A simple request to get out of the lab, and Larissa was more than willing to comply. Beyond enjoying Reed's general company, she couldn't help the curiosity picking at her brain about the kind of work Reed did. Just like he couldn't get himself out of the office, Ris couldn't extract herself from the kind of investigative thinking that drove her to her own life's work.
But alcohol helped. Pulling open the door to The Phone Booth, Ris was met with the familiar smell of sticky alcohol and beer nuts, the dark room warm and inviting like a drunk hug. The decor required hours of observation to find all the details, and Ris herself had dedicated a few afternoons to its cataloging while sipping beer and waiting for an interviewee that never showed up.
She had a better feeling about Reed, though. Something about him said he would be punctual, or at least try to be, if he remembered. Ris took a seat at the bar, looking over the drinks menu up on the board, contemplating her order as she waited, and whether the popcorn bowl near her elbow was fresh enough to try sampling. She eyed the bowl uncertainly.
"I wouldn't," Reed said, approaching her at the bar and finding Ris eyeing the popcorn bowl with an evaluative gaze. The Phone Booth, a favorite dive when he could make it out of the lab, mostly because it's hours meant that no matter how late he left, whether done for the night or about to head back for more after a break, it was always open to receive him. "The popcorn -- not to be a germaphobe, but if you've ever seen a culture sample under a microscope you spend the rest of your life trying to warn other people." He slid onto a bar stool next to his friend with a warm smile. "Hi, I'm late. It's actually really hard to keep track of time without constant calendar notifications." He was doing his best to honor the numerous promises he'd made lately to take a break, get out of the lab, let himself rest after the series of unexplainable occurrences that would otherwise have left him on a seventy-two hour research and development drag, subsisting on coffee and protein bars, up to his elbows in machine wiring until he crashed out of pure exhaustion. It was nice, probably, to have people around who knew him so well -- but that didn't mean Reed had to enjoy the experience of having his worst impules parroted in warning to him with such accuracy. The mortifying ordeal of being known was far from what it was cracked up to be.
And so, Ris, someone he knew he liked very much but seldom had the chance to spend more time with than the length of a post-show drink before work and all its responsibilities beckoned him away. With the added bonus of being a friend who was, like he found himself this week, able to take some time in the middle of the day with little advance notice. "How are you, friend?" he asked good-naturedly, giving a slight wave to the bartender as he did. "Is it too early to ask you to give me any upcoming headlines I should know about?"
"A culture sample under a microscope," Ris repeated, hastily retreating her hand from the offending bowl and its popcorn teaming with unseen life. She regretted having reached for it and honestly, kind of regretted having hands in this moment. With a wrinkled nose, Ris slowly turned herself to face the scientist that joined her, folding her hands neatly on her crossed legs. "You're late, and somehow distracted me from that fact with your gross warning," she said, with a smile as she lifted her gaze to meet his eyes. "So, don't worry, you're forgiven, sort of."
The bartender, catching Reed's wave, put down the glass he was cleaning and lumbered over to the duo, and lifted a brow. No greeting, no offer of specials or introduction. Just a gruff expectation.
"Reed," Ris said, nodding to their new friend, "Have you met Roscoe?" He grunted. "I don't know if you have. This man knows everything there is to know about Italian operas. If you ever have the opportunity to ask him his thoughts on Turandot, you will not regret it." An affirmative appreciative grunt from Roscoe. "However, he is not one for customer service, and if you ask him politely if he will make you a cocktail —"
"—No," interrupted the tall bartender. "Strictly beer and shots."
"Strictly beer and shots," Ris repeated, patting Reed on the arm. "So, let's say a round of beer, and two shots. Jameson?"
"Turandot? You know that's so funny because I actually --" The sentence was halfway out of Reed's mouth before Roscoe made it very clear this was going to be a business transaction today, and not a meeting of the minds. "Beer and shots it is," he agreed, already getting the sense it wasn't really something to argue with. Roscoe gave the grunt that served for yes and stepped away to pour the drinks, leaving Reed to marvel to Ris, "You really have to admire the efficiency. I like a bartender that makes me feel like I'm talking too much, it's comforting." How Ris had ever managed to scrape enough of a conversation out of Roscoe to touch on Italian operas, Reed had to chalk up to her skills as an interviewer.
