The three friends walked in from the snowstorm. They took their usual booth — directly opposite from the TV, close to the bathrooms, within shouting distance of the bartender. There was only one other person in the bar asides from the woman running the empty room. His jacket was tossed over the stool beside him. A notebook was open in front of him. His half-drunk beer sweated in the warmth. He looked familiar.
“What can I get you?” the woman in tight jeans and t-shirt asked after she had wandered over to them.
“Two Angry Orchards and a Mike’s,” Harry said. The woman walked back to the bar. She said something to The Man, whose back was still to the group. They could hear her laugh over the din of the television.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” pondered Jamie.
“Sex,” Harry said bluntly.
“Not everything’s about sex,” noted Deana.
Before Harry could reply, she was back with their drinks.
“Okay, that’ll be fifty-four dollars,” she said. “Cash only.”
The three friends looked between them incredulously. “Excuse me,” said Deana slowly, “But what’s fifty-four dollars?”
“Your tab here.”
“We don’t have a tab.” The two boys shook their heads to concur.
“That’s not what the gentleman over there says.” The bartender motioned over her shoulder to The Man at the end of the bar. He had yet to turn around. “He said something about a debt one of you owed him…” She pointed to Harry. “I think it was you.”
Harry frowned. “I’m sorry, he must be mistaken. I don’t — “
“Scarborough High School, class of 2010?” Harry nodded slowly. “Something about a book you damaged?” Harry’s face began to grow a plum color. “Just drop the cash off at the bar once you have it.” She walked away.
“That can’t be him,” grumbled Deana. “Last I heard he was off in London. Studying abroad for his masters.”
“How the eff do you know that?” Harry whispered, glancing between his friends and The Man.
“It’s called social media.”
Jamie watched in confusion as Harry cracked his knuckles furtively. “How did he know where we’d be?”
“Social media goes both ways,” Jamie pointed out. Harry grabbed his Mike’s and drank angrily, nearly chipping his tooth on the glass rim.
“Why didn’t you just pay him back then?” asked Deana. “This could have been over with.”
“Because…” Harry waved his bottle around, trying to conduct his mind to a conclusive aria. Instead the thought faded into an anticlimactic decrescendo. Thick flakes kept spiraling down against the window.
“What happened?” Jamie grabbed his drink and sipped it. “You two seem to know who this guy is, so what’s the deal with this book?”
Deana leaned back in the booth. “I’m not going to explain it to him.”
Harry rolled his bottle between his hands. “Back when we were in high school, Deana and I knew this guy. He was kind of a nerd, always reading and talking about TV shows he was watching.”
“Only Harry wanted to be like him.”
“I didn’t want — who wants to be a nerd, Deana? You?” She sipped her drink. “We had, like, five classes together each day, so of course we’d hang out. He kept on about these books he was reading, so one day I asked him to borrow one.”
“Biggest mistake you ever made, wasn’t it?”
“I thought you didn’t want to tell this story?” snarled Harry.
“Hey, easy.” Jamie moved his arm in front of his girlfriend. “So he loaned you some books and you, what? Tore the pages out?”
“No.” Harry set his bottle down and massaged his neck. He could feel a headache coming on. “I just kept it in my bag too long. Textbooks were going in and out all the time. It got wet at one point too. Eventually when I went to start it — “
“You didn’t read it?”
“It was senior year. I was busy with college applications and throwing parties.” Jamie waved his hands for Harry to continue. “When I went to start it, it was…”
“Effed up,” concluded Deana.
“I gave it back to him and apologized…” started Harry.
“But also promised to get him a new copy of the book,” whisper-screamed Deana. “Which he never did.”
“Why didn’t you?” asked Jamie.
“I tried. I looked — “
“Once, Harry. You looked once. For five minutes,” spat Deana.
“I looked more times than that.”
“Not many more.”
“It was senior year. We were all more concerned with spending time together than doing stuff we didn’t want to.”
“I thought he was your friend?”
“We weren’t…I…” Harry took a deep breath. “You ever see someone all the time and just naturally start to be friendly? That was us. It doesn’t mean you’re best buds. Just that you’re not a dick.”
“But you were a dick,” Jamie pointed out. “So let’s just pay him and move on.”
“Don’t bring me into this.” Deana forcefully placed her bottle down on the table. “If anyone’s paying this thirty dollars, it’s gonna be Harry.”
“I only have my card.”
“There’s an ATM by the men’s room,” Jamie noted.
Harry looked past his friends and saw the grey machine pushed against one wall. Its blue screen cut against the sepia hallway.
“I’m not paying. He can eat it.”
Harry stood up and walked over to the bar. The bartender was watching the television intently. The Man drank his beer. “Hey,” Harry shouted to her. She turned as he pulled out several crumpled bills. “Here’s the twenty-four for the drinks. I’m not paying him though.”
The bartender smiled. “He figured. Told me to give you this.” She placed a folded piece of paper in front of Harry. The Man was gone.
“He seemed pretty pissed at you,” she said. “I would be too.” Harry opened the crumpled notebook page. It read:
See you next time.