Broken Promises – by Lucy Ahl

I am currently working on this women’s fiction story as well.  Again, it is a work in progress and will post more to the story as I develop it.

Nicki woke with a start when her alarm blared at 5:45.  Hitting the snooze button, the pain in her chest began instantly.  As she pressed her face deeper into the pillow, welcoming the warmth, she wondered when this searing pain would subside.  It was still dark outside.  The sun wouldn’t make its presence known for many hours and when it did, it wouldn’t hang out for long.  This was why she loved living in Montana.  She could go about her day and then crawl into bed as early as she wanted, welcoming her dreams.  Her dreams seemed to be the only place where she could find a little peace away from this heartache.  Each morning as soon as her eyes opened, it came right back.  Now she knew why they called it a “broken heart”.

She glanced over to the other side of her king sized bed where her golden retriever, Cheerio, was snoring.  Her head was laying on the extra pillow and she looked like large, hairy person.  Sighing, Nicki touched her ribcage.

“You have been such a blessing to me. Without you, I probably wouldn’t be alive,” she said out loud.

Cheerio is the only reason Nicki gets up every morning these days.  They go for long walks, no matter what the weather.  Nicki, bundled to the hilt and Cheerio, prancing along her side, with a tennis ball in her mouth.  She’s a great listener too and when Nicki’s pain becomes too overwhelming, she nudges her with her nose, and licks the tears from her face.  Nicki can tell she misses him too.  Just a puppy when Dean, her husband of eight years, disappeared, he had been training her to hunt.  If only dogs could talk, Nicki felt she would tell her what happened, where he went, and why he can’t be found.

Jumping out of bed, she pads into the bathroom to start the shower.  Walking down the long hallway, she turns up the thermostat and heads into the kitchen for her coffee.

“Thank God for automatic coffee makers” she thinks gratefully.

As she swallows the warm, caramel looking liquid, she wonders what this day has in store for her.  Returning to the shower, the water is perfect as she steps in, welcoming the hot spray as it washes over her body.  Shampooing her hair, shaving her legs, and scrubbing a loofa over every inch of her body until her skin turns red helps her wake up even more.  Turning off the water, she grabs for the towel she had placed on the heated towel rack.  Vigorously toweling off, she wipes the steam that has accumulated onto the mirror above the sink.  She stares at her reflection.  Her almond shaped brown eyes have dark circles under them, her cheeks are hollowed in from all the weight she has lost, her skin, though red from the beating the loofa just gave it, is almost without color, her wet, long, blonde hair is tangled all around her head.  Dean used to love how she looked when she came out of the shower.  He would pull her close and kiss her neck until she squirmed away from him, giggling.  God, how she missed him.

Life can change in an instant; she knew this from experience.  She grew up in a strict Italian family, her high school years were spent learning how to play the guitar and piano, her voice sounded like Bonnie Rhaitt.  She moved to Nashville trying to break into the music industry but was unsuccessful.  Dejected, she moved back to her hometown, San Francisco.  Landing a job as a radio DJ, she built a strong fan base following with a popular daytime music show and at night, played guitar and sang in various coffeehouses.  It was at one of her night time gigs where she met the executive director of sales of Columbia Wear.  The year was 1999.  This woman was so enamored by Nicki’s looks, she hired her on the spot to model their next year’s winter line.  The photo shoot would take place in Alaska, the pay was more than what she made in a year at the radio station.  It wasn’t where Nicki saw her life going at the age of thirty three but she would have enough money for a down payment on a house in less than a week.  It took a month to iron out her contract.  Once signed, she boarded the private jet awaiting her, guitar slung over her shoulder, and headed for Alaska.  She had no idea just how suddenly her life was about to change.

Chapter 2

Nicki didn’t realize how grueling modeling sportswear could be until she was out on an iced blue glacier, the wind blowing incessantly and having to change into fifty different outfits at twenty below zero temperatures.  The yurt the film crew set up didn’t help much but it was better than nothing.  Her work day wasn’t too long due to the sun only being up for a few hours each day.  Each night she went back to the bed and breakfast where the owners would have a nice fire going in the fireplace in her room along with a cup of hot cocoa.  She thought it was a nice touch the effort they took to make it seem more like home.