Drinks were indeed delivered with the expediency of a man who was good at his job without the distractions of chit chat or cocktail mixing. "I think when I was told to take a break this week, people were imagining something more like a walk in the park or, I don't know, yoga or something, but this feels so much more in my comfort zone." Since his protests that he didn't really know how to take a break had fallen on deaf ears, at least this was a nice way to ease into it. "Cheers, then."
Ris didn't bother hiding the smile as Reed attempted to broach the topic of opera with the button-lipped Roscoe, settling her elbow on the counter and lifting a brow, as the exchange was cut short. "Cheers," she agreed. She picked up her delivered drink, starting with the shot, and offered it to Reed to toast before downing it quickly. With a brief wince, she took a sip of the beer, wiggling her eyebrows at Roscoe, who grumbled in his throat before stepping back to his dish-drying towel.
"A walk in the park? In February?" Ris shook her head, leaning back on her stool. "No thanks, that's not a break, that's a bracing march to get from point a to point b. No, this is in your comfort zone and definitely more comfortable." Everyone had their own way to relax, to recharge, and Ris never felt better than after a few drinks with a friend, some late night snacks, a pleasant stumble home again. "Who is telling you that you need to take a break and why?" she added, sipping her beer again.
A quick shot, a grimace, and then a sip of the beer to soothe the burn of Jameson -- Reed wasn't far behind her, even if he was likely out of practice with drinking like this. Out of practice with most things, actually, that didn't involve gutting medical devices for their base parts, and stringing them back together as he saw fit. Not exactly the most sociable hobby, and not exactly what all Reed's friends and loved ones would consider taking a break, either. "See, I haven't been out of the lab in so long, I barely know what season it is." Lucky he'd grabbed a coat before he left to meet Ris here, or he might have been inclined to shiver in the cold the whole way rather than go back to dig one up. As much as Reed detested the stereotype of the scatterbrained scientist, a man so hyperfocused on one thing he could forget that weather existed, what he detested even more was realizing he'd accidentally fallen into it.
"The short answer to that question is everyone," Reed confessed with a sigh, "From my employees to my friends. I've been a bit of a shut-in lately, but there's so much to do." That was a polite way to put it, a slight euphemism for the last few weeks of having otherwise dormant parts of his brain shudder to life full of energy, of taking a detour to the 1950s only to pop back two days later with a whole new set of ideas to work with, of having a loved one come to him with a note and an invention that somehow he'd created at some point in another lifetime -- maybe that was really what Reed needed a vacation from, just the inherent chaos of being himself lately. "Do you ever feel like you have more to do than can fit in a day?" he asked Ris thoughtfully, "You must love what you do, how do you put it down?" It was a question Reed had been asking a lot of people in his life lately, a study in the pursuit of self-callibration, self-care.
"It's San Francisco, the season is either cold and miserable, or for a brief beautiful glimpse, less cold and less miserable," Ris teased. She loved this city, and perhaps having a jacket, having layers, felt like protection from the harsher elements that made up the people here, the realities that she faced in her reporting. It was easier to ask about families being separated and broken by an uncaring system from inside the warm cocoon of a leather jacket.
"But, that doesn't mean we, and I'm really talking about you, shouldn't go out and enjoy it. Or at least, come out to a bar and enjoy it. There's only so much work you can do before it comes spilling out of you like …" Ris gestured, a vague retching motion, before picking up her beer and taking a sip. "I love what I do, that's true," she nodded, adjusting her seat, crossing her legs towards Red. "But here's the thing," she continued, and she had put a great deal of thought into this, how does one separate work and life, especially working from home in a studio apartment.
