"In wine there is truth", she had read once on a placemat in a pseudo-Greek restaurant. Surely this was true of beer and whiskey as well.
For some time now she had thought of the man sitting across from her as a good friend and now the full truth had finally been revealed. All doubts and second guesses were dispelled.
They were very alike"both very quiet and reserved"and so their friendship had taken what may have been a record breaking long time to develop. It was probably the stronger for this fact but, despite all the times that they had listened to each other, helped each other, advised each other, encouraged each other, built each other up, done favors for each other, joked together, good naturedly teased each other, or discovered new things they had in common, she had still been plagued by nagging doubts. He seemed to be friendly and generous and get along easily with all. This and the fact that he was generally difficult to pin down to do things as they were now, always caused her to wonder if their friendship meant to him what it did to her.
It was clear now that it did. The drink did not lie.
"You know, you're the best friend I have on this job," he said.
"You're the best friend I have here, too. I've got drinking buddies and I've got ____," spitting out the name of another co-worker who was certainly a good friend, but who clearly had a crush on her, which made her uncomfortable, and whose helpfulness and eagerness to please often crossed the line into annoying (what a hypocrite she was, she thought), "but you are definitely the best work friend I have."
It was necessary to qualify "best friend" as "best work friend" to avoid looking too desperate and friendless. Besides, she did have another best friend. That was her husband. They told each other everything. They had been together since high school and it seemed to her that the best way to maintain the trust they had built over so many years was generally to tell all. But she doubted that she would tell him all the details of tonight's conversation.
There really was no need. Her husband already knew that she had several male friends at her somewhat male-dominated job. He also knew that she sometimes socialized with these friends after hours because the job required extensive travel so they were generally the only people she knew where ever she was working at. He hadn't met most, but he was familiar with them all by name and deed. And, he was the reason that she and her newly proclaimed best friend were having a drink in her motel room right now, anyway.
She and her current drinking partner were both seasonal employees and both lived far from the office they were based out of. For most of the season, they worked with a large crew and traveled throughout their home state and beyond with all their lodging and expenses paid by their employer. Now, there were only a couple of days left to the season and they were the only non-local employees still working. Their job was now clean-up and winterizing at the office. It was just the two of them, footing their own bill at the cheap local motel they both always stayed at while at the office.
When she had arrived at the motel that afternoon, she had spotted him standing outside of his room, beer already in hand, and so had gone over to chat. He proposed that they should drink a beer together to celebrate the end of the season, but, always concerned with protocols and convention, he prefaced the invitation with, "I don't know what's appropriate"," meaning that she might prefer that they stay outside, in the "safe area". She promised that after eating her supper and calling her husband, she would return to do just that.
When informed of her plans, her ever-trusting husband's response was simply, "Why are you going to sit out in the cold?"
So, with this apparent blessing, it was an easy sell to move the party into her own room after only a few frigid, shivering minutes outdoors.
And so, here they were, she with her huge whiskey and Coke, he, seated across the tiny table in a chrome and orange vinyl chair, with his cans of Busch, requesting an occasional "snifter" of whiskey.
And now the truths were beginning to be revealed.
Of course, she would tell her husband the humorous anecdotes of the night, such as how she had finally asked how he had met his longtime girlfriend and was treated to the most brief and unromantic story ever. Or how he had colorfully described his girlfriend as "a little heavy on the duty", at which she had nearly burst with laughter, loudly proclaiming that this was one more thing they had in common, as her husband was a little on the heavy side as well. Though less important than others, his original way of putting things was definitely on the list of reasons why she loved talking to him.
What she might fail to tell her husband was how they had spent the greater part of the evening telling each other just how great each thought the other was.
"She says she loves me but I don't know why," he said, still speaking of his girlfriend.
"I think I can see why she's stuck."
Was it been crossing the line for her to say this? It was true and this is what they always did. This is what friends did. They reassured each other and built each other up.
