It was a Friday night, nearing 11 p.m. Bobby was about to enter a bar downtown. It wasn't that kind of night out. He had received a phone call 30 minutes earlier from the owner asking him to come and get one of his mates who was having a bad night. Until then, he had been at home, with a take away, watching TV. Another boring Friday evening.
When he had heard the description of this friend, Bobby had been very surprised. Not at all who he expected. Not that he knew anyone who indulged in drinking themselves into oblivion in bars, but as far as he knew, that one was a first.
So, as he was approaching the bar, he felt curious and worried at the same time. According to what the bartender had told him over the phone, she had been drinking cocktails like they were lemonades for the past 2 hours. She was drinking alone and did not stand any company. That had to be bad.
The bar was very busy that night but the bartender saw him immediately when he walked in and he tilted his head to his left.
"She hasn't moved since she has arrived. At first, I thought she was waiting for the rest of you, you know, the group you usually are with. But she told me that it was just her tonight. She ordered a drink and told me to keep them coming. I tried to make her talk, you know, but she only wanted to drink, nothing else. A couple of guys approached her but whatever she said to them was very effective because they went away immediately. It's just her and her drinks. I had your card in the office so I called you."
"Thanks mate. Let's see if I have more luck than you!"
Heartbroken. It was the first word that came to Bobby when he saw her.
She was sitting at the corner of the bar, her handbag by her side, her hands nursing a glass half empty, her eyes looking nowhere in particular.
She did not move when Bobby sat next to her. There was no sign that she registered his presence.
Still no reaction.
Bobby moved his hand and touched her shoulder. She moved away from him so brusquely that she nearly fell off her stall. Bobby jumped off his seat to settle her back.
"Hey there. It's OK Tara. It's only me" he said as he made sure she was safely back on her seat.
"Leave me alone" she finally said in a very low, tired voice.
"Tara, it's me. It's Bobby."
"Leave me alone" she repeated, still the same tone of voice, still not looking at him.
He was really worried now. This was not the Tara he knew. What on Earth could have happened that would make her behave like this? He had to find out. There was no way he was just going to get her out of this place without knowing why she got there in the first place.
"Tell me what's wrong. This is not you. You don't go to bars to drink on your own."
"Don't do this" said Tara.
"Don't do what?" he asked. She usually made long sentences with long words he did not always understand, especially when she was talking about computer stuff, but all she had given him so far were just few words. And she would not look at him. And she was keeping him at a distance. Bad, bad, bad….
"Pretend you care. Just go back home, Bobby. I don't want your help."
"Pretend I care?" he said, astonished not only by the fact that she was saying this, but also by the hurt he felt at hearing her saying that. "Where's that coming from?"
Tara turned and for the first time looked at him. Not straight in the eyes because it took a moment for all his heads to stop moving and she realized that moving was not a good idea. But she forced herself to focus on him. Even fussy, the guy was cute. Did not matter anyway, she was done with men.
Once he had only one head, she started talking.
"I'm just here to drink that's all. I don't need anyone to babysit me. Go home."
"Why come here then? Why not stay at home and drink there? Or at least go to a bar where nobody knows you. No one would have known."
Tara opened her mouth but could not find an answer. His question seemed too reasonable for her present situation, and she had no idea how to reply.
"People come to drink in bars" said Bobby, "because drinking at home on your own is too depressing. In bars, you can find someone to talk to and maybe, if you're in luck, his reason for drinking will be more depressing than yours." Tara would not talk. He started to wonder if she was even listening to him. Running away from your problems were never a solution, he knew that. And he knew Tara knew that at some level. He did not want to do it, but he knew he had to. He had to push her. If she fell, he'd catch her. "Jack told me that you were going away for the week-end with Stanley, so I take it you guys broke up."
The hurt on Tara's face said it all. She closed her eyes for a second and then went back to her drink. She took a sip. She knew she could not dismiss Bobby as easily as she had done with the few men who had tried to talk to her tonight. And if she knew him well –even as drunk as she was, she thought she did- he was not going to back off. She did not want his pity, and that was exactly where this was going.
"Whatever it is Tara, it is not worth your wellbeing and your health."