On the last day of shooting, Nicki went back to her room.  After playing a few songs on her guitar, she decided she needed a change of scenery and maybe hang out with some of the locals.  She had noticed what she thought may be the neighborhood hangout due to all the rusted out trucks lined up in the parking lot so she decided to head over there for a few beers and a bite to eat.  She showered first removing all her modeling makeup.  Dressing into some tight blue jeans and a baggy sweater, she donned her bunny boots, scarf, and complimentary jacket with hood from Columbia Wear, and headed out into the windy, snowy evening.  The Caribou Bar was within walking distances from the B & B but by the time she arrived at the door, her face was beet red from the cold.  As she opened the door to the bar, a blast of cold air blew into the room.  Everyone at the bar looked over to see who was coming in.  Once they realized it wasn’t anyone they knew, they went back to their drinks and conversations.  As Nicki approached the bar to order a beer, she noticed how rugged all the men looked.  In fact, all of them had scraggly beards and long hair. Most were older than her but some looked a little younger.  Grabbing an empty stool, she removed her coat, shoving her hat and scarf into the sleeve, she placed the coat on her seat and sat down.  The bartender, in conversation with another patron, acknowledged her with a nod and held up his index finger letting her know he would be right with her.

“Whad’itlle be?” his voice was husky as if he smoked several packs of cigarettes a day for years.

“What do you have on draft?” Nicki asked.

“Whad a ya lookn’ for?” he shot back.

“Got anything local?”

“This here’s a Gold Award winning one,” he points to a Bear shaped tap.  “Alaskan Amber.  Brewed in Juneau by the Alaskan Brewing Company.”

“Perfect, I’ll take a pint, thanks.”

“My pleasure.” The bartender grabs a pint glass out of the freezer and proceeds to fill it up with an amber colored liquid.

Taking a sip from the almost too full glass, Nicki noticed the aroma of the beer was clean and its taste was like caramel and toffee sweetness.

Looking around the room, she saw lots of dead animal heads adorning the wooden covered walls along with rusted out old rifles, license plates from the lower 48, and neon beer signs.  There were a couple of pin ball machines and one green felt pool table, where three guys were standing around assessing the room for another player.  A cast iron wood stove stood at one corner with a blazing fire heating up the room comfortably.

Nicki jumped down off her stool and walked over to the three men.

“Need another player?”

The men looked at her as if she had three heads.

“You?” The tall man with the missing front teeth asked her as he elbowed the shorter guy standing next to him.

Nicki looked behind her.

“You see anyone else volunteering?”

“Grab a stick little lady, let’s see what you got.  Rack ‘em.”

As one of the guys, Bubba, started racking up the pool balls, introductions were made.

“This here’s Earl, I’m Jack, and that’s Bubba over there playing with his, I mean, the balls.”  Earl and Jack laughed as Bubba gave them the finger.  Nicki smiled.

“I’m Nicki, with an I.”

“Is that short for Nicole?”

“Nope, not short for anything.  I was supposed to be a Nick but when I turned out to be a girl, my mother decided to put an “I” at the end of my name.”

The bar was buzzing with conversation and the jute box was playing some pretty good music.  Each time the door opened, bitter cold air came screaming in along with a gust of snowflakes.

Nicki was getting ready to win the game for her and Jack, calling the eight ball in the right corner pocket.  As she was bent over the table concentrating on her aim, the barroom door opened. She had one eye open and one eye closed but she could clearly see, as she looked over the ball, the astonishing figure of a man that took her breath away.  Missing her shot, she heard the men behind her all cry out.

“Aww, what the heck?  You had that!” cried Jack.

“Sorry, last minute I got distracted when the door blew in the cold air, sorry.”

“Thanks a lot Dean, you just cost us the game and a round of drinks.” Jack yelled out to the man who had just walked in.

Shrugging at Jack, Dean proceeded to take off his hat and gloves and walk towards the bar.   Taking off his pea coat and placing it on an empty stool, he sat down and ordered a draft.  Nicki could see his muscular frame through the tight red plaid flannel shirt he wore and the tight, worn blue jeans.  Her heart skipped a beat.  His face was hairless, but his hair was long and white.  He had high cheekbones and a prominent nose but it fit his face.  His eyes were almost black and when he smiled, his teeth were white and his lips were full.  His chin was squared with a dimple in the middle.  When he picked up his glass to take a drink, his eyes fell onto Nicki.  She immediately felt herself blush and yet she couldn’t stop staring at him.  Jack was saying something to her, but she didn’t hear what he said, her ears were ringing.

