Xander Harris, Gobo Fraggle, and Sam Malone as well as all other mentioned characters, settings, and minutiae are the property of their creators, owners, producers, and distributors. They do not belong to me or to my brother (more's the pity). No infringement is intended. No profit will be made.Not-the-Author's-Note:
I did not write this. My brother did. Currently, we have something of a deal. I edit his stuff for spelling and occasional grammar, post it, and forward the feedback to him. He takes me out for dinner occasionally, listens to me whine, and then pats me on the head. At this point, he has far more stories posted under my account than I do. All this means is that when I get around to it, I'll get to post all my other stuff that doesn't have a crossover. :DWhere Everybody Knows Your Name
Sam Malone stood at the back of the room, flirting with one of the sponsors. He had just gotten her phone number when the new guy stood up and began speaking.
“Hi, everyone. My name's Xander and I'm an alcoholic.”
“Hi, Xander!” the group chorused.
Sam took a moment to look at the man. He was somewhat tall and dark haired. Dressed in jeans and sneakers, the man had a casual look about him. There was a cast on his right wrist. But the most striking feature was the eyepatch over his left eye. Sam didn't recognize the man, so he was probably new. Although to be fair, Sam only attended two or three meetings a year. Sam glanced at the woman he had been flirting with, then turned and listened to the man.
“I've been sober for about two years,” Xander paused and took a sip of water.
“My father and mother are both alcoholics and were always drinking when I was growing up. Actually most of my extended family are alcoholics. When I was in junior high, we had that health lecture on alcoholism. About how if you're the child of an alcoholic, then you're like ten times more likely to be an alcoholic yourself. So I can't say I didn't know the odds.”
“But despite all that, as soon as I was out of high school, I hit all the parties and knew where to find the bars and liquor stores that didn't card. Which turned out to be pretty much all of them in town. I would go out drinking with friends on the weekend. But I didn't have a problem.”
“I managed to go through a truly crappy year filled with a string of McJobs and living in my parents' basement. I stumbled into a field where I excelled. I moved out of my folks’ basement and into a sweet apartment. I had a nice car and a loving girlfriend. Everything was fine.”
Xander took a breath. “Then things stopped being fine. Some friends left. Some died. Some started to spiral down the drain, and I had no idea what was going on. And I started having a drink or two in the evening just to take the edge off. But I didn't have a problem.”
“I was engaged to my girlfriend. But after a period of quiet reflection, I realized that we were rushing into things. So I approached her and told her we should wait.”
Xander took another sip of water. “I probably should have done all that before the actual wedding ceremony started. But hindsight is twenty-twenty. She hated me and wanted me to suffer. I tried to reconcile, but that died when I found her sleeping with another guy. After that I starting getting drunk about once a week when I got home. Just on the really rough days. I needed to unwind. But I didn't have a problem.”
“Then things went to hell. I was in a fight and this guy took out my eye. My hometown was destroyed in a freak earthquake. A lot of people died then, including my ex-fiance. My friends and I drifted apart. I wound up taking an overseas assignment. And I was drinking every night. I was putting in a hard day's work, every day, no vacation or sick time. I was traveling constantly. And the places I went could get kind of rough. I needed a release. But I didn't have a problem.”
“Then around May of 2004, I got word that an old girlfriend from high school died a few months earlier. She had been in a coma for awhile and died in her sleep. I didn't even know she was sick. I remember getting the news. I remember going into the nearest bar to have a drink in her memory. Next thing I remember was waking up three days later with the worst hangover of my life.”
“I figured the hair of the dog would help me out. But the bottle by my bed was empty. So were the bottles on the floor, and the ones on the table and in the bathroom. So I went downstairs.”
Xander's voice quieted down to a whisper as he said the next part. “I heard one of the girls living there tell the others to keep it down. She said I was having a hard time and just needed my rest. When I came in the room, everyone avoided looking at me and quickly left. And it hit me. The look on their faces, the hushed warnings, and excuses; I’d heard them all before. It's what my mom told me when my dad was drunk. That's when I realized I had a problem.”
Xander took a long drink of water. He sat the cup down on the table next to him.
“So I stopped. Bought some books, read the pamphlets. And I managed to find the nearest AA meeting where ever I went. And it worked. I got through. I'm not saying I didn't have some long nights. But my higher power was my work, and it got me through the rough times.”
“Then last week, I ran into the guy that gouged out my eye. I worked with the police, and now he's been put away where he'll never hurt anyone again. And ever since then, I have been dying for a drink.”
“I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing. And I know the one thing that would calm me is a tall stiff one. Every bar or liquor store I pass jumps out at me. It's getting to the point where I just picture how good that first drink will taste. But the worst part is this morning, when my thirst was getting real bad, I looked in the mirror. And for a split second, I saw my dad staring back. It was the exact same look I saw on his face when he'd come home and start up.”
