Title: Thanks for Everything
Disclaimer: I own nothing that makes money…
Summary: Trory; set in the near future, no spoilers. Based on the song, "I Hate Everything" by George Strait.
There was no sign on the door proclaiming 'No Girls Allowed,' yet it was an unspoken rule that seemed to be abided by. Not that any woman in her right mind would wander in, other than in hopes of a paycheck in the likes of this place. And even then, if tips were desired, all inquiries, pleasantries, and advice offered to cheer up these exiled men were held back by learned tongues. The men that happened upon this bar were, in New York, considered the desirables; white-collar men, generally at the moment single, with resumes so impressive that it didn't matter how big their trust funds were. But it wasn't their average net worth that they all shared in common.
These men were simply united in their desire to forget—not forgive, as it wasn't a requirement or prudent in most cases to these men. Their plights ranged from troubles at or lapses of work (temporary and fixable), crises of faith (fleeting), and women (par for the course). No matter the combination or level of severity, their choice of solution was all the same.
His predicament was definitely of the woman variety, and as momentary as the next man may see it, the fight he'd had before storming out of her apartment had seemed in no way fleeting or unimportant. Her calling him a pompous ass, incapable of considering anyone's feelings but his own seemed like it was deserving of being labeled a problem. There were only two ways he knew to deal with his problems with women.
And he wasn't looking for temptation tonight. He hadn't been looking at all since becoming involved with her.
Besides, adding another woman to this mix would make their first ever fight unfixable, whereas drowning his sorrows would only hurt him in the event that he was successful in forgetting what caused him pain in the first place. And as angry as he was, he wasn't so blind with rage that he couldn't see the option of working through this in the back of his mind. He just wasn't ready to accept her apology yet. Not to mention he'd be damned to be the one doing the apologizing.
He had pride, after all. It was one on the long list of adjectives she'd hurled in front of ass, he believed. Or perhaps it had been used to describe what kind of ego he had.
None of that mattered right then, as he sidled up to the bar just in time to see the bartender plop down a whiskey on the rocks next to the man sitting one stool away from where he was choosing to spend his purgatory. The requisite one stool rule applied here, just as anywhere else men congregated. They had no need to complicate their lives by pretending to care about someone else's problems. Their own were enough to deal with.
"I'll take one of those," he indicated as the glass left a streak of condensation on the mahogany bar, which the disinterested bartender wiped away with a white towel.
"Here, have mine."
Another streamed line of moisture appeared on the polished countertop as the man with whom he shared an affinity for stiff drinks offered immediate relief.
Tristan Dugrey looked up, making eye contact with the first person since her. A pair of hazel eyes shined back at him good naturedly.
"I couldn't," he waved his hand in dismissal.
"I insist. I've got a fair head start, and you seem in need."
He hesitated. He hadn't come for camaraderie. This wasn't Cheers and not only did this guy not know him, he wasn't in the mood to explain why he needed that drink or have to listen to the poor guy's sob story that he no doubt had on the other end of his acceptance.
But as he looked at the bottom of that glass, the ice slowly taking on the amber color of the liquid that was dissolving it, he wondered if since it had the power to melt ice, then it could also melt her words from his brain. The thought that followed of perhaps this guy was just one drink away from a stupor that wouldn't let him babble was one of hope.
"Thanks, man," he slid his fingers around the chilled whiskey rocks glass, anticipation rushing his nervous system. He could practically feel his muscles slacking, his tongue coating over with delicious thickness. He closed his eyes as the smooth lip met his, the slow burn cascading down his throat.
It was only then he exhaled.
"See? You were in need."
He nodded and gave a tight smile. "Guess so. Can I buy you a drink?" he offered, hoping his penance paid.
"Drinks I can buy," he shook his head bitterly.
Tristan groaned inwardly and took another sip to allow him the impropriety of not giving a response. Just as he emptied his mouth, the taste buds tingling in the wake of the tormenting refreshment, the bartender set an exact replica in front of his cohort.
