Contest #216 shortlist ⭐️


Friendship Contemporary

One More Shot by Sean Glenn Douglas Packard

              Show-and-tell is a sacred thing for young boys. There is nothing more dopamine stroking to a five-year old than a stage all his own, the attention of his fellow carpet crawlers, and nothing to talk about but himself and his favorite object in the world.

              I was a revved engine when my name was picked from the hat. And I knew exactly what I was going to bring – my Michaelangelo ninja turtle. He had num-chuks and a bright orange mask and when you pressed the button on the back of his shell he cried out in the most tubular voice: “Cowabunga!” Or my favorite: “Pizza time!”

              I was excited. I was so excited that I forgot him in the car when the day came.

              “And now Alex will share his friend Michaelangelo with us all!” gushed Ms. Grady, gathering everyone on the floor at the front of the room.

              I bounded to the cubbies in back. I unzipped my bookbag and my heart stopped, the air sucked out of me. A total gut punch. Tears welled in my eyes; I tried to hold them back but that only made them hot. My hands trembled and I refused to turn around. I was set on hiding in my own shell until the teacher came to console me.

              “I like ninja turtles too.”

              Lost in crisis I hadn’t noticed him. A brown-haired boy in green overalls and a white tee shirt. He dug through his bookbag and emerged with a plastic baggie of pretzel sticks. He opened them up and bit one in half.

              “You can borrow my Donatello if your Mikey is missing.” He rummaged through his things once more. Then he handed me the turtle and skipped to the carpet and sat down like it was nothing. Like he hadn’t just salvaged my universe.

              I wiped my eyes and took the stage. “Actually his name is Donatello Ms. Grady.”

              I thumb the red button and the call ends. That was Bryce at the cubbies that day in school and that was him on the phone now.

              “I’ll be in Chicago next week for a few days. New supplier that I have to meet. Well, old supplier, new management. Need to make sure that source doesn’t sour on the vine because I didn’t introduce myself. I thought it would nice to catch up if you could swing it.”

              “Of course I’m free. I’m free any day you’re in town buddy.”

              “You sure? I don’t want to put you out. I know you’re busy. It’s no big deal if you’re overrun, we can  get together in a few months when you’re home for the holidays.”

              “I’ll see you Friday”, I assured him.

              “What time you get of work?”

              “Fuck that.” I said. “We’re going to Wrigley.”

              Bryce and I did everything together. We swapped trading cards on the blacktop and hustled the nose pickers out of their best players. We played Nintendo-64 at each other’s houses until our fingers bled or our mothers kicked us out because “boys need to feel sunshine”, whichever came first. We even had our fathers conspire to get us on the same little league team by signing up as coaches and volunteering to manage the umpire scheduling. My dad hit us fly balls and went out to the mound to chat with the pitchers. Mr. Fowler drank Miller Lite and did the book. He was merciless drawing the line between hits and errors.

              I’ve got witnesses paid-off by the time Friday rolls through. I’ve promised two pals at work future fealty for their attestation that I looked like death at the team meeting the day prior. It’s no shock to my boss when he receives a 7am email that I’m retching on the bathroom floor and can’t make it to the office. And I scored two tickets courtesy of another friend who works too much, too hard and doesn’t seem to understand how short life is. Workaholics make for good friends. They give a lot of stuff away. They’re wedged under my ball cap behind my left ear.

              I greet Bryce at the front gates of the ballpark. Washed jeans and gunmetal double-bridge sunglasses. A warm rush of nostalgia. Internal sunlight. He’s jovial too, wearing a smile like someone who means it. I wrap him up in a hug and pat his back twice. He slides one of the tickets from my ball cap.

              “Friday off and tickets too? Boy has it made.” He flicks the brim of my cap and delivers a shot to my bicep. “C’mon, first beers on me”

              The Pirates are in town for a three-game set. Old-time baseball, 1am start. We guzzle a couple lagers in the blazing sun and then a couple more. Two innings disappear. Three. The shortstop smacks into a double play with the bases loaded drawing a wave of groans from the fans. Bryce flags down the guy slinging hot dogs.

              “Two sir. And a couple shandy’s too.”

              He forks over two twenties and I toss in a crumpled five. I juggle the drinks, sipping the top of both because the wily concession vet has somehow managed to pour eighteen ounces into sixteen ounce cups. Foam crackles on the tip of my nose. Tastes like summer.

              “And drag mine through the garden.”

              The guy grunts and dispenses the works. Onion, tomato, pickle and jalapeño. Flavors are more explosive when you’re drunk in a ballpark.

              The center fielder makes a diving catch and the crowd hoots and hollers. The last bite of dog rolls off the bun as I leap to my feet and high-five Bryce. Now I’m wearing relish and yellow mustard that browns in the sun. Heading into the seventh inning stretch I find courage in the bubbles of a Budweiser.

              “How’s your dad doing?”

