Usually, my friends and I had a rule. The last person to arrive at any get-together had to pick up the tab. That person was almost always me, but today, my dad had insisted that he would be paying for us.
The mood was somber and we were all dressed in black as we filtered into the sports bar in our old neighborhood and got our drinks. Today, things were different, and for me at least, they always would be.
From now until the day they put me in the ground, things would never be the same again.
“To Dean,” Tanner said, raising his glass and glancing up as if he could see my father looking down on us from heaven above. “Mr. Philips, you fought long and you fought hard. It was an honor to know you and you can rest assured that you will be missed.”
Shawn nodded, blinking hard and looking at me. He lifted his beer until it was hanging next to Tanner’s drink. “Your old man was a class act. I’m sure he and your mom are really happy to be reunited up there, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for those of us left down here.”
“True.” I blew out a soft breath as I looked around the table, glad to have my closest friends here with me. “Thank you all for being here today.”
“The funeral was beautiful,” Stephanie, Jeremiah’s wife, said. “I only met him a few times, but he would’ve been proud of you for it. You did well.”
“Really well,” Larisa added, managing a small smile as she leaned against Tanner’s arm. “The service was lovely. Father Al spoke so fondly about your dad and all of you. I can just imagine that it must’ve been a real treat to see those two together.”
I chuckled, realizing that now was the time to really start cherishing all those memories I had. If I didn’t talk about them and reminisce with these people who knew my father and needed to talk about it too, then I would forget—and forgetting wasn’t something I ever wanted to do.
“They were great when they were together,” I agreed. “Father Al may be pushing a hundred, but he treated my dad like his best friend and maybe even a son. He was really there for us after my mom passed.”
Shawn suddenly snapped his fingers, grinning as the light of a memory sparked behind his eyes. “Do you guys remember that time Mr. Philips caught us drinking back in high school, and instead of punishing us, he sent us to Father Al?”
Tanner laughed and glanced down at his fiancée to explain. “Dean thought Father Al would make us feel so guilty that we’d never drink again, but he didn’t. All he did was tell us that experimentation was normal but that we should always be responsible about it.”
“Yeah, but then he dragged us into that community-service program for two weeks,” I said, smiling as I shook my head. “It’s amazing how he made us feel like we got off scot-free while also exposing us to the dangers of abusing alcohol, especially when it starts at that age.”
“Your dad was definitely working with a plan when he sent us to him,” Jeremiah agreed. “It sure worked a lot better than just lecturing us or grounding us. I’ve never forgotten some of the stories those kids told.”
“Dad was always working with a plan,” I said, sighing when I thought about the biggest plan of all that he never quite managed to get to. “Even at the end there, he told me he was ready to go and that he would be leaving me soon, but that he set aside some cash for us to have one last drink on him. The cancer might’ve taken him but not before he was ready. He’s at peace now. I guess that’s the most important part.”
Quiet tears tracked down Steph and Larisa’s cheeks, and Jeremiah, Shawn, and Tanner’s eyes were all glistening. Just like mine probably were. God, this sucks.
“I just wish he didn’t have to go with so many regrets, you know?” My throat constricted as I said it. I cleared my throat in an attempt to get rid of the giant lump that seemed to have moved in there permanently.
Shawn cocked his head at me. “What regrets did he have?” he asked.
Reaching into my inner pocket, I took out an old wrinkled piece of paper. The greatest plan of all that he never got through.
“It’s his bucket list.” I carefully opened it up and turned it around to show it to them. My dad’s familiar scrawl was etched onto it for all eternity—or at least as long as I could keep the paper in one piece. It was a reminder that he had been here and that he’d had so much more planned for his life than he ever got to do.
It was written in a combination of faded pen and pencil, all in different colors, and clearly added to over the years. I tapped beside some of the items at the top. “These that are crossed off are the only things on here that he got to do.”
“Marrying the love of his life and having a child with her,” Larisa read, then glanced at me and smiled. “Those are two huge, amazing ones to have crossed off.”
“Yeah, but you’ll notice he only ever got to do a few of them.” I moved my finger down to the bulk of the list, where, sadly, there were no lines scored through the writing. “He never got to most of the extraordinary stuff, like seeing the Northern Lights, riding a camel at the pyramids, and going scuba diving.”
Jeremiah narrowed his eyes at the list. “Hey, there was the rugby test match you took him to watch at Twickenham in England. That’s pretty fucking extraordinary.”
“Sure, but that was the only one of those things that he got to do. We were planning on going to Iceland next, but then his diagnosis happened and we just weren’t sure it was a good idea to go that far.”
“He got to do the most important stuff,” Tanner said. “My dad still wanted to go deep-sea fishing before his time came. I asked him once why he didn’t go before they had me, when he was younger and wasn’t spending most of his money on me and just surviving. He said that going would’ve been an experience but that nothing would beat the experience of being a dad teaching his son to fish normally and getting to do it together as often as we did.”
