After a few rounds, he remembered that it had been a while since the last time he had put the phrase “don’t think, just drink,” into practice. He was a few steps past buzzed quicker than he had expected to be. The words “time to stop” played through his head, but he ignored them. He kept drinking. At one point, when it became clear that Mr. Floyd had bailed on the Friday ritual at McCormack’s Emma suggested, in a tone of exaggerated innocence, that perhaps Drew should drink Floyd’s rounds for him.
She leaned in close to him and said, “Would be a shame for all that free booze to go to waste.” Drew agreed without giving it much thought, and a few rounds more – this time drinking double – and he was good and drunk. He relaxed, and as it always was when he drank, he started to get chatty, saying aloud just about every thought that popped into his head. His coworkers took advantage. Emma asked him dozens of the most personal questions she could think of, squealing with laughter when Drew would answer truthfully without hesitation. Gerald, realizing that Drew was more than a little bit open to persuasion, repeatedly ordered the most powerfully spicy foods on McCormack’s menu and dared him to eat them as fast as possible, without taking a drink of anything.
“Man, it’s a shame I didn’t know you back in the day,” Gerald said after Drew had accepted the dare for the third time in a row. “I get the feeling you were fun to party with.” He paused, and let out a clipped laugh. “Not that I was ever invited to anyone’s parties in the first place.”
Drew threw his arm around Gerald. “You would have been invited to my parties.” A peculiar thought entered his head then, piercing through the haze of drunkenness. “Hey – dude, why didn’t we know each other back in the day?” He looked over at Emma. “Or you, either? I don’t know either of you. You both are from here right?” Gerald and Emma nodded. “And we’re all the same age…Even if we never hung out, I don’t even remember seeing you guys around at school. That’s crazy, right?”
Gerald cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Not really, dude...Considering neither of us have ever set foot in the place where you went to school.”
Drew looked at him blankly. “Oh…you’re homeschool kids?”
“No….we just didn’t go to your school.”
“So….wait, what?” Drew narrowed his eyes, unable to make sense of what Gerald was saying. “There’s only the one school, ya know – the town's not that big. So what, did you two just not go to school? I’m drunk, not stupid. Seriously guys, why don’t I know either one of you?”
Emma shot a perplexed look at Drew. “There’s more than one school in town. You know this. You have to know this, because…” She looked toward Gerald, lost for words for the first time all day.
Gerald, finishing her sentence, said, “Because you’re from here, man.”
Emma nodded slowly. “Yeah – I know you’ve been gone for a while, but that’s one hell of a thing to forget,” Drew said nothing, feeling as if his brain had blown a circuit, and continued to stare at Emma with an absent look in his eyes. She waved her hand in front of his eyes. “You’re not drunk enough to be this confused.” Emma leaned back and crossed her arms, looking at Drew with wide eyes. “You really did forget that there is more than one school in Reynolds…I mean, I know that you Graystone Academy kids lived in your own little rich-kid-bubble, but this is ridiculous. So what, did they keep all of you locked in a basement or something? Only let you out for polo and croquet lessons?”
Drew thought hard, reaching as far into his memories as he could for anything relating to other schools in town besides the one he had attended, but there was nothing. Not even the foggy sorts of memories that had slowly revealed themselves to him since returning to Reynold’s that morning. He looked back and forth between Emma and Gerald, unsure of what to say.
Drew took a swing from his drink and said, “I guess I was a little clueless when I was a kid.”
“More than a little,” Emma said.
“Listen, you said it yourself: we really were sheltered at Graystone – you know until I moved to St. Louis I didn’t realize that most schools have primary, middle and high schools all separate; I thought everyone did it like Graystone, with all of the grade levels on one big campus.”
“Yeah, but this is a bit more extreme than just being a little sheltered.”
“I don’t think so,” Drew said, not wanting to admit that Emma did, in fact, have a good point. “I bet there were plenty of other kids who thought the same thing that I did.”
“Oh really now, you think so?” Suddenly Emma’s eyes flashed, and she sat up straight in her chair. “Sean went to school with you, hence the adorable bro-mantic moment you had when we first got here; right?” Drew nodded, and Emma called Sean over to their table.
“You guys need another round?” Sean said when he reached them.
