It wasn’t supposed to happen. My life was all planned. Two years was a long time to commit to someone. But something deep within my heart drove me to pick up the phone and dial. “Hello Michael? I need to talk to you...”
My father called it “Bucket of Blood” from his days of running around. To me it was just another Saturday night stop. Ray’s was filled to the rafters with curling smoke and young bodies trying to outdo each other. Pulses of country music throbbed through the jukebox while the band took a much needed break. I could barely make my way to the table in the back. I pressed past an ex-GI leaning against the wall. “Excuse me. I need to get by.” I smiled hoping to take the edge out of my words.
“Hi there.” I turned and looked up into the face of a boy – no – a man - rendered years younger from his buzz cut but clearly a man. He smiled and moved aside as I slid into the chair positioned closest to his. “Care to dance when they start up again?”
I looked over my shoulder at my sister and best friend. Shouldn’t they be the ones to be asked?
“You want to dance with me?” I touched my heart not knowing he would be the next one to touch it.
“Yes – you. Care to dance…” he cocked his head “ ... now?” The band was starting to pick a slow tune – a song that made my feet itch. But I was here to find my sister a new guy – not one for me. I had a boyfriend – Michael and I had been dating over two years – all through my junior and senior year in college. But there was something about this man ...
“I’d love to.” He held out a hand as though he was reaching for a star. I placed my own in his and felt his strong fingers clasp around mine. We wove through the crowd of Saturday night seekers and secured our place on the dance floor.
“What’s your name?” he mouthed over the bass of the lead guitar.
I usually made something up when a guy asked - but not this time. “Ellen ... and yours?” He smiled and gently pressed his arm into my back as he led me around the floor.
“Doug. What are you doing here tonight, Ellen?”
My thoughts were getting as dizzy as my head from his soft spinning. Why couldn’t I think straight? Before I knew it I had agreed to sit with him outside the front door in an area set with picnic tables. Never before had I left an establishment with anyone – it was one of my rules. I broke it as quickly as I did my rule not fall in love with a stranger.
We talked. We shared. We dreamt…all in one long evening. I watched Doug’s face grow impassioned as he spoke of his goals. My heart kept rhythm with the music still faintly echoing from inside the walls of the rundown bar but skipped a beat whenever he paused to smile as I shared my own dreams.
Where had this man come from? How had he found me? I was planning to get married to a man I loved next summer. What kind of person was I?
When our evening ended – he extracted a promise from me. I handed him my number and nodded that I would wait for his call.
The next morning I picked up the phone and dialed. “Michael ... it’s Ellen. We need to talk.” My mother crushed me against her breast later that day as I poured out my broken heart. With one swift decision, I had changed the course of my life forever. I didn’t even know when the next call would come ... or if it ever would at all.
Sometimes life changes in a blink of an eye – I look back now and marvel at how God’s hand was on my life – even in an old honkey tonk bar. Two weeks later, the long awaited call finally arrived followed by another and another and still another until ten months later I was walking down the aisle towards the man who God would eventually mold into the man of my dreams.
Thirty years is a long time to talk and plan and share hopes with another person. But only by the grace of God, this former honkey tonk couple hasn’t run out of breath or dreams yet.
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