I wrote this for a Reedsy writing prompt: Write a story about “The Mentor” — The mentor prepares protagonists for the trials ahead. Sometimes this mentor is a parent. Other times, it might be a wizard or a suburban Karate teacher. Whatever form they take, they are there to guide our hero through the unknown.
I thought Selben and Soda would fit this prompt well! This was a bit different for me, as I wrote it in Soda’s viewpoint, which I’ve never done before (since, well, I’m Selben!).
A middle-aged man sat in an office. Mounted on the walls were IT certifications and pictures of company picnics and other social events. The nameplate on the door read “Soda.” Looking out the window he saw it had begun to rain again and continued waiting expectantly for a call but hoping it would not come. He leaned back in his chair, scrolling through some emails and briefly glancing at his phone to ensure it wasn’t on silent. Finally, his phone rang. He grabbed his jacket and hat and was out the door before answering.
Soda listened patiently, making sure to not sigh or sound annoyed, “It’s okay, I’ll come take a look.”
He walked across the muddy parking lot and entered the second building. Wiping his feet, he gave a cheerful greeting to the receptionist. Without needing directions, he headed down a side hallway. Seeing a grumpy looking woman with her arms crossed standing in a doorway, he knew he was in the right place.
“Hello everyone!” he said warmly, peering around the woman to see a defeated looking younger man sitting on the floor in front of a half-disassembled printer.
The woman turned with a semi-scowl on her face and let him enter the room.
“We can’t possibly get any work done. This is worse than before he started,” she loudly exclaimed without even considering the young man’s feelings who was clearly working hard.
But Soda was wise. He saw the situation had deteriorated quickly and clapped his hands together getting everyone’s attention.
“We should have a meeting about it!”
This caught her off-guard. She started to reply, but his hand gestures demanded attention. Even the young man sitting on the floor was perplexed.
“It’s nearly noon, so we’ll have a lunch meeting. How does that sound Barbara? What should we get, what’s your favorite?” Soda hoped that was her name. After 15 years here he was pretty sure that was her name, but he didn’t interact with her much.
She blinked several times, silent. He tried not to bite his lip, unsure if she had been stunned by the topic shift or if he did in fact get her name wrong.
“That… That sounds wonderful. It is the end of the week, I’m sure the rest of the team would appreciate lunch,” she said, arms still crossed, but the scowl was gone.
Soda pulled out his phone to get a list of the local cuisine choices but paused.
“Shall we get… Spaghetti?” He remembered the entire office went to a local Italian place for her birthday just a few months ago.
Her face lit up. Success!
“Perfect. How about Donicchi’s?”
Her arms were no longer crossed. Instead her hands were clasped around Soda’s as he equally smiled and discussed how many breadsticks they should order. After no time at all she insisted it be put it on the company card and nearly ran down the hall to place the order.
With her out of the room, Soda turned back to his young trainee, who was now looking even more confused than before.
“So Selben, what’s going on with the printer?”
Selben shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. As he described the issue, Soda quickly identified the problem, but still waited for him to finish. Soda knew nothing would be learned if he just told him the answer. Calmly, they both started putting the printer back together. Soda encouraged Selben to continue talking it out, as he gave small hints.
Selben bit his lip, “Okay, so it prints a test page but won’t print anything over the network.”
Soda nodded enthusiastically, “Right. So, what could that mean?”
He hoped those gears would catch. He struggled to not look over towards where the actual solution was located, keeping eye-contact with Selben instead.
Seeing his hesitance, he cleared his throat and gave him another hint.
“Say, what do they normally use this room for?”
It was clearly a conference room. Several papers across the table showed it had been recently used.
Selben’s eyes lit up and wandered around the room. Finally, he noticed the printer’s unplugged network cable, with another cable for the conference phone system in its place. Selben sighed loudly, disappointed with himself, and trudged over to switch the cables, but Soda stopped him.
“Let’s wait and show Barbara first. It might help so it doesn’t happen again. Sound good?” he said cheerfully.
Selben perked up and ran out of the room to get Barbara.
He returned with her, who announced she had placed the order. Selben guided her over to where the network cable plugged into the wall and started to explain.
“You can’t unplug devices like printers. They can’t communicate with the network if you do,” he tried to explain.
Soda wanted to slap his forehead, but waited, hoping Selben could recover.
Barbara crossed her arms again—not a good sign. “Well, what do you suggest we do then? It’s the only plug in the room, and obviously we need the conference phone!”
Selben started to open his mouth but Soda decided to jump back into the conversation as Barbara was getting visibly upset.
“Sorry, we mean we’ll get some permanent cables run to the conference table, so the phone can be kept plugged in. I’ll put in a request for a switch and we’ll run some cables for you next week! Did you remember to get extra garlic bread?”
Barbara was delighted with the solution and declared there would be extra garlic bread and plenty of spaghetti for the entire office.
Soda continued to discuss other topics, mostly focused around food since everyone can talk about food, especially when hungry. He gestured towards the printer, and Selben tested it, making sure it worked now, and made a sign explaining the situation until a switch was ordered.
Completing the job, they walked up to the front lobby to wait for the lunch. They collected the food and brought it back to the break room. Everyone started taking plates and settling back into the chairs. Soda and Selben both grabbing a plate of spaghetti with extra garlic bread, and excused themselves, thanking Barbara for lunch, and citing important projects to attend to.
As they returned to their own office, Selben looked up to Soda.
“How did you do that? I thought she was going to bite my head off.”
Soda thought for a moment before responding, “It will take time, but I will do my best to teach you. Now let’s go eat our free lunch!”