Hank, whose neon-illuminated name graced the roof of the dining car on Washington Street, lost track of the purchase order he was tallying when he heard an angel singing in the alley behind the diner.
O come all ye faithful, the angel instructed, joyful and triumphant.
It was a fearless voice, deep and ringing, pure and low, with an ease about it. This angel loved to sing and her joy burst through the walls despite the pre-dawn hour. Hank abandoned the books and pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen to investigate just as the angel let herself right in through the delivery door.
She broke off just as Come and behold Him rose high in her register, the truncated note ringing around the tiny kitchen like a living thing. “I’m sorry.” She laughed like a big church bell. “I forgot to knock.”
The angel was near six feet tall, in a yellow quilted parka and a sky blue ski hat. She stuck out a broad hand with short, clean nails. “Talia Benson, your new cook.”
Hank recognized her speaking voice from their brief phone interview the day before. He’d been so desperate to get a decent cook into the kitchen, he’d hired her unseen. Handshake dispensed, she shrugged out of her jacket. Gayle would call her a handsome woman, he thought. The phrase brick shithouse also came to mind. “Pleased to meet you, Talia Benson. We open in an hour. Menu’s taped over the griddle. Can you make coffee?”
“Like my Mama never could.” Talia smiled wide and Hank found the corners of his mouth rising too. “I’ll get settled in and get a pot on.”
She revealed a head full of spiky orange hair when she pulled the hat off and jammed it into the sleeve of the parka.
Hank left her to figure things out, and she wasted no time. The vent hood kicked on, and in short order the satisfying perfume of hot griddle and strong coffee wafted out from the kitchen. Hank forgot to turn on the FM radio he kept by the register; Talia was a one-woman Christmas songbook. That voice soared over the clanking and sizzling from the kitchen and Hank was hard pressed not to sing along when she got to Let It Snow.
The last hour before opening ticked away, and five AM meant two things at Hank’s Washington Street Diner: Hank would flip the sign and unlock the front door, and Pastor Hunt would be waiting outside for coffee and an egg-and-sausage biscuit.
“Mornin’, Hank.” Reilly Hunt kicked the door frame to knock gray slush from his boot treads before stepping inside. He chafed his hands together and unzipped his coat.
“Mornin’, Reilly.” Hank tossed a copy of the Gazette on the counter at the pastor’s usual seat, and called back to the kitchen. “Number six!”
Talia’s voice rose up over butter hitting the hot grill in a rich run of Gloria, Hosanna in excelcis!
Reilly peered through the service window without luck. “You hiding an opera singer back there?”
Hank set a mug of coffee down in front of the town’s favorite spiritual leader. “About as likely as anything else she might be.”
Welcome to 2016’s holiday mini-romance! I hope you enjoy Hank, Talia, Reilly, and the folks you’re about to meet. Posts should be up weekdays between now and December 23. If you missed last year’s story, Star of Wonder, you can find it as part of Bannerwing Books’ latest collection, Merry Little Christmas, featuring my dear friends Angela Amman and Mandy Dawson.
Read on for Part Two…