The two had been war buddies. Even after they finished fighting side by side, they made a pact to stay close, no matter what. That was why they settled in the same town, why they were each other's best man, why they were each other's first call in times of trouble, and why they always made sure to meet at the Main Street Pub on Thursday nights after work. It didn't matter the weather or the fatigue, they met no matter what- same table, same drinks, same time, every Thursday.
For twenty five years this occurred. For twenty-five years the two met, whether to reminisce about the youthful days or to discuss more serious matters, it didn't matter.
But tonight seemed different to the man. When Romulus had walked in the door and made his way to the usual table to greet Alfher, he seemed... Odd. Now, Alfher had known the other for many more than twenty-five years, so he knew when anything was off. It was the little things that were different, and Alfher was actually quite scared of the change in the usually cheerful Italian.
Romulus always entered the bar in the same fashion each week. First he would open the door with a flourish, and send the host or hostess a bright smile before he even considered going towards the table. Next he would make eye contact with the German, and would practically saunter over to meet the other. After he made his show of walking, he would gracefully take off his jacket (he always wore some type of jacket, even in the summer) before draping it on the chair, giving a cheeky smile to greet his old friend. Then and only then, would he finally sit down and wait for his usual glass of wine to magically be brought to him by the cutest waitress in the house.
But tonight he didn't do any of these. Tonight, he greeted the hostess half-heartedly, swiftly walked over to the table, and sat down, not meeting Alfher's worried blue eyes. The man wasn't even wearing a jacket to shrug off! The German was very worried to say the least. He had seen his dear friend do this only a few times in his life.
The first was when his wife had left him for a man who was quite a few years younger than he. Poor Romulus was madly in love with her, she had been his high school sweetheart. The man constantly told Alfher about her when they found spare time on the battlefield. But one cold night, she had coldly walked out on their newly formed family, and didn't even ask to see their infant daughter ever again, leaving Romulus the sole parent to the child who cried nightly for her mother to come back. But after many years, Romulus slowly pieced together his heart, and eventually returned to his cheerful and overly affectionate demeanor.
Then, about ten years ago he came in, and was acting strange again. That was when Alfher found his self-proclaimed invincible Italian friend was having horrible reoccurring nightmares of memories from the war so long ago. The doctors told him it was shell shock, and Alfher worked hard to help his friend in any way to help ease the pain. The now older daughter and the German spent many nights and days trying to help the man cope with these horrible memories, and the guilt of what he had done. It broke their hearts when he no longer acted like his eccentric self. He even rejected his usual drinks of wine. Alfher would spend countless nights sleeping on the floor in Romulus' bedroom in case the man woke up. And when Romulus trembled with the effort of surpressing his screams, Alfher would quietly sit by his side and pat the man's back. He would always be there for him.
And so life flew by, eventually the young girl who Romulus spent years loving and pampering left, ready to make her mark on the world. Both men missed her, and loved each time she wrote, explaining the wonders that she had discovered. Shortly after, there was the time when the Roman was so excited he practically sprinted to the table, ready to tell the German that his little baby girl had found a wonderful man and that the man asked for her hand.
Soon after that, Romulus found out he would be a grandfather to not only one child, but two little ones. The man was more than ecstatic, as was Alfher; by that time, the blond had grandchildren of his own. That night the two spent hours discussing playdates, and how ironic it would be if in the future any of the children would end up falling in love, and would one day start a family. Soon enough, the night ended with the two drinking themselves silly and having the owner (who they had come to know quite well by that point) drive them home.
The last time Romulus had acted strange was the day when both the men sat in silence, tears falling down their faces. There were no words that were to be spoken, except those that were uttered by the Italian when he sat down, his face looking sullen.
Those two words were uttered, and a newspaper was thrown on the table. The front page lined with words of a car crash, and a married couple being killed, leaving their two children in the care of a family member. There was nothing to be said after the news, both men too shocked and heartbroken to mutter grievances, or to try to console each other. That night the two drunk, and before they knew it, they found themselves curled up on the floor, both with puffy eyes and wet faces.
But all this happened years ago. It was the past. The two were able to move on (somewhat), and the two worked to care for the twins in their own ways, even though Romulus insisted that Alfher didn't need to help him in any way.
"What's bothering you Rome." Alfher asked using the old nickname he had come up with during the war. In many ways, his Italian friend reminded him of the rulers of the great and powerful Roman Empire.
The man gave a small chuckle, shaking his head.
"Nothing gets past you, eh Alfher?" Was all the man replied, watching as the waitress placed his wine on the table.
"I've known you for too long. Let's not forget, there was a time when we were inseparable every moment of the day. So tell me what's wrong, or I'll just have to get it out of you in some other way."
Romulus shook his head again, taking a sip of his drink slowly, as if taking his sweet time to say what was on his mind.
"I should've expected this... Well... If you really must know, I'm in love."
'I'm in love'. Those three words brought a painful feeling to the German. Though he would never admit it, he had fallen for the man many years ago. He wasn't sure when exactly, but the small crush never went away, it only bloomed into a vivacious flower until he felt like the fiery blossom could no longer be ignored.
"Oh... I-I see. So, who is she?" He asked, trying to seem nonchalant.
"He actually, it's a man."
At this response, Alfher took a sip of his own beer. He couldn't look Romulus in the eyes. He almost hated that the Italian loved a man instead of a woman. If it were a woman who had captured the man's heart, Alfher could've lived with it. Alfher would have understood. But the fact it was a man, it made his blood boil. What could this other man possibly have that he didn't? What could this man offer that Alfher hadn't already promised?
"So who's the man then?" Alfher finally asked, flinching at how cold his own voice and tone were as he uttered the words. He took another sip, knowing he would probably have to get hammered if Romulus decided to confide in his old friend everything about this mystery man.
"Actually... It's a man I've known for what seems like my whole life. He's been there for me through everything, and I don't know why I didn't realize before that I loved him. I guess I was just so busy that I completely ignored my feelings.... But I can't do that anymore... I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but I love you, Alfher."
Alfher stopped mid sip, freezing on the spot. He didn't breath. His brain had shut down. Within moments he went from jealousy to disbelieve and shock. All he could do was stare.
Finally, after what seemed like hours to him, his brain began working in overdrive. He was processing everything at one hundred miles a minute.
"W-What?" Was all he was able to sputter out, putting the glass back down on the coaster with shaking hands.
"I-I love you Alfher. You've always been there for me no matter what. I mean, sure, I was there when your wife passed on, but you've been there for everything. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you as more than 'just friends'." Romulus told him, noticing how many of the regulars were watching this scene unfold now.
Before either of them knew what was happening the German practically jumped over the table and enveloped the Italian into a massive bear hug.
"You have no idea how long I've wanted to hear that."
The two shared a laugh and a kiss, showing that they were both thinking the same thing.
Little did they know that while they were in this intimate embrace, many of the regulars and the workers were secretly passing money to the "lucky winners" who had made quite a hefty sum due to a certain bet dealing with when two certain men would finally speak how they truly felt about each other.