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“Click.”

The lights in the dust hazed cafe sprang to life. The incandescent glow danced throughout, bringing life into the well-worn leather-backed chairs and implements of daily pleasure that were soon to occupy with the local Businesspeople, mothers on their way to daycare, and dozens of other occupations that subsisted as denizens of her tiny town. Soon, the hustlers and bustler’s, the “busybodies” of everyday life would file in to partake in their morning ritual of hot coffee, polite conversation, and mostly fresh bakery.

Making her way down the corridor that formed her cramped working space, Anna inspected the refrigerated case of pastries and tapped the glass every so often to remind herself that the transparent vessel was indeed tangible.

Life didn’t move fast in her small town. Not very fast at all.

Just the way Anna liked it.

Of Anna’s twenty-six years, she had spent a significant portion of them in this daily ritual of sunrise to sunset. There was a time when she fancied living in a more exotic locale, but the days of sunbathing and beach bumming were behind her.

Anna always seemed to find her center here in her hometown.

There was a comfort to it, the sounds of laughter and the delightful aroma of fried foods hanging in the warmth of the summer carnival.

The familiar and welcoming faces of Anna’s neighbors and friends passing up and down the one way street on a Sunday afternoon. The way the warm August nights caressed her naked skin through the open bedroom window as Autumn worked to coax summer nights into the slumber of winter. The long, late-night conversations by the lake while the moon-drenched midnight air danced across the dark Pines.

She loved it all.

This is where she belonged.

Finishing her short tour of the aging cafe, she let out a sigh of contentment. Soon the vinyl “Sorry, we’re closed.” placard would be flipped and her day of smiles and stories would begin. These moments would be the last issue of silence heard by the rough oak walls until the orange and black sign dangling cockeyed in the entryway reversed and was tucked back in for the night.

One final cursory scan of the muted end tables stacked precariously with faded children’s books left Anna satisfied that all was as it should be. She pulled back her auburn hair into a tight ponytail in final preparation, and casually flipped the sign to “Come in! We’re open.”.

Making her way back to the aging cash register and pressing the last stubborn wrinkle out of her apron she donned her customary tired smile.

Early morning was peeking now over the pines and dancing through the old plate glass windows of her storefront as the chime from her first-morning visitor clattered.

Morning moved into the early afternoon by the time Anna had a chance to take her first bite of the blueberry muffin that had gone long cold since she set it aside during an early lull.

She sank into the battered office chair, muffin and steaming coffee in hand and took her daily dose of caffeine and sugar. The front door jingle prematurely ending her meditative moment.

“Be right there” she called through the last crumbs of her midday snack.

The cafe was nearly empty by now save the lone laptop engrossed man in the corner and a small cigarette clouded group of coffee sipping leather-clad bikers circling the front door.

Anna eyed her new customer as she dragged herself back to the counter.

He was tall and well framed carrying a dark laptop bag in his gloved hand.

Anna was struck by a feeling of familiarity as he unshaded his dark brown eyes and placed his sunglasses on the wood counter.

“What’s good here?” he asked through a crooked grin.

Anna knew him she was sure, but couldn’t place his face.

“I make all of it, so it’s all good,” she said.

“That’s the Anna I remember,” he said.

“Wait. How do you know me?”

She didn’t like being at a disadvantage and always prided herself in remembering a face, so this situation especially irked her.

“You probably wouldn’t remember me. It’s been a long time. You still look great though, and I always figured you’d do something like this.” He said, retrieving his sunglasses from the counter.

Anna knew her time was short with her mysterious visitor by the sight of Mrs. Crandle waddling with her five children in tow past the front window. Mrs. Crandle was the most delightful women Anna had ever met, but she was also the most long-winded and gossipy woman she had ever met, and Anna knew she was bound for a long and detailed afternoon briefing of the town on-goings.

The cafe door burst open, the sound of tiny booted feet and rustling boisterous children filled the quiet space.

“I’ll see you soon, Anna,” he said, quickly turning to the door and disappearing into the cloud of illuminated cigarette smoke (which Mrs. Crandle made visible her disdain for to the bikers).

“Who was that, dear?” Mrs. Crandle asked, smiling slyly.

