Friday, January 17, 2014
Chapter One of Finally Finding Faith
From Tammy Falkner's site.
Bells over the door jingle as I step into the tattoo shop. The big red flashing sign said Reeds’, and they appear to be open. I brush snow from my hair and blow warm breath into my cupped hands. It’s fucking freezing outside. It’s officially midnight, which makes it December thirty-first in New York City. Of course, it’s cold. One day until New Year’s Day, and I have twenty-four hours to cram in a lifetime of memories. Because by the stroke midnight, the last second of 2013, I have to be done with my list. I pull the piece of paper from my pocket and scan down it really quickly.
1. Get a tattoo
2. Ride a horse-drawn carriage in the snow
3. See a Broadway play
4. Buy hot chestnuts from a street vendor
5. Eat a one-pound burger at Rocko’s
6. Drink hot chocolate on a bench in the park
7. Fix my watch
I look around the shop. There’s a bunch of interesting art on the wall, and a little pixie of a woman approaches me. She’s dressed in a retro style, and her hair is all curled up and pinned like she’s a sixties model. Her nametag says Friday. It fits her. “What can I do for you?” she asks, and she blows out a slow breath. She looks tired and I immediately wonder what happened to her to put that look in her eye. But I don’t dare ask.
“Did you leave Wednesday and Thursday at home?” I blurt out.
Her right eyebrow arches and she looks down her nose at me. I immediately wish I could take it back. But then she starts to laugh. And it’s not a little laugh. It’s a great big belly laugh. She shakes a finger at me and motions for me to follow her. She sits across from me at a table and says, “I assume you’re here for a tattoo?”
I look around the shop. “Actually, I thought this was a brothel. Am I in the wrong place?” I move to get up, but my stupid prosthetic leg won’t let me play around the way I want to. It clanks against the table and I grimace.
“You okay?” she says quietly. Her eyes don’t drop to my leg. She looks me in the face. Most people at least glance at my leg before they jerk their eyes back up to meet mine.
“Fine,” I bite out.
“Well, we can’t help you out if you were looking for a brothel,” she says. She looks toward the men who are doing tats. They’re all big and blond and a little bit intimidating. And they don’t seem to like my brand of humor as much as she does. She drops her voice to a whisper. “The last time I tried sell my body in here, the boys didn’t like it.” She laughs. The men scowl even more, and I wonder if I should leave.
I glance down at my watch. I don’t know why I still look at it. It hasn’t worked since the blast in Afghanistan that took all my friends, my leg, and my sanity. I still wear it like I expect it to start up any second now. But that’s not going to happen. My life is over. Or at least it will be at midnight tomorrow tonight. I glance at the clock on the wall. Twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes from now, I’ll get to finish what fate started. I’ll get to right the wrong.
Friday waves a hand in my face and jerks me from my thoughts. “Hello-o,” she sings.
“Sorry,” I murmur. I heave in a sigh. It’s so easy to get sucked into the memories. The screaming. The hurting. The chaos. I look into her beautiful face. “I’d like to get a tattoo,” I say. “A clock, maybe. One stuck on midnight. With fireworks shooting off around it.” Fireworks. Bombs. It’s all the same thing.
She nods. “We can do that.” She starts to draw on a piece of paper. After a few minutes, she turns it to face me. It’s pretty fucking perfect, actually. “Like this?” she asks.
I nod. I can barely speak. By the time on the watch, I’ll be gone. “It’s perfect,” I croak out. I look down at my watch. It’s what I do when I’m nervous. I don’t expect to see the time change.
Friday calls over her shoulder and one of the men responds. He’s cleaning his table, and he motions me forward. She shows him the drawing and he nods, chewing his pierced lip thoughtfully. “I can do it,” he says. “This is the last one, though, for tonight.” He grins at me. “I have a hot woman waiting in my bed at home.”
“Gee,” Friday chirps. “So do I.” She grins at me.
One of the men, the biggest one, shoves her playfully in the shoulder. “You’re every man’s fantasy, Friday,” he says as he sticks out his hand toward me. “Paul,” he says. He talks to Friday again. “Cut it out, or the man’s going to get all excited, thinking he has a chance in hell of joining you.” He narrows his eyes and leans toward me. “Not going to happen,” he says quietly. “I’ve tried for years.” He motions for me to sit down. “Where do you want it?” Paul asks while the one whose nametag says Pete washes his hands.
