Larry pushed open the door of A Bar Called Always and stepped through. It had been a year since his last visit. Each year since adopting Shana, he had come to the bar once a year. He tried for more often at first, but Shana took up so much of his time. He wanted to take care of her. She was eleven now, and bright. She asked so many questions, but oddly, not about her family. He told her once the was adopted, when she asked why she didn’t look like him. She said ok and let it be.
Now that she was old enough, he might have to tell her the truth, but he wasn’t sure how. The bar helped him to remember that her parents were from the future. It seemed so unreal. Sometimes, especially in the early morning hours before getting Shana ready for school and getting ready for work, he was able to tell himself that Shana was his own and wasn’t born in a bar with time travelers. On those mornings, he had to remind himself of the truth. On those mornings, he knew his trips to the bar were necessary.
Today was a month and eleven years from the day Shana came into his life. He would have a drink, talk to Mort, then go home and make dinner for Shana.
“Larry. Good to see you.”
He nodded to Mort. “Good to see you, too.” He frowned. “What’s that look on your face?”
“I have a message for you. Bert was in here a couple months ago. He’d like to meet his daughter.”
Larry hung his head, but nodded. He knew this day was coming. “When?”
“He wants to talk to you about that first. He’ll be here the third of next month. I told him you would be here today, but he wanted you to know he would be here.”
“Does he want me to bring Shana?”
Mort looked to Larry with a gentle look on his face. He had already answered the question, but he answered anyway. “Not yet. Wants to talk to you first.”
Larry shook his head. “Sorry. You said. My mind went away when you said he was here.”
“He was just as nervous as you look.”
“Did he say why he’s been away this long?”
Mort shook his head. “No. He’ll tell us when he sees us. He said it was a long story. Might want to find a babysitter for Shana, Larry. I don’t know how long you’ll be here that night.”
“I’ll figure something out.” He stood. “The third. What day of the week is that?”
“Friday night. He suggested the first, but when I saw what day it was, I suggested that Friday instead. Seemed like a better idea than the middle of the week.”
Larry nodded, then frowned. “Are times the same for me and him?”
“When he suggested setting a date, I wondered the same thing. There were a few people here that night. I asked them for the date and it was all the same, just not the same year.”
Mort laughed. “That it is.” He fell silent for a moment. Larry did not move, though he had stood from the stool. “Do you want a drink, Larry?”
“Well, that’s the problem: I want a drink. Rather badly, in fact. I’m just gathering my strength to push that thought aside and go home.”
“Have you told her yet of her birth parents?”
“No, but I’ll probably have to now.”
“Why don’t you wait until after you meet with Bert? Give her and you a couple more weeks of normalcy.”
“I think that’s a really good idea.” He stood tall. “Thanks, Mort. I’ll see you soon.”
Mort nodded and watched as Larry left the bar.
It was the night of the third and Larry didn’t want to go. Shana was at a friend’s house, a sleepover birthday party. Larry didn’t like the girl holding it too much, but the parents were kind. He thought everything would be all right. He hoped anyway. He was pretty sure his cell phone didn’t work in the bar. Larry pushed his thoughts to the side and grabbed the door handle on his apartment. He needed to go. Shana deserved to know her birth father. With that thought in his head, he left the apartment and walked a few blocks. He turned into an out of the way alley and opened the door at the end that wasn’t really there.
The smell of food filled his nostrils. As that wasn’t the usual smell for A Bar Called Always, Larry frowned. He went in, closed the door and looked around. Mort was at the bar, eating a large burger. Sitting in a stool near him was a woman eating an equally large burger. Larry gave Mort a quizzical look.
“Larry! Good to see you. My friend Jersey dared me to make a burger bigger than her head. Now we’re eating the results. Or part of it anyway. Care for some?”
Larry gave Mort an odd look and shook his head. He walked closer. “Is he here?”
“Not yet. Do you want a drink?”
“I have that. One moment.” He cleaned off his hands with a stray rag he grabbed from under the bar. Once his hands were clean, he grabbed a bottle of orange soda. “Glass?”
“No.” He sat near Jersey and smiled. She was about his age and was dressed in a similar way. “I’m Larry. 2028.”
“Bethany, but I here, I’m Jersey. 1996.”
He held out his hand. She took it.
“I was born in 1992.”
“Ha! So, you missed the punk era.”
“Yes, but it seems to be coming around again.”
“Good to know.” She gave him a smile, turned to her burger, then looked at him from the corner of her eye with a smile on her face. Larry sat up taller, then paid attention to his drink when Mort placed it in front of him.
The three talked for a bit, but Larry had a hard time concentrating. Jersey could tell he was distracted and nudged him when he didn’t answer her question.
“Hm? Sorry. Waiting on someone.”
“No. It’s a long story.” He looked into her eyes. “Maybe I’ll tell you another time. I don’t think I can tonight.”
“All right. I get you.” She turned to Mort. “Well, I’m full. Mind if I take this with me to feed to the local homeless?”
“Go right ahead, but let me cut it up better and wrap it up.”
He walked away and the door opened. Larry turned his head quickly and his breath caught as Bert walked in. Bert immediately saw him and came right over.
“I wasn’t sure I would see you.”
“I’d be lying if I told you I thought about staying away.” Larry fidgeted with the napkin to give his hands something to do.
Jersey looked over Larry’s shoulder to the strangely dressed man. “My name’s Jersey. 1996.”
Her eyes went wide. “Woah. That’s crazy.”
