Martin threw his bag down by the side of the chair and threw himself into it with a huff. He shrugged off his jacket, then picked up the cocktail menu with one eyebrow raised, flicked through it quickly, and tossed it back down onto the table.
Ben and Luke looked at each other across the table. They both knew that Martin would get a pint of something cheap and nasty: he always got a pint of something cheap and nasty. Flicking through the cocktail menu was just one of the many techniques he used to tell the people around him that he was not happy.
They watched as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket, pushed himself out of his chair, and made his way over to the bar. It was silent as he ordered and paid for his drink, snatched it up off the bar and wound his way across the room back to the table. The pint glass was placed down onto the table gently, a couple of centimetres away from a beer mat (if the table got a ring from the glass, that would probably cheer Martin up a bit). He let his weight send him crashing back down into his chair, and drained half of the pint before either of the others could get a word in.
‘Uh, Martin,’ Luke said, when the glass moved far enough away from Martin’s lips that Luke thought he might be willing to answer, ‘what’s up?’
‘Yeah,’ Ben pitched in, not entirely helpfully. ‘Looks like something’s wrong.’
‘Does it?’ Martin asked. Then he put the half-full glass down on the table, and sat staring at them in a silence that both Ben and Luke were certain he was deliberately making uncomfortable.
Nobody liked it when Martin was in a bad mood. He was the sort of person whose misery swept around the room until it infected everyone else, even those who did not interact with him. There was something about the way he moved and his short, blunt sentences that demanded an environment of self-loathing. Ben picked up his own pint to break the tension between them, and pretended to be more interested in his drink than he was.
‘Want to talk about it?’ Luke asked, his voice betraying his hopes that Martin would let his thoughts out and release some of the bitter feelings brewing within him.
Luke nodded. ‘Right. Cool.’
Another awkward silence; the people on the table behind Martin fell into their own brooding silence, as the uncomfortable feeling of disdain began to seep out of Martin and into those nearby.
Outside, it started to rain.
‘You know, I think I might have an early night tonight,’ Luke suggested. ‘It was really busy at work today. I’m tired.’
Martin snorted. ‘Yeah. Right. Busy.’ He knew exactly why Luke wanted to get out of there, and it was clear he enjoyed spreading discomfort around. ‘Well, I’m gonna get wasted.’ He stared at Ben, a challenge.
Ben put his glass down and held his hand up to his mouth, faking a yawn. ‘I’m … pretty tired, actually,’ he said without much effort.
At the same moment that Martin’s eyes narrowed, a clap of thunder crashed down outside. Sometimes, it was as though his timing was just too perfect, as though it was more than just the room that he could affect with his powerful negativity.
There was no need for him to tell them that he knew they were trying to leave. That was obvious. The seconds ticked on, until Martin’s face began to soften, but the tension still hummed through the air between them. Luke licked his lips, words dancing on his tongue that he did not dare speak.
Eventually, he said, in a voice utterly devoid of interest, ‘Well, I suppose another pint couldn’t hurt.’
‘Be careful,’ Martin said, sounding dry and bored, ‘it might kill you.’