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Johnny Miller stepped into the Lone Tree Lounge and went up to the bar. “Millie, how’s it going?” he asked the bartender.
“Long time, no see, Johnny.”
“I just can’t stay away when a beauty like you is around,” Johnny said.
“You’re always a charmer,” she said. “What can I get you?”
“A Coke for starters,” Johnny said with a wink. “Have you seen Sara today?” he asked.
Millie gave a short laugh. “Yah, she was in here earlier with that cousin of hers, Danna.”
Johnny lit up a cigarette and thought about going home, then changed his mind. He drank his Coke and headed for the pool table. Quickly racking the balls, Johnny shot out the first game in halting style, but by the time he got to his third game, shots fell one after another.
Bobby McCarthy and a couple of oilfield hands came in and ordered three pitchers. “Johnny Miller, what the hell are you doing back here by yourself?” Bobby asked.
“Shooting some stick, you game?” Johnny asked.
“Seriously, what are you doing here?” Bobby said as he racked the balls.
“I came in here looking for my wife,” Johnny said. “I figured she’d show up eventually.”
“How long has it been since you saw her?” Bobby asked between shots.
“Two days. I thought she’d come back after she calmed down, but once she gets angry, she won’t let go.”
“What was it about this time?” Bobby asked.
“I told her to quit drinking, and she said no. She says it’s too hard living with me if I’m going to be straight.”
Bobby laughed. “Yah, I remember how you used to be,” Bobby said as he calculated his next shot. “Let me tell you, when you quit partying, that was the best decision you ever made. Too bad Sara didn’t follow you.”
“Yah, but it’s been a lonely one. All I do is work, and when I get home, Sara is either passed out or still drinking,” he said. “I love my wife, she could’ve had any guy she wanted, and she chose me,” he said in a far away tone.
Bobby knew that Johnny’s wife was far from the vision of perfection that his friend held in his heart.
About that time Bobby’s buddies said they were leaving and asked if he needed a ride. Bobby decided to stay. After they left, he asked, “Brother, what are you thinking? I hope it’s not something you’ll regret later.”
“She tells me that she is going to quit someday, then asks me for money. I’ve tried saying no, but that only makes things worse,” said Johnny and then fell silent.
Bobby shook his head, “Maybe you should just let her go,” he said. “You might be better off finding another old lady. I don’t think Sara’d give a damn.”
Johnny sat quietly, and then said “What the hell do you know about it, huh?” He stood up and walked over to the pool table and stood there holding the cue in one hand and grasping the table with the other, then slowly lined up his next shot. Johnny made a bad shot and said, “I don’t mean to get mad at you, but I’m afraid I’m going to lose her.”
Bobby was just about to say, “Maybe you already have,” when the front door swung open and two women came in, followed by two bikers.
Johnny watched intensely. Bobby grabbed him by the shoulder. Johnny shrugged off the hand and stared into the other room.
“Give us a round of shots,” Sara said.
“You gonna buy Johnny one?” Millie asked as she poured the liquor. “He’s in the back watching you.”
Sara looked over her shoulder. Johnny nodded as they made eye contact.
The biker next to Sara bent down close to her ear and asked, “Who the hell is that?”
Sara hesitated then jumped up. “Baby, what are you doing in here?” she asked as she hurried across the room. Johnny stood stolidly as she threw her arms around his neck. He looked down at Sara. She looked worn out with strained lines around her mouth and blood shot eyes.
“Who are these jokers?” Johnny asked pointing his chin at the bikers.
Sara quickly responded, “Danna got to talking to them and invited them to have a beer.”
Johnny looked at the three people sitting at the bar. Their fidgeting and shifting eyes told him everything he needed to know.
Johnny walked toward the bar, Sara following closely behind. Bobby leaned against the pool table, waiting. Stepping up Johnny looked at the biker. “So,” he said, “you’re having a drink with my old lady? I’ll have one, too. You can buy it,” he said looking into the biker’s eyes. “What do you think about that?”
The biker looked away. “Sure, whatever you want,” he said.
“What’ll it be?” Millie asked.
Johnny said, “Shot of Crown.”
The bar was quiet as Millie filled the glass.
“Let’s drink,” Johnny said as he grabbed the shot glass and held it up. Sara and the others fired down their shots. Johnny didn’t drink.
Sara looked at him. “You going to drink that thing or not?” she asked.
Johnny lowered the shot glass and placed it on the bar. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a drink as bad as I do right now,” he said. Johnny looked Sara in the eye, “I don’t think I’m going to drink with you today,” he said and then walked toward the door. “Bobby, you coming?” he asked.
Bobby walked over to the bar, grabbed Johnny’s shot and slammed it down, then turned for the door.
Johnny stood in the doorway, looking back in, “Sara,” he said loudly, “come home when you are tired of this s***” and then turned and walked through the door as it slowly closed behind him.
Larry D. Madden, Jr., aka “Dave,” is a member of the Osage Nation from Pawhuska, OK. His work was published in the TCJ Student Edition in 2008 and 2009. Madden says, “Being a contestant in the TCJ writing contest has been a great experience that has bolstered my confidence greatly in my writing. I would like to thank my wife and children for their support and influence. I would also like to thank the teachers here at Haskell Indian Nations University for their help and guidance.”