“Come on, man” said Raiden. “You always used to accept a drinking challenge.” They were sitting at the bar of the Brass Tap. Muchacho was wearing brown slacks and a button-down shirt. Raiden was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops.

“Nah, man,” said Muchacho. I’ve got to get up early tomorrow. “Taking my kid to the park.” 

“Unbelievable,” said Raiden. “I thought we were both getting wasted and finding a karaoke machine somewhere. Why do you think I wore my party shirt?” 

“Nah, man,” said Muchacho. “Can’t really do things like that anymore. Gotta keep my head on straight now that I’ve got a kid.” 

“You’re kidding me,” said Raiden. “I was so excited when you called.” He took a long swig of the cold Guinness beer in front of him. “What’s that like, anyway? Having a kid and all?”

Muchacho took a sip of his diet coke and scratched his heavy black beard. “It’s the hardest but, at the same time, most wonderful thing I’ve ever been a part of.” 


“I mean it’s hard to explain. It’s…” he frowned, collecting his thoughts.

Raiden was eyeing a basketball game showing on a screen over the bar. “Damn! Learn to play some defense!” he said. “How about some vodka shots, my man?” said Raiden. 

“No thanks,” said Muchacho. “My boy wakes me up at six every morning. I’m not looking for any hangovers.” 

“Man are you a stick in the mud?” said Raiden. “Not even one shot? We used to do, like, five every night.” 

“That was a long time ago, man.” 

“A long time ago? That was just a couple years ago! What’s so suddenly different?” 

“Have you listened to anything I’ve said? I have a kid.” 

“Calm down. Calm down,” said Raiden. “I was just kidding! I know you’ve got a kid and have to be responsible. I was just playin’. Oh! Hey look! It’s Marve! Yo, Marve!” 

A tall man in a flannel shirt and a beanie came over to the two men. “Hey, Raiden. What up my man and … No way! It’s Muchacho! Where have you been, my brotha?” 

Muchacho stood up from his bar seat, took Marve’s hand and gave him a hug. “Just doing the whole parent thing. Got a kid now.” 

“No way!” said Marve. “Mad-Man-Muchacho has a kid! On purpose?” 

“Man, don’t do that to me. Of course on purpose. I’m married to Lacey now.” 

“You and Lacey? Get outta here. Now how come Raiden and I weren’t invited to the wedding?” 

“No wedding,” said Muchacho. “We just went to the courthouse.”  

“Cause you knocked her up?” said Marve.

“Man, don’t do that to me,” said Muchacho. “Nah, we were just trying to keep it personal. That’s all.” 

“I know. I know,” said Marve. “I’m just giving you a hard time. Good to see you both, but I gotta poker game that I’m supposed to be at. So, peace.” 

After Marve left Muchacho and Raiden alone, there was a silence pulling at an unspoken question like a strong magnet to iron. 

“I gotta tell you,” said Raiden. “I was pretty hurt that you didn’t invite me to the wedding.”

“Come on, man,” said Muchacho. “We just made it legal in the courthouse. There was no wedding.” 

“I know, man. But you know what I mean. You didn’t even tell me. I found out from Casandra. She said you guys got hitched and were too good to hang out with us now.”

“I’m not too good for anything,” said Muchacho. “Don’t do that to me. You know me. I don’t judge anyone.” 

“I wasn’t saying I was being judged.” 

The two men took sips of their drinks. 

“Fuck it,” said Raiden. “Let’s get some shots up in here. You too. And I’m not talking no for an answer. It will be just like old times.” Raiden signaled for the bartender to come over. 

“No, man. No, man,” said Muchacho. “Listen. I don’t even drink any more. I’ve been sober for two years.” 

“Don’t drink? Come on.” Raiden spoke to the bartender. “Mel, get us two shots of your best vodka. And pour one for yourself. Haven’t seen Muchacho in years. We gotta celebrate.”

“Mel,” said Muchacho. “Don’t pour anything for me. I told you, Raiden. I’m sober now. I don’t drink any more. I do AA meetings. The whole thing. I cleaned up.” 

