Luke Hamilton was a very successful man. He was seen as such by the people inside his business circle as well as some of his company colleagues. He had started his company four years ago and in a very short window of time, had become – along with his business partner John Stevens- two of the most sought out architects in Stamford.
Most newborn companies like his own, made it big inside the competitive world of architecture after many years of zero recognition and some didn’t even make it through their first year. The factor that differentiated Luke’s and John’s company from the rest, was that from the beginning they had impressed their clients with their innovative designs and their not so square interpretation of architecture. There was another thing that had to be factored into their success equation: almost since the beginning, this dream had become Luke’s sole focus in life.
Unfortunately, that situation hadn’t been his choice. More over, it had been his only way to stop him from losing his mind with grief and bittersweet memories. Before Luke knew what he had gotten himself into, he had chained his every breath to the success and thrive of this company. Not that he minded the way it expanded more with each passing year, but he would’ve been content to succeed at a slower pace if that had not meant having to lose his heart in the process.
The architects, John included, who had started working with him from the beginning had known a different side of the man. An easygoing, relaxed and dedicated young architect, for the right reasons, to his passion. He even used to be a man who loved to laugh. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something he did anymore. What people witnessed today was the hard and cold character of a man who had been touched unjustly by tragedy. A man who had watched his soul rip apart to pieces little by little, until even he forgot the man he used to be. The vibrant blue inside his eyes had ceased to spark with life. Instead, it was as cold and vacant as the frozen up waters of the Arctic ocean and its dark and lifeless depths.
Rumor had it that all his staff was half-scared to death of him. The truth was he was barely in his office anymore, choosing instead to work onsite at their numerous projects. Clients perceived him as competent and as the face of a company who would deliver a job well done, but they also knew you didn’t get on Luke Hamilton’s bad side, or offer him any kind of pity for his tragedy. The architect in him would argue until he proved his point and the grieving widower would simply walk away.
Those who knew him, and had known him before the tragedy of losing his wife, better described him now as emotionless. It was painfully obvious the man was constantly running away from any type of emotion that might wake him up from the prolonged numbness surrounding his heart.
With a hard, calculating expression that only enhanced his striking good looks, Luke Hamilton stood outside Maggie’s Diner fighting off the impatience and the mother of all headaches threatening to make an appearance on this chilly January morning.
His business partner, John Stevens, hadn’t had to tell him twice about this small town project about building a brand new library, for Luke to jump at the opportunity to go away on work and not be home for his wife’s three year anniversary. Even after all this time, Luke still couldn’t fathom being anywhere near anything that reminded him of the life he used to have and how he had singlehandedly destroyed it all because of his own stupidity.
Maggie’s Diner was located on Main Street, in the small Connecticut town of Creek Valley, right in front of the train station. He had brought his Land Rover instead, figuring he would rather use his car to move around than deal with the bitter weather. The diner was located at street level. Luke could see there were three more stories as well. The building was painted in a light beige, except for the shutters at the upper levels that were a darker brown and the very last story which was a light shade of green, suggesting that it was some sort of attic. The lowest level had several windows overlooking the sidewalk, with some green and beige checkered curtains. Painted with bright yellow letters on one of the big windows, was the name Maggie’s Diner. To Luke’s trained eye, it looked like the building had been a house in the old days.
There were some chairs and tables that were covered in white plastic on the sidewalk. He assumed that once spring and summer hit the town, the sidewalk outside the diner would be busy with people wanting to eat outside. For the time being, winter was in full mode. The twinkle lights that still hung from the window panes and from one of the light posts closest to the diner, were a clear reminder of the past holidays.
Despite the fact some thought of him as ruthless, Luke considered himself a very patient man, especially when it came to landing and securing a new job for the company. But he forgot the farther away you got from a relatively big city, as Stamford, small town life reminded you not everyone liked to run through life at a fast pace. Or that not anyone was running away from it.
After having stopped by the town council’s building an hour before, he was frustrated at his futile efforts to talk to the people in charge of the project. According to the plump woman that he assumed was the receptionist, it was lunch hour. The town council only gathered for a couple of hours in the morning before going back to their own jobs. The receptionist had also said that most of them went to Maggie’s for lunch.
He surveyed the three story building and glanced at the big windows. Apparently, all the town had lunch at this place. The tables that faced the street, were full and the noise that spilled out whenever the door opened, was an indication that lunch had to be one of its busiest hours.
He might as well have something to eat, and maybe find out if he could talk to the people in charge of the library’s project, so he could get to work and keep his mind from going back to a grave with an empty casket waiting for him to visit for the first time in three years.
As he stepped inside, a couple of men vacated the table nearest to the door, so Luke sat down not noticing the few curious glances thrown his way by several of the locals. A young woman came by with the menu and after reciting the day’s special, left him alone to survey the menu and his surroundings.
Maggie noticed him the minute he walked through the door. She was sure he was an out-of-towner, but his clothes and his body language didn’t put him in the sightseer or antique buyer category. Definitely not a tourist. The way he sat down, impatient, his eyes darting around the diner, told Maggie he was a very busy man.
