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By Ashtonk All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 1

Start writing here…“We cannot pretend that the world begins and ends at the boundaries that we might make for it.” – Walker Boh, The Sword Of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

I always ran a little bit colder than everyone else. The average core body temperature is 36.8C and I always ran at a cool 34.8C. Technically I had hypothermia, but that was normal for me. Maybe that’s why I always liked the frigid north of Alaska, the beautiful, mountainous peaks of the national park surrounding the small town of St. Elias that I grew up in. It was as cold here as I was. There was one road into and out of St. Elias. The highway ran from the border of the Canadian Yukon, through the town and continued on to Anchorage, which was about a 2 hour drive away for us. The roads were slippery and dangerous in the winter and always clogged with semi-trailers hauling loads to Fairbanks, the supply central of Alaska. I tried not to drive in winter. Most people in St. Elias used snowmobiles and ATV’s to get around the area. It was a small town with a population of 350 people. The only things we had in the town was a small K-12 school, the local diner, the bar, post office, a small theatre and a single store that served as our hardware, supply, grocery store and gas station.

I’d only just returned to St. Elias, having spent the last 2 years at the University in Anchorage. Nothing had really come of my time there, I’d made a few friends but I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do and changed my major multiple times. Nothing seemed like the right career path for me, it all seemed so mundane and I felt like I didn’t really belong there, like my life was meant for more than something so…normal and I had never really felt normal in my life. My parents had both died in a car accident in the mountains when I was 6 and my aunt had raised me ever since. When she passed away 4 months ago, I couldn’t focus on my studies anymore and so I decided to move home and get a job while I figured out where my life was meant to go. I rented a little apartment above the post office, just a block away from the local café where I was given a job as a waitress.

I looked myself over in the full length mirror that was fixed to the door of my bedroom. My shoulder length, mousy brown hair with its frizzy curls that never listened, did nothing but annoy me so I swept it back into my usual ponytail. My green eyes were unusually bright and piercing today, accented by the purple zippered hoodie I was wearing. My white tank top was showing from underneath the hoodie where the zipper ended. I’d chosen a pair of dark blue jeans and comfortable white runners to finish the ensemble. I grabbed the white apron with “J’s Diner” embroidered in hunter green in lower left corner and wrapped the strings around my waist, tying them securely in the back. Giving myself one last look in the mirror I decided I was cute enough for the day and headed out of the apartment, grabbing my wallet and keys off the table on my way out. I jogged down the stairs and headed outside, making my way down the block towards the little café.

I walked through the back door and the smell of fresh made cinnamon buns hit me like a brick wall, “Wow, Jo! That smells incredible!” I said to the slightly robust woman pulling a tray of the offending buns out of the oven.

“Thanks, Amy. It was my mother’s recipe.” She smiled and her whole face lit up. She had light blue eyes and a round face that looked about 5 years younger than her actual age. Her hair was dyed light golden brown to cover up the gray hair that had finally started to show up last year around her 50th birthday. Her real name was Joretta but everyone always called her Jo and she had owned the café here in St. Elias since she took it over from her parents twenty years ago. She had known me my whole life and she was the only one that I would allow to call me Amy.

I grabbed a big jug of ketchup off the back shelf and headed out to the front of the restaurant to begin refilling the ketchup bottles before we opened. I called out behind me as I went, “Well the whole town loves your cinnamon buns so I’m sure we’ll be extremely busy today!” Jo’s hearty laugh was the only response I got. I finished the rest of my morning duties quickly, giving me 10 minutes to myself before we opened. I loved this part of the day. I would stand behind the long counter at the front of the diner sipping on a cup of the most delicious coffee and just taking in the scene. The café had a total of 8 square tables with gray tops and 4 mismatched chairs to each table. The door was right in the middle of the far wall with two large windows on either side. The door had a small bell hanging above it that jingled whenever it was opened and the windows were trimmed in plaid curtains, white and hunter green. The walls had small, handmade wooden shelves that Jo’s husband had made. The shelves held various random knick-knacks that Jo had picked up from the antique barn and random garage sales and flea markets. They were things like old rusty shaving tins, small carved tin watering cans, an old broken autoharp, old glass bottles and signs, whatever she felt would give the diner that small town, rustic country feel. I loved the small town charm this place had.

