Floyd stood on the sidewalk in front of the pool hall for almost thirty seconds before deciding to go inside. It had been a long time since he set foot in the hallowed hall. He remembered his last time in there the way some men remember a special woman, only he also remembered some special women. He thought a man with a crazy wife in the hospital probably shouldn’t be out on the town. He knew how the small town minds and tongues worked, and knew that tomorrow morning all of Jean’s friends would be raking him over the gossip coals for his obvious indiscretion or lack of judgment and obvious disrespect of his sick wife by not spending every waking moment at her bedside fretting over her condition.
He strolled through the doors and past a couple of pool tables toward the bar at the far end of the room. He nodded to a few familiar faces, and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t find his grandsons among those faces. It wasn’t that he was being hypocritical; he simply didn’t want to see Trace or Scott because they might ask him about their grandmother and he didn’t have any suitable answer.
“Yeah boys, your grandmother went around the bend and there ain’t thing one we can do about it, so I decided to stop in for a drink or two.” He imagined the stunned looks on their young faces, smiled to himself then shook the image from his head and reconsidered his presence in what his wife would call a ‘den of iniquity’.
“Hey sweetie,” a female voice drew his attention. He turned to see a girl somewhere around the age of his grandsons, wearing tight and faded jeans, a loose yellow silk blouse and carrying a tray. “I’m Eight Ball. Can I get you anything?”
“Eight Ball? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s my serving name. I’m really Annie, but the manager likes us to use clever names. So what’ll you have?”
“J.D., on the rocks.” Floyd took a seat at a table across from the bar.
“The kitchen is open if you want food?”
“The place has changed since I used to come here.”
“Oh? Has it been awhile?”
“Almost nineteen years. They didn’t have a kitchen back then, just serious drinkers and serious pool players.”
“Which were you?”
“So no food?” Eight Ball asked.
“I’ll take a menu.”
The girl handed him a small menu and walked away.
Floyd looked down at the plastic coated menu, deciding if he wanted food or just a drink, adjusted his glasses to focus on the small print and tried to forget he was being observed by the husbands of at least four of Jean’s closest friends.
He looked up and saw Chuck standing at the table before him. “What are you doing here?”
“Having a drink. Would you care to join your old man?”
Chuck sat down opposite his father. “Shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”
“You’ve been gone a long time. Don’t even think of sitting in self-righteous judgment of me.”
“I wasn’t. I mean, I was just thinking of mom.” Chuck didn’t want to argue with his father, although that was their best event.
“If you were thinking of your mother you never would’ve run off the way you did after Scott was born, but that’s okay. I’m sure you were thinking how your mother could raise your son for you.” Floyd registered a direct hit, testing the waters to see how far he could go.
Chuck stood up. “I’m leaving.”
“Sit down, boy. I won’t pick a fight.”
Chuck slowly sank back into his seat.
“You always were thin skinned, but a heck of a football player,” his father said. “So your lengthy absence isn’t a topic of discussion at the moment. What can we talk about?”
“Scott tells me you’ve been a good substitute for me,” Chuck said.
“Of course I have. I thought you didn’t want to talk about your extended absence from our lives?”
Eight Ball returned with Floyd’s drink. “Hey Chuck, can I get you anything?”
“You know my son?” Floyd asked.
“I know all the good looking men in here, sweetie. I didn’t know this hunk was your son. You don’t look old enough to be his daddy.”
“He doesn’t tip well,” Chuck said.
“My son has bad manners, among his long list of faults. My name is Floyd.”
“I’ll have a club soda.”
“So you don’t drink now?” Floyd asked, after Eight Ball walked away.
“I drink, just not often, or very much. I see you still drink.” There was an edge in Chuck’s voice.
“I didn’t drink too much, nor was I an abusive father.”
“I didn’t say you did or were,” Chuck countered his father’s accusations.
“It was implied in your tone.”
“Now who’s thin skinned?”
“Where’s your boyfriend?”
“Lola is my life partner—“
“Not Larry, or Lola, or whatever he chooses to call himself. I’m talking about Toby Wilmont. He was your first?” Floyd posed it as a question, but he already knew the answer.
“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” Chuck replied.
“You forget son, Coach Richmond was a close friend of mine back when you were in high school. He told me how he caught you and Toby, on more than one occasion.”
“We were kids. I’ve grown up. Toby is my best friend, and always will be, that’s all.”
“Yeah, best friend. You can’t hide your feelings from me, and never could. Only now Toby is just a friend, as he probably sees it. Or is something more sordid going on out there at his place?”
“Dad, do you really want to know what goes on between Toby and Lola and I?” Chuck sipped at the soda Eight Ball placed in front of him.
Floyd scowled. “I know enough about what goes on out there at the Wilmont place. Hell, half the town knows. If Scott didn’t adore his uncle and if Toby hadn’t been such a good uncle to him….” He trailed off, letting the implied threat linger in the air. “He kept Scott’s mother alive for him in story, and that was important to your mother. She didn’t want Scott to feel different because of his conception.”
“I really don’t want to talk about this,” Chuck said.
“For crying out loud son, a turkey baster?” Floyd shook his head and continued. “If I’d have known all the details before I sued for custody, I never would’ve allowed it to come out in court. Do you have any idea how you screwed up your son’s life?”
Chuck stood up. “Dad, ask yourself that same question sometime.” He stood and walked away before Floyd could respond.
Eight Ball witnessed the exchange. “You were a little hard on your son, weren’t you?”
Floyd looked up at the young woman. “Do you have children?”
She shook her head. “I’m still in college. I want them, but not until I find the right man.”
“Do you think my son is the right kind of a man for a woman like you?”
Eight Ball laughed. “I’ve met Lola, sweetie. Chuck isn’t my ideal. Now a mature man like yourself could be, if you were to play your cards right.”
Floyd looked up at her in surprise. “Girl, how old are you?”
“I’m twenty-three. How old are you?”
Old enough to be your grandfather,” he said, adding, “and I’m married.”
“Folks around here have already filled me in on the local color. You’re about ready to bolt the coop, if you ask me.”
“What makes a girl your age an expert on anything?”
“I’ve had three stepfathers, and I saw the same look in their eyes each time before they left my mother. You’re a man looking to roam.” She picked up his empty glass. “Refill?”
He shook his head. “Some other time,” he replied, tossing a few bills on the table.
“See ya around.” Eight Ball said, watching him walk out.
Floyd swore women had gotten more brazen with time, but memories of the brazen women he knew on the road, and the ones he knew in town, filled his mind. He turned and glanced back at the young girl waiting tables and knew he would see her around.
American Gothic Redux
Stairway to Heaven
Out of Sorrow Comes Joy
Chuck and Lola
Met a Pieman
Dead of Night
The Lady and the Transvestite
Hell Is For Children
The Games People Play
Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.
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