Seeing Red

Sharon wished she could be sitting on her couch in a pair of pajama pants and her oversized Stanford sweatshirt drinking a frozen strawberry and lime daiquiri / margarita combination, but that didn’t pay as well as this cocktail party.  She ferried wine glasses filled with an expensive red wine that she couldn’t pronounce, but knew it would stain her white blouse if so much as a drop found purchase.  Luckily Sharon had put herself through undergrad as a waitress, so she had all the skills she needed for the big leagues here in Silicon Valley party land.  This gig paid so well she could turn down the teaching assistant position while working on her doctorate, and it allowed her to network with half-drunk venture capitalists and angel investors.  Much better than babysitting whiny freshmen.

Sharon dropped off the empty glasses and picked up a fresh load before reentering the fray.  She was at the fringes of the mingling people when she felt a hand graze and slightly grope her left ass cheek.  Without spilling a drop, Sharon spun to see her defiler.  It was an older woman, maybe in her late fifties, her bright red chemically altered hair tucked up in a sever bun.  “You work out a lot,” the woman said with a smile.

Sharon held the tray between them as a shield from further advances.  “Would you like a glass?” she asked while her inner voice screamed that all it would take would be a slight break of the wrist and they both would be seeing red.

The woman shook her head.  “No honey, if I have any more I might make a scene,” the woman said.

Sharon didn’t reply, but turned on her heel and quickly put distance between the two of them.  That was the fourth time tonight, and all of them different people.  At least this was different since it was a woman, but you would think she would know better.  Next time Sharon was going to wear depends and watch their faces.  Okay, she wasn’t going to do that, but it would be interesting to see their faces then.

“Hey, what happened?” asked Charlie as he came closer carrying a tray of shrimp cocktail.  Charlie was pretty hot in his uniform and moved with the grace of the dancer that he was trying to be as a day job.  Sharon had been hot for him since he had started, but it had never been the right moment, just like now.

“Nothing,” Sharron said.  “Just one of those days.”  She moved further into the party goers, unloading a few more glasses of wine.

Charlie tried to keep up, but Sharon purposely kept patrons between the two of them.  Charlie wouldn’t give up his pursuit.  “Come on,” he said.  “What’s wrong?”

Sharon gave him her best leave me alone look.  “Are you trying to get us fired?” she asked in a low voice.  I’ll talk to you later.”

Charlie didn’t get the hint.  “Come on Sharon.  They don’t care,” he said.  “Let’s take a break, and you can tell me all about it.”

Sharon looked around quickly.  The party was winding down a bit, so it would be simpler to give in to him then to possibly lose the job.  “Fine, let’s go,” she said.  She spun quickly to go back to the serving table to drop off her remaining glasses and managed to spill a glass on herself.  “What the hell!” she said.  She looked at Charlie with pure hate.

“Damn girl.  That sucks,” Charlie said.  He then noticed her hateful gaze.  “That wasn’t my fault.” Charlie said.

Sharon stashed her tray on the counter and stomped to the ladies’ room, leaving Charlie on the outside gaping like a beached fish.  Sharon looked at the sink, knowing it had little to no hope of fixing her shirt, which by now looked like it had soaked up a ruptured coronary.  She just shook her head and stomped back out of the bathroom, slamming the door into Charlie in the process, catching him in the chin.  She didn’t break stride as she headed for the exit.

“Damn girl.  That hurt,” Charlie said as he hurried to catch up.  Sharon pushed through the exit and let the door swing back as soon as she was through.  This time Charlie was ready and caught it before his face took another blow.  “Sharon, calm down girl,” he continued.  “What has gotten up your ass?”

That stopped Sharon in her tracks.  She turned and began waving her finger.  “Don’t you dare bring up my ass,” she said.  “You have no right to go there.”  She felt like she was vibrating with all the hatred she felt right there.

“Really?” Charlie asked.  “With the way you are over reacting?  So you spilled a drink.  Big deal.”

Sharon stepped from public space right into Charlie’s personal space.  “You want a big deal?” she asked.

Charlie took a step back.  “Not now,” he said.

