Mike gets up. Shakes my hand. Coils his arm gently around my shoulders.
"Look Kev, I can see that I've offended you and I really didn't mean to do that. I'm sorry. Enjoy yourself tonight. And when you see her—her, you'll know who she is—think of me."
He winks. I feel a pulse of affection and am filled with self-loathing. I say: "I'm not offended, Mike. Really. I mean it. I've learned a lot. It's brought it home to me just how different we are. You and me. How differently we're wired. It's helped. It really has. And I guess the bottom line is this: That's why you're in here and I'm (I point at the window) out there." I shrug, as if to say it's not my fault. As if, in a parallel universe, things could just as easily have turned out different.
Suddenly, I'm aware that there's a chill in the room. It's physical. Palpable. I can feel it on my skin. Under my skin. All over me. This is something I've read about in books. But have, up until this moment, never experienced. I stand for five agonizing seconds in a stare 40 below. Ever so slowly, as if some new kind of gravity has been seeping in unnoticed through the vents, I feel the arm vacate my shoulders.
"Don't let your brain piss you about, Kev. All those exams—sometimes they get in the way. There's only one difference between you and me. Honesty. Bottle. I want it, I go for it. You want it, you don't.
"You're scared, Kev. Scared. You're scared of everything. I can see it in your eyes. Scared of the consequences. Scared of getting caught. Scared of what they'll think. You're scared of what they'll do to you when they come knocking at your door. You're scared of me.
"I mean, look at you. You're right. You're out there, I'm in here. But who's free, Kev? I mean really free? You or me? Think about that tonight. Where are the real bars, Kev? Out there?" (He points at the window.) "Or in here?" (He reaches forward and, ever so lightly, touches my left temple)