A single woman of a certain age on the Eastern Shore of Virginia was not what you would call a rare bird. In fact, there were so many of us in and around Cape Edwards that it was suggested we form our own official organization, complete with clubhouse and a secret handshake. We joked about it, of course, and when Terri Coburn suggested we make the Edmonds’ oldest son, a strapping 6’4” young man who won the state wrestling championship, our official mascot, well, the idea really picked up some steam. But since we really didn’t want to be single, or middle-aged, we chose not to make our status part of any official organization. Over the years we strengthened our friendships, watched some of us marry, embraced the newly single, and met once a week for breakfast at the Town Pharmacy.
Cape Edwards didn’t have a CVS or a Rite-Aid, or even a Walgreens. We had the Town Pharmacy, right at the end of Main Street before you took the left to get onto State Road 31. Town Pharmacy was so much more than a mere drugstore. It sold cards, home accessories, candles, stockings, and, oddly enough, Vera Bradley. There was also a luncheonette that served from six in the morning until two in the afternoon. I ate breakfast there, almost every Saturday morning, and had for almost fifteen years.
There were now five of us, as some of the original ladies from years back had moved on, one way or another. We met at eight thirty, sat at the same table, and pretty much ordered the same thing every week. Marie Wu sometimes asked for pancakes instead of her usual waffle, but our waitress, Wendy, was a quick young thing and never batted an eyebrow.
It was at this breakfast table, on an otherwise ordinary Saturday morning, that I heard the news about Sam.
Stella Blount and I pulled into the parking lot, from two different directions, at the same time. Stella owned a shop of Main Street called Tidal Gifts, and during the summer season she made enough money to stay open for the other eight months of the year. She was short and round with hair cut in a short Afro with a patch of dark purple along one side. She was a shrewd businesswoman and a good friend.
“What’s the word?” I asked as we met by the front door.
She shook her head. “There was something happening last night, but I don’t know what it was. I imagine we’ll find out in 3..2..1..”
Three faces looked up as we walked in, and I could tell by the looks that the something that had happened was bad.
“Should we be sitting down for this?” I asked.
Karen nodded her head and patted the empty seat next to her.
“Yes” she said. “You too, Stella.”
Stella sat gingerly across from me. “Who died?” She said it lightly, sarcastically, but…
Terri took a deep breath. “It’s Sam. He’s gone. Last night, Charlie said. Heart attack.” She reached across the table to grab my hand, holding it tightly. “I’m so sorry, Jenna.”
They all watched, and I felt tears. “Damn,” I muttered, and reached for a mug of coffee, poured in an excessive amount of sugar and stirred slowly with my free hand.
Sam had been my husband for almost five years. They had been the happiest and most miserable five years of my life. We were an unlikely couple to begin with. I’d been barely eighteen, and had never been farther from Cape Edwards than Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Sam blew in from New York City and opened a bar on Main Street, and hired me to waitress. He was forty at the time, traveled and experienced, with lots of money and a wicked sense of humor. We had what could best be described as a whirlwind courtship. My mother howled and complained and protested. She promised me trips to Europe and threatened to disown me. But I was in love, so Sam and I married, right there on the beach, both of us barefoot and a little high.
“Heart?” I asked.
Marie Wu nodded, her dark, bobbed hair dancing around her face. “Yep. Collapsed behind the bar. Glory and Charlie took turns doing CPR, but it was no use. By the time the EMTs got there, he was gone. I’m so sorry, honey.”
I drank my coffee. We hadn’t been very successful as a married couple, but for years we’d been the best of friends. “Well, that sucks.” I’d been on Main Street last night. A headache kept me from staying late, but I’d had my usual beer with Sam around nine-thirty. He’d been fine.
Karen reached around me to give me a hug. She was older than I, just fifty, and was a yoga instructor. You wouldn’t think there was much of a demand for yoga in a small town like Cape Edwards, but her studio was quite popular, drawing clients as far north as Exmore. She was very much into an all-natural way of living, so her hair was very gray and her face was wrinkled from too many walks in the summer sun. Her body was that of a twenty-year-old, but she looked sixty-five from the neck up.
“What are you going to do with the bar?” she asked.
I glanced around the table. They all leaned in, expectantly.
Wendy came up to our table. She’d been working there for five years and knew us all too well. “The usual, ladies?” she asked.
Heads nodded around the table. I pushed my mug to the center.
