The band was off. They'd just finished a set, some punk song with a harsh bassline and a vocalist who sounded more than a little stoned. Three guys; a drummer, a guitarist, and the aforementioned singer. All some grungy 20-somethings wearing dark denim and colourful jacket pins. They were going to come back on 'soon', something to do with a pulled muscle or a disagreement of some kind. Abbot wasn't really paying attention admittedly, the low hum of conversation that followed the performance was more of an interest to him. The smell of wood and sweat seemed to filter through without the distraction, and as soon as the crew got offstage, the penny dropped, a cacophony of Friday night chatter following suit.
She’ll Be Fine. Hedgebury’s premier live music bar, or so they said on the website. It was a nice place, sandwiched into a little crevice between two buildings on Roadbed Avenue - distinct by the use of a giant green neon sign stuck on the roof. It had good reviews, usually good music, and cheap drinks. Abbot was honestly surprised Rahim hadn’t taken them there sooner. He smirked, focusing more on the man seated next to him rather than the Puerto Rican couple having a dispute by the bar.
“F*ck work, man,” Rahim grinned. “F*ck work. I mean, f*ck. Just... f*ck. I get so tired of these, uh, these f*ckin’... these guys, sometimes.” The alcohol was talking, vodka mixed with frozen grapefruit and cimarrón. Too exotic for Abbot’s tastes, hence why he was stuck with a cheap glass of ‘whatever’s on the counter’ - the bartender picking out a yellow bottle of Cerveza Barracho and pouring it into a nondescript glass. Par for the course, he hadn’t even touched it.
“Okay, dude, cool it.” Abbot said. “Don’t want you getting, uh, worked up. Or, y’know.”
“Sorry, sorry.” Rahim feigned a smile before downing the rest of his glass. “It doesn't really, like, suck or anything… but just, man. This stuff really clears your head - yeah?” He laughed. “What’s it called again?”
“A pink baby.”
“Really? Huh.” His lips curled as he started to fiddle with the glass. “Good name.”
Rahim was young faced, stood out usually. Big grin, olive skin and attractive features. Moroccan descent, Steinway bred. He sat there, red Rearwall puffer jacket thrown over the seat, revealing a white Sand Castle shirt. Abbot himself sat next to him, wearing a tasteful gray long-sleeve and a pair of dark skinny jeans; the nicest clothes in his wardrobe. Rahim drunkenly smirked.
“You know, I’m glad we came here tonight. Good band on.”
“Eh,” Abbot grunted. “Not my thing.”
“Man, you listen to JNR. Like, Mingus sh*t.” Rahim retorted. “So automatic, uh… discarding. That.”
Abbot rolled his eyes.
“But that’s not the point, man,” Rahim continued. “I love t- uh… the energy here. I live for this stuff, this bar sh*t. You, like, you go in and out and… man.” He grinned. “I just love it. This is my sh*t.”
Whatever Rahim had said wasn’t exactly coherent, Abbot thought. He simply nodded in approval, getting a good reaction out of Rahim. “Y-... yeah.”
“Hey, where’s Bheru?” Rahim queried. “And wait, where’s Lawrence? Wasn't he coming?”
“I told you about Lawrence. He’s moving furniture.”
“What?” Truth be told, even after the music had ended, the chatter of the bar’s patrons still seemed to overpower conversation at some points.
“His mom’s moving. Like, houses. Apartments.” Abbot was sort of half-yelling at this point, talking over the crowd that seemed to be getting louder. “And, uh… Bheru's still in the bathroom.”
“I wanted to talk to him again... Lawrence, I mean. He seems cool and… yeah. He’s cool.”
“H- huh,” Abbot meekly muttered in response.
“But, no. If he’s helping his mom or whatever, that's fine. Like, I get it.” He slightly laughed, frowning before moving back into a slump.
Nobody said anything afterwards. Well, not nobody. The patrons still stirred, kept talking. The band was still off and the crowd was not happy. People kept going to the bar and complaining, the murmur of dissatisfaction getting louder by the minute. Abbot shrugged and looked back at Rahim, looked at him messing with his napkin and sighed.
