By the Drink
By Rebecca T. Dickinson
Sweat and hot press turn up the August heat in Bowst, North Carolina. Seven town council members tremble behind their constituents. Election for many of them is one year away. Hell-fire, red tongues of the Lord, business boomers, and lawyers feed their fervor into weapons of words.
The vote for liquor-by-the-drink rises again. Since the days of Prohibition, Bowst’s laws forbid the sale of liquor in a restaurant or bar. Although an ABC store sits across the street from the YMCA and beer and wine are allowed, half of Bowst is convinced Satan will penetrate the town if the last law blocking liquor fails.
It’s my job to cover liquor-by-the-drink like it’s a triple homicide. Law suit and I’ll talk to your editor threats are taken lightly by me like my family’s belief that the liberal media is destroying America. None of it scuffs a black mark on my red kitten heels. The Bowst Times reporter, Elisabeth Flyma, is ready for action.
I drive from my Bowst office to Cedar Point, a town with two thousand people. I plan to interview Pastor Hewitt Carlson of Cedar Point First Baptist Church. My editor, Eva Green, wants a story about how liquor-by-the-drink has worked for the town. The majority of its citizens had voted for the referendum three years ago. Plain English: Everyone in Cedar Point can enjoy their screwdriver at a bar or restaurant.
Thoughts ramble in my head about the campaign in Bowst.
Only in the nineteen-nineties and recent years did most towns in MacGuffin County permit the sale of wine and beer and the opening of ABC stores. The last step was to allow restaurants and bars to sell mixed drinks and shots. Eva showed me newspapers from the days of
disco. Bootleggers and Baptists campaigned together outside Bowst Town Hall in 1978. If yes won the day, Bowst would’ve held an election on whether to permit the sale of liquor. Both the Baptists and the bootleggers were not ready for a shut down. They bought advertisements in The Bowst Times to rally a no vote. Town council sided with them.
Now I wonder what good old Bowst boy will pay six dollars for a Sex on the Beach. To me, liquor-by-the-drink is a debate about whether the town will permit the sale of girl drinks. I suppose if Satan makes one woman and the rest of man fall into sin, he’ll come a second time with a Cosmo, a cherry, and a bop-headed blonde.
I want to slam back a shot or two of vodka. Irish cream in my coffee is not enough to settle my nerves. Pastor Carlson sounds like a nice man on the phone, but I’m like a rabbit with a quick itch to hop away from Baptists. My grandmother has raised me to believe religion is like sex between a husband and wife. It’s private and not up for discussion. I remember reading about Carlson’s holy fight in front of Cedar Point Town Council. The town paper, owned by the same men of The Bowst Times, describes strokes of red infusing his face when he had conveyed the evils of alcohol.
My cell phone rings. It startles me.
“Hello, Elisabeth Flyma.”
“Come on, you knew it was me. Why can’t you answer the phone like normal?” asks my fiancé, Cooper Braun.
“Oh, I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t know it was you.”
“You’re in reporter mode. I know the rest of us in the real world shouldn’t interrupt the great writers of Redneck Weekly.”
“Cooper, Bowst isn’t that bad.”
“I just miss you answering the phone like you always do with me. Do I need to remind you?”
Heat stirs my blood. I nearly shove my foot hard against the gas pedal and run into a tree.
“Sexy Lissie, here. What is your fantasy today?” says Cooper in his best imitation of me.
“Hush, babe. Now isn’t the time.”
Sometimes I answer his calls that way; at least, at one time I did.
“I can see you sitting in your chair all embarrassed.”
“Actually, I’m on the road. What do you need, babe?”
“I’m your fiancé, not a co-worker.”
“I’m sorry. I’m on my way to an interview.”
Deadline after deadline flies by and I realize I rarely answer his calls during the workday. I text, but I prefer Eva not to catch me on the phone with a non-work related person.