"I can't put it down, but I can put it at the back. I think of my thoughts," hand waving at her temple, "Like spices on a lazy susan. Projects at work, stories I want to pitch, stories I have to write to pay the bills, all on the lazy susan. But also, so is drinking with Reed, going to the grocery store, band practice, laundry. So, while I may be always thinking about this story I have coming up, the creativity bubbling at the back of my mind, I've turned the lazy susan, and it's not in the forefront right now. Right now, I'm having drinks with my friend Reed, who might need a haircut soon and doesn't know it yet." She smiled, looking him over as she took another sip.
"Do I need a haircut?" Reed echoed, a hand rising in a brief self-conscious impulse to his hair, like he had to check for himself. He had to laugh -- this is what he liked about Ris, she always gave him a feeling of not quite knowing what to expect in the best way, a result of her extraordinary perceptiveness. For someone who had little patience with the whole concept of regular, Reed really had to appreciate it. "I knew if I came here today I'd hear a couple truths about myself, but frankly I expected them to come from Roscoe," he joked before returning quickly to his drink, a little way of admitting Ris had managed to get him with that comment, but even beyond the state of his appearance, there was a lot in what she had said that was helpful, interesting.
It was a question Reed had found himself asking a lot of people lately, like he was canvassing for other people's strategies, trying to get a sense of where he fell in the spectrum from workaholic to well-balanced. "I like that idea though, the lazy susan. It seems easier than actually trying to forget about things, leave some of this work just at the office. That's the thing, I guess -- I don't actually want to put this stuff down. I think I'm a better scientist when these ideas get enough time to work though, and when I'm happy with my progress I'm happy with everything in my life." Ris had said creativity bubbling and Reed had felt an immediate sense of identification, that feeling like even if he wasn't in his lab actually tooling around on some of this work, it was somewhere in his mind being slowly developed unconsciously. "So let me ask you this --"
And he was all set to probe a little further, and likely to circle back to that haircut idea, but a presence at their side caught his attention and interrupted him. "Oh, hello," Reed said, a little strangeness in his voice. Likely one of Ris' friends, he assumed, since this was her regular spot, a place where she was as close to famous as a local reporter and hometown band member could get.
Ris opened her mouth to deliver another fact she'd drawn out of their elusive standoffish bartender, when Reed was interrupted, the tone changing as a young man pressed ever so close to their side. Turning to look, Ris tried to hide her frown at being interrupted in the middle of catching up with Reed, before offering her most polite smile at the man standing there, staring at her expectantly.
He was slight, bony shoulders and elbows, large eyes hidden beneath dyed black bangs, his hands jammed into the pockets of oversized jeans. "Hey so — like, are you … you're Larissa Kennedy, yeah?" he asked, his voice just above a whisper.
"I'm sorry?" Ris said, leaning a bit closer to hear him over the music, tucking her hair behind her ear. Which, apparently, was an invitation for this young man to join them, as he pressed closer to her side, his hand going to the back of her bar stool. Ris frowned, drawing back, shooting a look over to Reed.
"Hey, yeah, you're definitely her, I've seen your shows," he said, a sideways smirk as he found some confidence to try his own form of charm. "You're wicked. I love hearing you scream," he added, his gaze dropping over her body like oil. "I'm a promoter," he began fishing into his pocket again, pulling out a business card that looked home-printed. "I love finding hot young talent like you, and I want to see you get more exposed, get you out there, spread you around."
Ris was too confused by what was happening and the idea that he considered her young when she was clearly at least five years older than him, as he jabbed the business card in her direction that she absently took it.