“I over-sugared this, Wendy. Sorry. Another cup?”
She nodded. “Sure, hon. I don’t blame you, with losing Sam and all. We all know how much you still loved him,” she said, and vanished.
“I didn’t still love him,” I muttered. I glanced up. All four faces showed perfect disbelief.
“Well, I didn’t,” I said louder.
“Then why the tears?” Marie asked. She was a tiny woman, Korean, and she was a lawyer up in Cheriton, specializing in property law. Property was a big deal on the Eastern shore, and surveys had a tendency to be quite fluid and flexible things, keeping her quite busy.
“Look, we all loved him. He was my friend.”
Terri reached across the table to grab my hand again and squeeze it. “Jenna, we all know why you never married again.”
I pulled my hand back. “I never married again because there was no one around here worth marrying.”
Marie clucked softly. “What about all those doctors across the Bay? Huh?”
I sighed. She was right, there had been plenty of doctors on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but most of them were already married. That hadn’t kept me from sleeping with a few of them, but it really squelched any marrying plans.
“None of you remarried. Were you all in love with Sam?”
Terri shook her head. “Fifteen years is a long time to be without a man, Jenna.”
I made a face. “And what makes you all think I’ve gone fifteen years without a man?”
The giggles erupted as Wendy brought my fresh mug of coffee.
“What’s the joke?” she asked.
“Jenna here was just about to tell a few tales out of school,” Marie said with a smirk. “Apparently, she’s been milking a few locals without us even knowing.”
I waved my spoon. “No locals. I told you, this town is dry. But those doctors…”
More giggles, and Wendy joined in. “There’s a new doc moving into the Booker place.”
We all sat up. Wendy’s mother was the realtor in town, and that made her a prime source of information.
“Married?” Stella asked.
Wendy shook her head. “Don’t get too excited. A woman. Just her name on the paperwork, Mom said. She’s planning to gut the whole house. She’s got the McCann brothers to do the work.”
Now, the McCann brothers were as close as Cape Edwards came to eligible bachelors, but they both worked so much that the women in town had a hard time getting them into any kind of social situation. Lord knows, enough of them had tried to get either of those boys, but it was hard to put the moves on a man when he was putting up sheetrock.
Terri raised her eyebrows. “Very useful information, Wendy. Thank you. When is she moving in?”
“Soon. Closing in a few weeks. Told Mom she’s starting at the Riverside MedCenter first of the month.” She glanced back at the kitchen. “I think you’re up,” she muttered, and moved away.
“Well now, that’s interesting,” Karen said. “We could use another smart, successful woman in town.”
“Maybe. But Jenna,” Stella said. “What about Sam’s place?”
“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I never gave it much thought.”
“Well, darlin’, you were the only family he had, right?” Marie asked.
I nodded. “Yes. I mean, he never mentioned anyone except an aunt up in Long Island somewhere, so he may have cousins? But I guess I just never thought he’d actually die.”
Karen snorted. “He was over sixty, drank like a fish and smoked those damn cigars. The only cardio he ever got was when he got worked up over a football game. I’m surprised he lasted this long.”
“Oh, Karen, hush. I know exactly what Jenna means,” Terri said. “Sam seemed…eternal.” And she was right. He had boundless energy, charm, and a kind heart. He was a force. And now he was gone.
“Well, you have to keep it open,” Stella said. “Sam’s on Main is an institution now. I don’t know what we’d do without it. And you know how popular it gets in the summer.”
Wendy put our plates in front of us and disappeared, promising more coffee.
I stared at my eggs. Sam’s had originally been a simple bar, dark and closed in. Sam had lived on the second floor when he first opened it, making, he said, for an easy commute.
When we married, we bought a house right on the Chesapeake Bay, a long, rambling brick affair on eight acres, at the end of a road so twisted and rutted I always wanted to put up a sign that read, “Here there be dragons.” It was there that Sam and I lived and loved and fought and loved some more until he left, went back to New York, and filed for divorce. I signed the papers, which gave me half the house and alimony for ten years.
The bar had remained shuttered until Sam made his reappearance two years later. By then, I’d finished college, had my nursing degree and worked at a hospital across the bridge in Norfolk. I had stopped thinking he was the worst person in the world. It took a few months, but one night I walked back in to his bar, ordered a beer, and we began the journey back to friendship.