I lift the edge of my sleeve. My upper arm is one of the few places on my body that’s not scarred up from the burns. “Here?” I say.
“You might want to take that off so it won’t be in the way,” Pete says. He motions to my shirt.
I was afraid of that, but this is my last day on earth. Who cares what my chest looks like? I reach behind me and pull my shirt over my head the way men do, and I hear Friday gasp as she sees my naked chest. It looks a lot worse than it actually is.
“Sorry,” Friday murmurs when Paul shoots her a glance. She sits down across from me, and her eyes finally land on the thin length of titanium that comes from my shoe. “What happened?” she asks quietly.
Pete transfers the design onto my arm and starts to ink the tattoo into my skin. It doesn’t hurt nearly enough. I heave in a sigh. “There was an explosion,” I say.
“Was it awful?” she breathes. She lays her chin in her hand and props her elbow on a table.
I nod. “It was pretty terrible. Every one of my men died.” I lift my pant leg. “I lost my leg and was burned pretty badly. But I lived.”
“The universe must have better things in store for you,” she says.
Paul snorts. “Friday, please,” he warns.
I should have died with them. “I doubt it,” I say. “I ship out in twenty-four hours,” I inform her. That’s a lie. Well, sort of. But not really. “I’m going to join my team.”
Friday brightens. “Well, that’s something to look forward to.”
Yeah. It’s all I’ve looked forward to for a long, long time.
I want to change the subject, so I think about the list in my pocket. “Do you guys know where I can find a clock shop in town? Someone who can fix a watch?”
The men look at one another and one of them says, “Henry’s?”
“Do you know if they’re open tomorrow?” I ask. “Well, today, I guess.” I have to have the watch fixed by tomorrow night. Midnight. It’s on my list.
“Call him, Paul,” Pete says. He pulls his phone from his pocket and tosses it to Paul. Paul juggles it playfully until Pete makes a noise and then he stops.
“Isn’t it awfully late to call tonight?” I ask. I look from one of them to the other.
“Henry’s wife had a stroke two years ago. They keep odd hours while he takes care of her. He might still be up. If not, Paul will leave a message.” He shrugs. “Worth a shot.”
Paul nods, and I see him smile as someone answers. Paul tells him I have a broken watch. He puts his hand over the mouthpiece and looks at me. “Can you go by there when we’re done here?” he asks. “He’s still up.”
I nod. “Love to.”
Paul talks to him for a minute and hangs up the phone.
“How is she?” Pete asks.
Paul shakes his head. “She’s not doing well, and she’s ready to give up. I think sometimes she just hangs in there for Henry.” He blows out a breath. “I’ll write down the directions for you. It’s right around the corner from here. In the basement of a building.”
He hands me the directions when Pete finishes the tattoo. I look down at my new ink and smile. It’s beautiful. I can cross that one off my list. “You’ll find Faith there,” he says. “In the clock shop.”
“Faith?” I ask. I almost snort. I don’t believe in faith. Not anymore.
“Faith is Henry’s granddaughter. She helps to take care of his wife and works in the clock shop when he’s not there.” He holds up a hand to show she’s about as tall as his shoulder. “Short little redhead. Really fucking adorable. In an I-want-to-bang-the-librarian sort of way.”
“Faith is a girl?” I ask. It’s not some mythical state of being?
Paul nods slowly.
“Oh, okay,” I breathe. I’d rather talk to a girl than talk about faith or hope or God or any of those things I don’t have anymore. I pay my bill and walk toward the front of the store. But as I’m leaving, Friday tugs on my sleeve. I look down and she stands up on tiptoe and kisses my cheek.
“Best of luck to you,” she says quietly.
“Thanks,” I croak. I suddenly have a lump in my throat and I don’t know why.
Pete shrugs into his coat. “I’ll walk with you to Henry’s. You don’t want to be alone in this neighborhood at this time of the night.” He looks over at Paul, who I assume is his brother. They look very similar, but the big one is broad enough to fill a doorway. He doesn’t smile quite as readily as Pete does. “You going to walk Friday home?” Pete asks Paul.
Paul grumbles playfully and wraps Friday up in his beefy arms. “If I have to,” he says. He scrubs a hand across Friday’s hair. She slaps at his wrists until he pulls her back in for a hug. She settles against him and exhales. He looks down his nose at her, like he’s confused. She breathes him in, a smile softening her face. He sets her back from him. “You ready?” he asks.
