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  • Jill Marie Denton

Hope Under Fire - Ch 2

Updated: Jan 10

Hope unlocked the front door of Lynn’s, greeting the elderly couple who were always first to arrive on Sunday mornings. The Coopers hosted the pre-mass bible group and needed to eat before any parishioners showed up. Their coffee was on the table, steaming in their mugs, before they were seated.

Two other front-house workers were scheduled today, allowing Hope to take a step back and manage as she normally did on their busiest days. Hank was off Sundays and the two cooks standing shoulder to shoulder between her and the stoves would be pushed to the limit, food flying until the luncheonette closed at two.


The early hours would’ve been a blessing if she’d had any sort of social life to speak of. As it stood, she’d be headed home at about three, free as a bird until opening the doors once again on Tuesday morning.


She’d learned to love the silence. Her ex had been a sinister, angry and aggressive roommate, one she was happy to be rid of. He hadn’t always been so rough, though it was hard to remember the good years after the bruises disappeared. The insistence on predictability began as soon as the door slammed behind him.

With a deep breath, she welcomed three more patrons, preparing mentally for another Sunday of madness. But when her eyes lifted to the parking lot, she found herself grinning ear to ear at the sight of his silver SUV, pulling into Lynn’s lot yet again.


He’d visited four or five days a week since his first drop-in, always choosing the booth closest to the windows and always watching the restaurant operate while texting or scrolling on his phone. Hours passed as he drained mugs of coffee, chatting with Hope as she bussed tables or with the other servers as they passed by.


“Good morning, Mr. Angelini,” Hope smiled, opening the door wider for him. His lengthy brown hair was styled back today with a touch of product, his towering frame clad in a button-down shirt the color of emeralds. “You look nice. Plans for this unseasonably warm Sunday?”


He stepped inside, returning Hope’s smile with a brilliant one of his own. “It’s Tucker, please. And today’s my nephew’s Christening. Figured I’d get a little caffeine to help me through the service.”


“Glad to see you. Have a seat. I’ll be right there.”


Hope retreated to the counter, grabbing the coffeepot before one of the servers could. She looked forward to seeing the friendly face and wanted a little more of Tucker’s time before she’d have to start managing the chaos between the servers and cooks behind the kitchen’s swinging door.


As she poured his coffee, he sat back. “Hope, I have to ask. Do you ever take days off?”


She snickered, laying a palm on the tabletop. “I’ve been known to. Weekends are mandatory in the restaurant business. I take a day or two off during the week but to be honest, they need me here and I need them right back.”


“They’re lucky to have you. I hear turnover in the food industry sucks. How’s the new cook working out?”


“Good, thankfully. Bless his heart, he’s dull as dishwater but he shows up on time and carries weight. Hank’s thrilled to have someone reliable to cover when he’s out.”


“I bet. You never wanted to work back there?”


“Not even a little. Hank’s way too finicky. You ready to order?”


"Not really,” he admitted with a smirk. “I figure if I keep asking questions, you won’t walk away so fast.”


Hope’s peal of laughter was a bit gigglier than she’d hoped for. “Oh, Tucker, if I could, I’d sit and chat all day. You customers are my favorite part of all this. But duty calls. I’ll send a server over for ya.”


She gifted him a beautiful smile before turning on her heels. She escaped to the kitchen, greeting the other diners and workers professionally on the way. His fingernails tapped his mug, his gaze narrowed at the swinging door she hid behind as he contemplated his next move.

*

The Bakers were always the last to leave, lingering until two-thirty before finally heading home for their weekly bridge game. Hope showed them out, locking up behind and turning back to gaze over the cleaned, swept dining space. Veronica lingered at the cash register, balancing the till and humming to herself.


After wiping the specials board clean, Hope ferried back the last of the dirty dishes. Patting her damp hands on her apron, she stepped alongside her senior server as she sifted through bills.


“Thanks for staying late. Those takeout orders really set the kitchen back.”


Veronica huffed. “Set us back, too. I wished we’d known ahead of time. Who calls in an order for fifteen omelets and expects it in ten minutes?”


“Apparently them,” Hope snorted. “We made it. And everyone was generous today, too.”


“Yep, best tip day I’ve had since Labor Day weekend. And you got to see the handsome Mr. Angelini today, too. He only stayed a few after you walked off, though. I think he’s only here for you.”


“You’re crazy. He stops in because we’re the closest coffee spot to his mom’s assisted living home. He makes it a point to see her often as he can. I think it’s sweet.”


Veronica sealed the cash envelope and tossed it to the counter before turning to Hope with a lifted brow. “Oh, please. He could get mediocre coffee anywhere. He’s clearly here for the company.”


“He did say something weird today,” Hope admitted, laying her palms on her hips. “Something about asking questions to keep me from walking away. I figured it was just the same old flirty nonsense we get sometimes.”


Veronica was suddenly fascinated. “Ooh, and what did you say back?”


“I laughed it off, told him I’d like nothing more than to hang out and talk with customers rather than work.”


“But you walked off anyway. Jesus you’re hopeless. He’s clearly interested. We would’ve worked harder, given you a few extra minutes with him. Why not enjoy the attention?”


“Like I said, I figured it was a line, the kind we laugh off all the time, the kind Mr. Anderson floats out and expects us to volley back.”


Veronica took Hope’s shoulder in her warm palm. “Tucker is not Mr. Anderson. He’s easily thirty years younger, drives a brand-new BMW and clearly wants more from you than bottomless refills. How about this? The next time he comes in, I’ll cover the dining room. Have a seat when he starts a conversation and see how it goes.”


“One, I don’t care what kind of car he drives. And two, you think I’d sit with a customer? Not a chance. Besides, I’m still not one hundred percent convinced he’s not up to something. He watches us work, asks about how employees are doing. It’s fishy.”


"It’s normal. Work’s your entire life. He must’ve realized that by now. No wonder he’s so fascinated by this place.”

Hope released a deep breath. Veronica’s logic was hard to argue. “Alright, so let’s say he comes in Tuesday…”


“Which he will. He has the last few of them.”


“Right. And let’s say he makes another comment about wanting more of my time. I’m supposed to just sit in the middle of the workday and chat with him like I have nothing to do around here?”


“Hope, I love you terribly, but you are impossible. Yes! We’re both scheduled. I’ll make sure I’m on time and I’ll cover the floor. Lynn’s won’t burn down in the five minutes it takes to get his number.”


“His number?” Hope’s palms dampened. “I… I’m not sure how to do that. Boy, that’s pretty sad to say out loud, isn’t it?”


“Terribly, awfully, horrifically so. Look, I know it’s been a while. Scott’s been gone, what, three years now?”


Hope sighed. “Four and a half.”


“My God, woman, how have you made it this far without some company? That’s it. I’ve heard enough. By the time we close Tuesday, Tucker better be in your phone contacts or he’ll be in mine.”


Turning toward the door, eyeing the parking spot he often occupied, the head server released a deep breath. Half of her prayed he’d miss his appointment with table one. The other half prayed he’d end the dry spell that made her feel like less of a woman with each passing day.


<3 JMD

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