Home > Beautifully Cruel

Beautifully Cruel
Author: J.T. Geissinger

1

 

 

Tru

 

 

“Your big bad wolf is back again.”

I look up from the coffee machine as my co-worker Carla pauses beside me, nudging me with her elbow and speaking under her breath. I don’t need to turn and follow her gaze across the diner to know who she’s talking about. The nickname and the sudden spike in my pulse are proof enough.

It’s been seven weeks since the man in black last came in. Seven weeks since I’ve seen that thick dark hair, those big rough hands, those expensive Armani suits that do nothing to gentrify him.

You can try to dress up a lion all you want, but it’ll still be obvious that he’s king of the jungle.

“He’s not mine,” I say in the same low tone, watching coffee drip slowly into the glass carafe and feeling my heartbeat in every part of my body.

It’s difficult not to turn around and look at him.

Difficult, but not surprising. I’ve never known another man I enjoy looking at more.

Carla scoffs. “He’s been sitting at the same table in your section for a year, Tru.”

Eleven months. But who’s counting?

“If it’s your day off when he comes in, he leaves. He’s shot down every other waitress who’s tried to flirt with him—including me, and these boobs never fail—and he damn sure doesn’t come here for the food.”

She makes a face at the plate in her hand. Grease oozes from a pile of corned beef hash, yellow as phlegm, already congealing. Buddy’s All Night Diner isn’t known for the quality of its fare.

“He doesn’t talk to me, either, except to order his coffee.”

Carla rolls her eyes. “Please. The man talks plenty loud with those big bad wolf eyes of his. One of these days, he’s gonna gobble you up like Red Riding Hood’s grandma.”

I smile, shaking my head. “Sure. He’s just waiting for the perfect full moon, right?”

She tilts back her head and makes a soft owOooo wolf cry toward the ceiling.

“Go away, crazy person. I’m trying to work here.”

Hips swinging, she moves away to deliver the hash to the bald guy at table twelve. I take a moment to breathe and attempt to steady my nerves, then I grab a mug from the shelf over the coffee machine and head toward the wolf’s table.

He’s waiting.

Watching me.

Unsmiling as always, with burning dark eyes and the kind of focus and stillness I’ve only ever seen in documentaries of big cats as they lie in wait in tall grasses for a gazelle to pass.

This is always how he looks at me: in hunger and silence. But unlike an African cat on the prowl, the wolf’s gaze holds something wary underneath. A kind of enforced restraint.

His hands are spread flat on the scarred table top as he watches me approach, as if that’s his way of keeping control of them.

Concentrating on appearing nonchalant, I stop at his tableside, set the mug down, and pour him a coffee. He likes it the same way he seems to like everything else: black.

I say shyly, “Hi. It’s nice to see you again.”

Yay me, keeping my voice even despite the butterflies in my stomach and the lump in my throat. Though I’ve never shared an actual conversation with him, the man has always been hell on my nerves.

He murmurs, “It’s nice to be seen.”

Oh, that Irish brogue. I’d almost forgotten how delicious it is. Rich and throaty, with a rumble to it like a purr. Suppressing a shiver, I glance up and give him a tentative smile.

He doesn’t return it.

As is my custom whenever he visits, I indulge myself with an inventory of his visible tattoos. One decorates each knuckle of his left hand. Stars. A crown. A knife plunged through a skull. Another one is a black square that looks like it might be covering something else. These fascinate me, as does the tip of the tattoo peeking above the collar of his starched white dress shirt.

I find this collection of ink interesting and mysterious, like him.

Deciding today will be the day we’ll finally have a conversation, I gather my courage and take another steadying breath. “Beautiful weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

I tried to imbue the comment with light sarcasm—which would’ve been apropos considering how bad the weather is—but it came out heavy and flat, like a brick dropped onto the table between us.

The wolf gazes at me in inscrutable silence. The smallest furrow appears between his dark brows.

My cheeks heat with embarrassment. Just when I’m about to turn and leave, he says suddenly, “I love when it rains in the city. It reminds me of home.”

Judging by the look on his face, he wasn’t expecting that, either.

I ask tentatively, “Home is Ireland?”

He hesitates, as if deciding whether or not to answer. Then he simply nods.

I imagine rolling moors thick with purple tufts of heather, gray fingers of fog creeping through the ruins of medieval castles, charming little houses scaling the shores of a seaside cliff.

A big black wolf howling under a full moon.

Examining my expression with sharp eyes, he says, “Have you been to the old country?”

“No.”

“If you like wild places, you should go.”

I blurt, “I do love wild places. And wild things.”

Holding my gaze, the wolf says softly, “Do you.”

It isn’t a question. He says it as if he’s mulling it over. Considering what types of wild things I might particularly enjoy.

So of course, because I’m flustered, I start to babble.

“I meant I’m used to wild places. I’m from one. Little tiny town in Texas in the middle of nowhere where the sky is so blue it’s blinding and the plains stretch out into forever and there’s a million things that can kill you, from tornadoes to scorpions to venomous snakes to your half-blind, half-drunk hillbilly cousin who likes to practice target shooting in his backyard on Sunday after church when the family comes over for lunch and you’re wearing the fake fur coat your granny got you for Christmas that has an unfortunate resemblance to a deer.”

In the wake of that horrifying speech, all the little noises in the diner seem painfully loud. The rain on the roof sounds like a hail of bullets.

The wolf stares at me, rapt.

He’s never seen such a train wreck before.

“Well,” I say brightly. “I’ll leave you to your coffee. Cheerio!”

Cheeks burning, I hurry back into the kitchen. Unfortunately, it’s an open style format, so patrons can see straight through past the front counter to the grill and meal prep area beyond. I have to round the corner to the back where the big walk-in cooler is so I can cry in private.

Diego, the short order cook, sends me a questioning look as I sail past.

Carla finds me thirty seconds later, standing there whimpering with the coffee pot still clutched in my hand.

She says, “What are you doing?”

“Praying for a brain aneurism. Unless that’s painful, then I’ll settle for some kind of natural disaster that will kill me quickly and leave a decent-looking corpse.”

Carla thinks for a moment. “I’d say a flash flood, but you’d have a lot of bloating.”

“Plus, drowning would be too scary. What’s more peaceful than that?”

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