Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Employment (01/26/12)
TITLE: Lifesaving Iced Tea
By Rachel Burkum
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I unconsciously swiveled the barstool to the beat of blaring rock music. My ears throbbed in distaste, but it was better than hearing my wife's shocked gasp. As I lifted my drink, the cool glass on my lips was a stark contrast to the lukewarm liquid that sloshed around my tongue. I grimaced. My throat refused to contract for several seconds until I wrestled it into submission.
I glanced to the side. Iced tea? My eyebrow quirked, silently asking, <i>"Seriously?"</i> I squinted at Mike. Was it the lousy beer getting to me or just the thick cigarette smoke creating that foggy halo? My lungs reminded me with a choking cough that it was probably the smoke. "What's that for?"
"Figured you might enjoy it more than that beer you've been trying to finish for the last half hour."
I grunted. Staring down into my unfriendly drink though, I couldn't help but agree. Normally I wouldn't be caught dead accepting tea at a bar, but tonight it seemed a rather good idea.
My throat gladly accepted the chilled beverage. Why it tasted so good, I wasn't sure. "Not bad. But aren't you supposed to be <i>promoting</i> your beer?"
Mike smiled and set about cleaning a pyramid of glasses. "Sometimes there are more important things to promote."
I responded with something between a snort and a raspy laugh. "Like what?" I took another swig of tea, capturing an ice cube to suck on.
<i>Crunch.</i> Surprise had clenched my jaw, providing a quick end to my frozen treat. "You kidding me?"
"Why would I?" Mike kept his eyes on his task.
I didn't have an answer. My tongue fished for another ice cube.
"Isn't Jenny expecting you home right now?"
This time I held the ice in my cheek, saving it from an untimely death. "Are you some kind of snoop or what?"
"She'll love you no matter what, you know, just like she promised."
My ring finger suddenly decided to ache, reminding me it was held in a gold band. But how did this guy know about my marriage? "Even love has limits," I muttered. Jenny had yet to learn I'd lost my job today.
"Then it's not love."
My eyes snapped up. Mike wasn't smiling anymore. "You saying Jenny lied about loving me?"
"I'm saying if you trust her, you should be telling her about your job instead of nursing your pride with lukewarm beer."
I almost choked on my ice cube. "How do you -"
"Go home, Brian. This isn't where you belong."
That was the last straw. "How do you know me?" I demanded.
Mike's smile returned. "Go home," he repeated. "Jenny's not going to abandon you, and neither is God. Trust them for once."
I'd prayed until I'd had no words left that my job would be spared, and today I'd been let go. I wanted to argue that God didn't really love me at all. But my voice box squelched the words before they could surface. I must have held the dumbest expression of all time, because Mike laughed.
He paused his work, leaned on the counter and put his face down right near mine. "You won't find your faith in a place like this."
My heart didn't cooperate with my bullheadedness. So instead of arguing, I found myself turning around and giving the bar a good hard look. It was noisy, smelly, and I hated it. My stomach even warned me to leave before it retaliated.
My eyes returned to Mike. Or rather, where he'd been. "Mike?"
I eyed the grungy bartender. "Where'd Mike go?"
"We ain't got no Mike around here."
My spine quivered. I was either going mad or...nah. It was high time I paid for my drinks and left.
You can probably guess the rest of the story. It wasn't quite "happily ever after" for Jenny and me, but it was pretty close. And Mike? Let's just say if I ever see him again, I'm going to find out who he really works for. But between you and me, I think I already know.
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