The first thing Minerva Light noticed about Tristan Hancock was his hands. She fell in love with them and then began working her way up his arms to the rest of him. The minute he stepped into her shop she knew he wasn't there to buy anything. Though she couldn't remember seeing him around the docks or on the Neck he had the look of the local lobstermen. He was big, maybe a little over six feet but broad with wide shoulders and thickset. He wore a baseball cap and dark glasses and a t-shirt that had probably been green once but that was many months and washings ago. Like many of the fishermen he wore a mustache that drooped down the sides of his mouth and was peppered with gray.
He came into the shop on a Tuesday afternoon with a nylon backpack slung over one shoulder. He looked nervous and uncomfortable which is how most of the local guys looked when they had to come into her shop for some reason.
“Can I help you?”
He turned and looked at her, took a deep breath, and then smiled as though smiling was something he had to prepare himself for.
“Hi,” he said and he slung the backpack onto the counter beside the cash register. “Are you Minerva?”
“Minerva Light,” she said holding out her hand and that was when he took it in his. His hand was huge, twice the size of hers, and square and hard. She stared at it and he let go quickly and she thought he might have been afraid he had hurt her. “This is my shop. But I bet you know that already.”
“Yeah, my friend Geoff told me.” His voice was low and quiet. She found herself leaning forward slightly to hear. He undid the clasp on the backpack and reached inside. She watched his hands moving, big, tough hands but graceful in a fascinating way, deft, accomplished. He removed a package wrapped in brown paper and unwrapped it. “Would you give me your opinion of this?”
What he handed her was a piece of wood that had been carved with meticulous precision in the shape of a stylized lion's head, mane tossed back, teeth bared, eyes wide. It had been carved with attention to the pattern formed by the grain of the wood, sanded to a smooth finish, and oiled to a fine sheen. When she took it from him her fingertips brushed his hand and she noticed he once again withdrew his hand swiftly.
She turned it over examining the swirling mass of the mane. “Very handsome,” she looked up and saw his eyes for the first time, he had removed his sunglasses and in the soft afternoon sunlight, his eyes were a light warm brown like pools of maple syrup.
“Thanks.” He said it awkwardly, uncomfortably.
“Did you do this?” Minerva glanced quickly at those big hands and then back at the carving.
“Yeah.” He opened the bag and began unwrapping more pieces. A dragon snorting fire, a snarling dog, a horse's head with flared nostrils and bared teeth. “I copied them, really. The designs aren't mine. I copied them from a book about ship's carvers I got from the library. What do you think?”
Minerva Light picked them up one by one and studied them examining the attention to detail, the stain applied to emphasize the wood grain, and the careful application of finishing oils. “They're very well done. Your finish work is excellent.”
“Thanks,” he relaxed a little and picked up the dragon. “I kind of came upon the finish on my own.”
“You did a good job,” she looked up into those eyes again.