Chuck raised his head, a frown on his face, and looked at me as if he was trying to decide whether or not he knew who I was. He quickly shrugged, pushed the calculator away and scratched at his beard.
“Martha usually does the bill paying and such,” he said, “but she’s at her sister’s for the next two days, and I have no idea where to start.”
“Need help with those?” Chance asked. “I’m a bit of a numbers guy.”
“That’s okay,” Chuck said. “I need to get a hang of these things sooner or later. I can’t keep pushing things off onto other people just because I don’t like to do them.”
Chance stood up, crossed the room with three long strides, and brushed up next to me as he gazed down at the papers in front of Chuck. I sipped at my coffee, wondering what it would be like to just le
an into him and have him wrap an arm around my shoulder.
Fifteen, Ashlyn. You’re acting like you’re fucking fifteen.
“See, there’s your problem,” Chance said, pointing at a column on one of the sheets. “You’ve got the cost of your laundry supplies listed under room rents, which is income, when they should be in the expenditures side. That’s why the numbers don’t balance.”
Chuck leaned in, shook his head in disbelief and chuckled. “Thanks, Chance,” he said. “Although I’m not sure if you should be looking at these numbers in the first place. Lord knows they’re nothing to be proud of these days.”
“Glad to be of help,” Chance said, glancing briefly at me and winking. He seemed so laid back, so relaxed. I wondered what the hell he was doing in Ludwig.
“So, business advice and numbers,” I said. “Can you do repairs, too?”
Chance laughed at that. “I’ve got some time on my hands,” he said. “Tell me what needs fixing and I’ll figure it out.”
I laughed and sat down on one of the high chairs near the coffee machine. “Why exactly do you have time on your hands?”
“You said you’re an entrepreneur of sorts, right? Aren’t you supposed to be buried deep in numbers and graphs, choosing your next venture?”
Chance leaned against the counter and fixed me with his eyes. They’re like twin windows to an ocean view. How the hell do you look at those and not lose yourself?
“I’m on sabbatical,” he said. “City life’s a little too much these days, thought I’d take a break from it all, appreciate the great outdoors.”
“And that’s why you’re in Ludwig?” I had to laugh. “Our great outdoors ain’t that great, especially this time of year.”
“Unless you like things dry as the desert and hotter’n hell,” Chuck added.
“No, actually, I’m in Ludwig because my truck broke down,” he answered. “I was on my way to –” He hesitated, then smiled. “Never mind. Let’s just say I’m grounded for a few days until Hank can get the part to fix my truck.”
I nodded and took a sip from my coffee, wondering why he was being so vague. Then again, we were strangers, and there was nothing that said we had to share everything just because we were sitting in the same couple of square feet. Ludwig could do that to you. Everyone knew everything about everyone else, and although it was a privacy killer, it did bring the community a lot closer together. It was just second nature to want to know everything you could about the person in front of you. It was almost like welcoming in a new member of the family.
“An odd place to break down,” I said. “I mean, Ludwig isn’t really on the interstate’s way to any major city.” I winced a little inside, wishing I didn’t have that bit of curiosity that was either going to make him hate me, or at the very least avoid me for the remaining days he was here.
“Who said I was going to a major city?” Chance asked, a wide smile on his face as he crossed his arms over his chest. He was obviously enjoying the little game.
“I just assumed as much, I guess,” I said, looking at him from above the rim of my mug.
“Told you, taking a break, great outdoors, all that.”
I nodded and smiled, giving him a look that I hoped let him know that I wasn’t buying it. From what I knew, investors never really took breaks. Not unless they were sitting on a pile of cash, which would not explain why he would be driving anything that might break down on him.
“I guess I’d just expect someone to move a little bit more northwards if they were looking for the great outdoors.”
“You gotta excuse Ashlyn,” Chuck laughed as he watched our conversation go back and forth. “We’re a small town. We’re used to asking questions.”
“Not at all,” Chance said. “Truth is, I was on my way to Houston, big investment opportunity. Only it’s in a few days, so I thought I’d do a little sightseeing until then.”
“Sabbatical,” I nodded. “Is that what normal folks would call a little time off?”