Larry stumbled through the foyer of the studio building, the room reeling around him in a phantasmagorical dance of lights and comforting, tinny Christmas instrumentals. He marked his position with the large tree in the corner and straightened up and took a big gulp of Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper. “collegefootballplayoff” he muttered. It was 5:30 a.m. Today was the Christmas party.
He’d schemed and concocted and pulled every string in the book in order to draw Jesse’s name. He’d scoured the windows of the finest clothiers in the city until he’d found the perfect gift: a sharp, shiny necktie that featured the exact spectrum of colors found on a Dr Pepper product. Black to metallic maroon to a lighter tinge of crimson, all swirled together in tiny paisley patterns. He knew it would look perfect on Jesse. He knew it would complement his intense eyes and perfectly sculpted hair quite well and was eager to deliver the gift. So eager he’d foregone sleep these three days past and wandered the streets of the city on a caffeine and sugar bender so common to his Holiday experience.
“Ice cold Dr Pepper here” he told the elevator attendant as he shuffled on board. The old man gave a knowing smile and silent chuckle and pressed the button for the 23rd floor.
When he reached headquarters and shambled off the lift, a calmness overtook him. He was there, with his gift, and had hours to spare before the party. He quietly took a seat in the waiting room lobby, removed his visor, and ran his hands through his stringy, disheveled hair, letting out a long and contented sigh. He dozed off and dreamed vivid, accellerant-laced visions of massive sporting venues, barking vendors, oceans and waves of chilled, bubbly Dr. Pepper washing over the masses, and surfing at the crest of the beautiful soda tsunami was Jesse on a giant glass Dr Pepper bottle, his hair extra stiff from the coat of syrupy cola and his perfect new tie immaculately in place.
The receptionist was shaking him awake. He didn’t know how long he’d been dozing, but there was broad daylight filtering in through the massive windows of the office lobby. “Dr Pepper,” he muttered.
“The party is about to begin, Mr. Culpepper.”
“Ice cold. Thank you.”
He stood and stretched and wandered into the large meeting room that had been set up for the festivities. It was as lively as ever, with trimmings and faint music and trays of sandwiches and cookies and a vast army of bottles of every imaginable Dr Pepper variety. They beaconed and sparkled in the LED lights of the wreaths along the wall and he made his way to the table and opened an original. Bob from accounting strolled over.
“Hey, Bob. You seen Jesse?”
“Palmer? Nah. He went to Texas. Spending Christmas with the James family before he calls the Texas Bowl next week.”
“He...he’s not coming today?”
“Fraid not,” says Bob, glancing at him askew and meandering off.
Larry’s grip tightens. The plastic of his bottle crinkles inward and a tiny dribble of Dr. Pepper spills from the mouth. He turns blankly around the room, all festivity sucked from the atmosphere, the brand-new tie in it’s sleek wrapping burning an icy hole in his pocket. In a daze, he wanders through the party, ignoring his colleagues, and steps out onto the balcony.
“Gone,” he mutters, staring at the cold, indifferent city below. Blustery bursts of traffic noises filter up, the smell of steam and industry and polluted thoughts, the absence of the one bright spot in all this frenzied mess. He pulls the tie from his pocket and gently takes the wrapping off. He holds it out over the balcony’s edge and lets it flutter in the wind like the forgotten banner of an ancient army. Then he lets it go, watching it swirl and flutter downward in the sporadic, buffering winds, spinning down into oblivion, another day in the life of the loneliest cola hawker on the planet.
“Merry Christmas, Jesse,” he intones under his breath, and turns back to the table full of Dr Pepper.