Copyright is held by the author.
ERNEST COULDN’T help but lie. He made up stories about his house on the hills, his in-shape wife, his life without children, but he could never impress the one person he wanted to the most.
* * *
Acer Duber came home and ordered his son, Ernest, to get the Nicaraguan cigars. Acer hushed his friends and turned up the TV. A commercial showed him and Mordan University basketball legend Don Winslow singing Acer’s slogan, “At Duber Law, you’ll get what you deserve.” Acer was asked what he thought. While lighting his cigar, Acer said that if Winslow had a better agent he wouldn’t have to do cheap commercials. Ernest, laughing the loudest, was asked what type of law he practised. Acer snickered his son managed the firm’s secretaries and quit law school. Ernest, with a closed-mouth smile, asked if his father needed anything else and left.
Ernest drove drunk to a Mordan bar. Every friend, every job, every home he ever had fit within the same three-square miles as Acer.
Ernest sat down and bought shots for a group of older alumni. He studied them like an apprentice. Most dressed wealthy. A few sounded brilliant. But all seemed to have taken advantage of some lucky break, some moment of opportunity.
At halftime, Ernest stepped outside and lit one of his father’s cigars. An alumnus asked the type. Ernest said a Cuban. The alumnus said he loved those and would pay double or triple its worth. That gave Ernest an idea. Like a ticket scalper outside the stadium, he could sell cigars here and upcharge the rich for convenience. Concerns about funding and supplies were tomorrow’s problems. At that moment he felt unstoppable, like his father.
* * *
After a long Saturday, Zoey arrived home. Normally Saturdays with her husband, Ernest, included donuts and coffee with newspapers, midday cheese and wine and then a nap, followed by dinner reservations and a long stroll in their neighbourhood before romance. She lived for her Saturdays.
But lately Zoey had to work on weekends. A promotion to Target store manager meant more money but also more time. Ernest had fun ideas but she always had excuses. Movie? Too long. Date night? Too late. Sex? Too tiring.
Their communication slowed. Their connection weakened. Her 30-year marriage put on pause so she could retire sooner to Florida and make every day a Saturday.
In the kitchen, Ernest microwaved leftovers while shouting on the phone in a high-pitched and pressured voice. Zoey waved but went into the den. Ernest followed.
“How you doing, honey?” he said. “I have news.”
“You seem excited,” Zoey said.
“Excited? Nah, I’m determined. Big things are coming my way this weekend.”
“What about my trip?”
Zoey waited for verbal confirmation or a nod but none came.
“I sent you a text yesterday,” she said. “The mandatory training for managers in Minneapolis?”
“Sorry, honey. I’ve been so busy today. But I want to hear all about it. I do.”
She ate a yogurt.
“Want to watch the game?” Ernest said.
“But you already watched it.”
“I know, but it’s such an awesome ending I want to relive it.”
“I’m pretty tired.”
“Aw, c’mon. Please?”
“Fine, but pour us some wine,” Zoey said, then added, “but not so much I’m hungover tomorrow.”
“Great. Our guys shot the lights out tonight. No joke, we could win the Midwest.”
Zoey rolled her eyes.
“I’m telling you,” he said, “the talent is there. And with Pop coaching them up, maybe we’ll win the Big Dance.”
Ernest’s phone rang. He jumped over the ottoman to get it. He listened for a second until saying, “No way, Dad.”
Oh God, Zoey worried, what does Acer want?
“That’s incredible,” Ernest shouted. “But who’s going to do it?” A pause. “I can’t believe it!”
Zoey became anxious that Acer had finally agreed to sell Ernest a stake in the firm.
Ernest winked at Zoey.
He actually did it, she thought. Besides not consulting her, her husband failed to even mention he was thinking about investing.
“OK, Dad. I’ll see you then.”
Ernest hung up.
“I’ve got incredible news, honey.”
Ernest grinned. She grimaced after years of his rash decisions.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll love this idea. And no, it’s not about ownership in the firm.”
“Why are you always such a Debbie Downer? You don’t even know my idea yet.”
“I’m sceptical, not negative. You’ve been known to do things impulsively.” She wanted to add unilaterally, foolishly, selfishly, but she needed to sleep soon.
“That’s not fair,” Ernest said. “And what I’m doing is fixing our long-term finances.”
Zoey’s eyes went big. “Fixing them?”
“Wait, I didn’t mean that. I meant improve.”
“See, this is exactly what I’m talking about.” She stood up. “There’s nothing wrong with our finances.”
He tried to come closer. She backed up.
“But don’t you want to go back to the way things were,” he said, “before you worked every Saturday?”
