Introducing Lincoln Merriweather and Noel Simmons from ‘Lincoln’s Park’
Okay, so! Lincoln’s Park got accepted by Dreamspinner Press. We’ll start edits in March, but I thought I’d introduce you to the characters so you know what to expect. (Please keep in mind this is completely unedited.) OH! And the incredible Reese Dante will be doing the cover. 🙂
Lincoln Merriweather leaned over the counter, scrubbing at a particularly stubborn spot. It may have been dried egg from where Gary had sat, seeing as how he could be kind of a slob. Either way, he tipped well, seemed to love the food, and was always good for a story about the good old days, back before the gentrification of the surrounding area brought in the yuppies, preppies, and, according to Gary, other undesirable elements.
It didn’t matter to Lincoln. He loved the place. It was a balm for his battered soul, and he got a great sense of accomplishment every day he opened, and it carried him through until close when he dragged his tired ass upstairs and crawled into the tub.
A quick check of the sunrise chicken clock on the wall told Linc that the lunch rush should be starting soon. He finally got the gunk off the counter, pleased when it gleamed enough to show the mottled yellow bruise that had begun to fade. When the tweaker had come in just before closing, Linc had put too much faith in his chances to talk the guy down, which got him a vicious right hook in the face. He got back up, ready to show the hopped up guy why the the Park View wasn’t the place to start a fight when John came in, hoping to snag a cup of coffee before his shift started. He’d arrested the asshole and dragged him out of the diner, kicking and screaming all the way.
Oh, and John had earned himself free coffee for life.
When the brass bell above the door gave a melodious ding, Linc stood, ready to welcome his first customer of the afternoon. When he caught sight of the young man who entered, the air rushed from Linc’s lungs and he found himself temporarily speechless.
“Hi…” The man’s eyes darted around the place, taking in the checkered booths and wooden tabletops. Lincoln prided himself on the authentic 70s feel of the place, right down to the little jukeboxes that sat on each table.
Lincoln had to pull himself back to business mode. “Welcome to the Park View. Table or booth?”
A frown marred the man’s delicate features. Lincoln decided a face that pretty should never be sad. The hazel eyes and the shoulder-length blond hair framed a delicate face with rich, full pink lips that needed to be kissed until they were puffy and swollen with passion.
When an answer wasn’t forthcoming, Lincoln peered at the man. He guessed the guy was in his mid-twenties. The clothes he wore weren’t anything special, but they did seem a little tattered. Especially the faded blue jean jacket he wore. The cuffs were frayed, and a tear in the sleeve showed pale skin. The worst of his outfit, though? His shoes. A big, gaping hole in the right one allowed Lincoln to see the big toe poking out of it.
Lincoln waved his hand in front of the guy’s face. “Sir?”
“I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t come to eat. I was hoping you might…” The guy swallowed, and Lincoln was fascinated by the lean curve to his neck as his Adam’s apple bobbed. Was the guy a panhandler? If so, Lincoln would be happy to give him all the money in his wallet, because everything in him screamed this man needed to be wrapped up and cared for. The thought was surprised Lincoln as it had been years since he’d had a similar one. He’d had more than his fair share of bed partners, but they were one night things, no strings attached. He wasn’t a romantic by any means—unless romance meant slapping your partner’s ass and telling him to lift it higher—but this guy? He wasn’t someone you’d fuck and forget.
“Hoping I might… Go on, what were you hoping for?”
The man sighed and balled his fists. “I need a job.” Before Lincoln could say anything, the man continued, speaking so fast, Linc leaned against the counter just so he could hear the gentle voice. “I can wash floors, do dishes, maybe serve food. I can do anything you need.”
“Can you cook?”
The man’s chin dipped to his chest. “No, sir.”
Lincoln liked the way the sir sounded coming from this guy. He was deferential to the point of obsequiousness. Lincoln wondered what the man would be like in bed, all spread out, his wrists secured to the bedposts, giving Lincoln permission to do what he wanted.
“What’s your name?”
The guy looked up, and Lincoln could see the hope in his eyes. He’d probably expected to be dismissed immediately. “Noel Simmons.”
Lincoln stepped forward and held out his hand. “Lincoln Merriweather. You’re welcome to call me Linc or Lincoln. I answer to either.” The guy’s grip was firm, his hand warm and just a tad damp. He must have realized it, because he pulled back and wiped his hand on his pant leg.
“I’m sorry, I—”
Lincoln chuckled. “Relax. It’s not a big deal. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll talk about you working for me.”
“Really?” A red tinge crept up Noel’s neck. “I mean, thank you, sir.”
He took a seat at the counter, his gaze darting around. Lincoln liked the fact that even after being told he could call him by name, Noel still used sir. Lincoln pulled out a copy of the laminated menu and held it out to Noel. “This is our lunch menu.”
Without a word, Noel took it and began to read. Lincoln stepped into the kitchen, and began to do some prep work. He glanced out and saw Noel through the large, open serving window. He seemed nervous, twitchy. After a few moments he called out, “What’ll you have?”
Noel’s eyes went wide. “Oh, I don’t have any—I mean, I’m not really hungry.”