“Not as crazy as the rest of my story.”
She looked to Larry and Bert. “I can leave if you want.”
“You’re headed out anyway, and we need our privacy. We’re going to take a booth.” Larry got off the stool, almost walked away then turned back to Jersey. “It was nice to meet you. I hope we run into each other again.”
She smiled. “I’d like that too. You have a great one.”
He nodded his thanks and went to a booth with Bert right behind him. Once they were settled, with drinks in front of them, Bert took a deep breath.
“I’m sure you’re wondering what took me so long.”
“Well, yeah, but I’m also curious as to whether or not you want Shana.”
“I do, but unless time is really different for us, she’s eleven, isn’t she?”
He nodded. “Well, then she may have to decide for herself what she wants, but that’s for the end of the story, not the start.”
“All right. So what the hell took you so long to come back?”
He looked taken aback by Larry’s anger, but he let it go and started his tale. “The war lasted five years after Shana gave birth and died. I was able to hide her body and buried her as she wanted, where she wanted. I was only in the war for two more years. An artillery shell exploded near me, threw me a few feet, into a wall. I hit my head hard and ended up with amnesia. I was taking out of the way, and sent home.
“My mother and father took care of me. They had enough money that we were safe. My mother’s father saw the war coming and helped the family to hide money well enough that no matter who won, we would still be on top.” He stopped and held up his hands. Larry looked pissed off. “Look, I know this might not seem relevant to the story, but it is. Please bear with me.”
Larry closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. “I’m sorry. I guess in some way, I want a quick answer.”
“There isn’t one.”
“I know. Life is rarely that easy.”
“True.” They gave each other understanding looks and Bert continued.
“So, we were comfortable, rich even, and my family hired the best doctors to try and get my memory to come back. There were machines and medications that could have helped me regain my memory quickly, but my mother refused. I only found out recently why.
“The years passed, with my parents trying to help me, and I just couldn’t remember my adult life. I remembered my parents and most of my childhood, but couldn’t remember anything for a few years before the war to when I was hit. My mother kept insisting that I would be fine eventually. Mother ran the household, not father.”
Larry nodded and took a drink of coffee, mostly to do something.
“Two years ago, my mother passed away. Things changed drastically after that. Father found doctors who would be willing to take another look at my brain to see if the drugs and machines could still work. The doctors told him that he had to tell me everything my mother may have missed, if there was anything. That’s when reminded me of Shana. Mother hated Shana from the very beginning. She was the one keeping us apart. My father tried to change her mind, but she stuck to her guns.
“When they found out I had amnesia, mother demanded father’s silence on it. As time passed, he understood it would probably help my memory to be told about her, but mother refused. Once she passed, father sat me down and told me about Shana. Then they gave me the drugs. I remembered her after that. All of it, almost sequentially. When I remembered her death and the birth of my daughter, I cried. I told my dad and he asked where his granddaughter was. I told her she was safe.
“It took a while for all that to come back. It wasn’t instantaneous.”
“Took about two years?”
“Yes. And now that I’m better and the war has been done a long time, I want to meet Shana. I want her to come for a visit.”
Larry frowned. “Visit?”
Bert gave Larry a very steady look. “She’s almost twelve. Do you think she wants to be forced into a new home?”
Larry opened his mouth, then closed it with a snap. He shook his head. “You’re her father.”
“No. You are. I may have supplied the genes, but you’ve been taking care of her all these years. She needs to make the decision.”
“Geez.” He leaned back in the bench. “This is crazy. Never in all my life did I think I would have to explain to an eleven-year-old that time travel is real and her father wants her to come home. I don’t even know how to do that. I’ve been trying to think of a away, but I have no idea how.”
A voice came from the end of the booth. “Why don’t you bring her here and tell her? I’ll back up the story.”
Larry looked to the side to see Mort. He was refilling Larry’s coffee. “I didn’t think I could. She’s not 21.”
“Pretty sure you’re not expecting me to serve her a drink, Larry. It’s fine. Bring her here to talk. Just let me know when and I can make sure Selna is also here, just in case. She comes in every Sunday night. Also, I would love to meet Shana again.”
“All right.” He wrung his hands and looked to Bert. “When do you want to meet her?”
“I’ll keep coming back, and I’ll ask Bert if you’ve talked to her. Once you have, we can set a meeting date.”
Larry sighed. Bert sounded so eager. “You would prefer sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course. Look, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but you can’t imagine what I’m going through either. I want to see her, Larry. I want my daughter. Please.”
The ‘please’ did it. That word cut him to the core. Of course he would talk to Shana. Of course he would let Bert meet her. He just didn’t want to lose her. He sighed. “Of course. She’s your blood, Bert. I haven’t forgotten that.” Weary beyond words, Larry got up and left the booth. He stood at the end. “I’ll take care of this as soon as I can, Bert. I’ll come here and tell her. For now, I got go. Shana’s at a sleepover. I’m going for a long walk and a good cry. You have a good one. I’ll see you soon.”
He turned and left, walking quickly. Mort came to the booth and looked to Bert. Bert gave him a look.
“Do you think he’ll come back?”
“He will. He came back every year to see if you visited, Bert. He knows what’s right. Even if it kills him, he’ll do what’s right.” There was a sadness in his voice.
Bert nodded, paid for the drinks and left. Mort stood there for a moment, wondering at his statement. He knew Larry would do the right thing, but he really didn’t know if Larry would survive another loss like that.