Broken Promises – Part One
Nicki’s alarm blared at 5:45 AM. Reaching for the snooze button, the anxiety in her chest began. As she pressed her face deeper into the pillow, embracing the warmth, she wondered when this searing pain would subside. It was still dark outside. The sun wouldn’t rise for hours and when it did, it wouldn’t hang out for long.
This was why she loved Montana in the wintertime. She could go about her day and then crawl into bed as early as she wanted, embracing her dreams. Dreams whisked her away from the heartache. Each morning, as soon as her eyes opened, it overwhelmed her. Now she realized why they called it a broken heart.
She glanced over to the other side of her king-sized bed where her golden retriever, Sadie, was snoring. Her head was lying on the extra pillow and she looked like a large, hairy person. Sighing, Nicki touched the dog’s ribcage.
“You are a blessing to me. Without you, I wouldn’t be alive,” she stated out loud.
Sadie is the only reason she gets up every morning these days. They go for lengthy walks, no matter what the weather. Nicki, bundled to the hilt and Sadie, prancing along her side, with a tennis ball in her mouth. She’s a superb listener too, and when Nicki’s grief becomes too overwhelming, Sadie nudges her with her snout and licks the tears from her face. Nicki can see she misses him too. Sadie was just a puppy when he disappeared. He had been training her to hunt. If only dogs could talk. Nicki wanted to know what happened on that fateful day, but Sadie was the only witness and she wasn’t telling.
Pulling herself out of bed, she padded barefoot into the bathroom to start the shower. Walking down the long hallway, she bumped up the thermostat and headed into the kitchen for her cappuccino.
“Thank God for automatic coffee makers.”
As she swallowed the hot, caramel–looking liquid, she wondered what this day had in store for her. Returning to the bathroom, the shower water felt ideal as she stepped in, embracing the warm spray as it washed over her torso.
She shampooed her hair, shaved her legs, and scrubbed a loofa over every inch of her body. She did this deliberately to maintain her sense of feeling. Turning off the spray, she grasped for the towel she had lain on the heated towel rack. Drying off, she wiped the steam that had accumulated onto the mirror above the sink with her hand. She stared at her reflection. Her almond-shaped brown eyes had dark circles under them, her cheeks hollowed in from all the weight she had lost.
Her skin, tingling from the beating of the loofa, was pale white underneath the self-inflicted redness. Her wet, long, blonde hair tangled all around her head. He used to love how she looked when she came out of the shower. He would pull her close and kiss her neck until she squirmed away from him, giggling. God, she missed him.
* * * * *
Life can shift in an instant; she realized from experience. Growing up in a strict Italian family, her high school days were spent learning how to play the guitar and piano. Her voice sounded like Bonnie Raitt.
She had moved to Nashville trying to break into the music industry but was unsuccessful. Dejected, she flew back to her hometown, San Francisco. Landing a career as a radio DJ, she built a strong fan-based following with a popular daytime music show. At night, she played guitar and sang in various roadhouses.
It was at one of her night time gigs when she met the executive director of sales and marketing of Columbia Wear. The year was 1999. This woman was so enamored by Nicki’s looks, she hired her on the spot to model their next year’s winter line. The photoshoot would take place in Alaska.
The pay was substantial. Not a career move, but she’d have enough money for a down payment on a house in less than a week. It took a month to iron out her contract and take a leave of absence from her radio gig. Once everything was in place, she boarded the private jet awaiting her, guitar slung over her shoulder, and headed for Alaska.
Nicki didn’t realize how grueling modeling sportswear could be until she was out on an iced blue glacier. The wind blew incessantly. Changing into thirty different outfits at twenty below zero temperatures, while trying to look sexy and smiling, wasn’t the glamorous lifestyle she had envisioned.
The Yurt the roadies set up didn’t help, but it was better than nothing. Her work time wasn’t too lengthy. The sunlight only being up for a few hours each day. Each night she retired back to the bed-and-breakfast. The owners would have a lovely fire going in the fireplace in her room along with a cup of hot cocoa. She thought it was a charming touch.
It was a relief to Nicki when the work was over. She had the weekend to explore Talkeetna before she headed home.
Back in her room to play a few songs on her guitar, she became bored. Wanting a change of scenery, she decided she would go hang out with some locals. She had spotted what she guessed was the neighborhood hangout because of all the rusted-out trucks lined up in the parking area. She decided to head over for a few beers and a bite to eat.
She showered first, removing all her modeling makeup. Dressing into some tight blue jeans and a baggy sweater, she donned her bunny boots, scarf, and complimentary jacket with a hood from Columbia Wear. Braving the windy, snowy evening, the Caribou Bar was within walking distances from the B & B. By the time she arrived at the door, her face was frozen from the cold. As she opened the door to the bar, a blast of frigid air followed her into the place.
