“Oh my god!” James exclaimed, “I can’t believe you guys did this!” He shuffled through the crowd handing out the standard half-hugs and shoulder bumps to the many people who had been invited to “pad the numbers”. Nancy from accounting gave him a big hug, spilling a splash of champagne on his shirt. “Whoops,” she shrieked in her excited giddy voice, “clumsy me!” The evening progressed slowly, but after the clock struck two the people hustled out exponentially, till there were just the few “hardcore drinkers” left, making coffee or trying to find their keys. James made his way to his bedroom, leaving the party and its few remnants to their own devices. He would slip the maid an extra hundred for the trouble. She’d understand.
As he rifled through his bedside drawer looking for his cigarettes he went over the evening in his head. He’d had way too much to drink. Not so much that he felt sick, but enough that he would now go over thoughts best left untouched. Thoughts that would hurt, and jab, and keep him up that night, but would be shoved back down deep the next morning, where they belonged. Thoughts of his beautiful ‘93 Firebird. Thoughts of his mother and father, who would be all alone now. Thoughts of his best friend’s 30th birthday, he never got around to getting him that pocket watch. Thoughts of her.
He stood outside on the terrace and lit up a camel. Pulling deep and holding the smoke in his lungs, as if he knew that as soon as he exhaled, the floodgates would open. And just as they were about to, his best friend came up beside him and handed him a glass with a beautiful 18-year-old blended scotch. He preferred Single Malt. But he took the drink. It was probably going to be the last they shared for a while.
“What’cha thinkin’ about?” Chazz asked, taking a cigarette out of the pack lying on the small antique table James used to leave out on the terrace for his ashtray. “Stuff” James answered, taking another deep drag off his cigarette. “Like?” Chazz added. A small smile crept across James’ face. Chazz was a man of few words, but most of them questions, questions that didn’t end until his curiosity was satiated.
“Thinking about all the people who showed up today” James said, “and all the people that,” he paused for a second not quite knowing how to end the sentence, knowing that his best friend of two decades would see right through an attempt to be stoic or elusive. “And all the people that didn’t.” “Meh!” Chazz retorted in his characteristically aloof style, “Their loss. Good party.” And it had been. A great party by most standards. Hell, between the hours of 9 and 1:30 James had completely forgotten about the “drama” of the last month as well as the huge new changes coming in the very immediate future.
“Gonna miss you man” James blurted out after a big swig of whiskey, “Gonna miss this town. Gonna miss my family. Gonna miss Angela and Rick and Vijay.” “We’ll miss you too,” Chazz said “you know that.” They stood there staring out into the woods behind James’ place for what felt like hours before another word was said. “I’m scared man,” James mumbled, choking back on the words even as he said them. “In 48 hours I’m going to take off, leaving my entire world behind. There’s just some things I’m not ready to give up on. Some things I don’t wanna have to let go of.”
Chazz refilled his glass, topped off James’ drink, took a deep breath and then said, “You see those stars up there man. In two days you’ll be on your way there. Reaching into the heavens as only a handful have before you. True, you’ll be gone for a while. But the world won’t stop spinning. It’ll still be here when you get back. I’ll still be here. Everything else, well” he paused to take a drag, “That stuff will work itself out too, if it’s meant to.” He clinked his glass to James’ and said, “To the stars man.” James smiled, looked up and sighed, “To the stars.”