Catchup

by Dominic Blackwell

Now Steve walks into the bar, it’s OK, not that loud for a Friday night. He looks around, he can’t see the one that he looks for. So he takes it in : people stood by the bar, a mixed crowd, some are couples, some are out on the pull and some are just out for a drink, nothing odd.

“Steve!” And he turns round. He sees his old friend.

“Carl! How are you?”

“Fine mate. Shall I get in the drinks?”

“Yeah, cool. I’ll get in the next round.”

And they’re there, with their beers like old times. They talk of the things that they did back then.

“So — still on your own?”, Carl asks.

“Yeah. It won’t last for ever. But enjoy it for now — that’s my plan!”, Steve says back as they talk now of the state of their lives. It’s not meant as a dig, it’s a question, that’s all, but he knows deep down that Carl will always just be one step ahead. “And this girlfriend of yours?” Steve asks.

“She’ll be here in a bit.” Carl says. Just a hint of a smirk.

“So you’re happy then?”

“Well there’s a story—”

“I’m sure that there is. So spill. Tell me what’s up with that.”

II

Steve looks into Carl’s face and sees how his friend has done something which fills him with pride. Carl is a laugh and he gets in his round but Steve has seen, since when they first met, that every chat is a way Carl shows Steve how he’s done a bit better than him. It’s a small thing and they still get on. Steve’s done OK in life and if Carl must lift himself up so that he can look down on him, Steve will let it go.

“So — I had this work trip. Did I tell you, I got a new job?”

“Yeah, you said”

Carl had climbed up the ladder, probably knocked a few rivals off, on the way to where he was now, in sales or something like that. That was how he lived that life and the way that he bought all that stuff he would show off to people all of the time.

“So I’m there, in the hotel—“

“A flash one?”

“A bit. And I’m sat with a beer, in the bar. Good day.”

“Yeah?”

“I’d pulled in a couple of grand in bonus. Just on the deals I did that one day!”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

It’s one of those tales Carl must tell Steve before they’ll really relax for the night. He can see in Carl’s eyes that he won’t feel right until he’s been top dog once again.

“And there’s this girl at the bar. Well we talk. And I buy her a drink. Then she only just throws herself at me”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t say no, could I? So we went to her room and then that was that”

“So that’s your girlfriend who’ll be here tonight?”

“No. You see that’s the thing. My girlfriend was still back at home!” And he smiles.

III

Steve looks at him, Carl just sits there and grins, a bit sheepish. Steve feels wrong. He hasn’t heard his mate tell of a thing like this before. He knows Carl is the sort of bloke who will come out ahead of you most of the time, but he’d thought it was just something harmless, just a game. Until now.

“It’s your life I guess…“ Steve just stalls. Is it a confession? He’s proud?

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! Come on, what would you do if you were there?”

“Well I’ve never been there…” And that is that.

They’re back to the things that they usually speak of. They go through the group of their friends back at college and what they’ve been up to. They talk of the football and whose team did not do so well the season just gone. Things are back to the way that they’ve always been.

Then Carl’s phone beeps. He checks it. “She’ll be here in ten”, he tells Steve.

Steve feels sick, it could be pretty awkward, he’ll find some excuse so that he can go home. He hopes that won’t be stuck there with the two of them for that long.

But Carl gets in the drinks and they’re back to form while they wait for the moment when she comes in.

Steve’s mind goes off but then Carl taps his arm.

“Steve, mate. I’d like you to meet—“

Steve looks up.

“—this is Lisa.” But Steve knows exactly who she is.

IV

She’s dressed smart, in a suit and heeled boots like she’s just come from work. And yet when Steve saw her last night, she wore a short tight dress as she walked from his flat having spent a good time in his bed.

Unlike Carl, Steve does not feel a need that he boast about all of the women he’s met. And it isn’t like there are that many he’d speak of if he did. But last night he was lucky, he thinks. The woman he slept with last night looks at him. “Steve, Carl’s told me all about you.” Steve smiles a smile that he knows looks fake. He’s shocked by the way that she acts like nothing is odd.

The chat goes on. Steve just goes along with it, lost in his head. It’s weird and Steve doesn’t know how he should take the way that things are. Lisa goes to the Ladies’ and Carl gets in some drinks for the three of them.

“You won’t tell Lisa what I told you…”

“No. Of course not.”

As if Steve would do that. He looks back on the way that he ended up with Carl’s girlfriend in his bed. He’d been out with his mates from work, usual place, had a few drinks, nothing that out of the normal way of things. Then his mates moved on, he’d planned that he’d head off when out of the blue, this girl called Lisa was there and she asked him if he’d like a drink and so he said yes. And they drank and they talked and he liked her and she liked him and they went back to his place.

Carl comes back with the drinks and the three of them talk of the things that they have in common, the things that they’ve done in the past and how their present lives match up. Steve feels he’ll get off soon. There’s only so much of this he can take.

Then Carl goes off to the Gents’. And Steve and Lisa are there at the table alone.

V

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know–“, Steve starts, with care.

“Of course you didn’t but I did” she says. Steve’s jaw drops in his head. He can’t take in the thing she’s just said.

“Look I’m sorry you ended up mixed up in this.” Lisa says. “I found out about Carl and that woman so I thought I’d get back at him and well, it turns out I did!”

Steve is mute. Like there’s anything more he could say.

“So, thanks for last night, that was fun at least. And I’ll chuck Carl tonight but there’s something I’ll tell him first”

And that is that. They have one more drink and they all get up and go on their way. Steve and Carl won’t meet up for a drink again anytime soon. Did Steve get one up on Carl or did Lisa get one up on both of them? Win, lose or draw they’ll all three soon be alone again.

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