“Hey, we’re buying for these two knuckleheads thanks to you, how ‘bout we just split a pitcher?”

Shaking her head, she pulled her eyes away from Dean and looked at Jack.

“Um, sure, sounds good to me. How much do you need?”

Nicki walked over to her stool at the bar which happened to be right next to where Dean was sitting.  Jack followed her.  As he got closer to Dean, he gave him a playful punch in the arm.

“How you doin’ old fart?”

“Hanging dude, no work right now so just fiddlin’ around in my workshop.”

“Got any good smoke?”

“Nothing to write home about, but hopefully my next crop will be killer.”

“Yeah, well, don’t forget who your friends are once it’s cultivated.”

“Don’t worry, you’re the first on my list man.  I gotcha covered.”

Jack turned to Nicki who was pulling out her wallet to give him some cash for the beer.

“Hey Dean, this is Nicki with an i.  She’s buying the beer ‘cause you made her lose the game.  Nicki this is my good friend Dean Moody.”

Dean stuck out his hand to shake hers.  As she grabbed it, his grip was firm. She looked up into his smiling dark eyes and her knees went weak.  Butterflies formed in her stomach, she managed to stutter out,

“Pleased to me..meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine.”  He pulled her closer to him and whispered into her ear,

“And so sorry for your loss.”

She could feel his warm breath on her ear.  This excited her and she blushed as she pulled her hand away.

Turning his attention back to his two buddies, Nicki felt like he had dismissed her. This baffled her.  Men were eager to spend time with her, to get to know her.  She was attractive, more than attractive, exotic looking, or so she’d been told.  So why couldn’t she hold his attention?  Disappointed but not wanting to make a fool of herself, she swiftly did an about face and headed over to the jute box to see what type of music Alaskans listened to.  Dropping a few quarters into the slot, she flipped through the playlist.  Her first selection was Tom Petty’s “I’d Found You” and her second was Bonnie Rhaitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.  K.d. Lang came after that along with some old classics from the Eagles.

Nicki returned to her stool deciding to order a shot of tequila, the good stuff, Petron.  Because she was sitting right next to Dean, she offered to buy him a shot, he politely declined.  She eavesdropped on his conversation with his buddies to see if she could find out more about him but they seemed to be talking about hunting big horn sheep and caribou and how one of the ranchers was having a problem with wolves.  Ordering a second shot of tequila, she started feeling the alcohol and became more brazen.  She leaned closer to Dean, so their shoulders were lightly touching.  Maybe it was her imagination or maybe it was the alcohol, but she could have sworn she felt tinges of electrical shocks exchanged where their bodies touched.

Jack who had been playing on one of the pinball machines noticed the pool table was available again and he went over to Dean and Nicki challenging them to a game.

“You guys wanna play a round?”

Nicki waited to hear Dean’s response. Dean turned towards her.

“Sure, you up for another asswooping?”

“Ha, you’re on mister, let’s see who gets the asswooping.”

During the game it seemed Dean couldn’t keep his eyes off of Nicki.  She felt his gaze every time she chalked her stick, made a shot, or took a drink of her beer.  Several times, she made eye contact with him but he would quickly look away.  She was thrilled to have his attention but felt the only way to keep it was to be cool and just be like one of the guys.  It wasn’t long before the bartender rang the large cow bell hanging over the bar to signal last call.  Finishing up their game, Jack razed Dean and Bubba for losing to a girl and they all shook hands saying “good game.”

Walking to the door, Dean helped her with her coat and scarf.

“It was really nice meeting you,” he said.

“Pleasure was all mine,” she replied

“So, how long will you be up here?”

“I leave on Monday.”

“Do you have plans for the weekend?”

“Just some souvenir shopping, sightseeing around town, nothing too major.”

“Well, enjoy yourself.  Maybe we’ll run into each other again, if not, my loss,” Dean drew her hand to his mouth and when his soft lips touched her skin, her knees went weak.  She felt intoxicated beyond the alcohol.  She watched him as he walked away.

“If he turns around and looks, he’s very interested,” she said to herself.

It didn’t take him long before he turned around to see where she was.  She put her hand up.

