UNTITLED (as yet) STORY
At the end of each part of this story, Iím asking the members of my discussion group what they think should happen next. Based on their responses I continue the story. To see what the options were and how the group voted or to join in the fun go to:†† †http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mickeyminner/
The boards of the porch creaked loudly with each step making Linda wonder if they were safe to walk on. When she took a closer look, she discovered many were missing the nails that held them in place and several were badly split or broken. The café itself wasn’t in much better condition with the wood slats covering its sides twisted and curled after years of exposure to the hot summers and frigid winters. “If this is what the outside is like, I can just imagine how the inside must look,” she muttered reaching for the door. The knob felt loose and she was afraid it might come off in her hand as she pulled the screen door open, its hinges squawking loudly in protest. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, she wondered as she passed through the entry. “Damn.”
“Something wrong?” Barb asked when Linda failed to enter the room completely and the screen door slammed into her back. Linda’s feet remained planted in one spot while her head swiveled about as she gazed around the room.
Unlike its exterior, the café’s interior appeared to have been recently remodeled. Two booths, each tucked into one of the bay windows at the front of the café, had benches covered in thick leather seat cushions and backs. Several tables of varying sizes with matching chairs were positioned about the middle of the room and along the sides. A long counter separated the dining area from the open kitchen, its top polished to a bright sheen. All the furniture was made out of pine giving the room a warm, inviting feeling. “I feel like I just passed through a time warp or something.”
Barb smiled. “Pick a spot and I’ll grab the pot. Do you use cream?”
“No,” Linda said as she walked to a booth and slid into it. She scooted all the way to the window to enjoy the view of Henry’s on the opposite side of the glass.
Barb appeared and set two sturdy coffee mugs on the table. “Here you go,” she said as she filled the cups from the pot she carried then set it down on the table before sliding onto the bench opposite Linda.
“Aren’t you afraid that’ll burn?”
“That’s why I made them out of pine.” She rapped her knuckles against the wood. “Almost indestructible. And if they do get damaged, I just go out back and make a new one.”
“You made this? All of this?”
“I had some help. But, yes. Heck of a lot cheaper than having them ordered and shipped from some city. Besides, it gives us something to do over the winters.”
Linda picked up the sugar dispenser and poured a healthy serving into her cup.
Barb grinned. “I see you like a little coffee with your sugar.”
“Bad habit. I put lots in the first cup then hardly any in after that.”
“Do you mind if I ask—”
Barb slid out from the table. “Oh, dang it. I forgot to grab a menu. Be right back.”
Linda turned her attention outside. Her brow crinkled as she observed the town.
“Pick your poison and I’ll start cooking,” Barb said as she placed a menu on the table in front of Linda.
“You’re the cook?”
“Cook, dishwasher, floor sweeper, table cleaner and cashier. You name it and I probably do it.”
Linda picked up the menu. “Must keep you busy. What do you recommend?”
“If it’s on the menu, I recommend it. Anything I don’t like doesn’t get put on it.”
“BLT sounds good.”
“White, wheat, sourdough? Limp or toasted?”
“Sourdough and toasted.”
“Any allergies to mayonnaise and mustard?”
Linda chuckled. “No. But mayonnaise only, please.”
“Fries, chips or salad. It’s fresh.” She winked. “Just like me.”
Linda’s mouth spread in a wide grin with her hearty laugh. “Well then, the salad is a must. Ranch dressing.”
“You got it. Be right back with that salad. Just let me put the bacon in the skillet first.”
“Take your time. I’m not exactly in a hurry.” Noticing that several oil paintings adorned the walls of the café, she slid out of the bench. “These are wonderful. Who’s the artist?” she asked as she took a closer look at the paintings.
“Granddad. He really captured the area, don’t you think?”
“From what I’ve seen of it, yes. Are these the lakes you were talking about?”
Barb looked up from the salad she was preparing. “Some of them. That one is called the Lake of the Lovers.”
“It’s beautiful. The moonlight shining on the water and that couple standing in the shadows seem almost…”
“Salad is ready.”
“Oh, I can take that,” Linda said when Barb started around the counter to carry the plate to the table.
“Nope. You come eat when you’re ready. Until then, keep enjoying.”
“Thanks. I will. Is it very far to these lakes? Maybe I’ll take a drive out there after I eat.”
