It wasn't very often that Carl visited the pub. For one thing, he never had the money, but as today was "pay day" and his unemployment cheque had arrived that morning, he had decided to treat himself.
Glass in hand he found a vacant table and he seated himself behind it. He had just taken his first drink from the glass when a familiar figure walked through the door. Carl recognised him immediately, though a week had passed since they had met at the swimming pool. The lifeguard was still dressed in his "uniform" of a yellow polo shirt and red shorts and Carl looked at his watch; 5.30 pm, he guessed that Tom's shift was over and that maybe he was meeting some of his colleagues for an after work pint.
Watching, with more than a passing interest, as Tom ordered a drink at the bar, Carl waited to see who else was arriving. Maybe it wouldn't be a work colleague; maybe it would be his wife. Maybe it would be his wife and their children. He'd never thought about him having children. Carl figured that Tom was around 22 maybe 23 and he knew that he was married by the gold band he had spotted when the two had spoken at the pool.
Carl noticed that Tom didn't move away from the bar, he also noticed that, as Tom finished his drink and re-ordered, no one else had, so far, turned up. Carl's own glass was empty. He debated about getting it refilled and decided that he would. He was in no rush to go home.
"Pint of Worthington, please."
The barman ignored Carl's empty glass and took a fresh, clean one from below the bar and placed it under the tap that was connected to the barrel in the cellar of the requested bitter. Pulling at the pump, the liquid started to fill the glass and as it was left to settle, the barman took the note offered by Carl and walked to the till to ring in the sale. Handing his customer his change, the barman again pulled at the pump until the glass was full and placed the glass on the bar before moving on to his next customer.
Carl was about to pick up the glass when he was interrupted by a call from further away and looked up to see the lifeguard walking towards him and smiled.
"Hi. How are you?"
"Oh, fair to crap," replied Carl, picking up his glass and taking a sip of the beer he had ordered.
"Haven't seen you at the pool for a while."
"I don't go every day."
"Few people do, they ache too much afterwards.
"Yeah, I did, too, but I think I overdid it with having been running that day."
"I can believe that. So, you by yourself, or am I holding you up."
"No, I'm here by myself."
"Me, too. Mind if I join you for a while? It would be nice to have someone sane to talk to."
"Not at all."
Carl headed back to the table he had been occupying, Tom following and, as Carl sat back down, Tom took the seat opposite him.
"I saw you come in," said Carl, placing his glass on the table.
"Just finished work."
"I thought as much. I thought maybe you were waiting for someone."
"No, just a quick pint before I headed off home. It's become a routine."
Tom laughed. Carl smiled.
"Your wife doesn't mind, then?"
"Yeah! She doesn't have dinner on the table or anything?"
"I don't have a wife and dinner will be a microwave meal for one."
"Yeah. I can't be arsed with cooking when I get home."
"You live alone, then?"
"I assumed you were married, maybe even with kids."
"Me? No way! What made you think that?"
"The ring on your finger," replied Carl, pointing to the gold band on the third finger of Tom's left hand.
Tom raised his hand and looked at it, almost as if he'd never seen it before.
"Oh, that!" he said, laughing. "That was father's ring."
"Oh, I see."
"He died when I was nine. Cancer. My mother kept the ring for me and I like to wear it."
"Sorry to hear that, you must miss him." It was more of a statement than a question, but Tom answered it anyway.
"Yeah, I do. He was a great bloke."
"I live with my parents."
"I lived at home until last year, then I got a flat."
"It has its drawbacks. Like microwave meals for one. At least living at home I got fed well and I got my laundry done."
Carl laughed. Tom smiled.
"Well, that's true. My mother says I treat the place like a hotel."
"Mine used to say the same to me and my sister."
"Well, I'm an only child, so mine has no one else to pick on."
Tom laughed. Carl smiled.
"Another?" Tom stood and pointed to Carl's half-empty glass.
"No, I'm fine, thanks."
"Oh, go on."
"Well, okay, you've twisted my arm. Thanks."
"What is it?"
Tom headed to the bar and Carl picked up his glass to finish what remained.
The two sat talking for another half hour, their conversation turning to Tom's job. Carl had very little of interest to talk about, considering he had very little of interest in his life. Tom was relating a story.
"So, what did you do then?"
"I called for one of the others to come and help me."
"And did they?"
"Not straight away. I was left to try and get the woman from the pool myself. She wasn't exactly the lightest of people. No disrespect, but she weighed a ton."
"Must have been a struggle."
"Yeah, talk about Free Willy. Not sure a truck would have held her."
Carl laughed. Tom smiled.
"It's my round," replied Carl.
"That's okay, I'll get them."
"No, really, you got the last one."
"Look, no offence, but I'm working, you're not."
"That's not the point."
"Well, okay, I didn't mean any offence."
"I know. But I like to pay my way, when I can. Which isn't very often."
"Well, I respect that. Look, tell you what, I'll get this one, you get the next and then we can call it a day. What do you say?"
Carl picked up his glass and drained it and held it out to Tom. "Yeah, why not? Nothing to rush off for."
Tom smiled again. "Good."
The two had, in fact, stayed longer in the pub than either had anticipated doing so. Tom had bought that drink and Carl had bought the next one and then Tom had bought the three that came next. It was, therefore, a very light-headed Carl that made his way home at around 11.30 that evening and only because time had been called and they were unable to get anymore to drink.
"Maybe I'll see you again?" Tom had asked, as they parted.
"Very likely," had been Carl's reply and the two had headed off in opposite directions.
Arriving home and grabbing a sandwich, Carl headed upstairs and, alone with his thoughts, his attention turned to the virus on his computer. A few hours of respite and now they were back. It was really beginning to irritate him.
Carl was becoming more and more frustrated every time he turned on his computer. Nothing seemed to work and the longer it took to get rid of it, the worse he feared things would get. The virus seemed to have overtaken his every thought during the day and he was even starting to dream about it during the night. It was becoming unbearable.
His chat to Allan had seemed productive at first, but no solution had been forthcoming. Just as he seemed that maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel the virus had come back to haunt him. Carl had tried in vain to reconnect to the Internet to IM Allan and ask him to send the other programme he had mentioned, but had given it up as a bad job after five attempts and had gone to bed in anger.
That had been a week ago. He was scared to turn on his computer and dreading the arrival of the telephone bill. Allan would probably have given up on him and 'Whizzer' and 'Anchorman' would still be cursing and getting nowhere.
The effects of the drink were making him tired. The sandwich hadn't helped. Carl lay in his bed not really knowing what his next move should be with regards to his computer. Its blank screen seemed to stare back at him, taunting him as he looked at it standing on his desk across the other side of the room.
"Fuck you," he said, as he turned over in his bed and closed his eyes. Tonight he would dream about Tom.
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