Over the years the bar had grown. He’d bought the building next door when it had become vacant, and added more windows, tables, and a kitchen. He went upward, breaking open the second floor and put in a balcony that ran around three sides. He still had his bachelor flat over the original place, two small rooms and a bath. He would joke that when he retired, he’d claim his half of the house and move back in with me.
“I guess the house is all mine now,” I said slowly.
“I love your house,” Stella said, dunking her toast in egg yolk. “A tough place to be in the weather, but it’s just beautiful.”
“But the bar, Jenna,” Marie said. “You can’t sell it.”
I looked up. “Why not? I can’t run it.”
“Course you can,” Karen said. “How hard can it be?”
“I have a job, remember?”
“But only three days a week,” Stella pointed out.
“Three twelve hour shifts a week,” I corrected her. “And taking care of the house and the dogs and the garden, not to mention the goats…I don’t have time to run a bar.”
“You could quit nursing,” Karen said. “Stay right here in town. You’ve said for years now how you hate the commute over that dang bridge.”
I sat back slowly. Quit my job? But I loved my job.
No, actually, I didn’t. I’d just been doing it for so long I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.
“I guess I’ll have to hear what Ellis has to say,” I said, gratefully sipping my fresh coffee.
Terri rolled her eyes. “What do you think Ellis is going to say? The bar is yours, Jenna. And didn’t you say you wanted to do something new and exciting, now that you’re the big four-oh?”
Forty is a big birthday. Ask anyone who’s survived it. I’d spent the day alone, looking out over the Chesapeake Bay, trying to decide how I felt about being alive for so long. I’d thought about my work, my life, and about what I’d have done differently. I had also thought about what I’d want going forward.
The only definitive thing I’d decided was that I wanted a change. I didn’t know what change, or how to go about that change, but I knew that’s what I needed.
Sitting there, thinking about it, I thought that running Sam’s on Main might be the answer.
I was still thinking about it when I got home. I shut off the car and sat, looking at the water, thinking about what it would mean to own Sam’s on Main. Then I put my head down on the steering wheel and started to cry, and didn’t stop until it seemed there were no tears left in the world.
The Sunday paper had an official death notice, saying nothing more than Sam Ferris had died of a heart attack on Friday evening, and that he was to be cremated, and that an official memorial service would be announced at a later time. Ellis Summer, the lawyer in town, had put the notice in the paper. Ellis spent a lot of his time doing that sort of thing. He was a family lawyer, which meant he took care of things that families, in trouble or under duress, forgot about doing.
Ellis Summer had an office on Main Street, right over the Grove Gallery. You had to walk up a narrow flight of stairs, perch on a landing so small you couldn’t have more than two feet and the tip of an umbrella on it, and wait for Ellis unlock the door. He claimed he couldn’t afford to have a stranger walk in while he was with a client. There was no waiting room or receptionist, no clerk slaving away in a dark corner office. There was just one long room with an ancient desk, a worktable, a wall of filing cabinets and a bookcase of law books.
Ellis had been in my class in high school. I’d known him all my life, and I knew he’d be a lawyer, just like his father, Eaton Summer. Eaton had handled my divorce, but as soon as Ellis passed the bar, he moved into his father’s office, and Eaton Summer spent his retirement fishing and driving his poor wife crazy. They both died last year, within a week of each other.
I worked Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but I called out for that Monday and rang Ellis first thing in the morning. He told me to come right over. I went up the stairs, knocked, and waited until he opened the door. He greeted me somberly, pointed to the familiar client chair, then settled behind his desk.
“Hey, Red,” he said. Everyone I knew from high school called me Red, because I’d been the only person in the entire school with red hair. I’d hated the nickname, of course, but over the years had accepted my fate. “I’m sorry about Sam. Thanks for coming by.”
I nodded as I sat.
The file was right there in front of him. He opened it and cleared his throat. “I have his will,” he began.
I nodded again. I’d learned years ago that to interrupt him for any reason only gave him the excuse to go back to the very beginning.
“Sam’s wish was to be cremated immediately after his death. As executor of his estate, I’ve already instructed Kenny.” Kenny was Kenny Malcolm, owner and operator of the Malcom Funeral Home, right in Cape Edwards.
“One year after his death, he wished to have a Memorial Service in the bar, with free food and drink for all, after which his ashes were to be taken out in Fred Harvey’s boat and dumped in the Chesapeake Bay.”
I took a breath. That sounded about right. “I wondered about that. He’d always said he didn’t want a funeral. I was here to offer my help, but I guess I’m not needed?”
