Recap: In the previous chapter, Lyle meditated on his life 10 years ago and how much hope he had for the future. But now, with no job and no prospects, all he can do is dream about the way things were and lament the “smoldering ashes of youthful ambition.”
The taxi exited the freeway, drifting toward downtown. Pausing at a light at the end of the off-ramp, they turned onto a familiar street.
“Hey,” Lyle said, leaning forward to talk to the driver. “Take the next left, will you? To the shopping center with the Silver Tavern?”
“You got it,” the driver said.
Shep stirred, his face pressed against the window. “Huh?”
“Change of plans,” Lyle said.
The driver put on the blinker, merging into the left turn lane.
Shep held a hand to his mouth, stifling a yawn. “How long was I out?”
“Just a little while. You were sleeping off the margarita.”
“Man — sorry about that. The tequila must have hit me hard.”
“Apparently, so did the refried beans.”
“You fart in your sleep. You were blowing more bass than a subwoofer back there on the freeway. I could have written a rap to your rhythm.”
“I can corroborate that,” the driver said, glancing at them in the rearview mirror.
“Oh, man.” Shep winced. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Why bother? You were sleeping through a foghorn. I figured if that didn’t wake you, nothing would.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“I assure you, whatever it lacked it volume, it made up for in potency.”
“I can corroborate that,” the driver said.
Shep grumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Did I hear you say something about changing the plan?”
“Yeah. I want to go to the Silver Tavern.”
“What?” Shep looked out the window. “Oh, no. This is Annabelle’s neighborhood.”
“This is my neighborhood, too.”
“No it isn’t. You don’t live here anymore.”
“It still feels like home.”
“Feel free to move back, then. I’ll even help you pack.”
“I have a lot of memories here,” Lyle said.
“Where? In the Silver Tavern?” Shep frowned. “It’s a pathetic dump.”
“It’s where I used to hang out.”
“Right — that’s exactly my point. No way we’re going to meet women here.”
“You’d be surprised. Plenty of women come here.”
“What kind of women? Toothless hags who smoke?”
“Of course not. Smoking’s not allowed inside.”
“C’mon, Lyle. I want to go to the nightclub. They have kick-ass music, and the women don’t get hot flashes when they dance.”
“They’ve got kick-ass music here, too. Friday night’s karaoke night.”
“Oh my god.” Shep buried his face in his hands. “You’re taking me to a convalescence center. This is where it all falls apart for me — I know it.”
Lyle grinned. “C’mon, man. You know that’s not true. Things fell apart for you a long time ago.”
“Yeah, I remember. It was the day I agreed to let you move in with me.”
“Trust me. I know how to have fun on a Friday night.”
“You’ve spent the last four Friday nights locked in your room.”
“And I was having fun.”
“I can corroborate that,” the driver said.
Shep shot a look at Lyle.
Lyle shook his head. “He’s kidding. C’mon.”
The cab careened into the shopping center, pulling to a sudden stop in front of the bar. A man and a woman stood by the front door, smoking. Neon signage buzzed above the doorframe, and a string of white lights twinkled along the roofline.
The driver turned around. “Fifty bucks!”
Lyle nodded toward Shep. “He’s the one with the job.”
“Fifty bucks!” Shep said. “That’s insane!”
“I can corroborate that,” Lyle said.
The driver opened and closed his hand. “Fifty bucks!”
Shep reached for his wallet, glowering at Lyle. “How long was I out? For all I know, he could have been driving us in circles.”
“Nah. The only time we go in circles is when we’re talking to women.”
The driver pounded on the glass divider. “Fifty bucks! Fifty bucks!”
“OK! Cripes.” Shep pulled out some bills. “It’s like he’s anxious to get rid of us, or something.”
“I think he got nervous when you lifted your ass,” Lyle said.
They paid the fare and climbed out of the cab. A cool evening breeze brushed across them.
“It feels weird being here,” Lyle said, walking toward the door. Muffled music drizzled outside.
He turned and looked back. Shep was still standing on the curb.
“What are you doing?” Lyle asked, walking back.