“No – I mean yeah, in a second – but no, I want to ask you a question.” Sean nodded and told her to ask away. “Okay, it’s weird, but just humor me: how many schools are there in town besides the one that you and Drew went to?”
Sean gave perplexed look that she had just given Drew. “Three; Reynold’s Elementary, Reynold’s Middle, and Reynold’s High.”
A satisfied smirk formed on Emma’s face. “Okay, so now another weird question: how long have you known this fact?”
“Actually…that is really weird that you’re asking me, of all people, that question…Because here’s the thing,” he shook his head and laughed, “I switched schools after sixth grade, right? I started going to Reynold’s Middle. But what I’ve always felt really damn stupid about is that up until I switched, I never realized that schools other than Graystone even existed. Can you believe that? I still remember the day when my Dad dropped the news. He walks into my room and does the whole ‘we gotta talk,’ thing, tells me that he’s switching me to another school. And I just look at him like he’s a nut job, and I actually say to him: ‘But there are no other schools, Dad.’ He got all pissed off at me and said that this was why he was switching me in the first place, that going to Graystone is like living inside of a snow globe. Said he didn’t want it to turn me into a pod person like it did with him. Isn’t that ridiculous?” Emma nodded, speechless for the second time. “Anyhow, why do you ask? You been talking to my Dad? He likes to tell people that story to make me sound like some kind of idiot.”
“She asks because I literally just now found out that our school wasn’t the only one in Reynolds, and she was trying to prove some little point on how I’m a weirdo for never knowing that.”
Sean chuckled, “Are you serious? Well, you’re definitely a weirdo – we both are, man.” He shook his head and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Graystone Academy does that to people. My dad was right on the money about that place; sucks you in, chews you up, and spits you back out as a fuckin pod person version of yourself.”
Drew turned his chair to face Sean. “So you really switched schools? Your dad just up and pulled you out?”
Sean leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “Yep, pulled me out the week after you guys moved. Can you blame him? I mean, you know something’s a little off when a place pulls you in so deep that the rest of the world gets blocked out. Ya’ know I always thought it was just me, like maybe I couldn’t handle the place or something, but no – you got mindfucked just as bad as I did, apparently. But hey – I’m being a downer and you guys are celebrating.” He stood up and started walking away, but immediately turned back around. “And hey – I’m gonna be clearing out soon for curfew, but you guys can stay a little longer. Just don’t fuck around and get yourselves caught outside when the sirens start.” Emma and Gerald called out their promises as Sean walked away.
Emma immediately spun around in her chair to face Drew. “Please don’t tell me that you have no idea what ‘curfew’ is. Because if you tell me that then I’m calling bullshit on your whole shtick.”
Drew sat motionlessly in his chair. Curfew. He thought back and remembered that once a month a town curfew was put into effect – everyone had to be back in their homes by a certain time. No wiggle room, no exceptions, no leniency. He vaguely remembered hearing about a man who lived in East Town getting arrested for being out on his front lawn when the sirens started to go off. Curfew was a big deal, and when it rolled around, people complied. He couldn’t remember why exactly the curfew had been put into effect in the first place, only that it was a big deal.
And then there were the sirens, which sounded the very second that curfew began and continued going off for a solid hour. He had a vague sense that he had been terrified of them when he was very young though he had no idea why. Curfew was a normal part of life in Reynolds, and folks accepted it without question - it was simply the way things were done. There was always an odd man out, of course - the senile old man or drunk uncle who would come to a family gathering or town festival and start telling paranoid campfire stories about “the sinister truth behind curfew.” There didn’t seem to be any big mystery behind it as he thought about it now. Curfew was probably nothing more than a way for the town to give tickets to late-night travelers caught driving through Reynolds and earn a little extra revenue at the end of the month from the fines. One way or the other, it was hardly something that seemed worth worrying about.
“I remember curfew,” Drew said. He took a long drink from his mug, tilting his head back and pouring the last of the beer down his throat. “I think that’s about all I do remember. All day long I’ve been feeling like there’s a blanket wrapped around parts of my brain. All my memories from when I was a kid are just…fuzzy.”