Ellis pushed up his glasses. “No, but thank you, Jenna. Around here we all still thought of you as a couple, albeit an unusual one. So I can understand your concern. I also appreciate the fact that you‘d have expectations. However, Sam left everything to his son, Craig Ferris, of Chicago, Ill.” He sat back. “Everything, of course, except for five thousand dollars to cover the cost of his cremation and the, ah, after party.
I opened my mouth, closed it, and sat up straight. What had Ellis just said? “Sam had a son?”
Ellis sighed and nodded. “Yes. Craig Ferris, born in New York. Mother was a Kelly Laslow, who died almost twenty years ago. My understanding was that Sam had a relationship with Kelly as a very young man, but did not know of Craig’s existence until her death, at which time he became involved in his son’s life.”
“But wait…this was when we were still married?”
“The dates are very close. He may have filed for divorce at the same time he found out about Craig. He was not very forthcoming about that. But he told me that he and Craig had been in pretty much constant contact since then. Craig has been notified, of course. I called him myself yesterday afternoon, and a certified letter has been sent.”
I heard, quite clearly, the ticking of the grandfather clock that stood in the corner of Ellis’ office. Sam had been one of the most important people in my life. I’d loved him, and thought I’d known all there was to know about him. But he’d had a son, and for years he had kept that very important fact from me. How could he do that? But more than that…
“Ellis, you knew this and you never told me?”
He sat back, obviously shocked. “Jenna, Sam was my client.”
“So was I.”
“This was privileged information.”
“Ellis Summer, we have known each other our whole lives. I introduced you to your wife, we’ve stood beside each other piling up sandbags to keep the bay out of Main Street.” I paused just long enough for a deep breath. “We saw each other naked in second grade.”
He began to sputter. “Jenna, I’m a lawyer, and Sam was very clear about this. He felt very conflicted. He didn’t want you to know, because he didn’t want to hurt you. He knew how much you wanted children of your own, and, well…” He waved his arms around. Ellis was short and skinny as a rail, and it was difficult, under the best of circumstances, for him to look like a person of authority. When he tried really hard, like right now, it was downright comical.
“Ellis, you should be ashamed of yourself, sitting there trying to look all official when you’ve been lying to me for all this time.”
He stood up and tried to exude authority. “It was Sam that lied to you, Jenna. He kept his lives very separate. Not only did no one around here know about his son, Craig had no idea Sam owned the bar. He knew very little about Sam’s life in Cape Edwards.” He tugged at the lapels of his suit, then sat back down again. “It was not my secret to share, Jenna. It was Sam’s. And he chose not to.”
I closed my eyes and sank back, feeling angry and betrayed. Sam and I had not just been husband and wife. We’d become the best of friends. Over all those years, he hadn’t trusted me enough to tell me about his son, his own flesh and blood. I suddenly felt like I hadn’t known the man at all.
I opened my eyes slowly. “Well. Yes.” I looked around, picked up my purse from the floor, and glared at Ellis. “Well. Everyone I’ve run into this past weekend told me that I needed to keep Sam’s place open, and that I couldn’t sell. Karen even suggested I quit nursing to run it. And you know what? I thought about it, even decided it was a good idea. I’m tired of twelve-hour shifts and that miserable commute over that damn bridge. I was looking forward to running the bar, fixing the menu, maybe even doing a little re-decorating.”
I stood up, feeling a little head of steam building up. “I was going to be on Main Street, Ellis. Join the Chamber of Commerce, maybe run for the Council. I’d be a person of influence in this town, maybe even the county, Ellis.” I leaned across his desk. “I could have become the governor, Ellis, ever think about that? Governor of the whole Commonwealth. But no…” I shook my finger right up in his face. “No. And ya wanna know why? Because some stupid kid from Chicago is getting Sam’s bar instead of me, that’s why.” I straightened. “At least I don’t have to worry about any of that now, do I? I don’t have to worry about the bar at all. It’s Craig Ferris’ problem now, right? Since he now owns Sam’s on Main?”
Ellis stood. “Yes. But Jenna—“
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What Ellis? There can’t be anything else to tell me that’s going to top this.”
He cleared his throat. “Craig inherits everything, Jenna.”
It took a minute to sink in, and the bottom fell out of my stomach. “You mean…my house?”
Ellis cleared his throat again. “Not your house, Jenna. It’s only half your house. The other half belongs to Craig Ferris.”