The bar patrons glanced over at the door as it opened. Once they realized it wasn’t anyone they recognized, they went back to their brews and conversations. As Nicki approached the bar to order a beer, she saw how rugged all the guys looked. In fact, the majority of them had scraggly beards and overlong hair. They looked older than her, but looks were deceiving.
Grabbing a vacant stool, she removed her coat, shoving her hat and scarf into the sleeve. She set the coat on her seat and sat down. The barkeeper, in discussion with another patron, acknowledged her with a nod and held up his index finger, letting her know he would be right with her.
“What’ll be?” he said with a husky voice, a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth.
“What do you have on draft?” Nicki asked.
“What ya lookin’ for?” he shot back.
“Got anything local?”
“This here’s a Gold Award–winning one.” He pointed to a bear–shaped tap. “Alaskan Amber. Brewed in Juneau by the Alaskan Brewing Company.”
“Perfect, I’ll have a pint, thanks.”
“My pleasure.” The bartender took a pint glass out of the freezer and filled it up with an amber-colored liquid.
Taking a sip from the almost too full glass, Nicki looked around the room.
A decor of dead animal heads adorned the wood–covered walls along with rusted out old rifles, license plates from the lower 48, and neon beer signs. Two pinball machines and one green felt pool table sat in another part of the bar, where three guys were standing around as if assessing the room. A cast iron wood stove stood at one corner with a blazing fire heating the place. The bar was buzzing with conversation and the jute box was playing classic rock music. Each time the door opened; bitter frigid air came screaming in along with gusts of snowflakes.
Grabbing her beer, she walked over to the three guys.
“Need another player?”
Baffled, the guys looked her up and down.
“You?” The tall guy with the missing front teeth asked her as he elbowed the shorter guy standing next to him.
Nicki looked behind her. “You see anybody else volunteering?”
The guy shrugged. “Grab a cue, little lady.”
As one dude started racking up the pool balls, they made introductions.
“This here’s Earl, I’m Jack, and that’s Bubba over there playing with his, I mean, racking the balls.” Earl and Jack laughed as Bubba gave them the finger. Nicki laughed too.
“I’m Nicki, with an i.”
“Well, Nicki, with an i, show us what you got. Break ‘em.”
It didn’t take her long before she cleared the table of solid color balls.
Nicki was getting ready to win the game for her and Jack, calling the eight ball in the right corner pocket. As she was bent over the table ready to take her shot, the barroom door opened again.
She had one eye open and one eye closed as she aimed the cue. As she glanced over the ball, she detected, the astonishing figure of a man. She gasped just before pushing her cue forward. She heard the guys behind her all cry out.
“Aww, what the heck? You had that!” cried Jack.
“Sorry, I became distracted when the door blew open.”
Shouting over to the guy who had just walked in, “Thanks a lot Dean, you just cost us the game and a round of brews,” yelled Jack.
Shrugging at Jack, Dean took off his hat and gloves and sauntered towards the bar. Taking off his pea coat and placing it on an unoccupied stool, he sat down and ordered a draft. Nicki could see his muscular frame through the tight red plaid flannel shirt he wore and the tight, worn blue jeans. Her heart skipped a beat.
His face was hairless, and his hair was long and silver. He had sharp cheekbones and a prominent nose, but it fit his face. His eyes were black and when he smiled, his teeth were white and his lips were full. His chin, squared, with a dimple in the middle. When he picked up his glass to take a drink, his eyes fell onto Nicki. She felt herself blush and yet she couldn’t stop staring at him. Jack was saying something to her, but she didn’t hear what he said. Her ears were ringing.
“Hey, we’re buying for these two knuckleheads, thanks to you. How ‘bout we just split a pitcher?”
Shaking her head, she pulled her eyes away from Dean and peered at Jack.
“Um, sure, sounds great to me. How much do you need?”
Nicki walked over to her stool at the bar, which was right next to where Dean was sitting. Jack followed her. As he drew closer to Dean, he gave him a playful punch in the arm.
“How ya doin’, old fart?”
“Hanging, dude, no work right now. Just fiddlin’ around in my workshop.”
“Got any good smoke?”
“Nothing to write home about, but my next crop will be killer.”
“Yeah, well, don’t forget who your friends are once it’s cultivated.”
“Don’t worry, you’re the first on my list man. I gotcha covered.”
Jack gestured to Nicki, who was getting out her wallet to give him some cash for the beer.
“Hey Dean, this is Nicki with an i. She’s buying the beer ‘cause you forced her to lose the game. Nicki, this is my best friend, Dean Moody.”
Dean stuck out his hand to shake hers. As she grabbed it, his grip was firm. She looked up into his smiling eyes and her knees went weak. Butterflies formed in her stomach, and she stuttered out, “Pleased to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” He drew her next to him and whispered into her ear, “So sorry for your loss.”
She could feel his hot breath on her ear. This excited her. Blushing, once again, as she drew her hand away.