By David Eric Tomlinson

The teenage boy and girl sat wide-eyed and silent beside their father in the crowded bar. The cocktail waitress appeared, a tray brimming with drinks and pub grub balanced on her freckled forearm.

“Round two,” the waitress said. She delivered three perspiring mugs of beer and a basket of chicken wings. “Just how old are you kids, anyway?”

The boy opened his mouth to answer.

“They’re twins,” the man said. “Going back to college soon.”

The waitress eyed them all sideways.

“It’s fine,” the man said. “They’re mine.”

The waitress disappeared.

“You said back.”

The man ignored this. He raised his glass. “Drink up.”

The girl pulled a face. “It tastes like hairspray.”

“You get used to it.”

The boy belched. His sister laughed.

“I’m hungry,” the boy said. He reached for the food.

“Drink first,” the man said. “Then eat. That’s how it’s done.”

The three of them drank.

“Don’t ever have more than two of these,” said the man. “You could find yourself in trouble real quick.”

“What kind of trouble?” the girl said.

“You’ve heard of the buddy system?” said the man. “Never go into a place like this alone.”

“My face is tingling,” the boy said.

“What kind of trouble?” the girl said again.

The man fell silent.

“Men aren’t worth a damn,” the man finally said.

“I am,” the boy said.

The boy downed his beer. He tore into a chicken wing. His father looked at him.

“Not a one of us,” said the man.

“Is he telling the truth?” the girl asked her brother.

The boy chewed his food.

“Drink up,” the man said to his daughter.

“I don’t want to,” the girl said.

“You need to understand how this feels,” said the man. He tried flagging the cocktail waitress down.

The girl crossed her arms. “What happens if we do get into trouble?”

“Call me,” said the man.

“You’ll be three counties away.”

“I’ll come anyway.”

“And if this buddy system of yours doesn’t work?”

“It will,” said the man.

“If it doesn’t?” the girl said.

The man considered this.

The girl pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m ready to leave.”

The man didn’t answer. He offered the girl his wallet.

“Pay up,” said the man. “I’ll drive you both back to my place.”

The girl stood. She didn’t take the wallet. She looked at her brother.

“It’s the truth,” said the boy. “What he said. More or less.”

“Which is it?” the girl said.

The boy didn’t answer.

The girl walked away.

The man watched her go.