Sharon looked past him to see their boss coming out of the office.  She pushed past Charlie and back inside.  Charlie followed her, not giving up.  “Look, I’m sorry for whatever I did,” he said.  “Can I buy you a drink after work to make up for it?”

Sharon shook her head and continued to pick back up her tray.  She had been waiting for this moment for three weeks, fantasizing about him joining her on that couch.  Now was not the time.

Charlie finally took the hint and went on his own way.  Sharon watched him ignore her really hard, almost shouting b word in his head.  He just wouldn’t understand.  She watched him jump a bit when that same red head gave him a grab as well.  That finally gave her a smile, until she realized she was being as bad as that woman.
Most of the smile faded.

The Experiment

Walter looked down at his baby girl and felt pride at creating such a perfect little person.  She returned his stare, no comprehension on her face of the significance he would have in her life, but he knew how much she would change everything.  She would be his legacy; his gift unto the world.  The baby started to cry out, looking for succor, a wet diaper, or maybe even both.  Walter looked at his assistant.  “Well, are you going to take care of this?” he asked.

The assistant hurried over to take the child, almost dropping her in the process.  “You harm one hair on that child they will never find your remains,” Walter said.  The assistant fled the room with the crying infant.  The automatic doors closed, cutting off the annoying sound.  “It is going to be a long few years,” Walter said to himself.  He turned his attention to the monitors showing every room in his domain.  He traced the path of the assistant as the assistant searched for the wet nurse.  This experiment would take years, but Walter was a patient man, at least when it came to his research.

Making a human being is ridiculously easy for most of the population.  Just insert tab A into slot B and leave behind a bit of genetic residue.  If slot B is compatible, ovulating, and able to bring to term, bam you have a human being.  The big problem is that human being is a misplaced mishmash of human material that randomly wins the genetic lottery to have the possibility to spread half of its genes in some random encounter later on.  There has to be a better way, and many scientists took it upon themselves to find it.

Once Walter had been one of those poor fools.  Dolly the sheep was first cloned in 1996.  After that people were in a race to clone a human, which was illegal in so many countries that it caused researchers to find hiding spots in some of the more backwater parts of the globe to try their hand at immortality.  Experiment after experiment met with failure, or worse, abominations of genetic flotsam.

Walter had found a small spot in a third world country that had a friendly dictator who worshiped money much more than any god.  He had sold the man a bunch of beans, promising that a clone would be the perfect way to keep the palace in the family so to speak.  The buffoon ate the whole thing, even allowing him a choice of hosts for his pet project.  Walter liked that one.  It was always hard to find volunteers.  Still, cloning a person was such a stupid idea.  Cloning flawed beings just continued the madness.  This is where Walter’s genius had taken over.  If you want to move closer to perfection, you choose what matters to do so.

Walter brought up his chart and marveled at his brilliance.  You take the heart from a world class cyclist, the lungs from a deep sea free diver, the liver from a man who drank heavily well into his nineties and never developed sclerosis, and of course his own brain.  You clone the best parts and put them together.  It had taken years to get all the pieces to work and transplanted into this baby.  Of course that part had been fun as well.  He enjoyed playing insert tab A, but of course it was all for science.

Soul Food

Harold looked down at the square ceramic dish put in front of him.  The lobster’s bright red contrasted the dark green sautéed spinach.  The spinach was flanked by a petite tenderloin steak with perfect crisscrossed grill marks perched on a mound of white mashed potatoes with golden rivers of butter flowing onto the plate.  The food was a work of art and almost made Harold’s eyes water as much as his mouth.

Harold picked up his fork and knife and paused to offer a silent prayer of thanks.  Then he realized this was his last meal and dropped the prayer like a hot potato.  Harold would be able to offer it in person soon enough.  The more he thought of that, the less hungry he became.

“Can I have this to go?” he asked the guard watching him from the far side of the room.

That elicited a chuckle from the guard.  “That joke never grows old,” the guard said.  “You go ahead and eat, Harold.  Otherwise you’ll just fret the rest of your life away.”  The guard chuckled at his own joke.

