A Fitting Tribute

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“Okay Emily. One more time. Where are we going?” Her sparkling blue eyes lit up in my rearview mirror.

“Starbucks!” answered her innocent eight year old voice with a flip of her light brown hair.

“And what are we getting?” I prompted.

“Irish coffees!”

The twenty-one year old, six foot-four red head in the passenger seat erupted in a fit of boyish giggling.

“Good job, Emily,” I shot my cousin Conor a reproachful look, my eyes narrowing. “Now, who will you tell when we get back?”

“Mommy!”

“Excellent,” I smiled into the rearview mirror. We pulled slowly into the icy parking lot and picked our way carefully around the puddles and snow banks on the way to the door. The doorman opened the door nodding a silent greeting and enveloping us with a blast of warm, flowery air. Nodding a return greeting, we headed for the coat room, and Emily bolted for her father.

“- locked himself in the basement of a champagne factory on his birthday in WWII-”

“Daddy! Daddy!” she jumped up and down with excitement, bouncing all the way up to the silver oak leaf on his Air Force uniform. “We’re going to Starbucks and we’re going to make Irish coffees!” she squealed twirling the skirt of her new, black dress. He looked down at her and put his hands on her shoulders.

“Good. Good. Emily, you have to calm down. Now, go sit down and play your video games.” He patted her twice on the head and wandered off to mingle with the family. Emily’s chin dropped to her chest, and she shuffled dejectedly to a chair. She sulked quietly playing with the necklace she had bought that day to match her new dress and the necklace her mother wore.

“Emily,” I whispered from across the room. “Psst! Emily!” She looked up. “Go tell Aunt Pat.” She smiled and flounced across the room.

“- his Perfect Rob Roy on the rocks -”

“Aunt Pat! Aunt Pat! Guess what?We’regoingtoStarbucksandwe’regoingtomake Irish coffees!” Emily rushed breathlessly through her spiel, cutting Pat off mid-sentence.

“Who’s we?” Pat replied looking concerned.

“Marissa and Conor and me!” Emily replied proudly, her lanky figure standing tall, chest puffed out. Pat looked up and shot me a look of intense concern – her eyes narrowed. She crooked her finger and beckoned me to her. Worried, but smiling innocently, I made my way across the room.

“- pictures from traveling with Janet -”

“I’ll take a decaf Frappaccino with Baileys,” Pat ordered as I stared back barely comprehending in my disbelief. I stood, rooted to the spot as Pat marched a few steps over to the couch to her sister-in-law Patricia.

“- his second wife – over there – Rose. The Alzheimer’s -”

“Do you know what your son and nieces are doing?” Pat interrupted. “They’re going to Starbucks for Irish coffees.” A wave of disapproval washed over Patricia’s face – her brow furrowed. “I’m getting a decaf Frappaccino with Bailey’s,” Pat continued. “What would you like?”

Patricia relaxed and ordered a tall decaf Irish coffee while Emily repeated her speech to Aunt Mary. Pat came over and pressed some money into my hand and repeated her order. Conor went to his mother and collected her order and Mary’s. Pat put her arm around my brother and whispered the plans into his ear as well. He shot me a reproachful look –his mouth soured – and placed his order with Pat.

“Emily, did you tell your Mommy our plans yet?” She looked at me, and sprinted off to find her mother.

“- always ready with a kind word and a toast -”

“Mommy! Mommy! We’re going to Starbucks and we’re getting Irish coffees!”

Mugsy looked at her daughter, at first ready to admonish Emily for interrupting, then confused – her eyebrow arched – and then she looked at me.

“They sell Irish coffees at Starbucks?” she asked incredulously.

“No,” I admitted, the heat rising in my cheeks, “We’re going to the liquor store first for Bailey’s. I ’ve had the Jameson’s in my car since I got here.”

“Ew, I hate Bailey’s,” she said.

Pat sauntered over and looked appalled, “You hate Bailey’s? We can’t be friends anymore.”

“Bailey’s is disgusting,” Mugsy replied with a smile. “I’ll take a tall coffee with just a splash of milk.”

“With room?” I arched my eyebrow.

She paused. “With room, but don’t put anything in it. I want to taste it first.”

“Emily!” I summoned without breaking eye contact with Mugsy. She flitted over to my side with an impish grin. “Go get your jacket on.”

The car was still warm as we slid inside. The eight year old, the six-four red head, and me.

“Okay Emily. We’re looking for a liquor store. Do you know how to spell ‘liquor’?”

“No.”

“Alright. Repeat after me. L.”

“L”

“I”

“I”

“Q”

“Q”

“U”

“U”

“O”

“O”

“R”

“R”

“L-I-Q-U”

“L-I-Q-U”

“O-R”

“O-R”

“L-I-Q-U-O-R”

“L-I-Q-O-R”

“Almost. Try again. L-I-Q-U-O-R”

“L-I-Q-U-O-R”

“Good job. Now, look for a sign that says ‘liquor.’”

“L-I-Q-U-O-R!” Emily exclaimed proudly.

“That’s right,” I praised as Conor erupted in another fit of giggles. “That’s how you spell liquor.”

We cruised down the road scanning neon signs for a liquor store.

“There’s one,” Conor said. I circled the car around into the parking lot and ran inside leaving the keys in the car for Conor and Emily.

“Okay kids,” I turned to Emily, “keep the car running – just in case.” A bell rang as I opened the door, quickly searching for the familiar shape and label. The smooth glass felt cool against my skin as I brought the Bailey’s to the register and paid. A few quick quips later, I was out the door and on the way to Starbucks with my cousins.

