Excerpt from Chapter 5
- In this excerpt, all the characters except the bartender are legally blind. That means their vision is very blurry, dark, b&w, or some combination.
- The character George is mentioned but not described. In this book and in real life, he’s Mike’s closest friend.
- Mike is my brother and the main character. In this scene, he’s checking out another bar, which he did often in his mid 20s.
“Well, I’ll tell you more about the ski trip we’re planning.” The bartender put his palms on the bar, leaned on them, and explained. “A small problem is getting in the way of a big ski event we have coming up.”
“What’s the problem?” Mike asked.
“This might sound a little strange, but the small problem is that we don’t have enough people to shake tambourines.”
“I heard something about that,” Mike said. “Is that where somebody stands in the middle of a ski slope and shakes a tambourine to help blind skiers?”
“Yeah, that’s part of it.”
“Doesn’t it get cold out there?” Mike asked. “I mean, I can take a little cold, but it’s always the wind that gets ya.” He smiled and continued, “There’s not much on a ski slope to block the wind.”
Fred chimed in. “But there’s always a bright side. Anybody who shakes a tambourine gets a great view of the race.”
“That’s a good point,” the bartender added. “It really is a great race. That’s the big event I mentioned. A couple times each winter, we organize a race between blind skiers and any sighted folks who want to give it a try. All the skiers wear a blindfold and have a guide, who gives directions from behind. To be extra careful, a volunteer stands at each gate and shakes a tambourine, so the skiers know where to turn.”
“It’s a pretty short race, though,” Fred said. “Only about four gates. This is all for fun and to raise money for local blind folks. If we had more gates, there’s a chance somebody could get hurt, especially one of the sighted skiers. They’re not used to skiing with a blindfold on.”
“Wow, it sounds like a great time,” Mike added and took a drink from his beer.
“It really is,” Fred commented while looking toward Mike. “But the whole thing depends on having a few volunteers to shake a tambourine by the gates. We’ve thought about having the racers only work with a guide and skipping the tambourine shakers, but the racers didn’t like that idea. They’re used to turning by a sound.”
The bartender rubbed his forehead. “And that goes back to the small problem I mentioned. Two of our volunteers just decided to leave early for Christmas. They’re married, and her dad just took a turn for the worse.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Mike replied.
“Thanks, we’re all hoping for the best, but we also need to find a couple of volunteers to fill in. What do you think? Is this something you’d be willing to try? It’s all for a good cause.”
Mike needed a moment to think about the question, so he took a drink from his bottle of beer. After setting it down slowly, he answered. “I’m sure it is, and I might be able to help. Would like to think it over for bit, though.”
“Well, that’s all I’m asking for right now,” the bartender said.
Mike wanted to help, but there were just enough risks to make him nervous. If he could have watched a race just once, it would be easier to volunteer, but he’d never tried or even watched skiing. To him, standing in a winter wind seemed stranger than snowmobile tag, and shaking a tambourine wasn’t going to create much heat. The only experience that came close was standing still on a frigid day when a school bus was late. And in that case, there weren’t skiers coming right at him who might be a little competitive or might be getting used to a blindfold. He was still thinking of the combination of shivering and being clobbered by a racing skier when the bartender raised his voice and directed it away from the bar.
“Hey, we might have found someone to help with that problem we were just talking about.”
Mike looked in the direction the bartender was talking. A woman walked toward Fred and sat next to him, on the other side of Mike. The bar light above them reflected off her bright red hair, which Mike instantly recognized. He took a long drink from his beer to settle a sudden surge of shyness. He finished the bottle, waved it at the bartender, and dropped a pile of coins on the bar. The bartender replied to his request in a quick, single motion. He reached down, pulled a beer from a cooler under the bar, popped off the top, and slid the bottle to Mike.
“Really? I step away to pee, and when I come back, you’ve solved everything?”
“Service with a smile,” Fred responded. “Mike, this is Samantha Smothers, the teacher friend I mentioned. Most people call her Sam. Sam, this is Mike. He might be able to help with the little volunteering problem we’re having.”
Sam looked at Mike. “Well, hello again,” she said with a smile. “I remember meeting you a couple of weeks ago when Donny was showing you around. How’s school going?”
Mike felt happy she remembered him, impressed with how she looked close up, and uncertain how to respond to the simple question. He also tried remembering what George had said about her. He repeated these thoughts a few times before answering, “Pretty good.” He took another drink.
“What do you think of Portage Bay? I know when I first got here it took me forever to get comfortable.”
Fred added a comment. “I think I remember that. At first, you were a little, well, shall I say, ‘unsettled’.”
“That’s one way to put it,” the bartender added in a teasing tone. “Once or twice, you were a little unsettled and maybe a little tense, like the time I almost threw you out of here.”
“All right, all right,” Sam replied in a similar tone. “You guys both know I’m enthusiastic, but you also know I’m worth any small bit of trouble I may cause.”
While the others spoke, Mike tried again to remember how George had described Sam. He’d mentioned that she was funny. That part was clear.
Fred and the bartender laughed and replied by saying “Yeah” and “Sure” a couple of times. Everyone in the small group took a drink.
Sam set down her drink first and led the conversation. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to learn more about our new friend. Mike, before these jokers distracted me, I was trying to ask you about Portage Bay. Does the place still seem new and exciting, or is it already part of your routine?”