Bowst citizens for the liquor-by-the-drink vote expect restaurants and bars to jump-start jobs. Citizens struggle to find jobs. Factories close faster than its former workers find new employment. Classmates from my college fight to begin their careers too.
Cooper has not found anything long-term. He coaches at basketball camps in North and South Carolina during the summer, and he crashes at my tiny apartment on weekends. If Cooper and I expect marry next spring, I need a paycheck so we can afford a wedding.
“When is our meeting with that pastor?”
Crap. Yellow sticky notes cover my dinosaur computer, each to remind me of some interview, but I realize there is not one with a date and time for our meeting with the minister.
“Saturday morning, I think.”
“Check, because if we have to leave that early, I want to know ahead of time. You know how Fridays are for me.”
“Alright. I love you.”
I turn into First Baptist Church of Cedar Point’s parking lot and pull in near the office. I brush my ash brown hair behind my ears. I need to cut it. It’s too thick even for a horse’s mane. I brush possible wrinkles off my black skirt as if they’re crumbs.
Rain drops the size of shotgun shells burst on the pavement. I grab my garnet and black umbrella on the back seat floorboard beneath papers, notes, and tennis shoes. Another giant umbrella unfolds as I open my car door. I leave mine behind.
“Terrible time for an interview, huh?” Pastor Carlson asks.
“It just started. News doesn’t hold out for the weather.”
Pastor Carlson smiles like he’s won a state football championship. He helps me to the office. I notice his full brown goatee highlighted with gray, and his glasses are glued to his pupils.
“Do you want to work at a larger paper one day?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t know where, but there’s a lot I hope to do.”
Before print vanishes into legend, I hope to compose creative and innovative stories. The hook, the bad guys, and tight-lipped lawyers star in my work. Catch them, confirm, create, polish and hook. What I want is to write. Not like a monotone journalist, but with the red and blue ink of a writer. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and my place is at the bottom of the ladder with God, liquor, and a promise of progress.
Wooden panels and book shelves make up Carlson’s office. A Spanish Bible and The Study of Man are a few titles in his collection.
“I see you’re engaged.”
“Yes,” I reply as he takes a seat in his plush brown chair.
Notebook in hand, I review a couple of my questions. I hit the pavement with my first ones about his background in religious studies and beliefs.
“After the vote passed two years ago, how do you think it has affected the community?”
“A lot of the congregation here wishes it was gone …”
As I scribble in my version of short hand, Carlson talks about drunks, wrecks, and other effects of an alcohol-induced town.
“Let me ask you a question. Do you drink?” he asks.
“I think there are good arguments for both sides of liquor—”
“Do you drink?”
“With all due respect, Pastor Carlson, this isn’t about my beliefs. This about how a decision can affect a community.”
“What is your relationship with God?”
“A good one,” I reply. “Some people in Cedar Point argue that it brings jobs and can increase the property taxes for the community. A few make this same argument in Bowst. Is there any benefit with restaurants coming to town?”
“You don’t get off track,” he says with a smile. “No, there isn’t any benefit when Cedar Point and Bowst can attract a family restaurant like Alderman’s Pancake House.”
“The restaurant built a location in Gastonia. The company won’t build a second restaurant within thirty miles, according to the national chain spokesperson.”
Like a telescope clarifies a star, I focus on his body movements. He holds his hands together. Carlson looks out his window and then back at me.
“We have one restaurant and two bars in town since the vote. People promise all these great and wonderful things, but they don’t happen,” he says. “The Devil promised Jesus the same thing when he was out in the desert. He’d give Jesus all these kingdoms and treasures if he would just bow down. Our good Savior refused.”
He takes a breath and sips from his cup of water.
“The church is a guiding light in the community.”
He stops again and looks at a picture of a man, similar in appearance, on one of his shelves.
“I was six-years-old,” Carlson says. “My father went to and from the bar like a woman goes to the mall. Our kitchen cabinets were always full of liquor, but it wasn’t enough. And then, my mother … she got into it. My parents didn’t wake up until two in the afternoon some days. I remember getting up and making my own toast.
