Reservations

There were only two residents of Locke that were pleased by the arrival of the tattooed stranger, for two very different reasons, and one had a great deal of reservation intermingled with that emotion.

William McRae, co-owner of Under Locke & Quiche - the second largest restaurant in town - and recent commerce graduate from the University of Virginia, was definitely concerned by the potential disruption of business should trouble follow West into town. But that unease was overwhelmed by the relief that the talk around town was no longer focused on himself and his co-owner, Leah Kincade.

Will and Leah had met in the sixth grade, the year Leah’s family arrived from Boston to move in with her ailing grandfather. Liam Kincade didn’t last through the winter but the family stayed on anyway, pulled in by the easy charm of the locals and the slower pace of life.

The children did not become instant friends, or even fast friends; it was a relationship that grew by inches, without leaps and bounds. But by the end of their eighth grade they were harder to pull apart than the dodgy cotton candy that was sold at the county fairgrounds every summer.

That they spent every sunny Saturday collecting frogs, from American bullfrogs to Spring Peepers, seemed as natural to them as grass being green. It was perfectly normal that they did all school projects together, studied for exams together, and joined the same clubs. The thought that their friendship would ever take a romantic turn, however, was equally unlikely to them.

The rest of the town, of course, thought otherwise. And they weren’t shy about letting either child know it.

“You’re like two peas in a pod,” Sally Jacobs, the local librarian, would tell them each and every time they came by to study. “Why don’t you forget about school this one time and go have a nice dinner out, maybe see that new romantic comedy that just opened up?”

“Shall I do up a bouquet for Miss Kincade as well?” Benny Davids would ask with a mischievous smile when Will stopped in at the flower shop to pick up seeds for his mother’s garden.

After their high school graduation Will left for university while Leah remained behind, much to the town‘s chagrin, taking various courses by correspondence in an attempt to find a subject that fully caught her interest. Will came for as many weekend visits as his limited budget allowed and made ample use of the free internet connection in his dorm to keep in regular contact.

By the time Will had finished his degree Leah was still searching, having completed courses in journalism, Buddhism, weaving, and French cuisine, to name but a few. The idea to open their own restaurant arrived on a rainy Tuesday as they chatted over hot chocolate in Locke’s only café.

“You could make better hot chocolate with your eyes closed,” he said with a pained grimace after another reluctant sip.

“And with both arms tied behind my back!” she replied with a wink. “This menu is so boring and The Main’s isn’t much better. I bet we could outdo them both without breaking a sweat.”

“So why don’t we?”

Going into business together seemed so right that they knew it couldn’t be wrong. And once they had the restaurant up and running, and money began to trickle into their pockets, they knew that it was time to move out from under their parents roofs. And it simply made sense for them to rent Mary Wallace’s home together when poor old Mary had to move into an extended care facility the week after they had made their decision to leave the nest.

Leah, obviously, was the other resident of Locke that was thrilled by West’s arrival. The reason, less obviously, was that she fell head over heels for him the second she laid eyes on him. Her excitement was unfettered by any reservations and she never was one to much care what other folks thought of her anyway.

Will was bemused by her sudden interest in the stranger but unconcerned, expecting that little would come of it. And little did for the first month and a half after West’s arrival. But then the rumours began to swirl around town that West had taken an interest in Will’s comings and goings and people began to wonder if the newcomer wanted to clear off any potential competition before he entertained Leah’s advances.

“Why would he waste a second of his time on me?” he told his customers with a laugh. “His right arm is bigger than I am - and he’s left handed!”

Honestly though, he didn’t think it was very funny at all and soon the doors of their home were locked for the first time since they had moved in. He couldn’t stop himself from looking over his shoulder whenever he walked down the street, nor slow his heartbeat whenever the bell over the front door jingled to signal a new customer had arrived. But he never found any indication that the rumours were true and so he began to relax.

Until that sweltering afternoon in late July that West walked into the nearly empty Locke & Quiche and asked to speak with William McRae. That was when Will finally realized that he was a dead man.

The End

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