I walked around the counter to the door, unlocking it and flipping the sign around so it said “OPEN”. I pushed the door open and held it there as the first customers of the day began to file in. It was the usual morning coffee and breakfast crowd. I grabbed the pot of coffee and four menus and headed over to the table, flipping the coffee mugs over and filling each one before handing out the menus. “How are my favourite men doing today?” I asked happily.

All four of the gentlemen smiled at me but Newf was the one to answer. “Just fine, thanks. And yourself, Amelia?”

I grinned at Jo’s husband, “Much better since I came in and saw your wife has her famous cinnamon buns on the menu today.” All four men started talking at once.

“Well, I know what I’m having!” said Ken.

“Sounds good to me.” replied Billy.

“I’ll have one of those” grinned Ted

“Sounds like a balanced breakfast to me” chuckled Newf.

I laughed at the four men’s reaction and nodded. “Four cinnamon buns coming right up!” I patted Newf on the shoulder and directed my next comment to him, “You better watch out there, Newf or these men might just steal your wife for her skill in the kitchen.” He just laughed in response and shook his head.

Newf wasn’t his real name of course, it was Gerald, but he was originally a Canadian from eastern Ontario and when he moved out here everyone mistook his thick accent for that of someone from Newfoundland so they started calling him Newf and the name stuck. He’d come out here originally to work construction when he was in his early 20’s and to hunt and follow his dream of panning for gold in the Yukon, but job opportunities were better in Alaska and when he met Jo, he finally had a reason to write home to his mother. Jo would never leave St. Elias though so he stayed here with her. Newf had short black hair, speckled with gray, but usually wore a camouflage style baseball cap. He was a handsome man for his age, with deep blue eyes and a trimmed mustache above his mouth. His skin was tanned dark from all the time spent working outdoors. His shoulders were broad and muscular, and while he had a slight belly on him from years of his wife’s impeccable cooking, he was still in excellent shape. Jo was a lucky woman. I hoped I could find someone to love me like that, someday.

I got the gentlemen their cinnamon buns and brought around a refill of coffee as the rest of the café began to fill up. The next couple of hours were fairly busy. As soon as the breakfast rush was over, I barely had enough time to clean up and get the dishes in the dishwasher before the lunch rush began. Thankfully by 2’o’clock the diner had emptied and I had a spare minute to enjoy my second cup of coffee for the day but I needed to make more and the can was empty so I headed into the back to grab a new can off the shelf. Suddenly the bell above the door jingled and I called out to the front, “I’ll be right with you!” loud enough so I knew they could hear me.

I headed back to the front with the fresh can of coffee and stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, my breath catching in my throat. The man sitting back in the far corner was breathtakingly beautiful. His shaggy, golden blonde hair fell in soft waves to his chin. He had broad, thick shoulders and a strong, square jaw without any sign of facial hair. His soft pink mouth was turned up in a heart-stopping half-grin. His skin was unusually alabaster white but the most striking thing about his appearance was his eyes. They were the colour of deep amethyst. He was wearing a black zippered hoodie and a pair of faded blue jeans.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and reminded myself to breathe. I stepped behind the counter and quickly set the coffee to percolating. I then grabbed a menu and walked shakily over to the table. “G-Good afternoon.” I stammered as my cheeks flushed. “What can I get for you?”

The violet eyes locked on me and the handsome stranger’s mouth turned up in a charming smile. My heart stuttered in my chest. “I’d love a cup of coffee. And what is that delicious smell coming from the kitchen?” he replied and his voice nearly made me lose my balance. It was clearly a Texas accent that was thick and deep with this irresistible rasp to it. I’d never heard a more attractive voice in my life.

I swallowed again and smiled, “That would be Jo’s famous cinnamon buns. The whole town loves them, they sell out really quick.”

He nodded and said, “I think I’d like to try one of them, if you have any left.”

I nodded and went back to the kitchen, returning with a cinnamon bun so large it took up the entire plate it was served on and was as tall as the coffee cup I had in the other hand. “You’re in luck. This is the last one.” I set them on the table before him. “Is there anything else I can get for you?” I asked pleasantly.

Those dazzling eyes stole my breath away again as they looked at me, “Your name, perhaps?” he said in that sexy voice of his.

I blushed again and stuttered, “Oh… I’m uh... Amelia Van Rybroek. And you are?”

“My name is Jasper. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Amelia.” He half-grinned at me again.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Jasper. I haven’t seen you around here before.” I tilted my head curiously toward him.

