He saw David as he pushed his way into the wine bar. He paused and then continued to the counter where he gave him a hesitant pat on the back. David turned, a mixture of surprise and then guilt on his face. But then he shrugged off his discomfort and grinned.

“Let’s have a drink,” Tommy said. “It’s been a fair while.”

“It has, it has,” replied David, and he signalled Massimo to pour them something.

“What shall we have?” Tommy said. He would be happy with a red or a white, perhaps even something sparkling. Probably more a red than a white; it was a red day. The streets were cold and grim. December had truly settled in with its cloak of darkness and dank humidity. The vinoteca was warm and friendly; there were raised voices and calls for different orders. The wood panelling reflected dimly in the yellow light of the late lunch hour. Yes, it was a day for red, perhaps one of the local drops; something from the Veneto.

“Let’s drink a white,” said his friend, and Tommy smiled his acceptance. Massimo set two oversized wine glasses on the bar: big, balloon-shaped things into which it seemed you could empty an entire bottle. When poured, the wine didn’t appear to be more than a mouthful. They tapped the glasses together, being careful to look one another in the eye. The glasses made a clear ringing sound that carried through the small area and over the many surrounding conversations.

David selected a piece of bread, atop of which rested some salami. “I was just stopping for a quick drink,” he explained with his mouth full. “Have to be home for lunch today; the woman demands it. I only…”

Tommy raised a hand before he could go further. “No need to explain yourself. Besides, if you stopped here, you probably knew there’d be a good chance of seeing me.”

The barman looked at Tommy. “Are you down just for today?”

“Errands in the city,” he replied with a nod of his head. “It’s colder in the mountains, but I feel it more here for some reason.”

The general consensus was that the humidity caused this. They discussed that at some length, and then they ordered another glass of the same white. He was beginning to think that David had been correct on the choice after all. A red would have made it all too gloomy. The white seemed to pick them up. He reached for some bread and cheese. He realized that he hadn’t eaten and he had been up since very early in the morning. The wine would quickly go to his head if he wasn’t careful.

A short man entered the bar. The door made a tinkling sound from a cluster of little bells. He was aware that he knew the man, most probably from this very bar. There were enthusiastic greetings. His name was Paolo, and he ordered another round of the white. Massimo set a third glass on the bar for him. They drank to the holiday season. The conversation was easy and relaxed. He didn’t think that David would be getting home to his girl soon. He looked like he was settling in for the long haul. Paolo ordered another drink, but Tommy made a motion for the barman not to include him.

“I have to drive back in a little while,” Tommy explained to his two companions. “Not a good idea in this time.”

David agreed. “It’s a sad thing for civilization when a man can’t drink with his friends in the early afternoon. These stupid police should worry about other things. They harass us for mundane matters while clandestine Africans run rampant in the streets.” It was indeed a sad state of affairs, they decided. He cradled his third drink; this had to last him while he ate lunch. He took the moment to order a plate of pasta from Massimo. He set his bag on a small, round table behind them. They were laughing at some joke; they were all the best of companions.

More people entered the bar and they were forced to huddle into a defensive knot by the counter. Other customers tried to place orders over their heads. There was a man and two young girls seated behind them. They were arguing loudly. The man was jolly and the girls called him “daddy.”

David drained his glass and set it on the bar. “I have to go. The woman, you know how they are.”

Tommy smiled. “Yes, I mean, what is she thinking? You only have a newborn son.”

They laughed. “He will be a rugby player,” David said with pride. “You should see him. He is already broad. I will put him in the front row.”

“You should do that.”

“I will.”

“What if he plays football?”

“I would prefer him to be gay.” David thought for a moment. “Which I suppose is the same thing.”

“Another round?” said Paolo.

“I really have to go.” David put on his coat and went to pay the bill.

“I have this one,” said Tommy, and blocked his hand with his own.

“The round of three was mine,” Paolo added.

“We can pay a round each,” David said. “It is fair.”

They agreed that it was. He paid, saluted those around him, and opened the door to the street. The cold wind blew inside and the door swung shut with a small bang behind him. Tommy and Paolo remained at the bar.

“That David,” said Paolo. “He is such a character! Who would want their son not to play football?”

Tommy shrugged. “I prefer rugby myself.” He saw that the barman had his food ready, so he moved to his little table and sat with his back to the wall. Bottles sat stacked up above his head.

Paolo watched from the bar as the barman placed his plate of food on the table. “Bon appetit,” he said.

Tommy thanked him, opened a newspaper, and began to eat his food. Paolo turned and began a conversation with the people around him.

The door opened and a young woman entered. One of the girls sitting with her father waved at her. She made her way to their table and sat down. Her leg almost brushed his own and Tommy instinctively moved a little to give her room. He half-listened to their conversation as he ate and read the paper. The young woman was angry with the man. It appeared he was her father. He wondered what it would be like to have three daughters. Certainly a burden.

She pouted her lips and cried out, “That’s not fair! You never take me seriously!”

The rest of what she said was lost in the conversation in the bar. She seemed to be very upset. Her father said a few words. He seemed to be laughing at her. All of a sudden, her attitude changed. She found herself laughing and then the four of them were engaged in happy conversation.

Tommy wondered what he had said to his daughter to bring her around so quickly. He was impressed at the man’s handling of the situation. He must know his daughters very well to be so adept in that situation. He decided that this was the only possible explanation.

He was carefully sipping his wine to make it last through the meal. The linguine was just right. It must have been made fresh that morning. He thought that he had drunk just a little too much, but he had to be going. He signalled Massimo for an espresso. The coffee did nothing to relieve the lightness that he felt in his head, but there was nothing for it. They were waiting for him; he would be late if he didn’t leave now. He stood up, moved between the groups of men blocking the counter, and handed over a note from his wallet. Massimo had to stretch in order to reach it.

“The round before and the meal,” he told Massimo. “And one of the bread pieces with the cheese.”

He collected his bag and coat from the table and turned to leave.

“Well, goodbye then,” Paolo said as he walked towards the door.

Tommy turned with a little surprise. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll see you around.”

“The next time that you’re down.”

“Yes, the next time.”