No. 338

Fox’s Landing wasn’t a small town, but it wasn’t a large town, either. Every resident could gather in the square with plenty of space left for visitors.

I can’t tell you what possessed me to stop there that night. I saw the glowing “Vacancy” sign in the window of the motel and pulled over.

The morning was cold. I was the only one in the street. I’d asked the man at the front desk where I might find a cup of coffee and he’d told me to head three blocks “toward the bridge” to Dana’s Coffee. Of course, I had no idea where the bridge was, so I made an assumption and walked downhill.

It was unsteady going. There was a thin layer of ice on every surface. I stopped myself from falling more than once, but I eventually found the right storefront.

The hours on the window said Dana’s was open, but the door was locked. I rubbed my hands together and knocked. After a moment’s wait, it opened. I was greeted by a girl who appeared to be no more than seventeen years old.

“Are you open?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Come on in. You must be from out of town.”

“How’d you guess?”

“All the regulars come in through the kitchen until at least ten.”

I peered over her shoulder. It must have been true. I counted at least four other people sitting at a table in the middle of the shop.

“Come in,” she told me. “What can I get started for you?”

I looked briefly at the menu above the counter, but went with my gut. “Black coffee, please. Dark roast, if there’s a choice.”

“Sit anywhere you like,” the girl told me as she went to get my drink.

One of the men at the table motioned for me to join them. “Welcome to Landing,” he told me. “Don’t worry. Dana will have your drink real soon and you won’t have to stay for too long.”

“That’s Dana?” I asked, nodding at the girl.

“Sure is,” said another man. “This is her place.”

He saw the surprise on my face.

“She’s older than she looks.”

Dana returned with my cup. She gave the men an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “Are you spreading lies about me, again?”

“No, Dana. We were just telling the visitor here that you’re ninety-five years old.”

She looked at me. “Twenty-four,” she said. “It’s a game they like to play.” She gave me the coffee and turned back to the regulars. “I don’t want to have to ban you all for the third time.”

They laughed. “Don’t worry. We’ll be good.”

She returned to the kitchen.

“She’ll do it, too,” the second man admitted to me.

“I’ll bet,” I said. I sipped my drink. The coffee was good. Maybe I had time for one more before I got back on the road.