another, trying to get to the bar. Amongst the crowd, I recognized a familiar face. We made eye contact, but I couldn’t remember her name. I turned to Katie, signalling her to look. By the time I turned back, the girl was already at our booth.

“Chelsea!” Katie shouted, getting up. I looked around for our waitress while they hugged; high school friends reunited…They sat down and the waitress came over and I ordered another round of pints. Chelsea was drinking a gin and tonic. She was a chubby girl with sympathetic eyes. I had met her once before.

It didn’t take long for us to move past the small talk; she congratulated us on our engagement, we shared our Christmas plans…Our beers arrived.

Chelsea said, “I’m in somewhat of a predicament.” Katie and I both leaned in. “It’s embarrassing,” she said, “My brother’s here right now.”

“Nick’s here?” Katie exclaimed, “I haven’t seen him in ages!”

“He’s not in the best shape,” said Chelsea, running her fingers across her forehead, sucking her teeth. For a second, I thought I saw a tear roll down her cheek. Her eyes looked like they were full of tears.  “Nick isn’t well,” she said, letting out a deep sigh, her eyes low, her fingers spread on top of the table. “He’s in the washroom right now, doing god knows what.” She started to cry. Katie looked at me, shaking her head. Chelsea went on to say, “I don’t know what do, Katie. He’s a drug addict. He’s depressed. I fear for him.” She grabbed her drink with her right hand and wiped her face with her left, shaking her head, and all of sudden, she added in a different tone, as if trying to rid herself of the brick of sorrow in her throat, causing her to stutter, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, guys.” She laughed, or tried to anyways.

“Why doesn’t Benny talk to him?” said Katie, pointing at me with her eyes. I leaned back, squinting at her, confused.

I said, “I don’t know if that’s…”

“Benny can relate,” Katie interrupted. “He’s been there.”

“You were an addict?” said Chelsea.

“Once an addict, always an addict,” I said, sipping my beer and shrugging my shoulders like an idiot, still squinting at Katie. “I’ve been clean for a while, though,” I laughed, raising my pint, “Except for the booze!”

“Would you mind talking to him?”

“You know, people need to realize things on their own,” I said.

“Babe,” said Katie, tilting her head.

“I really don’t know what to say.”

“Can you at least go check on him?” said Katie.

“Are you serious? You want me to go to the bathroom and see what he’s up to?”

They said nothing. I felt like arguing some more. To be honest, I had no idea what was happening. Before I knew it, I was walking down the stairs to the washrooms in the basement. I entered the men’s restroom, which consisted of two stalls and two urinals.

“Hey, Nick?” I said, clearing my throat and peeking under the stall doors. He was sitting on the ground behind the toilet. He said nothing. “I’m friends with your sister. My name is Benny,” I added, not sure what else to say. I went into the empty stall. “Listen, Nick, they asked me to come and check on you. Really didn’t want to,” I said, leaning back, crossing my arms, waiting for him to say something. He didn’t. “Man,” I sighed, “I remember this one time, in this very washroom, I got so high…” I laughed, looking down at my feet and noticing a tiny bag of white powder on the floor. My thoughts scurried away all at once. I stared at it for a moment before I picked it up.  I opened the bag and dabbed my pinky finger inside and had a little taste. Crappy coke, I thought, but I had a second taste just to be sure.

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