Lincoln grabbed the spatula and came back to the front. “Okay, here’s the first thing you need to know. I don’t like being lied to. As long as you work for me, if I ask you a question, I expect an immediate and honest answer. Do I make myself clear?”
Noel swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”
“Now, what would you like to eat?”
Noel dropped his gaze. “I can’t afford it.”
Lincoln figured that was the reason. “Meals come with the job. You get something for each shift you work. Also, we pay twelve dollars an hour for bus help and dishwashers. If you’re a server, you make six bucks, plus you keep your tips.”
He realized he didn’t need the help. Katy came in to cover mornings, Josh handled lunch, and Tyler worked the evenings, plus there was Jesse who filled in shifts so the rest could have days off. Lincoln did all the cooking, and he finished up the dishes before he finished for the night. The diner, though it could get crazy busy, was pretty easy to handle. True, it got nuts on some nights, especially if there was a block party or something going on in the area, though generally it wasn’t too much to handle. But Noel needed a job, and was obviously pretty desperate. So if Lincoln could help out, he would.
“Could I have a grilled cheese sandwich?”
Lincoln smiled. “Sure. With french fries or onion rings?”
Noel’s eyes went wide. “I love onion rings.”
“Then you should like these. I make them myself.”
Lincoln left Noel with the menu and went back into the kitchen. He buttered up two slices of Texas bread, lay them out on the grill, and put down a piece of cheddar, a slab of Monterey Jack, and a thick slice of tomato. While that grilled, he threw a few handfuls of onion rings into the fryer, loving the sizzling sound they made as they began to cook.
In no time at all, Linc had a beautiful golden brown grilled cheese, a double portion of onion rings, and had garnished the plate with a dill pickle spear. He picked up the plate, ready to take it out when the bell went off, making Lincoln aware of new customers. He was surprised when he Noel’s voice rolled in, clear as a bell.
“Welcome to the the Park View. Would you like a table or a booth? If you prefer, you’re welcome to sit at the counter.”
Lincoln smiled at the enthusiasm in Noel’s voice. He stepped out front and found a woman with two teens taking a booth near the window. Noel grabbed three menus and took them over, handing them out with a flourish. He turned and froze when he saw Lincoln, plate in hand, and his eyes went wide. He hurried back to the counter and sat down. “I’m sorry.”
Lincoln put the plate down. “For what? Taking some initiative?”
“I should have asked first.”
“Don’t worry about it. Eat. It’ll make you feel better.”
Noel glanced at the sandwich, then pushed the plate away.
“What are you doing?”
“I should… I should go.”
“Your shift hasn’t even started. How are you going to go? Or, better question, why do you want to leave?”
“I forgot about my clothes. I’m not dressed to be any help at all.”
It wasn’t exactly true. With the torn jeans and the tattered shoes, Noel might look scruffy, but he could help bus tables or wash dishes. Despite what Noel had done, Lincoln had no reason to hold it against him. Noel could simply pick up some new—then it hit him.
“Noel, would you have money to get new clothes?”
Noel shook his head, his hair rustling. “It’s why you probably don’t want me to work here.”
Linc chastised himself for not thinking about it until after he’d told Noel he could have the job. It wouldn’t keep him from hiring Noel, though. It simply meant they needed to address the problem. Linc reached into his pocket and withdrew his wallet. He pulled out two hundred dollars and handed it to Noel, who eyed the money with an incredulous expression.
“Buy yourself some clothes. Nothing flashy, because they won’t last. You’re going to be dealing with a lot of greasy food, and will probably need new gear in a few months. Get at least four pair of pants, socks, definitely shoes, and probably eight shirts. You’ll have to make sure you wash them, because they…. Shit. Noel, where are you living?”
Noel swallowed and scuffed at a spot on his shoe. “I’ve been staying at the shelter over on Tenth. I do some odd jobs for them in exchange for them letting me sleep there and giving me a place to wash up.”
The idea that Noel was sleeping in a shelter didn’t sit well with Lincoln at all. He wanted to ask more questions, but the bell rang again, and Lincoln knew it was about to get busy. “Eat. You’re going to need your strength.”
“Are you sure? I can go if—”
“Eat your damn food. If I wanted you to leave, I would have told you. I’m not one to give you mixed messages. I will tell you exactly what I want you to do and when it needs to be done. Do I make myself clear?”
Noel’s spine straightened. “Yes, sir.”
Lincoln reached out and ruffled Noel’s hair. “Good. Now hurry up. It’s going to be wall to wall people in a few minutes, and I’m going to need you to bus the tables as soon as they leave. There’s a tub under the counter. You grab it, go to the table, put all the dirty dishes in there—stacked neatly so nothing breaks—then wipe the table down so it’s ready for the next customers. If you have any questions, you can come to me. Josh should be here in a few minutes to serve, so I’ll be in the back cooking. Got it?”
Lincoln turned and washed his hands, then dried them on the roll of paper towel over the sink. He picked up the menus and went to get lunch started. From the corner of his eye, he saw Noel finish his sandwich, then placed his plate and fork in the bin, before he wiped down the counter. Lincoln smiled to himself at Noel’s enthusiasm. This could work out just fine.