a worried man with a worried mind Who: Chris & Rafe. What: The two meet up at The Last Stop for a drink and some discussion. Where: The Last Stop. When: Shortly after this set of messages.
Chris found himself the first to arrive at Jay's bar; he greeted the worker behind the bar, asking after the owner and eventually seating himself in a booth near the back. Part of him was hoping Rafe would flake, which he'd see as no skin off his own nose, and the other part was hesitantly curious regarding just what Rafe wanted to meet about. Maybe he finally wanted to have that discussion regarding previous events, or maybe something else had happened. With the way things had been going -- the discussion and late-night dinner with Daniel, patching things up with Nish -- he actually felt, well, good regarding the trajectory of his life. He could spare a former friend slash buyer a few minutes of his time.
Though Rafe had said he'd pay, Chris still helped himself to a bottle of his favorite beer, a waitress bringing it by the table just as Rafe arrived.
"Sorry; you can get the next one, if it's that important." He raised the bottle in the man's direction, then motioned for him to sit. "Please don't tell me you need a fix, because that's the last thing I'm gonna deal with right now." The words were intended as a joke, but they came off hamfistedly in the wake of recent events. "Yeah, should not have said that..." His gaze raked over Rafe's face, eyes going wide at the bruises on the man's throat; Chris chose to cover his surprise with another drink, choosing to refrain from commenting in that moment.
Rafael sat, though with fresh hesitation. The comment stung, as he assumed it had been intended to. For lack of anything better to do, he picked up the little flyer of specials, turning it over in his hands. But when the waitress looked his way he only motioned for a beer, another of whatever his companion was having. He did not speak until she had brought it by. His hands curled loose around the bottom of the bottle.
"No," he said at last. "I really did want to thank you. But I also… I need to talk to somebody about this. Nish, that shit up in the lobby… all of it. Nobody else knows any of it like you do." He frowned, shaking his head. "If you don't want to deal with this, I understand. I'll buy you a drink like I said and you can leave."
Chris was already shaking his head. "No, I...I owe you this much. I'll just keep my trap shut, for whatever you wanted to talk about." He seemed to seal the deal by closing his lips around the mouth of his bottle, as though it would keep him quiet. His hands and the bottle went back down to the table, his form slouching in his seat as though he were getting comfortable to sit a long spell. Fingers rapped the table's surface. "So...what's this about?"
Rafael took a bolstering sip from his beer. All the perfectly coherent, well formulated sentences he'd pieced together on the drive over seemed to have fled. He was left with only a deep sense of unease, a certainty that something was irrevocably broken. He could not bear to tell himself this, or to even begin to face it, but if anyone could and would tell him the unvarnished truth, it would be Chris.
"So... " He raked a hand through his hair. "She says she didn't write what got posted. And even if she had, she wouldn't have put it up there for everyone to see. But… between that and some other things, I get the impression what she really thinks about me isn't actually that far off. She's dealt better with my job than anyone else has, but between that journal and the coke and… I don't know if this is working. Or maybe I'm just making a big deal out of nothing."
Chris's eyes were wide and focused on the table; one hand rose to his nape, scratching it in slight discomfort.
"Right to it, that's cool." He straightened in his seat, one hand reaching out to draw his beer closer. He swallowed all the same, feeling completely out of his depth. "I mean, if that's what you're feeling, maybe it's time to take a step back. Nothing wrong with getting a little distance. Might be better for the both of you, just... Think about things." He was in no way defending his own take on events that had occurred between them; it was just that Rafe sounded sure, sort of, and Chris didn't know enough about his and Nish's relationship to really feel comfortable making that kind of judgement.
"What, exactly, has she done, or said, to make you think...that she thinks that?" When did I become a counselor? He imagined Daniel laughing his ass off throughout this scenario, that Chris of all people would be asked about dating advice. The thought warmed him, and he told his mental version of Daniel to shut up, and that same mental version responded with an inviting, crude remark that made Chris realize he was getting far too distracted. He covered it up with a quick drink, focusing on Rafe.
It was a fair question, though not one Rafael had any desire to delve into very deeply. His teeth worried at the inside of his cheek. No matter how many ways he considered putting it, it never sounded any better. "She's been seeing someone else. Someone more…" He shrugged. "Dominant. I've told her that's fine, but I don't think she thinks it is. Then a week or two ago she was high and she sort of forced the issue. She loved it, I… didn't." He shook his head, waving his hand in a dismissive, clearly discomfited wave. "Then the journal. You know the rest."
Chris's brows bobbed on his forehead, covering his own discomfort with another drink.
