“Watch your step there Dad,” Simone says. “The heaters went out under that sidewalk panel, and the city hasn’t been by to repair it yet. It’s slick.” She takes my arm out of concern, and I let her.
“I’m fine, honey,” I say. “But thank you.”
We pick our way across the icy spot on the sidewalk, taking small, tentative steps before resuming our stroll along the busy city street, storefronts aglow with the latest products — subcutaneous communications chips, maglev motorcycles, haptic T-shirts. Simone keeps her gloved hand through the hook of my elbow, and I catch our reflection in a store window. I’m still taller than she is, but not by much. She has grown her hair out, but you can’t really tell because it’s tucked under the old-fashioned knit cap she has on, which somehow works with the stylish microfiber winter coat she’s wearing. There’s no question we’re father and daughter, but the age difference isn’t as pronounced anymore — I have plenty more smile lines and eye crinkles than she does, but her face has thinned out, and I can tell she’s tired.
The LEDs lining the sidewalk are a festive new year’s silver and gold, their advertising messages extolling the benefits of solar-heated winter boots in three languages.
“Work’s keeping you busy,” I say, more of a statement than a question.
“Always,” she laughs. An ironic, grownup cough of bemusement that breaks my heart. “But it’s the kids who are really wearing me out.”
I smile at the thought of my beloved twin grandsons, identical in their speech patterns and big, hazel-brown Elkins eyes, but so different in just about every other way.
Simone leads me through two sets of light wood automatic doors, the ones behind us sliding closed before the others open, the big city’s chill air immediately replaced by a dry warmth and the subtle scent of cedar. Or maybe eucalyptus.
“Bar or booth?” she asks me, but I don’t really have to answer. We sidle up to two cushioned stools halfway down the nearly empty bar, Simone helping me out of my coat and hanging it on the back of my chair. “You’re still hitting the gym, I see,” she says, squeezing a bicep. I can’t help but flex, just like I always have since she was a little girl.
I shrug. “Gotta keep my youthful figure,” I say. “And anyway, if I don’t go often, it’s a lot harder to get out of bed after a day of snowboarding.”
She settles into her own seat with a barely audible sigh. It’s good to be out of the house for a little father-daughter time.
“The kids, huh?” I ask, continuing the conversation. “JT isn’t helping?”
“Oh, it’s not that,” she says, returning the bartender’s wave as he makes his way over. “JT is awesome. They’re just…teenagers.”
That actually makes me laugh out loud.
“Simone, it’s been too long,” the bartender says, coming around front to give her a hug. “How’re the twins?”
Simone returns the hug with grace, and asks after the bartender’s partner. “You remember my dad,” she says, putting a proprietary hand on my back.
“Of course I do,” he says, before hugging me, too. “Mr. Elkins, it’s always a pleasure.”
“Please, call me Eric,” I say, smiling.
“So what’ll it be, you two?” he asks as he walks back behind the counter. “Want to see some menus?”
“Nah, that’s okay,” Simone says. “A sazerEric for my father—“ she looks at me and I nod “—and a vieux carré for me, if you don’t mind.”
“You got it.”
As I take off my winter cap and shove it into a coat pocket, Simone looks at me, smiles, and shakes her head. “Do boys ever outgrow the need to do crazy things with their hair?
“Oh boy.” I say.
“Rol wants some sort of checkerboard pattern, and Pez is saving up for prehensile extensions. Are you kidding me?”
I laugh again. “I suppose you don’t remember that you changed the color and cut of your hair every six months in high school, depending on your favorite anime at the time.”
“I know I did. I thought it was so cool that you and Mom didn’t care,” Simone says. “I mean, Mom actually helped me pick out hair dyes!”
I nod. “What you wanted to do with your hair was never an issue,” I say. “It was always a healthy way to express your personality.”
The bartender places our drinks in front of us, and we thank him. We toast and smile, taking sips of our own cocktails before trying each other’s.
“That is a killer vieux carré,” I say, sliding Simone’s drink back to her.
“Best one in the city,” she says, after taking another sip. “Those autotenders never get it quite right.”
We drink in companionable silence for a few minutes, the bar slowly filling up with an odd assortment of post-ironic hipsters and decked out professionals. The robot bar-back comes online, steam-cleaning glassware and returning liquor bottles to their respective places on the backlit shelves.
Simone nods to a couple who walks past us, headed for a red cushioned booth down the way. I can’t tell their respective genders from their hairstyles or attire, but I’ve learned by now to neither comment nor ask.
I use a cocktail napkin to swipe at the bourbon that somehow missed my mouth and landed on my chin before answering.
“They were, at least for the time,” I say. “I really, really wanted a mohawk when I was the twins’ age. Your grandfather said that I was free to get one if I paid for it, but that I should know the family wouldn’t be so comfortable with me out in public. Which meant that I wouldn’t be able to, say, go out to dinner with them or join them on special social occasions.”
“Ouch,” Simone says.
“Yeah,” I smile. “He left the choice to me, but I wish he’d said, ‘Eric, get a mohawk. This is the only time in your life when you’ll be able to have one. Don’t worry about our judgment. Just do it.'”
Simone laughs. “Well, looks like high school wasn’t actually the only time in your life when you could get away with a mohawk!”
I grin, pleased, and rub my head. “True! But you should see it when it hasn’t been crushed by my hat. It’s awesome!”
Simone waves to the bartender for one more round before our walk back to the spouses and kids.
“Proving yet again that you’re never too old to be embarrassed by your parents.”
We clink glasses again.