“The hell it does,” I roared.
Ellis actually staggered back, putting his arms out to balance himself. “No, really Jenna. He inherits Sam’s half of the house.” He cleared his throat. “You and Sam split everything, from the taxes to the new generator. Now, if you had taken over the fiscal responsibility of the property, then, well, maybe you’d have a case for taking the whole thing, but as it stands…”
I closed my eyes, remembering the conversations Sam and I had about the house. He’d bought it outright and there had never been a mortgage. When we divorced, we split it fifty-fifty. As we had gotten older, I offered to buy him out, offered to pay all the taxes and insurance, tried to wave off his payments to keep up the property. I thought he was being kind and generous.
“That snake,” I growled. Ellis turned pale. “That miserable son-of-a-bitch. It’s a good thing he’s dead, ‘cause I swear, if I saw him right now, I’d strangle him with my bare hands.”
Ellis sighed. “I’m sorry, Jenna.”
“And I suppose you’re on the side of this Craig person?”
“As executor, Jenna, I have to do all I can to carry out the terms of the will. It’s my job, Jenna.”
“Yeah? Well, well…you’re a snake too, Ellis Summer.”
I turned on my heels and stomped off, and my exit would have been quite impressive if not for the fact that the door was locked, and I had to fiddle with the damn thing for at least twenty seconds before opening it and slamming it, quite loudly, behind me.
The house that Sam Ferris and I bought hadn’t changed much over the years. It had been brand new when we bought it, a typical eighties-style ranch with a huge fireplace in the living room, an expansive kitchen with enough room in the bay window for a long dining table, and what was called a split floorpan, with the master suite on one side of the house, and three more bedrooms with two more baths on the other side. Sam and I had wanted children, and he was planning for the future. But in five years of pretty much non-stop sex, I’d never become pregnant.
Over the years, I’d rented the extra bedrooms out to various friends and newcomers to Cape Edwards. In the past few years they had remained empty, and I’d been thinking about them as potential airbnb spaces. But I hadn’t gotten around to the painting that was needed, and the bathrooms hadn’t been spruced up since 2010. I lived quite comfortably in one half of the house, and for years it was more than enough. Now I saw the whole house as mine, and I wasn’t about to let some idiot kid from Chicago come and take it away from me, not one square inch.
I pulled up by the front door, turned off the engine of the Grand Cherokee, and stared. The water surrounded me on three sides. Logan’s Creek came in on the western most part of the property, spilling into the bay, which spread out before me so vast and blue it could have been an ocean. This was mine, the raised garden along the seawall, the trails going back into the woods, the enclosure along the drive where my six goats gamboled.
I got out of the Jeep and slammed the door so hard that the dogs started barking. I stomped to the front door, threw it open wide, and stood back as they streamed out: Finn, a spry terror mix, Chloe, an aging Belgium Shepard, and Bit, a scrap of fluff so unidentifiable even my vet hadn’t a clue what she actually was. They jumped around me in their usual style, as though I’d been gone three weeks instead of an hour, then ran off, sniffing.
I went into the house, stood in the center of the living room, and took several deep breaths. First things first. I needed a lawyer. I’d only used Ellis or his father for the whole of my life, and since Eaton was dead… I sat down and called Marie.
Her secretary put me through right away. “Hey, it’s Jenna. So, Sam had a son that I never knew about. No one knew about him, I guess, except Ellis. This son has inherited everything, including Sam’s half of the house. I need to know what I can do.”
Marie whistled. “He had a son?”
“I know, right? I can’t friggin’ believe it. I don’t know what he’ll do with the bar, and I don’t care. But what about my house?”
“Calm down, Jenna. It’s easy. I’ll get in touch with Ellis, get this person’s address, and we’ll make him a nice, reasonable offer. You have some savings, yes?”
Of course I did. Working as a nurse hadn’t meant a lot of money when I’d started, but after fifteen years, I made more than just a comfortable salary. And since my living expenses were low, I’d stashed quite a bit away in various bank accounts, stock funds, and bonds.
However. I was living in a four-bedroom house with eight acres of land, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Although I didn’t know much about the real estate market, I had a feeling that waterfront property was going to have a hefty price tag.
“I have savings, Marie, but not enough to buy his half outright.”
“So, you’ll get a mortgage, Jenna. Do you want the house or not?”
“I’ll get an appraiser out there, and we’ll make an offer, and figure out the rest from there. He had a son?”
