i-t-s g-o-o-d t-o h-e-a-r f-r-o-m y-o-u d-a-v-i-d b-u-t r-i-g-h-t n-o-w i-m b-u-s-t
Damn. Stupid thumb keyboard.
"Justin, it is you, isn't it?"
The voice came from the left. Here I was trying to text back to my son at a break in the conference, and now this interruption. I looked up from my phone. Tall, a little heavy-set, dressed in "business casual", like the rest of us. And familiar...
"Brian? Brian Norton." I stopped, remembering.
He smiled. Still the same warm smile.
"A long time, Justin. You look good." A pause. "Gone gray, I see."
I couldn't help but smile back. "Least I still have hair."
Brian grinned, and shed years as he ran his hand over his smooth head in a gesture I remembered from so long ago. "And it went gray first, to add insult to injury."
My phone beeped again. "Just a second, Brian. I need to deal with this."
He nodded. "Sure."
Another text from David. "call me dad need to talk to u"
s-t-i-l-l a-t w-o-r-k w-i-l-l c-a-l-l l-a-t-e-r
I pressed "send" and holstered the phone. Brian was still standing there.
"Hey," he said and nodded back to the meeting room. "This is over bar the shouting. Let's get a drink."
I hesitated for a moment but he grinned again, and I said "Sure. We're not going to miss anything."
Five minutes later we were seated at the bar, Black Jack in my hand, Long Island Iced Tea in his. We hoisted the glasses in a silent toast and I knocked back a good measure of mine. It burned as it went down.
He nodded towards my phone. "Can't get away anymore, can you?"
For a moment I wasn't sure what he meant and then remembered the texts. "No. Not anymore." I looked at him. "That was my son, David."
"A son? Congratulations." Brian paused before continuing. "I didn't know."
"He's fourteen, and I'm going on a hundred forty."
"So," said Brian. "You're married?"
I took a swallow of my drink and signaled the bartender for another. "Was," I said. "David lives with his Mom now." I put down my glass. "You?"
I met his eyes in the mirror behind the bar.
"No," he said. "I'm not married. Never have been."
"Oh. I just wondered, if... you know--"
He shook his head. "No Justin. I never married."
The bartender brought our drinks. I picked up mine, looking at Brian over the rim.
"What happened?" he asked. "How come you're no longer married?"
I closed my eyes a long moment. "Don't, Brian. I mean, what do you want me to say?"
I opened my eyes in time to see him shaking his head. "Nothing." He shrugged, a wistful smile on his face. "You're still the same. Some things just don't change."
"I have a son!" I gulped down another mouthful.
Brian shrugged again. "That just proves the plumbing works. Not a whole lot else." He stopped, the sharpness fading from his face. "Sorry, that was uncalled for. I'm sorry."
It was my turn to shrug. "It's OK. Maybe in a way I deserved that. No, I'm not married. And yeah, we both know why that is."
He picked up his second drink and emptied half the glass. "It was a long time ago, Justin--"
"Twenty years," I said.
He nodded. "Longer even. It's twenty years since you left."
"If you say 'twenty years, four months and sixteen days' or anything like that, I'm going to have to hit you."
He laughed. An easy laugh. "No. Sorry. You haven't been that much on my mind."
"Oh," I said and returned to my drink.
He emptied his glass and we sat there for a another moment.
Brian nodded to the bartender and tossed some bills on the counter. He slapped me lightly on the back. "Good to see you again, Justin. It was, really. Take care of yourself, my friend."
I nodded, catching his eye again in the mirror as he left.
I sat in silence. It had been a long time. If I thought about it a little I'd be able to figure out it was twenty years, three months and fourteen days. But no, I wasn't going to think about it.
I signaled the bartender for another drink.