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Rick Barnes paused a moment after walking into Tony’s Cafe, taking in the still familiar surroundings. Despite the six long years since he’d last walked through the door behind him, very little appeared to have changed. The decorations on the wall were still much the same as he remembered, as were the glass display cases behind the counter and the large chalkboard that announced the day’s specials. His eyes glanced to the rear of the restaurant and he saw that even his old booth was still there, tempting him to head to it as if it was just another day. But then he decided that he wasn’t going to be here that long and opted for a seat at the counter instead.
No sooner had he climbed onto the stool at the end of the row than the trim young man was instantly met by a pretty, seventeen year old blond on the other side of the counter. She automatically set an empty cup and saucer in front of him and with a gesture of the carafe in her hand, nonverbally asked if he wanted coffee.
“Yes, thank you,” Rick said, pausing just long enough to read the name tag on her blouse that identified her as Emily.
As she poured, Rick took a second, more critical look around at what had once almost been a second home. This time he noticed the same sort of unrepaired wear and tear that he’d seen in other parts of town earlier in the day. A sign of the times, he thought.
“You’re not from around here, are you?’ Emily asked after she’d finished filling his cup.
“No, I guess not,” Rick replied, thinking but not adding, anymore, “but just out of curiosity, what made you think that I wasn’t?”
“Well, you’re dressed a lot neater than most of the guys that come in here,” she said, making note of his light blue golf shirt and tan slacks, “and besides, I’d remember a cute guy like you if you’d been in here before.”
As he returned her compliment with a smile, Rick took a moment to do the math and decided that the last time he’d been in Tony’s, Emily was probably just about getting her first training bra.
“Can I get you anything else?” Emily asked, matching his smile with one even more inviting.
“No, this will be fine,” Rick replied as, after a tentative sip of the hot brew, he noted that at least the quality of the coffee hadn’t changed.
“Well, I’ll be right over there if you change your mind,” Emily said, a barely noticeable touch of disappointment in her voice.
Sitting quietly with his coffee, Rick allowed himself the luxury of getting lost in his memories for a minute or two. Thoughts that were interrupted when he sensed, rather than saw, someone step around from behind him and place an oversized slice of pumpkin pie, generously covered with whipped cream, on the counter next to his coffee.
“Excuse me, I didn’t order this,” Rick said before he even turned his head to see who had put it there.
“Now don’t you go telling me that you still don’t love pumpkin pie,” said a woman wearing the same uniform as Emily, “especially one that I made with my own little hands.”
The woman that came into view when he turned all the way around was more than twice Emily’s age, with short, reddish-brown hair that came to rest just above the cut of her neck. She might have been wearing the same white blouse and black skirt as the younger girl, but Emily’s blouse hadn’t been straining against the bust beneath it, nor did she wear the top three buttons open to give a good view of what it was supposed to conceal. If Rick had been standing instead of sitting, he knew that he would be two inches taller than the woman as well as a good ten to fifteen pounds lighter. Not to say she was overweight, because even a casual glance told you that whatever extra pounds she had where all in the right places. Although she also wore a name tag, Rick had no need to glance at it to know her name.
“Oh my God,” he exclaimed in surprise, “Mrs. Davis. I had no idea that you still worked here.”
“Mrs. Davis was one ex-husband ago, sweetie,” the woman said with the broadest of smiles, “and as I recall, you’ve been calling me Cory Lee since you were old enough to walk. So don’t let me hear any of that Mrs. whatever nonsense.”
Rick had barely risen from the stool when Cory Lee, wrapping her arms around him, hugged him like a long lost son. In a way that was almost true. Not a son of course, but certainly an honorary nephew at least.
“Damnation,” Cory Lee said as she finally let him go. “If I had to make a list this morning of the last people I ever expected to see in this dump again, I do expect that you’d have been on the very top of it.” She paused to look him over again, comparing the young man with the boy she had known. “But whatever the reason you’re back here, I’m damned glad to see you again. Why didn’t you call ahead and say you were coming?”
“It’s good to see you again too, Cory Lee,” Rich said leaning back against his seat as he realized that calling her that did indeed seem more natural. “But like I said, I didn’t know that you still lived in Jackson bursa escort Springs, and my being here at all was a spur of the moment decision.”