Harold pasted on a tight smile.  No need to offend yet another being on this planet with so little time left.  He mechanically took a scoop of potatoes and placed it wearily into his mouth.  His tongue exploded in ecstasy.  No matter how much he didn’t want to enjoy this taste of the earth he was about to depart from, his senses told him to bugger off.

Soon he lost himself in the solace of food made to not only nourish the body, but it nourished his soul.  Maybe if he had had a meal like this before pulling the trigger thirty two times, things might have been different.  Then again, he could never have afforded this meal so maybe this was all a means to an end.  That was crappy logic, but when you were down to the brass tacks you grabbed onto anything to make it normal.

As Harold left his fork and knife on the mostly empty plate, he pushed back with his almost full stomach.  “That was the best meal I have ever had,” he told the guard, “definitely worth the price of admission.”

The guard shook his head as he opened the door leading back to the last few hours of Harold’s life.  “If you say so,” the guard said.

Harold smiled and stood up.  Maybe not, but at least he will die with a full stomach.

A Date With Greatness

Jeremy looked to his left and saw the shimmer of a column of warmer air.  He banked his wings and drifted into the updraft, immediately feeling the air push him higher into the sky.  He slowly turned in a tight circle, gaining as much height as he could before the lifting capability ran out.  This was freedom.  He could fly all day, soaring over the blood soaked battlefield below, but that wouldn’t help his team any.  He pivoted and zoomed his vision.  There was the opposing general on his dinosaur, lumbering through his grunts, making a meal of them.  Well this guy hadn’t seen Jeremy yet, so time to get to work.

Jeremy folded his wings into his torso and pointed his head at the dino rider.  He flared his wings and fingers about in little movements to control his position as he accelerated up to terminal velocity.  That’s when he triggered his special ability, throwing away air friction.  Jacob began to pick up even more speed.

Soon Jacob didn’t need to use his zoomed in vision, but that meant those below could see him easily.  Bullets, lasers, and the occasional arrow zoomed by Jacob, but they all missed.  Jacob let out a cry of victory as he closed on his foe.  The opposing general saw him and turned his ferocious mount into Jeremy’s glide path. The general pulled back on the reins, causing his dinosaur to leap in the air to meet Jeremy.  The dino roared before snapping Jeremy into his mouth.

That was exactly what Jeremy planned as he blew out the back of the dino’s head covered in brains and visceral.  The opposing general fell from his mount onto the field below.  Jeremy laughed as he began to climb again.  The stupid newb had put all of his stat points into that beast and none on himself.  Within seconds the battle was over as Jeremy’s grunts handed the general his lunch.  Jeremy let out another primal scream as the simulation ended.

Jeremy took off the virtual reality helmet and blinked his eyes.  The smoking remains of the battle field remained on the one hundred ten inch screen that dominated the far wall.  Eileen, his date, laid huddled on one side of the couch, a look of horror on her face.  “That’s how you spend your free time?” she asked in a soft voice.

Jeremy looked conflicted.  He glanced at his victory on the screen and back at Eileen.  He decided telling the truth was a better idea at this point.  “Well yeah.  Virtual reality is awesome,” he said.

Eileen looked at the helmet and the hand controllers still in one of Jeremy’s hands.  Jeremy felt very self-conscious.  It had seemed like a great idea at the time.  “You did ask to see it,” he said.  “I’m sorry.  I know it seems a bit…”

“Awesome!” Eileen injected.  “That thing rocks.  Could I try it?”

“Really?  You really want to try it?” Jeremy asked.

“Hells yeah,” Eileen said.  Jeremy started to remove the rest of the hardware.  “Unless you did porn in that thing.  Then no way.”

Jeremy covertly hit a couple of buttons.  “No way.  That would be weird,” he said.

Deflated

The earth slowly passed beneath their feet, the trees almost tall enough for Jeremy and Angela to reach out and pluck their upper leaves.  Jeremy pulled the cord and the blower roared to life causing them to rise again, allowing the couple to gain more perspective on the world.  After a long burn the air started to have a slight chill, and the ground began to take on the appearance of a predominately lawn green quilt with asphalt stitching.  The red and orange balloon caught the flat sunlight and combined it with the fire within to glow like the fictional phoenix.  The irony wasn’t lost on Jeremy.