It was curiosity of suffering and basic human nature that made his head turn to watch the man take his first sip from one stool away. He had no intention of living vicariously for the thrill of the first time, the first taste. It was a good thing, too, as clearly it wasn't pleasure that caused the other man's face to contort as he took in a much longer sip than was customary.
"Not what you ordered?"
He cringed at the words that escaped his mouth as he reminded himself that he didn't care about this guy's fate or past.
"I always think it'll be different," his voice was raspy with distaste.
"Excuse me?" his interest was peaked, no matter that despite focusing on the man in front of him, she swirled all around him. He took another drink.
"I was once informed that it was the definition of insanity," he smiled despite himself, taking another long swig of this drink he had no affinity for. "Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. When I was a kid, I would watch my father and his friends drink whiskey, seeming to enjoy it. I'd watch them drink it like soda, first talking business, then as the bottle emptied out they'd just talk. Mainly about their glory days, which had long since passed."
Tristan realized this man could have been talking about his own youth and found that his head nodded on its own in relation.
"But I spent my glory years downing this stuff, and all it ever does is burn my nostrils and strip my throat."
"Doesn't sound very glorious," he licked his lips, finding what eluded his counterpart.
"But it's useful in its own way. See, I have a theory about whiskey."
"You know the five stages of grief?"
Tristan nodded. He'd always been of the opinion that people wasted a lot of time coming to grips with their reality. The stages of grief were fine for a template, something for psychologists to use up grant money on, but it all boiled down to two words for him. Shit happens.
"I have no use for three of them. I start out angry and with a quick aid," he held up his sweaty glass, "I reach acceptance."
"I take it you haven't accepted your most recent lot in life?"
It wasn't that he cared. It just seemed like what he was supposed to say. It was an easy out, a yes or no ending, and he could go back to slowly enjoying his drink.
But the man shirked off his suit jacket, revealing his slumped shoulders and rolled up sleeves. "I was never given any choice as to whether or not I wanted to accept my lot in life."
"You always have a choice."
Not that he himself had always taken this advice. There was a time in his life that he acted out in efforts to make those who took how they saw him fitting into their own visions for granted. He quelled the nagging voice that whispered that was exactly what he'd done to her with another swig of whiskey.
"Not in my family. The worst part is that I had drunk enough to accept it, you know? I knew the deadline, I knew what to expect, and I saw myself doing it. I was on a path; I was starting to try it on in my own skin."
He was all too familiar with the concept. Shaking it had been a hard process, painful and trying, but in his case inevitable.
"Yeah," he wiped his upper lip with the back of his hand, suggesting new money while his words contradicted his actions. "You could say that."
"You don't have the chops for it?"
"I don't have the patience for it," he sighed. "It's all politics, a constant game of kissing ass and exposing the guy with his pants down. It's truth piled under a thousand pounds of lies."
"Let me guess—you're in PR," he smirked.
The other man looked up in surprised amusement. "Something like that."
"So you hate your job. Get another one."
"I hate more than my job," he said cryptically and set his empty glass down next to his wallet on the bar. "Can I get another?"
He bartender hesitated, and he groaned. "I'm not gonna drive, is that what you're afraid of? This is New York, nobody drives," he said quickly. This elicited a shake of the guy's head, and off he went to fulfill the request.
"So, what happened?"
He gave in to the events that had occurred to him so far that day. After all, that had been the theme of the whole damn day. He hadn't woken up expecting to have his first fight with the woman that had turned his whole life upside down in the past two months. He hadn't expected his words to fuel her wrath. He hadn't expected anything about her from the moment he'd first laid eyes on her.
Even now, she was still having her way with him.
"Excuse me?" he seemed to study his half-empty glass with envy.
"You said you'd accepted it, yet here you are, trying to assuage anger."
His eyes closed again, his face contorting in pain from a memory much stronger than any drink. "She happened."
"The rise and fall of most men are related to those words."
