Broken Promises – Part Three
Dean knocked on the door and turned the knob. “Annie, I’m home,” he called out.
Turning towards Nicki, he ushered her into the warm, spacious foyer.
The aroma of whatever was cooking on the stove filled the air. From down the hall, a log swing door burst open. A young woman with long, straight blonde hair, a bulky white sweater, and black leggings with pink Ugg boots on her feet, came running towards Dean.
“Oh my God,” she squealed and ran into his arms. Dean picked her up and spun her around, laughing. She kissed him.
“I’ve missed you,” she laughed.
Feeling a bit awkward watching this little scene, Nicki’s smile, frozen on her face, didn’t reveal her perplexity. Was this woman his lover, his wife, his sister?
Dean never mentioned where they were going in their earlier conversations.
Placing the woman down beside him, he turned to Nicki. “Annie, this is Nicki. Nicki, this is my best friend, Chuck’s wife, Annie.”
“Nice to meet you,” Nicki said through clenched teeth, trying to unfreeze her smile. She stuck out her hand.
“We don’t shake hands in this house; we only give hugs.” Annie put her arms around Nicki and gave a tight squeeze.
Holding Nicki at arm’s length, Annie looked into her eyes.
“She has warm eyes and great bone structure. You’re lovely. Welcome to our home.” Blushing, Nicki whispered a shy, “Thank you.”
“We go way back, Annie and me.”
He smiled, looking at Nicki. She was sure he could read her mind.
“And Chuck, of course, Annie’s husband. Where is that old son of a bitch anyway? In the can?” Not waiting for an answer, Dean walked down the long hallway to the swing door. “Chuck and I met while touring Vietnam, and we’ve been best friends ever since.” Taking a whiff of the air Dean asked, “Am I smelling what I think I’m smelling? Your famous chili and cornbread?”
Annie laughed. “Don’t mind him: Mi casa, es Su casa. Come in, Nicki, make yourself at home. Give me your coat.” Nicki removed her coat and handed it to Annie, as she ushered her down the hallway towards the door Dean had walked through. She smiled at Nicki and asked, “Would you like some coffee or cocoa?”
“Coffee would be great.”
“Come on, don’t be shy; let’s go to the gathering place.”
With that, Annie put her arm around Nicki’s waist and guided her through the swing door.
The gathering place she soon learned was what they called the kitchen. It was a massive room, all rustic wood, and open beamed ceilings with an island bar in the middle. A King Henry VIII dining table with high back chairs all around sat off to the side. Bay windows let in what natural light was left outside with a view of more snow–capped mountains.
To the left of the dining table was a fireplace made from a natural rock encompassing the entire wall from floor to ceiling. Mounted heads of moose, caribou, and long-horned sheep were placed all around the stone. A real bearskin rug lay on the floor in front of the hearth—a roaring fire making it feel homey and warm. The room smelled of burning wood and chili.
“So where is Chucky?” asked Dean as he sat down on the couch facing the fireplace.
“Playing policeman,” Annie said jokingly.
“No, the usual. Someone set some wolf traps out by their trash cans, and a dog got injured, old man Howie’s dog. He called raising holy hell, so Chuck went over to take the dog to the vet and calm old Howie down. He should be coming home soon, I hope.”
Annie poured coffee into three cups she had set out on the bar.
Nicki, who had been admiring all the designs of the room, grabbed two cups and walked over to where Dean was sitting. Handing him a cup of coffee, she sat in one of the rocking chairs facing the fireplace.
As he took a sip of the hot, brown liquid, he looked up at Nicki from behind his coffee cup and winked. Annie stirred the big pot sitting on the stove before grabbing her cup and sitting Indian style on the soft, leather sofa next to Dean.
“Chuck will be so glad to see you when he gets home.” She looked over at Nick. “They’ll take off downstairs to the man cave, and then we can do the girl talk thing.”
Dean piped in, “There won’t be much girl talk going on. Nicki and I met last night at the Caribou Bar. We bumped into each other this morning at the coffee house, and I asked her to come for a ride with me. Here we are. End of story.”
“That’s what you think,” Annie joked. “Spending the night or leaving?”
“That depends,” Dean said, looking over at Nicki.
“Depends on…?” Nicki asked.
“Depends on what you’d like to do.”
“I’m up for anything,” Nicki said, and meant it in a way that even surprised her.
Her observations of the interactions between Annie and Dean were like brother and sister. The way they teased each other, the playful banter between them. What she was witnessing was real friendship and genuine love for each other. She couldn’t help but wonder what Chuck was like in this mix. Was he as easy going and warm as Annie?
A sense of peace and euphoria filled her heart. She was falling in love. Not just with Dean, but with his friends. It was an easy fit. She only met Dean yesterday, but she wanted to be a part of this man’s life. Frightened and excited at the same time, her head was fighting with her heart. She wondered who would win.
The sound of the front door opening and closing interrupted her thoughts.