“I just moved to St. Elias, I was offered a job at the logging camp out on the north end of town.”

I nodded in reply, “Well I hope you like it here, it is a nice place.”

Jasper chuckled softly, “Thank you, so far everyone has been very” he paused, “hospitable.”

I smiled at that, “I’m glad. Enjoy your meal.” I moved to leave but turned back at the last second and said to him, “Oh, and welcome to St. Elias.” I left this time and went back to work.

I could feel his piercing stare on my back as I bustled about doing my work, wiping down the counter and tables, refilling the creams and sugars, restocking the soda cooler. I knew he was watching me and it made me nervous. I wondered what he wanted, why he was watching me so intently, like he’d never seen a waitress at work before.

I was in the middle of refilling the salt shakers when his voice spoke, just inches from where I was standing. He’d brought his coffee and half-eaten cinnamon bun to the front counter and had sat two stools down from where I was standing. “Why do you do that?” he looked at me curiously.

I nearly jumped, I was so startled by his voice. When had he moved? I didn’t hear him and these chairs always scraped against the floor when you stood up. I stuttered again, “D-do what?”

The corner of his mouth turned up, “You’re putting grains of rice in the salt shakers.”

I blinked at the salt shaker in my hand that I’d just dropped about a half a teaspoon of rice into. “Oh! That. The rice keeps the salt from forming clumps.”

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry, did I startle you?” He asked politely.

“N-no, it’s ok. I just didn’t hear you get up is all.” I was furious with myself for all this stuttering and stammering. I’m usually much more articulate than that but he just made me so nervous, my stomach felt like it was going to twist into a knot so many times it would be impossible to ever get it untied and my heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest. I took a deep breath and forced myself to be calm, “Would you like some more coffee?”

Jasper’s eyes never left my face, he was looking at me like he knew I was nervous. Like he could hear my heart thumping in my chest and see the butterflies in my stomach. “I would love some more coffee, thank you.” He paused, “Do you mind if I sit at the counter while you work? It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

I reached behind me and grabbed the pot of coffee refilling both our cups and I nodded, perhaps more eagerly than I should have. “Sure, I wouldn’t mind that at all. Where are you from, Jasper?”

He took a sip of his coffee and looked at me, “I grew up in Houston, Texas. Are you from St. Elias originally?”

I nodded and began rolling silverware up into napkins, knowing it would take me a while to get it all rolled and give me plenty of time to talk to the handsome new stranger, “I’ve lived here all my life. I love it here. I imagine you miss the heat and lack of snow in Texas?”

He chuckled softly and shrugged his shoulder, “I like the heat, yes. But I don’t mind the cold here either and I haven’t been here long enough to see the snow yet, though I understand the snow isn’t too far away.”

I shook my head in response, “Not far at all. Summer only lasts about 2 months here, the other 10 months of the year we have nothing but snow, snow and more snow. You’re lucky though since summer just started, you get a whole 2 months of nice weather.” I grinned playfully at him, trying hard to ignore the knots churning in my stomach.

“Well then I shall have to soak up the sun as much as I can before it disappears.”

I laughed out loud at his mention of the sun. “Sun, eh? Boy, you have high hopes for this place! We only get a couple of days of sunshine a year, even in summer we’re under a near constant cover of clouds. It’s just the way things are in the North.”

“I’m sure I’ll adjust then. You like the north? Even without the sun?” he looked at me curiously.

“Very much so. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, it would just be far too hot. I don’t like heat. I like the cold. I like the crisp mountain air, the smell of winter, the sound of snow crunching beneath your boots. I especially like the silence. Sometimes I’ll walk to the north end of town, past the logging camp. There is a trail up the side of the mountain and if you follow it, it takes you to this pretty little clearing with a cliff on the northwest side. I’ll sit down on the cliff with my feet dangling over the edge and just listen to the silence. Except it’s not really silent. Mostly, I can hear the sound… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like a low hum that resonates through the atmosphere up here. I call it the sound of the North. The sound of pure silence. I travelled south once, to visit my grandparents in Ontario. I went out to the field behind their farm one night and tried to listen for it but I couldn’t hear it. The hum wasn’t there so I just assumed it had something to do with being in the North, where the world ends.” I blushed and realized I was talking too much and probably sounded like an idiot. “So what’s it like down in Texas?”

