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Emma fingered the five-year sobriety chip in her pocket. She didn’t need it to remind her of her past vice; she didn’t need it to remind her of her inner strength; fingering it was a habit. 

She set a commanding presence running the AA meeting. Emma’s story was sadder than most. A drunk father who knocked her around and told her she was unlovable and useless. Then a husband who did the same. She believed it and climbed into a bottle. That was ten years ago and now she led the group and was sponsoring members. She was a pillar of strength, determination, and perseverance. No one wanted to disappoint her. 

Emma stood. “I’m Emma and I’m an alcoholic. Does anyone wish to introduce themselves?”

A tall man stood keeping his eyes on the floor. A meek voice squeaked out, “Hi, my name’s Kyle and I’m an alcoholic.” 

There was a pause to give him an opportunity to continue.

 “Hi, Kyle, I don’t think I’ve seen you here before, so why don’t you tell us a little about yourself, if you want.”

“Well, um, this is my first meeting. Last week I wrecked my car, my live-in girlfriend threw me out, and I missed a promotion at the brokerage that should have been mine. Then I went on a bender. When I sobered up, I realized I needed to make some changes.” Kyle started to sit down but stood back up. “Oh, yes, only my car was hurt in the accident.” 

Kyle cut a striking image. Tall, broad shoulders, not quite gray at the temples, tailored suit, and uptown shoes. Quite a contrast to the broken man inside staring at the floor.

“I’m glad you’re here, Kyle. That took a lot of guts. Do say hi to others if you feel up to it.”

The meeting progressed and the hour was quickly up. Emma couldn’t take her eyes off Kyle and watched him put a fifty into the donation bucket on the way out. Emma took a deep breath but couldn’t help but watch the man. Men and booze bring nothing but misery to her. She knew it all too well.

Weekly meetings continued and each week Kyle stood a little taller. At the fourth meeting, Emma presented Kyle with his red chip marking 30 days of sobriety. 

“I’m proud of you, we all are, and we are here for you, Kyle,” Emma said. Maybe she held eye contact just a bit too long.

Kyle’s confidence grew over the next two months and was well on his way to being a success story kicking his addiction. Emma’s heart jumped a beat when Kyle put his hand on her shoulder and asked her something.

“Huh? What?” Emma responded.

“If you have a minute, I’d like to speak to you after the meeting. If that’s alright.”

“Of course, Kyle, I tidy up after the meeting, so I’m always the last to leave.”

He received his green chip for ninety days of sobriety that night. Emma tried not to hurry the meeting, but she was relieved it was a smallish turnout. While she picked up the items on the refreshment table, Kyle approached. She turned to meet his eyes. She looked up into confident eyes.

“Emma, I don’t know what the protocol is, but I’d like to buy dinner for you, or a cup of coffee, walk you to your car, whatever I can get.”

Emma looked away. “There are no hard and fast rules, but it’s unwise for members to see each other socially before a year of sobriety. Let’s talk when you have a bronze chip.”

Kyle looked like a man who wasn’t used to hearing the word “no,” but managed a weak smile. “That’s likely a good idea. Now I have even more incentive for that bronze chip.

The next nine months didn’t bring a reprieve from her feelings for Kyle. She hoped Kyle’s feelings for her didn’t ebb away. Emma watched him work the room and bring a chuckle to most with small talk, hearty handshakes, and a winning smile. He knew how to work a room.

After eight months, Kyle was back at full strength at the brokerage.

“Kyle, we admire your strength, and we all congratulate you on your one year of sobriety marked by this bronze chip.”

He turned and gave a slight head nod to the clapping members. Kyle was still beaming when he took his seat and stared hard at Emma. She couldn’t help but crack a smile.

At the refreshment break, Kyle, still beaming, approached Emma, and said, “I believe I have something in my pocket that has earned me a chance to speak with you after the meeting.”

“I was hoping you remembered,” Emma responded. 

After the meeting, Kyle said, “Emma, I’d like to buy dinner for you.” He didn’t wait for a response and handed her a business card. “My number is on the card. Please consider my invitation.”

She looked at the card. “Nice to meet you, Kyle Andersen. And yes, I’d like that.”

“Terrific. I’ll make reservations and I can pick you up here at the meeting building, your place, or meet you at the restaurant, say 7:30 Saturday night, if that works for you.”

“Meeting at the restaurant at 7:30 Saturday, sounds wonderful.”

“Do you like Italian?” Kyle asked.

“Love it.”

“Terrific. Text me and I’ll reply with the address of the restaurant. You have my card. I’ll see you then.”

Kyle moved into Emma’s house two months later. She loved being doted on and the attention of such a handsome man. He liked being in the presence of a confident woman. Emma couldn’t recall ever being happier. 

Slowly, her friends drifted away as she had no time for them. She spent all her time with Kyle. The doting stopped as did Kyle’s AA attendance. Kyle worked later and later in the city, bucking for the next promotion. Emma noticed, but his hard work was for their future.

A weekend business trip kept Kyle away for the first time since he moved in. A week later he called and said he had to work late and would crash at a friend’s place overnight, but he’d be home early the next day. 

The second time in a month Kyle worked too late to come home, Emma started having doubts. She knew she was average looking at best. Maybe Kyle was too good to be true.

Then the late working nights morphed into every other Monday. Emma poured herself into AA meetings where members looked for and needed her motivation, encouragement, and strength. 

 Before the third month of every other week of overnights, Emma could no longer fool herself. She met Kyle as he walked in the door. He looked at the boxes all neatly labeled and stacked.

“I took the liberty of boxing up your belongings. Please send a truck to pick them up this week.”

“Molly, no! I’ve been working for our future.”

“It’s Emma, not Molly, and I know you’ve been working on something other than our future.”

“Emma! Wait! You’ll never get someone like me.”

“That’s the idea. One week, Kyle.”

“You crazy bitch!”

“If I wanted to be called that to my face, I’d still be married. One week.” She pointed to the door.

“Hell, you’re worthless. You’re too damn ugly to ever get a decent man. No one will ever love you. Do you know that?”

Emma stood there, eyes clear and arms crossed, staring at him. He could not rattle her inner strength. Kyle stormed out and nearly took the hinges off the door when he slammed it. No matter about keys, as she had already changed the locks. 

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and slowly exhaled. Men and booze bring nothing but misery to her. Kyle was another vice she didn’t need. 

Emma checked the wall clock; she started gathering her coat, she had an AA meeting to convene in an hour.


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