Harold's Line
Dante Bryce Johns
Break

On his 50th birthday, sitting alone in his penthouse condo overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Harold found himself remembering each of his seven significant ex-lovers and three ex-wives. Harold was a handsome man, charismatic some said, and when possessed by love threw himself into it devil-may-care. Most women who'd found themselves the object of his intensely focused attention and affection eventually surrendered to his charms and returned a love nearly as unquestioning as his own. This had fulfilled his needs, fed his confidence, made him proud, but now a weariness clouded his psyche. He asked himself if there'd been moments to regret. He was no longer certain there weren't. Most troubling, this mood was one unfamiliar to him. Quite unsettling. This may be a midlife crisis, he thought, and decided to clear his head with a few drinks and an early dinner.

On the shaded outdoor patio of the Saucy Squid, Harold sipped a martini and considered options for his future while a postcard sunset arranged itself over the Pacific's horizon. He found himself comfortable with the notion of starting the second half of his life not as a man of love, but as a man of quiet contemplation, even celibate if possible. Perhaps he'd write books and essays. Given the wealth of his experiences there was much he could share.

Christie, twenty-three years old and California-girl foxy, was a new waitress at the Saucy Squid. Harold, hard at work imagining various futures, hadn't paid much attention to her when she filled his drink order. Now she was back, sitting in a chair opposite him at the table, order pad in hand, tapping a pencil lightly on the epoxied faux hatch cover that served as the table top.

"Are you in the mood for food this afternoon, sir?" she asked.

It took Harold a moment to re-anchor in the here and now. "Excuse me?"

"The Chilean sea bass was flown in this morning. It's awesome."

"Then that's what I'll have. I'd be a fool to ignore the recommendation of a beautiful young woman," he replied.

Christie nodded, made a notation on her order pad. "Baked potato? Rice pilaf?"

"I'll have the rice pilaf," he answered.

She entered the info on her pad. "I like a man who knows right away what he wants," she said, with a tease in her voice.

Harold, always up for flirty banter with a lovely lady, young or old, tossed out: "I'm sailing my boat to Paris on Saturday. Do you like France?"

In the past he'd gotten interesting responses to that line, so he was surprised when the fun he'd noticed in her eyes quickly vanished. "You don't like France?" he asked.

"My mother fell for that line twenty-five years ago," she said.

Harold smiled, but felt uneasy. "Not possible. I hold the patent on that line."

"It happened right here. She worked at the restaurant that was here then. It was called..."

"The Crab Shanty," Harold said, finishing her sentence, and at once wishing he hadn't.

Christy nodded. "Yes." She pressed the pencil into her pad. He heard the lead break. "Salad dressing?" she asked.

"Oil and vinegar."

She stared at him for a few moments. "So you remember the Crab Shanty?"

"They served the best lobster thermidor on the coast."

Her posture stiffened. "That's what you remember about it?" Then she was out of the chair and walking away. He heard her say, "I'll bring your salad."

Harold knew that alongside the building there was an exit from the patio deck into the parking lot. He could reach his car without her seeing him leave. He took a twenty from his wallet to cover the drink and a tip, but couldn't make his move. He sat, frozen by a feeling he was unable to deny: Guilt. He always knew the day would come when the piper must be paid. Happy Birthday, Harold, he thought.

When Christie returned with the salad she sat once again in the chair opposite him. There was fire in her eyes now, and Harold could sense her making an effort to remain composed. He poked at the lettuce on the plate, sampled a crouton.

"You're Harry the Heartbreaker," she said calmly.

"How's your mother doing?" he asked.

"She's dead."

"I'm so sorry."

"You're an asshole."

"I really am sorry, Christie," he said, finally remembering her name.

"She loved you."

"And I loved her."

"You owe me."

There was no argument at hand. "I suppose I do."

"Fuck that. You owe me."

"Of course. Whatever you want."

Christie watched him eating the salad. She had her purse with her which Harold only noticed when she brought out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. "You shouldn't smoke," he said.

"You care about me all of a sudden?"

"You're working. This place must have a policy..."

"I just quit the job."

"Why?"

"I've never been to France."

"What?"

Christie exhaled cigarette smoke into the salad. "You don't really have a boat, do you."

"Not anymore."

"Buy one. Sail me to Paris."

A waiter brought out the Chilean sea bass. It was blackened, sitting on a bed of rice pilaf, steamed carrots nestled to the side. He also brought two drinks, one a martini and the other a vodka and tonic which he set in front of Christie. Harold raised his glass and looked into his daughter's fierce eyes. "Whatever you want, sweetheart," he said.

There would be no books or essays authored by Harold, this he now knew. No life of quiet contemplation. This would be his first relationship without love, and the first relationship he didn't run away from. He also suspected, much to his chagrin, that it would probably be the end of him.

Dante Bryce Johns is a mixologist living with his girlfriend in San Pedro, California. They have no pets.