Benny, as the locals call him, is a bonafide gentleman: Sir Bedford Corvallis, an ex-pat Scotsman, and a regular of the Argyll Seafood Grill. Nobody remembers when he landed in our Gulf Coast town. He’s just always seemed to be part of the landscape. I enjoy chatting with Benny when he sits in my section. But this night was busier than usual. There was no time to stop and gossip.
As service started to slow and we had a chance to take catch our breaths, I was surprised to see Benny bent over his horse head cane, clearly crying. I signaled the host I was taking a break and ordered a couple of Johnny Walker Golds from the bar. I invited myself to sit, offered Benny one of the shots and raised my glass.
“Who are we toasting?” I asked.
Benny took his glass and raised it. “To another long-lost friend. My dearest, my darling. Honeysuckle!”
We tossed back our drinks. I signaled the bar for another round. Benny wiped his eyes with his ever-present pocket kerchief and stared off into the distance. The shots arrived, and I offered, “To friends. Past and present.”
“Cheers,” Benny said, and we tossed back our second. I stood to leave and Benny stopped me.
“She was the love of my life. I know that now, of course. Oh, my. Well, as the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. I couldn’t know then the difference between a fun flirtation and meaningful pursuit.”
He pointed to my seat and I sat back down, giving my irritated host a shrug of apology.
“We were still children, really. Still laughing, still silly and playful. She was smart and bubbling. And, oh, she was a very pretty thing. Prettiest lass in the village, by my reckoning. And, to see her in her bathing suit,” Benny shook his head and let out a small whistle. “We used to go scuba diving, you see. Her father was the proprietor of a charter fishing and diving outfit. Most popular with the tourists.”
Benny drifted off in private thought.
“I would’ve never taken you for a diver,” I said.
“Oh, yes! Indeed, I was quite enthusiastic at the time. My favorite time of day was in early summer, at midday. The sun would be high in a blue cloudless sky, and the waters of my home village are so very clear, that the high sun could illuminate everything below. The world beneath the water’s surface is such a captivating place to explore. If it were possible, I would have stayed under all day! I fancied becoming a marine biologist at one time, you know.”
I stood and gave Benny a pat on the shoulder. “Benny, I have to get back to it, or Jeff’ll blow a gasket. You want another? On me.”
Benny rose from his seat. “No, sweet lady, I do not, but I do thank you. Best I go on home now.”
I handed him his bill and we walked through the restaurant together, and as I broke off for the kitchen, Benny took my hand and kissed the back of it.
“As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed,” he said with a generous smile.
I smiled in return and waved good-bye.
As I ploughed through the rest of a hard night’s work, I couldn’t stop thinking of how truly grieved Benny seemed, and how sad his parting smile. It made me think of David. That last time we got together, I was so excited about going off to school, his grumpiness and hound-dog scowl pissed me off.
I wonder—that is, if David thinks of me—what he thinks of the memory of us. I don’t think I was cruel. I was just a kid looking forward to a big adventure. But I know I broke his heart. Seeing how sad Benny was at the news of the death of his teenage sweetheart, I wondered if maybe I should look up David. Before it is too late to say I am sorry.
As service wound down, and the group of us sat around the bar having our late meals and one for the road, I raised my beer, “Ya know, there’s no time like the present. I just want to say how grateful I am for you guys and I want to thank all of you for being my friends. Cheers to you.”
Two sets of OLWG prompts: roadhouse whisky; a horse head cane; he was crying; round ‘em up; am I smart enough to know the difference?; burying my friends
and one from Go Dog Go Café’s Tuesday Prompt: beneath the waters https://godoggocafe.com/2019/10/08/tuesday-writing-prompt-challenge-october-8-2019/