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EVERY DAY, ESPECIALLY on the busy weekends and hopefully between the morning rush and lunch—before the day grew too unbearably hot—Tara planned to visit the street fair that was a staple in town.
Tara loved the fair and could easily spend the entire day shopping, as she had in years past with her sisters. Artists, jewelers, seamstresses and food vendors of all kinds sold their goods. But her purpose now was to advertise the café, not spend her meager profits.
She’d printed flyers with coupons and handed them out to the vendors and anyone who’d take one. It was working—already her staff said people had brought the flyers in.
Today was no different, and she made her way down the street, taking her time and doing a little shopping along the way.
She noticed that the hunk from the diner this morning was sitting under the cottonwoods in the park. Those broad shoulders made the massive trunk of the old tree actually look small. One leg stretched out across the grass, and he’d bent one knee to rest his forearm on. The soda can looked minuscule in his big hand.
He looked up then, catching her watching him. She glanced away, feeling her cheeks warm. She moved on to the next stall.
Visitors and locals mingled in the square, and it was the perfect place to spread the word about her café. She’d actually toyed with the idea of renting one of the outdoor booths to give away food samples.
But she couldn’t afford to be away from the café for the entire day, and neither could any of the staff. Not yet anyway.
Maybe she should give Mr. Hunk a coupon to get him to return. That would make her staff—especially Wendy—happy. And that was the only reason it crossed her mind, she told herself.
Glancing over at the trees, she realized he’d left and before she could stop herself, she scanned around, wondering where he’d gone. She didn’t see him. Why did that realization dim the bright day? Shaking her head, she dismissed the man and her silly thoughts.
“Hey, Dave,” she greeted the older man who made beautiful tin sculptures. She’d already commissioned one of a squirrel in a chef hat to go in the entry of the diner. “How’s Mr. Squirrel coming?”
“Looking good. I’ll be done early, I think.”
“Great.” He’d already sent business her way, and she left another stack of flyers.
With similar interactions, she moved along the line, realizing how many of these people she’d come to know and now considered friends.
Halfway down the block, she stopped at the T-shirt vendor and recalled the woman who’d come in to apply for a waitress job, the one who’d insulted her, unintentionally, but the woman’s rudeness still stuck in Tara’s mind. Relieved the woman wasn’t there, she was glad to find a man behind the wide table.
She didn’t remember seeing him before. Was folding something people who sold T-shirts did in their sleep? They always seemed to be doing it.
“Hello,” she greeted him with a smile. He looked up, but rather than smiling, he frowned, then seemed to force his lips into a stiff grin.
“Hi!” She tried again. He kept folding.
“Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to ring up.” He moved to sit in a chair beside an ancient cash register. He picked up a magazine and focused on it, ignoring her.
“I’d like to introduce myself,” she said. He looked up and fake-smiled again.
“Yeah, I know who you are. You bought the diner from Daisy.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I ain’t giving out any of yer flyers,” he grumbled. “It’s hard enough makin’ a livin’ doing my own business.” He went back to his magazine. “You wanna buy something?”
She stared at him, surprised. Not now, she didn’t. Everyone else was very open and helpful, friendly. What was wrong with this guy?
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” She wasn’t giving up. “I’m offering a discount. If nothing else, you and your family might enjoy coming by for a meal.” Did she really say that without gritting her teeth? She was fairly impressed with herself.
“You haven’t even tried.”