“Well, I’m here and you’re here and for the moment that’s enough,” she said, “and don’t you go thinking that I’m going to let you run off until we’ve had a chance to sit and chat. I want to know all about what you’ve been doing since the last time I saw you.”
“That wouldn’t take long,” Rick grinned.
“Be that as it may, you’re going to tell me all about it,” Cory Lee insisted. “So why don’t you take your coffee and pie back to your old booth and I’ll be back there myself in a minute.”
As Rick picked up the plate and rested it on top of the cup and saucer, Cory Lee caught Emily’s attention and told her that she’d be in the back for a bit. From the look on the younger woman’s face, Rick got the impression that she was disappointed that she wasn’t going to get the chance to strike up a longer conversation with him herself.
Sitting down in the very last booth, Rick couldn’t help but remember the many nights he’d sat there, homework spread across the table, waiting for his mother’s shift to end. Janet Barnes had started working at Tony’s a year before she’d barely graduated from the local high school, and had continued to do so until she married Doug Barnes, a long distance trucker ten years her senior, just before her nineteenth birthday. No one really bought that story that she’d come back from their brief honeymoon pregnant, but as long as Doug had done the right thing by her, no one counted the days too closely. Rick’s older sister, Doris, had been born seven months into the marriage, with himself following two years later. When he was three, a drunk driver had left Janet a much too young widow, and with few skills to call on, she had gone back to work at Tony’s.
During those later years, Cory Lee Davis had been his mother’s best friend, despite the age difference between them. Rick wasn’t ever exactly sure how much that difference was, but he guessed that Cory Lee had to be near fifty at least by now. In actuality, she had passed that milestone four years past.
“Before you say anything,” Cory Lee said as she sat down on the other side of the booth, her own cup of coffee in hand, “I want to say how devastated I was when I got the news that your mom had passed away. If I’d had a sister, I don’t think she would’ve meant more to me than Janet did.”
“I know how much she meant to you,” Rick replied, “and you to her. Doris and I really appreciated that nice letter that you sent after the funeral.”
“I wish I could’ve been there,” Cory Lee said, regret in her tone, “but I was away on my honeymoon and didn’t even find out about it until we got back.”
Five years before, when she had first taken ill, Janet Barnes had moved to Blue Ridge Falls to live with her daughter. Despite the better medical care available there, the disease had progressed rapidly and within a year she was gone.
“We know you would have if you could,” Rick said reassuringly. “and Mom knew it too.”
“She was really proud of you,” Cory Lee said, trying to push back the sad memory. “We all were. I can’t tell you how many times she said her son was going to be a big shot engineer someday – and now you are.”
“Well I don’t know about the big shot part,” Rick said as he picked up a fork and started on the pie, “but I’m doing okay.”
“So what brings you back to this burg?” Cory Lee asked as he savored that first piece of pie.
“I was on my way to New Wayne, over in Grayson County,” he explained between bites, “I’ll be working on a project there for the next few months. When I got to exit 9 on the interstate, it occurred to me that I was only two hours or so north of Jackson Springs. Since there was really no rush to get to New Wayne, they aren’t expecting me until next week, I decided why not take a little detour and drive through town. See what’s changed since I left, if nothing else.”
“I’m sure you’ve already discovered that not much has changed, at least nothing for the better,” Cory Lee said as she sipped her coffee. “But regardless of that, I’m really glad you decided to make that detour. How long are you planning to be in town?”
“To be honest, I really was just planning to make a quick visit and drive on to Starkville tonight,” Rick answered as he finished off the last of the pie, “but I had a little bit of a mishap when I came off the bridge over Morgan’s Creek and broke a strut on my jeep. I barely got it to a garage and they said they wouldn’t have a replacement until Monday at the earliest.”
“You took it to Malone’s?” Cory Lee asked.
“Where else?” Rick asked, thinking that there hadn’t been another garage in town since before he’d been born.
“Just wanted to be sure,” Cory Lee said as she reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out her cell phone. “Just excuse me for a few minutes,” she added as she scrolled down her contact list until she found the number bursa escort bayan she was looking for.
