Forgotten Trails(4)

By: Bonnie R. Paulson

“Start with your lists, ‘Chiah.” The corner of the tattered notebook she kept her information in poked from beneath her scrunched pillow. She grasped it, yanking the spiral bound mess fully from its hiding place.

In North Fork, Wyoming, she had a bunch of questions to ask. She'd driven in late the night before and couldn't ask anything. Opting to sleep in her car under the trees, she didn’t have the lay of the land yet. But now she was there and ready to check things out.

The only place open that early would be a café or a diner.

She crawled over her version of furniture, huffing as she settled into the front driver’s seat. How sad that her dashboard doubled as a table.

In the cold, she would welcome the chance to turn on the heater as she drove further into town.

She turned the old motor over, wincing as the belt whined. She didn't have time to tighten it.

Rachiah liked working on engines and motors and other car stuff. Her biological father had been a mechanic on the reservation until he left. At least that's what her Mima told her.

The small town North Fork Diner claimed the southern corner of Main Street. She parked a half a block away to keep her options open. She could walk the short distance in the early morning light.

She zipped her jacket against the fall air, brisk at the higher elevation. Even with the trees around her and the promise of a warm day, the night had been unforgiving, dropping many degrees into a very chilly, very frosty temperature. Her car had held the warmth better than she’d thought it would.

Tucking her hands into her jeans pockets, she lengthened her stride as she tackled the uneven concrete sidewalk toward the diner.

A neon “open” sign above the glass door zipped on. The red light glowed bright in the wakening morning. She pushed the doors open, triggering bells to jingle.

As if out of nowhere – Rachiah certainly hadn't seen them on the street – a group of five or six older men walked in behind her, quietly brooding. They all claimed seats as if preassigned at the counter.

An older with gray hair peeking out from under a worn republican hat poked his finger at the empty mugs already in place. “Marla?”

The waitress, her hair tight in a French braid, with a polo T-shirt as her uniform, approached them with a carafe of coffee. “You guys got here just in time. Fresh off the burner.”

“Marla, you know we don't like to talk until our second cup.” Another man on the far end hunkered over his mug as the steam rose from the freshly poured coffee, blurring the dark edges of his eyebrows and the hulking mass of his nose.

Rachiah wouldn't close her eyes, even though she desperately wanted to as she breathed in the aroma of the richly brewed drink. Coffee. One of her favorite scents on earth.

She tucked her hand into her pocket, feeling for any change that might have been left there.

Eighty-two cents. That's all she had. The rest of her money was in larger bills she didn't have the courage to break. She only had fifty dollars to her name. If she spent those, she wouldn't have the gas to get home.

She approached the cash register area slowly, hesitant to interrupt the familiar exchange between the customers and the waitress.

The waitress looked over, her hand on her hip. “What can I get you, honey?”

Rachiah shifted on the clean linoleum. She shot a nervous glance at the watching men and cleared her throat before speaking. “I'm looking for a man named Jeffrey Howard? I was told I could find him here. In North Fork.”

The waitress shook her head, as she considered the name. “I don't know anyone by that name. Gentlemen?” She looked to the men at the counter. Some of them didn't even open their eyes to acknowledge they'd heard Marla.

Except the one on the end with the admitted addiction to coffee, opened one eye and peered down at Rachiah. He elbowed the man next to him and spoke with a slight slur. “Isn't that the new handyman's name? Ratchet’s? I thought I heard him say that when he was in the interview. Over at Cook’s Automotive.” The man pointed at Rachiah. “They don't open until nine. But he’ll be down there. Ratchet. I'm pretty sure that's the guy.”

The air left her lungs in a whoosh and she gripped the edge of the counter to her left and blinked past the black and red spots swirling in her vision. Grandpa had said that Rachiah’s name was the closest Jewel, Rachiah’s mom, could get to Ratchet.

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