"I don't really want to talk about her," he swallowed his next bitter pill. "So, what brings you here?"
Tristan thought back to the moment that had directly resulted in his sitting on this rock-hard stool, staring at what he had so narrowly escaped becoming. Or had he? Weren't they both in suits that cost more than most men their age pay monthly in rent, drinking the same drink to get over a woman? What was the exact second that determined he'd be sitting in this suit that he'd worn to work, a conscious choice on his part so he wouldn't waste precious time going back uptown when he knew full well that he had a stashed change of clothes at her apartment. The not so subconscious nudge that when he took the time to shower and shave at her place before a date she had a tendency to reward him with her participation and appreciation of the extra moments he afforded them.
Wanting to spend time with her had been his main goal. Yet here he was. He looked up to his companion, who was swirling the acceptance he'd not yet fed himself around in the bottom of the glass. What had been his crime? Opening too many doors? One too many bouquets of flowers?
No, it wasn't just tonight, and his insistence that they stay in the city to enjoy an evening in seclusion that had landed him in this position. Though, as she pointed out, he was getting his wish to be 'alone' in the city. He hated when she twisted his words. And she was so good at it.
This ran deeper, as it tended to do with them. They invaded one another's space, they pushed each other's buttons, and it was a miracle that they hadn't had a real blow up like the one they'd had not an hour ago before this. In the last two months, since she hijacked his cab in the middle of a thunderstorm, the very cab that he was already sitting in and giving the cross streets to the cabbie when he felt resistance against his grip that attempted to pull the door shut so his ride could commence. It was her rain-soaked form that had told him to get out or slide over in the name of chivalry and ecology. It was her wide eyes that focused in on him and his good luck as she realized just whom she'd just enclosed herself into a moving vehicle with, and that no matter how hard she tried she couldn't outwit fate. He'd relished the moment as her lips formed his name, saying it as if she wasn't quite sure if she was dreaming or awake.
He'd taken that as such a good sign, despite the need he felt to lecture her about the notion of first come first serve, having the forethought to plan for shitty weather in Manhattan, and the general rules of conduct befitting those that shared this tiny island. He'd braced himself to be kicked out into the wet tires that were skidding around on the steaming pavement in mid-day traffic with a stiletto pump, but instead she'd asked him out to dinner.
He took another sip, letting the whiskey swish around his teeth and palate for a few seconds, just long enough to make his eyes prick with moisture. That hadn't been the same woman that he'd lost touch with as a teenager. It unnerved him, making him think twice about accepting. But then he saw a glimmer of something in her eyes, a challenge, if you will, and he accepted, using his pseudonym for her. The namesake that had at age sixteen given him a glimpse into her preference for him saying her real name.
He'd gotten a lot of practice in the last two months.
"I'm not sure," he finally said after a pause that would have been too long had anyone been considering him. He was fairly sure the other man's thoughts had strayed in the course of his contemplations. "Something about getting what I asked for," he shrugged and took another drink.
"Fucking irony," his mirror image offered.
"Fucking women," Tristan sucked a piece of ice into his mouth to savor the last of his drink. "She gets pissed that I want to spend time with her, I mean, don't most girls get pissed when you don't spend time with them? Most girls want to know where you are every second of your fucking day, lest your eyes stray to one inappropriate body part belonging to another female."
"You ever cheat on her?"
His voice was dry and cracked, like chapped lips. He could hear the pain that emanated from the source.
"I don't cheat," he narrowed his eyes. "I don't ever cheat."
"She's a lucky woman. Sure whatever happened is so permanent?"
"Are you?" he shot back, not liking the sound of false hope he heard aimed at him.
"She left me for another life."
He frowned into his again-empty glass, as if he could see that new life in the beaded remains of liquid against the clear crystal.
"What, did she find religion, or some shit like that?"
He'd heard them all. Hell, he'd lied to enough women to tell and/or make up a few good ones of his own. Diseases, job transfers, sick relatives in desperate need of care that only he could provide, anything the unwanted appendage would believe would suffice. Anything to get someone to detach themselves. She was the first one he hadn't wanted to let go of. The first one he considered being alone and at peace when he was with.