In another circumstance, if it wasn't the middle of the day in a mostly empty bar and if this guy looked like he had absolutely anything real behind all that confidence and hair product, it could have all been unsettling, but something about the way Roscoe was, from the other end of the bar, rolling his eyes as he wiped down the beer glasses told Reed this was going to be the kind of low stakes annoyance that was his reward for daring to leave his laboratory in the middle of the day. So with a mind to just watch this unfold, a fascinating opportunity to observe the rich and varied ecosystem he found himself in, Reed leaned against the bar as their new friend tried out, apparently, ever euphemism and double entendre he could think of. At the first smirk Reed's eyebrows quirked up, an expression somewhere between disbelief and humor, and by the time he was hearing spread you around said with absolutely no shame in its emphasis, Reed had to steeple his hands over his lips, trying to disguise a laugh behind an overly thoughtful expression. It wasn't until a dazed Ris was accepting a flimsy business card that Reed felt, one, that perhaps this had gone on long enough and, two, that he had his own amusement under control enough to be able to chime in.
"Excuse me," he said along with a brief flash of his hand, a tone and gesture more akin to the I'll take this one first signal he'd give co-panelists at an academic conference q&a session rather than what it really was, an urge to cause enough of a distraction to give Ris a break. Reed had to lean in again to actually get the supposed promoter's attention off Ris, but after a lifetime of negotiating far more important questions with the far more socially awkward scientists that attended said conferences, he had long ago left behind embarrassment at inserting himself into a conversation. "Hi, hello. If I could just interrupt you for a second," he started, flashing a placating smile, maybe a little too bright, "I'm sure you know Ris gets many such, oh let's say pressing offers." One way to put it at least. "I, for one, don't see how she could pass this up. But finding someone who really understands the spirit of her music is so important. Can you tell us some of your favorite of her songs? Please, sing them if you feel inspired."
He had to fall back into that thoughtful repose, determined to look so serious and intrigued that his prodding could almost make sense as an interview question. In need of a haircut or not, there was always a professorial quality about his appearance that he was banking on. Alright, so perhaps he wasn't quite deescalating like he should have been, but there was deep down in Reed a penchant to break something down before he could fix it, which in his engineering work meant ripping up old machines and in his personal life meant goading on an interesting problem to see how far it could go.
This wasn't how it usually went here at the Phone Booth. Most everyone here was fairly chill, and it was why she often found herself here, with or without a friend. She was surprised that right now, of all times, in the middle of a day, that someone was making a pass at her in such a dramatic fashion. Her brow shot up, mirroring Reed's as she finally caught up to what was happening, and Ris frowned more fully, glancing down at the business card.
"Oh," the man said, rolling his neck to finally look at Reed. Competition, hurdle, whoever Reed was, he was in the way. "I love the uh .. the one she does about love. Hot sweaty love." Ris nodded slowly, setting her elbow on the counter as she settled in to watch this happen, very glad that Reed wasn't walking away from the situation or leaving her alone with her biggest fan. The man cleared his throat, before offering another smile, sly and confident as he shifted his attention back to Ris. "You know the one, where you use that voice of yours, so sexy, you made the whole crowd wild."
"Oh, yes," Ris said, with a very serious nod. "The song where I use my voice. That's one of my favorites, too. How does that one go?" she asked, repeating Reed's question. The young man let out a little laugh, pressing into the narrow gap between Ris's stool and Reed's, his arm against the counter as his gaze dropped down onto Ris. "You know, baby girl. That one with the 'wooooo," he cooed, "And the 'ah, ah, ah'" He panted, a bit like an overheated cat, in some strange approximation of her singing voice. "I'd like to get you home — my home studio — and let you make any kind of noise you want."
Ris finally sighed, tossing the business card back at her visitor with a flick of her wrist. "Not a chance." Roscoe watched at a distance, aware of the situation, but not eager to step in. Not when Ris could take care of herself. "Not on your life. How old are you, sparky, twelve?"
In all honesty, Reed had expected the would-be promoter, the kid Reed was following Ris' lead in thinking of as Sparky, to cut his losses after being told to sing a few bars. It was a ridiculous ask, and neither he nor Ris had done anything at all to pretend it was a serious question. Unfortunately, that had been Reed's miscalculation -- their new friend had even less shame than either of them. The fact that once again the young man had doubled down on his goals, was almost admirable, causing Reed to lean back with the thoughtful expression of did not expect this on his face. Well, and also because their new friend had squeezed into the little space available, completely taking up the narrow margin of personal space and leaving Reed to stare down the back of his denim jacket, where a screenprinted logo was pinned. He couldn't see Ris' face, but that didn't mean he couldn't picture it, hearing her tone and watching the business card flutter to the floor, Sparky swiping at it just a few seconds late to try and snatch it from the air.