              My father always told me that life comes in waves. It’s good, good, good and then that wave breaks and it’s bad, bad, bad in bunches. I think that’s true but I think it misses something. Some people just get the shorter end of the stick. For whatever reason, I’m sure none, Bryce’s life got harder and mine got easier.

              Mr. Fowler struggled with on-and-off depression which made things dicey at home for his sons. His older brother Matt got into drugs and was in-and-out of the picture throughout our teen years. He got clean eventually but it was definitely scorched earth for a while. And they lived pretty tight financially. I mean, he always had a roof and food in the fridge but it certainly destabilized as we got older.

              Meanwhile, my parents were steady always. My siblings were sterling; Jen was a 4.0 student and right behind me Will was bookish himself and had talent with a guitar in his hands. Baseball seasons came and went. I started spraying the ball all over the field and Bryce swatted air. I grew into a tall frame and handsome smile while he lagged physically and hid braces behind a tight-lipped grin. School came naturally to me and I excelled. Bryce battled anxiety and grew increasingly frustrated with what he perceived as average performance.

              I did my best to keep him beside me, chugging along on the same track. I begged our varsity coach to allow one more on the roster so that Bryce could suit up and travel to away games on the team bus. I dragged him to parties. When we got our drivers licenses, we pooled our money and bought a busted-ass Jeep Wrangler that we managed to get two years of service out of after tinkering with the engine and replacing the carburetor. We took it up to the lake on weekends and got high. Weed helped his anxiety more than Xanax.

              Then we went to college. Then his mom was diagnosed with ALS. She didn’t last long.

              “He’s alright. You know him – likes to build and fix stuff around the house during the day. Actually put together some impressive maple cabinets recently. Can’t decide if he wants to install ‘em in the kitchen or just sell ‘em. Long walks in the neighborhood in the evening. Six pack and the Red Sox on t.v. at night. Rinse and repeat.”

              I nod. He doesn’t mention his dad condition. He doesn’t know I know.

              The game ends on a strikeout looking, 6-4 bad guys. The booze-soaked crowd voices its displeasure with a call they feel was too high and too outside. It’s a meek murmur after nine innings in August heat. My head feels like it’s been through its own wash cycle. We head for the exit along with the bewildered herd.

              Naps and cold showers. We catch a cab to my apartment and do both. When he wakes, I’ve got coffee brewing and crisp jeans and a button-down folded on the table. I hand him a mug steaming from the pot.

              “Let’s go to Walker’s.”

              It’s my favorite pub. Two blocks from my apartment, it’s rowdy in the right way. Live music with rhythm guitar and tight snares. Strings too sometimes. Booming cellos and racy violins. Tons of musicians in these blocks. The bar is a huge rectangular island; crystal glasses suspended above its heavy oak. A dream coat of colors behind the bar tenders, liquor bottles streamed through by iridescent lights. Gold and glacier and molasses. Every hue under the sun.

              “Two mules”, I request from the bar tender. I clink copper mugs with Bryce and sip the whiskey. It’s cool in the basement.

              I wasn’t there for him enough when his mother passed. I went home for the funeral and I sent him texts and I let him know I was always there if he needed to talk, but I was wrapped up in my own world. New city, new friends, new classes. Weekends. Girls. I got slow responding to his messages. And then I let a few go. When I realized I hadn’t heard from him in some time I didn’t push to bring his voice back. I told myself that shit happens.

              That’s a lazy lie. Same as “I was young.” I was a lousy friend.

              Two girls wiggle between us and rescue me from my guilt.

              “Two Moscow’s for a couple of mules”, the blonde teases, tapping Bryce’s mug with her bottle. Her friend turns to me. “Let me guess, and I’m just going out on a limb here based on both of your shades of cherry tomato skin – you two caught the cubbies pirates game today.”

              “Guilty,” Bryce admits, laughing. “In our defense though, we did wear hats.”

              She cocks her head to the side so her ear rests on her shoulder. “And how many innings were those hats flipped backwards? What’s your guess Collins?”

              Collins grabs my shoulders and spins me around. “Well, based on the pastiness of the back of…I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

              These girls are good. “Alex.”

              “Well, based on the pastiness of the back of Alex’s neck here, my guess is zero. Zero innings. Am I right or are you going to lie?”

              “Same deal with mule two.” The blonde quips, sneaking a peek of Bryce’s neck. A playful smile. “I’m sorry that was rude, you probably don’t prefer mule two. What should I call you?”

              “Bryce.” He shakes her hand. She kisses his cheek.


              Crafty. Thirty seconds, playful barbs, and all our names on the table.

              They’re fun too. We order a round of IPA’s and head to the back to toss darts. It’s a close match until the shots start flowing. Then my head is swimming, the music is bumping and the score on the chalkboard has been replaced with the message GIRLS WIN, MULES LOSE and a drawing of two stick women in dresses riding a pair of donkeys, glugging triangle martinis. We find a table and four more drinks arrive, dark beers with bitter taste.