Jeremy let go of the cord and silence descended to join them as they floated westward.  The balloon’s glow faded a bit without the internal fire.  That brought a bitter smile to Jeremy’s lips.  He decided to let the balloon gently float downward for a bit as the gasses in the balloon’s envelope cooled.  He turned his focus to Angela who was peering intently at something in the distance.  “So you wanted some private time,” he said.  “I can’t get us much more private.”

Angela dropped her gaze to the ground below them.  “Is Tim still trailing us?” she asked.

“He’s good and we’re not flying very fast,” Jeremy said.  “He’ll be there when we touch down.  I can land us now if you want.  I just thought…”

Angela turned to face him, her tears cutting off his words.  “Not yet,” she practically whispered.  Her voice gained some volume.  “Please just a little more.  I forgot how beautiful it is.”  She turned back to stare away from Jeremy.

Jeremy pulled the cord and the balloon climbed again.  He took a half step towards Angela, but pulled back.  He looked up into the fiery circle of the burner, hoping the heat would evaporate his tears.

Thirty minutes of silence later Jeremy brought the balloon down for a soft landing near the road among the large circular hay bales of a recently harvested field.  Jeremy breathed in deep the sweet decaying sent, wanted to memorize the moment.  Angela turned to him and with two quick steps was in his personal space, kissing him on the cheek as her tears mixed with his.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  She wiped away their combined tears before stepping away.

An old Chevy truck drove up along the road and a man stepped out.  “How’d you like that darling?” he asked.

Angela rubbed at her face before she climbed out of the basket.  “That was great sweetie.  Thanks for tailing us,” she said.

Jeremy finished deflating the balloon, the colors becoming drab as it laid down on the ground.  “Yeah Tim, thanks,” Jeremy said.

“Let me help you pick this mess up,” Tim said with a touch of mirth in his voice.  “You get yourself in the truck darling.  I’ve got this.”

Angela shut the door of the truck with a loud staccato note.  “Yeah Tim,” Jeremy said.  “Yeah, you do.”

A Basket Case (a 100 word story)

Pierre stared at the wicker basket with the curiosity of a man with many things on his mind, but he didn’t want to focus on anything except for that basket.  He contemplated the remarkably erratic weaving there in front of his face.  There were irregular gaps, which in different circumstances would have been undesirable, but considering his predicament, Pierre thought they might be helpful.  The reeds had been stained reddish brown, and the dye smelled awful.  Pierre felt his eyes water.  It was a practical basket in these revolutionary times.  That was his last thought as his head tumbled it.

Old House

The old house had been built in the mid 1800s and through the years its soul had slowly evaporated.  First the paint had fled, running away from the blistering sun.  The windows had wept their panes of glass away, leaving empty sockets staring into the overgrown backyard.  Cold had seeped so far into the walls, that the chill was the only thing holding the place upright, and the air inside held the echo of the last person closing the door for that final time.

Yet Jacob couldn’t bring himself to tear the place down.  His great great grandfather had built it, and so it was a part of the family.  He just wished there was an old house home he could send this particular one to and only visit it on Christmas and its birthday.  It would have made life so much easier.  Instead the fencing people were coming tomorrow to install a fence to hide the eyesore.  It was cheaper that way.  Jacob turned back to his house, built on the property just a couple of years ago, and smiled.   That will never happen to my house he thought as he stretched and walked back down the hill.  My house will last forever.

Finding Christmas

Thomas put the rest of Pops’ clothes into the closet, returning the hamper to the foot of the bed.  The small room was cozy and filled with knickknacks from Pops’ life as well as pictures of all eight of the grandchildren.  Thomas put away a couple of magazines before sitting next to the bed.

Pops gave a chuckle.  “You never amaze me.  I would yell at the top of my lungs to try to get you to put anything away when you were a kid,” Pops said.  “Now you can’t stop yourself.”  Pops pointed at a picture of Thomas posing with a woman holding onto two young boys who didn’t have a lick of hair out of place.  “Dorothy must have put the fear of God into you.”

