Harris was expecting the scene at the Inn that night. After all, he was a cop. He hadn't been on-duty, sure, but Doug had called him for help, and that badge he wore didn't come with set hours. Especially since he was the town's best cop... well, alright... the town's only cop.
So he was expecting the scene, tables and chairs scattered and broken, dishes ruined right and left, and the town's local barflies slugging it out in some cliché western barfight scene. Cliff was on the sidelines, nursing yet another black eye, Ann was causing more damage than she was preventing in attempting to 'mediate,' and Doug was sitting behind the bar quietly, putting the glassware safely away and quietly racking up the damages. He expected that the worst offenders would get a bill to pay for repairs tomorrow morning.
What he didn't expect was to see her in the thick of it. She hadn't changed much, her long black hair still tied back in a ponytail, her eyebrows as defined as her mother's, and that smirk… every inch the same one he saw on Duke at his best(or his worst). Aja... he never thought he'd see her in town ever again. So he certainly didn't expect to see her here, apparently letting her father know that he'd done something stupid again. She seemed to be communicating quite well with that chair leg.
Yes, certainly coming face-to-face with the girl he'd liked for most of his life; the same one who'd left town 'forever,' leaving him completely crushed, defeated, and without hope; who'd 'outgrown' small-town living in favor of a life of 'fine living in a big city,' was a bit of a shock. Still, he was a cop. Serve and protect, he thought, now get your rear in there and stop that fight!
It wasn't the first time a barfight broke out at the Inn, and wouldn't be the last. Harris had done this so many times that it was pretty much routine now. He started by finding the worst of the drunks, and putting them down for a nap with his club. Then he separated the others with a combination of 'Authoritative Tone Number 5' and a light touch of brute force. It was brutal, rough, and completely tactless, but he'd always managed to calm things down just fine.
Finally, there were only two brawlers still at it. Duke was sprawled on his back, arms raised in defense while his daughter tried to kill him, calling him all sorts of names that she certainly hadn't learned around here.
Harris sighed. He'd have to get in there and stop her, before she succeeded in killing Duke. That wouldn't look good in court. He worked his way closer, but knew that he probably didn't have the combat skills to take Aja down. He had the height and weight advantage, and the advantage of a cool head, but even in the screaming rage his old friend had reached it was clear that she'd learned a few new tricks in the city.
And so, Harris decided, he'd try something different. He didn't know if it'd work, but if it did it'd save him a broken arm. He stood up, straightened his clothes out a little, and took a deep breath. This would take all of his courage, and then some.
"It's nice to see you again, Aja."
She'd expected trouble when she came home again, out of money and low on dreams. Her 'fine living in the big city' plan hadn't exactly worked out. She'd expected her mother to fuss over her, trying to relive how it'd been before she'd left. Never mind that she'd completely forgotten the nightly arguments. She'd expected her stupid prick of a father to try and gloat, and that she'd have to smack him around for it. She'd certainly expected her karate lessons to come in handy.
And she'd also expected that Doug would call the cops to help wrap up the brawl that inevitably resulted from her outburst. But she hadn't expected him to be the local cop. Harris had never shown any interest in the job before she'd left. She figured he had a future, that he'd become a writer, or a classical musician. He certainly had the talent. She'd imagined that he'd find a path, and take it as far as it went. Harris was a man with energy, and she knew he'd succeed, as soon as he got past some of his confidence issues.
Apparently, he hadn't. He was still here, a small-town cop who didn't even rate a partner. He probably never had to deal with anything more than the occasional barfight anyway. Mineral Town made Mayberry look like New York City by comparison, and she doubted that Harris really did much with his job.
She expected a quiet reprimand before Harris walked out the door. What she got was an arrest, under charges of assault and inciting a brawl.
What the hell?
Harris took Aja over to the jail and locked her up. Admittedly, Mineral Town didn't have much of a prison, really just a couple of holding cells installed in the basement of his house, but he took good care of them, and he always guarded them when there was a prisoner inside.
Admittedly, that wasn't too often, but there was always an exception or two. He'd never forget the aftermath of the 'Pie Festival' incident, or how hard it'd been to stuff the traveling gourmet judge into one of the cells. At least Jack had been a cooperative prisoner, otherwise he would've turned in his badge then and there. He sincerely hoped he never had to deal with that day ever again!