“Don’t you dare bring up my promotion now. When I said yes, you were just as excited as me for the pay bump.”
“I know, I’m sorry. But I miss you and you’re never here. Don’t you feel the same way?”
“I can’t do this right now. It’s too late.”
Zoey went into their bedroom. He followed.
“Can I at least explain my idea, honey?”
“Ernest,” she said, “not now.”
He slouched and looked at the floor.
She turned off the light, got undressed and slid into bed.
“I’m going to sell cigars outside Mordan Stadium to alumni,” Ernest said.
Zoey began reading her ebook.
Ernest put his hands on his hips and pushed his chest out, the arrogant stance his father used. “You have no idea what it’s like,” Ernest said, “to never feel important enough around here.”
After he left, Zoey couldn’t fall asleep and kept thinking Ernest must be in a midlife crisis. To clear her head, she ate a chocolate truffle from work and imagined sun tanning under the Florida sun with a mojito and silence.
* * *
Zoey’s training in Minneapolis was interrupted by texts from Ernest explaining how Acer knew a cigar manufacturer and a bar owner who would let him sell on the property. Out of habit, she checked their bank balance and saw a $5,314 payment to Mordan Stadium. She felt an immediate rage towards him. Another investment in a get-rich-quick scheme she specifically prohibited.
Zoey froze their credit cards and confirmed their mortgage and stock portfolios were safe. She prayed Acer had lent Ernest the money. Otherwise she had no idea how the hell he thought they could pay for this.
* * *
“Welcome to my suite, Dad,” Ernest said while playing air guitar, feeling a surge of positive energy, the power to conquer anything.
“I question the tailor who made that,” Acer said about Ernest’s new navy shirt.
Ernest pretended not to hear that.
Acer entered the suite. “Familiar crowd,” he said, referring to his friends with their expensive suits and cocktails Ernest had paid for.
“Why is your tray empty?” Ernest yelled at a server.
“A bit excited, are we?” Acer said.
“No, I’m fine.” Ernest straightened his collar. “OK, like we discussed, you introduce me to Winslow and I’ll sell the cigars.”
Acer snickered. “Now he thinks he’s Fidel Castro.”
A crowd had gathered near the suite’s entrance. There, standing above everyone, was Don Winslow.
“He’s here,” Ernest yelled. Winslow, after winning the Midwest Championship with a 29-point game, became the only person Ernest envied more than his father.
“Where’s Acer?” Winslow shouted. “Old guy, always on TV, never shuts up?”
Acer pushed everyone out of his way. “Don!”
“My man,” Winslow said. “Hey, maybe next time we do a commercial where I don’t have to sing. I’ve been getting killed for it.”
As Acer and Winslow chatted, Ernest lost his patience, feeling like a child begging for an autograph.
“Hi, I’m Ernest.” He stuck out his hand. “Welcome to my suite, Mr. Winslow.”
“And who are you?” Winslow said.
“This is my son,” Acer said and slapped the back of Ernest’s shoulder.
Ernest’s hand fell to his waist and his fingers clenched into his palms.
“Oh, right, I remember,” Winslow said. “The cigar guy?”
“Yes, yes,” Acer said. “But before we talk business, Don, shall we have a drink?”
Ernest fumed about the lies Acer perpetuated. Acer the caring lawyer. Acer the charming TV guy. Acer the great father.
“Earth to Ernest?” Acer said with a chuckle. “Jesus, he meets one celebrity and suddenly he’s braindead.”
“I just got distracted,” Ernest said and smiled at Winslow, who was laughing too.
“Don,” Acer said, “I’ll need a word with my son. Why don’t you head to the bar and I’ll be there in a bit, OK?”
Winslow fist pounded Acer.
“Well, I’m not surprised this is happening,” Ernest’s father said. “You always have struggled when challenged. In fact, did you plan on ever pitching him?”
“I was trying to the whole time,” Ernest said.
“Oh, you were? Seemed more like daydreaming to me.”
“You wouldn’t give me a chance to say anything.”
“No, you lacked the conviction, as always.” Acer shook his head. “I thought this opportunity might be different considering it was your idea. But no. It’s more of the same. You have been this way since your mother passed.”
Ernest’s mother, the warm stay-at-home kind, had doted over her “little Ernie,” spending all her energy on his homework, his extracurriculars, his application to Mordan Law. But during his first month of law school, she died in a car accident. That caused his depression, drinking and finish the first semester in the bottom 10%. He lied to Acer for six months about dropping out. And though he’d needed his father’s affection more than ever, he got nothing except advice to never show weakness.
“Don’t you want a better life?” Acer said.
“And what, become someone like you —” Ernest stopped himself. “Never mind.”
