So, when Toby and I finally get to the U District, it’s totally pouring again; the proverbial Wrath-of-God torrent that makes looking for a parking space absolutely ridiculous and soon instigates prayers of desperation from the driver, then from its occupants, to whatever god or goddess you can imagine. Bear in mind, of course, that these prayers soon turn to vehement curses as we continue to circle and circle an ever widening circumference, making the radius run to our eventual destination ever longer and more daunting. Finally, there’s an opening…a full four blocks from the restaurant, but Toby’s mind is set on his destination…and he squeezes the car into what probably isn’t actually a legal parking spot after all. Too close to the hydrant, I’m sure…like that ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now either. Besides…who’s going to need a hydrant anytime soon with the sky opened up raining cats and dogs like it is now?

Flowers Restaurant & Bar, U-dist, Seattle A mad dash to the closest awning and then a brisk pace for a few blocks and we’re there. Outta the rain and into Flowers we go. Shaking our jackets out near the door, we spy a couple seats at the bar and head over.

“Two shots of Jager and two Fat Tires,” Toby orders for the both of us. His money let him pick the beer, I guess. “…and a couple menus, too.”

We order a couple burgers to go with our beers and hand back the menus, down the Jager and settle in to wait for our dinner. Toby keeps glancing around the room like he’s rather be somewhere else, but I know him. He’s looking for this girl he mentioned before, but trying not to look like he’s looking for her. How pathetic. You’d think someone like him…someone that always seems to get the girl, whatever girl, at least for as long as he wants her…would have a more nonchalant attitude, or at least act more chill about it. But no, not Toby. Every new conquest is like it’s the only one for him. Maybe that’s his way of keeping it new, keeping it real…well, as real as he can be anyway…shit, maybe that’s why they fall for it, for him. What a fa-la-la land fairytale.

“So, where’s this chick you claimed works here?” I can’t help myself, I have to ask. Just open the can of worms and spread them around on toast like sardines and Vegemite before I smear it in his face. “I thought that’s why we came all the way over here in this fucking storm…so you could mess with her and whatever.” Set it up. I know she’s not here, she can’t be. We haven’t seen anybody but the bartender and some other dude wiping tables.

“Oh, she’s here.” A flit of anxiety undetectable to anyone else but me sparks in Toby’s eyes. Gawd, he’s ridiculous. I think he really believes his own shit sometimes. “I was here the other day at this same time…” He trails off, looking around a little more obviously. Watch it, Toby. It’s starting to show.

I take a big gulp of beer. “That doesn’t mean shit and you know it,” I say, setting down my glass. “You know, they could rotate their shifts or something…or she could just not work today at all.” I don’t know why I’m enjoying this so much. Oh yeah, right. I remember…I’m Mr. Side-kick to Mr. Cool. And Mr. Cool is looking like he feels less cool by the minute as it starts to dawn on him that maybe the world doesn’t revolve around him and it’s not a sure thing that he can just waltz in and get everything he wants in a to-go bag. “We shoulda just gone to the Triangle or Costas…a lot closer, no traffic. Shit, Taco del Mar and a six-pack would have been okay by me.”

He pulls out the Bali Shag and starts to roll a cigarette. I grab the bag from him and do the same. The rain is a just tad lighter, and we have a bit of a wait for the food, so might as well go outside for a smoke. Stupid smoking ban…no smoking in bars or restaurants, and not within 25 feet of the door or open windows…in Seattle, no less. Like you can keep a cigarette dry enough to smoke when you’re outside any time between October and April! We signal the bartender that we’re going outside for a smoke and will be right back.

Now, Flowers does not have an awning, and after a few minutes leaning against the window, trying to stay at least a little dry, we realize that the rain is not as light as we thought it was. We are going to have to go across the street and smoke under the awning at the Haagen-Dazs store. Of course, I don’t think there is 25 feet worth of awning between us and the door to the shop, but has this ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now. We talk bullshit about nothing for a few minutes while we smoke, about nothing in particular. We’re guys, you know? Fuck, whatever. It’s more fun rubbing the worm sandwich in his face when he thinks there might be someone to overhear or notice. No one’s gonna notice anything about two guys smoking under an awning…and definitely not anything Toby would care about. Inside is a different thing. This girl works there; there are people working there right now that know her. The potential for unintended eavesdropping and knowledge of the parties talked about, by those doing the eavesdropping, is high. Much more fun for me.