“Hi Jimmy,” she said once someone picked up on the other end, “is Billy there?”
There was a short pause as Billy, whoever that was, came on the line. Once he did, Cory Lee’s demeanor changed radically.
“No, it’s not about the check being late,” she said, after having listened for a few seconds, “but since you brought it up, this is the third time this year that you’ve been late with it.” There was another pause as she listened for a few seconds. “But that’s not what I’m calling you about. You have a jeep with a busted strut that was brought in this afternoon?”
She waited a few seconds for an answer, and then the expression on her face told Rick that she wasn’t happy with whatever answer she’d gotten.
“No, that’s not going to be good enough,” she said in a strong tone. “I don’t care if you have to take your own sorry ass down to Cranston Junction and pick up the struts yourself, but I want that jeep fixed by tomorrow at the latest.”
There was another pause while Cory Lee listed to Billy.
“No, you can’t ask who the guy who brought it in is to me,” she said. “Just get it done, okay?”
There were a few more seconds while Cory Lee listened, then she closed the phone with a smile on her face.
“Ex-husbands,” she said with a look of annoyance as she put the phone away, “Can’t live with ’em, can’t shoot ’em, at least not unless you’re really sure you can get away with it.”
Then, seeing a small look of concern on Rick’s face, Cory Lee assured him that the jeep would indeed be fixed by tomorrow. She and Billy had an understanding, she added, not feeling the need to explain that while they were no longer man and wife, that didn’t preclude them sharing a romp under the sheets now and then. In a town that was getting smaller by the year, there wasn’t a preponderance of options for a woman her age and while their all too brief marriage had its problems, good sex hadn’t been one of them.
“So now that we’ve taken care of that, all we have to do is find you a place for the night,” she added.
“Is the Golden Eagle Motel over by the highway still open?” Rick asked. “I thought I might just stay there.”
“The hell you will,” Cory Lee said, “not when I’ve got a perfectly good pull out couch sitting unused in my apartment. Besides, it’s Friday night and the rooms over there will be filled with high school boys too cheap to take their dates to a real hotel and husbands taking ladies not their wives to a place where no one asks to see a marriage certificate. Between the two of them you’ll never get any sleep.”
“Don’t you have plans for tonight?” Rick asked, “It is, like you said, Friday night.”
“Nothing that can’t be easily canceled,” came her reply.
“I wouldn’t want to impose…” Rick started to say, thinking he had slept in worse places while on the road, but she quickly cut him off.
“It’s already settled,” Cory Lee said, her tone now highly reminiscent of the one his mother used to use when she didn’t want to hear any argument about a subject either.
“Okay,” he relented.
“I’m out of here in about an hour,” Cory Lee said as she started to get back up. “How about I fix you a little dinner while you wait?”
Knowing it was pointless to even suggest otherwise, Rick just smiled and agreed.
“Make yourself at home,” Cory Lee said as she led Rick into her small apartment over the television repair shop, “and just drop your case anywhere.”
On the way over, they had stopped at Malone’s Auto Repair so that he could pick up his suitcase and she could make sure that someone had indeed gone down to the Junction to pick up the needed part. Billy hadn’t really gone himself, not that Cory Lee had expected him to; it was enough that he had sent one of the kids that worked at the garage.
Cory Lee’s first husband had been long gone by the time Rick had begun hanging out at the diner, so he had been quite interested to meet husband number two, or more precisely ex-husband number two. He seemed a nice enough guy, although he did give Rick a sort of funny look when Cory Lee said that he would be spending the night at her place. All she had to do to allay his suspicions was simply tell him who he was, but for her own reasons she declined to do so. But that was between him and her, he noted, and kept any thoughts about it to himself.
“I really could use a beer,” Cory Lee said as she dropped her own smaller carry bag onto a side table. “Would you like one?”
“Sure, why not?” Rick answered.
“Then be a dear and get us both one from the fridge while I take a minute to change clothes,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been wearing this outfit all week.”
By the time Rick had gone into the kitchen and taken two bottles from the six pack on the top shelf, Cory Lee was already stepping back into the living room. Gone was the waitress uniform, replaced escort bursa by an equally tight t-shirt and a pair of shorts. As he handed her the bottle of beer, Rick couldn’t help but notice that she was no longer wearing a bra.
