Xanthan Gum For The Soul
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Characters: Buck, Josiah
Note: Third in the Prefix Series
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The Prefix Series: Xanthan Gum For The Soul
Xanthan Gum – a water-soluble natural gum produced by the fermentation of sugar with certain microorganisms and used as a binder, extender or stabilizer in foods and other products
Sometimes he could only wonder why he continued to be there for him. Sometimes, like now, that question never arose. Looking down at the unconscious mess that was his best friend, Buck could only shake his head in dismay. “Chris,” he said softly, his voice a mixture of dismay, regret and resignation. Looking up at the man standing on the other side of the crumpled form, he asked, “Who was it this time?”
Joe, the owner and bartender, sized up the other man. “Friend of mine did me a favor,” was all he admitted.
The corner of Buck’s mouth lifted. “Hopefully did him a favor too,” he added tipping his head to indicated Larabee.
A small smile appeared on Joe’s face. “Sure hope so. Hate to have the other have to come back.” After a moment’s silence, Joe added, “You passed him on your way in tonight.” Catching Buck’s eye and seeing the surprise there, he continued seriously, “He’s a man worth knowing.”
Buck searched Joe’s face. Over the past few months, the two men had developed a certain respect for each other. Wilmington understood exactly how high a praise those words were coming from the owner. Before he could respond, however, a groan from the floor drew the attention of both men.
Catching Buck’s eye once more, Joe advised, “A trip to the hospital wouldn’t go amiss.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Buck assured, turning back to his friend. When another groan escaped the prone figure, Wilmington reached down and tapped his friend’s cheek. “Wakey-wakey!” he called out, just loud enough to irritate Larabee. He was met with another groan and two green slits. Unable to stop it, a chuckle escaped as he waited until Chris focused on him.
“Buck?” the blond slurred, alcohol and his fight temporarily sapping any hope of clear speech.
“The one and only,” Wilmington replied in a softer voice, a smile on his face. Studying his friend for a moment, Buck felt something inside him ease. He didn’t know what it was exactly, but it was almost like there was a bit of light inside Chris again. Shaking off those thoughts, he prompted, “Let’s get you off that floor, and to the hospital.”
Struggling to coordinate his limbs, Larabee stated, “I don’t need a…” His statement was lost in a pained gasp.
“Sure, Chris,” Buck said, slipping an arm under the blond’s to help him up. “Humor me on this one.”
“Fine,” the blond gritted out as he was helped to his feet.
With a nod to Joe, Buck led his friend out of the building.
“Couldn’t find a closer space?” Chris ground out between clenched teeth.
Buck said nothing, just continued to support his friend as they made their way toward the doors. They were almost there when a young, dark-haired man came bounding out, nearly colliding with them.
“Whoa! Hey! Sorry about that,” the young man apologized, managing to pull up short and avoid the collision.
“No harm done,” Buck offered, scanning the boy, more out of habit than any potential threat. He saw before him a tired young man. The few words he spoke had hinted at the East Coast. Wilmington noted the card in the man’s hand and the logo of a local youth hostel. These observations took only a few seconds, all the time he had before Larabee’s groan urged him onward. With a nod to the boy he and Chris entered the chaos of the ER.
Scanning the crowded room, he spotted the only open chairs off in one corner. Ignoring the protest from his friend, Buck made his way to the chairs, taking in the man seated next to them.
The stranger was definitely a large man who radiated both physical and personal strength. Meeting the piercing blue eyes that were now appraising him, Buck saw life, strength, light and an all too familiar anguish. He knew that last look well because he saw it in the mirror every morning. It was the sign of a man hurting for family.
Propping Chris in the corner and taking the seat beside him, Wilmington reached his hand toward the blue-eyed man. “Buck Wilmington,” he introduced.
“Josiah Sanchez,” the other man offered. Glancing at Chris when the blond groaned, he tipped his head, “Rough night?”
