"See, I have this friend," said the woman at the bar to the man who was pouring her drink. "He's a sweet guy, and he's a popular guy, but he had some tough times when he was younger and he's just now dealing with some of the ... stuff ... left over from that. And to be honest, I'm not sure I know how to help him."
The man behind the counter nodded slightly. "Your name's Abby, right?" he asked. She nodded. "Well, Abby, maybe the guy needs to work through this stuff on his own."
Abby shook her head. "I don't think that's the case."
Jack shrugged. "If you say so. What kind of stuff is he dealing with?"
"I'm not at liber-- I don't think he would appreciate my going into detail."
"But it involves his parents, and that's difficult territory, especially for a guy his age."
"He's in his thirties."
"Is he in a relationship?"
"I don't know. In fact, I'm not sure he knows. A woman he didn't expect to see suddenly landed back in the middle of his life, and I think he's pretty confused."
Jack shrugged. "I know I am."
Abby smiled. "I shouldn't be telling you this."
"There are three people in the bar," Jack said. "I've got ears and I've got some free time."
"It's just that this guy is so unhappy."
"I hear you."
Abby took another sip of her drink and bit her lip. "I wish I knew his friends," she said.
"He's got just about the best friends anyone could ask for."
"How do you know?"
"He talks about them. All the time." She hesitated. "One of them is dating someone so different from himself, it's amazing to think about."
"Yes. He's a great guy, too. I've met him a couple of times."
"Good to know."
"And I'm happy for him .. for going out, for trying new things, for living his life."
Abby tossed her head. "Only it doesn't make me very happy for his ex-girlfriend."
"Uh oh," Jack said agreeably.
"She just wanted to try something new, and they broke up."
"They broke up to try something new?"
Abby smiled. "They broke up because he didn't want to try something new."
"And yet, there he goes."
Jack continued to wipe down the bar, allowing Abby to make the next move.
"My friend has another friend," she said at last. "Another really great guy, who just happens to be even more popular than my friend at the moment."
"Yes. I think my friend feels inadequate because of that."
"Because people don't like him?"
"Because he thinks people don't like him."
"But people do like him, right?"
"People love him."
"Have you told him that?"
"Because he wouldn't believe me, anyway."
Jack shrugged. "Never hurts to try."
"In this case, I think it might hurt to try."
"I think I would rather let my friend figure out on his own how much people like him, to say nothing of how much his popular friend likes him."
Jack nodded slowly. "So why are you worrying?" he finally asked.
Abby hesitated. "I work with a lot of people," she said at last. "That's my job: to work with people. And I think about them probably more than I should, but, I don't know ... this whole group of people has me captivated."
"I know the type," Jack said as he refilled her glass. She thanked him with a nod.
"The thing is," she went on, "this popular friend has some stuff going on, as well."
"Who doesn't?" Jack agreed.
"This guy is in love with a woman. He's been in love with a woman for 16 years, and they're not together."
"Does the woman love him, too?"
"I think she does."
"Does he think she does?"
"He knows she does."
"Does she know he does?"
"Does she know he does what?"
"Does she know he does love her?"
Abby shook her head. "I think she knows he loves her," she said.
"But they're not together."
Jack shrugged. "Why?"
"Because they hit a considerable bump on the road, and they let it bounce them completely off course."
"Tell me about it." Abby shook her head. "Anyway. It's late."
"And I've got an early day."
"Well, it was nice talking to you."
"It was nice talking to you."
Abby dropped the money on the bar, stood and started to walk away, and then turned to face Jack again for a moment.
"What should I tell him?" she asked quietly.
"What should I tell my friend?"
Jack was silent for a moment. "Tell him you think about him when you don't have to be thinking about him," he said at last. "Tell him you think about him in bars at three in the morning."
"You think that's going to help?"
"I think at the very least it's going to illustrate that someone cares."
Abby was silent for a long moment before she nodded. "Thank you, Jack," she said at last.
Jack nodded and went back to wiping down the bar, while Abby gathered her things and walked away.
10 March 2000