She’d seen him staring from the outside in, as if debating very much if it was worth his time stepping inside her small diner. The brief moment he had looked her way over by the counter, she had seen his curious eyes scanning the place. She was aware of the sadness and coldness they seemed to convey. Those emotions were part of him. As someone who knew people, she recognized an unbearable burden weighing down on him.
His clothes and the car that he drove in, gave him away as being a city guy, maybe New York or some other big city nearby like Stamford. The rest of him wasn’t half bad. From where she was standing she gauged him to be six foot. He had a lean and well built body, that filled perfectly well the black trousers and blue dress shirt he wore. He had dark brown hair, which looked ruffled, as if he constantly passed his hands through it, framing his face and accentuating the paleness of his skin. The shape of his face was long, with sharp strong features, prominent cheekbones and a defined set jaw. The breathtaking look was complimented by a pair of electric blue eyes that showed a hint of gray around the edges.
Her own curiosity was getting the best of her, so instead of fighting it she told the girl who was minding that section that she would take that table. The waitress wasn’t surprised at Maggie’s request. After all, as the owner of this establishment, she was supposed to mingle with customers every now and then.
“Hello, sir. Are you ready to order?”
She registered the brief flicker of surprise on his face before he returned his attention to the menu. She had been right about the eyes. The pain in them was heart piercing. There was no trace of warmth in them, as if his sole purpose was to warn people not to get close to him. Well, Maggie Rogers had enough warmth to fight off that coldness.
After looking at the lunch section of the menu, he closed it and set it on the table before looking at her.
“I’ll have the cheese burger and coffee, thank you.”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll be right back with your food.”
“Excuse me, miss?”
Maggie stopped and turned again to face him. “Oh please, call me Maggie. What else can I get you?”
“Okay, Maggie. I was hoping you might be able to help me. I went by the town council offices before and was told that every member was here having lunch. I really need to speak to them. But as I was also told, they tend to extend their lunch break more than an hour.”
“Yes, that’s the curse of living in a small town, I suppose. Well, that’s them over there.” She pointed to a table at the center where Dr. Colburn, Mr. Andrews and Peter Bennings where currently deep in conversation.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what business do you have with them?”
“I think it’s better if I talked to them directly. Thank you. I suppose I’ll have to wait then.”
She smiled at him. This was one of the times that being in the council came in handy. He was clearly annoyed, but then again, every person who came from the city always found it strange that the town seemed to pause its activity at lunch hour. For some strange reason, she was beginning to be intrigued by this man with the sad eyes. He certainly could use a friend, even if his stiff body language implied otherwise.
“Or you could talk to me. Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Maggie Rogers, I own this place and I happen to be the fourth member of the town council. Nice to meet you.”
Luke’s eyes took in the woman standing in front of him. As a man, he could tell that Maggie Rogers was still a very attractive woman. Her lean figure clashed with the type of food served in this place. Ironically, her white hair only added a sense of elegance to her otherwise simple small town appearance. Those light brown eyes never looked away from his own careful inspection.
He stood up and introduced himself properly. He only hoped Maggie didn’t mind taking a break from her own business to deal with his.
“Luke Hamilton, I am one of the architects that you scheduled a meeting with about the new library project.”
“That’s right. Although I remember we talked to a man named John.”
“He is my partner. I hope it is okay I came instead of him. We had other projects he had to see to.”
“No, I don’t mind at all. But please,” Maggie gestured to the seat, “sit, sit. Let me get the rest of the council and we can start that meeting.”
A few minutes later, Luke and the rest of the town council had moved to a larger table and were discussing his plans for the library. Besides Maggie, the other town council members included the town’s doctor, Dr. Colburn, the owner of the hardware store he’d passed this morning, Mr. Bennings and the librarian, Mr. Andrews, who was currently the manager of the place.
Dr. Colburn was a man in his sixties, with a kind of mad-scientist look due to his fine, thin salt and pepper hair that seemed unwilling to rest in one place at a time. Mr. Bennings, or Pete Sr. as he introduced himself, was a bear of a man, with arms so thick and strong Luke considered asking him to join them when the construction for the library began. He looked like he didn’t mind a hard day’s work. He liked to laugh, which he did on numerous times, the sound of it like a lion’s roar that echoed throughout the diner’s walls. And Mr. Andrews, a quiet man, a few inches less taller than Luke, with silver-rimmed glasses, bald, and certainly the most enthusiastic of all three, about the town getting a new library.
“We certainly liked your proposal, and you have captured what we want for our new library. A bigger space but nothing over the top. As you can see we are a small town, and as much as I love it, simple is what we do best.” Maggie said. The rest of the town council members nodded in agreement. They soon began bombarding Luke with questions about budget, estimated time of construction, the possibility of him using local hand labor as well as some other suggestions to the initial proposal Luke and John had sent over two days ago. Even if handling such a meeting in the middle of the lunch crowd at a diner was a bit unorthodox in Luke’s point of view, by the end of their meeting as Luke headed back to his car to drive back to Stamford, he was glad he would have something to occupy his mind for the next eight months or longer, depending on how fast they were able to get the necessary permits to start excavating and laying down foundations for the new building.