Gerald shook his head. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “My memories of what I ate for breakfast this morning are fuzzy, let alone any damn thing that happened to me when I was a kid.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well at least you have managed to hold on to the memory that there are other schools in town besides the one you went to.”
Drew leaned forward toward Emma, his intoxicated reflexes making him stumble closer to her than he had intended. “Hey, no – not fair, you heard what Sean said. I didn’t forget about that, it’s just that I never knew in the first place.”
Emma giggled, holding her ground and ignoring Drew’s accidental invasion of her personal space. “Oh okay Drew Crawford, as if that’s so much better.”
“Ease up on the dude, he left town,” Gerald said, as he stood up from the table and pushed in his chair. “I know that if I ever made it out of this place I would wipe my memories as fast as possible. But anyhow, you two kids have fun, I’m heading out. Nice of Sean to let us stay late, but I don’t fuck around with curfew.” As Gerald walked away from the Table a thought popped into Drew’s head, and he called out to him.
“Hey – Why didn’t Mr. Floyd show up? Doesn’t seem like the sort of guy to flake out.”
Gerald turned around, smiled, and said, “Yeah, Floyd’s solid. But he doesn’t fuck around with curfew, either,” then walked out of the pub.
Drew turned back to the table, once again stumbling too close to Emma, who once again didn’t seem to mind. Even being as drunk as he was, his first instinct was to feel guilt for being so close to a woman who wasn't Sara. His mind started to turn to her; what she was doing, if she wanted him back, if she was with another guy. But then he shook those thoughts away. She had kicked him out, and things had been circling the drain long before that happened. Drew leaned against the bar, moving yet another inch closer to Emma.
“So should we be like the cool kids and not fuck around with the curfew, too?” Drew said.
Emma shrugged and locked eyes with Drew. “Nah. I’m game for a little fucking around if you are.” She leaned in closer to him, putting her hand on his thigh. Before Drew could respond, a shrill musical tone sounded from Emma’s purse. She pulled out her phone, squinted at the screen, then let out a curse. “It’s my…” she paused, looking up at Drew and letting out a soft sigh. “My…thing, from…whatever. I gotta go.” She started to get out of her chair but then hesitated and slid back into place, leaning closer to Drew than she had been before. “But hey – rain check?” Drew nodded, unable to form words. Emma smiled, put her hand on his knee, and stood up from the table. As he watched her walk away, it occurred to him that she had just as much to drink as himself. He hoped she wasn’t stupid enough to try driving herself home and attempted to form the words to call this out to her, inwardly cursing himself when his mouth refused to cooperate. But then, as if reading his mind, Emma turned around to face him just as she was about to exit MacCormack’s and said, “Walking home, in case you’re wondering; I live literally five minutes away,” then winked at him and walked out the door.
Drew sat motionless, continuing to stare at the door minutes after Emma was gone until he felt someone lightly punch him in the right shoulder. He looked up and saw Sean standing next to him, a giant grin on his face.
“So, I see you’re not having any trouble making friends,” he said, slapping Drew on the back. “With Emma Albright, of all people?” Sean laughed.
Drew crossed his arms. “Yeah, why? Something wrong with me making friends with her?”
“No, it’s nothing like that; you do whatever you wanna do. She’s just…” He paused and leaned against the chair Emma had been sitting in. “She’s really weird. I’ve known her for a while, she was at Reynolds Middle when I switched there. Nice girl, don’t get me wrong, she’s just…” Sean cut himself off and shook his head. “Forget it –like I said, you do whatever you wanna do. I came over here because I have a proposition for you. One of my guys called in sick today, so I’m gonna be short-handed for closing. I was thinking maybe you could roll up your sleeves and help me out just like we used to help my Dad. For old time’s sake – how about it?”
Drew agreed without hesitating, and when Sean threw him a “McCormack’s” apron to wear, he felt an instant rush of nostalgia. He joined his friend behind the bar, and just as it had been when they were kids, Drew “helping out” ended up consisting mostly of the two standing around and talking, pausing every once and a while when they realized they needed to look busy. An enormous sense of déjà vu filled the place, and the night felt almost identical to any of the other nights Drew had spent there as a kid, other than the fact that they were the ones behind the Bar now, not washing dishes or sweeping up, and that Sean’s father was no longer around barking orders at them over their shoulders. Another difference born from adulthood was Sean’s insistence that Drew continued to drink, saying that he had a lot of time to make up for. He didn’t argue, and when it finally came time for Sean to close up for the night, Drew made up for lost time, and then some.
