Tucker: Opening Scene (2.0)

The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Well… not exactly. In fact, the names and basic set up are the only things you’re likely to recognize in this new and (I dare hope) much improved version of Tucker’s opening scene. It’s rough – really rough – but overall I’m very excited about its potential. And the fact that it opens a big can of whoop-ass onto an unsuspecting Tucker, something Professor Lani insists is necessary. “Torture your protagonist,” she says. This is her call to arms. Who am I to disobey? So suit up! We’re going in.

“This year, your brother Jack will be two years from being twice as old as your sister Jen. The sum of Jack’s age and three times Jen’s age is sixty-six. How old is Jen?”

Tucker Smith spared a glance for her daughter as she pulled another pitcher of Coors for the trio of suits at table three. “You’re an only child, the question is moot.”

“Nice,” Emma said flatly. “I’m sure Mrs. Garcia-Shapiro will be totally impressed by that logic. When should I have her schedule your parent-teacher conference for?”

Tucker sighed. “Duckie, you know that I would do just about anything for you, but I draw the line at eighth grade math word problems.” On autopilot, she switched out the nearly empty salsa crock in front of Emma with a fresh one and a new basket of tortilla strips. “I did my time. You’re on your own.”

“Thirteen point six.”

The masculine voice from a few barstools away caught both their attention. It belonged to Sam Adams and Baja Tacos, extra guacamole – a fairly typical order for Ace’s Sports Bar & Grill and not the reason Tucker’d noticed him. He had the most intense eyes, like green bottle glass, that seemed to see right into her soul.

She’d spent the last twenty minutes trying to convince the butterflies in her stomach that was creepy not sexy, but they weren’t buying.

“You’re sure?” Emma demanded. “The back of the book says the answer is ten.”

The guy slid a cocktail napkin over with equations scratched on it. “Sorry kid, the back of your book is wrong.”

Tucker frowned. “Are you a math teacher, Mr…?”

“Josh.” He offered his hand across the bar. “And no, I just like numbers.”

“Tucker.”  Wiping her hand first on her apron, Tucker grasped his hand and jumped at the jolt of electricity that shot up her arm. She jerked away like she’d been burned and tried vainly to cover up her embarrassment by vigorously mopping up an invisible spot on the bar top. “So what brings you to Austin, Josh?”

“What makes you think I’m not native?”

Tucker laughed. “Darlin’, your complete lack of accent tells me you’re from the left coast, the fancy suit tells me big city and your tan tells me somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego.”

“Los Angeles.” Josh thoughtfully sipped his beer. “That’s very impressive, Madam Leota. Do you do parties?”

“Between this place and that one,” she nodded her head at Emma who was furiously texting on her phone, “I’m lucky to sleep.” She walked over and plucked the phone out of the girl’s hands and set it on the bar. “Homework. Now.”

“Mom,” Emma wailed. “If the answers in the back of the book are wrong then isn’t it my duty to tell everyone so that we don’t waste brain cells?”

Josh patted the bar. “Let me take a look.” Emma cheerfully complied sliding the book down the bar. He took a moment to peruse the open pages before flipping to the back where the answer key was located. He shook his head and sent it back to Emma. “Sorry, kid. The rest of it looks right.”

“That’s so unfair.” Emma grumbled.

“Life’s not fair, duckie,” Tucker replied. “Go back to the kitchen and grab some dinner. Mimi and Roger will be here any minute and you won’t see normal food again until Sunday.”

The girl didn’t need to be told twice. She jammed the book into her backpack and was off like a shot.

Tucker was watching Josh watch Emma, amused. “She took the phone, didn’t she?”

“Yep. You have eyes in the back of your head?”

She laughed. “No, just vast experience.” She smiled and nodded towards his plate. “Can I get you anything else?”

Josh opened his mouth, and then shut it again. He smiled, setting off the damn butterflies. “Nope, I’m good.”

She just bet he was.