I leaned forward, my beer between my palms as I stared at the bubbles rising up to the surface. “Both of my parents died younger than they should’ve. So did your dad and Larisa’s. So did Jer’s brother and so many others. Do I want to marry the love of my life and have kids with her? Sure. If I have kids, a boy or a girl, I’ll teach them to fish and take them out on the water, but I don’t want to wait until then before I start doing the other stuff I want to do.”
Jeremiah shrugged. “Then don’t wait. None of us can keep expecting to have time to get to do the things we want to do later.”
Stephanie squeezed his arm. “That’s true. Look at Jer’s brother, for example. He got taken before he could get to any of it. We’re all on borrowed time.”
“Jesus, that’s depressing,” Shawn said, draining what had been left of his beer before he grinned and shook his head. “At this rate, we’re all going to drive straight to the airport from here just so we don’t have any of those same regrets. Just a question, though. Do any of you actually have time to take off on the next flight out?”
He looked at Jeremiah, Stephanie, Larisa, and Tanner. “You guys sure don’t. Between business and baby-making, you’ve all got your hands full.”
“Yeah, but that’s the part of the list where we’re at right now,” Jeremiah agreed. “None of us are at a point in our lives where traveling is a priority. You guys could go straight to the airport, though.”
Shawn groaned, bringing his fist to his forehead. “Actually, I can’t. It would’ve been awesome, but I’ve got a photoshoot tomorrow that I got booked for three months ago. It would’ve been great to throw a dart at the departures board and take off to whichever destination it landed on, but that’s just not in the cards for me right now.”
“This is what I’m talking about, though.” I motioned at the side of the table Tanner, Jeremiah, and their girls were on. “I get where you guys are, but we’re just not there yet. Shawn still can’t cross off tossing a dart at the departures board because he’s got to work. It just feels like there’s always going to be something standing in the way if I don’t just actively make it happen.”
“Okay, but can you afford to just take off right now?” Tanner asked. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you kind of run a super successful software development company that’s just released a brand new, groundbreaking game engine. I’m all for going and making your bucket list your bitch, but you’ve also got e-sports tournaments coming up, and you’re a pretty big deal in that world. Can you just leave?”
“Nope,” I said, then made a decision right there and then. I knew it was sudden, but I also knew I wouldn’t regret it. “That’s why I said I had to actively work on making it happen. As of right now, my company is up for sale. Any of you interested?”
My friends went so quiet that I’d have been able to hear a pin drop on our table. Tanner blinked a few times, his eyes growing wide when he realized I was serious. “You’re going to sell your company?”
“I am,” I confirmed, my confidence in the decision growing with every passing second. “I’m going to sell and focus on living the most fulfilling life possible. I don’t want to die with a single thing left on my bucket list, and if I sell now, I’ll comfortably be able to afford to do whatever I want. Like you said, the company is successful and we’ve just launched the biggest new thing to hit the market in years. If I sell now, I’ll get more than ever before. I’ll be striking while the iron is hot.”
“You’re sure about this,” Jeremiah said, not asking. “If I knew anything about your industry, I’d take the company off your hands right here, but since I don’t, I’d just run it into the ground. I can put some feelers out for you, though.”
“Same here,” Tanner said. “When I was sponsoring that tournament of yours a while ago, I met some people. There may be a taker among them. In fact, I’m pretty sure there will be.”
“Do it.” I didn’t need time to reconsider. “Put out your feelers. The sooner it goes, the better.”
“Okay,” Jeremiah agreed first. Then Tanner did, too.
Nodding at them, I brought my glass to my lips and took a long sip, feeling better than I had in weeks. A lot of people might’ve said that this wasn’t the time to make such a major life decision. My dad had been gone for less than a week, and while I’d known he was very sick, there was no real way of being prepared for losing your last remaining parent.
The way I saw it, this was the perfect time to make that decision, though. Everything I’d been through with my dad the last few years had given me a different perspective, one that emphasized making the most of every damn day, and at the moment, I wasn’t doing that.
I’d built my company from the ground up—with a little help from my friends, of course—and I loved what I did, but I had done it now. I didn’t have any exact figures in my head at the drop of a hat, but I knew the company would be worth more than I could spend in one lifetime.
So why keep it?
I’d done what I’d set out to do, and now I was ready to move on with this next phase of my life—while I was young enough and healthy enough to enjoy the success I’d achieved. I could drop dead at any moment, and the stress of running my own company sure as fuck didn’t make it any less likely that I would.
Dad and Father Al had once had a conversation about how youth was wasted on the young. While I wasn’t a child anymore at twenty-six, I was in my prime and I wouldn’t let what remained of my youth be wasted on me. I was going to squeeze every last drop of life out of every minute and then some.
Fuck the ordinary and the expected. I hadn’t met the love of my life yet, so I couldn’t marry her even if I wanted to. Love and the baby carriage could come when and if it did. What I need right now is the extraordinary and the unexpected.
And once I went for it, that was exactly what I got. That, and so much more.