“What?” asked Rahim.
“Why do you always, uh,” Abbot started. “Play with your… whatever, your napkins and sh*t.”
“Why are you always, uh... stopping?” Rahim responded. “Like, constantly. You, uh, you say something and you don’t continue.
You don’t say anything. You just stop.”
“I, er, wouldn’t say that.”
“No, no. Yeah. It’s an awkward silence. That’s what it is. You love them, huh? That’s why you start a conversation… and then just,” he pushed his hand out. “Stop.”
“You don’t have to be a dick about it,” Abbot sniffed. “Always, always. When you’re drunk you alw-”
“Drunk? Oh, ho ho! I was just f*cking around, man - but of course it gets personal with you.” He scowled. “Drunk. I’m not f*cking drunk.”
“You’re not? Christ, you f*cking shmendrik. Listen to yourse-”
“What the f*ck is a shmendrik? What's with the f*cking snake tongue bullsh*t?”
“Snake tongue? Really? Is this what we’ve co-”
“Hey, uh… what’s going on?” Bheru asked, interrupting both.
He’d come back, oblivious. Thin, scraggy, with neatly combed hair and a clean shaven face. Bheru, even when he wasn’t at a desk, seemed to be always working - whether it was because he tried to dress 'sharp' (a mixture of dress shirts and fitted, stonewashed jeans) or always seemed like he needed another coffee.
“Nothing, Bheru.” Rahim pushed his hand through his hair, buzzed. “Abbot just can’t take a joke.”
“Nice," Abbot scoffed.
“Great. Great. Glad to see you guys are super f*cking peachy, as per usual.”
Bheru sat down opposite, in front of both his friends and his Coco Ortiz - rum, ginger, lemongrass and coconut. Half full. The obliviousness had melted, and mild annoyance remained.
“Oh, come on, dude,” Rahim said. “It's just banter.”
“Banter? What the f*ck is banter?” Bheru pushed his glass slightly forward, agitated. “Like, you guys have been… you've been on each other's asses since the rent thing. Do you people just thrive on tension? That feeling, like, when the air is tight and you wanna claw each other’s throats out?”
“Can we please not ta-” Abbot began.
Bheru swiftly cut him off. “No, Abbot, no. You both need to just… f*cking chill. It's constant. You both mutter something to each other or talk sh*t. It's getting boring. Just f*cking kiss already, jeez.”
“Oh, funny guy.” Abbot snarked.
“Just… f*ck.” Bheru sighed. “I’m j- I’m just sick of it. Really. Can we have a discussion, one f*cking discussion without you two trading insults?”
“Alright.” Rahim looked at Bheru for a moment and then back at the table. “Fine. Fine! Let’s have a normal discussion. So uh…”
Nothing for a few seconds. No thoughts. Bheru looked unimpressed from across the table as the two fumbled for a conversation starter. There was still tension, it hadn't quite faded, but Bheru’s presence seemed to burn away any current grievances and slow the mood.
“Uh… work?” Abbot began.
“Well, I can’t say much.” Rahim sighed. “Confidentiality… uh…”
“Privileged communication, right?” Bheru guessed.
“Yeah, yeah, sure.” Rahim snorted, quickly. “Uh… how about you, B? What have you been, uh, up to?”
“Yeah. What’ve you been doing at work? Any, uh… updates?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly what you mean, but, uh, yeah. Yeah. We recently had to update some UI stuff.” He took a sip from his glass. “There was a general interface bug that needed to be, er, ironed out - functional issues. Someone messed with the coding and broke one of the main contact links, so we had to go through th-”
“Okay, sweet,” Rahim said, abruptly.
“All you need to do, is like, speak English.”
“Speak English? Speak English? Are you f*cking kidding me? Like, did you even do, like, 10th grade Computer Science, or- or did you jigg it to roll joints at Kamerios Square? This is simple sh*t. Like you'd know, f*cking... rubbing rocks together or whatever.”
“Hilarious,” Rahim grunted. "It's spiritual. You connect with the f*cking soul. It's still therapy."
