Sierra falls, p.1
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       Sierra Falls, p.1

         Part #1 of Sierra Falls series by Veronica Wolff
Sierra Falls
Page 1


  “Come on, Dad. It’s called a frittata. ” Sorrow scooped her egg, potato, and bacon creation onto a plate and held it out to her father. “It’s the same food you just ordered, just a different shape. See?” She prodded it with a fork. “Bacon, eggs, and hash browns, only all mixed up. ”

  Bear Bailey gave it a quick, skeptical examination. “Mangled up, more like. Nothing beats Sully’s scrambles. ” He gave their fry cook a conspiratorial wink. “Ain’t that right, Sully?”

  “Yes, sir. ” Sully spared him a sharp nod before getting right back to work, his entire focus on a griddle jammed full of pancakes. The man found ways to express his independence, but going against his employer wasn’t one of them. Sorrow supposed you could take the man out of the military, but you couldn’t take the military out of the man.

  “More for me then. ” She stepped around Sully, but at the last minute, snuck a bit of her frittata onto a plate for him, giving the man a pointed look.

  What her father didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He’d never change the menu at his Thirsty Bear Tavern, but Sorrow’s life would be dull if she didn’t steal her moments of quiet rebellion.

  Sully just shook his head. He’d witnessed some version of this same father-daughter argument for years.

  Speaking of arguments…“Where’s Mom?” Sorrow asked, plopping onto a stool next to her dad. She’d overheard him railing on about something the night before, and it hadn’t exactly sounded like a two-way conversation. The silence from her mother had been deafening—she might as well not even have been in the room. Not that her father was prone to yelling. Bear Bailey just liked to…hold court.

  “She’s at the front desk,” he said, swabbing a piece of bacon in a puddle of syrup. We got two guests coming in this morning. Young couple from Sacramento. Snowshoe types, most like. ”

  “They’ll need a helluva lot more than snowshoes if this keeps up. ” Sully wiped his hands on his apron and leaned against the pass-through between kitchen and tavern.

  Sorrow followed the direction of his gaze. What had started as a light dusting of snow that morning had thickened into dense flurries in the past half hour.

  “It’s really coming down now,” her father said, swiveling on his stool to look out the window. “Looking like a slow one for business today. ”

  “Maybe so. ” She felt light at the prospect. Maybe things would be calm enough for her to roast a nice cut of meat for dinner. Maybe even bake a pie for dessert. Her dad wouldn’t be able to complain about that.

  Helping run her family’s lodge and tavern wasn’t exactly Sorrow’s dream come true, but her older sister and brother had fled the nest, and then her father had his stroke, and she’d been left holding the bag. Though her mother was a definite help, by no means was she strong enough to do all the work on her own. It was Sorrow’s opinion that her mom too often let Dad call the shots anyhow.

  With her siblings gone, family dinners gradually became a thing of the past, and increasingly it was Sully who served up their meals. For Sorrow, what’d started as an aversion to the man’s “Turkey Loaf” blossomed into a passion for cooking.

  It started slowly with tricks she picked up on TV cooking shows. Pasta dishes that relied on more than a jar of Ragú. Soups came next—she still marveled how you could add some meat, salt, and veggies to a pot of water and end up with the tastiest dinner ever.

  Soon the kitchen became her refuge. She loved the creativity of it. Loved the different flavors. She was stuck in a small town, living with her parents, helping run their inn, but when she was in the kitchen, she could make enchiladas and take off for Mexico. Or whip up a simple bruschetta and whisk herself off to Italy. Though one of these days, she’d settle for whisking herself off to a fancy restaurant in the city, with white tablecloths and big goblets of wine.

  She loved cooking so much, she could even imagine doing it professionally—and what a dream that would be. Not that she’d ever get the chance.

  Alone in the kitchen, her problems dropped away. Cooking demanded focus—stirring before something burned, chopping the veggies just right—and it always managed to push all other concerns from her mind. And she had a lot of concerns.

  Stupid stuff nagged her, and she hated all of it. Housekeeping issues, plumbing issues, money issues…all the issues that cropped up in the running of a creaky old lodge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

  “You sure I can’t make you a side of bacon?” Sully’s voice startled her from her thoughts.

  “Hmm?” she asked, catching him watching her.

  “Bacon. I can make it crispy. You used to like that. ”

  She gave him a warm smile. “Good memory. ”

  Sully had arrived in Sierra Falls when she was a kid, rolling into town on a Harley. He was a quiet sort, a restless and rambling soul, but theirs was a very live-and-let-live sort of town, and he’d taken to the place.

