The Roadhouse was on two floors; the ground floor was wooden walls covered in rock-band memorabilia, wooden floors covered in sawdust (you just avoided the bits where it was clumping early in the evening, and tried to avoid it altogether later on) and a collection of tables and chairs that the owner was said to hand-craft. Upstairs, and the single flight of sheet-metal stairs attached to a steel balustrade was guarded by two bouncers with smiles that weren't pleased to see anyone, there were leather sofas, plouffes, a quieter bar staffed by more gentle barfolk and three dozen Playstations and XBoxes. The music upstairs was harder and more driving, to go with the games people played, and the music downstairs came from a jukebox that looked like it might be an original from the 1950s.
Tim walked in and looked around. Two of the tables were occupied, though one of them had a couple of girls in enough clothing to look indecent and little else. They were both also so close to being underage that he looked away again almost reflexively. The other table had a guy in a lumberjack's check shirt nursing a beer; he looked like a regular and looked like he planned to spend the evening there. Tim took a table by the side of the stairs. He nodded at the bouncers, who looked straight through him and made him feel at home.
He thought about going upstairs for a few minutes; he spent plenty of evenings in the living playing Call Of Duty with his microwave meals for one going cold on the floor beside him while the occasional noise from upstairs reminded him that his wife was home and was sure he could handle himself even amongst the college kids who spent pretty much the whole day up there, but then he decided that Rocky probably wasn't going to be looking upstairs for their date.
The waitress sashayed over, her shirt tied up to show off a pierced bellybutton and when she took his order her tongue flipped briefly over her lips revealing another piercing. Tim wondered if he looked like the kind of guy to her who tipped better if he thought she was flirting. She was back with his beer in a minute and a half, and dropped a packet of pork scratchings down on the table that he hadn't asked for.
"On the house," she said breathily, and he added another five to the tip to cover the cost. He didn't think she'd even been subtle.
Half an hour later he had a chicken pie in gravy on a plate in front of him, his fork held poised in one hand while he waited it to cool down from mouth-scalding to a more managable temperature. The two girls had gotten up and latched on to a couple of bearded biker types that were leaning against the bar, and Tim was wondering what they were hoping to be getting into. The barmaid with the piercings was pulling the dark-blue covers off the pool tables on the other side of the bar, and a couple of guys, one in a suit and the other in grey flannel joggers, were tossing a coin to see who'd break. Suit won, but his break was appalling, and flannel joggers sank four on his first turn at the table. Tim took a tentative bite of his pie, and chewed it fast, trying to avoid it touching his tongue or the inside of his mouth, and swallowed. Still too hot.
By the time it reached 8:30 he was on his third beer and feeling very slightly buzzed. There'd been a text message twenty minutes earlier that just read "Are you dead?" and seemed kind of hopeful when he'd read it. "Home by ten" he'd replied, and the phone had been silent since.
He pulled it out again to check it, though it was set to both ring and vibrate if there were any messages; sure enough it was quiet, waiting for something to happen. He put it away in his trouser pocket, and suddenly realised that there was someone at his table.
"Uh?" he said. Across from him was a young man, short blonde hair, unnecessary sunglasses, snub nose and chewing gum. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a plain blue colour that might have been office wear in a casual environment. The shirt was open to the third button, but the chest was smooth and unmarred.
"Hi," said the guy. He stuck a hand out and Tim looked at it. "Shake?"
"Uh. Yeah," said Tim. He put his hand out and they shook, Tim wondering if he looked as much like a performing dog as he felt. "Uh. Do I know you?"
"Not yet," said the man. He smiled, and Tim noticed that one of his canines was slightly crooked. Somehow that was endearing, as though being perfect would have been too much. "I guess it kind of depends on if you want to."
"I'm sort of waiting for someone," said Tim. It was the truth, he could hear in the back of his mind, even if it was a slightly distorted truth, and even if he had no intention of talking to the person he was waiting for.
"Yes," said the man. He pulled a napkin from a dispenser on the table, took the chewing gum out of his mouth and wrapped it up. Tim sat back in his chair, oddly apprehensive about what this could me. "For Rocky, right?"
"Uh," said Tim. He mentally shook himself, he had to stop sounding stupid. "I mean, why do you say that?"
The man laughed. "I'm Rocky," he said. "I placed the ad, I got your response. You're waiting for me."
"...maybe." Tim's voice was small, but there was a tingle of excitement down in the pit of his stomach. "I don't get why you think I answered your ad though."
"Well, you just admitted it for one thing," said Rocky. "But mostly because I know almost everyone in here most evenings, so it was you or that guy over there." He pointed, and Tim glanced past and saw the lumberjack-shirted guy. "I was hoping it was you."
"So what do we do now?" asked Tim.