Thomas leaned back in the chair and when he spoke he took on a conspiratorial tone.  “She actually put the fear of Dorothy into me.”

That gave Pops a chuckle.  “Well I hated when you would just keep leaving all that crap out, even when I threatened to throw all of it away.  It was hard enough after your mother was gone.”

Thomas reached out and gave Pops’ arm a gentle squeeze.  “You did good Pops.  It just took a while to sink in.”

Pops smiled and nodded his head.  “I know.  You’re a good man, Thomas.  I must have did something good.  But I want to know one thing.  Was it because of your mom leaving us?”

“Was what about Leslie leaving us?” asked Thomas as he crossed his arms.

“That’s your mother we’re talking about,” Pops said.  The silence stretched out a bit.  “Look, was you leaving all your crap out about your mom leaving?”

Thomas stood up and walked over to then picture of his family to give it a closer look.  “You really waited all these years to ask me that?  What difference does it make now?” Thomas asked to the picture.

Pops shrugged his shoulders.  “An old man’s prerogative?”  Pops broke into his best Jack Nicolson.  “Tell me the truth.”

Thomas turned back to Pops.  “That was Tom Cruise’s line, not Jack’s.  His was…” Thomas switched to his best Jack Nicolson, which wasn’t that good.  “You can’t handle the truth.”

“Whatever,” Pops said.  “Well?  What’s the truth?  I can handle it.  At least now.”

Thomas stood there silently.  Finally he said, “Yeah.  I was mad I didn’t understand why Leslie…”

“Mom.” Pops said softly but forcibly.

“Why Mom,” Thomas corrected, “left me behind.  I blamed you for so much of the pain I felt.  You were there, and she wasn’t.  It wasn’t fair, but nothing was then.”

Pops let out the breath he hadn’t known he was holding.  “That’s fair.  Nothing much more a nine year old would understand.”

“But I did all that stuff up to when I moved out to go to college.  It wasn’t till I was explaining it to her,” Thomas pointed back to the picture, “that I realized how much of an idiot I was.”  There were tears in Thomas’ eyes.  “I still am an idiot.  I’ve never said I’m sorry.”

“I always did like that girl.” Pops said.  He pointed to the closet and the magazines.  “And you have said I’m sorry many times over the years.”

Thomas wiped at his eyes.  “I love you, Pops.”

Pops nodded in response and smiled.  “Well turnabout is fair play.  Your turn.  Anything you want to ask?” Pops said.

“Really, anything?” Thomas asked.  Pops just gestured him on.  “Okay, this is going to sound stupid, but where did you hide the Christmas presents each year?”  Pops began to laugh.  “No really.  I tore that house apart.  I looked in the closets, the attic, the basement, Grandma’s, Jake’s place down the street.  I never found a single one.  I’ve always wanted to know,” Thomas said.

Pops was now in full belly laughter.  He finally came out of it long enough to wheeze out, “Are you sure you tore the house apart?”

“Come on.  It’s not that funny,” Thomas complained.

“You really want to know?” Pops said as he calmed down a bit more.  Thomas was about to complain again, but Pops cut him off.  “I put them where your toys should have been.”

“You mean?” Thomas asked.

“Yep, if you had put one blessed thing away you would have found everything.  I never hid a single thing.  I just tried to put things back to normal the best I could.” Pops said as he began laughing again.

This time Thomas joined him.

Pile of Regrets

Jasper walked into Earnest’s room and almost stepped on a large pile of clothes piled near the door.  It was a huge contrast to the rest of the room with the abundance of books and sketchpads that filled every shelf, including where a TV would normally be.  Earnest looked up and chuckled in a dry raspy rattle that had seen too much laughter, shouting, cigarettes, and not necessarily in that order.  The old man threw another pair of pants on the pile that he had taken out of his large dresser.

“Earnest my man,” Jasper said.  “What’s gotten into you?”

Earnest took another shirt out of a drawer and added it forcibly on the pile.  “Life,” he replied.  Earnest sat down on the bed, his many years etched heavily in his sagging skin and wrinkles.  The only thing not sagging due to age and gravity was the twinkle in his faded blue eyes.  “Do you like my masterpiece?”  Earnest asked.

