Saturday, February 13, 2010

Intimate Strangers

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.


  1. This is heartbreaking, Kevin. A lifetime of pain and regrets. Your dialogue flowed so easily. You held the descriptions sparse but I could see them in the bar.

  2. What a tragic situation - the dialogue is sharp and believable and the line twenty years, three months and fourteen days conveys really
    well the sense of a life of unarticulated regret.

  3. I did raise an eyebrow at Long Island Iced Tea, but all was revealed in the end. Doesn't matter which way you swing in the end, sometimes the good ones get away...

  4. Very sad, they chose two seperate roads but were both lonley in the end. Great choice of title, sums up the hope and the tragedy of their connection. Wonderfully written.

  5. There is a haunted quality to this story -- like the ghost of a lost love that has no place now. I love the dialogue between them. I half expected some drama from the son for not taking the call -- as though his "I need to talk to u" text was a foreshadow... but then again, the only way I called my parents at 14 was if I REALLY needed to talk to them.

    Great story/excellent writing.

  6. Great dialogue Kevin, and you conveyed that regret so well. Not only that, but the suspense was well-paced and the reveal perfectly timed. A sad, but well-told story.

  7. Oh, by the way, there's an award for you on my site:

  8. As Lily said in a previous matter, it doesn't matter whom you love, a broken heart is broken heart. When it's true love, the pain certainly does last 20 years, four months, and 16 days... and longer. Lovely snapshot. Thank you for sharing it. ~ Olivia

  9. Very good flow, the dialogue was flawless.
    I too expected some drama with the son, but that worked very well to throw me when the reveal came along!

  10. Great story. Lovely snapshot. Smooth writing and the dialog is spot on....only question I have?

    What's stopping him now?

    Thanks for sharing.
    Karen :0)

  11. Thank you all for your comments. I am glad the dialogue worked. It took some effort to get it right. It had to carry the story, yet leave a lot unsaid (these are guys talking, y'know?) :)

    Again, I appreciate both the reading and the comments.

  12. I think you did an EXCELLENT job with conveying the unsaid. You spoke volumes in this piece without having to clutter it. Beautiful job.

  13. Yes, beautiful dialogue and poignant story.

    I, though, don't want to let you off the hook with the son. He was mentioned too many times to be a non-issue, and almost detracted from the scene because the reader expected a dire consequence for Justin due to ignoring the need to talk.

    Maybe if Justin just said "send off a quick text during a break in the conference" and the son didn't say "dad" in his text, then the reader could have been as surprised as Brian, and none of us would have expected the son to be a sub-plot.

    Your writing style and pacing and attention to detail is exquisite, though. Despite my critique, I very much enjoyed this one.

  14. Again, thank you for your comments.

    I think I'll have to go back and look at the role of the son in this piece. I believe I can push him into the background a little more, so he doesn't seem as much of a red herring and distraction for the reader.

    I am glad you enjoyed the story.

  15. Yeah I really enjoyed it. You're a cool writer. I'm now a follower of your blog. Hope you take time to visit mine.ü

  16. Great pacing here Kevin. And a very poignant tale. I think you could lean it up a tad with relegating the unseen son to background music. But one of my faves from you! Peace, Linda

  17. Awww.... poor guy... your ending caught me by surprise, but in a good way. I loved the way these two talked... thanks to your commendable dialogue skills! I was afraid something bad was going to happen to the son... and I guess it did, when he lost his father... but it wasn't the kind of bad I thought it would be. And I guess that is good.
    Loved it!