As if Pavlov’s bell had been rung, the working masses flooded into Ace’s for Happy Hour two-dollar appetizers (with purchase of a full price beverage) and whichever sporting events were being broadcast on any of the dozen TVs mounted around the bar, preventing Tucker from further chatting up the very intriguing Josh. Emma reclaimed her perch and was devouring an enchilada this size of her head while idly flipping through a check out counter gossip rag, totally oblivious to the rowdy sea of humanity surrounding her.

Moving through the decently crowded tables that radiated out from the central bar, Tucker found herself wishing she could do the same as far as Josh was concerned. As a general rule she didn’t date patrons – she didn’t really date anyone – but she thought she might be willing to make an exception in this case. Thinking back, she was dismayed to realize she couldn’t remember when she’d last been out. On a date. With a man. Fantastic. At some point when she hadn’t been looking she’d become a spinster.

She looked up to find Josh watching her with a small frown. Now what could that be about?

“Tucker.”

Her reverie snapped like a dried twig and she winced before turning around. “Hello Mimi. Roger. I’ll get Emma unless you want something to eat before you get on the road?”

Mimi reached out and grabbed Tucker’s arm. She was a small, delicate woman, but you wouldn’t know that by her vise like grip. “Let her finish her dinner, such as it is. We need to talk to you.”

Tucker closed her eyes and counted ten. When she opened them they were still there. Damn. “Sure,” she said. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “Do you want to go back to the office where it’s quieter?”

Mimi shook her head, her expensive blonde ringlets bobbing. “This won’t take very long.”

“Oh-kaaay.” The earlier Josh-inspired butterflies dropped like little lead weights in her stomach. For the last fourteen years Tucker had attempted to follow a strict policy of limited interaction with her in-laws. Unfortunately, owning a business together got in the way of achieving that goal. “So, what’s up?”

“Well, dear,” Mimi said, “you know that when we loaned you and RJ the money to start this… place it was with the understanding we’d be paid back eventually.”

Tucker looked at Roger, hulking silent and uncomfortable behind Mimi. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. Oh god, that was a very bad sign.

“Yes,” she said slowly, treading carefully. “And I appreciate very much that you generously extended the terms after RJ died so I could keep my promise to him.”

Mimi’s carefully composed expression cracked. The only thing she and Tucker had ever seen eye to eye on was their love for RJ. Sometimes Tucker thought the only genuine thing about the woman was the raw grief she still carried for the son lost to her ten years ago in a car accident.

She could relate – she had very vivid and horrendous nightmares about losing Emma. She assumed all mothers had similar fears, but she and Mimi knew intimately how suddenly and irrevocably life could be snatched away. Every single damn day she battled herself to step back and allow Emma to range out of her immediate grasp. Dr. Murray had assured her it was the best thing for the both of them. In truth, she was proud of how far she’d come, especially since that day she’d put her baby on a school bus for the first time and then spent the next eight hours huddled immobile in a sweaty ball of terror on her front steps waiting for that stupid bus to return Emma to her safe and sound.

“This is not about RJ,” Mimi said tightly.

Roger laid a hand on her shoulder. Mimi took a deep breath. “We’re retiring,” he said. “To Bimini.”

“That’s fantastic!” Tucker broke into a grin, immensely relieved. Is that what all this fuss was about? “Isn’t that where you honeymooned?”

Roger smile was warm and genuine. He really was a nice man. Roger, she would miss. RJ had clearly gotten his mellow outlook on life from his dad. “Yes. We always said one day we’d retire there and now… I guess that one day has finally arrived.”

“Wow. Emma’s going to miss having you close but I can guarantee she’s going to love visiting you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yes, actually, that’s what we need to talk to you about.” Mimi had regained her footing. Tucker smiled at her, chiding herself for being so quick to jump to the worst case scenario. Mimi and Roger retiring to Bimini, an island several hours away? Over open ocean? Isn’t that what daughters-in-law all over the world wished for?

