Granting Her Wish
She doesn’t belong in his time and he doesn’t belong back home. Could they belong to each other?
Excerpt Granting Her Wish:
Danielle Thiessen smiled like an idiot as she held open the door of the café. The place had been like a second home to her the past few weeks. Riding the PATH train back and forth to Manhattan for countless job interviews during the day while tending bar each night, she’d needed all the caffeine she could get.
She breathed in the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee and cinnamon rolls that wafted out the door along with a blast of warm air. The frigid wind of December in Hoboken made quick work of the warmth, but the cold couldn’t touch her today.
An elderly man in a fedora and thick, horn-rimmed glasses shuffled through the open door. He tipped his hat in thanks and her grin widened. He probably thought she was a lunatic, but she didn’t care. Nothing could bring her down. She undid the buttons on her knee-length, cherry-red wool coat. She struggled with the zipper underneath while she waited in line, only managing to yank it free when she arrived at the front.
“Merry Christmas, Wendy. Small coffee, please.”
“Merry Christmas! How’s the job search going, sweetie?” Wendy plucked a festive red-and-green paper cup from the stack and filled it with the strong Colombian brew she knew Dani preferred.
“Great.” Dani beamed. “I’m just coming back from my final interview. I got the job! I start right after New Year’s.”
Wendy stretched across the counter to give Dani a quick hug. “That’s wonderful news.” She pulled back and picked up a plate of sugar cookies decorated like ornaments. “How about a little treat to celebrate?”
Dani shook her head. “No, thanks. Coffee’s fine.” Treats would have to wait until her first paycheck. Her bank account was running on fumes. She’d have skipped the drink altogether if they would’ve allowed her to sit there without ordering something. Wendy wouldn’t mind, but her boss? Uh, no.
She passed her money to Wendy and dropped the change into the tip jar. It wasn’t much, but Wendy needed the help. Dani wasn’t the only one with shaky finances. She and Wendy worked nights together at the bar and often shared tips on how to make their meager incomes stretch as far as possible. Wendy knew just how much it pained Dani to be in debt.
Just a few weeks to get through before she could rest easy. She’d scraped enough together to pay January’s rent since that would be due before her first paycheck hit her account. Utilities would be late, but she’d worked out a payment plan with the utility company and she’d be only a few days behind.
A knot formed in her stomach just thinking about it. What choice did she have? Thank God those days were almost behind her.
Dani draped her purse over the back of a chair before pulling out her little notebook to jot down some figures. She stifled a groan as she sat, her feet aching from her pretty, but not exactly sensible, boots. She wasn’t looking forward to the walk home.
All she needed was a little break. A few moments to think things through. She wrote down the salary she’d been promised so she could figure out what her checks would look like.
The credit cards would take a while. They’d gotten out of hand once her mom’s medical bills started streaming in. But if she maintained her current spartan lifestyle a few extra months, she’d get a handle on it before too long.
She scrutinized her calculations and swore under her breath. She’d forgotten all about taxes. She reworked her numbers. The new figures made her stomach plummet.
Her head dropped into her hands. She was so screwed. At this rate, she wouldn’t be out of debt until her forties. She shivered from the cold seeping through the glass window at her side.
She swiveled in her chair to locate the source of the voice and found herself face-to-face with the old man in the fedora. She hadn’t realized they sat so close.
“Sure, I’m fine,” she lied.
His eyes narrowed and lips pursed in a thoughtful expression. He wasn’t buying it. “I understand. But, you know, sometimes it’s easier to tell your problems to a stranger.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” She grimaced. “Of course, it’s not like I have any friends to talk to anyway. I’m new in town.”
“I’ve been married almost fifty years. My wife tells me I’m a good listener.”
“Fifty years? Wow. The longest relationship I’ve had was a year.”
His lips quivered but he just watched her, a patient expression on his face, his head tilted slightly to one side.
The urge to spill all her secrets bubbled up. Her eyes burned with the heat of unshed tears.
She sniffed and dabbed at her nose with a crumpled napkin. The rough paper scratched her upper lip. She’d given her last tissue to a mother with a crying toddler on the train.
“I was going to have such a great life, you know? Get a great job. Make lots of money. The works. Completely independent, with no one to worry about but myself. Exactly what I wanted.” The lights in her home would go on when she flipped the switch. No worries. Not like when she was a kid. “So, I packed up my stuff and moved here from South Jersey. I had it all planned out. New York City was the place to be. So many opportunities. I made sure I saved enough money to tide me over while I landed the perfect job.”
“I take it you haven’t had any luck finding that job?”
She threw her crumpled napkin on the table. “Nope. Got it. I start in a few weeks. Great base pay plus commission when I pass a certain level of sales.”
The wrinkles in his forehead deepened as he tilted his head to consider her. “Then why the sad face?”
“It’s not enough. Right after I moved, I found out my mom has lung cancer.”
He patted her shoulder. “I’m sorry.” He’d rolled up his sleeves to the elbows despite the chill in the air, revealing the faded blue tattoo lines of an eagle clutching an American flag on his forearm.
