A Toast to the Good Times - By Liz Reinhardt

Chapter 1

I swipe a wet rag over the black laminate bar top, sending stray popcorn and mixed nuts flying across the room and onto the freshly swept floor.


“Well, that seems counter-productive, Landry.” Her normally tiny voice echoes in the old bar that reeks of beer, woozy fun, and bleary regret. “Where’s the broom?”

I glance up to look at Mila. Her hands are on her bony-ass hips, her dark bangs are half falling in her eyes, and her mouth is pursed in fake annoyance.

"In the corner." I jerk my head toward the thousand-year-old broom stashed off to the side and go back to wiping down the bar until it gleams. “I thought you were on your way outta town? What are you doing here?”

“I don’t leave until late tonight. I came by because I knew I’d find your scurvy ass here moping...oh, I mean working.” She winks at me, or tries to.

She always kind of wrinkles her face and blinks before she manages to get just one eye closed.

It’s ridiculously cute, like one of those sneezing panda videos I pretend to think are stupid but secretly kinda love. Just because I spend time breaking up raging fist fights and serving brew in my own personal dive bar doesn’t make me totally devoid of emotions.

“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, Landry. So, what are your plans? Please don’t tell me you’re really going to spend it sitting in this bar? Alone?”

I smile at her and refill the little bowls of pretzels and mixed nuts. “Nope. The bar’s gonna be open tomorrow. And the next day. No worries. I won’t be alone. Trust me, there’ll be plenty of sad saps who’ll be thrilled I’m here to keep the drinks flowing. We’ll have a great time ringing in the holiday.”

Mila clucks her tongue. “Seriously? That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard. You can’t spend Christmas in a bar. What would your parents—” she stops herself from finishing.

I cut my eyes to the left and see that she’s grinning hopefully, the hope being that she didn’t piss me off by mentioning my family.

I haven’t seen them in over a year.

None of them.

Not my mom, or dad, or even my brother or sister. This is the first Christmas I won’t help them make popcorn strings to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve while we watch A Christmas Story and fight over who gets to put that deranged-looking Santa on the top. It’s the first year I won’t piss my mom off by stealing food off the trays before she’s ready to serve them.

Because the last time I saw my mom, it was just after she posted my bail.

Which happened the night after I ended up in jail because I got in a fist fight.

With my dad.

“Well, I know one thing for sure. Your mom would say you need a haircut.”

She reaches over the bar and ruffles a hand through the thick, curly hair I’ve always sort of hated, but haven’t gotten around to getting cut lately.

“You the fashion police?” I flick a peanut at her.

She blocks it with her still-mittened hand. “I like your long hair. It’s kinda cute. But I know you’ve been borrowing my shampoo, and it was okay when you had almost no hair. Now I think you’re using more than I am.”

“Now we’re even, because I know you used the last of my dental floss and then left the empty container in the drawer. That was lowdown, Mila. I had a popcorn kernel stuck in my tooth the other night, and it was hell. Pure hell.”

She winces. “Shit. Guilty as charged. Guess who’s getting a year’s supply of dental floss in his stocking this year?”

“Just put it on the shopping list when you’re done stealing it, thief.” I throw her my best charming smile. “And I’ll lay off your shampoo. It makes my hair so damn shiny and manageable, though.”

“Maybe Santa will get you some of that, then. I can’t believe you want lavender shampoo.” She wrinkles her nose at me, and I toss a piece of popcorn at her, which she catches in her mouth.

“You should be glad I like smelling nice. It makes living with me easier, right?”

“Truth,” she sighs, leaning on the bar and munching on a few cashews from the bowl.

Mila and I have been roommates since a few weeks after I moved to Boston from little old Branchville, New Jersey. I know everyone thinks we’re more than friends, but we aren’t and never have been.

“Listen, though, I’m serious about