I flipped the sign on the door, so the word Closed faced the sidewalk, but I leaped back when a face loomed over me from the other side. It was Taylor, the hotshot crew guy and piss-poor tipper. Before my brain had time to stop my expression, I narrowed my eyes and sneered.
Taylor held out his hands, his voice muffled from the glass. “I know. Hey, I’m sorry. I was going to leave cash, but we were called out, and I forgot. I should have known better than to come into town while we were on call, but I was sick of the food at the hotel.”
I barely recognized him without the seven layers of grime. Wearing clean clothes, he could have been mistaken for someone I might actually find attractive.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, turning for the kitchen.
Deliberately slow, I faced him, craning my neck. “Lady?” I nearly spit the word.
Taylor lowered his hands and then shoved them in his pockets. “Just open the door, so I can tip you. You’re making me feel bad.”
“You should!” I spun around in a huff to see Phaedra, Chuck, and Kirby behind me, all far too amused with the situation. “A little help here?”
They all shared the same smug expression, and I rolled my eyes, facing Taylor once again.
“I appreciate the gesture, but we’re closed,” I said.
“Then I’ll tip you double when I come back.”
“Maybe I could, uh … take you out to dinner? Kill two birds with one stone.”
Taylor glanced from one side to the other. Passersby were beginning to slow, so they could watch our exchange.
He puffed out a laugh. “You’re acting like I’m a weapons-grade asshole here. I mean, I might be—a little. But you … you’re … distracting.”
“Oh, so it’s my fault you didn’t leave a tip?” I asked, touching my chest.
I glared at him. “You’re not an asshole. You’re a cunt rag.”
Taylor’s mouth slowly turned up into a broad grin, and he pressed both palms against the glass. “You’ve gotta go out with me now.”
“Get the hell out of here,” I said.
I reached up and switched off the outside light, leaving Taylor in the dark. The mop and yellow bucket I’d just filled with soapy hot water before I had been so rudely interrupted was still waiting.
Phaedra clicked her tongue at me and then took my place at the front door, turning the key in the lock until it clicked before letting the metal fall into her apron. Chuck ducked into the kitchen while Kirby and I cleaned the dining area.
Kirby shook her head as she swept under table six. “You’re going to regret that.”
“Doubtful.” I reached into my apron and popped a large chunk of bubble gum into my mouth.
Kirby’s face fell. I couldn’t tell if she felt sorry for me or if she was just tired of arguing.
My trusty old earbuds fit snugly into my ears, and the lead singer of Hinder crooned through the wires running from my cell phone as I pushed the mop around on the tiled floor. The wooden handle would usually leave at least one splinter in my hand a night, but I would be glad to have that rather than mandatory three-days-a-week piano lessons. It was preferable to reporting my whereabouts every few hours or else risking public reprimand and far better than going to med school.
I loathed being sick or being around the sick, bodily fluids, and physiology in its most basic form. The only people who thought it would be a good idea for me to go to med school were my asshole parents.
During the two-second pause after “The Life” ended, I could hear knocking on the glass panes that made up the front wall of The Bucksaw Café. I looked up and froze, pulling on each wire hanging from my ears.
Dr. William Fairchild, the former mayor of Colorado Springs, was standing on the sidewalk, tapping his knuckles again even though I was looking right at him.
“I see him … and her,” I said, narrowing my eyes at the petite blonde nearly hidden behind the portly doctor.
Phaedra immediately went to the front door and jammed the key in the lock, twisting it. She pulled but didn’t welcome the people standing on the sidewalk. “Hello there, Dr. Fairchild. We weren’t expecting you.”
He thanked her, taking off his cowboy hat, before attempting to walk inside. “Just needed to speak to Falyn.”
Phaedra put her hand on the doorjamb, barring him from taking another step. “Sorry, William. Like I said, we weren’t expecting you.”
William blinked once and then glanced back at his wife.
“Falyn,” she said, peering over her husband’s broad shoulder.
She was wearing an expensive gray sheath dress with matching shoes. By her attire and his suit and tie, I guessed they had come downtown to meet someone for dinner.
She sidestepped, so she could face me head-on. “Do you have time to talk?”
“No.” I blew a large bubble and let it snap back.
The double doors swung open, and Chuck arrived from the kitchen, his hands and forearms still wet and covered in suds. “Dr. Fairchild,” he said. “Blaire.”
Blaire wasn’t pleased. “Also Dr. Fairchild,” she said, attempting to sound casual but failing.
“No disrespect,” Chuck began, “but you can’t come here, unannounced. I think you know that. Now, why don’t you call the next time? It would cause less stress for everyone.”
Blaire’s eyes targeted Chuck. She was already planning on making him regret standing up to her.
“There’s a young man outside. Is he here to see you?” William asked.
I dropped the mop and rushed past Phaedra and my parents to see Taylor standing with his hands stuffed into his jeans pockets, leaning against the corner of the building, just beyond the glass wall.
“What are you still doing here?” I asked.
Taylor stood up straight and opened his mouth to speak.
William pointed to him. “Is he one of those damn provisional Land Management trash?”
The redness in William’s cheeks and the sudden gloss in his eyes filled me with a satisfaction only true spite could produce.
Taylor took a few steps in our direction, completely undeterred by William’s anger. “This must be your dad.”
I chomped the wad of gum in my mouth, annoyed with the unexpected introduction.
Blaire looked away in disgust. “Really, Falyn, you look like a cow chewing its cud.”
Blowing a large bubble and letting it snap back into my mouth was the only response I could muster.
Taylor held out his hand with confidence. “Taylor Maddox, sir. US Forest Service trash.”
The hotshot lifted his chin, likely thinking this would impress the pompous ass standing in front of him.
Instead, William shifted his weight, incensed. “A vagrant. Just when I thought you couldn’t sink any lower. Christ, Falyn.”
Taylor pulled his hand back, again shoving it into his jeans pocket. His jaw tightened as he was clearly trying to resist the urge to retort.
“Bill,” Blaire warned, checking to see who was within earshot. “Not the time or the place.”
“I prefer the term seasonal,” Taylor said. “I’m with the Alpine Hotshot Crew, stationed just up at Estes Park.”