One night, Momma and Dad were driving home from some place—a restaurant that served liquor—and he ran into another car with three children. I lost my parents, and some other soul lost their children.”
I suppose every person chooses his or her life battle—the constant human quest to stand for something just and right. It sounds like a corny fairytale, but in some way it’s true. Carlson’s loss has created a life-long fight against causes of alcoholism. Eva Green says readers are her children. I suppose Carlson views the congregation as his to protect from the world’s evils.
After I leave, I go to a few more interviews and return to my computer.
Bowst: a Cedar Point Copy?
By Elisabeth Flyma
The click and clang of the liquor-by-the-drink debate resounds in Bowst and nearby Cedar Point where emotions still stir over its voters’ decision.
As Bowst Town Council prepares to vote …
Blah, blah … legal jargon, political context. I write for the fortieth time in two months that the seven men are not voting for or against full bar service. Neither are they taking away Bowst citizens’ right to vote. At least four of them—all of whom need male enhancement pills to look alive—say, “We were elected by the people with their faith and trust to do what is right for them and the community.”
My fingers hit the keyboard again.
In both towns, some claim that Cedar Point already serves as an example for Bowst.
Two years ago, citizens of Cedar Point voted 800 to 710 in favor of LBTD.
“Since the vote passed, it’s brought nothing but heartache,” said Hewitt Carlson, First Baptist Church of Cedar Point pastor. “I hope Bowst stands firm in its beliefs.”
I imagine Carlson’s father as he leans over a counter—whiskey in hand—and his head sways and swings. He stares at his son; empty, like his shot glass.
“Ball, Daddy, please,” I hear little Hewitt say.
Separate yourself. You’re a reporter; not a spy into men’s souls.
The writer in me pounces on the journalist. It wants to rip it apart. Yet, the journalist puts the food on the writer’s table. I type some more of the story: important people’s quotes and opinions with a few facts and numbers.
“The fact is, people are losing jobs all over MacGuffin County,” said Phillip McCurry, Cedar Point economic developer and town planner. “Jolie’s hired twenty-five people. That’s twenty-five people back at work.”
According to General Manager Shelia Smith, the restaurant hired ten cooks, four bartenders, and eleven full and part-time wait staff.
When asked how LBTD had affected Cedar Point’s economy, Smith said, “No comment.”
I toss in statistics: the number of serious accidents by drunk drivers has risen from twenty-six in 2005 to thirty last year.
Eva knocks and enters my office. Many days, she wears a light gray or blue fedora tipped at an angle. A torrent of curly hair, the shade of a California redwood, falls over her shoulders.
“Can you cover the Bowst High School band on Saturday?”
It seems like I have plans Saturday.
“What’s the band doing?”
“Staff and students want to honor James Walsh with a special concert. He was one of the first black band directors hired in North Carolina after segregation ended, and he’s about to retire.”
The phone rings and a red light flashes on my line. Eva walks to the door, but I think she has more to say. I wave her back in the room.
“Hello, Elisabeth Flyma.”
“It’s Evan Collit,” says the only African-American member on Bowst Town Council. His voice shakes like the rattle of a hard plastic straw in a glass.
“What’s on your mind?”
Eva sits down in a chair on the other side of my desk. I put the phone on speaker.
“The most awful thing happened.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Collit,” I say, “but before you continue, is what you’re about to tell Eva, who is with me, and I on-the-record?”
“Of course, that’s why I called. I want people to know.”
Collit recalls his tale.
An anonymous caller left a message on his home phone. A man said, “You’re lucky to be in the big seat, boy. You best vote right.” Busy dial tone followed.
“He called again this morning,” says Collit, “and my little granddaughter answered the phone. He told her, ‘Tell your grandpa to remember what I said.’”
Silence beats like a pulse. I want to find this backwoods boy and kick him in the sack.
“Mr. Collit,” Eva says. “What time were the calls?”
