Dine ‘n’ Dash
“Does it feel wrong,” he said, “or does it feel dangerous? Cuz those are two different things.”
He was right, of course, but I didn’t want to risk it. I was already having a bad night—five requests, five rejections—and I didn’t want to make it worse by hopping the railing and bolting.
We were on the patio by the sidewalk, two feet from freedom and a bunch of free pints. At that point, however, I just wanted to pay the bill and bounce. But we hadn’t seen our server in almost an hour.
“Probably,” I said, “because you asked for her number.”
“That was a joke.”
“You’re lucky she didn’t put a fly in your drink.”
Blake mumbled something offensive and turned to the street, charting different ways to escape. The easiest route, as he said, would be to run down Bronson and turn right on Bayview.
“The bus would be right there waiting.”
“The stop would. The bus wouldn’t.”
“It comes every fifteen minutes.”
“Not after midnight. Not on a Saturday.”
“Sunday, now. Technically.”
I replied with a frown instead of a sentence. He was looking for a fight, I could tell. If not with our negligent server, with me.
Under the table, the strap of his backpack nuzzled my shin.
“Come on, man. Let’s live a little.”
I said no as politely as I could.
He went on to explain that the service was shit, the place was a dump, and he felt no guilt whatsoever stealing from people who deserve to be ripped off.
“You’re a regular Robin Hood,” I replied.
“It’s not like it comes out of her pay. The assholes who run the place cover that stuff.”
“How do you know they’re assholes?”
“They’re always assholes. Look at this place.”
I did. A bar full of assholes is what I saw.
“Think about it, man. These chains make a killing. Five grand a night, minimum. Double on the weekends. What’s fifty bucks gonna do?”
This conversation would end, like most, with him calling me a pussy. Or a buzz-kill. One or the other, depending on his blood alcohol level—which, five pints later, was bound to be high.
Curious but unconvinced, I scanned the bar for bouncers. The guy at the door was busy checking IDs, and I couldn’t spot anyone else with SECURITY plastered across their chest.
Our fellow patrons were too busy laughing, shouting, and touching each other to notice a pair of teenagers being teenagers. We were the only ones left on the patio, aside from an older couple three tables away, engrossed in a bottle of wine.
The bartender was pouring shots of tequila, while the servers rushed from table to table, juggling orders and drinks. Across the street, a hobo was passed out in a sleeping bag. Bystanders passed every minute or so, but no one with cuffs and a gun.
We might just be able to get away with it.
I didn’t say it, but I thought it. The moment I agreed, the contract would be signed, and there’d be no backing down.
This was one of those things you do for the rush, I told myself, for the bar story. It wasn’t about doing the right thing, or even the wrong thing. It was about doing for the sake of doing. Life at its most elemental.
Or, said the voice on the other shoulder, it was one of those mindless, easily avoidable mistakes that ends up ruining your life, one of those blips in the plot line that throws the whole damn story out of whack.
“Look,” said Blake, sensing my reluctance. “Even if we get caught—which we won’t—but even if we do, it’s not like they’re gonna call the cops. They’ll just tell us to pay the bill. And we will. Easy peasy.”
“You better not trip on the railing,” I said.
“I’m drunk, but I’m not that drunk.”
“You’re sure they won’t call the cops.”
“Positive. They get this shit all the time. It’s like a parking ticket.”
There was still no sign of our waitress. The sidewalks were clear.
I nodded to Blake, a short quick push of the chin, sans-smile. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right.
Blake swallowed the rest of his beer, tilting his head to catch the trail of foam. He slammed the glass on the table—harder than he’d probably intended—then sighed and burped.
“On three,” I said, doing a final scan of the sidewalk.
I checked the bar, the servers.
We leaned forward, hands on the armrests, ready to push.
The metal legs screeched, but we were up and over the railing before you could say Bolshevik. I didn’t look back to see if anyone saw—they probably did. I just ran and ran and ran, assuming Blake was a few strides behind.
Once we reached the bus stop, I needed a minute to suck some wind. Bent over, hands on knees, I kept my eyes fixed on Bronson and Bayview. Waiting for any new shapes or movement. Sirens, shouting, clicks of approaching feet.