Under the influence, it was impossible to utter anything that was not based in truth. The haze of alcohol placed all the aspects of their relationship, all the things they always did for each other and told each other, under high magnification and showed all of their words and actions to be completely genuine.
He looked slightly surprised. "You can?"
"I think so."
"Well," sounding slightly irritated, "you're so nosy"let me ask you one, now."
"Go ahead." It was only fair and she knew that he wasn't given to judging or gossip. She couldn't think of anything that she would need or want to hide from him.
"Actually, I don't have anything."
"Well, I'd be happy to answer anything because I know it won't go anywhere."
"Do you know that?"
"How do you know that?"
"Well, I've known you for a couple-few years now and it's just this feeling that I have""
"Do you know that?"
"Yes," she said, seeing that this was suddenly a serious matter and understatement and joking would not do.
"That is a fact"that is a fact."
Of course it was.
Solemnly: "I know."
Usually she wouldn't have taken well to being grilled this way, but this was different, this was him. He was always frank and spoke his mind and so it was easy to do the same. Not that there was anyway for her to fake her answer right now or any need to either.
"He's a little different. He sure is a straight shooter," another co-worker had said of him just a few weeks ago. "That's what I like about him," she had thought while simply replying with a disinterested "uh-huh," knowing that if she answered with what she was thinking, the person she was talking with was likely to take that answer and run with it. This may not have been so bothersome if there wouldn't have been some truth in what might have been misconstrued from her reply.
Throughout the evening he plied her with advice from the wisdom of the ten or so years he had on her (which, incidentally, did not show on him at all). This was something else that they always did. Occasionally she acted as the advisor, but more often she sought out his level-headed perspective on things.
Currently the topic was how to deal with office politics and stay sane, which was a constant, ongoing discussion between them.
She had let him know that she appreciated his advice and view point before, but suddenly it seemed fitting to show her admiration again.
"You know, sometimes I play a little game with myself where I think: what would you do or think in this situation?"
"You don't do that."
"Sometimes." Should she feel silly revealing such a thing? Maybe she should but she didn't. It was just a truth that needed to come out.
For every drink there was something to be celebrated or a declaration to be made, along with a handshake across the small table. She sometimes wondered whether or not her hand would be returned to her, but she wasn't complaining. She had long admired those square, meaty hands but had never actually touched them before.
They shook and drank to the end of a good season (that had been debatable up until now, but, oh, well) and several times to good friends.
He would say things like, "You're a good person, I know it in my heart," or "You're going to go places."
This would have embarrassed her and seemed false from anyone else, but it was easy to take from him, as always. Even when she didn't fully agree with his affirmations they were always easy to take because it always seemed that he truly believed in what he said. And, right now, there could be no question whatsoever that this was the case.
Likewise, it was always easy for her to point out his better qualities, because she fully believed in what she said as well. And there seemed to be so many good points to choose from. Fuzzy as things were right now, it was a simple matter for her to list off all the talents he possessed beyond what their job required.
"You're lucky because you have so many skills. You can do plumbing, electrical, carpentry"You can make wine!...You can cook, you"you can even sew! My forehead is numb right now and still I can tell you all these things!"
(Was it strange that she kept this mental list?)
"What you said just now"that made me feel really good."
"Good," she thought, "that's what I'm here for."
Newly bolstered, he now expounded on his abilities himself. From anyone else it would have been insufferable bragging, but from him it was simply the truth and she was oddly proud to hear it because he didn't talk himself up often.
Then suddenly everything turned and his sage advice of, "Just be yourself and don't worry about what anyone else thinks or does," turned into, "why nobody likes me."
"Don't be saying "nobody' now."
"You're right. You're right."
And suddenly he was off and talking about the people in his life and what they meant to him. ""and if he's going down that river, I'm going with him," he asserted loudly, referring to an incident a few days earlier where he and another employee attempted to cross a fast moving river while she could only look on and worry for both of them.
