Two in the morning in far too nice a bar for anyone conscious to still be around. It was a weekday, and all that was left were the last few drunk stragglers. We normally would be closing, but I was left to close up that night, and I didn’t mind staying up a little extra late for her. Not that she should be awake either. She was nineteen, young, in university, and experiencing the worst time of her life. I should have kicked her out, but I pretended not to overhear her with friends that first night. I could see in her eyes that she deserved a drink.
The three guys left in the bar were snoring at their tables, and I let them nap as she walked in. She gave me her sad smile and sat down at the bar.“What’s good?” she asked.
“Well, what do you feel like tonight? None of the hard stuff. It’s too late for that. Feel like bitter or sweet?”
“Can I have both?” she asked.
“Hard cider it is. Hardest I can find,” and I passed her one from the fridge.
“Thanks,” she said. I cleaned a few glasses and finished my cleaning up while she enjoyed. I’d found it best to let her speak first. I don’t like to pry. After a few minutes of silence, she asked me how I was.
“Can’t complain. Karra and I booked tickets for a trip next month.”
I grimaced. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. Virginia. We’re visiting her parents before she’s too pregnant to travel.”
“Not a fan?”
“They’re nice enough unless you bring up the world gay and then it’s ‘what’s happened to this country’ and ‘in my youth we weren’t all perverts’. Ah well. Can’t really complain. Gets me out of the house and away from here for a little while.”
She looked at her bottle and rocked it back and forth on the bar. I pretended to be busy with something to give her space. “Are your parents still around?” she asked.
“My dad, but not my mom. He lives in the city now, to be closer to us. He wants to be around for when his grandkid’s born.”
“You get along, then?” she asked.
“Oh yeah. My mother and I never quite saw eye to eye, but Dad and I have always been close. There’s that stereotype of the absent drunk father?”
“Well with my mom, exchange the alcohol with a cat, multiply that by five, and then multiply the number of times she skipped something of mine because she didn’t want them to be alone by every time. I shouldn’t speak ill of her,” I added at the end. I tried not to.
She laughed a tiny bit, and then it seemed to catch in her throat. “Can I have another?” she asked, holding up her bottle.
“I think we’re going to leave it there. It’s technically closing time, so I have to take my time to clean up,” I said. She knew what I meant. “But you can talk. I’m all ears.”
“It’s been two months now,” she said, almost interrupting me.
“Still no word?” I asked.
“They’re gone, Mike. They’re — they’re gone.”
She looked at me with her sad brown eyes. I looked back. I knew from the first day I talked to her, but she didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to say. “I know,” was all I could think to tell her in that moment.
“You didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t want me to say anything. I’m so sorry. They loved you very much.”
“Why’d they leave, then?” She said it in the calmest, saddest voice she could have. And then she started crying.
I came around the bar and embraced her. She was sobbing and rocking and hurting. “They loved you so much. I know they did. And they left, because they had done something so great in raising you, that they wanted to make sure every other parent got to see their wonderful children grow. They wanted to come back.”
She spoke into my chest through the tears. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”
“I know it isn’t,” I said. “I know.” My heart was broken at this moment. She would move past it. I knew she would. But in that moment, both our hearts were broken.