"What is it worth then?" she asked him, still in a low voice, but Bobby could hear her anger. "Just tell me Bobby, what is all this worth? You start by trying to make your parents proud of you, then you're thrown into adulthood without a clue as to how everything works. You have to find a job that gets you money, doesn't matter if you like it as long as your back account is full. You have to find someone to share this mascarade with, preferably someone of the opposite sex because God forbid you embarrass your parents and family for being different. You get married, have a couple of kids, then get divorced because your life is so boring it's the only way to make it interesting again. So tell me, Bobby, what's the point?"
That was the kind of useless talk that never led anywhere. It wasn't the problem. So Bobby brought her back to what hurt.
"What happened with Stanley?"
That name again! Why wouldn't he drop it? Why couldn't he just follow her lead and talk about nothing? Or even better, leave? Because that is not Bobby, a voice told her. Bobby always faces reality. He wasn't going to back off, and he wasn't going anywhere.
"I broke up with him."
"You did?" He was surprised. He thought all her rambling was about her not being good enough. "Why?"
"Apparently, I was the only one who considered being in a monogamous relationship."
He had not seen this one coming. And apparently, judging by her state tonight, neither had she.
"Oh Tara, I'm sorry. I know it's tough."
"Been there, hey?"
They had never really had personal conversations, except that time when they had kissed, but it was a different story. She thought she was drunk enough tonight not to think or feel anything, but his presence at her side was changing that. She was starting to feel like talking.
"How did you find out?"
Bobby thought for a moment. It wasn't something he liked to think about, but it was also in his past. It still was a bad memory though.
"A friend told me. When I confronted her, she admitted it. Said it was a mistake and that she was going to break it up. But it was too late. The damage was done, and the trust was gone."
"I win! I found them in bed together!"
Tara broke down in tears. That was why she had come to the bar tonight, for the alcohol to stop her from feeling anything. She did not want to feel, or to remember. The two of them together in a bed she had spent so many nights in with him.
It took Bobby a few seconds to process what Tara had said. It was one thing to find out your partner was cheating on you; it was a totally different one to actually find out in person and in action, so to speak. No wonder Tara was drinking! She did not have to imagine them, she knew with whom, and what they looked like together.
Bobby rose from his stall and took her in his arms. He put his hand on her neck and brought her head to rest on his chest, his other arm around her shoulders. He held her for as long as she needed him.
She hanged on to his jacket for dear life. The hurt was so strong she could feel all her body break up under the feeling.
He could hear her asking this question over and over again, and he knew he could not comfort her. There was no answer to that question, except that Stanley was a mistake of nature and if he ever saw him again, he would give him a piece of his mind.
But this was not going to help Tara right now.
He waited till she stopped crying and her breathing was a bit more settled. When he released her from the hug, he kissed her forehead and made sure she was sitting properly on the stall, not about to fall. Then he saw two cups of coffee in front of them. The cocktail glass had disappeared. He looked at the other side of the bar, and nodded his thanks to the bartender. He brought the cups closer to them.
"It might not be what you want, but it will do you good."
"Can't be worse than your morning coffee."
"Hey! There is nothing wrong with a strong cup of coffee in the morning."
"Agreed. As long as it is drinkable."
"You know nothing about coffee."
She smiled a little.
"I just don't know what to do," said Tara after a moment. "What's wrong with me? I'm in my thirties and I'm still single. When I tell people I work for the FBI, they behave as if I was going to arrest them for whatever pity crime they think they've ever committed. That is when I don't come across guys who are more interested in how I can use handcuffs! If I'm not the problem, then men have to be the problem."
Tara looked really serious as she said that, but Bobby could not help smiling when she mentioned the handcuffs. He had had that kind of encounters with women. And, let's be honest, some had led to good memories… But now was not the right time for that kind of thoughts. He was here for Tara, and he felt like he had to make her remember that not all men were like Stanley.
"Some men, please. Don't put us all in the same basket. And FYI, you ladies are not easy to understand either" Bobby said as he was bringing his cup of coffee to his lips.
"Maybe that's where I got it all wrong." Tara continued as if he had not talked. "Maybe I should be a lesbian." Bobby spitted his coffee and looked at her in shock. "There might be a chance I actually get it right."
