Tuesday, December 21, 2010

COMMON GROUND "The Toilet Seat" - Part 1

Nicholas felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He took it out and looked at the Caller ID. He was hoping it was Spencer calling to tell him they had reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury for tonight. It wasn't. The Caller ID showed that it was his roommate, Miller.

"Hello."

"Hey, where are you?" Miller sounded a bit agitated on the other end of the phone.

"I'm on my way home, why? (beat) “Is something wrong? You sound weird."

"I'm fine. Something's up with Max. He just called and wants us to meet him at McKenna's. I'm here already. Can you meet us?"

"Sure. I'm on Tremont already. I'll hop in a cab and meet you there in a few minutes."

"Great. I'll see you in a few," said Miller, relieved that Nicholas was going to join him for whatever Max had to tell them.

"Hey," Nicholas stopped Miller from hanging up. "Is he alright?"

"I don't really know," Miller responded. "He sounded upset. He wouldn't tell me anything. He just said that he wanted to talk to both of us in person."

"Okay. I'll see ya there."

They both hung up their phones. Nicholas stepped to the curb and put his hand up to hail a cab. Miller, already at McKenna's, motioned for the waitress so he could order a drink.

McKenna's is a local spot that Miller, Nicholas and Max have been patronizing since their college years. They’d been out of college for four years now and had first discovered the place during their junior year. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall; dimly lit and made even darker by the paneled walls. It didn’t hold that many people, and it was always crowded, but there always seemed to be room for the three of them when they showed up. The place served great burgers, a wide selection of beers and made a fantastic margarita.

Miller was thinking about the night they’d happened upon the place. They had just ended a study session and were looking for somewhere to have a drink. After all those Urban Legends they needed to chill and get their minds out of Spookville and back to reality. An adult beverage seemed like the perfect antidote to their Pop-Rocks-in-Coke overload. They saw the green neon light that spelled out the name McKenna’s and decided to push the battered wooden door open. They walked into an evening of $1 margaritas and cemented a friendship stronger than the story of the bloody hook on the car door handle. They would continue their love affair with McKenna’s and margaritas every Wednesday night until they graduated.

"Hi, Jillian," Miller said to the waitress as she approached his table. After all the Wednesday night's the three of them had spent in McKenna's, they were on a first name basis with most of the staff. Jillian was their favorite. They always tried to get into her section.

"Hi, Miller." She looked at him a little confused as she set a bowl of fried pickle chips down on his table. "I'm going out on a limb here, but is this going to be a table for 3?"

"I don't know whether to smile or hang my head in shame, but the answer is yes. Nicholas and Max should be here any minute." He did go ahead with the smile. He saw Nicholas walk into the restaurant as he did so. "Actually, there's Nicholas right now. Nicholas." Miller said as he motioned to get Nicholas's attention.

Nicholas waved as he made his way across the room to the table doing his best to avoid hitting people with his two shopping bags.

"I was so hoping when you called that you were Spencer telling me he had gotten us reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury, but alas it wasn't.” He put his bags down. “Hey." Miller stood up and the two of them greeted one another with a hug. "Hi, Jillian." Nicholas said as he sat down.

"Hi, Nick." Jillian was just as cute as she could be. She had curly brown hair and great big smile that would put the grouchiest person at ease. She was an aspiring actress. Nicholas didn't mind that she called him Nick. It made them seem like old friends. Of course his old friends called him Nicholas, but he didn’t mind her shortened version.

"I think I'm going to go ahead and order a round of margaritas for the table." Miller was chomping at the bit to get a drink in his body.

"And some water,” added Nicholas. The most conservative of the three of them was already looking to prevent the next morning's hangover.

"Great. I'll be right back."

The two of them watched Jillian and her perky demeanor walk to the bar then Nicholas turned to Miller.

“Okay, so what’s up?” Nicholas asked as he started to eat the fried dill pickle chips. “I tried to call Max after we hung up, but it just went to voicemail.” He put another couple of pickle chips into his mouth. Nicholas is a nervous eater. Sometimes he forgets that he used to be a fat child.

“I really don’t know.” Miller responded as he watched the nervous ritual beginning. “He didn’t tell me any more than I told you.”

“Well.” Nicholas paused for thought. “He could have gotten fired or he could be quitting his job.” Pause for a couple of pickle chips. “You don’t think that he and Meghan might be moving do you?”

Meghan is Max’s wife. He’s been married about three years. Max met her while attending BU, so Miller and Nicholas have known her for a long time as well.

“Every time I’ve talked to her lately she seems unhappy here,” Nicholas continued while turning to look for Jillian and the drink he didn’t realize he needed.

“Well, he’s not always happy here either, but I can’t really see him leaving.” Miller joined the look out for their missing drinks. Then he spotted something he didn’t expect, or want, to see. “Great!” His face melted to the floor with an eye roll.

