He reached for the glass.
“Just like old times, eh?” the bartender said. “Welcome home. Isn’t it nice to be back among friends?”
He nodded, feeling a bit shaky as he considered the drink. I should have known better, he thought. I’m not ready to face them all again.
Festive music played in the background, reminding him this was a jolly holiday. The bartender wore a bright red vest and Santa cap, and the napkins were printed with decorated trees. Tinsel and lights were tacked around the walls, and every couple of feet an ornament hung from them. For appearances’ sake, it was, indeed, a jolly holiday.
So why do I feel so miserable? He stared at the clear liquor in the small glass, remembering all the other times he’d sought its warmth. So many memories; so many bad memories. How could I think I was ready to see him again? He’s still the same cold, critical, monster I grew up with, and she’s still making excuses for him.
The song changed; someone was simply having a wonderful Christmas. He might have had a chance, if he’d followed his first instinct and gone somewhere else. Why did they invite me? Why did I even accept?
Someone sat on the stool next to him. “Just a Seven-up Sunrise,” the newcomer told the bartender. “I thought I’d find you here,” his brother said.
“It’s safe here,” he said.
“Is it, Jim? How long has it been? Are you really ready to throw it all away?”
“I don’t know, Ben. Right now, though, I feel like I need it.”
“I know; believe me, being back in here right now, I feel the same thing. I hear that voice telling me, ‘just one, to take the edge off,’ and it sounds like such a good idea.”
“He might be easier to handle, after a drink or two.”
Ben turned, and cupped his hand over the shot glass. “No, he won’t. He’ll be worse, because he’ll realize what has happened and be the first to remind us that we failed. He never gave it up, and he still believes we’re just as trapped by it as he is.”
“Maybe I am; maybe that’s why I don’t want to see him, because I look at him and see what I’m going to be in twenty years.”
“Isn’t that why we quit in the first place, Jim? Didn’t we both wake up and decide that we didn’t like what our future looked like if we followed in Dad’s footsteps?” The bartender set his beverage in front of him, and he thanked the man.
“What if he’s right, and it’s just part of who we are and we can’t fight it?”
“What if my pastor is right, and God gives us the power to choose?” He removed his hand from over the glass. “I’m not going to stop you from taking that drink, but I’m going to give you the choice.” He pushed the non-alcoholic drink over beside the shot glass. “You can give up the ground you’ve gained, or you can have this instead.”
“It won’t change anything.”
Ben pointed to the liquor. “No, that won’t change anything. If you drink that, you’re going to be right back on that same old path that leads you to the man you don’t want to be. The Sunrise, however, keeps you on the path to being the man you want to be, and for which God sent His Son to help you to be.”
“How do we do this, Ben? How do we stay strong against so much hurt?”
He smiled, though a tear escaped down his cheek. “The same way you told me to stay strong when I was sitting in that stool, and you were right here. You said we did this one choice at a time. We do this by working together; you were strong when I needed it, and now I get to be strong when you need it.”
Jim pushed the shot glass away, and raised the Sunrise. “To brothers,” he said, and took a drink before handing the glass over.
“To home,” Ben said, likewise partaking. He put some cash on the bar. “Why don’t we go there, and bring some warmth and light to this holiday gathering?”
“Thanks for inviting me home for Christmas.” He raised the Sunrise for one more swig, and then walked with his brother out the door. It was time to go home.
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