I scratch down the times. Eva asks if he knows whether any of the other council members have received similar calls.
“Not to my knowledge.”
Once we’re off the phone with him, Eva and I split calls for the other six men plus the mayor. We learn two other council members have received anonymous calls. The person has told both men, “Hell’s waiting for you if you vote for that liquor.”
Eva and I produce three stories about the happy juice debate. Every news stand sells out within the next week.
A red jeep flashes its headlights at me from my parking spot. Cooper Braun pulls out and lets me park there. Once out of our vehicles, he picks up two big gym bags from his back seat. I smell a combination of sweat, dirt floor, and blood.
“Long week, huh?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says kissing my lips.
A white bandage covers a spot on his forehead. I run my fingers over his bangs. I remember the days when I would’ve kissed his sore spot. Instead I look at it like a spider on my apartment wall.
“A kid tripped me up … didn’t know which way he was going on the court, but I’m alright.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah, it is,” I say as I cross my arms. “You could’ve told me earlier.”
He kisses me and leads the way to my apartment. Once inside, he pours himself some water and collapses on the couch. Cooper closes his eyes.
“I promise I’ll take a shower in a few minutes. I know you don’t want me stinking up the place.”
“Hey, what time are we leaving in the morning?”
“What do you mean?”
I lean against the wall. He sits up and rolls his eyes at me.
“I told you to check the calendar. What time are we meeting with the pastor tomorrow? We got to drive all the way to Greenville.”
Embarrassment and guilt climb out of my gut to my heart. One of the preparations for the most auspicious occasion in my personal life lies like a piece of paper next to my office trashcan. I look at my white gold engagement ring with a square-cut diamond.
My Pennsylvania farm boy had saved his pennies for it during college.
“I can’t go.”
Cooper bows his head and appears to sort through my logic. I’m not sure if it’s me or my mistake.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“I promised Eva I would cover something for the paper.”
“You can’t cancel our meeting with the minister.”
“We’ll reschedule. He’s very understanding—”
“We’ve rescheduled once already.”
I search his eyes, but he stands up and presses his strong, long fingers on my window. I remember shouting like a cheerleader when he would shoot two and three-pointers in the goal with those same hands. My own fingers produce more words than caresses now.
“We’ll have to reschedule again. I already promised—”
“Get someone else to do it.”
I walk across the room. I try to look him in the eyes, but he stares out the window from my one bedroom apartment.
“There isn’t anyone else. It’s my job. I thought you understood that.”
“Yeah, I get it’s your job,” he says turning around, “but you treat it like it’s The Charlotte Observer. It’s a one time a week paper that people over fifty read.”
Cooper’s dark blonde hair reminds me of layers of hay; each one piece pointing in different directions. I stroke his face. Dry sweat feels cool and slick on my fingers. It reminds me of how he skips the showers so he is with me sooner.
“No, you can’t give me any excuses. This is something very important. Your bosses should understand. If not, they’re asses.”
“I chose to do it. I haven’t had the job long enough to just say, ‘No.’”
“I’ve got to go.”
Pushing me aside, Cooper opens the door and takes his gym bags.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to think things over.”
Cooper slams the door and leaves me in my apartment with scattered newspapers, shoes, and an empty wine glass on the kitchen counter.
On Sunday morning Cooper lets himself in and sits on the couch. I have not heard from him since Friday. He has refused to answer any of my texts or calls. I throw my hair in a pony tail, take a seat in my black chair, and search his face.
“I’ve been offered a job to coach ball at a small college in Pennsylvania.”
He looks at me as if he waits for a reply.
“It’s near my hometown …”
Great, farm land and silos.
“What I need to know is: are you coming with me?”
“I just started work.”
“Yeah, but you said you’d go wherever I got a job and work as an English teacher.”
Yes, I recall saying those words, but why live in snow, on farmland, and in an itty-bitty town. North and South Carolina contain most of that, except for the snow. Charlotte is home.