Buck sized up Chris who was looking miserable as he slouched in the corner, his head down and eyes closed. “Yeah,” Buck agreed. “But I’m hoping he finally got some sense knocked into him.”
Josiah nodded knowingly. “Some learn from the Word, some need a sledgehammer,” he observed. A grin broke out on his face, causing his eyes to dance, “Usually need a sledgehammer, myself,” he revealed.
Buck laughed and nodded. “Been known to be a mite stubborn myself,” he admitted. Reaching out, he pushed Larabee back into the corner as the blond started to slump forward. The soft snores escaping him, revealed Chris to be asleep.
He turned when he felt the weight of Josiah’s stare on him. He met the assessing eyes head on, refusing to flinch or look away.
“Tough times?” Sanchez asked.
“Life changing,” Buck replied grimly, not wanting to talk about it.
“Hard to go through something big like that,” Josiah observed, knowingly. “Harder to watch a friend lose themselves to something like that.”
“Sometimes I don’t know why I bother,” Buck said softly, not realizing he’d said it aloud.
“There are all kinds of people in the world,” Josiah informed, his tone understanding, but not judging. “Some are world changers, some are the solid backbone and some are xanthan gum.”
Buck just blinked for a moment, his face reflecting his confusion. “Xanthan gum?” he asked.
Josiah nodded, one corner of his mouth turning up in an amused smile. “Ever read the ingredients label on your food?” he asked.
The corners of Buck’s lips quirked up in a small grin. “Not if I can help it,” he admitted, eliciting a low chuckle from Sanchez.
“Next time you get a chance, take a look. You may just see it listed,” the older man advised.
“What is it?” Wilmington asked, curious.
“It's a very useful thing when one wants to maintain the fresheness of food.”
“So, it's a preservative?”
The tilt of Josiah's head revealed his conflict at the answer. “Yes and no,” he finally replied.
Confused, Buck said, “Well, it is or it isn't. I'm not really a preservative kind of guy if that's what you're getting at.”
A small smile curved Josiah's lips. “Not quiet,” he admitted. “Xanthan gum serves three purposes in food, one of them is to serve as an extender – sort of like a preservative – ensuring the freshness and taste last longer than it would without its presence. But it also serves as a binder, keeping together flavors and elements that wouldn't necessarily survive long together. The third thing is does is act as a stabilizer, keeping volatile flavors from fading.”
Buck nodded, he still wasn't really sure where Josiah was going with this and wasn't at all sure he agreed to any of those roles.
Seeing the doubt, Sanchez continued, “When there are life-altering changes, a lot of times people will lose sight of what happened and who they were before. They lose the continuity and strength of the time before. Most people like that never get back to good. Instead they either reinvent themselves or get lost. The lucky ones have people who stand by them through those events, ones who will keep fresh the memory of how things were, preserving it for a time when their friend is ready for it. They bind together the past, present and future, creating a continuous whole for the one whose life was interrupted. And finally, they provide the anchor of stability for their friend when the rest of the world seems to be spinning away from them. It's neither an easy nor an appreciated role, but it is necessary.”
The two men sat for several seconds as the words sank in and took root.
“Mr. Sanchez?” a nurse called.
Josiah rose. Turning, he placed a hand on Buck's shoulder and offered, “You, my friend, are his xanthan gum. He may not appreciate it today or tomorrow, but there will come a day when he blesses you to the Heavens for still being in his life, for keeping alive that part of him he thought he lost forever.” Releasing Wilmington's shoulder, Josiah turned and headed toward the nurse.
“Hey, Sanchez,” Buck called to the retreating back. A number of questions and comments raced through his mind, but the image of the man's similar pain caused him to offer, “If I am xanthan gum, then it seems I'm in good company.” The warm smile he received in return was worth the effort. “Keep the faith, man,” he offered in parting.
“You too, brother,” Josiah returned before turning away and following the nurse.
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