“The lakes? No. About two miles to the first of them. But if you talking specifically about that one, you can’t drive to it. Only way to see the Lake of the Lovers is by foot. It’s about a four mile hike, one way.”
“Oh.” Linda said, disappointed.
“But if you stick around a few days, I might be talked into showing you the way. One BLT on sourdough and toasted,” she said holding up a plate. “Just as you ordered.”
“Oh, my. That looks delicious.” Linda followed Barb to the table. “Aren’t you eating?”
“Little early for me. But…” She grinned setting a second plate on the table. “Just to be polite and so I don’t stare at you while you eat, I made these.” She picked a French fry off the plate and popped it into her mouth. Immediately, she puffed air into her mouth and ran across the room to the counter. Grabbing a glass, she filled it with water and took a long drink.
“Are you okay?”
“Never do that with a fry straight out of the fryer.”
Linda smirked. “One would think that was common knowledge.”
Barb sneered playfully. “One would think.”
“Something of interest going on over at the Store?”
“You keep looking over there.” Barb twisted around to look out the window. “Is Dudley sitting out on the porch in his long-johns again?”
“He’s getting a little forgetful. It’s not too bad unless he’s got the blue ones on.”
“And that would be because?”
“The blue ones date back to the civil war- a gift from his granddad. But the dang things have more moth holes in them than fabric. He’s startled more than one tour-ass wearing them.”
“You are so making that up.”
Barb shrugged. “Nope. So, what’s your interest in the store if it’s not Dudley?”
“The sign in the window says ‘Position Available’.”
“Looking for a job are you?”
“Not really. More like a change of life. And I’ve always played around with the thought of finding a small country store to run.”
“Ah. So that’s what brought you to Henry’s.”
“No.” Linda smirked. “The road brought me.”
Barb laughed. “Fast learner.”
“Actually, I quit my job a few weeks ago, gave up my apartment and hit the road. I decided I wanted something different out of life.”
Linda thought several minutes before answering. “I wanted to feel like I made a difference. I wanted someone to miss me if I didn’t get out of bed in the morning.”
Barb looked puzzled. “Surely you must have that already.”
Linda shook her head, a look of regret on her face. “No.”
“A beautiful woman like you? Damn.”
Linda bit her lower lip, chewing on it nervously.
“Hey, I’m sorry. That was really insensitive of me. I’m not usually that boorish. It’s just that I figured you were driving though on your way to meet whomever. Now you tell me you don’t…”
Barb reached out and gently placed her hand on top of Linda’s. “You should.”
Linda looked up and smiled. “Thank you.” After a few moments, she slowly pulled her hand away the warm one holding it. “Who do I talk to about the store? Dudley?”
Barb withdrew her now empty hand. “You can. But he can’t make any decisions. I recommend talking with the owner.”
“And that would be?”
Barb smiled. “Me.”
“You? You own the café. You own the Store. Do you own the town too?”
“Easiest answer to that is yes and no.”
Linda chuckled. “How is that easy?”
“Okay, long answer. Everything in Henry’s is owned by a Henry. Actually, it’s owned by all the Henrys. It’s just that over the years, there’s fewer and fewer of us so the older ones have sort of turned the official end of things over to me. Even though I don’t own the store outright, I speak for the family. So if you want to talk, you talk to me.”
“I’m the youngest. I still have most of my mental capacities. I don’t scare the tourists.” She snickered. “Unless I’m bored.”
“Why are there fewer and fewer of you?”
“Guess you could blame Henry’s for that. Not too many of us ever venture too far from here. It’s home,” she said in explanation. “Courtin’ vacationers doesn’t always end for the best. The ones who agree to marry quickly learn that life here isn’t… Well, it isn’t what they thought it would be. The summers are long with days worked morning to night. The winters are cold with long nights of nothing to do but talk and… You know…” She smiled bashfully.
Linda grinned. “I get the point.”
“Well, let’s just say, the fun of living in a small, isolated town wears thin real fast for some.”
“You’re the youngest?”
“Does that mean?”
“The Henry family dies with me?”
“That depends. I keep hoping one of my cousins will find someone. I’ve even suggested they move out of Henry’s. But…”
“What about you?”
“Children don’t seem like a very likely possibility.”
“If you think it’s hard for the boys to find a gal to marry…”
“Oh. Not many men to choose from?”
“Something like that.”
“Uncle Dudley,” Barb called out as she entered the store.