“You’re masterpiece?” asked Jasper.  “Where?”

Earnest gestured to his pile of clothes.  “That.  That is my masterpiece,” he said with quite a bit of satisfaction.  Earnest got up and began to go through another drawer, throwing its contents onto the pile one at a time.

Jasper crossed his arms.  “Did Mary forget to bring you your meds this morning?” he asked.

Earnest turned back to Jasper.  “Ha!  You’re quite the joker.  Yes she did,” he said before turning back to his piling task.

“I’m not trying to be funny,” Jasper said as he scooped up a few of the clothes and held them out to Earnest.  “And this sure isn’t funny either.  Do you expect me to pick up this mess?  I’m your aide, not your maid.”

Earnest didn’t turn around this time.  He just shook his head as he added more and more clothing to the pile.  “I’m not expecting you to pick it up.  I’m expecting you to appreciate my masterpiece for what it is.”

“I don’t understand Earnest,” Jasper said.  “Clue me in please.”

Jasper finished the drawer and shuffled to his closet.  “That pile of clothes is my life in a nutshell,” he said.

“One more time, please.  Give me the YouTube version,” Jasper said.

Earnest added a bunch of shoes and a jacket or two to the pile.  “YouTube?” he asked.  “What in God’s good graces is that?”

Jasper shook his head.  “Sorry, I forgot you don’t believe in computers.”

“Those things suck your soul into the screen for the promise of empty entertainment,” Earnest said, “and I do think the use of entertainment is dubious at best.”

“Okay, so I won’t tell you what happened last night on Marvel’s Agents of Shield,” Jasper said, “but seriously, what gives?”

Earnest finished cleaning out his closet onto the pile, except for a classic navy blue pinstripe suit, a white dress shirt and a pair of black wingtips with such a shine that they would be blinding at night.  Those he laid reverently on his bed.  “A man,” Earnest began, “a real man knows he is the sum of what he wears.”

“You mean his style?” asked Jasper.

Earnest shook his head, adding his raspy laugh as punctuation.  “Style is what you young folk have corrupted from what this used to be,” he began.  “Not that I blame you.  It’s just what happens when time passes.  The ideas change, become corrupted such that the new generation can make it their own.  I get that.”

Earnest lifted the suit off the bed and held it up in front of himself.  “A good suit makes a man,” he continued.  “You just feel different.  A good pair of pants that fit, a jacket that you fill out, shoes that can cut the floor like buttah, that’s what I’m talking about.  They make you feel ten times the man that you thought you were before you put them on.  If the military could ever come up with a suit you could fight in like that, well we could conquer the world.”  He punctuated his sentence with a fist pump.

“Okay pops, but why the pile?” Jasper asked.

“That crap is who I was since I gave this up,” Earnest said pointing to the suit.  “That’s me without the power.  Now look at me.  I’m just a shadow of my former me.”  Earnest was beginning to shake.  “I’m an old shadow of a shadow of myself.  All that crap there,” he pointed at the pile of clothes, “that’s me wasting away.  That’s the kind of stuff your mother bought for you from Sears and Roebuck when she had saved enough green stamps that she could afford it.  You didn’t choose those corduroy red pants, they were just the cheapest things to cover your bare ass to go to school.”  Earnest slumped onto his bed next to the suit.  He looked as messy and crumpled as the pile of clothes that separated him and Jasper.

“So what do you want to do about all this?” Jasper asked.

“I don’t know,” Earnest replied with a very small voice.

Jasper paused for a moment of silence.  It was soon interrupted by the sound of a bed call button.  The intercom on his belt said in a slightly muffled monotone voice, “Jasper, can you check in on Mr. Stapleton.  He can’t find his teeth.”

“Look,” Jasper said to Earnest, “why don’t I help you get into your suit.  You hang out in it for a bit, and I’ll come back after finding Lewis his teeth.”

Jasper perked up again.  “That would be swell.  Thanks,” he said.

