Title: The Right Time
Times like this were great. We were in between cases, enjoying some free time just to ourselves. At least, I was. I wasn't real sure what Judge Othneil got up to when he went off to wherever, but he sure didn't hang about with me. Didn't expect him to, really. Doubt we have all that much in common, interest-wise. I mean, I don't know if he was really a judge when he was alive, but I wouldn't take bets against it. Has that kind of aura, you know? But give credit where it's due, he comes off as being real friendly and I'm starting to think that maybe he likes me a little now, as opposed to thinking I'm a total jerk. And I've got some pride (I know, I know, it 'goeth before a fall' etc.). I like to think that I'm one of the good guys, no matter what I may have been before.
Of course, I actually could have been a total jerk before I died, how would I know? I'm sure Judge Othneil knows, but would he tell me? A snowballs chance, as they say.
Sometimes I wondered if it's the clothes image thing. So, I was wearing black leather when I died. Is that any reason to take against a guy?
I mean, did I have to be a gang member or an ax murderer just because of my clothes? I could have been a guy just trying to make a fashion statement. Jeez, over two thirds of the population in any given college is busy doing that. At least I wasn't pierced anywhere.
Anyway, my appointed guardian busy elsewhere, I was enjoying myself doing what I wanted for a change. Not what I had to do to help somebody change their life, or what I would do to fill time while hovering in the background while somebody tried to change their life. No, this time was one hundred percent mine, no strings attached. And since I couldn't remember what I used to like to do with free time, I picked something that I'd done and enjoyed since my new life began.
I went to a bar.
I know, I know. But hey, it was New Year's Eve, and that's just what people do.
Actually, the place I picked was the Goode BBQ Company, more of a western style restaurant than a bar. Not even a place to dance at except on the weekends. This wasn't the Tennessee one, where the Harmony sisters hung out. I don't really like to go back around to places where I might encounter the people we'd helped. It was just too weird, seeing them and knowing I couldn't just walk up and say hi. Since they couldn't remember their alternate life or our time together changing it, we had nothing in common. Nada. Zip. Well, OK, we did still have things in common, really, but it was a pretty one-sided view now.
That could hurt, if I let it. So I didn't.
Which is the main reason I found myself in Houston, Texas on a Saturday night, sitting at the bar at Goode's off the Katy Freeway and eyeing the massive crystal chandelier that hung from the second story far above. It being Saturday, they had cleared the cowhide chairs and glass topped tables away from the area just below, and a country western band was tuning up, getting ready to entertain the growing crowd of partiers and late diners looking for entertainment. I'd switched my jacket for the vest again to fit in better, though I drew the line at fringe. There was enough cowhide surrounding me already, from the rows of suspended saddles lining the buffet line to the actual stuffed, silver-saddled longhorn steer posed nearby. It left the impression that an entire herd had laid down their lives just for the decor, not to mention the menu.
The bartender tonight was a girl, early twenties, real pretty with light blond hair and a quick smile for the lines she was constantly getting fed by her customers. I didn't say much to her, myself, just smiled and nodded when she walked past. Casual conversation didn't come my way often lately, and I felt kind of rusty at it. If the subject matter didn't involve dead souls or second chances, what was there to say?
At least, that was the excuse I gave myself for chickening out.
Her name was Emily. Not that I asked her, or anything. She had on one of those laminated badges they make you wear, like you wouldn't know your own name without one. I could tell she enjoyed her job. I watched as she made drink after drink, swapping jokes and small talk as the crowd pushing against the bar ebbed and flowed.
She laughed a lot.
I liked her. She was pretty and funny and didn't seem put off by my nursing my one beer for over an hour now. It wasn't that I didn't like the stuff. More like it didn't do anything for me. Like drinking water, y'know? And anyone who's ever tried to drink those mythical eight glasses a day knows how dull that can get.
So, basically, I'm sitting at a bar, drinking the equivalent of H2O for all the effect it has on me, watching happy people having a good time on the dance floor.
This wasn't helping.
I'd gone from feeling pretty good about helping Delia and Amanda Harmony, to being depressed because I kept coming up against the fact that I was living on the outside. It was kind of like looking into the shop window at all the shiny wrapped presents at Christmas. 'Look don't touch' was the motto for untold thousands of kids every year. And just like those kids, I didn't dare take that one step closer. I just didn't. I mean, was this girl, Emily, even seeing me as me?
There's a deep thought for you. Who did she see sitting at her bar, sipping a flat beer and killing time? When I looked in the mirror I looked the same, but of late that didn't mean much.
To her I was only another stranger in the crowd, like hundreds of others she'd seen. Most of whom had hit on her, no doubt. Just because she didn't say anything to me wasn't a sign from God or anything. I hoped. Just that she was real busy working.
No, face it, the plain truth was that I just wasn't anyone special to her. To anyone.
OK, I'll admit it. I'm getting a little maudlin, here. Hey, spend the holidays alone and see how you like it. Most people can at least pick up the phone and call friends, family. Let's face it, not an option I have open to me at this time.