"Then don't. If she's, you know, forcing stuff you don't want on you, then...tell her to not do it. Or it sounds like you're right that... it isn't working." He shrugged, putting the bottle on the table. "Kinda sounds like there's too many cooks in the kitchen, if you know what I mean. Never could understand those..." Hands rose, fingers implying something large. "Threesomes, I guess? It sounds like she's, you know, trying to have her cake and eat it, too. Not that I'm one to judge." The last bit, a disclaimer, an attempt to absolve himself from the situation that was treading a little too close for comfort. He drained the last of his beer and waved at the waitress for another. He felt too sober for this kind of conversation.
Rafael was inclined to agree. He motioned to her again, and she nodded, understanding and moving to comply with the practiced ease of a long-time bartender. "It's complicated," he said, for the second time in a handful of days. He winced as the words passed his lips. "I like seeing her happy. And she puts up with a lot from me. My weird schedule, the last-minute interviews and press stuff, the whole job itself…" He shook his head, falling silent as the waitress cleared their empties and left two full, chilly beers behind. "Maybe I'm just asking too much."
Chris happily took up the second drink, downing a mouthful before replying. He shrugged, leaning back against his seat again. "How long have you two been seeing each other?"
Rafe's gaze drifted up toward the ceiling as he took another sip. He knew the answer immediately, but he also knew how it sounded. "A little more than a month."
Chris nearly choked around another mouthful of beer. "A month?? Damn, man. I just...wow." He stopped, swallowing, trying to clear his airway. "I mean, you guys are really fitting a lot into a small time frame, huh? Sorry, sorry." He waved one hand in a mea culpa motion. "OK. Just from what I'm seeing here, yeah, she's got problems. She needs help. I think everyone can see that. But, like... I'm not sure a break up is gonna help with that at this point. You know? She needs people to support her, and, yeah, maybe... I think a month is a seriously small amount of time to judge whether or not a relationship is working. Because, you know, I'm the guru of self-help advice."
Rafael chuckled, shaking his head. "Right." He drained half his beer in a single draught, turning over Chris's words as he did. They echoed some of his own thoughts: the brighter, selfless ones, the ones to which he was far more accustomed to listening. Guilt settled in his stomach, a heavy weight he knew he deserved. "You're right, though. I…" He looked down at his hands, his thumb tracing the line of the bottle's damp label. "Thanks."
His companion shrugged, feeling better for having put Rafe at ease. "I try." He took another drink, eyes wafting back toward Rafe's neck. After a beat, he decided to ask.
"So, you wanna tell me what's going on around your throat? Because that...looks really, really bad."
Unthinking, Rafael raised a hand to the yellowing lines around his neck. They hurt only slightly when he pressed his fingertips to them, and he did not mind that small pain. Quite the opposite, in fact, if he was honest with himself. He smirked. "Work," he lied. "It's really not as bad as it looks."
Chris shook his head, his bottle floating by one hand in front of his mouth. "Jesus. People get paid to do that to you?" The issues he'd had earlier wrapping his mind around a three-way relationship paled in comparison to the way his face looked now. He took a drink, putting his bottle down and clasping it with both hands on the table. "You see a doctor or anything after? They take care of you, right?"
"Usually." Rafael's gaze darted away from his companion's, back down to the bottle. He sipped at his beer, though he had entirely lost his taste for it now. His discomfort was written stark on his face. "This is nothing, though. Really. I went to my D.O. and I'm right as rain. It'll just take a few more days for the color to even out."
Chris shook his head, brows rising and falling in disbelief. "If you say so, man. I'll trust you on that one." His eyes went back to his bottle for a moment, before flicking back to Rafe's face. "You ever think... I dunno, getting out of that stuff? Between what's going on with you and Nish, and that... that's a ton of shit to deal with. I mean, I'm kinda not surprised you guys have issues." He quickly held up his hands.
"Not that I'm saying it's all you; Nish is her own basket of crazy. But, you know," he shrugged. "It might lighten the load a little."
Rafael nodded. "Soon, I think. But not yet. I've got a couple of years left to me. I need to pad out my savings a little more, and then I'll consider it. It's not like I've got a 401k." He smirked, and pushed aside his beer. "She knew what I did when we met. We even talked about it. I've tried to be very honest since…" He shrugged, swallowing around a lump in his throat. "Since I got into this. And what else would I do? Go back to playing sous chef? At my age?" Shaking his head, he said, "This is it for me, for at least a while longer."
Another pull, another nod. "Yeah, I hear you. Career change is hard. Maybe you guys will last that long, maybe not. Always something better around the corner, right?" Chris clenched his jaw, gaze fading into an unseen memory. He glanced back to Rafe. "At least, gotta believe in something."
"So I hear," Rafael said. He said his goodbyes -- and another round of thanks, of course -- and rapped his knuckles against the tabletop as he rose and moved away. He settled their tab at the bar. Then he waved once more, and slipped alone outside.