A NEW YEAR, A NEW DAY
"I'm out of here. I've got my phone if you need to get in touch with me."
Crossing his fingers that wouldn't happen, Gage Logan waved at the sergeant on duty, picked up his hat, and headed for the door. As tempting as it was to haul ass, he forced himself to maintain a more sedate pace. As the man in charge, appearances were everything. Even so, all it would take was one phone call to screw up his plans for the rest of the day.
He made it all the way to his car and even had the door open before his luck ran out. Darn it, all he wanted to do was go meet up with his friends to celebrate the start of a brand new year. With everyone wanting the holidays off, his department had been shorthanded last night, and unfortunately New Years Eve was often the busiest night of the year. He'd driven patrol until after midnight. That had been the official end of the shift for the woman he was covering for, but he'd stayed at the station the rest of the night in case things got hairy.
Once the sun came up, he'd gone over to the diner and brought back breakfast for his skeleton crew. Eating had gone a long way toward restoring his energy; showering and changing into clean clothes had completed the process. Because he'd had to work, his friends from the veterans group had decided to postpone part of their own celebrations until he could join them this morning. He didn't want to keep them waiting, but neither would he ignore this particular person's summons.
Pasting a smile on his face, he turned to face his boss. "Madam Mayor, you're out and about early this morning."
As always, Rosalyn McKay was dressed impeccably if a lot more casually than usual. It was a struggle to keep his expression neutral as she closed the distance between them. He'd always been a leg man, and those skinny jeans really showcased hers. Of course, there wasn't much about her he didn't admire, from her work ethic and determination to help Snowberry Creek thrive to her striking good looks.
"I could say the same about you, Gage, but I know you worked last night. Are you just now getting off?"
He shrugged. "Not exactly. I finished patrol a little after midnight. Since Sydney went skiing with a friend's family and won't be back until late tonight, it wasn't any big deal for me to hang around in case I was needed."
"That's definitely above and beyond, but I'm sure your people appreciated the extra help. I hope you're going to do something fun today. As they say, all work and no play…"
When she paused to shift her briefcase from one hand to the other, he gave it a pointed look. "I'm actually headed out to meet up with some friends, but it looks like you need to take some of your own advice. Please tell me you're not going to spend the whole day shut up in your office buried in paperwork."
Her cheeks flushed a little rosy. "Not all day. My son is flying back from visiting his father later this afternoon. I thought I'd get a few things done before I head off to meet his flight. We're going to have dinner afterward at one of our favorite restaurants near the airport."
Gage was familiar with how hard it was to spend holidays alone. He'd lost his wife to cancer. In contrast, Rosalyn's jerk of an ex-husband had walked out on her, but the end result was the same. Sometimes the house was too empty to want to spend time there. "I'm sure it will be good to have your son back home."
"It will although I'm always amazed how tidy the house stays when he's gone." Then she smiled, "Not that I miss having to pick up after him. That boy leaves a trail of dirty socks and clutter wherever he goes."
Gage laughed. "Must be a Y-chromosome thing, because Sydney says the same thing about me."
He really needed to get going before his friends decided he wasn't coming. It was tempting to invite Rosalyn to join them, but he wasn't sure that was a good idea. Not just because she was his boss, either. She'd been divorced for a while now, but she hadn't started dating again as far as he knew. He knew how hard it was to test those waters, and he'd rather not risk their friendship by pressuring her into something she wasn't ready for.
"Well, I'd better get going. The guys and I are going to play pool at BEER for a few hours."
"Beer?" She looked puzzled but then nodded before he had a chance to explain. "Oh, you mean the bar out on the edge of town? Is that really what it's called?"
Good question, one he had no good answer for. "You know, I've never asked the owner what he calls it. Since the only sign on the place is the neon one that says BEER, that's what Spence and his buddies dubbed it."
Rosalyn looked curious. "I've never been inside, but I've thought about checking it out sometime. What's it like?"
He tried to picture her in the cinder block biker bar and couldn't quite bring that image into focus. "Let's just say the interior matches the outside, but the food's a lot better than you'd expect."
She looked doubtful about that last part. "If you say so. Have fun, and tell the guys hi for me."
As he watched her head across the parking lot toward the entrance to city hall, he couldn't help but wonder if he'd just made a mistake by letting her walk away.
The parking lot at BEER was sparsely populated, but that was bound to change as the day wore on. A lot of folks had probably slept in to make up for staying out to celebrate the arrival of the brand new year. Others were planted in front of their big screen televisions watching college football. Gage parked and headed inside to see how many of his friends had made good on their promise to show up for a few rounds of pool, eat some burgers, and drink a few beers.
As usual, the music inside was blasting at a level that threatened to do permanent damage to his hearing. The air smelled of hot grease and stale beer. Those things combined with the shabby interior made it the perfect place to blow off some steam. It didn't take long to spot his friends on the far side of the bar. He'd expected to see Spence, Nick, and Leif, but Pastor Jack was a bit of a surprise.
So was Tripp Blackston, a former special forces soldier who had recently moved to town. He and Gage had crossed paths back in the day, and it was nice to get reacquainted. They'd managed to stake out three of the pool tables. He cut across the floor, ready to try his hand at some eight ball.
Pastor Jack made a shot and then straightened up. "Hi, Gage. We were starting to wonder if you'd found a better way to celebrate New Year's Day."
Gage picked up a pool cue and chalked the tip. "What's better than beer and pool?"
Spencer Lang joined the conversation. "Nothing, except we all decided the second round is on you since you've kept us waiting."
The rest of his friends stared at Gage with the same impatient look on their faces. "Fine, I'm buying, but I get to decide what to order. Soda pop all around."
Their reaction to that idea was both predictable and obscene. Nick gave him a dirty look. "For that treasonous suggestion, we also want onion rings, French fries, and some hot wings."
"Yeah, yeah, fine. Serves me right for being the last one to arrive. It gave you jerks time to plot against me."
He dutifully headed off to the bar to order half a dozen beers and the food. He also told the bartender to open a tab because he was pretty sure this wouldn't be the only round he'd be buying before the afternoon was over.
Not that he was complaining. He liked a lot of people in Snowberry Creek. It was his hometown, after all. But this particular group of men had been there, done that, and had the army drab T-shirts to prove it. They understood each other in the same way cops got other cops. He could relax and not have to watch every word he said or explain why he was the way he was. Spending the first day of a bright and shiny new year with them was as good as it gets.
He carried the drinks back to their corner and passed them out. The six of them held up their beers in silent tribute to those who weren't there to celebrate with them. Then they clinked their bottles together and shouted, "Happy New Year!"
It could be just him, but the beer tasted extra good today. He was a lucky man. He had a beautiful daughter, a good job, and great friends. Snowberry Creek was a beautiful place to live, with tall trees and even taller mountains as a backdrop. The place was growing, though, with new people moving in all the time. He couldn't wait to see what changes the new year would bring.