Romance Non-Fiction posted July 17, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
He wasn't what she was looking for.

Diamond in the Rough

by BethShelby

Unexpected Romance Contest Winner 

Susan was late for the AA meeting. She took a seat near the back and looked around the group. Most of the faces were familiar. She was pleased to see that Tommy was there. Over the last few meetings, they had gotten to be good friends. He was a decent guy. Like her, he’d decided that the drinking habit was something that was taking him down the wrong road. He had earned his one year sobriety coin and was faithful in attending the meetings.

Susan had started drinking with friends, mostly on the weekends, since her divorce. She’d also started smoking again, although she had given up that habit when she married Mark. After helping Mark get his degree, she learned he was cheating on her. The divorce had left her extremely depressed.

Her sister had paid for her to spend a month at a place that was supposed to help her deal with her depression. Since the rehab was sponsored by a church, both alcohol and cigarettes were taboo there. When she had agreed to go, she had no intention of giving up beer, but somehow they had gotten through to her and convinced her to try AA. After meeting with several AA groups, she’d found one she felt comfortable with and had been attending regularly.

A new guy stood and introduced himself. Both of his arms were covered with tattoos. When he stood, he said “Hi, my name is Keith and I’m an alcoholic.” Everyone said “Hello Keith.” He continued with his story. “I’m on probation. I just spent four years in prison for selling drugs. I want my life back. I have a six-year-old son who lives with his grandmother. I’m trying to get back on my feet, so I can make a home for my kid.”

Wow, he’s got us all beat. I don’t’ think there’s any other ex-cons here, Susan thought. I’ll bet that guy has been involved in some bad stuff.

The meeting continued with several more people sharing. One of the members got up and made a talk dealing with the twelve-step program they were working. After they all repeated the Serenity Prayer, most of them headed back toward the coffee urn.

Susan sought out Tommy. “Hey, you wanna go get a bite to eat before we go home?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure. That will be cool. I was hoping you’d be here tonight. I saved your seat for a while, but then, I decided you weren’t coming.”

“I know. I was late. I got held up at work and had to finish some paperwork before I left. I haven’t eaten. Let’s go to Waffle House.”

Keith walked up and poured himself a cup of coffee “You guys going out?” he asked.

“We’re going to Waffle House and get something to eat. Wanna come?"

“Yeah, I’d love to if you two don’t mind. I haven’t eaten either.”

Oh, heck, Why did I invite him? I was hoping to have some alone time with Tommy, Susan thought.

Once their orders were brought to the table, Keith began to fill them in on his life. The more he talked the more interesting his story became. His mom and dad had divorced and both remarried. He’d been shuffled from one parent to the next. He had been a kid who was left free to do whatever he wanted, and that involved running with a rough crowd.

He was the leader type, and he’d inherited his dad’s head for business. Realizing he could make money selling drugs, he went at it for all it was worth. In no time he was rolling in cash, but the money was never enough, and he was always looking over his shoulder. His dad had bailed him out of jail several times, and the last time, he’d told him, he was through. “Straighten up your act, or face the consequence,” he said.

Keith had moved in with a girl and ended up getting her pregnant. Not long after the baby was born, he made the mistake of dealing with an undercover agent and was arrested, convicted and sent to prison. This time, his dad refused to get involved. Keith had been raised in Northern California, but the girl was a Southern transplant from Georgia. Not long after he was sent to prison, she moved in with another guy, who didn’t want his life complicated by dealing with a child. The girl took the baby back to Georgia and left him with her mom to raise. Keith had only seen his son a few times before he was told that the kid was no longer in the state.

In prison, Keith spent the first few months angry and frustrated. His only contact with family was regular letters and visits from his Christian grandmother. She was the only one who seemed to really care, and she encouraged him not to give up. She believed he could turn his life around.

Gradually, he made friends with some of the prison guards, and they noticed he had good relations with his fellow inmates. Since he was a born leader and had an interest in writing and art, they assigned him a teaching position. He realized he was able to get though to others in a way that the paid teachers couldn’t.

For a long time, he kept petitioning the prison to transfer him to a Southern prison, so he could be nearer his son in Georgia. Eventually the transfer was granted. After many letters and phone calls to his son's grandparents, they allowed him to see the child. Now that he was out, he was determined to solidify the relationship, and if possible, make a home for the boy.

Susan couldn’t understand why her heart went out to this guy. My family would disown me if  I brought someone like him home, she thought. Yet, he was the most honest and upfront person she’d ever met.  His life was an open book. He held nothing back.

The whole next week, she couldn’t get him off her mind. He was so much more interesting than Tommy. She knew this wasn’t someone she would ever consider letting into her life, and yet she couldn’t wait until the next AA meeting. She was early for the next meeting, and sure enough Keith was already there. He greeted her warmly, and they sat together. It was apparent he was attracted to her as well.

Her voice was shaking when she broke the news to her parents that she’d met someone. Cautiously, she spilled the details over several visits. They were horrified when they learned the new man in their daughter’s life had spent four years in prison, but they eventually agreed to meet him. Luckily, he wore a long sleeve shirt covering the tattoos on the first visit. If Keith was nervous, he didn’t show it. He was every bit as open and honest with them as he had been the night she met him. Her parents couldn’t help but like this person in spite of their initial misgivings.

It was three years later when the wedding took place with her parents' blessings. Keith had attained an early release from parole. He’d managed to start a successful business and get custody of his son, who loved Susan like she was his mother. Keith had reestablished the broken relationship with his family, and they, along with numerous friends he’d made in the three years, attended the wedding.

Today, he and Susan have been married twelve years and couldn’t be happier. Keith goes around to schools making speeches to young people, telling his story and warning them of the dangers of getting involved with drugs. He has become a mentor to kids who are interested in learning his business, and he allows many of them to work with him as interns.

Susan is so glad she didn’t overlook a diamond in the rough. Everyone deserves a second chance.


Writing Prompt
The topic for this contest is: Unexpected Romance. For poetry or prose. The story brings two people together, two people who don't necessarily realize that they belong together but the audience is rooting for them.

Unexpected Romance
Contest Winner


A true story, but the names have been changed.
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