Grace under fire

closed-doorAuthor’s Note: This is the final chapter of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first two chapters, please visit Choice words and Double helix.

For the second time in twenty-four hours, Quentin leaned against a closed door, seeking respite from the onslaught of personal accusations and their repercussions. The ensuing days left him feeling isolated and alone – physically and emotionally.

Taking offense to his outspoken opinion on the book ban petition, the town council had been persuaded by its constituents to expedite the removal of Quentin from his mayoral office. It seemed a rather nonsensical and knee-jerk reaction, but Quentin couldn’t be sure at this point in time. There were very few rational thoughts running through his mind.

He remained so self-conscious about the need to defend himself in public that Quentin sought refuge inside his home. He felt safe from any further public assaults, but the doubting voice of his internal conscience continued to swell in volume.

As days passed, the feeling of entrapment within his own house began to prey on Quentin’s sense of sanity. Although he still felt unprepared to confront questions from the community, the desire to escape from what felt like a confined box – its four walls seemingly closing in upon him – was overwhelming.

In what was a more courageous action than it should have been, Quentin picked up his attaché and headed out the front door. Making his way down the sidewalk and around the street corner, he mapped out the shortest and most inconspicuous route to the quiet coffee shop on the edge of town. Quentin felt this was the safest location to get some fresh air – and coffee – to collect his thoughts.

As he slipped through the front door, a bell overhead signaled his entrance. Quentin was pleased to see he was the only patron in the shop. Shuffling up to the counter, the owner seemed oblivious to the controversy brewing around town. Thank goodness for that, thought Quentin. Purchasing a double mocha latte, Quentin slunk to the back corner of the shop and stared into his cup of coffee, as if the steam rising from the surface held some elusive wisdom in its captivating tendrils. Alas, this hope evaporated from Quentin’s mind as quickly as the steam into thin air.

He felt guilt-ridden for expressing his opinion in front of town hall. Worse yet, he began to question his own ideals. If there were so many people opposed to his viewpoint, was it possible that he was off-kilter in the assessment of his moral values? These deteriorating thoughts brought along with it a domino effect of self-deprecating criticisms that left Quentin as nothing more than a fragile shell of his former self.

Setting his coffee cup to the side, Quentin reached down into his attaché and retrieved the object that initiated all the chaos over the previous two days. As he carefully creased the spine, he began to read the opening pages of American Dream. The first page was blank save for an opening quote that consumed his thoughts.

bell-above-doorQuentin thought he imagined hearing a bell inside his mind – signaling receipt of a message he was meant to hear at this exact moment. As it turns out, the ringing bell had originated from elsewhere. Whether he spent seconds or minutes staring at that page in the book, Quentin was pulled from his hypnotic gaze by two voices that had just rounded the counter. Two individuals, an older gentleman and a younger woman took up residence at the table next to Quentin, apparently unaware of his presence. There was something about the young woman that looked familiar. Not wanting to call attention to himself, Quentin quickly retreated behind the cover of his book. He wasn’t reading, however. He was listening.

As if in a collegiate debate competition, comments were fired back and forth between the two.

“Dad, why can’t you just accept who I am and what I want to do with my life.”

“Gracie, the front line of a battlefield is not the proper place for a woman.”

“So, tell me then Dad, where is the proper place for a woman?” retorted the young woman. Quentin was picking up on the general tone of this conversation as he hid behind the cover of his book – Dad thinks he knows best. Daughter disagrees and tries to prove otherwise.

“Now Gracie, don’t go and turn things around on me like that. You know that’s not what I mean. I just want what’s best for you,” pleaded Dad.

“Dad, you know I love you. But, I’m not going to let you steer my path through life like you did with Kelly. What’s best for me, Dad, is standing up for what I believe in – even if it means I stand alone.”

With the last statement, Quentin involuntarily let the book in front of his face drop below eye level. As if by fate, his gaze met that of Gracie. The long brunette hair, the distinctive jawline, and the penetrating hazel eyes – he immediately recognized the physical characteristics. Whether she knew what was held within the covers of that blue hardcover entitled American Dream or not, whether she even knew that her older sister worked as his secretary, Quentin could have sworn he perceived the slightest grin on her face. Quentin gave a slight wink and let a smile spread across his own face is if to say thank you.