“Why don’t you get started working up there, and I’ll—”
“It’s yes or no, Lissie.”
I look outside and see the first brown leaf of autumn.
“I can’t go.”
“I can’t marry you,” Cooper says in a low whisper.
Monday night feels as empty as my ring finger. I watch people enter town hall from the reporters’ table in the front corner of the room. They shake hands, and I imagine their emotions that simmer beneath the surface. I turn on my laptop, try to erase the memory of Cooper, and set up my digital recorder.
First Baptist Church of Bowst minister, Frank Jacobson, stands against the back wall with a grin fit to meet school children. He shakes hands with church members and others. No matter the outcome, every person in Bowst knows each other. Passions fume and boil, but at the end of the day they remember their first grade friendships.
Seven men take their seats. Dowlson makes Scrooge, before his change of heart, look like Santa Claus; Voyer likes the twenty something ladies and wears Mickey Mouse ties from his grandson; and Lawson snores at most meetings. Retired minister, Collit, leans over to speak with Anderson, who calls female reporters girl or sweet pea. Respected World War II veteran, Foster, plays golf every Monday, Friday, and Saturday. Masters believes he should’ve been a senator. Mayor Clarkston claims to hold no opinion unless it’s off-the-record.
Despite a severe thunderstorm warning, people pack the narrow town hall. Signs and shirts read God First and Only Jesus Saves. Members of churches shake hands like they gather together for Sunday lunch.
I notice a few people on the right side of the room. Many take a seat in their ties or knee-length skirts and stockings. Sarah Kleeson, a Charlotte lawyer, flips through her notes. Born and raised in Bowst, she now works in a high-rise office. Her argument is: I want my children to eat at a restaurant with napkins and clean tables.
Mayor Clarkston taps his gavel.
“Everyone who is signed up to speak, please remember we have a lot of people scheduled to talk,” he says. “Keep what you have to say under five minutes.”
People lean against the clear white walls. A little boy sits on his father’s shoulders. Minister Jacobson watches the forum like he’s at an opera. Bowst boys in the high seats wait to hear the debate. The door squeals when it opens one more time. Everyone looks back, and town hall permits Pastor Hewitt Carlson to enter.
I smile to myself, probably for the first time in a few days. Something about Carlson’s presence makes me feel safe. A man stands up and offers him his seat, but Carlson turns it down. He finds a spot on the wall with the t-shirt brigade.
After town council talks through other items, the floor opens to the people. A man walks to the stand and microphone. He clears his throat, states his name, and address.
“I don’t got much to say except I got a boy in college,” says the man as he turns to the crowd.
I watch him look at everyone. Sweat drips from his salt speckled hair. Some people still pour in through the tall double doors and take up space in the center aisle. Some wear stickers that read Just Say No! and others wear Give Us Our Vote!
“Please address the council, sir,” Masters says.
What blonde remains in the man’s hair shines beneath flickering pale lights as he turns back to the council.
“After my son graduates, he might go work in Charlotte. He won’t come home,” the man says. “There isn’t enough industry here. Economy’s bad off, and the mills are closing. Bowst is a great place for kids to grow up, but once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Restaurants would bring other businesses to Bowst. We have two exits off a major interstate, yet there’s nothing there except empty buildings. We have to offer more to those potential employers looking for a family centered community.”
Once the man finishes, a nurse dressed in purple and black scrubs approaches the microphone. Dark brown roots seep through the surface and shove out her blonde highlights. Her hair is pulled up and wrapped like a cinnamon bun. Circles beneath her eyes reveal stories of her work.
“I understand more than most what it means to say, ‘Your child isn’t coming home.’ Only when I say it to parents, it means their child isn’t coming home ever again,” the nurse says
clearing her throat. “This debate isn’t just about God’s message for us to keep ourselves clean of sin, but it’s also about the health of our community.