She tucked her shaking hands under her thighs and hunched forward. “Thanks.” She shrugged. “She didn’t even call me. I found out when she ran out of money and couldn’t stand the only places she could afford. She moved in and now I’m paying for a part-time caregiver and sleeping on my lumpy sofa. It’s all piling up and in the end, I’m going to be left with a heap of unresolved mommy issues, not enough time to come to terms with her, and a whole stack of bills I won’t be able to climb out from under for the next twenty years.” She twisted her head until her neck gave a satisfying crack. It didn’t do much to ease the tension in her shoulders. “I swore to myself I’d never live like this again, yet here I am.”
“Sounds like you could use a little luck.”
She snorted. “No kidding. But I don’t believe in luck. At least, not today.”
He smiled. “Understandable. I was young once. Didn’t believe in luck much myself, though it has served me well through my many years.” He winked. “Even let me keep most of my hair, though my grandpa was balder than a cue ball.” He tossed his hat onto the table while patting his full head of silver-gray hair.
She laughed. Sweet of him to try to cheer me up.
“I’ve even shared my luck with others upon occasion.” He settled back in his chair.
Dani stifled a sigh. She sensed a story coming on. Her grandmother had been full of them and they all started with the settling back in a chair to get comfy. They usually ended with Dani asleep in her bed. Well, at least she had an excuse not to return home right away. It would be rude to cut him off.
“I was a soldier. Though not by choice. Dodging the draft didn’t seem right, so when my number came up, I reported for duty.”
Judging by his choice of words and a quick calculation in her head, she guessed, “Vietnam?”
He sighed. “It was a horrible time. I’m an artist. A sensitive soul, my mother used to say. My father figured the army would toughen me up. He wasn’t wrong.” He fell silent, his gaze fixed somewhere beyond the window.
She picked at her cup. Did she want to hear the rest of his story? He’d drawn her in, despite herself, but…
“My tour was finally over. One last mission. It went wrong, of course. Last missions always seemed to go wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
His eyes glinted with unshed tears. He patted her hand, the feel of his skin warm and paper-thin against her fingers.
“I was there for a reason and luck saw me through.” He paused. His eyes glazed over as if he no longer saw the café around him. “We were passing through a little hamlet when Charlie attacked. The villagers scattered, but this little girl just froze. Right in the middle of everything.
“I grabbed her, but we were pinned down. I couldn’t move for fear she’d get hit. I could feel the thud of the bullets all around us. See the little puffs of dirt fly up as the bullets struck.
“My luck saw me through. Or hers did. I don’t know. But we didn’t get a scratch. It ended in short order, though it seemed like forever before I handed that child back to her family.
“Her grandma was a witch, I suppose. Grabbed my hand and started mumbling. I couldn’t understand a word. She picked up one of my bullet casings, a handful of dirt, and shattered glass. She slashed her hand and squeezed blood onto the whole mess, muttering all the while and refusing to release me. When she finished, she filled a little canvas bag and passed it to me. Her daughter told me it was a bag of luck. That it would one day grant me what I needed most.”
Dani pressed a hand to her chest and leaned forward. “And did it?”
He shrugged. “I met my wife before I had the chance to use it. I never needed anything else once I had her.” He scanned the room, stopping at a spot somewhere behind her. A small smile lit his face.
“That’s lovely.” Fifty years and still so deeply in love he couldn’t talk about his wife without smiling.
He dragged a fabric shopping bag across his table, rooted around, and pulled out a small, black velvet bag. He held it in the palm of his hand. “I melted the casing, mixed in the rest and made it into this ornament. Perhaps it has some magic remaining?” He held it out to her. “Why don’t you give it a try?”
She waved him off. “Oh, no. I couldn’t.” She really couldn’t. Knowing what was in it turned her stomach. She did not want to touch that thing.
He slipped the ties open and tilted the bag. The meager sunlight streaming in through the heavily fogged window seemed to brighten and splashed off a delicate, heart-shaped ornament.
She gasped in delight. It was stunning. Intricate silver filigree worked through a beautiful mosaic of red-and-green stained glass. She extended a tentative finger toward it but pulled back. “It’s gorgeous.”
He nudged it toward her. “It’s Christmas. Anything is possible at Christmas. Besides, what could it hurt?”
She shrugged. “Well, I suppose a little extra money could come in handy.” She reached out, at the same time noticing the inscription. Always. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Her fingers traced the delicate lines of the ornament. Her heart sped up with longing. Moisture flooded her mouth and she swallowed. Her vision blurred. She blinked. Red and gold blended and swirled before her eyes until the swaying colors filled her sight.
“Are you okay, little lady?”
She stumbled to her feet, the old man’s voice an echo in her ears. “Um, yeah. I just…need a little air.” She staggered to the door, fingers pressed to her pounding temples. She fell out onto the frozen asphalt.
About Emma Kaye:
Emma Kaye is married to her high school sweetheart and has two beautiful kids that she spends an insane amount of time driving around central New Jersey. Before ballet classes and tennis entered her life, she decided to try writing one of those romances she loved to read and discovered a new passion. She has been writing ever since. Add in a playful puppy and an extremely patient cat and she’s living her own happily ever after while making her characters work hard to reach theirs.