“A couple walk into a bar,” said Balder.
“And,” asked Charlii. “What did they do?”
“Let’s ask,” replied Balder as a man and woman stepped through the front door. The man jogged down the steps, then let his long legs glide him to a table for two near the back, away from other patrons. He removed his cap and pulled out a chair for the woman who took the steps down one at a time. When the woman unbuttoned her oversized rain coat, Charlii saw she carried an infant in a tie-died baby wrap close to her chest. The woman’s face eased as she sat and closed her eyes.
“I don’t know, Jakub,” she said. “I mean, I know what it means, but…”
Her voice trailed to nothing as the man bent over and wiggled his fingers for the baby. “It won’t take long, Marni,” he said in an accent Charlii couldn’t place. “For papa, my favorite siostra, and little Nicholas,” he said and kissed the woman’s cheek.
“For papa,” the woman said with a sigh and a smile.
Jakub approached the bar with remarkably short steps for a man so tall. Charlii fixed her gaze on the man’s timed expression.
“How can I help you, Jakub?” Balder asked.
“Well,” Jakub twisted the cloth cap in his hands. “We were wondering. You see, my sister had her baby, and well papa couldn’t come, and her husband is deployed, so it falls to me. The trouble is no place I’ve been to has what I’m looking for.”
Jakub shrugged his shoulders and turned to walk away without waiting for an answer.
“Nalewka is what you need,” said Balder with a smile as soft and kind as an infant’s coos.
“You have it?” asked Jakub smiling ear to reddening ear.
“What else would you toast a new child with?” Balder reached behind him, pulling out a bottle sparkling with a red liquid. He set four glasses in front of Jakub. “Papa should have a glass, too. Even if he’s not here. Charlii will lift his glass. And I must be allowed toast, too.”
Jakub’s head lifted and Charlii watched the young man’s face lift with his smile. “Mama made a bottle for little Nicholas before papa got sick, but the authorities wouldn’t let me bring on the plane,” Jakub turned and smiled at his sister.
Balder poured the glasses. “I hope this one won’t disappoint. I’m sure it’s not as good as your mama’s.”
Jakub took two glasses to the table. Marni smiled as she and Jakub lifted their glasses to Balder, then the baby.
Balder gave Charlii a glass, and together they lifted them. Balder’s voice boomed through the quiet bar. “To little Nicholas, long life. And may you always remember the Nicholas we’ll miss.”