Roger sat on the stool, 3rd from the end of the far side of the bar. He draped his jacket over the back of the chair to his left and dropped his hat into its seat. He dug through his threadbare backpack for a moment and than hooked it over the shoulder of his chair after zipping it up. The battered paper back flopped onto the counter in front of him and ran a hand over the ripped and taped over cover while staring at the rows of liquor across from him, their images doubled by the wall length mirror that ran behind the bar.
He caught sight of his own reflection and sighed, then flipped through the paper back to find the one dollar bill he had been using as a book mark for the last 2 years. It was as taped and torn as the book itself and Roger wondered why he never got rid of it. His train of thought was interrupted when the New Girl dropped a coaster in front of him and placed a plastic cup full of ice and water in front of him.
-Hey Rog. Let me know when you’re ready, sweetie.
She walked away and Roger stared after her. He didn’t know her name, but he knew he hated her. He hated to be called “Rog” and how she always called him “Sweetie”, as if they had some deep kinship that allowed such familiarity. They were strangers. He knew and accepted this, why couldn’t she?
'The pet names aren't going to help your tip,' Roger thought. 'I'm not that pathetic.' He sighed again. Of course he was.
Roger glanced out the window. Still raining. His attention meandered back to the bar, over the taps. Coors was dripping, but who would drink that piss anyway? As his gaze returned to the open book in his right hand, he absentmindedly brushed his fingers over the familiar graffiti etched into the counter with his left. He tried to imagine if he could still read it if he was blind, feeling out the grooves of the letters with his index fingernail: F-U-C-K. 'I'm no Holden Caulfield,' Roger thought. 'It's not like any kids are going to see graffiti written on a bar anyway. But, fuck, couldn't you at least be creative with it?' He noticed New Girl standing over him, and snapped back to reality.
"So, watcha reading, hon?" His eyes had been trailing over the same sentence for two minutes.
"Hmmph. Are you really interested or are you just making polite conversation?" Roger asked. He didn't really care for the answer either way but since she wouldn't leave him alone unless he continued the mindless palaver he might as well.
"No, I'm honestly interested. That book obviously holds some meaning for you given it's condition and I was just curious what it was." The barmaid's look told Roger she was being truthful. He still was wary of actually responding. Trust and social interaction were definitely not his strongest suits. Most of the time when he engaged like this he would end up being hurt or embarassed in some way, so he never bothered. Something about this girl, however, made him feel like he could let his guard down.
Roger shifted in his seat, cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. How long had it been since I talked to anyone? He thought. His finger tapped the etched graffiti on the bar and he tried to let his mind untangle itself and focus on New Girl. What was her name? She wasn’t, technically speaking, that new anymore, but Roger had somehow never even bothered to learn her name. Would it be rude to ask now? He decided to just wait and see if it came out naturally.
-Rog, you ok?
-Oh, I- um-
Roger realized he had been staring at her and darted his eyes left. He sat up straighter on the bar stool and cleared his throat again.
-It’s…it’s just a book…I like reading it and it’s out of print so my copy’s a bit beaten up.
-Hmm. Gives it character.
She swept a hand through her hair as she spoke and Roger smiled without thinking.
-I like that.
Feeling the weight of the awkward silence, Roger looked back down at his book and pretended to read. Still trying desperately to think of her name. The weather had started to pick up, the rain was battering against the windows and Roger found it difficult to concentrate.
-You sure you're alright hon, you've been starin' at that same page for five minutes now.
Embarassed, Roger scrambled to think of something to say.
-Oh yeah, just trying to think of the meaning of this word.
-What is it? I'm good with words.
The door flung open in the wind and an old man shuffled in out of the rain. To Roger's relief the barmaid excused herself to go get him a drink. His little ruse wouldn't have held up, he was a terrible liar and he knew it.
The old man made his way to a seat near the tap. Flung his soaking wet denim jacket over the back and sat down.
He watched as the barmaid (why couldn't he think of her damned name?) took the order of the elderly gentleman, suddenly wishing she would could back over to talk again. This was most surprising to Roger, giving his complete ambivalence toward New Girl prior to this evening, of course, she seemed to show such a genuine interest in what Roger was so focused on, and how often did that really ever happen? He looked down into his hands, gazing at the tattered paperback he was trying to read, and despite his desire to continue reading it, the desire to finish his conversation with New Girl continued to claw at the back of his mind.
'What if she comes back?' Roger thought to himself, 'I should really figure out what to say so I don't come off like a creep.'
His mind began to run through all the potential conversations the two could have, all the potential outcomes of those conversations, every good or bad turn that could even possibly happen. So lost in thought, he didn't hear New Girl when she came back over to him. "Hey Rog." (Hmmm?) -"... Rog? You still in there?" she called out, leaning in close. He looked up, startled out of his almost meditative slumber. "Sorry, was just ... thinking," he quickly averted his gaze, looking over in the direction of the old man, who was working on a beer. 'Drinking alone at that age, that's never a good thing.' he thought quickly to himself. "I figured you were either thinking or were about to pass out. And, frankly, I doubted it was the former." She said, smiling at him. It was an honest, friendly smile. Roger, almost despite himself, found himself smiling back her, and smiling wasn't something he did a lot around strangers. "So, weren't you tell me about that word?"
"Oh, I, um, I figured it out. It was silly. It was obvious once I thought about it."
Neither spoke for several beats, an awkward air filling the silence.