She nods her head and her cheeks color. “Don’t walk me home hoping I’m going to invite you in,” she chirps playfully.
“One day, Friday, I’m not going to give you a choice about inviting me in.”
She freezes and her breaths fall a little quicker.
Pete bumps my shoulder as he walks by me. “You ready?” he asks. I nod, and stick my hands in my pockets. “See you tomorrow,” he calls over his shoulder.
“Big plans for New Year’s Eve?” I ask as we step out onto the sidewalk. The snow is falling even heavier, and I pull my hood up over my head. I stumble a little in the snow, and Pete slows down. He doesn’t mention my leg. He just adjusts his walk. “Thanks,” I mutter.
“For what?” he asks. He looks into my face.
“Nothing,” I say. Maybe I’m just imagining that he’s adjusting for me. I worry so much about my disability that I think everyone else does too.
“I’m taking my girl to watch the fireworks tomorrow,” he says.
“Tonight,” I correct. I look down at my broken watch.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. He smiles. “Tonight.” He blows out a steamy breath. Suddenly, he stops and turns, and goes down in to a stairway. “You coming?” he asks, when I stand there looking at him like an idiot. “We’re here,” he explains.
I walk slowly down the stairs. Stairs are hard for me, and if he wasn’t here, I would just hop on one foot down them. That’s much easier than taking them slowly, one at a time. But it’s much less graceful.
We walk through the door and step into a basement full of clocks. There are grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks and desk clocks. A train rumbles by on a track above my head, and I smile at the noise it makes.
“Kind of awesome, isn’t it?” Pete asks.
It really is, in a ten-year-old most-awesome-thing-ever sort of way.
There’s a long table at the back of the room and an older gentleman is sitting at it, and he has gears and parts spread around him. He’s wearing magnified glasses and has a bright light shining on his workspace. He doesn’t look up, so Pete calls his name. “Henry,” he says loudly.
The man looks over the rims of his glasses at us. “Pete,” he says. He sets his tools to the side and wipes the grease from his hands. “What a nice surprise.” Pete reaches to shake hands with him, but the old man pulls Pete to him and hugs him instead.
“It’s good to see you, Henry,” Pete says. “How’s Nan?”
Henry shakes his head and gets a far-away look in his eye. “She’s still hanging in there,” he says.
Pete squeezes Henry’s shoulder.
“Well, at least she’s home,” Henry says. He looks at me and points to Pete. “This young man and his brothers came and moved our furniture so I could bring my Nan home.”
Pete looks down at his feet and doesn’t say anything.
Henry extends his hand. “I’m Henry,” he says. “Who might you be?”
“Daniel,” I say. “I’m sorry to bother you so late at night, but Pete said you might be able to help with my watch.” I take it from wrist and hold it out to him.
He pulls his glasses down and looks closely at it, flipping it over. “This is old,” he says. “Can’t say I’ve ever worked on one of these.”
It belonged to my grandfather. “Do you think you can fix it?” I ask. He takes it to a nearby table and pops the back off, appraising the gears inside like he knows what he’s look at.
“Maybe,” he grumbles.
Suddenly, there’s a thump from upstairs and the old man startles. He lays my watch down and goes to the stairs. “Do you need some help?” Pete asks.
“Granddad!” a female voice calls from the top of the stairs.
The old man goes up the stairs, and Pete follows him. They both disappear. I shove my hands in my pockets and walk around, looking at all the old clocks. The man must just repair them. He doesn’t have a showroom or a place to display them. The train rumbles by on the track by my head, and I feel a grin tip the corners of my lips.
The door at the top of the stairs opens and light feet skip down them. I see puffy bedroom slippers and striped pajama bottoms, and I’m suddenly staring into the greenest, most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.
I stumble on the bottom step and he reaches out to catch me. He’s a little unsteady on his feet and he hops, but he’s solid and strong. I have a feeling he’d fall before he let me do so, and that’s an odd feeling to have.
“So sorry,” I mutter. I tug my sweater close to my body, wrapping it around myself. I should have gotten dressed instead of coming down in my jammies, but I just don’t have enough energy to do more. I’m working constantly, and when I’m not working, Granddad’s at work and I’m taking care of Nan. I feel like I haven’t slept in days. I probably haven’t. I nearly got the life scared out of me when Nan tried to get out of bed and fell just now. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. I should have stayed awake to watch her. I knew Granddad was downstairs. He needs a break sometimes, too. He still works during the day as a doorman at an apartment complex. And he fixes clocks in his spare time. And he loves my Nan.
