All eyes in the bar followed the path of the 8-ball as it gently rolled toward a corner pocket. Ryan held his breath, watching in horror as it fell straight in. A few people around him cheered, including the man who just made the shot.
He turned toward Ryan, holding out his hand. “Good game, man,” he said. Ryan sighed, and accepted the handshake.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll get you next time, for sure, though.”
“Sure, dude,” the man said with a laugh. “Maybe we should switch games? It’s been months since you’ve beaten me.” A very smug grin appeared on his face. “It might be time to move on.”
Ryan groaned, but he knew there was some truth to what he said. While you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, the man, Elliot, had been terrorizing Ryan for nearly a year. Not physically, no. He was shorter and weaker than Ryan by quite a bit, and they were actually good friends when gambling wasn’t involved. But gambling was often involved. Every other week since he was old enough to get in, he would come to this bar and find a way to wager money against Elliot. It started with simple drinking games, like who could drink a pint the fastest. Then it was darts, which Ryan was actually good at, but it got boring fast. Eventually, they made their way to playing pool. They were evenly matched when they started, and people actually watched them play it, which added a whole new layer to the game.
Unfortunately, a few months ago, Elliot started getting much better at the game. Or maybe I just got worse? Ryan thought. Their bets were never very big, usually twenty bucks, with an occasional fifty thrown around to make things interesting. Not this week, though. Ryan had an extra burst of confidence, and felt that he could actually break his losing streak. But, he didn’t break it. And as he reached into his wallet to pull out the stack of bills, he felt a new type of pain.
“Wait, seriously? Five hundred dollars on a dumb game of pool?” Simon said, staring at his friend in bewilderment.
The two were at their usual booth in the corner of the bar. Ryan had been saying his goodbyes to Eliott and some of his friends when Simon finally arrived.
“Simon, you don’t get it,” Ryan said. “I was convinced that I could win tonight. And I had to make a massive bet to make up for the past few months of losses.”
Simon rolled his eyes. “Ryan, how much have you lost with your dumb bets? I mean you just said this has been going on for months, right?”
Ryan looked down at the beer he was clutching. He muttered under his breath, “two grand.”
“What was that?” Simon stared more intently at his friend.
“Including the five hundred I lost tonight, it adds up to two thousand dollars. Happy?”
Simon took an enormous breath. “Holy shit.”
“I mean, that’s over months, right? It’s not-”
“Dude, you’re addicted.” Simon said matter-of-factly.
“No.” Ryan took a sip of his drink. “I mean, maybe I was, but I think I’m done.”
Simon arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Did losing tonight teach you something?”
Yeah, it taught me that I’m broke. Ryan just laughed and nodded, trying to hide the pain in his eyes.
Simon appeared to notice it anyway, and spun the conversation. “Well how about you stop coming here so often? It’s getting stale, anyway.”
Ryan nodded. “Okay, that could be good. I could find something to include Dani, too, now that she-” Ryan froze. Oh, wait. ‘She’ is correct. He relaxed. Nice.
“Oh wow, so she already had that talk with you?” Simon asked.
“Earlier today, yeah.”
“Cool, I was worried it might take her a while. Glad to see she trusts you, finally.”
Ryan tilted his head. “Did she not trust me before?”
“Well,” Simon started to fidget in his seat. “She didn’t outright say she didn’t trust you, but come on. We both know how you used to be.”
“Fair.” Ryan shuddered while thinking about the stuff he said when he was younger. “I’m surprised I haven’t messed up her pronouns, yet. I mean it’s been a day, and it already feels natural. Is that weird?”
Simon tapped his finger on the table for a bit, before saying, “no, I don’t think so. And call me crazy, but I think her voice plays a big part in that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know about you, but when she first came out to me, I was nervous I would mess up.”
“Right, so was I. And I still am, to be honest.”
“Sure. But almost the instant I heard her ‘new voice,’ my entire perception of her shifted. Like her voice was changing the way my eyes saw her.”
“Huh. That kinda happened to me, too. I think.” Ryan was starting to sink into the table, and he had to lift his chin higher and higher to keep sipping his drink without spilling.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s messed up to say that, but there’s some logic to it. Hearing is an entire sense on its own, just like sight. And some animals don’t even use sight, they only use sound to-”
Ryan nodded along as he struggled to stay awake. He lost count of how many beers he had downed, and as much as he liked hearing Simon rant about stuff, he lost focus.
Instead, he thought of some things he could do to help Dani get out of the house, while also keeping himself away from the bar. I can’t believe she didn’t trust me. Actually, I can. Still, I have to find a way to make it up to her. Maybe there’s a cool bowling alley nearby. Or I could get her a gym membership. Or we could like...uhh…
“Ryan, are you good?” Simon’s directed voice cut through Ryan’s wandering thoughts. “You didn’t drive here, did you?”
Finding himself unable to speak, Ryan exaggeratedly shook his head, then rested it on the table.
I hope Simon’s okay to drive home, he thought before drifting off entirely. Or at least knows how to use Uber.