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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Telephone (07/17/08)

TITLE: Merging Roads and Alternate Routes
By Sharlyn Guthrie


I plug in my laptop under the booth at Jimmy’s Café as I do every Wednesday, my Sunday column begging to be written. Jimmy’s morning business is light and predictable, an aid to my writing process.

The regulars have pulled two tables together near the kitchen. Nine men and Shirley sit at awkward angles, clutching newspapers and reaching in to set their coffee down. Their lively banter bounces from today’s headlines, to the price of gasoline, to Harold’s nephew, Scott, who is running for mayor.

Shirley, the saucy waitress, pauses in her ribbing and railing to deliver my customary cinnamon roll. I pay her, so as not to disturb her again. This is the finest part of her day, nine men vying shamelessly for her attention like a passel of schoolboys with one puppy.

Another patron, Earl, enters, flipping his cell phone shut and slipping it into his knapsack. We exchange pleasantries at the coffee bar.

“Have you seen any wonderful plays lately?” It’s our singular topic of conversation.

“No. Have you?”

Earl elaborates on Wicked, which he saw last week, then slides into the booth directly across from mine. Up close his soft blue eyes were warm and engaging; across the room they seem to peer down a long road. I cannot tell if the road leads to or away from the place occupying his thoughts. His unruly gray curls seem tamer today, and his sweater with the ragged elbows is missing. He fidgets with his collar and glances often toward the door.

As I rework my introductory paragraph for the third time, the door opens and Earl leaps to his feet. A tall, slender woman charges the stale air inside Jimmy’s as she and Earl embrace beneath the ceiling fan. “You’re gorgeous,” he declares, and she is. Suddenly conscious that I’m not, I finger my bangs and tuck straying strands into my pony tail.

Perfectly matched in height, the pair regards each other for several moments. Blonde hair brushes the shoulders of her crisp white blouse. Her dark floral skirt flares, ending at the knee. Slender tanned legs stretch elegantly into leather sandals. She flicks a corkscrew curl on Earl’s forehead and they laugh like old friends. “You didn’t tell me about these,” she coos, and continues springing his buoyant curls on all sides.

Try as I might to get back to work, I am too preoccupied with Earl and his lovely companion. Even the regulars have quieted themselves, glancing curiously in Earl’s direction now and then. The couple leans forward across the table chatting, ignoring their cooling coffee cups. Earl has temporarily forgotten that other place and the long road. The two are present here, perhaps seeking a path they might take together. Now I abandon my column altogether, choosing instead to document a romance.

An hour and a half later, Earl draws a small black book -a Bible, from his knapsack. Turning it sideways, he points as he reads. She smiles and nods and they bow their heads, holding hands across the table. The walls of Jimmy’s Café have never felt so hallowed. I strain to make out the words Jimmy prays, but even if I could I would not repeat them. It is the most intimate of moments. Finally, they rise and he walks her to the door, releasing her hand only when she is at arm’s length.

Unable to help myself, I promptly join Earl at the coffee bar. “Did you meet your friend at a play?” I ask.

“Sophia? No. Today was our first meeting.” Earl chuckles as I attempt to conceal my surprise and confusion. “My sister gave me Sophia’s phone number. It took me a month just to drum up the courage to call her.”

“So that’s it? You called her up and asked her to meet you here?”

“Not exactly. We’ve spent another month getting acquainted over the phone. We talk nearly every day, sometimes for hours. I think I can truly say we’ve grown to love each other, but I never knew until today that she’s so beautiful.”

“Will you marry her?” I chide myself even as I blurt the invasive question.

“No, but I hope to accompany her down the aisle someday.” Earl grins at my stunned expression. “You see, Sophia’s my daughter.”

Satisfied, but slightly embarrassed, I return to my booth and get back on track with my Sunday column. Across the room Earl sips his coffee, peering with pleasure down a much shorter road.

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Lynda Schultz 07/24/08
You kept me hanging on right to the end to find out where the telephone came in. Excellent ending.
Joanne Sher 07/25/08
The atmosphere of this piece is palpable, masterful! Excellent descriptions, and an incredible twist. Absolutely top-notch piece.
Kristen Hester07/28/08
Wow! I love this. I felt like I was at the diner. Your creative descritpions were masterful. I love the twist at the end. I'm ready for chapter two!
Amy Michelle Wiley 07/28/08
Engaging story! I guessed at the ending and wasn't dissapointed. Would love to read the full story. Let us know if you write a novel. ;-)
Holly Westefeld07/28/08
Very enjoyable. Excellent mis-direction.
Carol Wiley07/28/08
I like the way the regulars interact in your story. Nice job on telling one of the stories behind the faces at the cafe.
Karen Wilber07/29/08
Completely hooked, didn't see it coming. I felt as inquisitive as your MC while reading this. Love the "road" imagery. Excellent.
Joy Faire Stewart07/30/08
I was drawn into the scene by the first paragraph. Loved the minute details and the unexpected ending. Excellent!
Loren T. Lowery07/31/08
Sharlyn, this had me completely engaged the whole read and I really liked the unforseen twist at the end. Everyone and the events all seemed so real. Wonderfully done! Loren
David Butler08/05/08
Delightful story. Has a "homely" feel about. Once I warmed up to grasp the background descriptions (sorry, it's just me - I never notice my surroundings like my wife does!) I could really feel I was in the cafe, watching the romance unfold.
But still it seemed too good to be true, so that twist at the end had just the right impact. Well done.