The Verbecks of Idaho: Harold Miller
Thirty years back.
Harold Miller lounged; elbows set on the bar top, eyes’ scanning Ian’s new bar. The place was nice; clean, open, and full of people. He couldn’t believe Ian sold his small ranch, east of town, to buy this bar. He hadn’t seen that one coming. Not once over the years had his friend ever said anything about wanting to own a bar. They were cattlemen. It would be a lie if he didn’t say he was disappointed in his friend. Their fathers were cattlemen, their fathers before that were cattlemen, going back generations before that. Quite frankly, he didn’t know how Ian could do anything other than what was in the blood.
He peered over his shoulder at Ian taking orders at the other end of the bar. Ian sure had done himself up tonight for the grand opening: brown hair slicked back, collared shirt, pressed jeans, new boots. It was a crime. Who was this new Ian? Harold glanced down at himself: faded plaid, button down shirt, worn jeans with holes in the knees, muddy boots. He rubbed his chin, three-day-old whiskers. He shrugged, at least they were clean –okay, except the boots- and he was showered.
“So, what do you think of the place. Looks good don’t it,” said Ian, strolling to his end of the bar, crossing his arms over his chest looking entirely too pleased with himself.
“Sure does. But the service stinks.” Harold eyed his friend with a twinkle in his eye.
“What?” Ian cried, face distorting with exasperation.
“I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes without a beer in my hand. I was getting ready to leave,” Harold said with a smirk tipping his lips.
Exasperation turned to a grin. “Ha, I figure a Miller like you could use a lesson in patience.”
Harold’s nostrils flared and he looked back out at the people milling about. “You going to miss the ranch?”
Ian’s glowing eyes, dimmed. Harold almost felt bad for asking.
“Today I woke up at four-thirty, dressed, made coffee, and just as I was about to walk out the door to start the day, it hit me. I sold that ranch. I sat on the porch of my new house and closed my eyes. I could almost smell the cattle and see the hay fields.”
“Hmm. I don’t know how you did it, letting it all go. I could never sell. Even if the price was right.”
The two of them were similar in a lot of ways, but the one thing that set them apart most, for Harold, was that he didn’t believe money made the man. Family and heritage did. His ranch was his father’s and one day it would be passed down to his children. With that thought, he pulled his mind into a different direction. Sue. He had been half in love with her since high school. He came tonight mostly in hope she would be here. He’d been itching to see her for days. But so far, he hadn’t seen her.
Harold swung around to face Ian, and tapped the counter top.
“Okay then, Barkeep, I’ll take that beer.”
Ian jumped to; eyes brightening. Harold knew all Ian saw was money signs. He was sure the bar would do well since he only had one other competitor at the other end of town. A little dive called Buck Saloon. Saloon had been there since the mining days and really hadn’t changed much since that day.
He glanced at the door and then his watch.
“Sue coming tonight?” he asked, trying keep his tone indifferent, although, his heart beat faster merely thinking about her. Sue was the prettiest girl he’d ever known. Sue would never be interested in a working man with rough hands like him.
“Said she might. Not sure though, we haven’t talked in a bit. Seems like her interest is elsewhere.” Ian set a beer down in front of him and popped the top.
“Why do you think Sue never high-tailed it out of this town after high school, being the smartest in her graduating class and all?” Harold needed some alcohol in his blood to settle his nerves. Harold wasn’t a man to go after a woman, but the way she’d been looking at him, had him thinking real hard on maybe he should make a move. He just wasn’t sure…
“Hell if I know. Women are so damned confusing. I get the feeling she’s waiting for something, but I can’t get what. Maybe it’s for some old stubborn bastard… who knows.”
“Not just jumping into your lap for a good time, is she now?” Harold laughed out loud at the look Ian shot him. After a second, Ian joined in. Harold took a pull off his beer.
Ian reached over and gripped his shoulder still laughing. “No, but it sure would be nice if she did. But I am not the old stubborn bastard I had in mind.”
Harold frowned and Ian laughed harder. “What?” Ian asked lightly with a full grin.
