Brett Putnam was seated at the bar of Duffy's Tavern nursing his gin and tonic when he heard someone call out "Mr. Putnam?"
He glanced up and saw a woman waving goodbye to two other women before approaching him. She was wearing a maxi dress with black leather boots and a red turtle neck sweater. Her long black hair was in two braids with a few streaks of gray at the temples. It took him a few moments for Brett to recognize her.
"Cindy Bartlett," he said, happy that his memory was still intact – abet delayed.
"Actually, it's Sydena now," she laughed. "I'm an artist."
"Sydena," he repeated with a smile. "That's interesting."
"What are you doing drinking alone?"
"I stop here most days on the way home from work," Brett explained. "It's better to have one or two here with other people around than a half a bottle home alone."
"Where's your wife?" Sydena asked, taking a seat on the stool next to him.
"She passed away a few years ago," Brett revealed with a sigh. "Went to bed one night and never woke up."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Sydena said with genuine sympathy. "She was a nice lady. I remember her coming into the office quite regularly."
"Thanks," Brett said with appreciation. "And I was very sorry to hear about your dad," he added. "He was a great motivator and an inspiring leader."
"Kind of ironic that he retired to Florida and died before he could really live long enough to truly enjoy it," Sydena remarked.
"Your mom doing okay?" Brett asked.
"Yeah, she's a trooper," Sydena smiled. "Florida will be good for her."
"Oh, you know," she said with a forced smile. "A ton of guilt and regret."
"He never blamed you," Brett let her know.
"But he was disappointed in me," Sydena insisted.
"Doesn't mean he didn't love you," Brett said, taking a sip from his drink.
"That's why I loved working for you, Mr. Putnam," Sydena said with a grin. "You were always so positive, supportive, and encouraging."
"And you were a lot of fun," Brett remembered.
"So how are things at the good ole Casey and Finley Investments?" she asked.
"I'm going to die at my desk," Brett predicted.
"That's why you should quit and become an artist too," Sydena told him with a wry smirk.
"Would you care for a drink?" Brett asked as the bartender made her way toward them.
"Na, I already had three glasses of wine," Sydena said, holding her hand up to let the bartender know she was good. "I had dinner with a couple of friends."
"Well, thanks for stopping by and saying hi," Brett said. "It was good seeing you again."
"How long has it been?" Sydena asked, giving it some thought.
"Twelve years or so," Brett replied.
"Yeah, I called it a career at thirty," Sydena laughed. "My father never forgave me."
"You have a new career," Brett pointed out.
"My father never thought so," Sydena rebutted. "He thought I was wasting my time and talent."
Brett stared at her. "I told you then that you should do what you wanted and not what other people wanted you to do."
"You did," Sydena said with appreciation. "You gave me the courage to quit."
"I thought your father was going to fire me for that," Brett admitted.
She laughed, a sound Brett missed. Sydena – Cindy then – was full of vigor, spunk, and life when she came to work for her father but an investment firm was hardly her calling despite her business degree in finance which is why she was such a disrupter and distraction during her seven years of misery at Casey and Finley.
Brett gave her a look, appreciating both her beauty and her personality but he knew it would not be possible to be attracted to her no matter how lonely he was feeling or how much he wanted to be touched and needed.
Brett glanced at himself in the mirror on the wall in front of him, noticing the gray of his thinning hair with its receding hairline, the crow's feet on either side of his face, his faded loose wrinkly skin and the age mark forming on the left side of his forehead.
He had aged a lot since Sydena's days on his team and especially since his wife Joanie passed. He had turned into an old man at fifty-seven and he worried that Sydena saw him that way too. He was now as old as her father was when Sydena first started working at the firm after taking a year off following her college graduation to travel through Europe before 'joining the rat race' as she put it when she first started her job.
Brett enjoyed her presence at the firm because she made him feel young again. He was in his late thirties then – happily married and a good Dad – but intrigued by the bubbly spirit and infectious energy of Joe Bartlett's kid who made him laugh and feel important as he mentored her the same way her dad had mentored him.
Sydena was staring at him in the mirror and Brett realized that he looked like a corpse lost in his thoughts.
"Did you ever make it back to Europe?" He asked.
"Na," she said with some regret. "My father wasn't going to pay for it a second time around and who can afford such luxury when they're a struggling artist?"
"What about now?" Brett wondered. "I'm sure your dad left you something."
"I'm too old to be sleeping my way across Europe," she said bluntly. "It's one thing when you're young and happy to sleep with men who were happy to sleep with you. Now it would hurt my pride to be turned down."
"Nobody would turn you down," Brett predicted.
"I'm too old to be young, and too young to be old," Sydena fretted. "That leaves me mostly being passed over by men of all ages."
"You're being ridiculous," Brett told her.
"Am I?" She challenged.
"I'm the old one in this equation," Brett pointed out.
"Men are better at aging then women," Sydena argued. "My dad looked great even in the casket."
"You're an attractive woman," Brett assured her.
"Women are easily replaced and expendable once they turn forty," Sydena countered. "Men don't want to be with an aging woman when younger ones are available."
"Age is relative."
"Relative to what?" She asked.
Brett buried his chin in his palm with his elbow resting on the top of the bar. "Relative to the age of the one you're with."
"I was young when I worked for you," Sydena said.
"Full of kinetic energy," Brett recalled.
She smiled. "Is that what it was?"
He turned his head and looked at her. "You still have it," he assured her.
Brett had finished his drink.
"One more?" Sydena asked.
"No, two's my limit," Brett replied. He stared at the empty glass. "My mother was an alcoholic," he revealed.
"I did not know that," Sydena replied.
"She found sobriety later in life, Thank God," Brett said. "Sometimes I forget what it was like. But I was watching a rerun of Law and Order SVU the other night. Benson asked the DA to show sympathy for a teenager who killed her alcoholic mother and because Benson's mother was a drunk too she knew how it felt and all the old memories came rushing back for me. I never wanted to do that to my kids and that's why I was such a cautious drinker, managing the ups and downs of life without becoming unhinged or out of control."
"How are your kids doing?" Sydena asked.
"Great," Brett beamed. "The oldest lives in Copenhagen with her boyfriend. The second one is in the Air Force, stationed in Texas. The youngest is in Grad School in Virginia."
"And you're in Duffy's Tavern."
"They deserve to live their lives without worrying about their old man."
"I used to feel that way," Sydena sighed heavily.
"Everything leads back to our parents, doesn't it?" Brett observed.
"The confusion, the guilt, the fucked-up aftereffects," Sydena agreed.
"Your father would have figured it out if he had lived longer,' Brett said.
"You mean he would have forgiven me?" Sydena wanted to know. "For not giving him grandchildren? For not taking over for him in the business? For not making money instead of art?"
"Yes," Brett answered.
"My father was as stubborn as a boulder," Sydena said. "I hated him for it. His dedication and loyalty to the job. His obsession with wealth. His inability to see what made me happy."
"You can still forgive him," Brett said.
Her eyes watered up. "Damn wine," she mumbled.
"You're a better version of him," Brett said.
"I didn't want to become him," Sydena said. "That's why I quit the job."
"I know," Brett replied. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't," she said, standing from the bar stool. She reached into her purse and fished out a card. "Come see, me,' she said. "I have a studio in Riverside."
"I'd like that," Brett said warmly, accepting the card.
Sydena smiled and left him where she found him.
Brett took out his wallet to pay the tab.