Addie crouched down beside his chair. "Daddy," she whispered.
Roy blinked. "My girl."
Tears sprang to her eyes. "I need you to do me a favor. The diner, it's too busy for me to take care of. I need you -- "
"Oh, Addie. Don't."
"Just the register. You won't ever have to go into the kitchen."
"You don't need me to work the register. You just want to keep tabs on me."
Addie flushed. "That's not true."
"It's all right." He covered her hand with his own and squeezed. "Every now and then it's nice to know that someone cares where I am."
Addie opened her mouth to say the things she should have said years ago to her father, all those months after her mother's death when she was too busy keeping the diner afloat to notice that Roy was drowning, but the telephone interrupted her. Delilah was on the other end. "Get down here," the cook said. "Your bad day? It just got worse."
"Did you say something?" The cab driver's eyes met Jack's in the rearview mirror.
"This look familiar yet?"
Jack had lied to the driver -- what was one more lie in a long string of others? -- confessing that he couldn't remember the name of the town he was headed toward but that Route 10 ran right through its middle. He would recognize it, he said, as soon as Main Street came into view.
Now, forty minutes later, he glanced out the window. They were driving through a village, small but well-heeled, with a New England steepled white church and women in riding boots darting into stores to run their errands. It reminded him too much of the prep-school town of Loyal, and he shook his head. "Not this one," he said.
What he needed was a place where he could disappear for a while -- a place where he could figure out how to start all over again. Teaching -- well, that was out of the question now. But it was also all he'd ever done. He'd worked at Westonbrook for four years...an awfully big hole to omit in a job interview for any related field. And even a McDonald's manager could ask him if he'd ever been convicted of a crime.
Lulled by the motion of the taxi, he dozed off. He dreamed of an inmate he'd worked with on farm duty. Aldo's girlfriend would commute to Haverhill and leave treasures in the cornfield for him: whiskey, pot, instant coffee. Once, she set herself up naked on a blanket, waiting for Aldo to come over on the tractor. "Drive slow," Aldo would say, when they went out to harvest. "You never know what you're going to find."
"Salem Falls coming up," the cab driver announced, waking him.
A hand-lettered blue placard announced the name of the town and proclaimed it home of Duncan Pharmaceuticals. The town was built outward from a central green, crowned by a memorial statue that listed badly to the left, as if it had been rammed from the side. A bank, a general store, and a town office building were dotted along the green -- all neatly painted, walks shoveled clear of snow. Standing incongruously at the corner was a junked railroad car. Jack did a double take, and as the cab turned to follow the one-way road around the green, he realized it was a diner.
In the window was a small sign.
"Stop," Jack said. "This is the place."
Harlan Pettigrew sat at the counter, nursing a bowl of stew. A napkin was tucked over his bow tie, to prevent staining. His eyes darted around the diner, lighting on the clock.
Addie pushed through the swinging doors. "Mr. Pettigrew," she began.
The man blotted his mouth with his napkin and got to his feet. "It's about time."
"There's something I need to tell you first. You see, we've been having a little trouble with some of our appliances."
Pettigrew's brows drew together. "I see."
Suddenly the door opened. A man in a rumpled sports jacket walked in, looking cold and lost. His shoes were completely inappropriate for the season and left small puddles of melting snow on the linoleum floor. When he spotted her pink apron, he started toward her. "Excuse me -- is the owner in?"
Copyright © 2001 by Jodi Picoult. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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