“Excuse me?” Acer waited until Ernest apologized.
“Now then,” Acer said, “I will smooth things over with Don while you prepare and hopefully make something of yourself.”
* * *
When Zoey arrived, she ran into a crowd near the suite entrance.
“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” a woman said. “It’s a real sausage fest.”
Zoey turned around and couldn’t believe it. She tried but couldn’t think of anything to say except, “You’re Gia Ung!”
“Correct,” Gia said, watching a TV by herself.
“Hi, I’m Zoey.”
Gia shook Zoey’s hand.
“Look, you probably get this all time,” Zoey said, “but I’m a big fan of Breaking In.”
“Thanks. And I don’t get complimented for that one too often. Usually women love the rom-coms.”
“I know. Last week a director told me to wear a pearl necklace,” Gia said, “but in the scene I was on a damn treadmill.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Gia said, “until I saw how much they were paying me.”
The reference to money reminded Zoey of why she was here. “I’m sorry,” she said, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, but I have to go find my husband.”
“Good luck. Mine, Don Winslow, is being followed by that crowd.”
Zoey, inside looking for Ernest, heard Acer say, “He’s on the balcony.”
“It’s freezing,” Zoey said. “Is he smoking?”
“I have no idea what that quitter is doing,” Acer said.
“What did you do?”
“Are you serious? The cigar manufacturer, the spokesman, these customers. All this, that’s what I did.”
“Yeah,” Zoey grumbled, “and we’re going to have to pay you back for it.”
“I did not lend Ernest a cent.”
“I don’t get it. Where did he get this kind of money from then?”
“That is your problem to solve, not mine, isn’t it?”
“OK, I don’t want to be part of whatever game you’re playing on him,” Zoey said.
“I am not playing any game. Your husband has apparently lied to you. But you better than anyone should understand how he’s capable of that.”
“Don’t say that. All he’s ever wanted was your approval.”
“Then perhaps I should’ve pushed him harder, as my father did to me.”
“And that’s why you’re a terrible person.”
“I think you set him up like this just so you could tear him down.”
“Enough!” Acer planted his hands on his hips and puffed his chest out. “You may disagree with me, but keep in mind that the next time we speak, you may actually need to borrow money from me.” Acer smirked. “Won’t you?”
Zoey felt her teeth grinding. The overtime days, the long night shifts, the consecutive weeks, the busy Saturdays, all sacrifices so she and Ernest could retire sooner. Never for an instant did she imagine he’d steal and lie to her.
* * *
Ernest, smoking and pacing on the balcony, had a rising temperature, pulse and anxiety.
Zoey stepped outside. “How did you pay for all this?”
Ernest didn’t know what to do except the familiar. “I borrowed it from Dad,” he said.
“Stop it!” Zoey stomped her foot. “Tell me the truth.”
Ernest’s head slumped into his chest. He couldn’t look at her as he said, “I sold my life insurance policy.”
“It’s fine, honey.” He came closer while nodding, scheming, trying to pretend. “It’ll work out in the end.”
“This is insane,” she said.
“I’ll get it back in no time. I promise.”
“This is completely insane.”
“No, no. This is an opportunity.”
Zoey covered her face with her hands.
“Once Winslow signs off,” Ernest said, “I’ll make so much money I can buy a better policy. You’ll see.”
“And then what? Were you planning on ever telling me?”
“Yes, of course. When the timing was right.”
“OK, I didn’t want to go here, but . . .”
“Oh, this better be good.”
“I couldn’t tell you yet,” Ernest exhaled, “because you’re working all the time.”
“Don’t you dare!” Zoey, red in the face, pointed a finger in his. “You did this. You, not me.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I messed up. But just give me a chance to fix it. Please.”
“Don’t you understand I can’t trust you anymore?”
Ernest refused to accept the failure. He convinced himself he was owed a lucky break, a moment of opportunity. He could turn something positive from this negative, stretch optimism into opportunism.
“I’ve got a plan,” Ernest said and stood tall. “I’m going to make something of myself.”
With that, he smirked and left.
* * *
Zoey went back inside the suite and saw nothing but older rich men, all calling and pushing towards Winslow like pigeons to food. She watched Ernest hold others back, shout this was his suite, as Acer smiled and put his arm around Winslow.
Zoey wasn’t going to let Ernest take advantage of her. She found Gia in the hallway.
“Listen, about this cigar deal,” Zoey said, “ask me anything. I’ll tell you the truth.”
* * *
Months later, after Zoey had moved to Florida, she woke up one weekday and mused on how she didn’t have to deal with alarms, a job, appointments, chores, diets, money and stress. It was the perfect Saturday. But she never realized until then what she was retiring from.