Talking to a pretty lady was a real attractive idea, and I wasn't really thinking sinful thoughts here so I didn't think I'd be getting into trouble with it. I just wanted to meet someone. Connect emotionally, beyond the brief friend-type relationships which were all I'd had of late. Didn't have to get physical, heck, I don't see how it possibly could considering my current situation. But someone to talk to who was about my age, who wasn't going through a crisis, who was just living life day to day. It was a real appealing thought..
Most of the people Othneil and I help are so worried, understandably so, about their own problems that they never spare a second to just talk to me. No one has ever asked me about my own situation. No one cares, except maybe Othneil. And God, of course. I know He cares, and that's the whole reason for it all, right?
It keeps me going.
Besides that, would the next person the Judge and I help change things here? I know that sounds kind of like a bad Star Trek plot, but it isn't beyond all possibility. If there was one thing spending time with Othneil had taught me (besides the futility of arguing with him), it was that one person truly did make a difference. One life changed, for good or worse, sent ripples into all the lives that person touched. Next week, this Emily lady might be living a completely different life due to my helping a guy with his in-law problems, or something.
I'd seen stranger things happen of late.
All in all, it wasn't a good time to get involved, no matter how I twisted it around. Probably not even possible. Especially bad timing since I hardly know myself, at the moment. So, I did what I had to. I gave her a smile, a wave, and walked. I didn't leave any bills, but then money wasn't a concern anymore. People usually never even noticed I was present, let alone that I had gone. They forgot about me as soon as their eyes left me, unless I was on the job, so to speak.
At least Emily had smiled at me. She'd noticed me, even if only for a moment. Too bad the memory wouldn't last.
I left that place, that moment, for another. It was time to join Judge Othneil, time to help another confused soul change their past and reclaim their future. Don't ask how I knew that, I just did. Having Heavenly guidance is a pretty neat thing.
I hoped I'd meet Emily again, someday. In a new life, maybe. In a place and a when in which I had more choices. When my own chance came.
It was something to think about.
After all, doesn't everybody need a dream?
Emily Hendrickson dropped her cloth into the basket and sighed, stretching to work the kinks out. Doing four hour stints behind the bar was no picnic, no matter how much fun it might look to those on the other side. Her replacement had just arrived, and she was free to go. Finally. Reaching under the bar, she snagged her purse from the lower shelf, and began pulling on her jacket. Her eyes strayed to the door across the bustling hall, which was just swinging shut.
"Did you see that guy, the one that just left?"
"Aah, which, the biker guy or the black ponytail?" Merry was only half paying attention, her mind on the register and her current customers.
"Brown hair, cute." She dug for her keys, watching as Merry picked up a glass, polishing it absently as she looked out over the crowd. This was a pretty good band, had a nice sound. Good for business. The place was packed.
"Nah, didn't see him. What, he stiff you?"
"No." Although now she thought of it, had he paid for his drink? "He was just kinda nice, you know?
Merry rolled her eyes. "They're all nice, girl. What makes this one stand out? He have a great smile? Flash a lot of cash? Fancy lines? One you haven't heard two dozen times already, maybe?"
She frowned. "No. No, he was, I don't know, different. Good looking, yeah, but he was real serious too." She thought some more, juggling her keys absently. "He didn't say anything, actually. Just watched me work awhile. Though I wish he had." she added quietly, almost to herself
"Uh huh. You've gotta watch out for the serious ones. And remember, a loose guy looking as good as you say, hanging around on a night like this by his lonesome, is likely just after some quick action."
"Not this guy. He wasn't one of those. He just, well, I think he needed a friend."
"Him and the other seventy unattached males here. Honey, don't tell me you fell for a pretty face and a 'little boy' act."
"I did not!" she defended herself. "I just think he looked interesting, that's all. And kind of sad."
"Well. He apparently did something right. And a guy who keeps his mouth shut would be a novelty. Did you get a name and number? On a napkin, maybe?"
She could feel herself flushing. "No. I was going to ask, but, well, no." It would sound strange to say it aloud, but she'd had the oddest feeling that the time wasn't right. That she should wait. Emily Hendrickson was a girl who paid close attention to hunches. When she was small, her mother had told her that often such an urge was the Lord's way of telling her what was the right and wrong thing to do. She'd taught Emily to turn to God in prayer whenever she doubted her way, and to be patient for her answers because the Lord worked in His own time frame, not hers.
That last part was the hardest, she'd found.
Still, she'd gotten into the habit of praying about the important things in her life. And right now, she suddenly had an idea that this guy was going to be very important. Maybe not this night. But soon.
Merry was oblivious to her friend's thoughts, as she expertly mixed drinks and settled into her routine. "Well honey, you've probably missed your only chance there. But keep your eyes open, and maybe he'll wander in again. This is a big city, but people do get around."
Emily looked across the crowded dance floor towards the exit doors, and impulsively said a small prayer. "I hope so," she whispered softly.
"I'd like that."