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“It’s great to see you,” I said, handing my longtime friend a glass I’d already prepared. “I really appreciate you being willing to drive up from Clearwater to meet here at the house.”

“No problem,” Vader replied. “It’s about time I got to see where the Thoma family stays when they’re in my part of the galaxy.” Gathering his cape and dropping it over the back of his chair to sit, “What is this?” he asked.

“The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve,”

“Nothing too fancy, I see,” he snarked.

“Did you bring your swimsuit?” I asked. “The kids were looking forward to you getting in the pool with us.”

“I’m wearing it,” the Sith Lord buzzed, dropping lazily into his chair. Scanning his surroundings, “Nice place,” he said. “So, this is where you stay every year?”

“Every year.”

“How’d you find this place?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Jen found it online a couple of years back, not long after we met you and—”

“—Edith left me, Reverend,” Vader interrupted, dryly.

“Wait, wha—?”

“She was gone when I got home from our get-together last year at Red Lobster. She left a note. I haven’t seen her since.”

“Oh, Darth,” I said, my heart genuinely broken by the news. “I’m so sorry to hear this. It seemed like everything was going great for you two.”

“What’s done is done,” he said, his understated tone matching his motionless.

“Did she give you a reason?” I asked.

“She was afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“That Palpatine is back,” he said, stealing a sip from his whisky. “I’d told her a couple of nights before that I’d heard Palpatine had somehow survived the destruction of the Death Star, and while I didn’t expect him to come looking for me, still, we should probably use a little caution.” He took another sip. “Personally, I think she was still mad that I force-tossed her ratchety daughter, Becky, down a flight of stairs and into that fountain at Disney Springs a few years back.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, taking a sip from my glass. “But still, the thought of Palpatine coming after you two is a bit scary, isn’t it? I mean, you did drop him into that generator shaft.”

“We both know he had it coming,” Vader hummed through his modulator. “That bottle of Lagavulin 16 was pretty precious to me.”

The Sith Lord took another sip.

“And besides,” he continued, “he doesn’t even know I’m still alive. From what I’ve been told, he uses my ghost voice to haunt my whiny grandson, Ben.”

“By the way,” I interjected, “I just watched ‘The Lion King’ for the first time with my daughters, and I have to say, Simba’s dad, Mufasa, sounds just like you.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you sound like a nasally Nicholas Cage?”

“Everywhere I go. In fact, you told me that four or five times the night Jen and I met you. Edith had to tell you give it a rest.”

I took another sip from my glass. Vader lifted the bottle to a hover and put it into a slow spin to examine it.

“So, you don’t think he’ll come after you?” I asked.

“Nope,” he replied, leaning toward the bottle to read the label. “He’s too busy playing galactic matchmaker—doing what he can to get his granddaughter, Rey, interested in Ben.” Lowering his voice to a near mumble, he read, “Selectively finished in barrels that held Caribbean rum.”

“I’ve never had this edition before,” I said. “I thought it sounded, well, summery—like something we could sip in the heat by the pool.”

“I guess it’s not too bad,” the Sith Lord affirmed. “It’s definitely light.”

“I know,” I replied, sniffing the dram. “At first, there’s a bit of vinegar in the nose, but once it has a chance to open up, the sweeter fruits really do come out to play.”

“I get peaches and cream,” Vader said. “And maybe some chocolate.”

“Same for me,” I said. “Definitely peaches and cream.”

We both took a sip and a moment to give the dram an intentional savoring.

“Citrus,” Vader suggested. “And the chocolate from the nose. Milk chocolate.”

“I get the citrus,” I countered, “but not so much the chocolate. I’m getting more of a vanilla. And I can feel the rum spices. They’re slight, but they’re there.”

“I get the rum spice in the finish,” Vader added, “which is way too short. It should stay with you a little longer than it does.”

“Agreed. It’s thin in the finish. There’s barely a chance to discover what seems like a drop of oaky molasses.”

Vader downed what remained in his glass and then poured another. He sent the bottle drifting to me to refill my glass.

“So,” I said, reviving the previous conversation, “you don’t think Palpatine will come for you?”

“No,” he gulped and answered. “Again, I think Edith was just using the news as an excuse. She’s threatened to leave me before, saying I never really loved her—that my heart still belonged to Padmé.”

“Maybe,” I said and sipped. “You do still talk about her a lot. So, is Edith staying with Becky?”

“No one knows where she is.”

“She’s not at Becky and Carl’s place in Winter Haven—or is it Venice?”

“It’s Winter Haven. And no, she’s not at Becky and Carl’s.”

“I figured she was there because of the grandkids. Did she move back up to Indiana? Didn’t you say she had a sister in Fort Wayne who’s married to a seminary professor or something?”

“She’s not in Indiana.”

“Wow, Darth,” I said. “It just seems kind of weird that Edith wouldn’t at least tell you where she was going.”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice sounding strangely disinterested. “Weird, huh?”

Stiff and staring, he took another sip. An uncomfortable moment passed.

“So, how’re things at the gator farm these days?” I asked.

“Uncle Vader!” a mass of Thoma kids shouted as they streamed through the patio door. “Are you going to get in the pool?!”