              After college I moved to Chicago and started my career. Bryce stayed home to take care of his dad after his mom passed. He got a job in procurement at a regional electronics firm.

              Hot tears in my eyes. You can borrow my Donatello if your Mikey is missing.

              I didn’t do enough. His spirit slowly faded away.

              Riley’s nestling in his arm. Collins is side eyeing me wondering why I’m not welcoming the same.

              “I’ll grab us one more.”

              I buy a round of old fashioneds and close out my tab. I sign the bill and reach to gather them in my hands but there are only three.

              “I only needed one cutie.” An absolute stunner in a black dress. Dark hair. Smoky mascara. Shards of ice for eyes. Her name is Gwynn. “What are you doing here Alex? Up to no good?”

              “Just having a night out with friends, old and new.” I nod to our table. “You?”

              She stirs the pilfered drink with a straw from the bar, curls her lips around it and sips. “Was out with Sam and the girls but they wanted to head across the city for some patio thing at a guy’s place I don’t know. Didn’t have the heart tonight. Popped into Walker’s for a little music and a nightcap before heading home.”

              “One more.” I say to the bar tender. He looks at me, then her, then sets to making another old fashioned. He sets it on the bar and I hand him a ten and two ones. “Well enjoy it, it was good seeing you.”

              Gwynn brushes my shoulder. “Oh, c’mon, don’t be so cold. What did you expect me to do? Leave with you on the rooftop that night?”

              “Why not?” My words are hotter than I mean for them to be. “We spent the whole night together didn’t we? I thought we had fun.”

              She sucks her teeth and tilts her head to the side. “Alex, be nice. I came with him. It wouldn’t have been nice to leave with you.” She sips. “Even if I wanted to.”

              The music is loud. Her eyes are louder.

              “C’mon. Play a game of pool with me. I’m lonely.”

              “I have to get back to my friends.”

              “Just one game.” Her thumb is in my belt loop.

              I drop the drinks off at the table and say something ambiguous about the bathroom, drowned out by the frenzy of the band.

              “Where are you going?” asks Bryce?

              “I’ll be right back.”

              Gwynn breaks. She sinks three solids including a double banker that nimbly avoids a stripe teetering on the edge of the cup. Stone-cold shark.

              I position the cue over my index. Her hips are an orchard.

              “You could’ve called if you were interested.”

              She sinks another. “I can say the same to you.”

              “I thought you didn’t like me.”

              “Maybe you’re not as bright as I thought.”

              The balls disappear from the table. The conversation is cat-and-mouse. Soon, only the black eight ball remains. It’s a straight shot for the kill. And it’s all mine.

              “I’ll tell you what,” says Gwynn, placing her empty glass on the side of the table. “Sink this shot and I’ll prove that I like you.”

              My blood is boiling. “And if I miss?”

              She smiles. “I’ll show you anyway.”

              Stone-cold. I place the cue on my index. I line up my shot.

              “Hey man.” It’s Bryce. “Riley and Collins are losing steam; they want to go.” I peer up from my cue. The girls are gathering their things and settling up at the bar. They’re glancing our way. “You good?”

              “Yeah”, I stammer, “I, um, I just..."

              “He just has one more shot to take,” Gwynn interjects. “Let’s see what he does.”

              I like ninja turtles too.

              “Riley doesn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. She wants you to come too.” Bryce whispers. “Are you coming?” The music is too loud for Gwynn to hear.

              “Let’s see it.” She eggs on, impatiently.

              I was a bad friend.


              His shoulders slump and ten years glaze over in his eyes. The air goes out of him like a deflated tire. He nods then stares at his feet. He nods again. “Well, I’ll just go tell them bye at least.”

              You can borrow my Donatello if your Mikey is missing.

              He makes his way to the bar.

              “It’s right in front of you. Are you gonna take it Alex?”

              Bryce and the girls exchange hugs. Sad smiles.

              I didn’t do enough.

              I look at Gwynn and I look at my friend trudging back to me. I know what that gnawing feeling is. I’ve felt it before.

              “Yeah, I am.”

              I flick Bryce’s chin with force to wake him up. It’s pointed squarely at the ground. He jumps back, confused. “What are you doing?”

              “Hurry up. Let’s find them before it’s too late.”

September 17, 2023 23:35

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Amanda Lieser
20:56 Nov 11, 2023

Hi Sean! Oh, the woes of friendship! It’s so much easier when you’re a kid, isn’t it? Because you have all these other peers around you all the time with school and you can just connect with them in a way that’s innocent. When you’re an adult there’s so much more pressure and effort that has to be put in because of all the pain and life that has happened to a person before they become your friend. I thought you’re a piece red like a confessional and I think that’s why it was such an amazing shortlist to me because it truly captured your narr...


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Philip Ebuluofor
19:24 Oct 01, 2023



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Nina H
17:49 Sep 29, 2023

A lifetime of friendship shown here, beautifully. Loved the repeating lines of flashback thoughts. Congrats on the shortlist!


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