"Well"," she was unsure of what to make of the sudden outburst but completely sure of what she wanted and needed to say, "you're a good man."
Why did it come out so easily and sincerely? Because it was what she truly believed.
"Is that what you think?" loudly and almost belligerently.
She suddenly remembered someone who had claimed that he could be a real asshole when he drank. She had doubted that he could be any such thing. True, things did nearly turn ugly on the one other occasion she had drank with him, but only because another co-worker found it amusing to repeatedly try to push him to the edge. However, the situation was always instantly defused with the offer of another beer, to which his consistent reply was, "You're such a fella!" Anyway, this was her, his "best work friend", not some cocky loud-mouth who never thought before speaking or some jerk who was deliberately trying to cause trouble. All was fine.
"Is that what you think?!"
"From what I've seen, yes."
"Is that what you think?!"
"Yes," and then, slowly and deliberately, putting emphasis on each word: "that is what I think."
But then, quietly and head drooping: "Oh, but I've been such a stinker, though."
She had to laugh to lighten the moment. "This must be a story I haven't heard yet!" But then she knew she needed to quickly shift into that reassuring role that they both took turns playing to each other. "I'm sure everybody has. Everybody's done things"I know I have. Maybe not on the same level as you!" trying to joke again, holding her hands out flat at different heights, "But, I don't know""
It wasn't a tiresome task being the reassuring one or the ego-stroker. Often she thought of him as near perfect, but every time he showed that he was not, she somehow found it more charming than disappointing. She was pleased that he felt comfortable sharing his insecurities with her and it made her realize that he needed her as a friend as much as she needed him. It was really a rewarding job.
"You're a true friend. You're one of the best friends I have," taking her hand again across the small table.
"I'm glad to be."
"You know, I would do anything for you. Anything."
"I'll hold you to that," she smiled. She just couldn't be serious in the face of such a large promise.
"You won't have to. I will."
"I know." And she did. The warmth that she felt could certainly not all be attributed to the whiskey.
The night digressed into stories that were started but never finished ("Do you want to hear this story?" "I'm listening." "Do you want to hear this story?" "If you want to tell it, I'm listening." And then, nothing.), other stories that made little sense, and lengthy discussions about where the bathroom was located ("Either right behind you or in your own room!" It certainly wasn't hiding in her tiny single room.). She had no idea what had happened to all of her whiskey, but she figured the man with the drooping head and eyelids must know where a lot of it had gone.
"Why do you keep looking at me like"," he was suddenly saying, squinting his eyes and wrinkling his nose.
She didn't think that she was, but things were awfully foggy and maybe that was why. Or, it could have been that she was trying to hold back the large smile that she couldn't seem to contain even when he was being deadly serious. She was getting giggly now and it was hard enough to not constantly smile at him like that at the best of times. Would now be the time to tell him how, since her first glimpse of him five years ago, she had been held transfixed by his handsome angular face and tall, broad-shouldered frame ("That's all just bells and whistles", he would probably say.) and how becoming friends with him and discovering what a wonderful person he was had only made things worse? Could she tell him how much time she spent lost in dreams and fantasies about him as well as trying to figure out what to do about all these crazy thoughts and how she could make them stop?
Luckily, she had some self-control left. Even though she was unable to lie at the moment, it didn't mean that she had to tell all.
"It's the dimples," he had a deep one on each cheek that put the icing on his handsome, square-jawed face, ""nah, I'm just messing with you."
"Well, it's been brought up before""
It had? Not by her, she didn't think. He was strictly talking drunken nonsense now.
She was suddenly sobered by the realization that morning was going to dawn early and painfully. She needed to sleep and he was close to either sleeping or passing out in her chair.
"You need to go"C'mon"I only weigh about a buck and a quarter but I think I can help you out here"" This is what they always did, they helped each other.
"A buck and a quarter!" He laughed as if he had never heard it put that way before.
"C'mon. Let's go. You're a good friend but you can't sleep here."