“I can’t remember.”

Anna bursa escort hadn’t been an avid drinker since she returned to Maine. She had spent enough time floating her way to the bottom of a bottle during her life in LA, and she promised herself and her family that she wouldn’t fall back into that life.

In fact, a large part of her return to Maine was her family’s concern with her “west coast” lifestyle.

But, Tonight she needed a drink. The perplexing meeting with the man from her past left her wracking her brain and in desperate need of release from the stress of trying to remember.

The warm glow of Delroy’s Tavern washed out into the street and called her in with promises of amnesia and local chatter to ease the mind.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in here. Your momma know you’re here?” greeted her as she dropped into a cracked bar stool.

Tim Delroy, Jr. was a wild man of generations of Scottish descent.

Anna had known Tim her whole life and always found the conversation with him lacking any judgment or prejudice.

They were two years apart in age (Anna the junior) and had been close growing up and Anna had always suspected he had a thing for her but was too shy to make a move.

In the time she had moved away, Tim had married and managed to make two kids and take over his father’s bar.

“My Momma doesn’t have to know. I’m a grown up now, Tim.” She said, cracking a peanut from the bowl of complimentary bar snacks.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

“I’m here for the view, Tim. I always liked the wild bearded, redhead type.” she jibed.

Tim feigned pain and fished a dusty bottle of Crown from under the bar. With scooped ice and a thick pour, Anna wrinkled her face and savored the old friend of alcohols heat. Tim knew her, even after all of these years he still knew her all the way down to her drink.

“So, why are you really here?” he asked.

“I had the weirdest thing happen today. A guy, he stopped in and remembered me from somewhere. Like we grew up together or something. But, I don’t remember him. It’s been driving me crazy all day.”

Tim broke into a choking belly laugh.

“You really don’t remember him?”

“Wait, do you know something?” she demanded.

“Jesus Anna. He came over here right after he saw you. You seriously don’t remember him? Chris Elworth? Anna. It’s Chris.”

“Holy fuck..” Anna said, burying her face in her hands.

“That’s Chris? He looks so different now. When did he get back?”

“He said about a week ago. I guess he made a bunch of cash on that recycling business and ended up coming back here. He bought that cabin; you remember the one that we always thought was haunted. I guess he’s got a shitload of money now.”

The bottle came back up from under the bar and topped off the empty glass.

“He had a thing for you, Anna. Remember? He was a squat little fucker back then.”

Anna remembered.

She remembered him standing on her doorstep, outfitted in his ill-fitting brown suit that was way too tight and through shaky voice and trembling hands, asking her to prom.

She also remembered shooting him down and slamming the door in his sweat-covered face.

“God, I was such a bitch to him back then,” she said. The alcohol was taking a firm hold on her.

The one drink she planned on, turned into multiple, causing the lost count of excess after the fifth. By 1 AM the weather had taken a turn, and Anna was drunk. The snow had transitioned from a gentle falling dust to a driving and angry torrent that caused the night to burst like daylight by passing headlights.

“I’ll drive you home once I close up here,” Tim called, making his way into the kitchen to start closing down for the night.

Anna couldn’t stop thinking about Chris. Every time she thought about him she spiraled back to that little-redfaced boy and her uncaring rejection.

She felt like shit.

She had to make it right with him, and she had to do it now.

She shakily lifted herself off of the barstool and did her best to stay vertical as she quietly slipped into the driving snow. The cold would have been bitter and bone-numbing if alcohol wasn’t still filling her veins. The storm whipped at her wavering body as she paused with closed eyes, and stood to let nature wrap her in a frozen blanket of deafening silence and relished her plummeting body temperature.

She fumbled for her keys and pressed herself into the iced and beat up Chevy whose sole purpose was to transport her the three miles from home to the cafe. The key turn spit a groan from the old beast and after many failed starts and false revs, finally fired up. Crunching wipers and light country music pumped through the only working speaker in her car as she dropped into drive and rolled onto mountain run road.

The drive would have been terrifying for sober Anna.

Keeping all four bald tires on the road was her primary goal, but she found success only about half the time. Entering an open stretch bursa escort bayan of winding road found the snow swells biting viciously and swiping at the tiny vehicle the further she got from town.

