Heart of the Hunter(3)

By: Chance Carter

“I was thinking eggs. Sound good to you, baby?” she asked with a grin.

“Sounds great,” I said. “Same special as every other day.”

This was our routine and had been for the last six years of my life. We used to make the walk to work together every morning when I lived with her, but that changed when I got with Phil, the sheriff’s son, and we moved into our own apartment. I didn’t see as much of Grace during that period. She was never far away, but living with Phil, I felt as if she was a million miles away.

Phil wasn’t ever one for either of us leaving the house much, except for work, and Grace was never his biggest fan. He wasn’t a bad man by any means, just not much of one. I really did care for him for a time, but I can’t say my heart was broken when he skipped town to be with some other girl. It was more of a surprise to me than anything else, as I didn’t think he had the courage to do something that bold. Grace said it was a coward’s move and that there shouldn’t be any room in my life for cowards. I knew she was right, except when I get lonely and think about what it would be like to have a man, any man, even a man as cowardly as Phil, in my bed at night.

Anyway, I survived that break up. I kept strong and it turned out fine. I settled into a halfway decent little house close to work and my life returned to normal in every other way. The sun kept shining. The mountains looked as beautiful as ever, more beautiful in fact. Phil ended up returning to town a year after he left, but I didn’t succumb to my loneliness and get back with him. I’d realized that he wasn’t the man for me. I deserved better. I didn’t deserve to be dumped for some other girl. I deserved a man who chose me, and only me, and stood by that decision every day of his life.

Phil still gives me some trouble in Harry’s bar from time to time, he tries to hit on me, or does something stupid to get a laugh out of his friends, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. For the most part, I ignore him. When he gets really drunk, he says he wants me back. He’d never do anything about it though. And I guess that’s the reason I don’t go back. If he’s not man enough to step up to the plate and take what he wants, then he’s not man enough to have me.

I was polishing cutlery when the bell over the door chimed for the day’s first customer. Like yesterday and tomorrow, it was Dennis.

“Morning, ladies. How is everyone’s health today?”

“Oh, good morning, Dennis,” Grace called out from the grill. “We’re still ticking here. You going to surprise us today, or just stick with the usual eggs and bacon?”

“Nobody burns it like you, Grace. I’d be a fool to get anything else.”

“Cup of coffee, Denny, or you had your fill at the shop?” I asked.

“Never enough, babe. The new guy drinks it as much as me, so I have to rush my way through to get some before it’s all gone. I’m not used to fighting for it, and he’s got more than a few inches on me. Pick your battles, right?”

I didn’t exactly love it when he called me babe, but I let it go because he was a good man. He didn’t mean anything by it. And he was the fairest mechanic in town. He’d never charged me for the work he did on my beat up excuse for a car after Phil left, and I haven’t charged him for a coffee since. Never the arrangement, I just couldn’t think of a better way to return the favor. I don’t think Grace knew, but if she did, she wouldn’t care. Dennis was in every morning for breakfast and it was a pleasant way for everyone’s day to start.

“How is your new helping hand? You’re not working him too hard, I hope?” Grace called, as she fought the smoke billowing from Dennis’s burning bacon.

“Well, he’s a bit of an acquired taste, that kid,” Dennis chuckled. “One hell of a mechanic, though. Knows his way around a vehicle and doesn’t need to be told twice how to do something, if at all. Took a little while, but he’s warming up. Anyway, he’s just finishing a cigarette outside. You can judge for yourself when he comes in. And we all know how you ladies like to judge.”

“Hush,” Grace said to him as she passed me the plate of burned bacon.

Before I even turned around, I felt a presence walk through the door. It was as if the room had been filled, but I couldn’t see what with. As I set Dennis’s plate in front of him, two massive, grease streaked hands gripped the counter and slid the body attached to them onto the stool behind it. I could see his forearms ripple underneath the tattoos as he leaned in. He spoke to Dennis, but he looked at me. I didn’t look back.