Nothing. Just calm, silent wind. The buzz of late night traffic.
We did it. We got away.
Blake was the first to start laughing. Hands on hips, winded, he laughed and coughed and slapped me on the back. I hadn’t seen him so happy since he first tried shrooms in his cousin’s basement.
I, on the other hand, was reluctant to celebrate. Sure, I felt the rush of a day well-seized, but I knew I’d only feel truly safe when we were back on the bus to the burbs.
Speaking of which, where the hell was it? The stop was deserted. Did that mean we just missed it?
Blake started to look for the bus as well. His smile began a slow retreat.
“Fuck,” I said, unable to say anything else.
“It’s okay,” Blake mumbled, reading my mind. “It’ll come.”
We sat on the bench inside the bus shelter. If someone came around the corner, we’d see them before they could see us.
Three minutes passed, and still no bus. I checked Bayview and Bronson again, the south side, then the north.
“Relax, dude. No one’s coming.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
He looked at me, confused at first, then realized I meant the bus. “It’ll be okay, man. I promise.”
Over the years, his promises meant less and less. I won’t get too drunk, I promise. It’s gonna be a fight-free night, I promise. If you come out, you’ll get laid, I promise.
Just when I was about to call a cab and check the street signs for typos, the bus finally came.
For some reason, neither of us could meet the driver’s gaze. When the door folded open, we stepped on, dropped $3.25 in the thing, and went straight to the back, swaying as the floor lurched into motion.
The only free seats were hosting a gathering of stains—some light, some dark—and we didn’t want to intrude. When I tried to lift my shoes, they clung to the rubber.
The bus was too crowded to have a proper celebration, but I could tell Blake wanted to let out a Woo!
I, on the other hand, just wanted to get home. Part ways, play Halo, pass out. We could exchange high fives tomorrow.
Every street we passed was another street closer to safety. I could feel my shoulders letting go, easing back into a slouch.
Blake’s phone suddenly rang. He didn’t seem to recognize the number.
As he listened, his brow coiled, then released. His face dropped, muscle by muscle. I could hear the phone’s crackling chatter, but nothing that sounded like words. I figured it was his mom, complaining once again about his inability to come home at a decent hour.
He looked around, then covered the phone and whispered, “It’s the bar.”
We stared at each other, jaws limp.
The folks on the phone, whoever they were, carried on with their ominous babble. I could only imagine what they said, but, then again, I didn’t have to. It was written all over Blake’s face.
“Okay,” he said, eyes closed, nodding to no one. “Yeah.” He hung up and rubbed his forehead. “They said they’d call the police if we don’t come back.”
I could feel acid in my chest, blood in my temples.
“How did they…”
“My bag,” he replied. “I left my bag under the table.”
Everything rolled back. My eyes, my head, my mind. Like I’d been shot in slow motion. I couldn’t yell, curse, or even sigh. All I could do was think, You fucking [fill in the blank]. Every name in the book had a turn. Idiot, moron, dumbass. And those were the nice ones. The G-rated variety.
After all the pressuring, the persuading, the reassurances, he couldn’t even bother to remember his backpack?!
They probably had everything. Address, phone numbers, emergency contacts. Christ, they probably had his math homework.
“We have to go back.”
No fucking shit.
Again, I didn’t say it. Just thought it. But he could tell I wasn’t happy.
Suddenly, I remembered we were on a bus, in public, surrounded by people with nothing to do but look and listen. I reined myself in, suppressed my panic. Saved my rage.
We were going to be arrested. We were going to be thrown in a cell and beaten and raped. Okay, maybe not raped, but definitely beaten. We were going to have criminal records. And lawyers and guards and parole officers. This was our life now. Over at seventeen. Because of a pint. Four, in Blake’s case. One, in mine.
Blake pulled the cord, and we got off at the next stop. We couldn’t afford to wait for a bus heading north. We’d have to start walking.
To this day, I’ve never walked so fast. Arms pumping, thighs propelling us forward, we moved like a pair of grannies doing laps around a mall. Everyone we passed—hobos included—gave us looks. I’d like to say I was too preoccupied to care, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Blake.