“Fuck” she swerved, a spitting BIC flame sweeping up the length of her unlit cigarette.

She wanted to sleep more than anything, but she knew her dreams would be haunted by Chris if she slept now.

The whole world was swirling white and littered with headlights until she was driving through a field of glittering stars.

Snapping back to reality, the careening rumble pumped the brake pedal and sucked her from the road.

Her compensation was too late.

Snapping, Pain, and Darkness.

The taste of iron filled her mouth as Anna touched the snow-covered windshield.

Sweet unconsciousness overtook her.

“She’s alright. Just banged up and still a little cold.”

Anna’s field of vision slowly widened. Shredding head pain burst in waves that flipped her stomach and caused her to wonder if the sudden nausea was created by the crash or the drinks.

A muffled male voice passed from another room and was discussing the whereabouts of Anna and her current state of health.

She attempted to sit up, but a monstrous migraine beat her back to horizontal. She closed her eyes and decided to focus on feeling out her environment. The bed she was in was comfortable and incredibly luxurious. “Like a five-star hotel bed,” she thought.

Comforting scents of woodfire and good coffee filled the warm air, heightening her senses. Pangs of hunger groaned and reminded her how long it had been since the blueberry muffin and bar peanuts.

“Hello” she called helplessly, eyes still hammered shut.

Firm foot padding creaked the floorboards and announced the approach of her host; she felt calloused hands wrap her fingers in a warm glass, giving her hope that there were coffee and pastries in her future.

The mattress dipped with her host’s weight, and the heft of a full tray placed across her lap. The sophisticated and intoxicating scent of fresh coffee drove the opening of her eyes which to her surprise, was harder to accomplish than she anticipated, and she found that a half squint was about as good as she was going to be able to do with the current level of pain.

“How are you feeling?”

Anna looked at the source of the throaty voice.

It was Chris.

“What happened?” Anna asked.

“You had an accident. A pretty bad one. What were you doing out here in that storm?” he said. “And I think someone might have had a little too much to drink.” he smiled, handing her a gleaming fork.

Anna wanted to die inside. She already felt like a complete bitch by not remembering him, and now she was being whisked up by him from a stranded roadside accident. As if she didn’t feel bad enough already, her eyes caught a pile of towels outside of the bathroom, and she imagined she had been unable to hold down her stomach last night.

“How did you find me?” she asked.

Scanning downward, she surveyed the visible damage of shadowed bruises covering her arms and hands. Everything was pain. Every muscle, bone, and fiber… everything in her entire body screamed and zinged.

“You weren’t exactly stealthy when you plowed into the snowbank and slammed your head into the steering wheel. I heard the horn going for a good twenty minutes before I went out to see what happened. You’re lucky you were close to here when it happened, or you might be a lot bluer right now.”

The steaming coffee felt fantastic rolling down her throat and filled her senses with its velvety warmth. She spied a croissant and yogurt on the tray. Wasting no time, she ravenously devoured them and washed the flaky goodness down with the last of the coffee.

“Thank you.” she said.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I was kind of fucking stupid.”

“We all do stupid things sometimes. As long as you live through it, it’s all good,” he said, lifting the tray.

Through her bloodshot eyes, she realized he had changed. She could barely reconcile his appearance with the little boy who had a crush on her so many years ago.

“Chris,” she said.

“What’s up?” he paused in the doorway.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to seem like. Well, like I was, when you came to the cafe. I wanted to tell you in person.”

“Anna, I didn’t come to the cafe to see if you would remember me. I knew you wouldn’t. A lot has changed, and people change. I just wanted to see you again, and I wanted to tell you that in person.”

She burrowed her head deep in the blankets and whimpered quietly until welcome sleep overtook her again.

Anna’s obligatory call home had gone better than expected. Once her mother’s guilt and questioning about her irresponsible behaviors were over, the conversation turned pleasant as she assured her mother that she was just fine and that Chris had taken care of her. The snow worsened over the following hours and was pummeling the entire east coast, escort bursa removing the possibility of Anna heading back to town anytime soon.

