TO PARIS AT 2:00 A.M. • by Steven McBrearty

They made love all afternoon in his Manhattan penthouse and then he had to catch a red-eye to Paris at 2:00 AM. But before that he was going to need to bump off a man in Philadelphia and drink a beer with Johannson, who would already be drunk. There would, of course, be a sumptuous five-course dinner at Sardi’s, with a table facing the park. And they wanted to watch a DVR’d episode of 30 Rock, which they never missed, except when he was watching it with his other girlfriend in Buenos Aires or his pal Hank in New Orleans. He really needed to work on his taxes. And he should call his wife to let her know he’d be late — and then gone for three weeks.

“Is there something wrong?” Natalie said, in a troubled tone, cocking her head to question him with her eyes. “You seem distracted. You seem tense.”

He shook his head dolefully. He constructed a smile. He didn’t want to ruin her afternoon by cluing her in on everything that was going on in his life. She believed he was an investments advisor for a Fortune 500 Wall Street firm. She was such a trusting thing, so free and open, like the girls he knew in college, wanting to change the world and help her fellow man and interested in organic foods and recycling to save precious energy resources and all that. He didn’t want to shatter her innocence. He didn’t want to let her see what the world was really like.

“It’s just the Yankees,” he said. “They can’t seem to get their starting rotation set. Jeter’s too old now. A-Rod’s washed up. Mariano Rivera can’t go on forever. Who knows whether he can really come back from that injury?”

“Poor Yankees,” Natalie said. “I wish I could make them good for you. I wish I could have helped them sign Cliff Lee. I wish they could be like they were in the late 1990s.”

He pulled her close, kissing the top of her head where the roots parted, moved by this exuberant display of genuine empathy. She actually does love him, he thought. Forget his obligations, he wanted to just stay here with her forever.

“Marry me, Natalie,” he said. “Marry me today.”

“I will, Alex aka Alan aka Federico,” Natalie said. “But aren’t you married already?”

“I am,” he said, “But that can be rectified — in a hurry.”

Natalie looked troubled again. Perhaps she was remembering that she really was at heart just a college girl who wanted to change the world for the better. And the practical daughter of a tax attorney.

“Maybe you’d better get that taken care of first,” she said.

He nodded, formulating a plan. Another thing to do, another thing to put on the list.

“When I see you in three weeks I won’t be married anymore,” he said. “I’ve got a place in the country, up the Hudson River from here. Let’s go there.”

“Okay,” she said.

He kissed her on the mouth. And then, in that moment of joy and connection, of two human beings bonding together, he began to back off mentally from what he had just said. He couldn’t make that commitment to Natalie. He couldn’t commit to anything. He remembered the words of Sister Doloretta, the Irish nun who taught him in seventh grade: “You flit from one thing to another like a hummingbird on the wing.” And he knew then, after leaving later that day, he would never see Natalie again.

Steven McBrearty has published more than 35 short stories, humor pieces, and non-fiction articles and has received several honors. His story collection, Christmas Day on a City Bus, was published in 2011 by McKinney Press. Steven grew up in San Antonio, Texas, before moving to Austin to attend the University of Texas. Most recently, “Christmas Eve” was published in the April 2016 edition of 34th Parallel literary journal and “Pray Hard, Kick Ass Hard” was published in the April 2016 edition of the Paragon Review.

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