“Annie? I’m home, sugar,” A deep masculine voice called out as heavy footsteps came walking down the hall. “We have company?”
As the kitchen door swung open, a large, bearded, long-haired man came into the room.
“Dean! You ol’ son of a bitch. What a great surprise!” Chuck shouted.
Dean got up from where he was sitting and met him halfway. Chuck, tall and muscular, had a reddish beard with his hair pulled back into a ponytail. They gave each other a bear hug.
“How the hell are ya?” Chuck roared.
“Good, man, good,” Dean affirmed.
“What brings you up this neck of the woods? Oh, I get it, you smelled Annie cookin’ chili and cornbread from Anchorage, did ya?” he laughed.
Walking over to Annie, Chuck leaned down and kissed her.
“Hey, beautiful.” She smiled up at him.
Turning around, he noticed Nicki sitting in the rocking chair.
“Chuck, this is my friend, Nicki. I was showing her around, and we ended up here.”
Chuck walked over to her as she stood up. Nicki wasn’t sure if she should hug him or shake his hand. Waiting for him to make a move, she, too, received a rib-cracking bear hug.
“Any friend of Dean’s is a friend of ours. Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Same here.” she smiled up at him.
Chuck turned to Dean.
“God, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him, they hugged again.
“How’d you hook up with his mongrel, Nicki?” Chuck asked as he joined Annie in the kitchen, where she was pouring him a cup of coffee. He grabbed her butt and gave it a gentle pat.
“Last night, in a bar, playing pool. I kicked your butt, right, Dean?” She looked over at him and winked.
“Way to go, big guy,” Chuck joked.
“Well, it isn’t what you’re thinking. We ran into each other again this morning at the coffee house. We got to talking, and since she’s only here for the weekend, I thought I’d show her around, and we ended up here.”
“Only for the weekend? Where do you live?”
“California. I’m up here for business.”
“Business, huh? If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”
“Long story short, I was asked to do this photo-shoot after one of the sales executives for a winter sports clothing catalog came to a function where I was playing. Seriously, this one job is a down payment on a house. I’m not sure if I’m going to do this again, but my regular gig is a radio show in San Francisco with WKRPG. I also play guitar and sing at some of the bars and coffee shops around town.”
Annie piped in, “Do you get to keep the clothes you model?”
“I’m not sure, but they did allow me to take my jacket to wear while I’m up here. Guess it’s just one of the perks in the business.”
“What are some of the other perks?” Chuck asked mischievously.
“Honestly, I don’t know; I love my day job. This one is somewhat boring. Music is what I love the most,” she said, smiling.
“Cool. Honey, go get your guitar.” Annie elbowed Chuck. “Do you mind? I’d love for you to play something for us.”
“Of course. What’d you like to hear?”
“Whatever you want to play.”
Chuck brought out his acoustic six-string and handed it to Nicki. She played around with the tuning and then stood in front of the fireplace and began playing a Joan Baez folk song, Diamonds and Rust.
As Nicki sang the haunting tale, Annie and Chuck seemed to be enamored with her voice, as was Dean. As she watched her audience, Annie lay her head on Chuck’s shoulder. They swayed back and forth to the music as they sat holding hands. Dean was so engrossed in her voice; he had closed his eyes, rocking his chair to the rhythm.
When the song was over, they all clapped. Annie got up and hugged Nicki.
“That was beautiful. I love that song. It brings back lots of wonderful memories.”
Annie went back over to Chuck and sat on his lap.
“Can you believe these two?” Dean directed his question to Nicki. “Married fifteen years and still on their honeymoon. They give me hope.”
Annie jumped off Chuck’s lap and headed towards the stove. “Who’s hungry? Let’s eat. Wine anyone?”
The two guys started whining. Annie threw a dish towel towards them. Nicki laughed as she set the table while Annie got everything else prepared for dinner. The conversation at the table was about hunting, fishing, and trap setting.
After dinner, the girls did the cleanup, and Annie made some tea. The guys, as she had predicted earlier, went downstairs after excusing themselves. Nicki stoked the fire and sat in one of the rocking chairs, sipping on the last of the red wine they had with dinner. Annie sat across from her in the other rocking chair.
“I’m so glad Dean brought you here to meet us. Usually, when he comes up, he and Chuck are engaged in conversation for hours, and I get lots of reading done. It’s nice to have some female company. So now, you have to tell me what’s going on? Dean never brings anyone up here, so I’m surprised, in a good way, that he brought you. Something’s up. He’s so secretive. Of course, he’s probably telling Chuck everything,” she babbled on. “Are you leaving on Monday?”
“Yes, to your last question,” Nicki said. “I think…” she murmured, more to herself.
Unable to get over the feeling of how genuine Alaskan’s were, Nicki knew in her heart Annie, and she would be best of friends. The wine they had been drinking, the warmth of the room, the crackling of the fireplace, all set the stage for Nicki to pour her heart out.
“Well, let’s see. Where do I start?” Nicki began.