Friday, September 22, 2006

Excerpt from Conspiracy of Angels

Copyright 2006 Zinnia Hope
Note: this is a semi-rough draft.

Monica and Daniel chatted in the servers’ station. Daniel kept sending Elizabeth appraising looks, but she pretended not to notice. Instead, she pulled out a restaurant supply catalogue, leafing through it for alternate tablecloths to compliment the décor.

Half an hour later, two young women entered Our Daily Bread. Relieved, Elizabeth greeted them with her brightest smile. She seated them in a booth, handing each a menu.

Monica hurried over to them and filled their coffee cups, and Elizabeth returned to the hostess station. She knelt, returning the catalogue to its place amongst the order pads, mints and the phone book. Straightening, she turned to find Daniel looking at her. Startled, her sharp intake of breath might as well have been a cyclone passing through.

“Sorry,” he said, a wry grin on his face. “I thought you heard me tap on the counter to get your attention.”

“No—no, I didn’t.” She noticed the tiny silver scar at the corner of his mouth and how it only made his smile even sexier. I can’t go on like this, she thought. Every time he looks at me or comes near me my heart feels like it’s going to fly right out of my chest. “I was…was looking through a supply catalogue for a few odds and ends we still need for the restaurant.” Finally, she took a calming breath, her voice settling into a more even tone.

“You always did seem to have a head for business,” he said.

Was that admiration she heard in his voice. “Well, between Grams taking a chance on some stock and my degree in business, we finally made our dream come true.”

“Not many people can say that, you know?”

She nodded, wondering what he was leading up to and hoping it wasn’t what she suspected.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

Aw, jeez. Here it comes. She tried to keep the tremor out of her voice, her pulse pounding in her ears. “What about?”

“Well, for starters, I’d like to know what happened between us.”

“There’s nothing to discuss.” She gripped the edge of the hostess counter, her fingers biting into the Formica. If she didn’t hang on tightly, she might faint. Breathe, stupid! Breathe! I can’t let him get to me.

“Really?” He tipped his head to one side, his gaze curious, appraising. “Nothing at all? Lizzy, ever since you left, I’ve wondered what happened, what went wrong. Don’t I don’t deserve an explanation?”

Calling me Lizzy is so unfair. He was the only one who had every given her a special endearment. It brought back memories of whispered promises in her ear, her name tumbling from his lips as he trailed kisses across her fevered skin…

“Come on, talk to me.” Daniel reached for one of her hands, but she stepped away.

“I think I’ll see if Grams needs anything,” she said, refusing to look at him.

Elizabeth walked away. She smoothed her blouse and skirt, feeling sick. Guilt consumed her, but she knew it was a feeling that would haunt her as long as she and Daniel were in the same town, so she might as well deal with it.

Pushing through the doors, she found Sarah rolling out dough.

Her grandmother looked up. “What’s up?” she asked. “By the look on your face I’d say Daniel just rattled your cage.”

Elizabeth paused at the coffeemaker and poured herself a cup. “No thanks to you.”

“What did I do?”

“He’s here today, isn’t he?” Before her legs gave out under her, she sat down on stool.

“You have to face him sometime, child.” Sarah set the rolling pin aside and turned a pie pan upside down on the smooth dough. “I accepted his offer of help because we’re desperate.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“I don’t appreciate your sarcasm, Elizabeth—and regardless, we already had this argument today.” She paused long enough to flip over two chicken filets sizzling on the grill. “You’re disappointed about the lack of interest in our new business and that’s only natural. I know Daniel makes you a nervous wreck and that’s understandable too, but don’t you dare take your frustrations out on me. We’re on the same team. Just you remember that.”

Tears threatened to claim Elizabeth. She left her cup on the counter and returned to the dining room. The two women in the booth sipped their coffees and talked quietly. Daniel stood on the middle rung of a ladder he’d retrieved from the storage closet.

He removed the florescent bulb that had been flickering near the hall to the restrooms.

“It's been a while since we’ve chatted, hasn't it?” someone said at Elizabeth’s side. “Mind if I sit down over here?”

Quickly, she blinked back the last of her tears. She turned, noting with surprise that the little man she’d seen across the street was indeed the fellow from New York City.

“Sure,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Would you bring me a cup of coffee?” he asked softly, offering her a bright smile, a smile that Elizabeth noted somehow calmed her nerves.

She picked up a fresh pot of coffee and followed him to his table of choice.

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” Monica gushed as she passed her with a clean ashtray. “I honestly didn’t see him come in.”

“It’s okay, Monica,” she replied. She paused at a little side table the man had chosen and waited for him to turn over his coffee cup. “What are you doing in Barnesville?” she asked him.

“I travel everywhere,” he answered, his smile growing wider, his teeth perfect and white. “I have folks I care about who live all over the country. I’m on my way to visit someone in Idaho, but felt compelled to take a route off the beaten path. These Appalachian foothills are a sight to behold.”

She returned his smile, once more marveling at the startling blue of his eyes. “I take it you have a big family scattered throughout the States?” Elizabeth nodded. “One of my girlfriends in New York has such a family. They have a reunion twice a year to keep in touch.” She met his gaze. The man’s snow-white hair, mustache and goatee made his eyes even more startling. Elizabeth tried to guesstimate his age, but he could be anywhere between forty and sixty-five.

“Yes, my family is very large, indeed.” He scooted his chair closer to the table, placing his arms on either side of his cup and saucer, his gaze riveted on Elizabeth. “How have things been for you since we last saw one another?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Things have gone well until recently.”

Elizabeth glanced over at Daniel. He folded up the ladder. Its hinges squealed in protest, and he shot her and apologetic look, their gazes connecting.

The thrill pulsed through Elizabeth like quicksilver.

“You’re pouring coffee on the table.” The man’s voice brought her back to reality.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Elizabeth yanked a hand towel from her apron pocket and sopped up the mess.

“You’re in for a bit of a rough patch, but it will all be worth it in the end,” the man stated, his expression benevolent.

“I’m not so sure about that.” Elizabeth’s gaze drifted back to Daniel. He returned the ladder to the storage closet and shut the door.

The white-haired fellow sipped at his hot coffee. He laid a five on the table, stood, and offered her another one of his glorious smiles.

“You worry too much, Elizabeth,” he said and ambled toward the door.

Speechless, Elizabeth watched him leave. She realized she’d never told him her name. For that matter, she didn’t know his. If she bumped into him again, she must remember to ask him his name and if he lived in their apartment complex. A chill rippled through her. Both times she had met the white-haired, blue-eyed man he had made similar predictions and both times, his esoteric words had come true.

No comments: