Authors: Glenn Stormy
Jonah carefully reached out for Aldrin’s wrist, moving slowly as if dealing with a feral animal. He knew all about feral animals. He had been one for so long, he almost forgot what it was like to be human.
“What happened?” he asked in a low tone as he pulled the edge of the long sleeve shirt up to expose the bruises on Aldrin’s wrist. That explained why Aldrin was wearing a long sleeved shirt on such a hot day.
“I got jumped after work last week.”
“Who did this to you?” Jonah had a very hard time keeping his voice calm when he wanted to rage against the injustice of what had been done to such a beautiful soul.
The hand Jonah held trembled. “I don’t know,” Aldrin whispered. “I never saw their faces.”
Jonah gently rubbed his thumb over the top of Aldrin’s hand. “How badly are you hurt?”
Aldrin shrugged, but then winced when his shoulders moved. “Just some bruises and sore ribs.”
The man was putting on a brave front. There was no way Aldrin could be smiling when something like that had happened to the guy. “Nothing broken?”
When tears sprang to Aldrin’s eyes, Jonah braced himself. He dug the fingers of one hand into his thigh to give himself something else to think about besides the death of whoever had hurt Aldrin.
His eyebrows rose when Aldrin dug into his pocket and pulled out the deer Jonah had carved for him, setting it on the table. It was in three pieces, a horn and one leg broken off.
“Just this,” Aldrin whispered. “I tried to protect it from being broken, but…” The man swallowed tightly. “Can you fix it?”
Jonah’s heart sank at the sorrow mirrored in Aldrin’s blue eyes. How could one little broken wood carving bring the man to tears? He picked up the pieces, knowing even as he did that he could repair it, but it would never be as good as new.
“I might be able to.”
Jonah nodded. He had something else up his sleeve that he hoped would put a smile back on Aldrin’s face. Jonah dug into his jacket and pulled out the buffalo he had intended to leave with his check. He placed it in the palm of Aldrin’s hand and then watched the man’s face.
Jonah’s heart took flight at the bright smile that spread across Aldrin’s lips. Tears flooded the man’s eyes again as they brightened with pure joy.
“Thank you, Mr. Cade.”
“Jonah.” Damn, he had done it. “You can call me Jonah.”
Aldrin’s smile grew bigger, happier. “Thank you, Jonah.”
Jonah tried to hide his shudder at the sweet sound of his name on Aldrin’s lips. “I’m not sure what a snickerdoodle looks like.”
Jonah’s jaw dropped and he just stared at the vision before him. He thought Aldrin’s smile was something special, but knowing he had made this special man laugh made him feel like a king. The sound had been pure heaven and as light as a summer breeze.
“I’ll try to get a picture from Ms. O’Brian.” Aldrin hugged the buffalo to his chest. He cradled it in his palm as he glanced down at it for a moment and then raised his eyes to meet Jonah’s. “Thank you for this, Jonah.”
Unbelievably, Jonah felt the corners of his mouth curve up. “You’re welcome, Aldrin.”
Jonah felt lighter and more…something…as he watched Aldrin walk away after tucking the buffalo into his pocket. There was a little bounce in his step to match the smile on the guy’s face.
He had done that.
That made his heavy load a little bit easier.
At least, until Trudy came over to refill his coffee cup, which Jonah hadn’t even touched yet. The woman had something to say. Jonah could see it in the tight press of her lips.
“You know, they had to peel that wooden deer out of Aldrin’s hands when he got to the hospital,” Trudy said. “And the moment they did, he became so hysterical, they had to sedate him. He was out for twelve hours.”
“The moment he woke up and realized the deer was missing, he begged to have it back. When he learned that it had been broken, I thought they were going to have to sedate him again.” Trudy made a tsking sound that made Jonah tense as if waiting for a blow. “If you are fucking with that man’s emotions, Jonah Cade, there ain’t anyone on this planet that can save your ass from me.”
Jonah’s lips twitched as some of the tension left his shoulders. “Understood, Ms. Trudy.”
He had been warned.
Jonah was shaking his head as he watched the woman walk away. He had known Ms. Trudy most of his life. Before she bought the diner, she had been a teacher, Jonah’s high school teacher. The woman was older than dirt, but she never let anything stop her from doing what she wanted. With her in Aldrin’s corner, the man just might be okay.
Now, if only Jonah could figure out who had attacked Aldrin.
* * * *
Aldrin glanced at Jonah through his lashes. A smile curved his lips up when he saw the handsome mountain man sipping his coffee, Jonah’s smoky eyes watching every move Aldrin made. Aldrin didn’t know what had changed in the last two weeks, but Jonah no longer tried to hide the fact that he watched Aldrin when he was in the diner.
Instead of creeping him out, it actually made Aldrin feel a little safer to know Jonah was watching him. Besides the fact that the man was built like a brick shit house, his eyes seemed to miss nothing. He watched every move Aldrin made, and watched everyone that made a move toward Aldrin. Since the beating, Aldrin hadn’t seen the guys who had assaulted him. He hoped he never laid eyes on the guy dark-haired guy or his buddies again.
Most of his bruises had healed, only faint blemishes remaining, but now Aldrin was careful when he left the diner, scanning the parking lot thoroughly before getting his bike. Even Trudy watched him more carefully now, never pulling away until Aldrin was on his bike and pedaling away.
Aldrin shook his head as he went to get Jonah’s dinner. He swore Buck thought he was deaf. The man never did anything but shout. He didn’t do it in an aggressive manner. He was just really loud. That stupid bell didn’t help.
Aldrin carried Jonah’s food to him, setting the plate and glass of milk down in front of him. “Is there anything else I can get you, Jonah?”
“No, thank you, Aldrin. This will do fine.” Jonah salted and peppered the food before tasting it.
“Can I ask you something, Jonah?”
The fork paused halfway to Jonah’s mouth, the man’s shoulders tensing. His eyes rose slowly. “You can ask.”
Undaunted, Aldrin asked, “Why do you always salt and pepper your food before tasting it? What if it had already been salt and peppered?”
Jonah’s shoulders relaxed. “I’ve been coming here as long as Buck has been cooking. He never adds spices to his food. After all of the bland food I ate in the service, I can’t stand it now. I’d rather eat dirt.”
Aldrin chuckled. “I guess that answers that question.” It also told him a bit about Jonah. The man had served in the military. It made sense considering how he cautiously watched everything around him.
“I guess it does.”
“Is there something else I can bring you?” Aldrin asked. “Some ketchup maybe?”
“No, this is good, thank you, Aldrin.”
“Enjoy your meal, Jonah.” As much as he wished he could stay and chat, he knew Jonah liked his space. Getting the man to talk to him at all was a milestone. Aldrin didn’t want to jinx the progress he had made by crowding the man.
Aldrin went back to cleaning—because there was always something to clean in a diner—and taking care of his customers. He tried to make special trips over to refill Jonah’s coffee cup and see if he needed anything else without being a pest.
Aldrin glanced up when the door opened. His heart beat a little faster when he saw the local sheriff walk in and sit down in one of the seats up at the counter. He tried to still his nerves and walk over to the man.
Sheriff John Riley was actually a very nice guy. Aldrin had met the man when he took the report about the attack. Aldrin couldn’t help but wonder if that was why the man was here.
“Evening, Sheriff,” Aldrin said. “What can I get you?”
The man smiled so that had to be good. “Just a cup of coffee, Aldrin, and a piece of that wonderful homemade pie of yours.”
Aldrin blew out a breath of relief. As much as he wanted the men who had attacked him caught, he also wanted to forget the whole thing had happened. He refused to tell anyone who had beat him up beyond a vague description simply because he didn’t want to relive the memories and he knew he’d have to if he gave a statement.
“Coming right up, Sheriff.”
Aldrin quickly got the sheriff a cup of coffee and a slice of the fresh apple pie he had made that morning. He set both down in front of the man, smiling at him. “Can I get you anything else, Sheriff?”
“No, this is fine,” the man said before taking a bite of pie. He shook his head just a bit as he chewed. “This really is great pie, Aldrin.”
“Thank you, Sheriff.”
Aldrin went to take care of another customer and get some more coffee for Jonah. By the time he got back behind the counter, the sheriff was just finishing his pie.
“Hey, Aldrin, you wouldn’t know anything about three guys coming into the police station and confessing to beating someone up, would you?”
Aldrin blinked. “Um, no.”
“It was the strangest thing,” the sheriff mused. “They laid out exactly what they had done, swore up and down they would never do it again, and then begged me to lock them up. Said it wasn’t safe out on the streets.”
“Huh.” Aldrin’s eyes shot to the corner booth. “That is strange.”
“So, you don’t know anything about it?”
Aldrin shook his head, refusing to look at Jonah this time because he was pretty damn sure the man had something to do with those three guys turning themselves in. They didn’t seem like the type to do it on their own. “No, sir.”
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. They meet the description you gave of the three guys that came into the diner, and they made a full confession to their crimes. I doubt the judge will let them out on bail.”
“So, what happens now?”
“Well, with their full, recorded, and written confessions, you won’t need to testify.”
“I won’t have to testify?” If Aldrin never had to look at those three men again, he’d die a happy man. He still had nightmares.
“Doesn’t look like this will even go to court. These guys are going to be charged with assault, and because of what they confessed to saying to you here in the diner a couple of hours before they attacked you, the district attorney is going to classify this as a hate crime. They are looking at about five years each.”
Aldrin swallowed hard, trying to keep back the tears threatening to spill down his cheeks. “It’s over.”
The sheriff smiled as he patted Aldrin’s hand. “It’s over, Aldrin.”
“Thank you, Sheriff.”
The man smiled before digging some money out of his pocket and tossing it down on the counter. “You should probably thank whoever convinced those idiots to turn themselves in.”
Okay, so the sheriff knew more than he was saying. Aldrin just couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t saying it.
“I will, Sheriff.”
“You have a good evening, Aldrin.”
Aldrin stood frozen as he watched the sheriff walk out of the diner. The moment the door closed behind him, Aldrin cut another piece of pie and warmed it up in the microwave. He added a scoop of ice cream to it and then carried it over to the corner booth, setting it down in front of Jonah.
“Thank you, Jonah.”
Behind his beard, Jonah’s lips curved up. “You’re welcome, Aldrin.”
Jonah didn’t realize until he reached the front door of the Cade Creek Diner that he hadn’t needed to center himself before leaving his truck. He didn’t feel any tension at facing a diner full of people, only anticipation at seeing his favorite waiter.
It had been an entire week since he had seen Aldrin and he felt as if he was going through withdrawals. Maybe it was time to up his visits down the mountain to Cade Creek to twice a week instead of just every Sunday. If things kept going good, he could maybe come down more than that.
All stuff to think about.
Jonah felt a smile tug at his lips as he opened the door and stepped inside. He still scanned the interior of the diner, looking for any type of threat, honing in on all the exits. That trait had been ingrained in him years ago.
After assuring himself that there were no threats to be worried about, Jonah looked for Aldrin. When he didn’t spot the man, he felt a tug of concern. Maybe Aldrin was in the back doing dishes. Hoping that was the case, and knowing that Aldrin would be expecting him since it was Sunday, Jonah made his way to his normal booth in the corner and settled in.
“Good evening, Jonah,” Trudy said as she set a menu down in front of him. “What can I get you tonight?”
“Sorry, honey, Aldrin called in sick.”