Fifteen Years After

(A short story by John Braue)

(Copyright 2000 by John Braue. All characters and settings are the creation of Darren Bleuel; all appropriate copyright notices apply. Darren Bleuel has the right to post this work on any web site that he owns, maintains, or supervise, to create and give permission to create links to it, and in general, to use it (or not) in his own as he sees fit. Any third-party use or reproduction requires the permission of both Darren Bleuel and John Braue).

Gav sat idly at his table in Flake's, making rings in the spilled beer and tequila on his table with his glass. He was at just the right angle to catch the bartender looking disapprovingly at him out of the corner of his eye.

The door to Flake's opened. A sharp-looking blonde walked in. At least, Gav was fairly sure that she was sharp-looking; his eyesight, even with his spectacles, wasn't wha t it had been in his twenties.

"Gav?" the blonde inquired. Amazed, Gav asked back, "Suzy G.?"

Suzy came out to his table and sat down. She wore her hair quite a bit shorter than she had as a grad student, but that combined with the charcoal suit and the few - oh, very few - lines on her forehead and around her mouth, only made her look like what Gav knew her to be: a successful businesswoman. Not as successful as the men and women who had gone public in the Internet frenzy two decades before, of course, but successful enough, nonetheless.

"Gav," she said, "I wasn't sure that it was you. You've, uhh, changed."

Oh, yes, Gav knew that he had changed. The blond hair was now mostly silver, if you wanted to be polite, and gray if you just didn't care, and getting thin in front and on top. His frame had thickened and his voice hoarsened, from too many TV dinners, too many Guinnesses, too many tequila shots. He knew that he had changed; he just didn't care to be reminded of it, especially by someone whose visible changes were almost all for the better. Besides, these were only visible changes, apparent changes; somewhere inside, he was still twenty-seven. Just not any place that makes a difference to me - or my liver, he thought.

"Well, it's nice to see you stopping by the old place," Gav said in what he hoped was a light tone. He didn't have to bite back on a sarcastic remark - he couldn't think of one appropriate to the occasion, anyway. "It's been - goodness, has been five years since I saw you last?" A waiter - waitron, thought Gav, got to remember to be correct enough not to get us both thrown out - came over. "What will you have?" he asked Suzy, carefully avoiding looking in Gav's direction, although Gav's glass was empty.

"Oh, for old times' sake, I guess a Guinness," said Suzy.

The waitron visibly stiffened. "Are you sure that I can't get you some fruit juice, or club soda, something without alcohol in it?" He had said alcohol, but by his tone he had undoubtedly meant to say Satanic hellbrew. "Otherwise, I'm afraid that I'll have to confiscate your car keys; we don't want drunks driving on our streets."

Gav had fought this battle so many times that, for anything less enticing than a Guinness, he would have surrendered. Suzy G. was up to the challenge, though; looking the waitron straight in the eyes, she replied icily, "My car and my driver are waiting outside. If you need to hear it from him, I'm sure that he'd be happy to come in here and explain to you how I won't be getting behind the wheel of a car tonight or any other night - or need to, for that matter."

The waitron was subdued, but not intimidated. "Very well, I'll be back with your order." He walked away, too obviously offended for anything but his disgust at having to soil his hands carrying beer.

Suzy looked a question at Gav. "Yeah," he responded to the unspoken words, "it's getting harder all the time to get a beer out of them. It's like they're more interested in pushing their agendas than in actually doing what they're paid for. Most of the time, I just go up to the bar and get a drink from Julie; she won't me any, but at least she'll still pour them. How's Luca?"

That question caused Suzy G. to drop her eyes and flush. "Actually, Gav, it's been a year and a half since we got divorced."

That response caused Gav to drop his eyes and flush in turn. "Oh, I didn't know that. I'm. umm, sorry."

Suzy looked up; her gaze was maybe a little unfocused, a little misty. "Well, when he, err, abdicated, stopping being King Luca, he was a nice enough guy, but the craziness was what made him attractive. King Luca was always a lot more interesting to be around than plain old Luca, although neither of us realized it until after. Too late, maybe. How's Danny?"

Gav shook his head. "I haven't heard from him in crap, I don't remember how long. Years, I guess. He just disappeared into the bowels of the skunk works or the skunk, for all I know. I don't even get a Christmas card from him not that I celebrate Christmas. Well, he always did have more on the ball technically than the rest of us."

Suzy G. nodded solemnly. Gav realized with a pang that he'd meant the last remark as an opening, that he had hoped that Suzy G. would deny it, laughingly or seriously, and repeat the offer that she'd made five years ago, to leave academia and come work for her. That was five years ago. In five years I've grown five years older. That's all. That's all that could happen. Suzy knew that. I knew that; I just didn't want to admit it.

"So, how's teaching the new nukees", Suzy asked him. His hopes went up again.

"Boring as hell. Since the city shut everything done, made us spend our budget dismantling all of the equipment, nuclear engineering has become a purely theoretical discipline." He'd shut down the Gavcam and his web site years ago; no one used the Web now except academics. That was what it was for after all,

but the excitement of those fin de millenie days "There's nothing happening in the real world in nuke e. now, and it's not going to change in my lifetime. A Ph.D. in nuclear engineering gets you a job busking fries at the Clown, waiting for one of us to drop dead of a heart attack" or maybe alcohol poisoning "and an associate professorship to open up." His breath caught as he waited for the job offer to be repeated.

Instead, Suzy nodded sadly, picked up her Guinness, and threw it in Gav's face. He was shocked; maybe he wasn't the best boon companion ever crafted, but he didn't deserve that, not even for mentioning Luca.

"You have to wake up, Gav. Wake up," Suzy said urgently. Gav opened his eyes. The opposite wall had grown light fixtures while his vision had been clouded by the Guinness, and Suzy G. - a long-haired, twenty-something Suzy G. - and Jessica were standing on the ceiling, looking at him no, he fallen on his back.

"Should we flip more beer - or even some water - in his face?" asked Jessica worriedly.

"No," said Suzy. "He's awake now I think. Gav?" she questioned. "You slipped in that puddle of spilled tequila. You took quite a fall. Are you OK?"

"Umm, yeah, I think so." He got back on his feet with hardly any difficulty at all with Suzy G. holding on to one arm and Jessica on to the other.

"You dropped your Guinness when you went sailing," said Jessica. "Let me pour another one - on the house, of course."

It was tempting, indeed, it was more than tempting, it was Guinness, but, still "No, thanks, Jessica," Gav murmured after half a minute, "I think not. I think I'll go back to my office now. I think I think I'll think about things."