As you may recall I've been suffering from writer's block for a while. This little short was the magic to shift the block. Dreamspinner gave me permission to publish it, but I've decided to put the story up over the next few days on my blog as a free read.
Nothing Ever Happens - Completing the Family
She noticed him the first day he entered her cafe. It was kind of hard not to, a stranger, just plain gorgeous, pretty almost, and his voice—so raw and gravelly she had to hide a shiver as he asked for a coffee and pancakes. From her position behind the counter she studied him closely. He had hair that wasn’t quite blond or brown, and graying a touch at the temples. Older than her first thought, probably nearer forty than thirty at her best guess, with pale skin sporting a spray of freckles and blue eyes framed by dark lashes that she would die for.
She knew most folks in Newtown and this man was definitely not a local, so she was surprised when he came in again the next day. He ordered the same thing and admitted, with an adorable blush on his cheeks, that he was addicted to caffeine and the pancakes were the best he’d ever had. It was her turn to blush then, the color deepening as he gave her a smile that made her knees go weak.
But he wasn’t hitting on her. No sir. Not once did his eyes look anywhere except hers and, despite being in her thirties, she knew she had a figure to be proud of. Her husband couldn’t keep his eyes off it even after ten years of marriage. She knew what he was, and part of her grieved for the fact he’d never know the joys of a family as she had. Genes such as his deserved to be continued with a passel of gorgeous children. She was gonna have to tell him he wasn’t safe here. It was an old town, with old ways, and the town elders weren’t keen on anybody different.
She was different but they didn’t know that. She hid it well.
She frowned when he came in the third day. As far as she could tell he wasn’t working in town. No one came here to work, not since the canning factory closed. ‘Sides, he didn’t look like a blue collar worker. He had calluses on his hands but they weren’t from manual work.
“You can’t stay away from my pancakes, can you?” She poured his coffee without asking this time.
He flushed prettily. “They are special,” he agreed.
“Why are you here?”
“You make the best pancakes.”
“No, why are you here, in Newtown?”
“I was looking for someone.”
“Have you found them?” She couldn’t begin to think who he’d be looking for in this little part of the world.
He nodded. “I have.”
“So you’ll be leaving soon?”
“You sound as if you want to get rid of me.”
She was about to answer honestly, remembering at the last moment he was a paying customer. “Of course not.” She gave him a thin smile.
He leaned against the vinyl back of the booth and he wouldn’t meet her eyes. Her sense of unease deepened and she was taken by surprise when he said, “Do you have a moment?”
“I… I guess so.” The place was half-empty after the lunchtime rush anyway. She slid into the seat opposite him and waited for him to speak. When he didn’t, she said, “I’ve got customers.” Maybe her tone was harsher than she intended because he quickly apologized.
“I’m leaving today. I’ve found who I’m looking for.” He opened his wallet and pulled out a photo, pushing it across the table to her.
She looked at the two men smiling at the camera, one of them with an arm wrapped around the man sitting opposite her, and her world tilted on its axis.
With a shaky finger she reached out and touched the other man’s image, noticing the lines around his eyes. He was older than the boy she’d carried in her mind for twenty-three years —but so was she.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Andrew Matthews. You can call me Andrew or Drew. I’m a photographer. Nathan is my partner.” His voice was soft, kind, as if he knew the turmoil and confusion rushing through her mind.
“He’s gay?” She fastened on the first thing she thought of.
To her surprise Andrew shook his head. “He was married to Alex, and has two kids, Dan and Jessie.”
She frowned disapprovingly. “He left his wife and kids for you?”
“It’s a long and complicated story. We were neighbors for years, then friends.” He hesitated as if he were searching for the right words. “Nathan and I have an extended, dysfunctional, but very loving family. He loves his kids and they adore him.”
“That sounds more like the boy I knew.” She tore her eyes away from the image and looked the stranger… Andrew. “Why are you here and not him?”
“Because he doesn’t know I've been looking for you.”
She swallowed against the lump in her throat. “Why didn’t you tell me why you were here two days ago?”
“I needed to know who you were before I said anything. The type of person you were. There is no way I’d let anyone, even you, hurt my husband.”
She could tell by the steel in his voice that he meant exactly what he said. “You mean you wanted to see if I was a junkie whore?”
“Once I knew you were still alive I needed to see for myself.” He looked her in the eyes and she could see the steel behind the pretty face. Reluctantly, she adjusted her opinion of his character. “If you had been a junkie whore, I’d have walked away and no one would have been any the wiser.”
“So, you’ve decided you can trust me. What now?”
Andrew reached out and took her hand. “Now it’s up to you.”
“What do you mean? You’ve found me. Aren’t you going to tell him?”
He shook his head. “No. If you want to meet him that’s your choice. I’ll leave you my address and phone number.” He handed over a business card.
She bit down on her lip. “Mom and Dad, and Bob?”
“Still missing you. Bob’s got his own family now.”
“I bet they’ve forgotten I even exist.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
She'd tried to believe it, wanted it to be true because it was easier to deny what she had been. “It doesn’t matter now.”
“Amy, they’ve never forgotten you, and they never will.”
Tears brimmed in her eyes as she looked at him. “I never forgot them either.”
“Nathan prays every day that his little sister is safe and happy, because the alternative is too much for him to bear.”
“My name’s not Amy here. It’s Nancy.”
Andrew squeezed her hand again. “I’m pleased you’re all right, Nancy. Do you have children?”
She nodded. “Nate and Tessa. He’s six and she’s eight.”
“Do you want to see a picture of Nathan’s kids?”
“Have you got one?” She was aware of the longing in her voice but she couldn’t help it. The chance to see her big brother’s kids was like a bolt to the heart.
Andrew pushed over another photo. Nathan was holding a little girl of about seven or eight, and an older boy. Andrew and a young man sat beside them. “I can see my daughter in her.”
“The picture is a few years old. Jessie is eleven now, and Daniel is fourteen. That’s my son, Colin. He and Dan are like brothers.”
“Thank you for showing them to me.”
He shrugged. “You’re family.”
“Nancy! Quit yer yabbering and serve them customers.”
Nancy looked over to see Randy, the chef, scowling at her. “I gotta go.” She got to her feet. “Thank you, Andrew.”
“Will you call?”
She closed her eyes against the hope in Andrew’s eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe. I have to think.”
“Coming!” She said goodbye and walked away, aware that Andrew was staring at her.
It was hard to concentrate on one foot in front of the other, on the minutiae of her job; pour coffee, deliver the food, bus the tables.
Nancy went into the kitchen and Randy looked up. “Who’s the fancy dude?”
“No one. Just a customer.”
Randy slapped a steak down on the griddle, pulling his hand back as the meat sizzled and hissed. “No one was getting mighty friendly with you, Nancy. Aaron know about this ‘no one’?”
“None of your business, Randy.” She wasn’t bothered by threats. She’d be talking to her husband herself as soon as she got home. He knew a little about her past, it was time he knew more.
“So why are you holding hands with another man in public?”
Nancy picked up the plates of steak and eggs. “Why did you kiss Missy Price after the dance last week? Does your wife know about that?” She left him gaping at her. Foolish man. Did he really think no one knew of his affair with the young hair stylist?
She smiled at the customers and served their food, glancing at the table where Andrew had sat—he was gone.
The turmoil was about to begin.
Part 2 tomorrow.