“See ya, thanks again,” she called out.  Turning on her heels, a big smile on her face, she couldn’t remember the last time she was this excited over a man.  This was either a good thing or a bad thing, if she still felt the same way when she woke in the morning, she would be heading to the Caribou Bar Saturday night.

Chapter 3

It was still dark when Nicki woke from a sound sleep.  Sitting up in bed, she stretched her arms up.  A slight pounding in her temples reminded her she had drank a little too much the night before.  As she lay back on her feather down pillows she reminisced about Dean.  In her mind she went over every detail of his face, his body, his smell, he touch.  God how she wanted him. She realized she didn’t know much about him, he could be married or have a girlfriend for all she knew.

“Aaghh, this is awful.  Why am I doing this to myself? Get a grip on yourself.  You’re leaving on Monday, he lives here.  Stop fantasizing about him.  It will never work.”

Nicki knew she needed to get her head straight.  She reached for the glass of water on her nightstand.  Getting out of bed, her feet hit the cold floor.

“Shit, its cold up here.  I must be out of my mind to think I could possibly have a relationship with Dean and live in this frigid place.”  Putting on her slippers and robe, she went into the bathroom and closed the door.  While she was showering, the maid had come in and started up a fire in the fireplace so when Nicki came out of the bathroom, her room was nice and warm.  She loved this place.  Smelling the coffee and bacon being made down in the kitchen, her stomach growled.  The feeling of home was their motto and they were right.  Dressing quickly, she went downstairs and poured herself a cup of coffee.  The proprietors had a whole spread of muffins, bagels, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, orange juice and champagne with a chef standing over an omelet maker ready to take her order.

She made light conversation with several of the other guests finding out the best place to purchase souvenirs.  After she finished eating, she went back to her room, grabbed her coat, and headed out to town.  It had snowed overnight and most everyone who was outside was bundled up and on foot.  She spent the morning shopping and in one store, she found a moose mount she felt would make a great conversation piece for her living room wall.  However, the merchant refused to part with it.  He did inform her he would be happy to direct her to a hunting guide so she could shoot one of her own.  Thanking the merchant, she settled for a pair of wooden bear claw salad tongs which would get more use than the moose head.

As she stepped back outside into the cold, the scent of coffee filled the air.  Loaded down with packages, nose in the air, she went in search of and found the small coffee café situated on a corner.  Opening the door, a bell rang.  A young girl looked up from the counter.

“I’ll be right with you.”

Nicki walked up to the counter reading their menu which was on a blackboard hanging from the ceiling.

“Thank you for waiting.  What’s your poison?”

“Can you make a skinny vanilla latte?”

“Sure can, what size would you like?”

“Large please, with whipped cream.”

The girl smiled at her.  “Whipped cream on a skinny vanilla latte, coming right up.  That’ll be $4.50.  Go have a seat and I’ll bring it out to you.”

Nicki paid the girl and put the change in the tip jar.  Picking up her packages, she looked around the quaint, small café for a place to sit.  By the window was a long, comfy couch and to her surprise, a familiar face was sitting on one end.  Instantly, nervous knots began to form in her stomach.  Dean looked better in the day light than he did by the lights of the bar.  He had on cowboy boots, tight worn jeans, and the same red flannel shirt he had on the night before with a black leather vest.  His white hair was in a ponytail and he was reading the newspaper.  His reading glasses were perched half way down his nose.  He had one foot up on his opposite knee.  He looked relaxed.  If he had noticed her, he didn’t acknowledge it. Debating whether or not to intrude on his solitude, she decided to saunter over to occupy the other end of the couch.  Not noticing the area rug surrounding the couch, the tip of her boot caught the edge of the rug, and packages and all, Nicki sprawled and ended up face first looking down at Dean’s boot.  Embarrassed, Nicki quickly picked herself up.

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the pretty lady from last night. Nicki with an I, right?”

Nicki could feel her embarrassment flood her face and neck.

“Hey,” she said as she straightened her coat and gathered up her packages.

“Sorry about that, nothing like making a grand entrance.”

His eyes were twinkling and he had a huge smile on his face.  He was definitely glad to see her.  Putting down his paper and picking up his cup of coffee, he took a sip.

“Did you hurt yourself? That was a pretty bad fall.”

“I’m fine.  My ego is a little bruised but I think I’ll live.”

“I see you’ve done some shopping, contributing to the economy of Alaska.”

“Just a few souvenirs to take home.”