Anna’s mother had asked if drinking was involved in the accident, which found Anna skillfully lying as she assured her mother the crash was due to lack of sleep and the dangerous storm.

She thought it best to save her family from the truth for now.

The pain was not nearly as severe as the day before as Anna sauntered about Chris’s warm and inviting cabin. The interior of the cabin looked like an old rustic Christmas scene, with the addition of high tech luxuries at every turn. From the beautiful chef’s kitchen, too the massive fireplace that centerpieced the living room, every room felt like home. Chris preferred to augment the artificial light with kerosene lanterns and candles that seamlessly meshed with the cabins wood-burning fireplace and woodstoves that turned the scene into a surreal fairytale.

After Chris set out that morning, Anna set to work preparing supper as payback for his gracious hospitality. She was surprised to find fresh stew meat, carrots, celery, and potatoes in a bachelors refrigerator. Her grandmother’s recipe was first on the stove that morning, with the browning steak and vegetables sending sweet and familiar smells into the air and quickly shuttling her back in time to Nanna’s kitchen.

Her day comprised attending to the simmering cast iron pot, preparation of her “from scratch” sugar cookies, and sucking down more piping hot coffee.

Here In the silence of the mountains, she found herself lost in thought.

How had she gotten here again? She promised herself that when she came home, the alcohol and stupid decisions would stop but she always seemed to find her way back out on a limb while trying to cut down the tree. “Self-destructive” was the term the rehab counselors used to describe her during her last forced stint of recovery.

“It smells amazing in here” Chris shook the heavy chunked snow from his boots and poured a substantial load of firewood beside the roaring fireplace.

“You should almost die more often so I can eat real food every once and a while.”

“Well, you’ve been so good to me keeping me from dying and all, I thought I should repay you with something. I feel like we’re even now.” She snapped back.

Earthenware bowls leveled with hot stew had Anna turning her attention to finishing the golden brown cookies. Chris had silently crossed the kitchen to gain a better view of the culinary experience that was brewing. As he stopped, Anna found herself nestled between the stove and his body. The smell of wood smoke mingled with sweat closed the distance between them, and though they weren’t touching she could feel the heat from his body against her. She inhaled deeply, pulling his intoxicating scent into her.

“That looks great,” he said.

His breath settled on her shoulder sending tingles up and down her body.

He lingered for a bit longer, and she basked in the comfort of his essence before the waning fire called for stoking, and he shifted to attend it’s feeding.

“What the hell was that?” she thought. Was it the atmosphere? Was it some prince in gleaming armor thing that was doing this to her?

She didn’t want to fight it. She felt herself giving in to the sensation, and she didn’t want it to end.

Nighttime had fully anchored itself on the mountainside as the firelight played its scintillating fingers across the oversized loveseat, casting unyielding shadows which the candles and kerosene lamps tried in earnest to extinguish.

Dinnertime was enjoyable for Anna; Sitting Cross-legged on the oversized couch, delicious stew in hand felt like a sleepover with some long absent friend.

“Why’d you move away?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t want to be one of those people that stays in the same town forever and never sees the world. I saw a lot of places in the world, and they all are pretty much what you make them.”

“What made you want to come back?”

“It’s my home I guess? I found out I really don’t have an off switch either, so I made some stupid decisions when I was on my own. Being back here is part getting back to my roots, and part recovery.” Anna stared into the fire for a while, and Chris relocated nearer to her.

“I was glad to see you in the cafe the other day,” he said.

She stole a glance into his eyes, a subtle tingle inside that exhilarated her.

“What about you? Why’d you come back? You were out there making big money and everything.” She teased.

“Money’s not everything, Anna. You have to live for what you want, and if you have the means to do it, you have to take what you want.”

Her eyes bolted to the fire before meeting his gaze again.

“It sounds like you got what you wanted for sure,” she said.

The crackling fire syncopated Anna’s quickening heartbeats as he scooted closer.

“I’m glad you’re here” he said.

She shifted closer to him. Their legs, still crossed, were almost touching and she felt an impelling need to touch him.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“You make good soup.”

A burst of laughter filled the space and Anna blushed dark red, looking away.

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