Christine Long is a full-time Christian school teacher with a quirky sense of humor. Passionate about writing, she enjoys sharing through fiction the lessons God has taught her. She loves reading and writing, reading about writing, writing about reading, and learning about writing. Pursuing the dream of publishing a novel, she is seeking an agent for her Christian suspense novel. She writes weekly for TheCypressTimes.com and GranolaBarDevotional.com as well as keeping up her blog. She also writes book reviews for various sites. She is a member of My Book Therapy, ACFW, and Faith Writers. You can visit her at http://writing2theheart.blogspot.com
“Have you ever wished you could go back and change an event in your past?” Corey cocked his eyebrow.
Jerry thumped the glass onto the soft wood counter, years of patrons’ use dulling its once shiny veneer. “Sure I do,” he dragged out his words, winking at the young man. “Like needing to ask ya’ for your ID when all you wanted was a soda.” Jerry chuckled and moved down the counter, collecting empty bottles and glasses.
The kid sipped his soda. He sighed and ran his fingers through his buzzed hair. “Awfully quiet in here for New Year’s Eve.”
Jerry’s jovial smiled slipped to a frown. Sadness seeped through his soul as he glanced around the poorly lit room. How bleak it must look through the eyes of the uniformed young man on the stool. That was the way of business.
“Yup, it is. Ever since that new place uptown opened . . . well, let’s just say I’ve got a lot more time to watch the sports channels.”
Corey nodded at several signs hanging over the bar. “I’m sure they have something to do with how slow business is. How can you stay open with that kind of policy?”
Jerry shrugged. The two-drink limit signs throughout the place had been his way to soothe his conscious when he first opened. Though he’d given up drinking, he couldn’t quite seem to keep away from it.
Jerry changed the subject. “What’re you doin’ in a place like this instead of hittin’ one of the hot spots?”
Corey swallowed more soda. “I’m looking for someone.”
“Well this wouldn’t be the place to find her,” Jerry huffed a laugh. “A good-lookin’ new recruit shouldn’t have any problem meeting a girl tonight.”
The soldier paused before answering. “I’m not really looking for a girl tonight. I’m shipping out tomorrow for my first tour.” He sighed. “I was hoping to—” Cory sipped more of the fizzing liquid.
Something ate away at this kid. Maybe he feared his first deployment. Maybe homesickness hit already. Maybe he regretted his decision. Jerry dried some glasses and shelved them. Whatever the kid was looking for, he didn’t seem to be able to express it. Or maybe he just didn’t want to open himself up to a stranger. But this was New Year’s Eve and no one should be alone, especially a soldier who was shipping out. Jerry decided it was his job to put some cheer into the kid’s life tonight.
“How are you at dancin’?”
Corey’s head snapped up at the question.
“Not with me, you dope,” Jerry quickly added. “Becky, the girl who helps me out in the kitchen, is moping around back there cause she just got dumped. Maybe you could cheer her up a bit.”
Jerry knew it couldn’t hurt either of the kids, but the boy on the stool didn’t seem to catch on. Corey still looked at him as if he’d drunk a bit too much of his own product. Jerry tried again.
“I don’t mean anything’ll come of it. Just two kids havin’ some fun on New Year’s Eve. Whadda ya say?” Jerry plopped a handful of quarters on the counter. “My treat.”
Jerry grinned as Corey nodded, picked up the coins, and headed to the ancient jukebox in the corner. Didn’t look like the kid had anyone to care about whether he came home or not. Maybe a little fun would help him out.
Corey felt like he’d stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. He fingered the coins in his hand, staring at the selections. One hand leaning on the rounded glass top, he pushed buttons. Why did I agree to this? I should just do what I came in for and get out of here. He flipped a few buttons. Fast or slow?
“Jerry said you needed to ask me something?”
A smile pulled at the corners of his lips. The gentle voice behind him wasn’t at all what he’d expected. He dropped some coins in the slot. Slow.
Corey enjoyed the next hour. The two spoke with an ease that comes to strangers who believe they will never see each other again. By asking the right questions, he learned much about their matchmaker, things he would never have discovered by conversing with the man himself. Things that confirmed his reason for coming. Things that made him glad he spent his last night in the States in a dried-up hole-in-the-wall.
As they settled into a booth, Jerry appeared, carrying two glasses filled with some festive-looking liquid. With a grandiose gesture, he placed the drinks on the table.
“Compliments of the house for a soldier on his last night on familiar ground. And since ya’ both are teetotalers, I made my own special concoction usin’ only non-intoxicatin’ ingredients.” His smile proved how pleased he was with himself. “Everybody needs something to toast the New Year.”
Back behind the bar, Jerry continued watching the two. He hated New Year’s Eve himself. It brought too much time for reflection, too many memories, too many hurts, too many regrets. He thought again of the boy’s question from earlier. There were many events he wished he could undo, but two stood out: leaving his wife and child, and choosing to open this bar. Every day he entered those doors deciding to close the business. Every night his cowardice taunted him as he locked the doors on one more day.
As he reached for his wallet, the televised countdown began. 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . the picture in his palm carried him back to the last New Year’s Eve he had ever seen the woman and child. He gently replaced the photograph. . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . and it was another new year. A longing welled up inside. From far back in his memory, whispered words worked their way into his heart. Words that taught him right from wrong. Words of God’s eternal love and forgiveness. Words that could change a life if he’d only let them.
He swiped a sleeve across his eyes. Seeing the kid in uniform made him sentimental. Maybe this would be the year he’d have the courage to change. Maybe this year brought with it new possibilities. Maybe.
The few patrons joined the television mob in singing “Auld Lang Syn.” Jerry busied himself arranging glasses that didn’t need it, his back to the room. Someone placed glasses on the bar. He turned to find a smiling Becky.
“He’s a nice guy, Jerry. Thanks for thinking of me. He had to leave, but he asked me to give you this.” She blushed. “I’m going to write to him while he’s away.” She stood on tiptoe to lean across the bar and brushed a kiss on his cheek. “Happy New Year, Jerry.”
Jerry looked in surprise at his full name written on the envelope. How did the kid know his last name? Tearing open the thick envelope, he glanced through the words, which didn’t fully register until he began leafing through the papers. Copies of a marriage license and birth certificate; a funeral announcement clipped from newspaper; articles about the new bar in town with a serving limit. Understanding washed over him. Tears blurred the scrawling handwriting on the page. He leaned against the bar and read the first page again.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came here tonight. I just thought you would want to know these things. I want to thank you for making this soldier’s last night here a most enjoyable experience. I don’t expect anything, but if you want to write, Becky has my address. Your Son, Richard Corey Osterman”