“And just where might home be?” he inquired.

The barista brought over Nicki’s coffee, placing it on the end table.

“Need anything else?” she inquired.

“No, thank you, not right now.” Nicki replied.  Turning back to Dean.

“San Francisco, just outside. Do you know where Napa Valley is?” she asked.

“Sure, I’ve lived in San Francisco for a while myself, years ago, just before I went down to South America,” he said.

“You’ve been to South America, which part?” she asked

“All across, from coast to coast.  Help put in a pipeline there back in the 70s, just before coming up here.  Loved Argentina, and I loved a woman in Bolivia,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes.  For a minute there she thought she saw a spark of sadness.

Great,” thought Nicki, “he’s here to get over a broken heart.  Don’t even go there, girlfriend.”

“I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica and Argentina.  From what I’ve read, the birds and rock hoppers are just gorgeous.”  Taking a sip of coffee, she could see Dean was watching her, that faraway look gone from his eyes.

“So, do you get to travel quite a bit?”

“Not really, my day job is a radio gig so I mostly sit behind a microphone with a headset on and a sound board, but that’s where the money is right now.”

“For me it’s have pipeline, will travel. That’s my motto.”  He laughed.  The silence that ensued was deafening, awkward even.  Nicki took another sip of her coffee.

“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” he asked looking into her eyes.

Before she could stop and think of an answer, she heard herself say,

“Spending it with you”

The look on her face was an obvious one of shock.  She couldn’t believe she said it!

“I was hoping you’d say that” he smiled, took her hand and said, “Let’s go, I want to show you something.”

Chapter 4

Being with Dean was like being wrapped up in a warm, fleece comforter.  He was down to earth in a cool, sexy sort of way.  He was a total gentleman, a good listener, and shared with her his humorous side of life.  They shared much with each other that afternoon.  Their childhoods, families, friends, dreams.  Nicki felt as if she’d known him her whole life.  The two hour drive to Eagle River, which is where they ended up, was spectacular.  Dean pointed out all the places of interest as if he were a professional tour guide.  The glaciers, trees, swift running half frozen rivers, the wildlife.  She was amazed and in awe. This small part of Alaska was so vast, she knew then she wanted to see more of this beautiful state.  Only she knew it was because of him she wanted to stay.  She couldn’t get enough of his voice, his smell, his smile.  It didn’t take her long to figure out she was falling in love.

Outside of town, Dean stopped in front of a massive log cabin home.  Smoke was billowing out the chimney on top of the roof and in the driveway sat a jeep wrangler with oversized tires parked by the front door.

“Come on, I want you to meet some really fine people,” he said opening his car door.

Walking over to Nicki’s side, he opened her door.

“Madam” he gestured as if taking off a top hat and bowing slightly from his waist.

She gave him her hand and he helped her out of the car.

“Watch your step, it may be icy.”

He placed his hand on the small of her back as he guided her up the front stairs to the door of the house.  Snow was piled up on either side of the stairs and walkway as if someone had recently shoveled.  A wrap around porch with a swing hanging from a large beam was to their right.  She turned around to see the view. It was breath taking.  Nicki could see the moisture of her breathing as she stepped back to take it all in.  The front door was a piece of artwork within itself.  The wood looked to be mahogany red with stain glass octagon windows on either side with a picture of a bear, an eagle and a wolf with snowcapped mountains in the back ground.  It was almost identical to the view she had just witnessed.  Dean knocked on the door and turned the knob.

“Annie, I’m home,” he called.

His hand found the small of her back again and ushered her into the spacious foyer.

Nicki could smell something heavenly coming from where she thought the kitchen might be.  From down the hall, a log swing door burst open and a most attractive woman came running out towards Dean.  She squealed and ran into his arms.  Dean picked her up and spun her around, laughing.  She kissed him.

“I’ve missed you,” she said laughingly.

Feeling a bit awkward watching this little scene Nicki wondered to herself,

Who was this person? His lover? His wife?”

Though he hadn’t mentioned any of this to her in their earlier conversations.

“Good friend? Sister?”  She was perplexed and just stood there with a frozen smile on her face.

“Oh, hey, this is my new found friend, Nicki, with an I.  Nicki, Annie, Annie, Nicki.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said through her frozen smile.  Sticking out her hand to shake hers.

“We don’t shake hands in this house, we only give hugs,” she said as she put her arms around Nicki and gave a tight squeeze.