Gathering up his belongings, Quentin rose from his seat. Passing the table occupied by Gracie and her Dad, he laid his copy of American Dream open to the page he had been so deeply contemplating before their arrival.

The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open. ~Dalai Lama

Quentin kept walking, past the counter and out the front door. He was a different man than when he entered. Slinking into this establishment less than thirty minutes ago, he now walked out with his head held high. He had not regained his position as mayor. Quentin had, however, reclaimed something much more valuable – a sense of self, a firm resolve to stick up for what he believed in.

to-be-yourself-greatest-accomplishmentThe gears began to turn as he strolled down the sidewalk. He wasn’t any more right or wrong about what he believed in as was Kelly, Gracie, their Dad, or – for that matter – any other member of this small, conservative town. What was wrong, thought Quentin, was denying someone the choice to believe in something that was meaningful to them.

With each subsequent step, the characteristic bounce returned to Quentin’s gait. His perceptive mind kicked back into high gear as he chuckled to himself and thought about the irony – grace under fire – he had so many reasons to smile, so much to believe in, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take that privilege away from him ever again.

9 thoughts on “Grace under fire

  1. Writing to Freedom February 4, 2015 / 10:56 am

    Another wonderful story Dave. You seem to have a gift for touching emotional chords in me. May we each find our grace under fire to know what is in our hearts to do. blessings my friend.

    • davecenker February 4, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      Thanks for the wonderful comment Brad. It’s what I aim to do – strum those emotional chords for others in the same way that they have been provided to me through music, literature, and compassionate actions witnessed in the world around me. Thank you for sharing, as always, and best wishes for an inspired day 🙂

  2. adrianapridemore February 4, 2015 / 1:16 pm

    I loved this. It transfers so easily to all thing where opinions differ especially in a world where individualism is seen as a disease and not the gift it really is. I say more power to those who hold their ground.

    • davecenker February 4, 2015 / 3:17 pm

      Thank you Adriana, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Social pressure can feel quite overwhelming at times. But, like most things, once you take that first stand for something you believe in, you wonder why you didn’t do it so much sooner.

      You sum it up so incredibly well, individualism is seen as a disease and not the gift it really is. It’s comments like these that make me so happy that I share my stories – to be able to get so much more out of my words than what I put into them. Thank you, as always, and best wishes for an inspired day!

  3. balroop2013 February 4, 2015 / 10:27 pm

    Hi Dave,

    I appreciate the strength and the power you give to your characters, I love the way they like to ponder before taking a firm decision. The values that your stories reflect resonate so well with me that they make me wait for another well-defined character. Thanks for the dauntless ending and putting it across so smoothly. Stay blessed!

    • davecenker February 5, 2015 / 8:52 am

      Thank you Balroop, you are very kind. It is so gratifying to be able to pull these characters and stories out of my mind and put them on to paper. It is even more satisfying to be able to share them with others and know that they have touched them in some unique way for them. Thank you very kindly for taking the time to read and comment, and best wishes for an inspired day!

  4. Marquita Herald (@marquitaherald) February 10, 2015 / 12:00 pm

    Brilliant ending Dave and I’m so proud of Quentin … and Gracie for that matter. It’s never easy standing up for what you believe in, and not a lot of people have the courage to do it, but I think it’s even harder to honor the beliefs of others when they are so different from your own. But then ultimately that’s what free speech is all about. Thanks for the great story Dave. 🙂

    • davecenker February 10, 2015 / 1:14 pm

      I couldn’t have said it better myself Marty, thank you 🙂 It’s funny how two seemingly opposite things – sticking up for what you believe in and honoring the opinions of others – feed off each other and really allow you to do the other one better when you have a solid foundation to build upon. That solid foundation is the principles and values that you define as important to you.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and best wishes for an inspired day 😉

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