Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GAMBLE (04/14/16)
TITLE: The Risks We Take, The Price We Pay
By Jan Ackerson
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The first thing he said when I opened the door was “I’ve been in jail, ma’am. So if you don’t want to hire me …” He motioned toward the street and lowered his chin.
Some people always take the safe road, the one clearly marked with road signs. I’m not one of them. It had been a gamble, moving to an unfamiliar town, opening my own bakery with nothing more than a few great recipes. I was doing fine here, too—until I broke my wrist. It healed, but I could no longer haul the industrial-sized bags of flour and sugar. And business was good—I had plenty of chores for a helper to do while I baked and served customers. I looked at this skinny guy standing in my doorway and decided to take another risk.
“What’s your name?”
He looked up, narrowed his eyes. “Carlos Reyes.”
“Why were you in jail, Carlos?”
“Stealing, ma’am.” He reddened, and I noticed a poorly-inked tattoo on his neck—a sword, probably a gang symbol. He saw my glance and pulled at his collar. “That’s not me anymore, ma’am.”
“Can you do heavy lifting? Fix a pilot light? Do pickups and deliveries?”
“Don’t call me ma’am, then. I’m Ginny. C’mon, I’ll show you around.”
He swallowed hard. “Thank you, ma’am.”
It only took a few days for me to wonder how I’d managed without Carlos. He drove to the local farms to pick up fresh fruit, organized the stockroom, fixed my mixer—he more than earned his pay. He was reluctant to work the store, though; respecting his shyness, I let it be.
He’d been with me a month when, one afternoon, a jingle sounded from the front—a late customer. Carlos was in the pantry and I was kneading pumpernickel; I looked at my flour-covered arms, mildly annoyed. “Could you see what they want?” I said. “I’m up to my elbows in dough.”
There was a moment of silence, then: “Yes, ma’am.” He walked past me into the store, where I heard muffled conversation, then the ring of the cash register and the jingling of the door. Carlos poked his head back. “They …” He cleared his throat. “They bought two loaves of sourdough and a cherry pie, ma’am.”
I sighed at the ma’am. “Thanks. See you tomorrow.” He left, still looking flustered from the unexpected encounter with a customer. I put the dough aside to rise and went to count the cash register.
It was a hundred dollars short.
Why were you in jail, Carlos? Stealing….stealing…stealing.
He’d been so red when he left. Stealing, ma’am.
Tired and disappointed, I went home and thought all night about the risks we take, the price we pay.
Carlos didn’t come to work the next day. I should have called the police, but I didn’t. I served the last customer, started the doughs for tomorrow’s pastries, and drove to his trailer. He was there. In bed. He sat up when I barged in, though. “Guess you’ll be firing me, ma’am. I should’ve called. I just … couldn’t wake up.” He coughed wetly and fell back onto the pillow.
“Carlos…” He truly seemed not to know why I was there. “I’m not firing you. Not for this. The cash register…it was $100 short last night. After that late customer? The sourdough and cherry pie?”
He opened his eyes, startled. “Did you call the police?”
A deep breath, more coughing, a wry smile. “Under the drawer.”
“They gave me a $100 bill. It’s under the drawer.”
I turn over in bed, seeking his warmth in the cool of the morning. Twenty-six years married, and he still pulls the covers away in the night. I reclaim the blanket, then rest my hand on his neck, near the old tattoo. The jail tattooist had meant it to be a sword, Carlos says, but the years have faded it, softened the lines. It looks more like a cross now, and I trace it with one finger, saying a prayer of thankfulness for the grace of taking risks.
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