Two months ago, a boy drove his jeep off the road into a big tree. Glass shattered and cut through the center of his brain. EMS rushed him to the emergency room, but he was already dead. That sixteen-year-old boy had been at party earlier that night.”
She recounts examining a man’s shriveled stomach. He’d spent too many years drinking. Alcohol, the nurse claims, has caused enough hurt and crime in Bowst.
The nurse turns sideways. I watch the lines in her forehead bend. She hammers her hand on the podium.
“You, the council members, have been elected by the people to help us make these decisions. Please don’t pass this referendum.”
Cheers arise from a few people. I notice Jacobson nod his head up and down. Soap opera drama has its place on television, but I wonder which of those shows’ writers dig up real-life, small town theatre like Bowst’s production. Carlson rubs his chin with his thumb. His lips remain straight and narrow. I wonder if he thinks of his father, or his life’s cause amongst the applause.
On my side of the room, I notice Sarah Kleeson roll her eyes and whisper something to the man next to her. Every strand of her brown hair falls in its exact place. Her silver ear studs look polished when she approaches the front. She shows council a look that means business. Sarah hands out seven packets. I remember scanning the Bowst Economic and Growth Study by the Bowst Downtown Revitalization Board, made up of mostly business owners and lawyers. More numbers and statistics.
“My daughter climbed a tree the other day, and she fell down and sprang her ankle. Should I keep her from climbing another tree?” Sarah says. “Bad things are going to happen, but it isn’t any excuse to stall progress.
Last year, $3.1 million of Bowst citizens’ dollars, as the study shows, went to restaurants in other MacGuffin County towns and to Charlotte. Jenny’s Smokehouse passed on our town, because we don’t permit anyone to serve liquor-by-the-drink.”
While I type, I observe seven sullen faces appear as bored as I do when I hear them speak. Dowlson’s red face is the only color of the rainbow showing from on high. It looks like his bald spot may burst in flames.
“Five mills have shut down in Bowst in the past three years. The county suffers from a ten percent unemployment rate. Behind those numbers are families wondering how they will pay the next bill or feed their children.
No one is telling you to like alcohol, but this is common sense, gentlemen.”
Voyer tugs his tie and pokes the snoring Lawson. Clarkston leans forward. He rests his chin on his palm.
“The Downtown Revitalization Board has spoken with many commercial and industry supervisors, who are interested in Bowst because of its interstate access and its sense of community. However, so long as there is not a mixed drink approval, restaurants won’t come to Bowst.
The day has come for each of you to prove you care more about the people than re-election. As jobs drop like flies, you have in your hands the opportunity to, maybe—just maybe—give some of Bowst’s citizens a chance to work.
If you refuse citizens the right to vote, you also deny them their right the work.”
“Humph,” replies Anderson at the end of her speech. He crosses his arms and sits back in his cushion chair.
“No one is denying anybody the right to vote, Mrs. Kleeson,” Masters says. “We are voting on whether or not to send the MacGuffin County Board of Commissioners a request to schedule an election for Bowst.”
“Color a page blue and call it red. I don’t care, but Councilman Masters, if you vote no, you’re denying your constituents the right to vote on that day the board of commissioners would schedule such an election.”
Sarah walks away like a warrior—one in a gray skirt, blue blouse, and blazer. The last time she had entered through the chamber doors, she’d worked with council to approve the building of a playground.
There she is: a lawyer and mother. She has made the most of living in a small town, so why couldn’t I swallow my little pride pill and move my butt up to Pennsylvania? Certainly, I think, I can learn to mow a lawn and farm with pig fertilizer—or whatever the case—but Daddy’s little princess has never performed yard work.
As I watch a woman with a cause take her seat, I forget what I stand for. The journalism quest to seek truth is about as believable as a hero in blue tights. I even forget who the master writer is, who moves the drama, or who molds the words: me or some other entity? Everyone with a right mind of literature says over and over again today’s stories don’t have narrators that know everything about every character. They’re not God. But, what do I know about God, liquor-by-the-drink, love, or typing words as dry as ash?