"I never had a handle on it, and she knew it. She could have forced my hand at any time and made me see before it was too late," his cohort shook his head, as if his desire for another drink stood like a devil on one shoulder, and his desire for clarity on the other, no doubt in the form of this woman, his angel.
Or perhaps it was the other way around.
Tristan made the decision for him, ordering two more refills of whiskey. One for him, and one for his 'friend'.
"She probably told you she didn't want to change you—spouted off about how you had to be the one to want to change, am I right?" he clarified.
A numb nod his direction was his only answer.
"I'll drink to that."
His mind drifted as the liquid sloshed down his throat. He'd been so fast to anger when her defenses went up, as soon as her accusations started. His understanding of her attack was never achieved. He went from romantic gesturing for them to spend some time alone to her holding back tears over his desire to never change—how could he understand that? It'd take a professional with the ability to prescribe drugs, and probably a few doses of said pharmacologicals, to untangle the mental rats' nest that had instigated this particular falling out.
Not that he wasn't used to her own brand of crazy. Her impassioned rants and bouts of self-righteousness normally provided fantastic entertainment; a floorshow leaving her engines revved for him to enjoy as he took hold of the wheel. In fact, he was almost certain it was one of her ploys, as if she believed they needed some sort of outside force to drive their sexuality. In his mind, he was already discarding them of unnecessary clothing; leaving a choice few garments on (especially if she was wearing that black lace bra with the racer back). He didn't realize she was gearing up for detachment while every fiber of his being was seeking fusion.
"I mean, I knew she was different," the voice that wasn't quite as deep as the one he heard reverberating in his own head spoke up, pulling him from his thoughts that left him at once horny and lonely. It was scary how many words these two men seemed to share when speaking of themselves. "God, one look at her, and," he took another sip.
"You just wanted to be near her," Tristan licked his upper lip, wanting to suss out all the punishment he could inflict on himself.
"It doesn't even seem to register with her how much you want her, and if it does, she thinks it's all about sex."
"Yeah," the other man's voice was agreeing, but with a wary compliance. "It's like she thought that was all I was capable of."
Maybe this man didn't exist at all. He began to wonder if he'd sidled up next to his own conscience; or perhaps his unconscious mind. He blinked as he looked at what might as well be himself, too startled to take a drink. He wondered if she was having a similar out of body experience, or if she had gone home as she planned. Not that she couldn't have such a mind meld with her mother, this woman that he'd met just enough times to know that to love one was to love both.
"And maybe that was true, at some point in my life. But even if it was, it's not what I wanted her to be. Us, to be, I mean," he sighed. "I guess it doesn't matter."
"'Cause she left you for someone else?"
He couldn't even imagine that kind of hurt. His own mouth, intended or not, getting him into a bad place was one thing, but the thought of her being with someone else the way she was with him—he slammed his glass down hard on the bar, pushing the empty glass away in disgust.
"It's not that," he shook his head. "I would have given her everything I had, and none of it would have mattered. She didn't want any of it."
"She didn't love you, you mean?"
"I mean I couldn't afford to live the life she had in mind."
"So, she was a gold digger?" he was thrown completely off track, thinking they'd both lost women of substance, women that inspired and leveled them to the core of their beings.
"No, God no, she was," he fumbled with his wallet to pull out more than enough money to pay his tab and that of half the men sitting at the bar. A small, photo booth style picture fell out and fluttered its way to the ground.
It twisted out of his reach, toward Tristan's feet, landing just to the side of his shoe. He bent down with the lack of balance that came with as many drinks and his fingers slid around the slightly textured paper.
His eyes locked on hers, as if she could see out of the confines of her white paper frame. It was just her, alone, looking into the camera lens like she was in search of something… more.
