“Jason, you’re late!” Amy said.

“I am?” he asked.

“You could have at least called, you know.”

“Sorry, I didn’t realize. I thought I had given myself…” he trailed off, thinking. He had left work early specifically to avoid being late. He couldn’t remember running into any traffic, but… when it came down to it, he couldn’t remember much of the drive at all.

He remembered waving to the security guard on the way out. And pulling in to the restaurant’s parking lot. The rest of the trip, however…

“Hello?” his sister said, snapping her fingers in front of his eyes. “Look, my friend doesn’t care that much about punctuality, or I never would have set this date up with her in the first place, but don’t zone out on me.”

“Sorry,” he said, forcing a smile.

“Matthew and Christine are already waiting at the table, so let’s go.” She stopped right in front of the restaurant door. “Is that a new cologne?”

Jason almost ran into her. “What?”

“It’s just an unusual fragrance for a cologne. It smells like honey.”

“Amy, I’ve never worn cologne in my life. You must be smelling something from the kitchen.”

She shrugged, and walked in to the restaurant. Jason shook his head, trying to order his thoughts, and followed her.

“Told you he’d be here soon,” Matthew, Jason’s brother-in-law, boomed out when they approached. “Probably got lost. He’s a good guy, but no sense of direction.”

The woman sitting next to him, Christine, presumably, smiled nervously.

“Sorry,” Jason mumbled.

“It’s all right,” Christine said. She was a tall woman, with curly brown hair. Jason usually found attractive women intimidating, but she had a cozy girl-next-door element to her that seemed to make her easier to approach.

“Christine does IT stuff for us at work,” Amy said, in her usual cheerful tone. “I don’t think I could get through a week without her help.”

“Is that why you figured we’d get along?” Jason asked. “Because I’m the one fixing your computer whenever you’re not at work?”

“Hey, you both can put up with my endless Luddite questions. It’s a start, at least.”

Jason couldn’t help but laugh at that. He sat down next to Christine and picked up a menu.

“Are we doing family style?” he asked, “We usually do when we eat here,” he added to Christine.

“Sounds good to me,” she said. “Does anybody object to getting the honey walnut shrimp? That suddenly sounds really good to me.”

Amy gave Jason a questioning look. Jason returned it with a look that he hoped said “I have no idea what you’re on about.”

Conversation shifted from topic to topic. They talked about Jason’s work and Amy and Christine’s office. They traded embarrassing stories about Amy’s numerous computer troubles, which she took gracefully.

Matthew was telling them about a new construction project his company had picked up when Jason noticed how pretty Christine’s eyes were. They were a very pale shade of blue. They reminded him of that strange woman who had helped him out last autumn. She had said they’d meet again, that she’d come to him for a favor. But he hadn’t seen her since. Part of him had started to wonder if he had dreamed the entire thing.

A sharp pain in his shin snapped him out of his reverie.

“I swear he’s usually not this out of it,” Amy said to Christine. “Are you feeling all right, Jason?”

“What?” he said, as his brain tried to shift into motion again. “I mean, yes. I’m sorry. I’m just tired, I guess. It’s been a long day, I guess.”

Except it really hadn’t been. The latest upgrade had gone through last week, and the customer hadn’t gotten back to them yet. The entire team was doing busy work. Patching small bugs or implementing low-priority features. Simple things that could easily be dropped if the customer had any major problems. Nothing taxing.

In fact, he’d felt in great spirits when he’d left work earlier. It wasn’t until he’d gotten to the restaurant that the weariness had started to seep in. Was the traffic bad? That often wore him out. But he couldn’t remember any traffic.

The waiter dropped the check on the table, and Jason put his hand on top of it.

“Let me,” he said. “As an apology. For not being entirely here.”

“You sure, bro?” Matthew asked.

Jason nodded. “It’s the least I can do.”

As he started to pull his wallet out, something cool got tangled around his fingers. Frowning, he pulled a loop of fine silver chain out of his pocket. A coin, about the size of a silver dollar, hung from it.

“What’s that?” Amy asked.

He lifted the coin up, turning it back and forth to study both sides. Each bore an oak tree, carved in exquisitely fine detail. One had full, leafy branches, while the other was barren, with a layer of snow covering it.

“Where did you get it?” his sister pressed.

He stared at the unfamiliar coin. He had a feeling he must have gotten it on his way to the restaurant, somehow. But as to how he got it…”

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

Amy made an exasperated noise. “Another one of these thing? You keep the strangest secrets.” She turned to Christine. “He still won’t tell me where he got his dog, of all things.”

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