“Why did you really bring us here?” Shep asked.
Shep crossed his arms. “Seriously. Why did you really bring us here?”
“I don’t know.” Lyle shrugged. “Just wanted to go to a familiar place — that’s all.”
“Are you hoping Annabelle’s in there?”
Lyle frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“You heard me. Are you hoping Annabelle’s in there? Is that why you came here tonight — so you could ‘accidentally’ run into her?”
“She won’t be in there.”
“Trust me, she won’t.”
“You said this used to be your hangout.”
“Right. It was my hangout. Not hers.”
“She never came here with you?”
“Hardly ever. I came here to get away from her.”
“You serious?” Shep asked.
Lyle nodded. “I came here a lot on my own — especially toward the end. Things weren’t great at home.”
“This place was your escape from Annabelle?”
“No — this place was my escape from life. Whenever things started to seem unbearable, I came here to get away from it all.” Lyle paused, biting his lip. “Which I guess is why I wanted to come here tonight: to get away from it all.”
“And escape from your life?” Shep asked.
“Yeah,” Lyle said, sighing. “And escape from my life.”
He turned away, walking toward the door. “So … you coming?”
Shep stood for a moment, looking at him.
“Well?” Lyle said. “Happy hour doesn’t last all night. There’s a sixty-minute limit, you know.”
Shep took a deep breath. He kicked at the sidewalk, his arms still crossed.
Lyle frowned. “Why the hesitation?”
“I don’t know,” Shep said. “It just sort of feels like you’re living backwards … you know?”
“What are you talking about?”
“This is what you always do. You’re always trying to reclaim a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore — whether it’s working at the newspaper or living with Annabelle. You’re never willing to move forward, to see what else is out there.”
“All I want is to spend some time in one of my old hangouts. Is that so much to ask?”
“But that’s my point. You don’t live here anymore. This isn’t your hangout. All that went away when Annabelle kicked you out.”
“So I can’t ever come in here again, since I don’t live in this neighborhood anymore?”
“I’m not saying that. All I’m saying is … you got to stop looking back. That’s all.”
“I don’t look back.”
“Yes, you do, Lyle. You really do. You’re always trying to go backwards in time — back to a life that doesn’t want you anymore.”
“It’s not like the present and future are welcoming me with open arms.”
“How would you know? You’re too busy gazing backwards to see what might be ahead.”
“I’ve tried looking ahead, and there’s nothing there. Nothing but despair and darkness.”
“Then try looking farther. Better days lie ahead — I know it.”
“I’m sure they do — but not in my lifetime. That’s why you have to look so far to see them.”
“You’re hopeless,” Shep said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Absolutely hopeless.”
“Shep, please,” Lyle said. “Just a couple of beers, OK? This is a place I know. It’s familiar to me, like an old friend.”
“I didn’t think you had any friends.”
“Just this bar. Which is why I don’t want to lose it.”
Shep let out a breath. “I still think it’s a dive.”
“Yeah, but it’s a dive with Friday-night karaoke.” Lyle grinned. “C’mon — it’ll be cool. And besides, who wants to go to a stupid nightclub, anyway?”
“Scores of hot single chicks, that’s who. Don’t you want to meet a woman?”
“Nah. I wouldn’t want to ruin her evening.” Lyle pulled open the door. A gust of live music surged out. “Coming?”
Shep sighed, closing his eyes.
“C’mon,” Lyle said, grinning. “I’ll buy you a beer.”
“How? You don’t have any money.”
“I’ll put it on my tab.”
“You have a tab?”
“They know me here.”
“That’s what surprises me. They know you and they still extend you credit?”
“I’m a good customer.”
“You’re a depressed drunk.”
“Exactly. Depressed drunks make good customers.” Lyle motioned inside. “So … coming?”
Shep took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He stood for a couple of moments, looking at Lyle.
“Well?” Lyle said.
“Whatever,” Shep said. “OK — all right.”
“You won’t regret it,” Lyle said.
Shep snorted. “Tell me that when the hangover sets in.”
He jogged forward to join Lyle, and together they walked inside.