Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)
By Dusti (Bramlage) Zarse
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The offhanded statement brought Amy’s head up, and she nearly sliced her finger with the knife she was using to pare an apple. Hesitating, she set both on the paper plate near her knees and tried to hide the jolt of panic. She hated when Max asked her pointed questions. He knew she would never lie to him; it wasn’t in her to lie. Reaching into the picnic basket and taking out a loaf of bread, Amy worked to school her expression. “What kind of sandwich did you want?”
Max’s only answer was to take the loaf of bread and lay it on the checkered blanket. “You didn’t always like me, did you?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“A serious one.” Max tilted his head, his voice softening to match his eyes. “You didn’t.”
“Whether I did or didn’t—” Amy frowned at her hands. “Some questions are best left unasked.”
“And sometimes a guy just needs to know.” He sighed. “Why didn’t you like me, Amy? I’m the same man I always was.”
“I never said I didn’t like you,” Amy whispered.
“But you didn’t deny it either.”
She looked away.
“I thought you were uncouth.”
“Uncouth?” His eyebrows twitched, and he gave an incredulous laugh. “But—”
He stopped, blinked, and ran his hand through his hair, all before returning his eyes to Amy’s. “Amy, I never said one mean thing to you—about you—never made one rude comment or offensive joke. How could you think I was uncouth?”
Amy spread her hands and then crossed her arms defensively. “Max—I don’t want to answer this. I don’t want to speak ill of your friends. Can’t we just leave it and enjoy our picnic?” She tried to smile as she touched his hand. “We’re together now; I obviously like you now. What does anything else matter?” Hoping to assuage the guilt, she leaned forward and quickly kissed his cheek.
Max smiled at the kiss, but his face sobered, refusing to let it go. “What do you mean, my friends?”
Amy tucked her arms against her stomach, suddenly feeling chilly despite the summer heat. Her voice hitched. “Your friends were jerks, Max.” She said it bluntly, irritated. If he wanted the truth, he could have it—no ruffles, no frills, no padding to make it easier. “They swore all the time. Talked trash about everyone. Made comments that would make a fallen woman cringe.”
Amy shook her head as her eyes glazed. “It’s what you didn’t say, Max. They were your friends. You knew what kind of men they were, but you said nothing. What was I supposed to think? I didn’t know you. I didn’t know what kind of man you were. You can’t blame me for assuming you were just like them. You choose your friends, Max. Friends aren’t like family. You pick them for a reason, and I just assumed the reason was because you were the same as they were.” Amy closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t want anything to do with a man like that.”
Max paled, and his jaw tensed. “I was trying to be a good outreach.”
“Then you should have said something when they made all those comments,” Amy protested. “It looked to me like they were the ones influencing you, not the other way around.”
Max's face said he was ready to pack up their picnic and take her home, but then he shook his head and reached out to grip her hand. “I care about you so much, Amy. I have since the moment I met you. You were so pure and—and good—”
He let go of her hand. “What if we hadn’t been thrown together, working on that mission trip?” His eyes took on the look of a man haunted. “You never would have given me a chance, would you?”
Not wanting to admit it but unable to tell him otherwise, Amy shook her head. “No, Max.” Her voice was soft and full of remorse. She reached out and touched his face. “I don’t think I would have.”
“What would I have ever done without you?”
Amy gave him a frail smile. “I guess we should just thank God that He gave you another chance, to prove what kind of man you were.”
Max touched her cheek. “Yes. Thank God.”
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