Holding Nicki at arm’s length, Annie looked into her eyes,

“She has warm eyes and great bone structure. You’re lovely and welcome to our home.”

Dean came over to where the two women were standing and put his arm around Annie’s waist.

“We go way back, Annie and me.”

He smiled looking at Nicki, and she was sure he could read her mind.

“And Chuck, of course, Annie’s husband.  Where is that old son of bitch anyway, in the can? Chuck and I met while touring Vietnam and we’ve been best friends ever since. Mmmm, what’s that I smell, your famous chili and cornbread?”

Wrinkling up his nose, he sniffed the air like a dog and started walking towards the door Annie had just flew out of minutes before.

“Don’t mind him, mi casa, es su casa, come in make yourself at home Nicki, give me your coat.  Would you like some coffee or cocoa?” Annie said smiling at her.

“That would be great.”

“Come on don’t be shy, let’s go to the gathering place.”

With that Annie put her arm around Nicki’s waist and guided her through the kitchen door.

The gathering place she soon learned was what they called the kitchen.  It was a massive room, all rustic wood, and open beamed ceilings with an island bar in the middle.  A King Henry VIII dining table with high chairs all around it sat off to the side.  Bay windows let in what natural light was left outside with a view of more snowcapped mountains.  To the left of the dining table was a natural rock wall with a fireplace that encompassed the entire wall from floor to ceiling.  Mounted heads of moose, caribou and long horned sheep were placed all around the rock and a real bearskin rug lay on the floor in front of the hearth where a nice, warm fire was burning.  It was homey and cozy warm and she just loved the smell of burning wood.

“So where is Chucky?” asked Dean.

“Playing policeman,” Annie said jokingly.

“Trouble?”

“No, the usual.  Someone set some wolf traps out by their trash cans and a dog got injured.  Old man Howie’s dog.  He called raising holy hell, so Chuck went over to take the dog to the vet and calm old Howie down.  He should be coming home soon, I hope.”

Annie poured coffee into three cups she had set out on the bar.

“Sit, sit, sit…” she said.

A couch and two rocking chairs faced the huge fireplace.  Nicki sat with her coffee in one rocking chair and welcomed the warmth of the fire.  Dean sat across from her in the other rocking chair.  Looking at her from behind his coffee cup, he winked.  Annie busied herself by the stove before grabbing her cup and sitting Indian style on the soft, leather sofa.

“So, how’s it going Dean? Chuck will be so glad to see you when he gets home.”  Looking over at Nicki,

“They’ll take off downstairs to the man cave and then we can do the girl talk thing.”

She winked at Nicki with a smile.  Dean piped in,

“There won’t be much girl talk going around. Nicki and I just met last night, we bumped into each other this morning and I asked her to come for a ride with me. Here we are. End of story.”

“That’s what you think,” Annie joked.

“Spending the night or leaving?” She asked.

“That depends,” Dean said looking over at Nicki.

“Depends on…?” she said.

“Depends on what you’d like to do.”

“I’m up for anything,” she said and meant it in a way that even surprised her.

Being a pretty good observer, the interaction she saw between Annie and Dean was loving and comfortable.  She saw the way they teased each other.  The play banter between them.  What she was witnessing was true friendship and genuine love for each other.  She couldn’t wait to meet Chuck.  She was sure he was as easy going and warm as Annie.  She was falling in love, not just with Dean but with his friends.  It was such an easy fit.  She wanted to be a part of this though she hadn’t known this man but a day.  She was frightened and excited at the same time and her head was fighting with her heart.  She wondered which one would win.  “Don’t worry, be Happy” popped into her mind, and she couldn’t get that reggae sound out of her thoughts.

The sound of the front door opening and closing interrupted her song.

“Annie? I’m home sugar.”

Heavy footsteps came walking down the hall.

“We have company?”

A deep masculine voice called out as the kitchen door swung open.

“Dean! You ol’ son of a bitch.  What a great surprise!”

Dean got up from where he was sitting and met Chuck half way. They gave each other a great big bear hug.  Chuck was tall, muscular and had a reddish beard.  His hair was also long and was pulled back into a ponytail.

“How the hell are ya?” Chucked roared.

“Good man, good,” Dean affirmed.

