The Christmas Gift
By Ryan B.
Dedicated to my wife, without whom I wouldn't have a reason to write!
The television was awash with pictures of snowy forests, gaily lit houses, roaring fire places, and everything else that could possibly turn Thomas’ stomach. He was certain that if he bothered to watch it any further he might see a happy family unwrapping presents between the various television advertisements for department stores and specialty shops.
“You want another?” Christy asked from across the bar. She was leaning against the liquor shelf with a cigarette in her mouth, watching the rain blat away against the painted windows of her corner bar.
“Yeah, why the hell not?” Thomas answered, as he leaned back on his stool and fished in his jacket pocket for his own pack of smokes.
“I warned you once already tonight, Thom,” Christy chided sternly from behind the taps as she pulled a fresh mug of light beer for him. “You ain’t allowed to swear in here any more than I am, dammit.” She grinned as she slid the octagonal mug across the bar mat to him, and grabbed a foil packet of peanuts from behind the bar.
“I didn’t order that crap,” Thomas groused as he watched her open the package of Beer Nuts and dump it into a shallow bowl.
“Merry Christmas from one schlub to another,” Christy offered as she shoved the plastic container to her friend.
“Now you’ve wounded me!” Thomas exclaimed with false modesty. He was unrepentant about accepting her gift, though, and crammed a handful of peanuts into his mouth before raising his glass in a mock toast. “To Jesus! May he envy that which you charge me a buck for!”
“Hear, hear!” bellowed a voice from the doorway. The reply caught Thomas off his guard, and he nearly spilled his mug in his lap before he recovered and turned to face the intrusion on his quiet night nearly alone.
“Eddy!” Christy exclaimed with genuine surprise, her matted, greying hair bouncing as she whipped her head towards the newcomer. “I thought you was gonna be in Cali with your wife?”
“I was,” the grizzled man in threadbare denim and leather answered as he leaned over the elbow of the bar and delt a soft kiss to the bartender’s cheek. “Problem is, they ain’t my family and I’ve been disinvited. Pretty sure there’s a divorce in the works.” He sat down, his soggy boots squishing as he planted his feet on the rails down below.
“What for?” Thomas asked, glad of the diversion from the achingly sappy Christmas special on the television. The bar was devoid of customers, save himself and his off-and-on drinking pal.
“She says I drink too much,” Eddy replied as he received his customary boiler maker and an extra shot. Looking up from under his driving cap, he grimaced. “I didn’t ask for this, Christy.”
“T’is the Season,” she offered, as she stubbed her ultra-light cigarette in the ash tray she and Thomas had been sharing. “Sorry for your loss, bud.”
“No matter,” Eddy said, slapping a pair of worn bank notes down on the battered wood of the bar. “Tommy here-“
“Don’t call me that!” Thomas replied, as per their ritual.
“Tommy here,” Eddy resumed without missing a beat, “He and I are gonna have a few drinks and keep you in business, and for once, you’re going to join us. Call it a real Christmas present.”
Christy stared at the pair of ten dollar bills on her counter, and then shrugged before fishing her pack of cigarettes out of her stained apron. Both men watched her apprehensively; they had seen her eject life-long patrons for less, and Thomas suspected that Eddy was just as unhappy with the idea of having to leave the warm bar as he was.
“Oh, what the hell,” Christy said, as she grabbed a mug from the hidden shelves below the bar and went to the taps. “Call it a present to a dear friend.”