“We’d better go in,” I told Conor, “they never get my order right when I go to the drive thru, especially when there are eight coffees.”

The familiar green sign glowed brightly in the dark night as we pulled around the back of Starbucks to the parking lot. The chilled air quickened our pace as we hurried to the door. Greeted by the enticing aroma of exotic coffees, we sighed at the warmth as we inhaled the bittersweet Sumatran flavored air. Luckily, the place was empty except for two employees and a college student bopping his head and highlighter in time to his headphones.

“We have a fairly large order,” I apologized as I stepped up to the register.

“Okay, let me grab a pen and I’ll start writing it down,” offered the barista.

“Perfect. We need two decaf Frappaccinos with room. All of our coffees will need room as well. One tall decaf coffee with milk – with room,” I started.

“We have milk and sugar and other stuff over there,” the barista indicated with her head behind us. “You can put in whatever you’d like.”

“Excellent,” I continued, “We also need a hot chocolate and four tall regular coffees – with room.” She jotted down our information, checking off boxes on paper cups with her black marker. Conor and I exchanged mischievous glances as she continued to complete our order.

“Whipped cream on these?” she asked, pointing to the Frappaccinos and the hot chocolate.

“Emily, do you want whipped cream on your hot chocolate?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “I don’t like whipped cream.”

“No whipped cream on any of them. Thank you,” I told the barista. Conor took the decaf coffee and added some milk to his mother’s taste. I took the first holder with the Frappaccinos and the hot chocolate and brought it to a table.

“Here Emily,” I handed her a silver Sharpie. “Why don’t you write everyone’s name on their cup? This one is yours.” Her eyes lit up as she wrote her name in large, unwieldy handwriting on the lid of her cup. “Good, this one is for Aunt Pat. And this is Aunt Mary’s.”

We continued to write names on cups as Conor finished putting the appropriate amounts of sugar and milk in the remaining coffees. Conor and I double checked the order while Emily drew pictures on everyone’s coffee – smiley faces and hearts for most, and at my prompting a frowning face for my brother; then we headed back into the cold.

The drive back was conspiratorially quiet, as Emily and Conor balanced trays of coffee on their laps. I pulled carefully into the parking lot, gently pushing the car forward over the obligatory bump that every parking lot has separating the lot from the road, and maneuvered deftly into the last open spot before anyone else could take it.

“Okay,” I sighed. “Time to add the good stuff. Emily, hold that tray for just another second, while I get the extra bags.” I opened the rear passenger door and reached into the backseat next to Emily, grabbing two black plastic bags. Conor opened the lids of the two Frappaccinos and dumped some out into the snowy parking lot.

“Oops,” he said as he dumped out almost a third of the frozen drink, “I guess they’ll just have a little extra room in each.” I laughed as I opened the bottle of Bailey’s and poured some into each Frappaccino. Conor stirred them with a straw as we saturated the blended ice with as much liquor as they would take.

“Okay, what’s next,” I asked as I screwed the lid back on the Bailey’s.

“Wait,” he said, “We needed some in Brendan’s.”

“Oh yeah,” I reopened the bottle, “And take the lid off of mine, too. I want some of both.”

Conor opened the decaf coffee and one of the regular coffees as I steadied my hands and silently thanked God that the Bailey’s hadn’t ended up in his lap yet. He put the lids back on the coffees, and I opened the Jameson’s. Sneaking a quick nip from the bottle, I steadied my hand again as I filled whatever room was left in each cup, while Conor deftly opened and resealed lids on each coffee. Emily sat quietly in the backseat, balancing the tray with the Frappaccinos and hot chocolate in her lap.

“Okay, that’s all of them,” Conor said.

“Good,” I replaced the lid on the Jameson’s. “Emily, sit tight for just a second and then I will come get the tray from you. I want to put the bottles away.”

“Okay,” she replied, her voice laced with sleepiness. I reached behind me and dropped a bottle of Bailey’s – thunk, and then the bottle of Jameson’s – thunk, into my backseat. I took one last deep breath of the warm, coffee and alcohol scented air and opened the car door, letting the cold, night air steal away the rich aromas. I took the tray from Emily, and she hopped out of the car door. Conor opened his door, and we headed for the front doors.

The doorman looked skeptical as we approached. “You can’t bring those in here,” he said, looking apologetically at us and our trays of coffees. Conor and I exchanged irritated and worried glances.

“Okay,” I said, thinking on my feet. “Emily, run inside and get Aunt Pat. Tell her the coffee is here.” Conor and I put the trays down on the ground, found our coffees, and sipped them in silence while we waited. Our breath curled out in a white mist from our lips as we shivered against the slight, icy breeze and we watched the snow flakes drift softly to their doom. Each lost in our own thoughts, Conor and I stared into the full parking lot and the intricate dance between street lights, car lights, people, and snowflakes.

“What’s going on?” Aunt Pat interrupted the silent performance.

“We can’t bring them in,” I explained.

“I see,” she turned on her heel and headed inside to have a quick word with the doorman. A minute later, she was back outside, ushering us inside to the warmth of the lobby. Emily was waiting, and we sent her to get everyone else who had ordered coffee. Assembled in the lobby, Mary, Pat, Patricia, Mugsy, Brendan, Conor, Emily, and myself, Irish coffees in hand, looked guiltily at each other. Briefly looking into each person’s eyes, I raised my glass.

“To Jim,” I whispered, offering my ceremonial libations to my grandfather’s memory.

“To Jim,” they chorused in a somber, final tribute before heading off to accept condolences from the remaining visitors.

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