"Who's the guy?"
John still wasn't entirely awake and Mary's question stumped him.
"The guy. Downstairs in your little cubbyhole. Who is he? One of your old buddies?"
It took him a minute to figure out what she was talking about. Thomas must still be there. "Sort of."
"He's a cutie. Surprised me though; seeing him in there. Didn't know anyone was staying there. Leave a note next time, ok?" Mary replied absently as she continued to fill the salt and pepper shakers.
That's it? That's all? I have the town's mysterious singing hobo in the basement and all she can say is he's cute? John shook his head; he was never going to understand women. Not as long as he lived. He would have expected her to hit the roof or something… but then he hadn't expected Thomas to still be there.
Opting to let the man sleep in, John worked alongside Mary as they prepared the bar for opening. Soon his regular barflies had shuffled in, shivering at the cold. It had not been a good spring: fine and crisp one day and then freezing the next. Winter was holding on by its fingertips… but it was holding on.
John looked up from where he was setting the dirty glasses and smiled. Thomas was not only awake, he looked, well, normal. He looked like a guy who had had a good night's sleep and was eager to face the day. He was wearing his own clothes again, but only one layer or them as opposed to the several John had found the previous night. And what he was wearing was a little threadbare but it was clean and smelled it.
"Hey! Closer to afternoon than morning, but a good one nonetheless. Can I get you something to eat?"
Thomas' stomach growled but he shook his head. "I've imposed enough."
"Oh stop it," John said brusquely. "I told you last night that you were getting a day away from all your troubles and that day isn't over yet. So grab a seat and I'll bring you something to eat."
"Look I got my dad on my case, I don't need any complaints from you too. Sit down."
Thomas gave him a wide grin. "Never mess with dad." Then his face clouded over so suddenly and dramatically John almost grabbed him to see if he was okay. There was a pained look in his eyes - as if he was remembering something so heartrending, so horrible… John opened his mouth, but Thomas said, "I'll just sit here then," quietly, kept his face averted and pulled out one of the bar stools.
When John came back out, bearing a huge bowl of stew, Mary had already pounced on Thomas. The number of questions she was firing at him was obviously upsetting the man. John was almost tempted to yell, "leave the guy alone" at her but knew that would only make her more curious. Besides, Thomas took care of it on his own.
"I know you are just being friendly, but I really don't want to talk about myself," he told Mary firmly.
That made her bristle. "Why not? You an axe murderer or something?"
Thomas shook his head. "No. Just a guy who is working some things out and I want to do it alone."
"I'm a good listener."
He smiled. "I get that about you. It's just that I'm not a good talker."
That seemed to satisfy her and she nodded and wandered off to take care of her tables.
"That was amazing," John said as he placed the bowl in front of Thomas. "It usually takes me hours before I can get her to shut up and leave me be."
Thomas grinned. "So she's not a good listener, then?"
"Not so much," John laughed. "Can talk paint off walls but suffers from selective hearing."
"I know the type," Thomas replied and then descended on the stew like he hadn't eaten in… well, definitely since the previous night. Beyond that who knew.
John continued organizing the bottles behind the bar. He nodded as Thomas handed him the now-empty bowl and shoved it in the 'dirty dishes' bucket.
"So how you feeling today?"
John laughed. "Always a good thing."
Again the other man's face clouded over. "Not always."
John took a deep breath. "Not true. I can relate, you know? Sometimes it's the pain of being human that you need. Helps you get through the day. I know it can be overwhelming sometimes. Hell, LOTS of the time. But if you weren't human you wouldn't be alive. Or you'd be an animal or something. A dog, maybe." He grinned slightly. "And you know what happens to them."
"Get spayed or neutered."
Thomas winced - as was expected of him - and chuckled. "It's a philosophy, I guess." He started to cough only calming down when Mary scurried over with a glass of water and a pat on the back.
Thomas thanked her and she shuffled off.
"You okay? Really, I mean."
Thomas looked at him and while his eyes were shuttered John could still see the pain leaking out from behind. "No. I thought we established that. I… I guess I'm just not… I haven't talked to anyone much for the last… um… while."
"It is a lot of exercise when you aren't used to it."
He shook his head. "You keep doing that: letting me off the hook. You've fed me twice. Clothed me. Gave me a place to sleep. I should owe you an explanation…"
"Hey!" John's voice seemed to echo throughout the bar and heads turned. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "You don't owe me anything. Like I said, you needed a break. Sometimes all you need is a break. You can carry on with your life - without having to explain it to me - tomorrow. That is all I ask of you: just let today go along okay and you can shoulder whatever it is that you're shoulderin' tomorrow. K?"
Thomas looked like he was going to argue it, but finally nodded. "Is there anything I can do then? To help out?"
John looked around the bar. All seemed to be as normal. "Not really. Why don't you do whatever it is that you usually do?"
"I think people'd be pissed if I tried hitting them up for change in here," he replied with a mischievous grin.
John flushed. "Oh. Yeah. Probably." Then he shook his head. "I must be an idiot. I just finish telling you to forget who you are for a day and then I forget who you are."
"I bet it was your dad's fault."
"His dad ain't around no more," Mary said as she plonked herself down in the chair next to Thomas. "John, table seven needs a bourbon. Straight. And that frigging church lady's back. She wants her usual weak tea with lemon."
John rolled his eyes and set about his work.
"Yeah, old Johnnie's dad's passed on. A while back. Figured you'd know being old friends and all," Mary said to Thomas.
It was an obvious attempt and he ignored it easily. "Church lady?"
"Yeah. We got a couple that come in now. On account of that singing bum dude. You hear about him? He was coming in and singing and some folks thought he was real good. I thought he was okay. Off-key a lot, but okay. Anyways, them church biddies come in now to try and catch him. Probably want to clean him up, feed him full of the God bullshit and show him around as someone they saved." She grabbed the drinks from John, gave him a nod and headed off.
"Sorry about that," John said.
"Not to worry. She's probably right about the old ladies. Did I cause that much trouble?"
John was tempted to tell him the truth and say he'd been a royal pain in the neck but he didn't have it in him. "Nah, s'okay. Just don't swing by on karaoke night unless you want to hear some 80 year old repressed spinster singing "Dirrty" by that Christina Aguilera."
Thomas almost fell of his chair he was laughing so hard at that thought.
John grinned. "I mean, in hindsight it's kinda funny, but listening to it… Man, oh man. It makes your ears bleed. I'd avoid the church lady section of the bar. Lord only knows that they'd try and do to you."
"They can't do nothing I don't do to myself," Thomas said sadly and then shook his head, eager to not descend into the depression that had controlled his life for so long. "Still, she was wrong about one thing."
"What's that?" John asked as he stacked the clean glasses on the shelf.
"I've never been off-key a day in my life," Thomas grinned.