“Cleaned up? What’s that supposed to mean? You think I’m dirty? Why’d you even ask to grab a drink with me? Do you know how it felt after you started blowing me off? Stopped returning my calls? How do you think that felt? You think it felt good?”

Mel the bartender walked away.

“It wasn’t personal, man,” said Muchacho. “Please. Calm down.”

“I’m calm. I’m calm. Calmest person here. I’m just asking you a question. Why did you throw me to the curb?” 

“I didn’t throw you…”

“Didn’t… Then how come I haven’t seen or heard from you in two years?” 

“I told you,” said Muchacho. “I’ve got a kid. It’s a lot of work.” 

“Kid? How come I’ve never met this kid? I thought I was your best friend!” Raiden stood up.

“Easy man! Easy,” said Muchacho. “Sit back down. Don’t make a scene.” 

“I’ll sit back down when I get a straight answer.” said Raiden. 

“I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you.” 

“The truth. That’s what I want.” Raiden sat back down.

“Okay. The truth.” 

They took more sips of their drinks.

“You never listened to me,” said Muchacho. 

“What?” Raiden took another swig of his beer.

“Whenever I had a real problem. You would change the subject. Say your ADD was acting up.” 

“That’s not fair,” said Raiden. “I do have ADD.” 

“I know you do,” said Muchacho. “But it’s different. My wife has ADD. Sometimes she gets distracted. But she still listens.” 

“What’re you saying? You know how many conversations we had sitting right here? Right in the very seats we’re sitting in?”

“Those weren’t real conversations,” said Muchacho. “They were about sports. The news. Not real stuff. Whenever I tried to bring up something real, you started to get more interested in whatever game… You’re doing it right now!”

Raiden turned back away from the basketball game on the screen. “Give me a break! It’s the fourth quarter!”

“That’s my point! I need friends who think I’m more important than the fourth quarter of a basketball game!”

“I don’t believe this,” said Raiden. “Mel, get me a shot, will ya?” 

“There!” said Muchacho. “That’s it! Whenever things get real, you grab for alcohol.”

“Oh fuck off,” said Raiden. “Just because you’re sober it doesn’t make everyone else an alcoholic.” 

“Whatever man,” said Muchacho. “I came here to forgive you. You know that?”

“Forgive me?” said Raiden. “What the hell did I ever do? You blew me off for two years!”

“You enabled me,” said Muchacho. 

“Enabled you? Is that some of your AA BS?” 

“For all those years we were friends, I was in the worst place I’d ever been. Alcohol was all I had. And all you did was let me drink my problems away.”

“Allow you?” said Raiden. “I don’t control you. You make your own decisions. I didn’t allow you to do anything.” 

“I know. But that’s not what I mean,” said Muchacho. “You never stopped me. You knew I was miserable and never stopped me!” 

“What is all this BS? I never controlled anything that you did. If you have problems with alcohol, that’s your own business. You can’t blame me for your own actions.” 

“Stop. Stop. This is not what I meant to do. I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to blame you… I just…” He stood up from his bar stool and put his hands on his stomach and started taking deep breaths.

“What the hell are you doing?” 

“I’m getting anxious. This helps me calm down. I used to grab a drink. Now I try to focus on breathing.”

Raiden ran a hand through his long, scraggly hair and turned his attention back to the basketball game. Muchacho sat back down. 

“Listen to me for a second will ya?” 

Raiden signed. “I’m all ears.” 

“I wanted to meet you here, sit in our old barstools and try to connect with you without having a drink. I did it as a test, for me.” 

“What? So you called me for some AA exercise?” 

“Yes. But I also called you because I wanted to reconnect. I wanted to see if there was more to our friendship than just being drinking buddies.” 

“I can’t believe he missed that one!” said Raiden to the basketball game.

Muchacho sighed. “I gotta head out.” 

“Already? But you just got here!” 

“Got dinner with my in-laws tonight. Thanks for catching up with me. I’ll see you around, Raiden.” 

“Come on, man! It’s going into overtime. Can’t you just wait a second.”

“Sorry, man. I’m going to be late if I don’t leave now. Take care of yourself.” 

The two men stood up and shook hands. Muchacho left the Brass Tap for the final time. Raiden took a shot of vodka and yelled at the television. 

June 13, 2023 14:55

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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