One Tin Soldier by Josie A. Okuly
One tin soldier rides away
James hummed the folk tune as he reached for the weathered tin soldier. It was exactly like the one he had as a child. It had the purple medal on the chest which was rare indeed. Good thing he stopped at this yard sale!
His hand brushed across the fingers of a young woman who reached for the toy at the same time he did.
Their gazes met and held. Under different circumstances, James would've said something like, "Be my guest; it's yours." But not today. For a moment, he kept his hand on hers and felt the downy softness of her skin beneath his. Pink pastel fingernails which matched her full, pink lips. A stray breeze blew golden hair across her cheek as cornflower blue eyes gave him a questioning glance.
"It's all yours; you touched it first." Katie jerked her hand back as if it had been singed by fire. The attractive man frowned at her and she grew conscious of the faded jeans and equally faded sneakers she wore. She was in antique buying mode and hadn't bothered to dress for the occasion. Some of the best bargains could be negotiated if the seller had no clue she was anything other than a Saturday morning yard sale aficionado.
Katie gave the man a friendly smile while admiring his rugged yet sensitive face. It had been months since she'd taken the time to admire an attractive man. Her friends tried to set her up with local business owners, but she was often too busy with her burgeoning antique business to devote much time to her love life.
"I've been looking for a tin soldier like this since I was kid. Mine was destroyed in a fire." James realized his mistake the moment he opened his mouth. The lady in charge of the sale narrowed her eyes in a calculating expression.
Three hundred dollars," she said.
James groaned inwardly. Two hundred dollars was all he had with him. "Will you take a check? Perhaps a credit card."
She shook her head. "Cash only."
Katie saw her chance to enter the bargaining. "I'll give you two fifty."
"Three hundred firm," said the woman.
"You've got a deal." Katie felt a twinge of compassion when she saw the man's shoulders slump in defeat. Of course, he had committed a cardinal sin in the bargaining process. Never let the seller know how much you wanted an item. As her gaze slid sideways across his face, she was surprised at the extent of his disappointment. Why had the soldier meant so much to him?
The antique toy disappeared from the table as the woman rolled it in bubble wrap and placed it in a plastic bag.
Katie took the bag from her, impulsively digging out her business card from the pocket of her jeans. Before she turned away, she handed the card to him and said, "Come by my store tomorrow and I'll give you a good discount on this little guy."
As she carried her purchase to the car, she had the irresistible urge to turn around to see if he was watching her. Unconsciously, she flipped a stray hair off her face and straightened her spine.
James never took his eyes from her as she opened the car door, placed the package in the front seat, and started the engine. When she drove away, he looked down at the business card. Katie Miller Antiques.
Tomorrow he would visit her shop and purchase the soldier. Then he would visit the cemetery where his wife and son were buried. The search for the antique toy was the only thing pushing him forward through his agony. Two years ago a drunk driver had taken his family and James had died with them, although he somehow continued to breathe. Now he wanted to place the proud, little soldier on Stevie's grave site. He had always promised his son a soldier of his own. Just like the one dad owned as a kid.
On her way back to the store, Katie remembered the downcast expression on the man's face. She wished she had asked him his name. Suddenly she wanted to get his number so she could call him when the toy was clean and ready for sale. Negotiating a u-turn in the narrow, overgrown country road was no easy task but she finally did it. Then she stepped on the gas as the sky darkened to a dull umber and fat drops of rain plopped against the windshield. When she pulled into the driveway of the yard sale, the woman in charge was putting away her treasures for another day. There was no sign of the attractive man with the sad expression.
Katie headed for her shop. She often opened for a few hours on Saturday afternoons, although there was never much business.
Hours later, as the rain pelted against the roof of her cozy little shop, she cleaned the soldier and made him look presentable. After removing oil and grime, she decided the nicks on his barrel chest gave him added character. His face seemed resigned and soulful and somehow reminded her of the man from the yard sale.
Katie was in the back room when the chime sounded over the front door. Had someone braved the rain to visit the store just before closing time? Cautiously, she peered through the curtain which separated the storeroom from the main lobby.
James saw her as he removed his raincoat. Her smile was the clear dawn after a destructive storm. Was she happy to see him or was he reading too much into her cheerful expression?
"I was just about to close for the evening," she said.
"I couldn't wait until tomorrow. I'm glad you're still open." His gaze held hers as he drank in her beauty. For the first time in years, he felt a stirring, a longing, a desire for human connection.
She nodded. "I've cleaned up your soldier and I think you'll be pleased with the results. Come to the storeroom and I'll show you."
As James followed her, the refrain from One Tin Soldier played in his imagination but this time the old song held a hopeful note.