Harold rolled his eyes, not walking into that trap. Ian walked down to the other end of the bar to a man waiting to order.
He glanced at his watch seven-thirty on the nose and the door swung open. There she was, golden blond curly hair pulled up high in a pony-tail, red painted lips, and a nicely fitted bright green plaid, button shirt with painted on jeans. The green shirt set off her green eyes.
Harold swallowed hard as she entered, eyes locking on his. Not once did she look around at Ian’s bar. All her attention was on him as she made her way toward him. If that didn’t get a man’s blood pumping, he didn’t know what would.
“Hey,” she said, lowering her voice as she leaned toward him to sit on the bar stool. Not here two seconds and Harold already started to sweat. He eyed Ian. He hadn’t seen her yet.
“Here for the grand opening I see,” he said, taking in her every curve.
She shook her head and blushed, gazing at the counter, “Well, I wasn’t going to come. I don’t like bars.”
Curiously she pulled in a breath and met his eyes once more; he saw something in them he’d never seen before. She was nervous.
“I saw your truck out front. I haven’t seen you for a while,” her gaze dropped again, and she fidgeted with her hands she’d placed on the bar.
“You stopped because of me,” he said, dumbfounded.
Her cheeks turned brighter, and she tried to cover them with her hands so he wouldn’t see. Holy hell. He just won the lottery, and he was in shock. This pretty thing came to see him.
Ian spotted her and came down to their end. He leaned over the bar and kissed her cheek lightly. She looked at him and smiled softly. Like old friends tend to do.
“So what do you think of the place.”
She pivoted and looked around. “It looks like a bar, Ian. It looks great, and lots of people turned out. Just hard to see you manning a bar for the rest of your life.”
He frowned at her. “Come on, sweetie. You’re not still mad I sold the ranch?” he leaned closer to her and took her hand. She resisted for a second before allowing him to take it. “So far the night has been great. If I can keep making money like this, I’ll double what I sold the ranch for in five years.”
Sue pulled her hand away. “Yeah, that may be, but what kind of life are you going to have owning and running a bar? Working all hours of the night, and sleeping half the day?”
Ian’s brows pulled down; a confused expression touched his face. Ian didn’t get it, but Harold did.
She stood, eyes now locked on Ian. “Well, I’m glad I stopped by on your big day. I am sure you will be very successful.” She glanced at Harold, sadness shown in her eyes, and she walked out.
Harold played it cool and chugged his beer as fast as he could.
“Well, it sure has been interesting and all, but I have to get home.”
Ian shook his head. “Women. Sure, and tell Sue I said bye since she didn’t wait around for a reply. See you tomorrow,” Ian replied, turning away to take an order from the guy two stools down.
Harold watched Ian in disbelief. Was his intention all over his face? Whatever, he didn’t have time to ponder about it. He stood and hurried out. If he was fast, he could catch her before she left.
To his surprise she was leaned up against the fender of his truck, kicking some rocks with the toe of her boot.
Harold didn’t know why but he stood there taking her image in, she was beautiful with the moonlight shining off her hair. He could look at her forever. He let out an unwanted sigh, and she turned around. Her sad eyes lit up and the most amazing smile softened her face. His breath hitched. One small step toward her and he knew he would never let her go.
“I was hoping you would come, but I didn’t want to believe you would.” She walked out from the side of his truck, with her thumbs hooked in the belt loops of her jeans, looking vulnerable.
Still he didn’t move. Still processing that she was waiting for him by his truck.
She took two steps closer to him. His heartbeat loud and hard in his chest. She gazed at him thoughtfully and bit the side of her lip. She hesitated but then took two more steps closer. She was right in front of him. Her breath mixed with his. His palms started to sweat.
She gazed up at him sweetly. “Do you know why I’ve stayed in this town Harold Miller?”
She leaned into him and all he managed was a raspy “No.”
“Because I love this place, and I have been waiting on you.”
He blinked wide-eyed at her; his restraint snapping. He gathered her into his arms; he held her snugly. Amazement and joy consumed him. He lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers. He kissed her slow, tenderly. He could feel the world move beneath him and he was forever a changed man.