“What,” asked Nicholas picking up another pickle chip, looking at it before putting it in his mouth and then thinking better of it and putting it back in the bowl.

“Remember that guy that I hooked up with last week?”

Nicholas searched his brain for the right answer.

“The one that was trying to turn me on while I was on the phone with my mom?” Miller waited for the light to click on in Nicholas’s memory but the curtains behind that window remained dark. “Mr. Softie?”

Nicholas audibly gasped as the story came flooding back to him. A grin threatened to consume his whole face. “Uh huh,” he said, leaning forward, unable to contain his laughter. “Is he here?”

“He just walked in.”

Nicholas started turning in his seat to try and figure out who it was.

“Don’t turn around.” Miller was not really as incensed as he was acting. Nicholas sat back in the chair, trying in vain to remove the grin from his face. He couldn’t help indulging in the fact that this man was right behind him and that it was making Miller completely uncomfortable. Of course he didn’t really want Miller to be uncomfortable, but when friends are as close as the two of them, it becomes quite amusing to watch the other squirm.

“I never wanted to see him again, let alone say hello.” Miller was shaking his head in frustration. He pulled his Dolce & Gabbana shades out of his Marc Jacobs bag and put them on. Of course his incognito move did nothing but draw attention to him. “You know, he was completely as ease with his inabilities. Said he’d email me when he left like I had had a great time.” The light that Miller had been waiting to switch on in Nicholas’s head just went off in his own.

“He never saw you.” (beat) “Act like you’re my date.” Miller reached his hand to Nicholas. Nicholas stared at Miller’s hand blankly. “Hold my hand.” Miller said in a tone that fairly screamed don’t be an idiot, help me.

Max had arrived at McKenna’s unbeknownst to either of his two best friends. He spotted them from the “wait to be seated” stand and motioned to an approaching waitress that he was meeting people. He reached the table as Nicholas was taking Miller’s hand into his own.

“Is there something you two want to tell me?” Max said as he sat down at the table.

Miller jumped at the sound of the familiar voice coming from a body he hadn’t seen approach. He removed the sunglasses and put them inside their case and back in his bag.

“Nothing other than our margaritas are here,” said Miller, removing his hand from Nicholas’s as Jillian approached the table with her tray full of salty, wet, key lime pie-colored drinks.

“Here you go guys,” Jillian said as she put a glass in front of each of them. She also left menus at the fourth, unused spot at the table.

“Thanks, Jillian,” Max and Miller said at the same time. The only difference was Max winked at her as he said it. He was always flirting. Whether he knew it or not or cared, Miller had seen the wink. He rolled his eyes and smirked a little – mostly to himself – but didn’t miss a beat.

“Water,” said Nicholas. She acknowledged his request with a raised hand as she walked toward the bar. “How hard is it to remember water?”

“Margarita’s. Nice.” Miller looked at his glass as if it contained the elixir of life. “Here’s to you and here’s to me and if we ever disagree.” They clink their glasses together in the old college toast and begin to drink.

Miller and Nicholas are in the middle of a long draw on the golden-green liquid when Max flatly says, “I’m getting a divorce.” Before Miller and Nicholas even have a moment to finish swallowing, let alone react to his statement he continues with, “We are eating, aren’t we?”

The reaction to hearing the words that came out of Max’s mouth resulted in two drained margarita glasses being put down on the table.

“Well, I guess there’s no question about whether we have another round,” Miller said as he motioned to Jillian for another round.

“Was there ever a question?” Max responded to Miller’s statement.

“I have a question,” Nicholas said. “Divorced? What happened? You’ve only been married for three years.

There they were, three best friends, completely unique, sitting at a table in the restaurant they’d been coming to for years. Miller Reid, the aspiring writer managing a bookstore, wearing his trendy boots and requisite blue shirt to make his eyes pop; Nicholas Brown, the discontent travel agent flirting with grad school, in Banana Republic khakis and a J Crew button down; Max Peters, the personal trainer, conservative and fit in his Seven jeans and Timberlands. Two of them were shocked and one of them surprised. To an outsider they would appear to have nothing in common. That’s because an outsider isn’t looking past the packaging. They are judging the book by its cover. They can’t see that on the inside the three share a deep affection, fierce loyalty and overwhelming protection for each other.

“It can’t seem that out of the blue to you guys,” said Nicholas.

“It sort of is,” replied Miller, stunned that Max would think he or Nicholas would have seen a divorce in Max’s future. “I mean Nicholas was just saying that Meghan has seemed unhappy a lot lately, but come on.”

The delay in Max’s response was too long for Nicholas. “Max?”

Before Max could answer either of them Jillian was standing at their table with their second round of margaritas. Max downed his first so that he would be on the same playing field of inebriation as Miller and Nicholas. Nicholas had gone back to eating the pickles, now cold and soggy.

“Water.” Nicholas projected to Jillian’s back. He turned to Miller, prepared for a snarky comment, but it was Max who spoke.