Mimi smiled. “We’ve bought a beautiful little bungalow on the beach outside of Port Royale.” She paused and Tucker felt a chill run down her spine despite this very happy news. “The thing is, in order to close escrow we need our money back.”

Back? What money? Roger coughed and moved away to where Emma was sitting. Nauseous, Tucker watched her baby jump up and hug him. They couldn’t possibly be calling in the loan. No. That was crazy. Could they?

She cleared her throat. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Mimi tilted her head. “Let’s not play dumb, Tucker. We both know you’re anything but stupid. You know exactly what I mean. The money we loaned you and RJ to open this dive. I want it back.”

“I still have two years left on our contract.” Tucker’s heart was in her throat. This could not be happening.

“Well, dear, circumstances have changed. You have two weeks.”

Tucker felt her knees buckle and she locked them, forcing herself to stay upright. She would not fall in front of this woman. Ever. “Mimi, I’m sorry but that’s not possible. Where am I supposed to lay my hands on thirty-five thousand dollars in two weeks. There has to be another way.”

“Certainly there is.”

Tucker let loose a small breath of relief. Of course there was an alternative. She had no earthly idea what it could be at this very moment, what with the blood pounding in her ears, but—

“Sell Ace’s.”

“No!” Tucker stood stone still, oblivious to the customers looking on, curious at her shout. “Ace’s was RJ’s dream, you can’t—”

“RJ is dead as you so crassly pointed out. Ace’s should have been sold then, like I wanted, but I let you and Roger and your combined sentimentality get the better of me.” She flicked a dismissive glance around the bar that Tucker had worked so hard to make a success. “I’ll admit, you did better than I ever would have thought to give you credit for. Better than RJ would have been able to do if he’d lived – boy was a born solider, not an entrepreneur. Frankly, I had no idea you had it in you. But you’re a business woman to the core. And now you have a choice to make – let all this go, or buy us out.”

Tucker was speechless. This. Could. Not. Be. Happening. But it was.

“Mom?”

She spun around to find Emma arm in arm with Roger. She pleaded with him. “How can you do this to us? To her?”

He ducked his head and mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

Emma missed nothing. “What’s going on? Mom? Mimi?”

“Nothing, duckie.” Tucker reached out and smoothed Emma’s straight brown hair away from her face. “Just a business disagreement. We’ll sort it out.” She shot a hard look over her shoulder at Mimi. “Eventually.”

“Ok.” She stepped forward into a hard hug from her mother. “You sure you’re ok, mom?”

“Yeah, a-ok duckie.” Tucker took a deep breath. “Call me before bed, right?” If she’d thought putting Emma on a school bus had been difficult, it was nothing compared to letting her walk away with the people who’d just handed her an impossible ultimatum. Tucker managed to wonder if Dr. Murray was still around.

“Right.” Tucker watched as Emma and Roger walked out of Ace’s into the gathering dusk.

“Two weeks, Tucker. And then the slate is clear, either way.”

“You’re right about one thing, Mimi. In two weeks, we are done.”

Her eyes narrowed, Mimi stepped closer. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Tucker said evenly, “enjoy this weekend with Emma. After all, you’re leaving the country soon and I’m having a sudden cash flow problem.” It might be small of her, but Tucker couldn’t help feeling gratified at the look of fear that jumped into the other woman’s eyes. Looked like she wasn’t the only one with something to lose after all. “You should go, they’re waiting.”

Mimi turned and hurried after her husband and granddaughter. Tucker didn’t breathe until the door shut behind her.

She turned around, closed her eyes and counted to ten. Three times. When she opened her eyes, Ace’s was still there, packed to the gills. And she had to make sure it stayed that way. This hadn’t been her dream but Tucker had learned early that the Stones had been on to something – you can’t always get what you want.

Now she just had to find a way to pass that lesson on to Mimi and Roger.

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