The memory rang clear in John’s mind, harkening back to the Christmas season when green and red were replaced by brilliant blues as the hallmark of the holiday.

The hall had been dressed magnificently with golden tasseled wreaths and flowing garlands of natural fir tree, filling the place with a subtle scent of sweet pine sap, which was now indiscernible alongside the smell of sweat, the consequence of the people’s dancing, drinking, and general merriment.

As expected, someone had spiked the eggnog punch with peppermint liquor, and after tasting it, John jovially stated “Someone has spiked the liquor with punch.” Chuckles ensued from all those in earshot with the exception of his friend, Kevin, who never seemed to express laughter in any manner other than a hearty guffaw. Kevin sauntered over and swinging his arm around John’s broad shoulders, brought their faces inches away, which, in the opinion of southern born John, was much too close for social distance.

“How you been, Kevin?” asked John who was now very aware that the armpit resting on his left shoulder was incredible sweaty.

“I’m doing great as always, but what about you? I want to know how life’s been treating my man, Side Straddle Hop.”

John had acquired the nickname on his first day of leading the football team in stretching. As he had done on his high school team, John called out to his college teammates, “Side Straddle Hops” not knowing the term used at Princeton was “Jumping Jacks.”

“I’m well.” John said.

“So, how have things been going in the ladies?”

“Nothing exciting…a date here or there…nothing worth mentioning really.”

“You know what that means?”

John looked at Kevin with a glance of feigned inquiry, knowing all too well what Kevin was about to say.

“It means I’m going to be your wingman tonight. Its time you got laid.”

Kevin, as John had come to know, was a playboy at heart, his notorious reputation the stuff of legend and feminist dismay, a reputation that preceded him and often aided as added temptation to those who wished to have a night of adventurous hot, sweaty sex with a stranger.  Kevin treated this part of life like it was a game, and he kept score by tallying the numerous ladies who banged against the headboard of his bed. To most men, Kevin’s exploits were something to be envied, but John found Kevin’s seductive ways much too shallow for his liking. Nonetheless, John enjoyed Kevin’s company and admitted to himself that he could learn a few useful things from this poor man’s Casanova.

“Alright, let’s do this,” said John, “If you’re as good as your reputation, getting me a girl shouldn’t be any trouble.”

“I don’t know,” Kevin replied, “Don’t underestimate your ability to repel women.”

“What I’ve gotten plenty of—“

“I’m just screwing with you. You’ll be fine. Now, some of the things I’m going say at first will be a lie, so just go with it.”

“Isn’t that being a little…I don’t know…disingenuous?”

“Maybe…but that’s flirting.”

John followed Kevin toward a mass of people congregating around a makeshift lounging area of a few leather couches and loveseats, which had been oriented against the wall into a semblance of a semi-circle. Someone on the couch to the far right caught John’s eye, but before he could investigate further, Kevin was leading him toward a group of five or six girls.

“Ok,” said Kevin, “Follow my lead.”

Once they had reached the group, Kevin began in a commanding voice, “Excuse me but I need some feminine insight on something.” The girls nodded to show they were listening. “I have this friend who is about to get married in a few months, and his fiancé is stressing out over every detail so much that it’s really putting her on edge. When my friend suggested that maybe she should just relax a little with the wedding plans, she flipped out and said that ever since she was a little girl she had been thinking about her wedding day, and it had to be perfect. Now, is that really true? Do women really think about their wedding day from childhood?”

Kevin was a natural at making casual conversation. His voice seemed to make any topic sound intriguing, but despite his talent, John had not heard half of his spiel.

Instead, he had peered over his shoulder to the girl sitting on the couch to the far right. He had to talk to her. Leaving Kevin with the group of anonymous ladies, he began to walk towards the girl, who sat calmly, legs crossed, her slender fingers gently grasping a modest glass of red wine as though she holding a strand of her own hair—natural elegance.

“Hey… Side Straddle Hop,” called Kevin, “Where you going?”

John ignored Kevin with a wave of his hand.

“Did that guy just call you Side Straddle Hop?”

“Yeah,” John answered, “It’s a nickname I can’t seem to shake off.”

“Well, I like it,” she said, endearingly laughing to herself. She was tall with dark hair, but what he noticed most of all was her killer blue eyes.

In an instant of time, the memory of those eyes subsided, and John now peered into the same eyes—the eyes of his wife, the eyes of his children’s mother, the eyes of woman in her final days. They peered up from a bleakly white hospital bed to witness John holding back tears.

“John,” she said, “what’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about the night we first met.”

“Side Straddle Hop,” she said with a smile.

“That’s right.”

Usually, when people say goodbye, they don’t actually mean it. Most of the world’s goodbyes and farewells are simply a matter of courtesy, born out of habit, goodbyes that carry the implication of “until we meet again, my friend.” But as John sat there, holding his wife’s hand in his, he knew that this goodbye would have no farewells to follow.  The next morning, his wife passed away, and though it had been the most difficult experience of his life, John knew a more taxing trial was yet to come—he had to tell their son.

As John approached his five-year-old son, he could not hold back his tears, which seemed to be all that could suffice in expressing the moment.

“Dad?” said his son cautiously.

“Mom…is gone,” he said.

“Is she coming back?”

“No, she’s not. “

He took his son in his arms as the sound of their tears flowed, longing for an answer to the unanswerable. John then saw something. He had never noticed it before. He had never needed to notice before, but there they were, peering at him through salty waters—brilliant blue eyes.