Twenty more people speak. I notice an equal distribution for and against. Some beat their fists on the stand; some hold up a Bible or a copy of the Constitution to display the rights of
man; others tell emotional stories about how they lost their jobs, of wives beaten by their drunk husbands, or their essential right to vote. I record about sixty plus minutes total on my digital recorder.
Council members go through five other agenda items while a few in the crowd fall asleep. Others lean in and talk to the person next to them. It’s like a theatre playing jazz music before a movie starts.
The men open the floor to discuss their thoughts on the referendum.
“I’ve sat here and listened to a lot of good arguments,” says Voyer, “but I think the ultimate issue is people in our town need jobs.
I don’t care if this costs me the next election. I vote yes.”
Dowlson clears his throat in the microphone. It sounds like a mini-asthma attack.
“I’ve talked to a number of people from my district in Bowst. They’ve expressed their opinions to me. They don’t want liquor in our community. They don’t care what kind of progress it might bring. Bowst has always been the place where families want to live, because we are a fine Christian community that stands by its values.
I vote no.”
“I say yes,” says Lawson.
“I vote no,” Masters says.
I hear extra shhs and people say hush in the crowd when Collit speaks.
“I remember what it was like not to have the right to vote. I was with some other young people when we went to the polls in 1964, and we were chased away. Folks said, ‘Y’all ain’t got no right to be here.’ I came back later that day and cast my vote.
As many of you know, I received a disturbing phone call last week. I won’t be shut down by ignorance, and I won’t deny the people in Bowst their right to vote. You have yes from me.”
“Humph,” Foster mutters.
“My wife told me I could sleep on the couch for the rest of my days if I said, ‘yes,’” Anderson says, “I want to be with my lady. My vote’s no.”
Conversations in the crowd explode with whispers, oohs, and I can’t believe he said that. Mayor Clarkston beats his gavel and the room turns quiet. Foster gives the last vote. A no.
The meeting ends.
The left half of the room rises in laughter and cheers. Many shake Minister Jacobson’s hand. I find it intriguing—now that I think about it—of all the speakers, he hasn’t presented his opinion. It makes me wonder how many people who spoke against LBTD attend his church. Then I notice Hewitt Carlson has left without notice.
I pack, gather a few more quotes, and leave.
In the parking lot, lightning strikes across the sky. I stop to watch gray clouds mingle together and split in a given second by a sharp shard of whites and yellows. After a few minutes, it stops. Clouds separate, and stars shine again.
My phone buzzes. I’ve forgotten that I’d left it on vibrate. Cooper. Maybe everything is okay. I don’t want to write for Bowst that bad. I’ll write a kick ass story for LBTD, but now I can tell him I was wrong.
“Hey, Cooper,” I say trying not to sound too happy or desperate. I know better.
“Hey, I was just calling to see what the council voted,” he says. “I remember you made such a big deal about it.”
“Well, it’s a big deal to Bowst.”
“Come on, Lissie, just tell me what they said.”
My heart sinks into my stomach. The way he says Lissie. No one else says my name the same.
“They voted it down,” I say. “ Is that all you called about?”
“So nothing’s changed?”
“No change. I guess I’ll talk to you later.”
Just like that, he lets me go. I wonder how he could be so cold as to call me on the night of a big deadline and ask about a story in which he never shows interest.
I hear someone clear his throat behind me. I wipe my eyes. The last thing I need is for someone in Bowst to see my red face.
“You’re not a journalist, you know,” says Pastor Carlson.
Great, another person to tell me what I’ve done wrong.
“I read some of your articles. No matter what you believe, you’re a writer. A good one. That ummm … what is it called … AP-style doesn’t do you a bit of justice. You’re a very good writer.”
“Thank you,” I reply.
“I just thought you should know.”
I watch him walk away, and I shake my head and find my car. I drive home wondering what lies beyond Carlson, Cooper, and the drink.