Charlii sipped her drink and allowed her gaze to wander around the room. Quiet filled her mind. Her friend, Toby, sat at the table with the beautiful woman, their heads so close she expected their cups to tap when they sipped their coffee. They smiled at each other even as their eyes avoided each other.
The brother and sister with the baby finished their drinks. Jakub helped his sister wrap her coat around her and baby Nicholas, still snuggling close to her chest. Together they glided up the steps and out of the bar.
Michael and Josh stared with wide eyes as the old men talked about life and love and living when they were young. Sometimes Michael or Josh would say something, and all the men would laugh. Still, they sipped.
Tia stacked the plates of birthday cake crumbs as she and Alice lingered at their table, falling silent as their friends left and the birthday celebration shifted to reflections of friendships, other parties to attend, and people no longer with them.
“I’ve got an eight o’clock with the London office,” said Tia, folding the empty birthday cake box. “I better get home and to bed. There’s a ride on the way. Coming?”
Alice shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m off tomorrow – mom’s birthday. I’m driving out to spend the day with her.”
Tia put her hand on top of Alice’s. “That’s nice,” she said. “She’ll like to see you.”
Alice harrumphed. “She won’t even know I’m there.”
Tia lifted Alice’s hand to her lips and kissed her fingers. “Maybe not, but maybe she will. I tell you what. The London office opens in a couple of hours. Let me call them from home tonight, then I can go with you.”
Alice shook her head. “Thanks, but the team needs you there. I’d rather do this alone.”
Tia nodded and stood, dusting her hands to remove cake crumbs. “I understand.”
“Thanks,” said Alice.
Charlii watched Alice watching Tia as she walked up the steps to the door, put on her coat and tap her phone. She smiled and turned once to look back at Alice.
“Rides here,” she said, waiting, her eyes wide with hope. Nodding her head, she turned and left.
Alice picked up the dirty plates and placed them on the bar.
Charlii startled to see Balder standing across the bar from Alice.
“Thank you,” said Balder. “I’ll clear off the table. What can I get for you?”
Charlii cocked her head, seeing Alice’s shoulders droop with a sigh. “I’m done,” she said. “Thanks.”
“Sit,” said Charlii, surprised at her own authoritativeness. “Balder, I think our friend here needs something to keep her going.”
“Right you are, Charlii. I’ll be right back.” Charlii stepped to the far side of the bar.
“Really,” began Alice while settling onto the stool next to Charlii. “I don’t need anything.”
“But you want something,” Charlii said. “Don’t need to be a bartender to see that, and if there’s anyone around who can figure out what that is, it’s Balder. Haven’t figured him out yet. Keen eye, or maybe a little psychic. You tell me what you think when he brings you your drink.”
Alice opened her mouth to respond as Balder placed a demitasse of espresso on a saucer in front of Alice. “Caffè corretto alla Sambuca. And here,” he said, removing the top off a bottle of clear liquor, “is the Sambuca.” He poured the liquor into the espresso.
Alice stirred the liquor and espresso with a tiny spoon. Her eyes widened as she lifted the cup to her lips. “Perfect,” she said as cheeks widened with a smile. “Mamma and papa had a cup every night after dinner. Mamma said it was good for digestion. I knew I was a grownup the night she made one for me.”
Charlii watched Alice’s eyes filling with tears as they stared into her past.
“I remember,” Alice continued, and Charlii doubted Alice realized she spoke out loud. “I remember sitting with all the aunts and uncles in the living room after Papa’s funeral, sipping their Caffè corretto alla sambuca. We all laughed and talked about the good times.”
A tear drifted down Alice’s cheek. Charlii resisted the urge to wipe it away. Instead, she turned to see Toby and the beautiful woman with their heads still close. Turning back to Alice, she said, “Remembering is good. Just don’t forget to live.”
Alice nodded and slid off the stool. “I should go home. Tia will wait up for me.”