This she would tell her husband all the details of later: how, after many renditions of the secret handshake, she finally convinced him to grasp her hand so she could pull him up from the chair and walk him to his room. This was an amazing feat, for, besides being quite drunk, she was also about a foot shorter and exactly one hundred pounds lighter than him. She would tell how, a few steps away from her door, the weight on her shoulders was suddenly crushing and they both staggered and threatened to fall. She must have swore because suddenly, this former sailor and trades worker was looking down at her wide-eyed saying, "I didn't know Jesus had a middle name!" They had to pause in their semi-forward progress so she could explain that, yes, He actually had two middle names.
Her husband said that it must have all been a sight to see.
(Of course what she didn't tell was how the feel of that solid body haunted her thoughts the following day. Naturally, as a good friend, she was concerned for his welfare, but, she had to admit to herself that maybe she was also slightly motivated to attempt such an absurd feat by the thought of getting her hands on him.)
Once she managed to get him to his room, another layer of truth would be revealed. This she would not tell her husband about either. Not that it was any grounds for divorce. It was just the kind of thing that a husband might not feel comfortable hearing about.
Once he was seated on the end of his bed, while she stumbled around to close his curtains, he puckered ridiculously (apishly, actually) at her and kept repeating, "Who loves ya, baby?"
"Jack Daniel's, I guess", was her repeated reply.
She easily dismissed this, assuming that he probably had no idea who he was talking to at that point. And yet, the drink didn't lie, did it?
And now"things were very hazy"but she seemed to be hugging him. She thought that maybe he had requested the hug. Maybe she had even fallen, but she didn't think so. It wouldn't have been a big deal except she wasn't big on hugging friends or even most family members, with the exceptions of her husband and son. Her personal space was generally sacred and any intrusion"something as simple as someone pulling a bug off of her or patting her on the shoulder"was like a major breach of her privacy that would bother her for hours or even days. But this was not like that at all. The truth was out.
What she somehow remembered with perfect clarity was how she had gently placed her hand on the side of his fine face"such a small and simple thing that she had dreamed about for years"and given it a rough pat as she said goodnight.
Back in her room now, she suddenly felt the urge to hug her toilet very indecently. In her moments of consciousness, she worried how her accomplice was faring. What if she had negligently killed her new best friend by pouring him one too many drinks or not watching over him? How would she live with herself? How would she break it to the boss in the morning? She would do something about it now--go and check on the situation--if only she could stand.
Somewhere around midnight she was finally able to unwrap her arms and legs from around the toilet bowl and base, remove her chin from the rim and her hair from the water and get up to shower the vomit from her hair. She then called her husband to check in, as promised, unfortunately waking him, regaled him with the very short version of the evening, voiced her current concern for her friend, and then went to sleep.
When morning came, she certainly did not feel her best but she still arose with a smile. She felt that, in spite of some of the truths that had been revealed, they had both behaved admirably (overindulgence aside) and it felt wonderful to finally know where things stood between them.
Still worried, she felt the need to check on him before she left for work. Still slightly drunk, he beamed down at her from his doorway, probably appreciative but a little bewildered by her concern. For some reason, they were standing closer than they normally would and it was an awkward, expectant moment. It seemed that this morning required some additional words or actions but, not knowing what, she had to simply say that she would see him at the office.
Now came the real test. Would the declarations of the previous night hold up in the daylight? Would they be able to face the truths that had been spoken or would it be a day of awkward silence and embarrassment?
When they arrived at work, their boss immediately sent them out on errands together, possibly trying to hide them until they were completely sober.
They kept up a pleasant banter between them the same as always. There was no strangeness or difficulty in facing each other.
Then, suddenly, he began to speak of western states that he had not been to and began to muse that maybe he should go there to find work, to explore, to get away.