  He stayed on as cook for the tavern attached to her family’s Big Bear Lodge. Folks shortened his name from Tom Sullivan, so as not to confuse him with Tom Harlan, who ran the hardware store across town. And like that, it was as though Sully had been in Sierra Falls forever.

  He wasn’t exactly prone to sharing—Sorrow knew he’d done time in Vietnam and that he’d been married a few times, but that was about the extent of it. Even so, he was a good man, and she’d come to think of him as an adoptive uncle figure.

  She shook her head. Time to get going. It was already 8:30, and her days didn’t so much begin, as they tended to explode out of control. “I’m good, Sully. But thanks. ”

  Sorrow scraped the last of her breakfast to the center of the plate so she could mash it into the tines of her fork and savor every last bite. Next time, she’d try adding tomatoes—maybe sun-dried, so the eggs wouldn’t get too runny.

  She pushed away from the counter and bussed her dishes, catching sight of the conditions outside. “I should get going. ”

  They hadn’t had much snow over the holidays, but now that it was January, winter seemed to have begun in earnest. It was accumulating fast out there. While a light dusting was great, too much snow on the road became a hassle, and she worried this was headed toward hassle territory.

  Being in the foothills, they didn’t get as much weather as Lake Tahoe to the northeast, but still, there was snow and ice aplenty, and it plagued her. Keeping the lodge standing was trouble enough—keeping the place warm and weatherproofed through the winter months consumed her. “Duty calls,” she said with a sigh. “The floor’s all yours, Dad. ”

  Sully dinged the small bell on the window between tavern and kitchen. “Order up. ”

  Bear looked around for the woman who worked as their bartender and waitress. “Where’s Helen?”

  “I’ll bet she’s stuck in this mess. ” Sorrow shook her head sympathetically. “She’s got three kids at two different schools, and if it’s a snow day…”

  “Well, someone’s gotta do her job. ” Her father began to stand.

  She put a hand on his shoulder. “You sit, Dad. I got this one. ” Ever since the stroke, Bear hadn’t moved around as easily, and Sorrow would just as soon give him the chance to finish his coffee in peace.

  She grabbed the plates from the pass-through and served their handful of diners, all of them locals. Visitors to Sierra Falls were few. It was a small gold rush town, too remote to take advantage of the Tahoe resort area, and too far from Route 50 to catch any tourists coming from Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area. It was too out there to be on the road to anywhere, really.

  If her family hadn’t owned the lodge and restaurant outright, they probably would’ve gone under years ago. They saw the occasional hikers
, hunters, and fishermen, or folks who’d gotten stuck on the snowy mountain pass and been forced to double back and stay the night. But other than that, the Bailey family income relied mostly on serving predictable meat-and-potatoes dishes to the residents.

  She served Sheriff Billy Preston last. He looked up from the morning paper as she approached. “Morning, Sorrow. ”

  “Sheriff. ” She softened her greeting with a smile.

  She liked the man—there was something quiet and maybe even a bit haunted in his eyes. She’d heard he was a widower, and she tried to meet those eyes whenever they spoke, tried to give him a genuine smile to compensate for whatever demons the man was harboring.

  The sheriff hadn’t lived there long, and time would tell if his troubled look ever went away. She hoped it would. She wished the man well. He’d gotten on her good side from the start by being one of the few whose first words to her hadn’t been to remark about her name. Sorrow was a family name, but sometimes she felt saddled with it, as though in being called a thing, she might be fated to a life of it, like her hard-luck ancestors before her.

  Her father always prattled on about those ancestors—grandmother, great-, and great-great-grandmothers Sorrow. They’d known hard lives that, according to Dad, she herself was destined to relive if she didn’t marry right, or dress better, or hell, if she didn’t clean out the garage and call the plumber.

  “I’ve told you before, it’s Billy. ” Though his words were gruff, his tone was polite, in that way that seemed unique to men in uniform. He took his plate from her hands, lightening her load. “Looks good. ” He added in a low voice, “But I’d have liked to try that frittata. ”

  His conspiratorial tone surprised her. That he—or anyone—wanted to try her food was a kick. She smiled a real smile then. She’d love to cook for people someday, and how kind of Billy to sense it.

  She gave him a piercing gaze—was he truly sad or was it just a trick of those dark eyes? His smiles were genuine, and though they lit his face she wondered if they truly shone any light on his heart.

  Those dark eyes narrowed, and she realized she’d been staring. She gave a little shake to her head. “If you want frittatas, you’ll have to take it up with the man. ” She tilted her head toward her father. He was still seated at the bar, yammering at Sully about something, and he’d likely be in the same spot when she returned at noon for lunch. “Bear Bailey isn’t a fan of change. ”

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