“What brings you up this neck of the woods? Oh, I get it, you smelled Annie’s cookin.  Chili and cornbread all the way to Anchorage did ya?” he laughed.

Walking over to Annie, Chuck leaned down and gave her a kiss.

“Hey beautiful,” She smiled up at him.

Turning around, he noticed Nicki sitting in the rocking chair.

“Chuck this is my friend, Nicki. I was showing her around, and we ended up here.”

Chuck walked over to her as she stood up.  She wasn’t sure if she should hug him or shake his hand.  She waited for him to make the move.  She, too, received a rib cracking bear hug.

“Any friend of Deans is a friend of ours. Nice to meet ya,” he said.

“Same here,” she smiled up at him.

Chuck turned to Dean.

“God you’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him, they hugged again.

“How’d you hook up with his mongrel, Nicki?”

Chuck asked as he joined Annie in the kitchen where she was pouring him a cup of coffee.  He grabbed her butt and gave it a gentle pat.

“Last night, in a bar, playing pool.  I kicked your butt right, Dean?”

She looked over at him and winked.

“Way to go, big guy,” Chuck joked.

“Well, it isn’t what you’re thinking.  We ran into each other again this morning at the coffee house.  We got to talking and since she’s only here for the weekend, I thought I’d show her around and we ended up here.”

“Only for the weekend? Where do you live?”

“California.  I’m up here for business.”

“Business huh? If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”

“Long story short, I was asked to do this shoot after one of the sales executives came to a function I where I was playing.  Seriously, this one job is going to pay for my down payment on a house.  I’m not sure if I’m going to do this again, but my regular gig is a radio show in San Francisco with WKRPG and then I play guitar and sing at some the bars and coffee shops around town.”

Annie piped in, “Do you get to keep what you model?”

“I’m not sure but they did allow me to take my jacket to wear while I’m up here.  Guess it’s just one of the perks in the business.”

“What are some of the other perks?” Chuck asked mischievously.

“Honestly, I don’t know, I love my day job. This one is kinda boring.  Music is what I love the most,” she said smiling.

“Cool, honey, go get your guitar.  Do you mind? I’d love for you to play something for us.”

“Of course.  What’d you like to hear?”

“Whatever you want to play.”

Chuck brought out his acoustic six string and handed it to Nicki.  She played around with the tuning and then stood in front of the fireplace and began playing a Joan Baez folk song, Diamonds and Rust.

Annie and Chuck were enamored by her voice and the haunting tale as was Dean.  Nicki looked out to her audience and saw Annie lay her head on Chucks shoulder as they swayed back and forth to the music. They were sitting so close together on the couch holding hands.  Dean was so engrossed in her voice, he had closed his eyes and was rocking his chair to the rhythm.

When the song was over, they all clapped and Annie got up and hugged Nicki.

“That was beautiful.  You have a great voice, and I love that song.  It brings back lots of wonderful memories.”

Annie went back over to where Chuck was sitting and sat on his lap.

“Can you believe these two?”

Dean directed his question to Nicki.

“Married fifteen years and still on their honeymoon.  They give me hope.”

Annie jumped up and said,

“Anyone hungry? Let’s eat.  Wine anyone?”

The two guys started whining and Annie and Nicki laughed.  Following her over to the kitchen, Nicki set the table and got everything out for dinner.  Dean and Chuck were talking guy stuff while Annie asked Nicki all sorts of questions about her job and her home.

After dinner, the girls did the cleanup, and Annie made some tea.  The guys, as she had predicted earlier, went downstairs after excusing themselves.  Nicki stoked the fire and sat in one of the rocking chairs, sipping on the last of the red wine they had with dinner. Annie sat across from her in the other rocking chair.

“I’m so glad Dean brought you here to meet us.  Usually, when he comes up, he and Chuck are engaged in conversation for hours, I get lots of reading done.  It’s nice to have some female company. So now, you have to tell me what’s going on?  Dean never brings anyone up here with him so I’m surprised, in a good way, that he brought you.  Something’s up.  I can tell.  But he’s so secretive. Of course he’s probably telling Chuck everything,” She babbled on.

“Are you really leaving on Monday?”

“Yes to your last question,” Nicki said.

Nicki felt so comfortable with Annie, as if she were her best friend.  She felt she could confide in her about her feelings plus she needed someone to talk to who was close to Dean and knew him.

“Well, let’s see. Where do I start?”

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