“Okay, look. We have been having problems. I haven’t really talked to anyone about it but our therapist.”

“Therapist?” Nicholas shouted in a loud whisper then covering his mouth looked around to make sure he hadn’t aroused the curiously of diners at a nearby table.

“You and Meghan are in therapy?” asked Miller.

“We’re in therapy.” (beat) “C’mon guys, it’s not such a crazy concept. Couples do it all the time to try and save their marriages.”

Miller reacted to “Save their marriages” in shocked disbelief. He took a long drink from his second margarita.

“Save your marriage?” Miller questioned, his voice building in intensity. “Save your marriage. Let me get this straight.” Max started to say something, but Miller held up his hand, index finger extended. Max stopped before forming a word. “We’re your two best friends in the world and somehow you manage to keep from both of us that your marriage needs saving.” He took a deep breath and exhaled the words, “Oh My God.”

“Miller,” Nicholas said his tone part chastisement and part calming.

“I’m Sorry, Nicholas,” he said with a remorseful voice. “I’m sorry, Max, but you getting a divorce kinda breaks my heart.”

Max took a drink from his second margarita.

“It’s the toilet seat.” He said those words just as flat and free of inflection as when he’d said “I’m getting a divorce.”

No one had a chance to react because Jillian chose that moment to bring the water to the table.

“Do you guys want food?” Jillian asked in a perky voice waitresses, who want to be actresses but are working for your tips, use as she placed the glasses of water on the table.

All three of them broke from their intense moment of conversation to look at her. No one spoke for an awkward second until Nicholas interrupted the silence.

“Shots!” he said with the enthusiasm of someone with distraction on his mind.

“Tequila shots?” asked Jillian a little confused and a little concerned.

“It won’t clash with the margarita,” said Miller as he finished the rest of his second glass followed closely by Nicholas and Max.

As a befuddled Jillian walked away, Miller and Nicholas assumed a position of interrogation as they sat, arms crossed, staring at Max, waiting for answers.

“Oh, is it time for the third degree?” said Max as he realized he was being stared at.

As if someone watching their situation wanted to give Miller and Nicholas the blinding light that goes along with their interrogation pose, the lights in McKenna’s became alarmingly bright. Everyone in the restaurant reacted to the invasion of privacy as the light brightened every dust-filled corner.

“Now I need the sunglasses,” Miller said as he squinted.

“Sorry,” yelled Jillian from the other side of the bar. She had accidentally turned the dimmer up instead of down. As the lights dimmed to that intimate setting that everyone in a hole-in-the-wall bar really likes, Nicholas picked up his menu.

“Now I can’t even see what’s on this menu,” he said as he reached for the candle in the middle of the table. “It’s not as if I really need to look at it. I mean we’ve ordered here a hundred times.” He paused as if searching. “I think I’m gonna have…an explanation about the toilet.” The clever one had spoken and now closed his menu. “What about you, Miller?”

“I’ll have the same,” said the sarcastic one. “Max?”

“Do you know how lucky you are; the two of you living together?” Miller and Nicholas looked at each other then back to Max as they waited for him to expound upon his observation. “You never have to worry about it. If you want it up, you put it up. If you want it down, you put it down. Every time you go there’s a 50/50 chance it’s gonna be right. It’s like the lottery with better odds.”

“Hell, I sit most of the time anyway,” said Miller with the verve of someone teetering on the edge of a buzz. Max nodded at him as if to say, “I can see that.” Nicholas was aghast.

“Lazy,” said Nicholas upon hearing of Miller’s sitting for the first time.

“And?” retorted Miller.

“Shots,” said Jillian as she put her tray down on their food-empty table. Miller squinted at her and was just about to ask her how she picked her moments to revisit their table, but Max caught him off guard.

“Hooray,” said Max like a child. “Keep ‘em’ comin’ he said in an aside to Jillian.

“Okay boys,” said Jillian as she placed a shot glass in front of each of them. “Lick it, slam it, suck it.”

“Every last drop,” said Miller, his mind completely in the gutter.

“Trash,” said Nicholas as if he was seeing a whole new side to his friend.

“Ladies,” said Max, using a word that he knew would get their attention.

They both turned to him. He had his shot glass in the air. Miller and Nicholas raised theirs to meet his and clinked the glasses. They licked the salt, slammed the tequila and placed the lime in their mouths as quickly as possible. Nicholas grimaced, Miller shook his head and made and audible “phew” sound while Max said, “That’ll cure it.” They slammed the shot glasses down on the table as if to signify their manhood at having taken a shot.

“Can we get back to the toilet seat?” said Nicholas.

“Let me just say something here,” Miller started, then stopped. “Whew I am already drunk.”

The three of them started to laugh – loud. The caring about the other diners didn’t factor into this outburst. This one was already under the influence.

©2010 Michael Rohrer