“So I looked up the nearest meeting spot and came here. That's my story,” Xander finished. He then took a seat.
As the next man got up to speak, Sam turned back to the sponsor and arranged a date with her.
Cheers had been open for a little over an hour when Sam arrived. Sam strode in with a smile on his face as he approached the bar.
“Sorry, I'm late, boys,” Sam said. “You know how soccer moms can be.”
Norm looked up from his beer. “Actually, we don't. How can soccer moms be?”
“Fantastic,” Sam replied with a grin. He turned to Woody at the bar. “I hope you haven't been too busy while I've been gone.”
“It's been pretty slow,” Woody answered. As he spoke, Sam watched as Woody sliced up a radish. “Cliff, Norm, Paul, and Phil showed up right at opening. Besides them, we have a couple of new customers.”
Woody finished slicing up the radish and spread the slices on a plate. He then placed the plate in front of an empty stool by Cliff.
“There you go, sir.”
Sam saw a small hand reach up and take a slice.
“Thanks, Mr. Woody,” a high pitched voice said.
Sam stood up to try to get a better look at the person Woody served. As he got up, Carla walked up to him with a beaming grin.
“There you are, Sammy. Wonderful day, isn't it?” she asked.
“You're in an awfully good mood. What's got you so chipper?” Sam asked.
Carla beamed at Sam. “You know my granddaughter, Angelina?”
“Yeah,” Sam answered. “She's the one that's been getting into trouble, right?”
“That's her. And it's not normal trouble, like getting pregnant at fifteen. She's been getting into fights, hasn't been sleeping well, carrying weapons. Real crazy stuff.”
“So what about her has you happy?”
“I just met with a Mr. Alexander Harris from the London School for Gifted Women. They want her to attend. On scholarship. They say they specialize in girls with discipline problems,” Carla explained.
“How do you know they're on the level? What if they try to take advantage of her?”
Carla laughed. “This is my granddaughter. Two years ago, when she was thirteen, she broke the arms of two eighteen year old linebackers. She said they was hassling her. If these people want to try something with her, it's their funeral.”
Carla reached behind Sam and grabbed a bottle of scotch. “I signed all the papers. Now I'm just bringing him a celebratory bottle of scotch.”
“Well, I'm glad to hear things are working out for you. I hope you and he enjoy the bottle....” Sam trailed off as he spotted the man Carla was talking about.
“Aw, crap,” Sam muttered. “Say, Carla. Let me talk to him, okay? You and Woody handle the bar.”
“What's up, Sammy?”
“Just, uh....” Sam took the bottle from Carla and put it back behind the bar. “I need to talk to this guy.”
Xander sat at the table, putting away all the paperwork. He glanced up and saw Gobo listening intently to a mailman at the bar. As his gaze wandered, he saw Carla at the bar, serving a drink. An older man, who seemed slightly familiar walked toward him.
“You're Xander, right?” the man asked.
“Yeah. That's me.”
“Sam Malone. Good to meet you. Carla was just telling me how you're helping out with her granddaughter.”
“Yup.” Xander said. “That's actually why I'm in town.”
“Great. Carla's real excited about this,” Sam said. “Look, I'm glad you're helping her out, so don't take this the wrong way. But I'm not going to serve you here.”
Xander looked at Sam in confusion. “Um, is there some sort of problem here?”
“Look, I saw you at the meeting this morning,” Sam said.
“Oh,” Xander looked down. “There's a simple explanation for this. And it's just one drink so- ”
“You and I both know it doesn't work like that,” Sam sat down next to Xander. “Look, I've been where you are right now. Been on the wagon for awhile, gotten your life in order, but you still get that thirst. You figure what harm can one drink do.”
Xander looked at Sam. “Well maybe one drink won't hurt. Maybe one drink is just one drink.”
“If you really thought that, then why did you go to the meeting this morning?” Sam asked. “You knew
Carla worked in a bar, and the morning before you met with her, you went to an AA meeting. That's not exactly a coincidence.”
Xander sat silent for a moment. When he spoke again, he changed the subject. “So if you're in AA, how come you own a bar?”
“I used to play pro baseball. I started drinking and ruined my career. When I finally got sober, I owned Cheers. It was pretty much the only thing I still had. So I kept it.”
“You own a bar and still stay on the wagon? How'd you manage that?”
“The most common misconception about the radish is that it's a vegetable. It's actually a type of fruit, mostly closely related to the grape.”
Gobo stared up in awe at the speaker. “Wow, Mr. Cliff. You're as smart as the Great Trash Heap.”
“I always thought he was as smart as a big pile of crap,” Carla said.
“Oh no, Ms. Carla,” Gobo said. “The Great Trash Heap is the wisest person in the world. Mr. Cliff is the first person I met that knows as much as her.”