Bit came racing through the open front door and leapt on my lap. I scratched her ears. “Apparently this happened before he even moved down here the first time. The kid is now in Chicago.”
“Well, that explains all those mysterious trips Sam used to take,” Marie said.
I sat back. We all had joked about that for years. Every few months, Sam would take off for a long weekend, leaving Charlie in charge of the bar, and would return without so much as a word of explanation. At one point, Kenny Malcom had accused Sam of having a secret family down in Mexico, and Sam had run with it, telling wild stories of his common law wife and six kids who all lived in a shack on the beach in Baja. But the truth hadn’t been that far off. He’d been visiting his son.
“God, you’re right, Marie. I just can’t believe he hid this from me for all these years. I mean, he used to talk to me about everything.”
I heard her sigh. “We all have secrets, Jenna.”
She was right. As much as I loved my girlfriends, and shared with them pretty much everything that happened to me, they would never know about the three years I’d spent sleeping with a married surgeon. And they never knew everything about Sam and I.
“I’ll call Ellis right now, Jenna. Not to worry. You won’t have to share your house with anyone, I promise.”
I believed her. She wasn’t just my friend. She drove a Mercedes and lived alone in a big, beautiful place right on the Seaside of the peninsula. A person didn’t make that kind of money being a crappy lawyer.
I looked around my house. It needed really a good cleaning. For living alone, I was constantly amazed by how much crap I accumulated, and how big the dust bunnies grew. Of course, having three dogs and a cat didn’t help, but I long ago reconciled myself to the fact that the predominant accessory in my home would be pet hair.
I looked outside. Gray. Typical for early May. I could work in the garden. I had already put in a bunch of seeds: beans and beets, three different lettuces, melon, corn, squash… I’d been checking their progress religiously and watching the weather for a late frost, and I’d spent most of yesterday futzing around out there.
That left cleaning. I stood up, made a cup of tea, pulled an old Nora Roberts hardcover off of my bookshelf and settled in to read, Bit once again on my lap, Chloe and Finn at my feet.
I heard the pet door open and close, and Ghost, my gray cat jumped up to stretch out behind my on back of the couch.
It took a few minutes, but I finally relaxed enough to even get in a bit of a nap.
My usual shift ran from seven in the morning until seven at night. The dogs had their doggy-door, the goats were fed and watered, as well as milked, by my neighbor, Dave. In exchange, he used the milk to make his own brand of cheese that sold, quite well, in local markets. The garden had an automatic watering system. Being away from my house for more than half a day was no big deal, and although I was usually exhausted at the end of my working day, I was never to tired for DeeDee and Jack’s, especially on Tuesdays, which was A Buck A Beer night. DeeDee and Jacks was a long gray building across from the Methodist Church, and it was right at the turn off the State Highway on the way to my house. I passed it all the time. I didn’t stop in every time, but some weeks, it was close.
It was the kind of place the locals knew, and the summer people drove right past. We shared lots of information with the tourists. After all, they brought in lots of money, and we who lived in the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula appreciated every penny. But we didn’t talk to them about DeeDee and Jacks. Some things we just kept to ourselves.
When I pulled in that Tuesday night, still in my scrubs and feeling stretched too tight from a hard day in the ER and my life in general, the parking lot was full. Well, not the parking lot, exactly, as that was a rather vague term when applied to DeeDee and Jacks. Parking area? Parking field? Whatever— I parked at the church and walked over. After all, I had the church’s sticker on my back window, and I could just as easily been the church itself, praying.
DD&J’s was one long, narrow room, with an equally long, narrow bar, and behind that, a kitchen. No one knew what the kitchen looked like, which was just as well. When you consider that the linoleum-covered tables dated back to the sixties, and the recent hole in the floor had been repaired with a large sheet of reinforced steel just bolted into place, the condition of the kitchen was best left to the imagination. If the Health Department of the Commonwealth of Virginia thought it was good enough, well, the rest of us weren’t going to argue.
The crowd on Tuesdays was always a little rough, but in one corner were familiar faces, and they waved me over as I came in.
Terri Coburn was there, of course. Terri was our postmistress. At fifty, she had worked almost thirty years at the post office and had started to talk about retiring, but we all knew better. Terri lived for gossip, most of which she gathered at work, and she wasn’t about to relinquish her advantage just because she was getting older. She scooted down the bench, making room for me to sit.