Theirs is a love like nothing I’ve ever seen. Not even my own marriage could compare. When Nan was at the nursing facility, he went there and slept in a chair beside her bed every night, because he said he couldn’t sleep without her, so what good was it for him to sleep at home? I came to stay with them when they brought her home. I don’t know if I’m a help or a hindrance. But I feel better being here, until I do something stupid like fall asleep.
The man coughs into his fist. I must have been wandering. Granddad says I do that a lot. It’s one of the reasons why I’m good at fixing clocks. It’s slow, methodical work and it takes my mind off the rest of the world.
“Didn’t mean to fall into you,” I say. Heat creeps up my cheeks.
He’s handsome. Startlingly so. He has brown hair and deep, chocolate brown eyes. His face is shadowed by beard stubble, and he doesn’t smile. Why doesn’t he smile?
He reaches down to adjust his pant leg and I see the length of metal that comes out of his shoe. I look up to his face and he’s watching me carefully. Is that why he doesn’t smile? I stick out my hand, for lack of anything better to do. “I’m Faith,” I say. He takes my hand in his and gives it a gentle squeeze, his eyes meeting mine, and I might even see a little spark in his dark gaze. But it burns out as quickly as it arrived.
“Daniel,” he says. “Everything all right upstairs?” He looks toward the closed doorway.
“Nan tried to get up and fell.” I shake my head. Nan’s head is still solid, but her body won’t cooperate and she just doesn’t fully grasp her limitations yet. “Pete’s upstairs charming her back into bed.” I laugh. That man has a way with people.
“The Reeds,” he says. “They seem pretty nice.”
I roll my eyes. “All five of them in one room can be a little overwhelming.” I had a crush on Pete for a little while, but then he met Reagan, and they are so freaking perfect for one another that I quickly discarded that notion.
“There are five of them?” he asks. He scratches his head. “I think I only met two.”
I start to count on my fingers. “Paul, Matt, Logan, Sam and Pete, in order of age. Sam and Pete are twins, although Sam swears he’s eight minutes older.”
I walk over to where Granddad started on Daniel’s watch. “Is this yours?” I ask, as I pick up my glasses and sit down on the stool. I bend Granddad’s light toward the watch. I look into it, and, although I’ve never worked on one of these, I might be able to fix it.
“It was my grandfather’s.”
I look up at him. “What happened to it?”
He looks everywhere but at me. “There was an explosion. In Afghanistan.”
“Was that where you were injured?” I ask, but my mind is already on the inner workings of the clock.
“Yeah,” he says and he blows out a breath.
“So your watch hasn’t worked since the blast?” I ask. I’m trying to figure out what could be the matter. Because the gears turn when I manually work them.
“Nothing has worked for me since the blast,” he says. His voice is suddenly heavy and I look up.
“What do you mean?”
“The clock,” he goes on to clarify, but I’m pretty sure he just meant life. “It hasn’t worked since.”
“Mm hmm,” I hum. I start to remove the gears and pieces and lay them on the table in front of me.
“Are you sure you should be doing that?” he asks. He walks close to me and pulls up a stool. He’s fidgety, and he makes me a little nervous now that he’s close to me. But Granddad and Pete are right upstairs.
I look up at him. “You do want it fixed, right?” I ask.
He nods. “More than anything.” He heaves a sigh. “I feel like time stood still that day, and it never started back up.”
I nod. But I can’t look at him. He’s telling me more than he wants to, and I’m afraid he’ll stop if he realizes how closely I’m listening. “Did you lose any friends?” I keep working on the watch, removing the parts piece by piece.
“I lost all my men.” His voice gets thick and he coughs to clear his throat. “Everyone. I lost everyone and everything.”
“Where’s your family?” I ask.
I feel the warm breeze of his heavy exhale. “All gone.”
I finally look up. “I’m sorry.”
He nods. He gets up and starts to wander around the shop. An hour later, I’ve put his watch back together and I wind it up. It should work. But it just doesn’t. And I don’t know why. I heave a sigh.
“What’s wrong?” he asks from directly behind me. I feel the heat of his breath on the back of my neck, and the hair on my arms stands up.
“Nothing,” I say and I start to take it apart again. I look over my shoulder at him. “Are you in a hurry?”
