John pulled the sheet from his head and shuffled the mangled mess of hair on his head around until he could see clearly onto the floor. Slowly he zombie-walked his way through his bathroom, shower, and finally the kitchen where his coffee awaited. He stared into the hurricane of caffeine and then pinched the bridge of his nose. He still couldn’t shake Alan’s behavior. The books weren’t coming along. The brooding had stopped. Now there was just the facade of lonely bitterness trying to stay alive for the sake of living at all.
Luckily this morning he would meet at the coffee house and talk like usual. His second round of brew and he would finally be awake enough to function in the lab. Maybe even be productive at home afterward.
The shop was slow with only three people in line and two at the scattered tables. Their faces were worn and half asleep. Quiet. Alan looked the worst of them. He sat alone in the corner, dark circles under his eyes with what facial hair he could barely grow sprouting out of his cheeks. He had coffee in his cup, but John knew right away there was alcohol in it. Little rum perhaps. Maybe his favorite bourbon.
“You look lively.” He said.
Alan’s eyes slowly shifted upward, while his body remained still. “Hm. ‘Lo John.”
“Hello. More like goodbye; you look like death.”
“I feel like death, mate. Thanks for the reassurance.”
John sat down at the table with his fresh cup of coffee.
“Don’t ask about the girl.”
“I wasn’t going to ask about the girl.”
“Good. Don’t ask, then.”
They each sipped their drinks and Alan cracked his neck like a clockwork doll.
“You going to tell me what’s wrong?”
Alan glared at him harshly and then away.
“I’m not stupid, Alan. I’ve known you too long to ignore your bullshit. Now spit it out.”
“Don’t be such a prick. A man’s feelings and his pains aren’t something to be laughed at.”
John leaned forward. “And I’m not laughing, now get on with it.”
At first he said nothing, but then Alan, still looking away, began to speak. “I know what you’ll say so there’s no point. I know I’m doing it again and I know what’s going on. So, spare me your lecture and let’s just move on with it.”
“Not good enough,” said John.
“I said, crack on.” Alan hissed.
“Fine, where’s the next book?”
Alan said nothing.
“So, back to the easier questions, then.”
“It’s not that easy–” Alan started. John cut him off.
“It’s really fucking easy, Alan! It’s always easy, you just make it so damn hard, now get it out or I’m leaving.”
He shifted in his seat and sat up straight. Alan’s bottom lip went up into a scowl and John knew he had struck him right on the perfect nerve.
“You wouldn’t understand. You’ve always had Catherine and no one else. You’ve never faced rejection nor have you chosen anyone but her. Literally everything I’ve ever gone through is mere fiction in your perspective. Something to analyze like a silly novel about torn lovers you can never relate to.” Alan went to sip his coffee, but stopped himself.
John ruffled his brow, “You think that because I’ve only been with Catherine that I’m incapable of empathy toward you?”
“Not empathy—understanding. You will never know precisely what it’s like. I’m a work of fantasy to you.”
John laughed menacingly, “If that’s the truth then you’d be healthy, rich, and not so damned annoying!”
Alan took a drink this time.
“When are you going to stop this lashing yourself and get on with it? I mean, really move forward?” Asked John with sincerity.
It was silent and then Alan took another sip of his coffee. “I can move forward. I can. The problem is that I’m not sure I want to.”
John scoffed at him, “As if I didn’t already know that!”
Alan looked away. “I don’t like my life without her in it. It’s not worth living. It’s too different. Yes, it could be something amazing, but I don’t like it. I want her there. I want what we had.” His gaze was blank and sorrowful. It made John uneasy.
“Alan, I understand that. I really do. You loved her very much. But we’ve been through this. She left you for reasons she concocted and you did your very best to suit her fancies all the way to the end. All that was left was your pride in knowing that. She wasn’t worth it.” Said John softly.
His friend looked back at him from the blank abyss and directly into his eyes. “You’re wrong. Despite her faults and ill-thought attempts to conjure a way to leave me, she was worth more than anything in this world.”
The talking of the other patrons fell over them as they stared at each other. There was no leeway and there would be none given on the subject of Estelle. John could see that now.
“So what do you plan to do? Drink yourself into oblivion?” Asked John finally.
Another sip of coffee and then Alan responded, “I’m taking it a day at a time. Some days are better than others.”
“Alan, you’re depressed and you need help.”
“I’m dead. I can’t get help.”
“I can get someone to see you without them knowing who you are.”
“I don’t want that kind of help.”
“Alan, you’re coming apart at the seams…”
“And maybe what’s left will be less of a bother. Now, how are you and Catherine?”
John made a puzzled face. “Fine. We’re quite fine.”
“And the wedding?” Asked Alan, this time taking a long drink.
“Coming along. Shouldn’t be any problems.”
“Outside of your mother you mean.” Said Alan with a smirk.
“Always, but we’ll manage.” John cringed at the thought. “About your book—.” Alan cut him off.
“I have four chapters to write before the month is out and then it’s done. You can expect it by the 27th.” Alan cocked his head sideways expecting his friend to be impressed. He was not.
“Good then. Well, I’d better be off to the lab. Try to get some sleep, would you? You look like the main character in a disaster movie.” Said John with a laugh. He stood up with his coffee in hand and smiled over at Alan.
“Disaster movies have good endings and the main character always survives.”
John nodded, “Exactly. Crack on. I’ll see you again soon.”
As he exited the coffee shop, Alan gazed deeply into the brown swirls of liquid in his cup and thought on the ending to his story. If he were the main character, what would he stand for? What would the purpose of the story be? And better yet, what would become of him at the last page? He went to take another long drink, but stopped. This time he tossed it in the trash behind him, stood up, and slowly made his way back to the Venar estate where he would continue writing the story that drove him to write in the first place. He could see it clearly now–the story he wanted to tell– and in his drunken haze he continued to move forward.