“Oh, that hits the spot,” Cory Lee said as she upended the bottle and took a long drink from it.
Bottles in hand, the two of them sat down on the couch and made themselves comfortable. In Rick’s case that included propping his feet up on the ottoman while Cory Lee settled for just curling her legs up on the cushion beneath her.
She began the conversation by asking Rick a few more questions about both the jobs he had worked on as well as the one he was headed to, adding again how proud they all were of him. Then they moved on to the state of the town, and how every year there seemed to be less and less people in it. The old folk died off and the young seemed to want to be anywhere but here.
“How come you never had the desire to leave?” Rick asked as he finished off the bottle.
“Well, I really can’t just pack a bag and take off, as much as I sometimes would like to,” she said as she handed him one of the second pair of bottle that had come out of the refrigerator when she’d gone out to toss her own empty into the recycle bin a few minutes before. “I have a financial interest in the restaurant, not much, mind you, but enough that I really don’t want to just walk away from it.”
“I never knew that,” Rick said, genuinely surprised. “How did that come about?”
“It was about, ten, no, twelve years ago, when Tony Marinelli senior not the Tony you would know, ran into a bit of financial difficulty. Because of certain circumstances that are best not to go into, he really wasn’t in a position to go to the bank for a loan. I, on the other hand, had just inherited a good deal of money from my parents’ life insurance policy and was looking for a place to put it. I happened to overhear Tony talking about his problems one night and how he might have to lay some people off or possibly even close the place altogether. So it occurred to me that keeping this place afloat and all of us employed might be the best use of my money at the time.”
“Did my mom know about that?”
“No, she had enough problems of her own back then and I saw no reason to mention it. Tony and I had agreed to keep it just between us and the lawyers who drew up the agreement, and in hindsight I was glad we did. I didn’t want Janet to start thinking of me as her boss rather than her friend.”
Rick nodded his head in understanding, then asked her what would she do if the restaurant went under, which, given her earlier observations about the town, was a very real possibility. She replied that he needn’t worry about her, because she’d more than made back her original investment and had then reinvested that in more secure holdings. It was only for the other people who worked there that she kept trying to keep the operation in the black.
“So, anyone special in your life?” Cory Lee asked, changing the subject.
“Not at the moment,” Rick answered. “My job keeps me moving around a lot. Oh, I was engaged for a while right after college, but in the end she decided that she wanted more stability, location-wise, than I was going to be able to offer, at least in the immediate future.”
“Well, at least you found out beforehand,” Cory Lee noted. “I seem to have the bad luck to have it all come apart only after we’d said our I do’s.”
The second round of drinks was soon gone and for lack of any reason not to, they decided to finish off the six-pack. This time, however, Cory Lee brought out some snacks to go with the beers, slowing down their rate of consumption.
They spent the time it took to empty the last bottles reminiscing about the old days, bringing up names of people they’d known, as well as incidents that one or the other might have wanted to forget. It was after Rick had brought up one particularly embarrassing one about Cory Lee that she remembered one about him.
“Do you know what I always remember,” Cory Lee said, her inhibitions and speech both loosened by the amount she’d had to drink, “how many times I caught you staring at my tits back when you where a teenager. In fact, you’ve been staring at them pretty much the same way for the last hour.”
Rick turned a bright red with the realization that what she said was indeed true. He had been staring at her breasts, the nipples of which had gotten quite hard in the air-conditioned apartment and were pressing against the thin fabric of her shirt. He couldn’t help himself, he admitted, he’d been fascinated by those boobs since he’d been old enough to realize the difference between boys and girls.
“Oh, don’t go and get all embarrassed on me,” Cory Lee laughed, “I was just yanking your chain. If I didn’t want them looked at, I wouldn’t be putting them on display all the time. In fact, I should take it as a compliment that they’re still nice enough that a young man like you would want to look at them.”
Rick blushed a little more, but not only for what she had just said. His thoughts were flashing back to a night only a few months past his sixteenth birthday, when he got more of a first hand look at Cory Lee’s beauties than he’d ever imagined he would.
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