“Sure," Bheru scoffed. "How about you, Abbot? What have you been up to? Make sure to dumb it down for Wittgenstein over here.”
“Wow, Bheru.” Abbot sighed. “Way to have a normal conversation.”
“Look - guys.” Rahim perked his head up. “Like, sorry. Sorry for putting you all in, like, a bad mood. Can we please chill? Please? I’m… I’m just glad we’re all here, okay? Can we have a nice night, a good time out? I wanna enjoy Friday before I… whatever. Before the hangover. Alright?”
“Look,” Abbot began. “I th-”
Ring ring. The sound of muffled jazz, the opening riff from Slippin’ & Slidin’ by Yusef Lateef, filtered through Abbot’s left jean pocket and sent conversation to a grinding halt. Abbot pulled it out, Duplex make, no case - one word appearing over a picture of a brightly lit Tokyo alley. The other two looked on, interrupted.
“Uh, sorry,” Abbot pardoned, reading the contact’s name. “It’s dad.”
“It’s fine,” Rahim murmured. “I get it. You, uh… you get to it.” Bheru nodded in agreement.
Abbot got up, walking to a more quiet end of the room, away from the crowded tables and chatty guests. Bheru and Rahim looked over at him walking away for a moment, before turning back to each other and attempting to jump start the conversation again. Meanwhile, Abbot tended to the call.
On the other side of the receiver was a dazed, confused voice. Elderly, slightly accented, strained. “He’s home,” he said.
“Huh?” Abbot perked up. “Dad?”
“What?” he responded. He sounded choked up, like his head was spinning and he couldn’t think. His words came out muddied, mumbled, on the verge of tears.
“Are… are you okay?”
“No. Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I…”
“W- who’s home?” Abbot meekly asked.
There was silence over the line for a few seconds. “... come to the carpet store.”
“What? Why? Is ever-”
“Take your time,” He laughed, weakly. "Take your time."
“Dad? ...Dad, hello?”
In return, silence. Dead air. And then, a repetitive, low beep. The caller has disconnected. Abbot slowly slid the phone back in his pocket before spinning around and heading to his seat.
Meanwhile, the band was back. All three of them seeming down, annoyed. “Uh, hey everyone,” the vocalist said. The crowd responded with clear enthusiasm, hollering and the occasionally shout of 'finally'.
“Uh… sorry to keep you waiting,” the vocalist continued. “Er, we had a little… a little disagreement. But it’s nothing.” The bassist half glared before switching his gaze back to his instrument. Abbot stopped paying attention at that point, returning to his seat - his two friends seemingly happier than when he’d left.
“Hey, man,” Bheru said. “They're finally back.”
"Huh?" Abbot asked.
"The, uh, the band," Bheru replied.
“Hey, you don’t look too good.” Rahim glanced over at Abbot, brow raised. He was right, Abbot didn’t look so good. Mouth slightly open, his brow furrowed. “Something up?” he asked.
“Yeah… dad called.” Abbot scratched at his head before sighing. “I need to go.”
“What?” Rahim straightened himself out, focused. “Why?”
“He sounded… f*ck. He was really just, uh…”
“Vague. Unspecific. He sounded choked up, and… I’m just confused. He doesn’t sound in trouble or anything but I need to chec-”
“No, no,” Bheru said. “It’s fine.” Rahim nodded.
The group exchanged goodbyes, Abbot giving his share of the tip before walking out of the bar, Rahim and Bheru staring and murmuring. As Abbot pushed open the door, the band began to play a new song. A cover, he thought. Not that Abbot could hear much of it, he was already a block away a minute into it.
The heat seemed to beat down through the clouds, the sky black and starless, illuminated by nearby buildings and the tips of skyscrapers across the Humboldt River. The occasional pedestrian or several walked by, the street filled with parked mid-range cars and more of the same driving up and down Roadbend. Abbot, UnderPass in one hand and phone in the other, hastened his walk towards the train station, panic beginning to settle in.
Chapter 3: Princeton Offense