Jasper helped Earnest get dressed and he had to admit, even though Earnest had deflated since the last time he had worn the suit, it still looked damn good on him.  “There you go old man.  You enjoy and I’ll be right back.”

Earnest grabbed onto Jasper’s arm.  “You’re a good man,” Earnest said.  “Thank you for helping me to remember who I was.”

“Who you are, Earnest.  Who you are,” Jasper said.  Earnest gave Jasper a smile and a nod through tear filled eyes as he let Jasper go.  Jasper gave Earnest a pat on the back as Jasper headed out of the room.  He paused in the doorway and watched Earnest lay down on the bed, those shoes twinkling in the setting sun.  Jasper smiled and headed down the hall to find some teeth.

 

Jasper came back through the door, a smile on his face and a story on his lips.  “You should have seen where Lewis left his teeth this time,” he said.

Jasper’s words met the empty stare of eyes that were looking at infinity and would never blink again.  Jasper hit the call button, but knew that the Earnest had gone on, his clothes having made the man.  Jasper looked at his scrubs and wondered what kind of man it made him as the emergency crew rushed into the room.

Seeing Red

The bell over the door tinkled as Jonah stepped out of the night.  The bar smelled as if stale beer and Lysol had a baby, but he didn’t care.  Jonah shrugged out of his jacket and shook it to get the powdery snow off of it before hanging it up on the empty coat rack.  His thick black curly hair, a gift of his southern European heritage, held onto the snow, giving him melting snow highlights.  He walked over to the bar, rubbing his hands together.

The bartender smiled a warm smile as she pushed a stray strand of blond hair back behind her ear.  “Still snowing out there?” she asked.

“It’s snowmageddon,” Jonah said.  “I almost drove off the road like six times.”  He sat down on a stool at the slightly sticky looking black counter and looked at the myriad of taps in front of him.

“Why did you come out then?” the bartender asked.

Jonah looked back at the bartender, a whole lot of hurt in his eyes.  “I needed to get out,” he said.  “Can I get a Guinness?”

The bartender grabbed a glass from under the bar.  “Sure can,” she said.

As the bartender reached for the tap though, Jonah stopped her.  “Not a glass.  A pitcher,” he said.

The bartender shook her head.  “Really?  Are you sure?” she asked.

Jonah nodded his head.  “Don’t worry,” he said as he threw his keys on the bar.  “I won’t be going anywhere for a while.”

The bartender nodded and put the key on the shelf behind the bar.  “Okay.  I just don’t want to see you get killed in this crap,” she said.  She deftly filled the pitcher with the perfect amount of head and placed it and the glass in front of Jonah.  Jonah moved the glass and put the pitcher to his mouth, downing a quarter of it before coming up for air.  “Boy, what’s got you so bad?”

“My girlfriend of three years dumped me,” Jonah replied after wiping his mouth on his sleeve.  The bartender put a napkin on the bar.  Jonah dabbed at his now clean mouth sheepishly.  “Thanks.”

“De nada.  So pretty bad breakup?  What happened?” the bartender asked.

Jonah took another drink, but this time he held back a bit.  He used his napkin to wipe again before speaking.  “I can handle breakups.  I mean, I’m a guy.  It happens all the time,” he said.

“I thought you said you had been going out for three years.  That sounds pretty serious,” the bartender said.

Jonah laughed.  “Well, it was getting there, but like a year or two of that was more Netflix and chill than boyfriend and girlfriend.”  Jonah paused and watched the bartender’s face for a reaction, but when she kept it neutral he decided to continue.  “Well, she decided she wanted to make it more official and I was like I don’t know, but I decided why not.  She’s an awesome girl, way out of my league.  But then she met him.”  To punctuate the end of his sentence he took another long pull on the pitcher, almost finishing it.  He let a burp escape from his soul.  “Excuse me.”

“Who is ‘him’?” the bartender asked.

“This old dude,” Jonah said.  The bartender was about to speak, but Jonah cut her off.  “No really, the dude is old.  He’s got to be in his seventies.  The dude smelled like a zoo too.  He must have a hobby farm or something.  Though he does have an epic beard, let me tell you.”  With that he finished the pitcher and handed it out to be refilled.

