Arriving at his planned destination, Jon reached a chilled hand to grasp the door handle. The small silver and gold bells that had been tied to the lever with red and green ribbons jingled in a friendly sort of way when the door was pulled open, and Jon strode confidently into Wintersett’s Drug Emporium.
“Jim! Good morning!” Jon eagerly greeted the older store manager, and good friend whom he hadn’t seen in at least five years.
“Holey cow! Jon, is that really you?” The manager greeted in return. Jim could hardly believe his eyes as he came around the end of the counter to greet his old friend with a hearty hug. Clapping each other on the back, the friends sported smiles as big as the sun.
“How’ve you been?” Jon asked, with a welcoming smile.
“Oh, fair to middlin’, I’d say,” Jim replied.
“Jimmmy,” Jon pretended to growl, “you old dog…come on, only fair?”
“Well, Ellie passed a few years ago,” the manager admitted. “So, life is okay. Now, don’t get me wrong, things are good, just…different without her.”
“I hear you. I’m so sorry. I know how that feels, yet my loss was just that of a fiancée and not a mate whose relationship spanned decades like yours,” Jon commiserated with his old friend.
“Loss is loss,” Jim commented with a meager shrug of his shoulders.
“And life goes on,” Jon commented, sadly shaking his head.
“That it does…just…”
“Different,” Jon interjected.
“Right. So, what brings you back to town? Visiting?” Jim asked, eager to change the subject.
“No. I moved here.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Is this the face of someone who kids?” Jon asked, and with a sort of cock-eyed grin on his lightly bearded face he pointed at his own chin.
“Yep. Sure does,” Jim grinned, chuckling at the good-natured humor of his old friend.
“Well, okay…ya got me there. But yes, I finally moved back home.”
“Well then, let the good times roll,” Jim chuckled. The two men’s cheerful banter garnered them more than one smile from the other customers, as well as a surreptitious glance from one woman in particular.
“Do you still have that dang hot rod of yours?”
“Do I look like someone who would ever sell that beauty?” Jon asked, shocked by the honest query.
“No, I guess not. Does she still roar?” Jim asked, and the woman sighed remembering how the recent quiet of her neighborhood had been torn by the exquisite Lake pipes of that over-bearing stranger’s hot rod.
“Jim, you come on over to my place sometime and I’ll show you just how much she can roar,” Jon invited, good-naturedly slapping his old buddy on the back.
The woman simply watched from where she stood looking at some greeting cards. Having selected one, she raised it ever so slightly, just far enough that she could peer over the top of the card while keeping her identity secret.
“What a jerk,” Alysha whispered under her breath. “Totally not serious.”
“I hear you, honey,” an elderly woman commented as she pushed her small cart past the card shopper.
“What?” Alysha gasped, surprised that her last comment had been uttered loud enough to be overheard.
“Some men just never grow up.”
“It would seem that way,” Alysha agreed, making sure to keep her voice low.
“Never get yourself hooked up with one of their kind. They’re nothin’ but trouble, honey. Nothin’ but trouble,” the elderly woman advised, and slowly she pushed her cart as she moved on down the lengthy aisle.
“Nothing but trouble, she says,” Alysha repeated, with a not-so-subtle harrumph. Still, something compelled her to want to continue to observe the man.
“Good card?” A man asked just then. Startled out of her reverie, Alysha…eyes wide, spun about to see the stranger standing right behind her.
“Wha…what?” She gasped.
“I said…good card?” He asked again, and the look in his eyes caught her attention. Unfortunately, that look also brought the words of the elderly shopper right back to her mind with rapid and startling clarity.
“They’re nothin’ but trouble,” Alysha mouthed the words.
“What? What was that?” Jon asked as he leaned a bit closer hoping to hear what the apparently stricken woman was saying.
“Good?” Jon asked, opting to keep the conversation as simple as humanly possible.
“Good,” Alysha muttered in reply.
“Great. Hey, now we can all sleep well tonight, right?” Jon chuckled.
It was his eyes. There shone deep within those dark brown orbs a recognition of life. There was humor, sensibility, and a touch of loss there that intrigued her, and Alysha shook her head as if to help clear it of unwelcome thoughts.
“You okay?” Jon asked out of compassion more than caring for her as an individual.
“Yeah. I mean…yes, of course,” Alysha answered, blinking her eyes…hard.
“Well then…have a nice day!” Jon offered, his jovial spirit having quickly returned as he walked away. Suddenly, he turned around and shouted to her while walking backward.
“Oh, and buy the card. Eat the cookies! Eat the whole damned package if ya want, and have a Merry Christmas!” Jon offered while gallantly bowing toward her. Standing upright, his smile was welcoming, and genuinely expressed. Turning about, he disappeared around the end of the aisle.
“Jim, have a good day, my friend!” Jon shouted as he pushed the door open, exiting the store.
“I will indeed! You too!” Jim offered in reply.
“Do you know that man?” She asked, with some urgency.
“Know him? Mercy woman, everyone around here knows who Jon Wintersett is.”
“Jon…Jonathan Wintersett?” Alysha repeated the name. “This town is Wintersett though.”
“Yep, it sure is, and little lady…he is the reason why.”
Stunned, and more than a little curious, Alysha’s gaze turned slowly toward the door and the little silver and gold bells that even now were slowing their previously energetic swing as Jon Wintersett…himself, had left the building.