When the last of customers went home for the night, and the pub was left empty Drew said his goodbyes to Sean, promising that he wouldn’t wait another fifteen years before coming back to the pub. But Sean wouldn’t let him leave.
“Tanked as you are right now, I wouldn’t let you walk home on any night of the month, let alone tonight –curfew’s at midnight which is only like…” He pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at the time. “Only a few hours away. And while this is a tiny town, I think it would take you just a bit longer than that to walk across the entire town.”
“Dude, I wasn’t gonna walk home,” Drew said, confused. “Why would…what made you think I was about to just walk all the way back to my grandma’s place?”
Sean raised his eyebrows and crossed his arms. “So what, you were gonna just drive home, Captain Drunk-Ass? Yeah, not gonna let you do that, either.” Drew put his arm around Sean, telling him that he obviously was going to call a cab to drive him home. Sean laughed and reminded him that there wasn’t a cab company in Reynolds. “Listen, you remember how my Dad used to rent out the apartment above the pub? Well, that’s where I’m living nowadays – So I figured you could just crash up there with me.”
Drew agreed that this was probably a good idea, and the two of them walked outside and around to the back of the building, where there was a staircase that led to the apartment on the second floor of the Pub. It was a small place, and every inch of it screamed ‘bachelor pad.’ As Sean led him inside and showed him around, he realized that it had been a very long time since he had been inside this sort of apartment. Drew opened his mouth to make a smartass remark to Sean about how nice the single life must be but stopped himself before the words came. He felt a heaviness sink into his chest as he remembered once again that he, too, was now living the single life.
After Sean showed him around (all two rooms of the place) and helped him get set up in the area where he would be sleeping (throwing an old afghan on the couch in the living room) he sat Drew down in the kitchen (a table in the corner next to the couch, a stove against the adjacent wall, and a fridge next to the stove) and told him that he was going to make him a “hangover-proof” omelet (“You eat it before bed, it sucks out all the bad shit, and then you wake up feeling like you didn’t drink a drop,”) that he claimed was full proof.
Sean asked The Question as he cracked the eggs. “Why are you back?” He put a pan on the stove, turned the heat to high, and dumped the eggs into the pan. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad you’re back, didn’t think I’d ever see you again, but…” he tilted the pan around on the burner, spreading the eggs into a circle. “You made it out, got to go live in the big city, go to college,” he flipped the egg over, then poured salt, pepper, and an unlabeled red seasoning into the pan and mixed it in with the eggs. “And I heard you found yourself a hot-shot job at some online newspaper. Sounded like you had it made.” He flipped the egg – now looking omelet like – one more time, then dumped it onto a plate and put it down on the table in front of Drew. “So why are you back?”
Drew leaned back in his chair. He had spent his entire drive from St. Louis thinking up a long, detailed answer to The Question, where he explained the reasoning behind his decision to leave his previous employment from every possible angle, and how he came back to Reynolds to start rebuilding himself. He had even thought up a few responses for follow-up questions that he figured people might ask. But as Sean handed him a plastic fork, all he was thinking was that he was very, very drunk.
Drew took a large bite out of his omelet and said, “Quit my job, girlfriend dumped me, came back here because I couldn't face my parents and didn’t know where else to go.” He took another bite and looked up at Sean. “Did I fuck up?”
Sean turned the heat on the stove off. “Yeah, you did.” He came up behind Drew, patted him on the back, and said, “But that’s okay bud – everybody fucks up.” then headed into his bedroom and shut the door.
Drew finished his omelet, turned off the lights in Sean’s living room, and collapsed onto the couch, not bothering to take off any of his clothes, or even his shoes. He pulled the afghan over himself, sincerely hoping that he was too drunk to spend the night sleeplessly tossing and turning and thinking about all of the mistakes he had made that led him back to Reynolds. He turned over onto his side and sighed deeply, wanting nothing more than to black out and spend the night peacefully unconscious.
Then he saw his dead little brother standing in the middle of Sean’s living room.