“Let me guess, education conference?” He has that late Clooney salt and pepper scruff, that skips leg day sort of build. The hotel bar is nearly empty, but he’s still here, cruising. Lucky me.
“The glasses gave it away? Who but a teacher can’t afford Lasik.”
“It was the name tag, actually. Hi Mark, I’m James.”
We shake hands and he slides onto the stool next to me.
“Whatcha drinkin’, Jimmy?”
“Old fashioned, same as you.” He calls to the bartender and orders us another round. I see the corners of his eyes, botox smooth despite the toothy grin, and nearly lose my nerve. Michael’s probably reading The Night Before Christmas to Amelia right now, three hours behind back in New York. He told me not to go, those storm grey eyes asking without asking that miserable question, “Why aren’t we enough?”
“A kid like you should be with his family on Christmas Eve.” He leans in, twirling his drink. The Dior cologne sends me back twenty years, hiding in the bathroom while my parents raise hell. I grabbed the shiny bottle and sprayed that junk everywhere.
“Who says I’ve got one?” It’s a cheesy line but I’m getting impatient. “What about you, James? Your kids know you’re hitting on teachers half your age in bars on Christmas Eve?”
“Kids?” he laughs; it’s an ugly snorting sound, like a sick dog. “Nope, I’m a free spirit.” He puts his hand on my thigh, squeezes. This has gone far enough.
“That’s smart. You shouldn’t have kids if you can’t handle them.”
He tilts his head a few degrees, narrows his eyes. This is not going the way he hoped.
“My Dad said the same thing when he and my mom split up. He got a full memory wipe after the divorce. Even made her pay for it in the settlement.”
“That’s awful. I’m sorry to hear that.” His hand is off my leg. Shoulders tense, head already scanning the room for other prospects.
“Here’s a picture of them in happier times.” I place the faded scrap on the bar. Mom, Dad, and I at the shore, all smiles, all laughs.
James sees the photo and makes a face, the sort you’d make if someone spoiled the last season of your favorite television show and then punched you in the mouth. He stumbles off the stool and speed-walks out of the bar.
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” I call after him. “Maybe you’ll remember me next time.”
Dmitri Christopher is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and creative nonfiction. His work has appeared at Apparition Literary Magazine and 365tomorrows.