As a friend, what could she say to this? She supposed that all she needed to say was that she would hate to see him go, but that he had to do whatever he felt he needed to, but her sudden rising anger and disappointment would make it hard to say just that and have it come out the way it should. She felt like a young child who had just had a new toy taken away. The thing most likely to have come out of her mouth at that moment would have been, "shut up", and now was not the time for them to begin bickering like an old couple because that was definitely not what they were. And so, she said nothing.
Certainly her feelings must have shown on her face as always, but she didn't know if he noticed or not because she couldn't look at him. The best she could do to remedy her current silence was to tell him, at the end of the next day, that she hoped to see him again next year.
Maybe this fantasy of getting away was yet another form of the truth coming out. It might be foolishness or wishful thinking for her to presume, but just what was he trying to get away from all of a sudden, anyway?, she had to wonder. She usually would have pushed such a thought away"dismissed it as a product of her overactive imagination"but this morning she knew better.
A few minutes later found them discussing a couple they knew of who seemed to possess opposite personalities. He touted the conventional wisdom that couples were "always" made up of opposites.
She had to counter that, "maybe those ones just stand out more", but to herself, she thought, "Right. I get it. Never like us."
Aside from these conversational incidents, all was normal. They were a team and it seemed that today they were more united than ever by new shared experience, warm feelings, and, of course, hangover, because misery does love company, as the saying goes.
Working together, they were like one finely tuned machine, as always. There was just no better way to describe it.
It often seemed that they thought as one. Very little discussion was needed on how to divide tasks. It was mostly an intuitive decision of when it would be most efficient for each to take the tasks they were strongest at or when it would be better to switch off or for one to teach the other. There was no resentment in taking up where the other left off.
At times, they even found themselves speaking for each other. The words "us" and "we" would roll out as though it should be well understood by all that they were a team or even a unit.
(Funny how working with her husband was always more like a game of tug-of-war, with a lot of yelling and childishness and each wanting to be the winner or boss.)
And so, the last two days went by, with the two of them working contentedly, side by side, she completely helpless to do anything about the smile that would not leave her face.
On the second day, with leave to burn and eager to be done, they continually questioned each other throughout the day as to when each planned to leave, he finally making it very clear: "I'm not hanging around if you're not." She had good reason to want to leave at the same time he did, also.
This was yet another story that she would not tell her husband: how at the end of that last day, she had pulled her car near his truck in the parking lot and waited for him. He had already shook her hand and told her goodbye just as they had said goodbye to their boss. Here she had added her lame, "I hope to see you next year", but she knew there were more things she should tell him than she wanted to say with the boss present, and so, now she waited.
He looked a little surprised and confused when he spotted her. As she stepped from her car, he asked if anything was wrong.
"No," she smiled but nearly choked, "nothing wrong."
"Can I get a hug?"
This was a shock. Everybody got a goodbye handshake from him but nobody got a hug"except for her. The drunken truth had carried over into the daylight. It was a little quick and awkward because she was so surprised. She never would have thought that he would've risked anyone seeing this.
Now she launched her speech: "I just wanted to tell you again that you're a helluva good friend. Thanks for listening, thanks for helping me out, thanks for everything""
Of course, he already knew these things, but she knew that if she could say them again now in the cold, sober daylight, they would mean even more. She nearly had a tear in her eye and it seemed that he did, too. She was never this effusive and she hardly ever cried, but it seemed right and necessary.
He responded with similar sentiments, adding, "You're good company."
It may have sounded lame to someone listening in, but it was actually perfect. Many times she had worried that she was bothering him. On some occasions when they had worked together, he had commented that it was a bad day or that it had been a long day, and she had said, "Maybe it's the company", or, "I hope it's not because of the company." Now she had her answer at last.
He was right. The end was definitely bittersweet, just as he had predicted earlier in the day. Those tears were still threatening.
But she wasn't one to cry, and so the drive home was filled with screaming sobs that that came out silently and tears that pressed behind her eyes but never actually surfaced.
Nothing to do now but throw herself into home life and calmly wait to see what the next year would bring.