Getting tanked turned out to be the next item on Emma’s list of things for Drew to do at McCormack’s. This turned out to be a colossally simple task, given that all of his drinks had been on the house.
As it turned out, the reason why the place felt familiar to Drew was because the pub had been owned by the father of one of his best friends, Sean McCormack, and when Drew entered the place, trailing behind Emma (this had become something of a pattern that day) he immediately saw Sean – who had taken over ownership of the pub from his father three years prior – standing behind the bar. He hadn’t talked to Sean at all during the fifteen years he had been away from Reynolds, but as children, the two had been inseparable. Drew felt uneasy that he could so easily forget someone who had been such a big part of his life. Sean spotted Drew and bounded over to him in less than a second.
“Heard you were coming back!” Sean – taller than Drew by half a foot – lifted him up from the ground and into a hug that put Grandma and Uncle Eric to shame, giving a hydraulic squeeze that inspired a series of popping sounds from his back and then dropping him back to the ground. “Thought it was bullshit, but…” Sean took a step back and waved his extended his arms out at Drew, as if presenting him to some invisible audience, “You’re back.” Drew braced himself, waiting for the ‘so-what-brings-you?’ question he was sure his old friend was about to ask. But Sean didn’t ask, instead looking at Emma and Gerald, who had walked in just ahead of him, a giant grin forming on his face. “And you’re hanging out with these nerds before coming to see you’re old buddy?” Sean put a hand to his heart. “Wounded, bro.”
Drew laughed and explained his new position at the paper. Sean raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly. “Nice – not wasting any time getting back into the swing of things.” He laughed and slapped Drew on the back. “Shit, dude! You’re really fuckin’ back!”
“Yeah, I’m here – and trust me, I’m just as surprised about it as you. Never thought I’d make it back to this place. So tell me, what kind of hell have you been stirring up since I’ve been gone?”
Sean straightened his posture and folded his hands behind his back. “None, sir – believe it or not, I’ve gone legit.” He then proceeded to tell the story of his father finally passing him the keys to the pub, a smile on his face that seemed to glow. When he finished he led Drew, Emma and Gerald to a table in back and sat down with them, telling one of his employees to take over for him, and told all the other stories that Drew had missed in the decade and change he had been away.
As his old friend spoke, his memories of the pub snapped to the front of his mind like a word that been left on the tip of his tongue and forgotten, then remembered in full form hours later. A lump of guilt sunk into his chest. McCormack’s Pub was a ubiquitous part of his childhood. Sean had started helping his father out at the place from a very young age – going straight there after school and bussing tables, bringing food to customers, and helping clean up when it was closing time. Most of the time, the only way for Drew to see his friend outside of school was to hang out at the pub along with him. His own parents never had a problem with him being there; Drew and Sean’s fathers were lifelong friends themselves. So long as he was home before dinner, he was given the freedom to go there whenever he liked. It was a place where he felt safe. On the day that Charlie’s body had been found – the hope of finding him safe and sound ripped away – Drew ran out of his house and straight to the pub before the detective had finished giving his parents the news.
The lump of guilt sunk further.
This had been an important place in his world as a kid, one of the few parts of it left unbroken after the loss of his brother. Yet somehow he managed to forget about the pub completely, his memories of the place fading into nothing only a few months after moving away from Reynolds. And even as the memories returned, he could sense that there were things he was still not remembering, experiences at McCormack’s still hidden by the fog that obscured so much about his life in Reynolds. Drew scolded himself: how could I let so much slip away? He couldn’t understand.
But as he listened to Sean talk about what had happened in town during the years of Drew’s absence– telling the tales with a natural nonchalance, as if no time had passed at all – he decided that he didn’t want to understand. Didn’t want to think about it. He had left an entire life behind to escape back here so he wouldn’t have to do any more thinking or understanding.
At the PeoplesPost he had spent the better part of a year putting all of his energy into trying to think, and understand; trying so damn hard to understand how he had fallen so far so fast. But it was pointless. All that mental capital spent, only to find out that he had been set up to fail no matter what he did. Never again, Drew thought.
Story time lasted for a solid hour. Emma and Gerald cut in every now and again, supporting Sean’s recollections with their own experiences. He was cut off when one of his employees walked up to their table and informed Sean that someone was asking to see the manager – a man in a black suit – insisting that he had ‘a most urgent matter’ to discuss.
Sean pushed himself up from the table. “Duty calls boys and girls. And hey: since this is my boy’s official homecoming celebration,” he clapped his hands down on Drew’s shoulders. “Drinks are on the house – have fun kids.” He started to walk away, but then turned back around to face them and said, “You bums gotta pay for food, though!” All of them laughed. After dealing with the complaining customer, Sean briefly returned to the table to deliver a round of drinks for the three of them.
After taking their drinks and thanking Sean two or three times apiece, Emma slowly pushed her mug across the table to Drew. Her lips pursed into a tiny smile as she informed him that she had just thought of one last thing to add to the Agenda of Fun she had given him on the roof of the Tribune.
Understanding what she had meant, Drew picked up both mugs and took a quick pull from each one. He let go of his earlier concerns about his memories, suddenly reminded of a chant he had picked up in college: Don’t think, just drink.