She seemed to be thinking real hard about that, as if she was seriously considering the option. He knew this wasn't the right thing to do, but Bobby could not resist. Just out of curiosity, he needed to see where this conversation was going.
"Well, as a man who likes women, I can tell you that dating a woman is great. And the sex as well."
"Well, I wasn't impressed. Damn, I can't even be a lesbian! I prefer to have a man in my bed. As long as he knows what to do with the equipment that is."
"Wow, wow, wow, slow down there, Sheila. You've done it with a woman?"
"Uni. That's what it's for, right? Experimentation? So there you go."
"How was it?" he dared ask, not believing he was having this conversation with her. She might make him pay tomorrow, but right now, he just could not help himself.
"Well, I didn't have much experience at the time to compare. It was nice, I guess. But I must say, I've had much better since. Damn! I'm definitely straight."
"You're funny when you're drunk, you know."
"No, I don't know. Nobody told me that before. Or if they did, I don't remember. I never remember. I only have a splitting headache the day after."
Well, I'll remember for the both of us, thought Bobby. She had the same look right now as when she is deep in thought, trying to break into whatever system was resisting her. Bobby could not help but smile. True, his friend was not in a good place right now, she was in pain, so much pain actually that she had done something that was very out of character for her. But he had a chance to see a side of her that he did not know existed and would probably never see again. She was funny when she was drunk. But she was also in need of care and support, and he wanted to take her to a place where she would feel safe, a place where alcohol was not the answer to her problem, a place where she would be able to face the situation and make decisions about how she wanted to get the control of her life back.
"Look, I'll make you a deal. You agree to let me take you home now, and I won't tell a soul about tonight" Tara was still thinking very hard. "And what you do and say when you're drunk." And he meant it. Tonight was just between the two of them.
"Deal! But there's a problem."
"I'm not feeling too good."
"Yep. And quick."
Bobby got her to the ladies just in time. He gave her some privacy but remained close by, just in case. When Tara got out, she did not look too good. He was probably going to have to stop a few times on the way home.
"Feeling up for the drive?"
Tara gave him a killer look. Funny drunk Tara was gone. Bobby placed his arm around her waist, ignoring the smell of alcohol and vomit that was coming from her and guided her out of the bar.
"Come on, you'll feel better in your bed."
They walked slowly towards their seats. Bobby picked up her handbag from the counter and then directed her to the door. As they came past the bartender, Bobby rose in hand in thanks and then they were out of the bar.
Bobby had taken a taxi to come to the bar. He had planned on her car being not far so that he could drive her back home. He would advise what to do with himself depending on how she was.
He found her keys in her bag and her car in the carpark next to the bar. He installed Tara in the passenger seat, buckled her seat belt and closed the door as gently and quietly as he could. Once he was sat in the driver seat, he adjusted the seat and then turned on the engine. He heard Tara groaning. She had her eyes closed, head resting against the window.
"Tell me if you need me to stop, OK?"
She groaned something that sounded like "OK" and Bobby started driving. Everything went well for about 10 minutes. Then suddenly Tara grabbed his arm and squeezed it.
"What? Want me to stop?"
She squeezed his arm again and he parked the car right away. Tara had just the time to open the door and she was sick again. Bobby grabbed some tissues he found stacked in the door. When he thought Tara was done, at least for the time being, he put one hand on her back and gently tapped her left arm that was keeping the door open.
"Take this Tara."
She took the tissues and muttered some thanks. Once she had cleaned herself, she sat back and closed the door.
"I will never drink again in my whole life."
Right, Bobby thought, as if I've never heard this one before.
Once he was sure Tara was back in her seat, he started the car again. He looked at her before driving. Her head was resting on the headset, her eyes were closed, her face was frowned. Her right hand was holding the door armrest, the left grasped the seat next to her thigh. She really looked in pain.
Tara needed some rest. But was her condo the best place for this? If he took her there, you could be sure that Stanley would either be waiting for here or calling her all the time. Tara's chances for a rest would be close to zero. Dismissing taking her home, Bobby fixed his attention back to the traffic and drove to his place.