Inside again, the burgers are waiting for us and the bartender is getting the ketchup and mustard.

“Another shot?” He asks.

“Yeah, sure.” I answer for us both. When he comes back with the Jager, I take the plunge. “Hey, um…is what’s-her-name working? You know, um…” I look at Toby, Mr. So-Good-With-Names. “What’s her name, Toby? That girl…you know…red-head…?” Ooo…the daggers are about to come out! I better watch it if I expect him to actually pay the tab like he said.

“Blonde.” He says tersely. “Tall, blonde…red star tattoo on her wrist…” I can’t believe it. He must really want to meet this chick. He’s all of a sudden cool as a cuke, Mr. Nonchalant…but I can see those daggers just below the surface of those calm pools that are his eyes. “She was here on Friday…”

“Oh, I know who you mean,” says the bartender, knowing smirk on his face. “Aliah. Yeah…she works later on the weekends, but weekdays she’s usually gone by five. You actually just missed her.” I look over at Toby to catch the wall crumbling. Just missed her, he said. This was too much. Better than I’d hoped. “She stuck around for a bit to meet some girl…never saw her before….and then they took off. Not fifteen minutes before you got here…” He goes on but I’m not listening to him; I’m watching Toby with a mixture of utter delight at how-the-mighty-have-fallen and a weird feeling of…was it remorse? Sympathy? No way…yeah, I guess it was something like that. Even the daggers weren’t really very sharp any more. Toby was just eating his burger like it tasted of cardboard and ketchup, half listening himself to the bartender ramble about what was sure to be more information and speculation than he should be handing out like candy on Halloween.

We hang out a bit and finish our dinner, another shot of Jaeger, another beer. The rain lets up and it’s soon only the swish-swish sound of cars driving by on wet roads, the lights reflected in warble-y lines and splashes of brightness in puddles that confirms that it has been previously pouring cats and dogs. Rolling a cigarette for the walk back to the car, Toby in the bathroom, I ask the bartender again what he knows about this Aliah-chick. I mean, Toby is my friend…I guess I still feel back for outing his hand like that to another dude.

“So, Aliah, huh?” I start, “You said she was meeting some girl after work?” He nods. “But, I mean, she likes guys, right? She wasn’t meeting the girl like that, right?” I mean we gotta know, you know? No use working on it if she’s into chicks, right?

“Oh no, she’s not into girls like that. She was just some friend, I suppose, though I’ve never seen her before. Pink short hair, wearing a grey hoody…looked a little anxious, if you ask me…” More words coming out his mouth, but again I wasn’t hearing him. Did he say pink hair? I couldn’t be…of course not. How many chicks running around the U District…hell, Seattle…with short pink hair? Lots. Tons. Could’ve been one of any number of college brats, Ave Rats or …? It just couldn’t be…

Toby’s back from the john, just in time. “Come on.” I say to him, interrupting the bartender. “Come on…I gotta get outta here. I need a smoke…”

I’m out the door before he can even reply. I dig frantically in my pockets for a light…matches…anything. Finally I nab a passerby and light my rolled cigarette. Deep drag….aaahhhhh. I let it out slowly. That’s better. There’s just no way, I tell myself. That would be just too weird. This girl, Aliah, can’t be friends with that weird girl downtown…no fuckin’ way. I don’t even know why it bothers me…no idea at all. It’s just that…I dunno. I take another drag and Toby’s on the sidewalk with me.

“Dude, what is your problem?” He shakes his head. “First calling my shit like that with the bartender, now panic-boy bolting out the door before I can even pay the check? You need to chill out. Come on, let’s blow this taco-stand. I say we park the car back at my place and get some real drinks.” He lights his cigarette and blows the smoke straight at me. “That’s for what happened back there.”

© 2008 D. Kessler