The bartender put the pitcher behind the bar.  “That’s enough for a bit.  Let’s see how the first one settles,” she said.  Jonah looked like he was going to protest, but then the anger and anxiety melted like the snow that was in his hair.  He deflated and looked defeated.  The bartender poured him a Coke.  “Here,” she said.  “Now if he was old and smelled like a zoo, what do you think your girlfriend saw in him?  I mean, you are pretty good looking.”  The bartender paused, leaned forward, and took a deep breath.  “And you don’t smell like a goat.  Did you cheat on her?”

Jonah raised his hands up in front of him.  “No way!  I wouldn’t do that,” he said.  The bartender gave him one of those looks.  “No really.  Remember, she was out of my league.  I wouldn’t want to screw that up.  The old dude, he was always there, making her laugh, giving her gifts.  It’s like he knew where she would be all the time.”

The bartender shivered.  “I’ve met some guys like that.  Heck, I have restraining orders against some of them,” she said.

“I know,” Jonah said.  “I once asked him what was his deal, and he had the nerve to tell me he knew when we were sleeping and when we were awake.  Now doesn’t that freak you out?”

“Hells yeah!” the bartender said.  “Didn’t your girlfriend feel the same way?”

“No, she thought it was funny,” Jonah said. “I was like that guy gives me the creeps, but she was fine with it.”  He downed his soda in a gulp and let another burp escape.  The bartender filled the glass with Guinness.  That made Jonah smile.  He lifted the glass in salute.

“So when did you find out about the two of them?” the bartender asked.

Jonah put the glass down without taking a drink, but his eyes never left the frothy head of the beer.  “Today,” he told the beer.  “I went down to his import/export business.  I wanted to give him a piece of mind.”  He looked back up at the bartender.  “He runs some sort of special needs employment there.  He had a ton of midgets there working for him.  It’s almost like he has a height problem and wants to be the big man on campus.”

“Okay, that just sounds creepy,” the bartender said.  “You sure this guy isn’t some sort of Willy Wonka?”  She waited to get a laugh, but Jonah wasn’t in the giving mood.

“Nah, he’s more of the ‘I’ll eat you out of house and home’ type of guy,” Jonah said.  “Anyhow, I got there and marched into his office to see my girl sitting on his lap.  I couldn’t believe it.“  He picked up his glass and chugged it.

The bartender waited for the expected burp, but it was not forth coming.  “So what did you do?” she asked.

“I confronted the two of them.  He just laughed, but she was trying to give me some sort of story about she was just telling him what she wanted or some other bullshit.  I really didn’t listen.  My eyes told me everything I needed, so I stormed out of there and drove till I saw this place,” Jonah said.  “I don’t want to go back to our place.  Not yet.  I just want to forget.”

The bartender was about to say something when the tinkle of the bell over the door announced a new patron.  Jonah physically winced when the snow covered figure laughed, “Ho, ho, ho.”

Jonah turned around.  “Really?  You couldn’t leave me alone?” he asked.

The old man’s blue eyes twinkled.  “Come on Jonah, let’s get you home,” he said.

“I’m drinking, Nick!  Leave me alone,” Jonah said.

The bartender couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  The old man in his red suit put a hundred dollar bill on the bar and a small wrapped present on top of it.  “There you go Jessica.  Just forget what happened tonight and close up.  No one else will be out on a night like this.  I know,” Nick said with a wink.

Nick placed his arm around Jonah and got Jonah off the stool and steered him towards the door.  Jonah began to cry.  “I don’t want to go.  I’ve got my car and my jacket, and…”

Nick cut him off.  “Don’t worry.  Tomorrow you will have a massive headache, a new coat, and a new car.  It’s the least I can do.”

Nick reached for the doorknob, but Jonah stopped him.  “Why Nick?  Why?”

Nick smiled and his eyes twinkled again.  “She’s on the naughty list and you’re on the nice,” he said.

Jonah shook his head, but let Nick take him out of the bar and into the snowy night.  Nick yelled back inside as the door closed.  “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”