"Old enough, baby, don't worry about it," Sparky was saying, trying to play off his complete inability to stop the card from falling with a flick of his bangs that sent his elbow knocking back into Reed's beer, sloshing it over the bartop. "Why don't you take me to your place then, try me out."
Reed was busy sopping up his spilled drink with a sad handful of cocktail napkins lest Roscoe and his bar towel come over to get involved, but he couldn't hold back a laugh at what he was overhearing from the young man, the sound escaping him before he could trap it behind another thoughtful hmm. Already leaned over the bar past where Sparky was leaning, Reed strove to catch Ris' eye because someone needed to see his bewildered expression.
Of course, it was their unlikely new friend who caught the laugh and turned to face him. "Oh so it's like that, huh," he said, something petulant and young in his voice even as he turned on Reed, "Who even are you?"
Ris let out a very long very exasperated sigh as Sparky here seemed incapable of picking up hints, or even suggestions, so she would be all the more direct to deal with him. "Hey, champ," she said, giving Sparky's arm a squeeze to get his attention. With a puppy-like eagerness, he turned back around, grinning broadly. "That's my date, and he's a MMA fighter," she said, because she couldn't help it, honestly.
Sparky's head jerked back and he turned his appraising gaze on Reed, eyes narrowed, frowning. "MMA fighter?" Ris nodded, with a little shrug. "No..." But there was uncertainty in his voice, and the way he leaned against the bar, looking down at his drink. "Oh, hey, sorry, uh, man," he said, stepping back, reaching into his pocket for his wallet. "Let me, you know, just jokes between friends."
But he still stared at Reed's arms, his hands, unsure about whether or not this so-called MMA fighter was legit. All the same, he opened his wallet with a satisfying rip of velcro pulling apart. "Let me get you back for that drink."
Once again behind Sparky's back after he'd turned back to Ris with an enthusiasm that made Reed almost feel bad for the young man, Reed caught himself making a face at her -- this one a little more urgent in its laugh mixed with disbelief. MMA? he mouthed at her. Leave it to Ris to pull something like that out of thin air, an improvisation that Reed for all his genius mind could never have predicted and didn't even know where to begin rolling with. "Don't I look like a MMA fighter to you? Don't offend me," he said, pretending despite all his own reluctance when Sparky turned his head back as if to double check Reed's martial arts credentials. He might find the very thought of being mistaken for a fighter of any sort absolutely ridiculous, given his own deep-seeded conflict avoiding tendencies, but he was certainly not about to sell out Ris by doing anything less than his best to keep the story going.
Seemingly it was the narrow-eyed gaze Reed faced the young man with, and the refusal to let embarrassment or the ridiculousness of the situation make him break first, that convinced their friend. As he was pulling open his velcro wallet, pulling out a little cash to cover the price of a beer, "Oh, I think you need to buy a round for the lady as well," Reed added in the tone of giving advice to a fond but thoroughly lost student, finding himself almost a little endeared to Sparky for all he'd gone through in the short span of the conversation. "Really it's the best way to make a good impression." Someone had to do it, course correct the young man's approach, at least try to give him the advice that less was always so much more -- something that had seemed universal, but maybe it needed to be said.
Maybe it would be a learning moment, Reed hoped, as Sparky forked over a couple more ones for Ris' tab as well, but given the way he departed at last with a short, "I'll check you later, baby," and another one of those slow, greasy looks over her body, Reed wouldn't bet on a lasting change.
"MMA fighter?" Reed asked simply in the pause after he left, raising his eyebrows at Ris coolly so as not to betray another laugh, "I'm flattered."
