Wayne burst into the darkened, smoke-filled room with a boisterous shout, “Hey everybody, look who’s back!”
Heads jerked around to see the cause of this unexpected commotion. For a long second everyone squinted at the doorway. From behind the bar, Big Al erupted, “Wayne Shaw! Is that really you?” He slammed his hand down hard and turned to yell back into the kitchen, “Hey Carly, Wayne’s here.”
In a moment, a dark-haired woman wearing a gigantic smile pushed through the swinging doors from the kitchen. With her arms out wide, she rushed over to the newcomer. “Where have you been, Wayne? We’ve missed you. That new job must really be good for you. You never come around here any more.”
With a familiar ease, Wayne followed Carly to a booth near the bar and settled in on one side. Big Al quickly appeared with a frosted mug of dark ale, saying “The first one’s on the house, Wayne. Good to have you back.”
Wayne looked around. Cliff gave him a subtle wave from the bar. Not much had changed at Big Al and Carly’s Place in the past months, he thought. He smiled at that; it was a comfort to him for some odd reason.
Carly watched him scan the place, sizing up everything he hadn’t yet said. When his eyes had made it all the way back around to her, she said, “You don’t like the new job, do you?”
Wayne’s eyebrows creased hard, “Now how in the world do you know that? I haven’t said one word.”
Carly gave him a wink, “You don’t have to Wayne. I know people and I know you. I told you all those months ago not to do it.”
Wayne drank off the top quarter of his mug and set it down. He wasn’t mad at Carly – nobody could stay mad at her for very long. “You were right.”
Carly smiled, batting her eyes with a twinkle, “What was that? Say that again.”
He gave her the deepest scowl he could manage, but this just felt like coming home. “Ah Carly, you were right. I had a good thing over at Bendix. I thought I hated it there, but actually it wasn’t really that bad. But when Donaldson was looking for a new VP of sales across town, I had to try for it.”
Carly’s smile dropped, “Yeah, you’re just lucky that worked out at all. Quitting your job at Bendix to run after that Donaldson thing was just plain stupid.”
Wayne had forgotten just how feisty Carly could be. “All right already, let it go. I already said you were right. Truth is… the job is everything Donaldson promised it to be. I make twice the money I did at Bendix.”
Carly held tight, “And…”
Wayne sighed and stared into his ale, “And well… it’s also double the hours if not moreso. I’m never home anymore. I missed Jenny’s soccer game when she scored the game-winning goal. I missed Alexander’s karate exhibition. I never see Joanne anymore and when I do, we just fight over stupid things. And I miss coming here, Carly.
“I have everything I thought I wanted… bigger house, new car, important job… all of it… and I’m just miserable. I guess I should never have left Bendix. But I wasn’t happy there.”
Carly patted his hand, “Wayne, you were happy there. You just weren’t content. You wanted more. We all know how that is.”
She waited a moment to let him think on it and then pushed on, “You’re not trapped Wayne. You and Joanne need to talk. Find out what’s best for all of you.”
Wayne nodded slowly as the words bounced around inside him. Carly slipped out to let him mull things over, “I’ll get you something from the grill.”
Wayne’s eyes were moist as he again looked around the familiar little tavern. He vividly recalled the times he and Joanne had shared together in this place--just hanging out and enjoying being with good friends. His hand slid to his side and punched the speed-dial button on his cell phone, “Hey Jo – I’m down at Al and Carly’s. Come on over. We need to talk some things out.”
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