"Oh, thanks," some other man's hand was reaching out to take her away from him, and for the briefest moment his grasp tightened. "I probably should just toss it, but somehow, every time I go to I just can't seem to let it out of my hand."
Was he really going to let her go? Panic flooded his body, and suddenly all he wanted was to hear her voice, no matter if she were next to him or on the phone from Connecticut. The one state that he avoided like the plague, which she knew but hadn't pushed him for an explanation as to why. He'd made it clear that he didn't want to go, but if she was going to get this upset about it, even that he could have conceded upon.
Knowing she'd hang up on the insensitive prick that didn't even know what he was supposed to be sorry for, he went back over their argument word for word, hoping that the dulling effects of alcohol would make all the unimportant details fade back and let the damning words that tripped this spiral into existence come to the forefront.
"What was I saying?" he patted his shirt pocket, as if expecting the answer to be hidden there, tucked safe away. The realization that his hand was prodding his heart hit Tristan harder than it should have. "Oh, right. She didn't want my money, or anything to do with the luxury that it afforded. She was literally more comfortable eating cereal on my couch than she was in a fancy restaurant."
He nodded numbly this time, visions of them doing just that sweeping over his not-quite-foggy-enough mind. The way she fidgeted in her seat on their first date that he'd mistaken for nerves, her relief when he pulled her in and told her he wanted to spend an evening in with her for their second date. Her smile when she so cavalierly put him in his place, asking if he was so sure they were going to have a second date. The way that his kiss answered her questions… how did they fall apart based on his desire to be with her?
"But she never trusted me. My reputation, especially in college when we met, well, it proceeded me. I never thought that would matter, you know? So any time we were apart, alone doing our own thing, I think she took that as me wanting other options."
Spend time alone. Us spend time alone, the words he'd spoken hadn't been the ones she'd heard. His heart was suddenly in his throat. His eyes closed as what she must imagine him to be doing at this very moment flashed by like the scene of a car crash. Each second he spent not letting her in on their momentary lapse of communication was eating at her the same way it had been eating at him.
"It was just a stupid miscommunication," he even said it aloud, as if to cement it in his mind.
He opened his eyes to find this man who never could have been him, as much as he'd tried to be. At least, not in her eyes. He pulled out his own wallet as his legs met the ground and threw down enough to cover both of their tabs.
"It's on me," he patted the guy on the back. "I really need to go."
"What's going on?" he cocked his head, having witnessed the odd revelation and the complete turn around in his newfound drinking buddy.
"I'm sorry things didn't work out for you," he smiled genuinely, "but I think they may just for me," he turned to walk away, but caught himself by the heel and half turned around. His arm went out to point back at where he'd just sat, commiserating with a man that had made him see what no other man on the face of the earth could have. After all, she had been running away from this man that made her feel alone even when she was next to him when she ran into his arms. "Hey, man," he called out.
"Yeah?" a slight turn on his bar stool and he was facing him.
"Everything," he decided was the proper response, knowing that's what making amends with her was to him. He pulled out his cell phone as he approached the door and before he could even reach the street, he'd dialed her number.
"Hello?" her voice was strained, as if she'd been crying or yelling. He was pretty sure she hadn't yelled since they parted ways hours ago, and he knew he was to blame for the crying as well.
"Rory, don't hang up," he slid the words in one breath, praying she'd just listen.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean what you thought I meant, I didn't want to be alone, I wanted us to be alone, together. If that has to be in Connecticut this weekend, then your mother can get you all day as long as I get you all night," his words rushed out of him like a train rushing along the tracks at top speed.
"I didn't go," she managed.
"I didn't go. After you left, I just," her voice wavered, still unsure as to why she was still explaining.
"I'll be right there," he assured her.
"I'm sorry," she began. "All those things about you changing—I don't want you to change."
He smiled, despite himself. "Good. Give me ten minutes, and let's do ourselves a favor tonight and not talk."
He could practically hear her smile over the line as a cab slowed down in front of him. "Just get over here so we can begin our weekend alone."