After selling the last few scraps of dignity Sparky had for a parting pick-up line, the young man left, immediately finding a new home across the bar with a pair of women in their late fifties that had strong vibes that they had never needed nor wanted a man in their lives. Ris watched his surprise aplomb with a nod of the head, before turning back to Reed.
"Well," Ris smiled, waving to Roscoe for another round of beers and maybe a wet towel for the spilled drink. "You could be. I bet you that kid doesn't know MMA any more than you or I do, but you're not tall enough for basketball or wide enough for football, and I doubt anyone has been properly scared away by a golfer or tennis pro." The bartender appeared with a gruff grunt, taking the empty glasses away and wiping the counter down briefly only to remove the slightest layer of stickiness.
"Roscoe," she said, turning to face the tall man with the slight Andre the Giant appeal, "Would you believe my friend here is the highest ranked local MMA fighter? He's got two championships under his belt and is going out for his third in a few weeks."
Roscoe slowly side-eyed Reed, before holding out his own meat hook as if waiting for payment. Ris looked between them for a moment, before Roscoe huffed out a "Hand."
"Oh, give him your hand, Reed," Ris prompted, understanding his meaning and kind of just wanting to see where this went.
Reed listened to Ris list the various sports personalities she could have had him mistaken for with an expression of thoughtful amusement, caught somewhere between laughing at the very idea of anyone looking at him and thinking athlete of any sort and the pride-driven desire to protest, defend himself a little bit. "Don't suggest I look like a golfer," he said, when finally the temptation was too much, "I'd be devastated if anyone thought that was true." Something about the idea of being mistaken for those men in bland polo shirts, the thought of even remotely seeming like the kind of person who talked at length about handicaps and pars -- there were many things Reed could stand, but that wasn't one of them. MMA was more ridiculous by far, and Sparky's willingness to be convinced of it's truth probably said more about him than it did anything about Reed's physique, but he still wasn't going to let go of that label until another, better one presented it. "I could be into martial arts," he said, taking a sly swig of the new glass Roscoe had brought over, adding, "I think I'd be quite good at it."
Of course that insistence, that inability to quit while he was ahead, combined with Ris' unbelievable ability to conjure the most specific details about a cover story without a moment's hesitation, was right about to lead to his downfall. They'd escaped Sparky, though, and when Roscoe demanded Reed's hand with Ris only encouraging him to take it, for a second Reed couldn't imagine something going wrong. Doing as Roscoe asked, Reed just waited for something to happen, whatever comment Roscoe was about to make or whatever test he was about to deliver, but the other man hardly moved. In fact, he didn't seem to move at all, a few beats passing until Reed realized what was happening -- he was squeezing, using his very accomplished muscles to crush Reed's hand and making a very aggressive amount of eye contact, both of which Reed tried valiantly to withstand until he was yanking his fingers back, defeated.
"Pathetic," was Roscoe's summarily delivered verdict. It would have stung more if it had been delivered with anything but what Reed now thought of affectionately as the bartender's classic deadpan demeanor -- but still. Shaking out his hand, trying to get the feeling back, Reed had to admit, "I feel slightly insulted."
Ris watched with eager eyes, waiting for Roscoe to deliver his appraisal of Reed and his hands, and when the proclamation came, she let out a warm laugh, clapping her hands together before covering her mouth quickly. "Thank you, Roscoe," she said to the bartender, who huffed, dropping Reed's hands and heading back to his glass-cleaning position. She grinned at Reed, absolutely delighted by the whole afternoon.
"I know, it's your first time getting insulted by Roscoe," she said, touching Reed's arm. "You'll go home and you'll think about the judgement and eventually you'll see that yes, Roscoe was right. Perhaps you are pathetic. But maybe, some day, you'll be better." She gave his arm a squeeze, before picking up her glass, and offering a smile. "That's just what'll bring you back here again."
Ris had a feeling they would be back again either way. Some other day, some other Sparky, but the same old Roscoe, holding his glass-drying rag and withholding his approval. As it should be.