Mike remembered thinking about that question a day or two ago. He decided to give an answer that was more appealing than accurate. “It’s actually still new and exciting. I always like exploring new places.” He was happy about the answer, since it gave a hint of exploring with her sometime.
“I like that,” she replied. “It’s always fun to check out new places, like this ski trip. You’ll love White Pine Ridge. The forest up there is amazing. The skiing is also good, and there’s a chalet with a huge fireplace.”
“That’s the part I like best,” Fred added, “after the skiing of course. It’s made from small stones, some as small as a golf ball. Others are as big as a beepball. They’re from a stream that runs down the ridge, which makes all the stones real smooth. I like the way they feel, and you can’t beat an open fire.”
“That reminds me,” Sam said, “when are we going to call the ski resort to take care of the final details?”
“That’s a good question,” answered the bartender. “We got so wrapped up in getting the word out that we lost track of stuff like that. Anyway, I’ll give ’em a call.” He looked below the bar and reached for a pen. He then took a napkin from a pile in front of Sam and started writing. “There are probably two types of questions: the ones involving the race and the ones involving the rooms.”
Sam gave the first ideas. “We’ll need seven rooms, four with four beds and three with two beds. We should also learn if they can keep one more double open for us again. We’ll cancel it a week ahead of time if we don’t need it, just like last time.”
Fred chimed in. “And try to get rooms that are farther away from the bar. One lousy part of last time was hearing people party till some godawful hour.”
“Got it, quieter rooms,” the bartender said and wrote some notes.
“Or, we could just tell George to keep it down,” Sam said.
“Especially his blasted singing,” Fred added.
Mike gave a surprised laugh when they mentioned George singing.
“It sounds like you may have heard him sing,” Fred said.
“Actually, I haven’t, but we have enjoyed a few drinks. Now that you mention it, I can imagine him trying to sing after having a few.”
“You’re right about that, although try is the important part. He doesn’t sing often, but getting out of town does seem to bring out his jolly side. That’s all fine and good. I just wish he’d keep it down a little.”
Sam added her thoughts. “And maybe realize that singing louder doesn’t make his voice better.” She took a drink and added, “Okay, I think we should get back to planning.”
“I agree,” the bartender said as he wrote more notes. “We also need to check into food for about twenty people. It can probably be the same as last time—breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days.”
Sam confirmed the suggestion. “That sounds about right. They only want an estimate. We’ll get there on Friday night, but it’s fun to stop some place along the way.”
The bartender lifted his pen and looked up. “I think that does it for rooms and food. For the race, I’ll make sure they have all the standard stuff—like gates, timers, and staff ready to help. All that should be fine, though, since they hold a few races a year.” He looked down again and wrote. “I’ll also double-check they have enough tambourines and those bright vests they give to blind skiers. And just to be safe, I’ll make sure the price is about the same as last time.”
“I think that’s enough for now,” Sam said. “Other ideas may come up during the phone call. Is there anything else we need to do around here? I think we’ve made enough announcements at school, since we already have enough people.”
“Well, the most important thing is finding a couple of people to shake tambourines,” the bartender added. He shifted his gaze from Sam to Mike. “That comes back to the conversation we had with Mike. What do you think, want to give it a try?”
Mike felt uncomfortable. He was hoping his offer to help could involve finding someone else or at least taking a day to decide. With all three of his new friends looking at him, it seemed like he had to decide now. “I want to help,” he said with a serious tone. He continued with a lighthearted tone. “But, let me see if I got this right. You want me to stand in the middle of a freezing ski slope and shake a tambourine while blind skiers head right for me?”
Fred answered, in a similar tone, “Well, if you put it that way, it sounds a little uncomfortable, but yeah, that’s about it.”
Sam added some comments. “You don’t need to worry too much. I’ve competed in some of these races, might even join this one. We really don’t want to hit the tambourine shakers.” She laughed a little. “Besides, we’re a competitive bunch, and hitting you would raise hell with our speed.”
“I suppose,” he said with a nervous laugh. “But, I’d like to watch just once before helping out.”
Sam persisted. “Aw, come on, this is one of those times when you just need to jump in. We can even throw in a free lift ticket.”
Mike also persisted. “I appreciate it, but I’ve never been much of a skier.”
“In that case, I’ll throw in a free ski lesson. You’ll be flying down the double black diamonds in no time.”
Mike liked the idea of a personal ski lesson with Sam but still felt cautious. Besides, he was starting to enjoy this battle of wits. “I’m more of a bunny-hill kind of guy.”
“We can do that too,” she said. “It’s a great place to start.”
“Actually, I’m more of a bunny-hill kind of guy who does best sitting in an inner-tube.”
“Okay, so skiing isn’t your thing. There must be something I can bribe you with.”
After thinking of a few things he would enjoy doing with Sam, Mike glanced away.
“Except that,” she replied.
Mike wasn’t sure if she saw a change in his face or if she was just having some fun with the pause he took.
Sam tried again. “All right, I’ll go with a trusty old favorite, food. The chalet at White Pine Ridge has a great menu. We’ll pay for one meal while you’re up there.”
The thought of some good, warm food appealed to Mike, and this lively conversation made Sam even more appealing. He would probably agree to her request, but not yet. “Just one? I mean, all the work involved with shaking a tambourine could make a guy really hungry.”
Sam smiled, “Oh, so you like to bargain?” She leaned toward Mike and looked into his eyes. “Good, so do I.” She held the gaze for a moment.