He got around to reading Aja her rights, and asking her about the specifics of the incident for his report. No one ever read his reports, but he always wrote them up. He had a job to do, and damned if anyone would catch him shirking at his duty.
Of course, hospitality was part of his duty as well, and he wasn't going to shirk on that, either.
"Would you like something to eat?" he asked.
Aja looked at him, a cold, dead look in her eyes. "No, thank you," she replied, in a tone as cold as her stare.
Harris shrugged, and sat back in his office chair. Since both his first and second duties had been fulfilled, he decided to get back to what he'd been doing before he got called out, and settled down for a nap. He expected that Aja wouldn't want to talk much.
"How long have you been the policeman?" Aja asked.
Harris sat up, and took his hat off. Without it, he looked a lot younger. "About 8 years now, I think," he replied. "I left for the academy shortly after you left."
Aja nodded, and sat back on the cell bunk a little. "So, this is what you decided you wanted to do?" she asked.
Harris nodded. "Writing never really appealed to me anyway, and I was a lousy musician."
"You were not!"
Harris laughed, an easy chuckle that invited those around him to share in his self-deprecation. "I had some skill, yes. But I was never good enough to go pro, Aja. Nah, I like being a cop, far better than I thought I would back then. Mineral Town's just the right size for me, too."
Aja smiled, her dark eyes looking straight into a world of might-have-been. "Yeah," she said, "I guess it's nice and quiet."
Harris broke out laughing again, this time a hearty guffaw. "Nowhere near as quiet as you think!" he retorted, "I've seen some odd things out here, stuff you'd never find in a city beat!"
"Oh, I'm sure that the cows rack up a lot of parking tickets," Aja replied sarcastically.
"No, but there was this one incident where I had to arrest some chickens for assault."
Aja sat bolt upright. Now she was paying attention. "What happened?"
"Some of Rick's special breed got out of their pen, and started attacking my dad and a few others. It took me three hours to herd them into the cells, and I got pecked fifteen times while I took them to court."
Aja laughed. "The chickens went to court?! What was their sentence?"
Harris smirked. "Sadly, they got the death penalty. I thought it was a bit harsh, but all witnesses agreed that the defendants took their execution well, and were quite delicious."
Aja's laughter intensified. "Alright, I take it back. That's definitely not a case you'd get in a city!" Suddenly, she sighed, and her expression turned dark again. "You've really made a life out of this, haven't you?"
Harris shrugged. "It's a job, and I do it to the best of my ability. I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I didn't give anything I worked for 100 percent."
Aja's smile was back, that smirk that reminded Harris of Duke so much. It was the smile of someone who didn't always spend their time smiling, the quiet smile of someone who wasn't necessarily happy. "You've never thought that you were wasting your life here, then?"
"I've thought about it a little," he replied, "but in the end, I honestly like it here. Mineral Town's just the right size for me, I guess."
Aja was tired. She'd spent the better part of eight years trying to find someplace that fit her. "Maybe," she said aloud, "I could see if it fits me, too..."
"So you're going to stay a while?" Harris asked.
"I guess. The outside world certainly wasn't what I expected."
"I guess that neither of us really expected what our lives would be like."
"Well," Aja remarked, "nothing will ever be exactly what you expect it to be, I guess."
"No," Harris replied, "I guess not."
They fell silent after that, Harris falling asleep in his chair, and Aja sitting pensively on the cell bunk. Neither of them had said anything about a relationship, but she felt like one might've started that night between them. She expected that it probably wouldn't work out, that her personal issues would just send her off again, or that her presence would re-awaken some of Harris's old problems.
Then again, very little of what she'd expected her life to be had actually happened. Maybe… maybe it could work out. Then again, maybe she was just getting her hopes up.
Just keep an open mind, Aja. You're not who you were, and neither is he. Don't expect a disaster, you could get a miracle.
In the end, she decided to give it a shot. No disaster could match the one she'd lived since she'd left Mineral Town. And even if it did, it still wouldn't be the disaster that not trying at all would be.
Harris looked peaceful while he slept, lines only visible in their absence vanishing from his face. She wondered what worried him so much while he was awake, what quiet pain he kept inside him...
Well, for now she'd let him rest. Tomorrow, she'd talk to him again. She didn't know what to expect, but in the end, that was probably better than expecting anything at all.
She'd let the future be a surprise, for once.