He shrugs and settles down beside me. He picks up a pen and starts to spin it on the tabletop. I look over at him. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly, and he stops the pen from spinning with a slap of his hand. “So, you live here?” he asks. “In New York? All the time?”
I nod. And I keep disassembling his watch. Watches are made on a series of gears, even watches this old. I make sure each one works as I put it back in place. There are no snags. No broken gears. No missing parts. Nothing was jarred loose in the blast. “Yep,” I say quickly.
“Have you always lived here?” he asks.
“No,” I grunt. “I moved here when my grandmother got sick. Before that, I was in Florida.”
“Do you like it here?” he asks.
I shrug. “One place is as good as another.”
“Why aren’t you married?” he asks.
I look up. “What makes you think I’m not?”
He grins, but it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “Because any man in his right mind wouldn’t let you out of his sight.”
I jerk my head up. He gets up and starts to wander around again, like he didn’t just say something profound. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I mumble.
He cups his hand around his ear and leans toward me. He grins. “What was that?” he asks.
“Never mind.” My gaze drops to his lips. He licks his full upper lip, and I have to force myself to look away.
“Something wrong?” he asks. His eyes drop to my mouth and he walks closer to me. Is he thinking about kissing me?
I look down at the watch. I shrug out of my sweater, because it’s suddenly hot in here. “No,” I say.
I look at the parts of his watch, which are scattered all over my table. The door to the upstairs opens and Pete walks down. Half way, he slows down, and looks from me to Daniel and back. “What did I miss?” He grins.
“Shut up,” I grumble.
“Oh,” he breathes. He nods his head and punches my shoulder as he walks by me. I growl at him and he laughs.
“How’s Nan?” I ask. “Still upset?”
“Only that you were worked up over it,” he says. He ruffles my hair with his big bear paw. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he says quietly. “Could have happened to anyone.”
I nod, biting my lower lip to keep from sobbing. Nan has gone downhill so fast. She keeps having these mini-strokes that make her weaker and weaker. There’s not much else we can do for her, except wait and make sure she’s comfortable.
“She was talking about some old clock,” Pete says. He picks up a bag of chips I was eating earlier and helps himself.
I smile. Granddad bought her a funny little clock made in Germany when they first got married. But they sold it when times were lean, about thirty years ago. Granddad has been scouring the internet to find another one. “He’ll never find another clock like that, not one that he can afford. They make crappy knock offs, but he doesn’t want crap. He wants the real thing for her. Or nothing.”
“What kind of clock?” Daniel asks.
“It was a German clock, made with a Black Forest design, and when the hour chimed, dancers came out of the clock and slid back and forth along the front.” I shrug my shoulders. “That’s all I remember about it.”
“Is it rare?” Pete asks.
I nod. “And too expensive for Granddad to buy another.” I would buy one today, if I could find one and had enough money. “Nan used to make up love stories about what the people did when they went into the house.” I lift my brows at the men. “Apparently, there was a lot of kissing that went on inside that Black Forest house.”
Nan and Granddad have always had this crazy kind of passion and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever have that again. Maybe I’m waiting for a love like theirs. I don’t know. I don’t need to elaborate, because Pete’s already grinning.
“Henry was a horn dog,” he sings playfully.
I shake my head, but I secretly don’t want to scold him. “She started to mention it again a few weeks ago. I know he wants to give her one, but it’s just not going to happen.”
Pete’s phone chirps from his pocket and he grins and types something really quickly. He looks up. “Reagan’s going to lock me out if I don’t get home soon.”
I laugh. “You better hurry.”
“She loves me,” he says. And he gets this happy look in his eye. Pete’s settled and happy, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He looks at me. “How much are we talking about with this clock?” he asks.
“Like more than a car,” I say. “Even for a broken one.”
“Yeah, I know. I thought about buying one too.”
Daniel sticks out his hand. “Thanks for the help finding the shop,” he says to Pete.
“Hey, do you want to come over tomorrow night? You could go to the fireworks with us.”
Daniel shakes his head. “I have somewhere to be at midnight,” he says. “But thank you.”
Pete claps him on the shoulder, and then he hugs me way too tightly and leaves. I can hear him whistling as he goes up the sidewalk.
I snap the back onto Daniel’s watch and look up at him. “It still doesn’t work.”
His mouth flattens into a straight line. “I hoped someone could fix it before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?” I ask.
“For me,” he says.
“It’s never too late for you, silly,” I tell him.