Linda lagged behind, making note that the condition of the building wasn’t much different than the café. She wasn’t too surprised when she entered the store to find that, like the café, the interior was modern. But she was puzzled by the paradox.
The store was rectangular in shape with two bay windows in the front and windowless walls along the sides. One long wall was lined with shelves stocked with canned, jarred and boxed goods, loafs of bread, and a limited variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Miscellaneous cooking utensils and sundries took up space on the other long wall along with some magazines and paperbacks, and paper products. In the middle of the store a pair of cold units displayed packages of meat, fish and a sparse arrangement of frozen foods. Milk and juices occupied a cooler at the back of the store.
An elderly man shuffled out of a door next to the milk cooler. “I was jus’ comin’ over to find ya, Barbara. She was here—”
“Dudley, I want you to meet Linda. She’s interested in taking over the running of the store.”
“Be polite, Uncle Dudley. Say hello.”
Annoyed, he turned to look at Linda. “What do you know ‘bout running a store?”
“Probably the same you knew when you took over here.”
“Don’t worry,” Barb smiled to assure Linda. “You don’t need to know much more than check the deliveries when they come in and collect the money from the shoppers. Dudley will help you get familiar with that and I’ll help you with the bookkeeping and such.”
Dudley shuffled closer to Barb. “She kinder looks like her, don’t she?” he whispered. Barb glared at the old man. “Well, she do.”
Overhearing the comment, Linda looked quizzically at the pair.
Ignoring her uncle, Barb said, “Let me show you around. As you can see it’s pretty simple. We don’t carry much more than the basics; that way we aren’t left with a big inventory come winter time. Once the snow starts to fall, the tourists are less likely to come this far. That’s when the snow-mobilers and ice fishermen start to show up. Lot less of them.” She walked slowly about the store as she explained its operation. Linda followed listening intently while Dudley shuffled behind them trying to catch Barb’s eye. “Delivery trucks come twice a month. We have to send in our orders one week before. I do the ordering for both the store and the café so you’ll need to be sure and get me a list of what you need before then. Special deliveries cost a chunk of change so we try to avoid them. Best to go without then have to ask for one. That’s about it. Like I said, Dudley will work with you until you’re comfortable enough to go it alone. Any questions?”
“Whoa. That’s a lot to take in at once. Can I think about it?”
“Sure. You know where to find me when you’ve made you’re decision.”
“Barbara. I need to tell you—” Her uncle tried again.
“I best get back to the café. Never know when someone will wander in for a meal.”
“I’ll come with you,” Dudley said.
“You better stay here. Still plenty of day left. Can’t afford to miss a sale.”
Linda followed Barb outside. “Barb?”
“I don’t want to pry but what was Dudley saying about me looking like someone?”
Barb stood on the porch looking across the street at the café. “You can’t put much stock into anything Uncle Dudley says. I told you his mind is slipping.”
“But he runs the store. And you want him to train me. He must be lucid some of the time.” She placed a hand on Barb’s arm attempting to get the woman to look at her.
Barb slumped against one of the posts that supported the porch’s roof. “He thinks he sees my aunt. It’s been almost twenty years and he still thinks he sees her in the store where they used to work together. It’s not you. Every woman about your age who goes into the store, he says looks like her. It’s just an old man’s wish to have his wife back.”
“Oh. That’s sad. How did she die?”
“Die? I never said she died. Although, she might have by now.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She ran off with a pickled pepper salesman.”
“One of those who couldn’t stand the long winters?”
Barb grinned then shrugged. “More likely she couldn’t stand spending them with Dudley.” She leaned close to whisper, “He’s not exactly known as one of the better conversationalists of the family.”
“Dammit. I can’t tell if you’re pulling my leg or not.”
Barb laughed. “Don’t give Uncle Dudley’s ramblings any mind.” She stepped down from the porch. “If you still want to take that drive, I’d recommend going down to Trout Lake. It’s about five miles but it’s a nice drive and there’s a trail that circles the lake. Pretty walk.”
“Thanks. Oh, Barb,” she called out as the café owner started across the street. “Do I talk to you about a room at the motel?” She had seen the collection of small cabins at the end of town with ‘Motel’ painted on the side of the one closest to the road.
“Sure do. I’ll reserve one for you. Guess I don’t need to ask, one bed or two?”
“No. I guess you don’t.
“You can fill out the paperwork when you get back.”
“Have a nice drive.”
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