“When we get there.”
“What do you mean?” I said, knowing exactly what he meant. “You go in and pay the bill.”
“We go in and pay the bill.”
“I’m not going in.”
He stopped, panting. “What?”
“Dude,” I said, as gently as I could. “Come on.”
“Come on, what? I’m not going in there alone.”
I couldn’t even look at him. The desperate eyes, the scarlet forehead. He was either going to punch me or burst into tears on my shoulder.
“I’m not trying to be a dick…”
He put his hands on his hips. Like his mom when she caught us smoking weed in the backyard. Or when he came home one night with ripped jeans and a black eye.
“Nothing,” I said. “Let’s just go.”
“No, no.” He put his hand on my shoulder, holding me back. “I want to know what’s happening before we go in there.”
I didn’t know what to say. I looked to the gum-spattered sidewalk for guidance.
He wanted to call me a pussy. I could smell it on his breath. But he didn’t. He just kept walking.
I followed a few feet behind.
Why the hell was he mad at me? He was the one who fucked up. I get that he’s afraid. I get that he wants company. If I were in his shoes, I’d want company too. Which is why I got off the bus. But I’m under no obligation to enter the bar. If that makes me a pussy, then a pussy be I.
In fact, fuck him for making me feel bad, for insisting I pay for his mistake. If he were a real friend, he’d volunteer to go back alone. This was his idea to begin with. I only agreed because he wouldn’t let it go—and because he swore we wouldn’t get caught. Easy peasy, he said. Easy peasy.
Hypothetically, if the roles were reversed, what would he do? Would he sacrifice himself to the Gods of Friendship? Fuck, no. He’d be on the first flight to Mexico. He’d say what I’m apparently too polite or afraid to say, Sorry, pal. You’re on your own.
Besides, they won’t even call the cops. He said it himself. They’ll just make him pay the bill and tell him not to come back. Cops don’t have time for this Mickey Mouse shit. And neither do bars.
We stopped at the corner of Hillcrest and Elgin, where Blake had glimpsed the bar from the bus. Everything looked the same. No cops cars, flashing lights, or sirens. People stumbled in and out, laughing and shouting. The bouncer—checking IDs, nodding—kept on bouncing.
“Let’s go,” said Blake, without a glance in my direction.
It wasn’t a request. It was a command, a coded message meaning, If you want to be friends when this is over, you’ll start walking.
“I’m going to stay here,” I said, hearing the words before I was aware I’d said them.
He didn’t even look at me. Just breathed through his nose, slowly, audibly, scanning the terrain.
And with that, he was gone. Across the street and into the bar. The bouncer gave him a WTF head-shake before he let him inside.
When Blake finally emerged with his backpack, he didn’t acknowledge my presence. Not as he approached, nor as he passed. He just walked on, assuming—maybe, maybe not—that I’d follow.
Which I did. All the way to the bus stop, where we waited in silence.
Eventually, I asked Blake what the bar people said.
“Not much. Just told me to pay the bill.”
His mouth opened, as if to add something, then snapped shut. Mine clutched itself, afraid of what he might say.
“They said the servers pay. It comes out of their pocket.”
I reached into my own and dug out a wrinkled ten.
“Should cover my part,” I said.
A few minutes later, the bus came. We found room in the back to stretch our legs. Blake on the left side, me on the right. Our views, like everything else, were opposed. He had the light of passing cars and housing developments. I had the moonless night. Fields and forests of black, with no horizon.
As Blake studied the suburban scene, thinking whatever he thought, I surveyed the darkness—which, ironically, cast my reflection in a sharper light, forcing me to meet my gaze, examine my ghostly features, consider what I’d rather forget.
Eventually, I gave up on my face and all that it stood for.
I looked at Blake. His sunken eyes no longer twitched at the sight of a car. They were deep in the bottomless night.
Chris Gilmore has published stories, essays, and reviews in several periodicals, including The New Quarterly, Matrix, and The Puritan. He has a Master’s in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and was recently nominated for the Journey Prize. He lives and works in Toronto.
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