Sarah had always been a go-getter. Sometimes people described her nicely as goal oriented, competitive and task driven; others would simply say she was a bull in a china shop, stubborn, and unable to take no for an answer. She agreed with both. She sometimes tried too hard to get what she wanted, and she sometimes left a path behind her she wasn’t sure she wanted to travel back down.
She liked to have fun, she liked to party, and she loved having people around her. The more the merrier, and she had made some great friends on the social scene back home. She even met Malcom, the wild boy who stole her heart. They started dating the night they met, and they quickly fell in love.
Then Malcom fell in love with drugs. He changed. His behavior became erratic, and eventually it started to scare her. He had a fascination with fire, which was helpful when they attended a bonfire, or hot when he lit a room full of candles for her, but in their final argument, he used those candles to light the curtains on fire. The fire quickly escalated, consuming the entire room, but they both made it out unharmed. She never went back.
And she didn’t plan to now, either.
She had been driving across the country, looking for somewhere to start new. She had driven hundreds of miles before she found this sweet little town settled in the prairies of the Rockies. The landscape midsummer was unbeatable, as if it was plucked straight out of a magazine, and it called to a sleeping part of her soul. The mountains peaked high into the clouds all around, and the prairies were blossoming with wild flowers. Ranches were set up systematically across the flat plains, and the center had a small town.
She had been driving for what must have been hours, thinking she would get there any second. The plains were deceiving, and when she finally reached the heart of the small town just after dark, she was exhausted from the long drive. Three days of sleeping in her car, and she just wanted a drink.
She may not have brought much cash with her, but she had enough to buy a mojito. She walked through the doors of the old worn out saloon and sidled up to the bar. The place was hopping. There were couples out on the dance floor, singles flirting along the edges, and drunks trying to keep themselves upright in the bar stools. As she waited to place her order, one grabbed for her ass. She grabbed his hand, bent his pinky back hard and told him in no uncertain terms to keep his hands to himself.
The bartender eventually made his way out of the kitchen and scanned the bartop. He called out a name, set a burger basket on the counter for a customer, and then took drink orders from those up front. He put money in the till, started tabs, took orders, and went back into the kitchen to cook some more.
She fought off advances from nearly every single male in the room it seemed, and maybe a few that weren’t single before the cook/bartender came back out. He called out another couple of orders and took a few more drink requests. After nearly twenty minutes it was her turn, and she finally caught his eye. He took her order. “New to town?” he asked, his voice friendly but frenzied.
“Just arrived.” She announced. Better to keep the details to herself. “Looks like you’re a little short staffed tonight?”
His face echoed her thoughts. “Yep. Laura Jane made it two whole shifts before she decided this was enough, and the beautiful waitress I had before that is not quite feeling up to the task at the moment.”
“I’m here, want some help?” she tried to get him to say yes, thinking this would be a quick way to make a few bucks.
He gave her a harried look, “I think I’ll manage on my own, thanks toots.”
Toots. Really? She hadn’t heard anyone except her grandmother use that word.
He gave her the drink she ordered and headed back to the kitchen. She looked around the place as she sipped her poorly made concoction. It took less than two minutes for another line to start at the bar.
Maybe she would always be the bull. She watched the older man behind the bar frantically flip burgers and dump fries into the deep fryer way back in the kitchen and decided she needed to step in. She hopped over the bar and took a few orders. She charged prices she was familiar with back home, mixed things up the way she liked them back in the city, and put every penny she made in the till. She set her tips aside as well, in case he accused her of any wrong doing when he came back out.
He did come back out. When she saw him out of the corner of her eye, she braced herself for whatever would happen next.
Fearing the Flames, p. 1