It didn’t take long to get to town, but I imagined that it wouldn’t take long to get anywhere riding shotgun with the sheriff. I kept waiting for the inquisition to begin, but Eli kept the conversation light and mostly reminiscing about the crazy, fun and stupid things we used to do when we were growing up. Chivalry was definitely alive and well and living in my new corner of the world.
After all these years, I was surprised to see that the Stop and Go was still open. This is the place my grandparents would come for “special occasions” or just when someone got a hankering for a greasy hamburger back in the day. “Greasy spoon” definitely didn’t do this place justice. For me, it had some of the best home cooking outside of my Granny’s kitchen that me or my mother didn’t cook.
And, the parking lot was already filled with nearly every truck in the county. That’s always the good sign of a great county restaurant.
We didn’t have too much trouble finding a parking place, though. It was pretty obvious that Eli and his deputies had a standing reserved table at the Stop and Go as well as reserved parking near the door. Made sense, I thought to myself, in case they got a call and had to zip out in a hurry.
He parked the SUV and then grinned. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“That you get to park by the door in case you get a call?” I peeked at him over the top of my sunglasses. I wondered what he thought I was thinking? He knew used to cover law enforcement when I was a beat reporter…back in the day.
“Damn. None of my lines are going to work on you, are they?” A little annoyed, he grabbed his cap and slipped out of the vehicle.
“You have lines? New lines? They never worked before. Why would they work now?” I knew he was listening even though he was strides ahead of me. This was our relationship. It was like we had never been apart in 10 years.
Inside, the diner hadn’t changed much since the last time I walked through those doors with my grandparents a decade ago. Maybe a coat of paint on the walls, or maybe the walls were just a little darker from the smoke billowing from the grill in the kitchen. Either way, the only real change I could see were that the customers were just a little older.
“Why hey there Eli! Make yourself at home, and I’ll be with you in just a sec!” shouted a voice from behind the register. It was a woman who sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place a face to the voice. I hoped I could figure it out by the time she made her way to our table so I didn’t embarrass myself.
I followed Eli as he weaved his way through the crowd shaking hands and patting backs of the patrons along the path until he came to a table that gave him a bird’s eye view of the room. He stopped at a booth in the back of the room and reached for me to sit facing the wall. He sat with his back against the wall facing the room. Cop logic.
“I can’t believe how much this place hasn’t changed after all these years,” I said reaching for the condiment tray in the corner of table. I spun the tray and caught myself smirking when the mirrored side of the napkin holder turned to face me.
“In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Bits, this town never changes,” Eli said. “That’s why I like it here. It’s easy to figure things out when everything moves at its own pace, you know?”
“I do. But, there’s something to be said for the faster pace of a big city, too. I think you and I understand both worlds pretty well, you better than me.”
“Not really,” he said. “Just because I deployed doesn’t mean I understand that world. I don’t think we’ll ever understand why there are so many people out there who hate us so much to do what they did. I’ll never understand that.”
“Good point,” I could hear my words trailing off. I could see the reflection of someone in the mirror hanging on the wall just above Eli’s head. It was our waitress walking toward our booth. She recognized my reflection immediately, and so did I.
“Oh. My. Goodness! Hey, Cuz!” I turned around and instinctively reached for my first cousin, Mary Stillwell. “How long ya been in town? Why didn’t ya call?” I dodged questions and a pot of hot coffee.
I could see Eli trying to hide his smirk behind his menu. Smart ass.
“Not long, I haven’t been in town long. How have you been? How are the girls?”
“Growin like little weeds, I tell ya. And, eatin me outta house and home. They’re around here somewhere. Lemme get y’all some breakfast, and I’ll find ’em for ya. What would y’all like this mornin?” Mary quickly filled our coffee cups. She didn’t write down our orders, but I got the feeling she had been doing this long enough that she didn’t need to.
Eli ordered his “usual,” and I ordered French toast with turkey bacon. Mary and Eli stared at me. I wasn’t sure if it was what I ordered or if a fly had landed on the end of my nose that brought the stares.
“Seriously?” Eli asked. “TURKEY bacon? What the hell is that?”
“Is turkey sausage okay?” Mary asked.
I nodded and handed my cousin our menus. “Ordering turkey bacon makes me an alien?”
“No, it just makes you weird,” Eli joked. “So, let’s just cut to the chase, shall we.”
Here we go. I put my coffee cup down and gently folded my hands on the table. Straightened my back and stared Elijah dead in his big, blue eyes.
“Why am I here.”
“Why are you here?”