The two men wandered out into the night and found Paul’s car at the end of the parking lot. It was late and the rain was heavy. They drove in silence as Paul headed east of town, past the brightness of the city and onto the rural roads that took them into the foothills of the mountains. It was over half an hour before they reached the town where their usual watering hole resided. As he approached the small tavern, Paul finally smiled. He drove past the bar and continued down the road for about a mile until he reached the town’s bowling alley, and pulled into the parking lot.
“What the hell are we doing here?” Ben laughed for the first time since they’d left their fateful event.
“Well, it makes sense that we need something extra tonight. How long has it been since you bowled, Ben?”
“You want to take my mind off it and pretend it didn’t happen?” He paused for a moment. “Ok, let’s go in there and embarrass ourselves. What the hell.”
The place was nearly empty as it was a Thursday night, and nearly 11 p.m. There were a few people in their early teens other than the help occupying the room. Ben mumbled, “Those kids should be home thinking about their future.”
“Let’s start at the bar, Ben. A little talking might do us good.” They perched themselves at the bar and an older woman with a hard life etched in her face took their orders. “And we’ll take twenty in pull tab tickets.” Paul scanned the games and chose one that only had a twenty-five dollar figure scratched from its board. Turning to Ben, he said, “Maybe we can change our luck tonight.”
She brought them both a beer and a shot of something strong. Paul had left that to her discretion. He handed Ben a shot glass and picked up the other one, making a toast to the great ideas in life that are overlooked by stupidity. “You never should have slept with her, Ben. I think she’s been planning her revenge for quite a while.”
After downing their shots, Ben picked up his beer, and raised it in the air for another toast. “To our president, may she lose sleep tonight knowing what she did to our town.” He picked up a ticket and opened it to find a loser. Laughing, he held it up to his friend. “Look, just like me, Paul.” He raised his voice to get the attention of the bar tender and ordered another round of shots, whatever they were. “I know it was stupid, and everything was good for a while. Then she had to get serious, told me that I was the first man she ever really fell for. I had to tell her that I didn’t return the same feelings. Don’t I get honesty points for that?” Ben shuddered at the thought of her. “You’re right, Paul. Sleeping with the president is probably the dumbest thing I’ve done in my professional life.”
Paul agreed while opening a few more tickets. “There, there it is.” He slammed the last opened ticket on the bar and smiled at Ben. “You see? Tonight was supposed to be our time. Five hundred bucks!”
Ben’s body shuddered with an excitement that he wouldn’t have believed possible after the ordeal he’d gone through earlier. “Well, son of a bitch. Maybe we’ll get lucky enough to quit our day jobs. You know, Paul. All I need to do is publish the new program to the public. I’ll work harder to prove that this is the way to go, and I’ll work on the damn board directors. This isn’t a defeat tonight, just a setback.” He tossed the new drink down. “We’ll get this passed next month, I know we can do it.”
He motioned for the bartender to help them, and this time, squinted so that he could read her nametag. “Pat, we’ll turn this winner in now, and keep fifty for yourself. And could you give us another twenty in,” He scanned over the remaining games and pointed. “That one over there. Yes, that looks like a winner. My friend and I are feeling lucky tonight. And could you get us another shot?”
Paul held his hand out to Pat and excused himself from the latest round. “Driving tonight, but thanks anyway.”
Pat returned with Ben’s new drink and tickets. “You boys are celebrating something big, aren’t you? I’ve gotten pretty good at reading people, being in this job. It’s true that a bartender is a good listener, you know.” She hung over the bar as if ready to give free advise. Pat had seen and heard a lot, and knew all the gossip there was to know about the locals.
With that, the two men broke out into a loud laughter, the drink enhancing the sounds coming out of them. Ben was the one to respond. “You got it right, Pat. Your insight is amazing. And if you continue to find us the winning tickets, it’ll be a good night for you too.”
They continued to talk but left the topic of the dreaded meeting, moving on to dreams of their futures while they opened more tickets and drank their beer. Ben continued to order more shots for himself until he felt his head spinning from the liquor. “Paul, I’m hungry. Could you handle some eggs to top off our celebration?” He turned and looked at the teens that were bowling. “And I don’t think I feel like taking that on tonight.”
Paul paid the bill from the proceeds of their earnings and the two of them left, thanking Pat for her wonderful service. When they entered the night, they discovered that the temperature had dropped a few degrees, just enough to change the rain to a mix of snow. Ben was unsteady on his feet, and was therefore slow in getting to the car, the trek seeming to last forever. Opening the door, Paul stood nearby to help him, when Ben’s shoe slipped on some slushy ice, and losing his balance, his legs collapsed out from under him. He landed on the ground, his head gashed from hitting the edge of the car door on his way down. Bleeding, he sat on the wet earth, and began laughing. “Well, damn it all. When I woke up this morning, I just didn’t see this end coming.”
Paul helped him up and into the car, and handed him a paper towel. “Put pressure on that cut, Ben. If it doesn’t stop bleeding, I’m taking you in for stitches.”
“No, take me to my eggs. Besides, a scar would be in perfect order, something to help me remember this day by.”
Paul found a 24-hour restaurant. The neon sign flashed, it was only a matter of time before the flickering ‘R’ would lose its glow. The car rolled into a spot next to the entrance and checking Ben’s cut before getting out of the car, Paul seemed worried. “I’m not very good at this sort of thing, you may need to see a doctor.”
Ben shrugged him off but continued to push on the paper towel to keep the pressure firm. “Come on, Paul. If you’re ever going to become a superintendent, you have to learn to prioritize. And right now, it’s food that’s most important.”
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