Jasper grinned at me, obviously enjoying the flush on my skin, and chuckled, “A desert. Beautiful in its own way though. Cactuses and heat and sunsets that make it look like the sky is on fire. I will miss that but I think I like it better here. Even more so now that I’ve made a new…friend?” he hinted casually.

“Friend.” I said and smiled at him. “And I’m glad you like it, I’ll have to show you some of the sights around here at some point. There is lots of trails through the mountains, rivers filled with fish, easy for catching, waterfalls that freeze over in winter, some that don’t, and secret caves with legends of buried treasures, the hot springs. All sort of really interesting things to do and see.”

He looked at me, pleased, “I would be delighted to be shown around by such a lovely lady.”

I blushed and opened my mouth to respond but before I could say anything, Jo’s voice rang out from behind me. “My goodness! You, sir are one devilishly handsome young man.”

Jasper smiled at the large woman standing in the doorway and tipped his head politely towards her, “Thank you very kindly, Ma’am. I assume you are the proprietor of this establishment?” He stood and walked towards her with his hand outstretched in greetings.

Jo nodded and reached forward, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. I envied her briefly for being able to touch such a beautiful creature without worrying about sweaty, slick palms. “I sure am. Welcome to J’s Diner. I’m Joretta Kingsley, but please, call me Jo.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Jo. I’m Jasper Wilde. You make some of the best cinnamon buns I have ever tasted in my entire life.” He gestured to the plate of crumbs on the counter.

Jo beamed happily. She always loved it when new people liked her cooking as much as the locals did. “I’m so glad you enjoyed it, it was my mother’s recipe. I’d be happy to make you something a little more substantial if you like? Put some meat on those handsome bones of yours.”

Jasper chuckled and tipped his head again, “I’m mighty grateful for that but I am far too full to fit anything else in my stomach after such a monstrous cinnamon bun as that. I am sure, however that I shall be a regular customer here. I just moved to town to work at the logging camp and I’m afraid I couldn’t even fry an egg to save my life and since I have grown rather fond of the hospitality here,” Jasper’s eyes flickered to my face and back again, “You will likely see me eating all of my meals here, when I am not at work.” He smiled that charming smile at her.

Jo grinned at this, “Wonderful! If there is something not on the menu that you want, just let me know and I’ll do my best to make it for you. And you should come in the morning before you head out, I make bagged lunches every day for some of the fellows in town and I’d be happy to prepare one for you too.”

Jasper nodded and smiled at her as he reached into his back pocket for his wallet, “I sure do appreciate that, Ma’am. I think I will take you up on that offer. I start my first shift tomorrow so, I guess I’ll see you in here bright and early for breakfast.” His eyes flickered over to me again and he winked at me, placing a $20 bill on the counter underneath his coffee cup. “It was a pleasure meeting you both today. I should be going though, I need to prepare myself for work tomorrow.” With that he inclined his head politely and turned to walk out the door, the both of us calling out a quick “Goodbye!” after him.

Jo turned and grinned at me, “Well now! What a strapping young gentleman.” I was still staring at the space where Jasper stood just a moment ago, convincing myself that it was all just a dream. “Amelia?” Jo nudged me and I shook my head to clear it.

“What? Oh. Strapping. Yes.” I muttered softly.

Jo laughed and shook her head as she turned and made her way back to the kitchen. I could hear her murmuring to herself as she went, “Crazy girl.” Just then the door opened and a few local families piled in for the supper rush. I spent the rest of the day so busy that I didn’t have a free minute to think about the mysterious man that I’d met this afternoon.

Jasper didn’t cross my mind again until I finally got home. Kicked off my shoes and headed to the small kitchen in my apartment. I opened the fridge and pulled out a steak I’d left marinating all day and some asparagus to go with it. I tossed it in a frying pan and grabbed the TV remote, flicking it to whatever movie was on the classics station.

When supper was done I sat down at my tiny kitchen table and dug into the steak and asparagus while I flipped through the pages of a magazine. I didn’t realize I was even thinking about him until I caught myself thinking that the models in this magazine, couldn’t hold a candle to Jasper. I took my plate to the sink and washed it before putting it back in the cupboard. I quickly showered and changed into my pj’s and came back into the living room, grabbing a book off the shelf above my end table and sitting down on the couch to read it. The movie was still playing in the back ground but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I never paid much attention to the television as I preferred to read. I found my imagination could bring the characters in a story to life far better than any old TV show could. I opened the book to the page with the bookmark and settled in for a couple of hours of good reading before bed.

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