Due to a major winter storm followed by a prolonged power outage, this is a bit late. Sorry to those of you who have been sitting on the edge of your seats, for two weeks now. :) If you celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas! If you don’t, have a wonderful week.
The first chance she had, she ran.
After about an hour of driving Isabella had told Hunter that she needed to use the bathroom. He’d pulled over at the next gas station, a dilapidated building at the outskirts of a run-down town.
He watched her walk into the station, and just as she’d hoped, a backdoor opened to the diesel pumps for truckers; beyond that stretched freedom.
Isabella tried to act nonchalant, but the adrenaline flooding through her system forced her feet into a quick walk through the station and out the back door. Once she’d cleared the pumps, she began to sprint.
Her arms and legs propelled her through a patchy stand of trees, past a cookie-cutter subdivision, and onto what must have been this town’s version of a business district.
She scanned her surroundings as she slowed her pace. Her choices consisted of a one room hardware, a church, a bar, and a restaurant. It was a decent looking establishment with a sign over the door pronouncing it Dwarf’s Diner.
Seven pairs of eyes turned toward the door as she entered. Seven old men, each with a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of him, surrounded the table at the center of the room and appeared to be the only customers.
Isabella nodded slightly and gave a half wave before sliding into a corner booth as far from the door as she could get.
She stared out the window, wondering how long she had before Hunter figured out that she wasn’t coming back. What would he do? What if he called the police, or worse, her stepmother?
“What can I get for you ma’am?”
One of the old men who’d been sitting at the table now stood beside hers. He watched her with interest and Isabella felt a flush creep up her neck and warm her cheeks as she worked out her response.
“Uh, nothing thanks, or maybe just water.” She glanced out the window again.
“We don’t serve just water around here,” the man’s eyes twinkled as he spoke. “Hold tight there, I’ll be right back.”
Isabella shifted uncomfortably in her seat as he walked away. She didn’t have any money.
The other six men had relaxed back into their conversation. For lack of anything better to do, she watched them.
One of the men looked as if he might fall asleep right there on the table, in spite of the intermittent sips from his coffee cup. Another stared at the fan overhead, apparently oblivious to the good-natured argument going on around him. A third held a hankie to his nose in an effort to stifle a fit of sneezing.
This made Isabella smile.
The fourth man noticed her smile and grinned in return. The fifth followed his friend’s gaze. His eyebrows pulling together in a salt and pepper line over a scowl of displeasure when he noticed Isabella. The sixth man met her eyes, blushed, and then averted his gaze.
“Name’s Doc,” the seventh man said as he returned to the table.
He placed a slice of pie and a cup of hot chocolate on the table in front of Isabella.
“This here’s my place, started it up after I retired. It was always a dream of mine to run my own restaurant. Picked the wrong town though. These fellas are about my only customers most days, and all they do is drink up all my best coffee.”
Isabella couldn’t help but smile.
“So, what’s your name?” Doc asked.
Isabella opened her mouth to answer, and then hesitated.
“Uh, Snow,” she replied. “My friends call me Snow.”
“Fits you,” Doc replied with a nod.
Isabella looked back at her plate and began to push it toward Doc.
“I can’t pay,” she said.
“I tell you what,” Doc replied, pushing the plate back toward her. “You wash your own plate and cup when you’re done, we’ll call it even. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s washing dishes.”
“It’s a deal,” Isabella responded.
Doc nodded and returned to his own table.
Isabella finished her pie and cocoa to the rise and fall of seven voices arguing about the weather, punctuated by the occasional sneeze and subsequent honk into a hankie.
She had just started to feel much better about things when she saw a familiar car driving down the road. She slid from the booth and headed for the kitchen just as Hunter pulled up in front of the diner.