Sam walked up to the bar. “Hey, Carla. Hand me that bottle of scotch you were going to take to Mr. Harris.”
“There you go, Sammy,” Carla handed him the bottle. “What's up?”
“Just trying to help a guy out.”
Sam turned and walked back to Xander's table. He sat down and placed the bottle on the table. Xander eyed the bottle. Sam opened the bottle and handed the bottle cap to Xander.
“When I stopped drinking, I had a lot of long nights. The last one I had, I sat in front of an open bottle clutching the bottle cap. I sat there all night long, and I never took a drink from it. And that was the night when I realized that I could actually stop. So this is what I'm going to do. You and I are going to sit here with this open bottle until we close.”
Two hours later, Xander turned the bottle cap over in his hand. He glanced at the open bottle, then turned to Sam. “So that sitting with an open bottle, you did that all by yourself?”
Sam shook his head. “I had Coach with me. And every time I was about to reach for that bottle he was there for me.”
“Coach? Sounds like a good person to have by your side.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “He was the best. People were lucky to meet him. And I was the luckiest of all to have him as a friend and mentor.”
“Is he working tonight?” Xander asked.
“No, he...” Sam paused. “He died awhile back.”
“You miss him?”
“Every day,” Sam replied. “You have anyone in your life like that?”
“I have people who died that I miss. But I never had anyone like that. Closest would be a guy I worked with in Africa.”
“What's his name?”
“His name? His name is...” Xander trailed off and chuckled. “His name is Sam.”
“That's a good name,” Sam stated.
“I'm getting that.”
One hour later.
“It's not even an issue most of the time,” Xander said. “I've just had a rough couple of weeks. That's when it's hardest. But the rest of the time, I'm fine.”
Sam shook his head. “Pretty much everyone can get by during the good times. And a person who can't handle their drinking during the bad times is pretty much the definition of an alcoholic.”
“I thought an alcoholic was a person that couldn't handle one drink, in good times or bad.”
“All I know is that back when I was drinking, the good times turned into bad.”
Xander sat at the table, drumming his fingers. After a moment he stood up.
“Look, Sam. I gotta go.”
“Xander, listen to me. You have to do this. If you walk away, you'll regret it. It's important that you see this through.”
“To the bathroom,” Xander finished. “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
“Oh. Yeah. It's down the hall, second door on the left.”
An hour and a half later.
“I don't know if the traveling helps or hurts,” Xander explained.
“You got friends and family around?” Sam asked.
“No. I'll work an assignment with friends on occasion. But it's mostly just me. And Gobo for the last couple of weeks.”
“I don't know,” Sam said. “I have the bar as my home and the people in it as my friends and family. If I didn't have them, I honestly don't know where I'd be.”
“Maybe. But even when I had a home and friends around, I still had to deal with all my problems on my own.”
“So you don't mind life on the road?”
Xander shrugged. “It's not too bad, I guess. I get to do important work. And the town I grew up in is gone, so it's not like I have a home to return to. It's just...”
“I do miss working with others. A few weeks ago, I met up with a couple of coworkers. We worked a few assignments together, and it.... It just felt right. I dunno,” Xander took a drink of his club soda. “I've been thinking lately about requesting a change of assignment to one of the branches. I just don't know if there's a place for me in any of them.”
“Well, you won't know unless you ask,” Sam pointed out.
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe after the next assignment. My boss already has me going to DC once I finish up here.”
“That's it people. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.”
With this pronouncement from Carla, the customers shuffled out the door of the bar. Sam got up from the table and stretched his back. Xander got up and grabbed the bottle of scotch.
“One last thing to do,” Xander said. He walked over to the bar and poured the scotch down the drain. “What do I owe you?”
“It's on the house,” Sam replied.
“Sam, I just wanted to say thanks. My biggest fear has always been that I'll turn out like my dad. But I know that my dad never had an open bottle that he walked away from.”
“You're welcome. Oh, here you go,”
Sam tossed the bottle cap to Xander. Xander caught it and looked at it.
“It's a reminder,” Sam explained. “Next time you have a rough night, just look at that and remember you can make it through.”
Xander chuckled. “Yeah, right. It's not like you still -”
Sam pulled out an old battered beer cap from his pocket. “Yeah, actually I do.”
Xander nodded and put the bottle cap in his pocket. “Um, this may sound like a weird question, but do you know anyone named Taggerty around here?”
Sam shook his head.
“Yeah, it was a longshot,” Xander turned. “Hey, Gobo. You ready?”
Gobo walked up to Xander's side. “I sure am, Mr. Xander. Boy, the people here sure are friendly. I really enjoyed talking to them. I learned so much about life in outer space from them. How was your day?”
Xander thought as he and Gobo left the bar.
“It was a good day,” he answered.