The next morning Isabella woke to the smell of coffee and bacon. The tantalizing aroma seeped through the cracks around the door and filled the small room off the back of the kitchen which Doc had given to her. A deep inhalation told her brain it was time to get up. She stretched and rolled out of the covers.
As she stood, she looked down at her clothes. They were wrinkled and had acquired a few new stains from her efforts at preparing dinner the night before.
Ah well, not much I can do about that, she thought as she slid her feet into her small black shoes.
As she stepped into the kitchen, Doc greeted her with a smile.
“Morning Snow,” he called cheerily over the sound of sizzling bacon and clanking dishes. “How’d you sleep?”
She glanced up at the clock on the wall and blinked. Was it really six a.m.?
“Not long enough apparently,” she replied.
“Well, I like to start early, make breakfast for myself and the guys before the morning rush.”
Isabella poked her head around the corner and, sure enough, the same six men sat in the same six chairs that they’d been in the night before.
The bell above the door jingled, causing Isabella’s breath to catch in her throat. Her heart thudded as she looked up, expecting to see Hunter, or worse, her stepmother.
Instead a young man, not much older than Isabella, entered the diner.
The men at the table waved and called greetings. The young man returned the greetings with a smile before sliding into a nearby booth.
“Is that the morning rush?” Isabella asked as she ducked back into the kitchen.
Doc glanced up at the clock.
“Ah, that’d be Eddie. Comes by every morning before he goes to visit his mom at the nursing home. He’s a prince, that one.”
“Hmm, well, what do you need me to do?”
“First thing you need to do is change those clothes. Can’t have you waiting tables looking like some street urchin. Not in my fine establishment,” he added with a wink. “Try that on.” He nodded toward the door to Isabella’s room.
Hanging on the back of the door she saw a lovely blue skirt and a yellow short-sleeved shirt. They looked about the right size.
Isabella looked back at Doc with her eyebrows raised.
“Used to belong to my little girl,” he said. “She’s not so little anymore. Grew up, moved away, but I’ve still got a few of her things. Washed it for you and everything.”
Isabella smiled her thanks and retrieved the clothes off the door.
After she’d dressed and smoothed her hair, she looked in the small mirror hanging on the wall and sighed.
Good as it’s gonna’ get, she thought.
Isabella’s father sat on the floor of his daughter’s room with his head in his hands.
“Oh Isabella, I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “What have I done?”
He looked up then, and stared into the large oval mirror which hung on Isabella’s wall, the one that had once been her mother’s.
“It hurt to see you because it made me think of her. I couldn’t face losing her, and now I’ve lost you both.”
Behind him he saw his new wife step into the room. She approached slowly and placed her hands on his shoulders.
“It’s not your fault.”
“It is my fault. I wasn’t there for her. She never would have run away if I’d have been a better father.”
“Stop, don’t torture yourself. I told you, the police are looking for her. She couldn’t have gone very far. We’ll find her.” Isabella’s stepmother coaxed him to his feet. “Come downstairs now, your breakfast is ready.”
The stepmother ushered Isabella’s father into the hall. Before she closed the door she looked back at the mirror and gazed at her own reflection.
Time to get rid of the competition, she thought.