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Second Time Around

Chapter 30

By Arli J

Edited by Radio Rancher
Based on Characters from Pinochle, by E Walk

We slept late the next morning, and, when we got up, we were feeling lazy, so we called the desk and asked to have coffee sent up to our room. A bellhop arrived in a few minutes with a tray holding a small coffeepot, two cups, sugar and a cream pitcher. I had forgotten to mention that we both take our coffee black.

After he left, we settled down and just chatted about the places and scenes we had seen so far. We both agreed that Camp Verde was our favorite part of the Prescott complex, and we were overjoyed to have found the perfect house for us—and at a great price, and furnished! I think we were both sure that Someone was watching over us, and we were grateful for that. Gregg gave me a long, thoughtful look.

"How would you feel about going back to Camp Verde today?"

"It might be fun to just walk around and get a little familiar with the town. Is that what you had in mind?" His expression suggested that he might have something a little more specific in mind, but I figured he would tell me about it when he was ready.

We got ready to face the day and went down to the dining room. Joey was there, and he hurried over to our table, as soon as we sat down. He was his usual, happy self, and our breakfast arrived quickly. We had brought the bus tour schedule with us, and we checked it out, as we ate. The tours were three hours apart, beginning at 8:30, with the last bus leaving Prescott at 5:30 in the evening. If we didn't dawdle over breakfast, we could still catch the 11:30 bus.

Gregg grinned and raised an eyebrow, as I slipped a twenty under my plate. We had both come to like Joey, and I knew that Gregg understood why I left the big tip, but he couldn't resist teasing me a little. He was just behind me, as we left the dining room, and he whispered, "Softy!" I turned to give him a dirty look, and he was grinning, that little boy grin that always melts me. Bill was busy with a customer at the desk, so we just waved to him on our way out. We were at the bus stop in plenty of time, and we were off to Camp Verde.

We told the driver that we would like to get out in Camp Verde to look around. He grinned. "Gonna get to know our fair city, are you?"

Gregg gave him a surprised look. "Do you live in Camp Verde?"

"Yep, born and raised there."

"We're thinking of buying a house there, and we wanted to look around town, to see what's available."

"You looking to buy Mrs. Watkins' house?"

"How did you know that?"

"It's a small town, and everyone knows what's going on with everyone else. We kinda look out for each other."

Gregg looked at me. "Harley, I think we've come home."

His grin was infectious; I couldn't help smiling, too. "It sounds like it."

The bus driver was grinning, too. "That'll be a good thing. I know she's been wanting to go live with her sister, but she can't, until she sells the house. And I think you'll find the neighbors real friendly and helpful. Like I said, we look out for each other."

It was only about a fifteen minute ride, and we watched the changing scenery with a lot more interest. When the bus stopped in the middle of town, the driver said, "If you're planning to have lunch here, Rosie, across the street, has great food, and she won't charge you an arm and a leg." He pointed to a small diner on the other side of the street.

"Thanks for the tip. And where do we meet you to go back?"

"Right here. I'm usually about fifteen or twenty minutes before the next run from Prescott here. It's a round trip for me, about half an hour, or so. The last trip of the day, I return to Prescott about quarter after eight in the evening, so, if you're still here, be at the stop here by then. It's a long walk home." He chuckled.

"We probably won't be that long. We just wanted to get a look at the town, to see what's here."

"It's not much, as towns go, but we like it, and I sure hope you'll like it, too." He grinned and waved, as we got off the bus, then drove off on his return trip.

The business section of Camp Verde isn't all that big, so it didn't take long to get a general view of it. The thing that most impressed us was the friendliness of the people we passed on the streets. Again and again, we were greeted with smiles and a "Hi!" or a "Howdy!" Gregg said, "I don't know about you, but I could get used to this, really quickly!"

"Me, too! I'm so happy we found that little house, and I can't wait to see what Beau and Becca think of it, and of the town. I really think they're going to like it."

He grinned. "And what if they hate it?'

"Guess they won't be coming often to visit us, but, in all honesty, I really don't care. I'm happy here, and, if you're happy, that's all that matters." I reached out and squeezed his hand, and he gave me that big smile that just melts me.

We wandered up and down the streets, looking in all the store windows. It was a small town, but it seemed to have everything that we might want or need. We wandered through some of the residential streets, and people waved and called greetings from their porches or front yards. It was almost a culture shock for a couple of yankees, more used to being ignored or snubbed on the street.

About one o'clock, we decided to look for some lunch. We had passed a couple of diners on our stroll through town, but we decided to try the one recommended by the bus driver. We took our time, checking store windows on the way, and in a few minutes we were seated at the counter in Rosie's Diner. A pleasant, motherly woman came bustling up and placed menus in front of us.

"Hi, I'm Rosie. You must be new in town; I know most of the locals."

"Yes, the bus driver told us to come here. He said this was the best place in town to eat."

"Oh, Dave! I should have known!" She laughed. "He figures, if he sends me business, he'll get free coffee when he comes in!"

Gregg gave her a teasing look. "Does he? Get free coffee?"

"Hell, yes! But so does half the town! If I didn't overcharge for the food, I'd go broke, giving out free coffee!"

I was liking this lady already! I picked up the menu and opened it.

"I can save you the time of reading the menu. The special's beef stew with cornbread."

Gregg lit up like a Christmas tree. "You've got my vote!"

She smiled at him. "Now, there's a man who knows what he wants! And how about you, sir?"

I couldn't help chuckling. "Too bad the special's not meat loaf. You'd probably have Gregg moving in and camping on one of your stools."

"Well, I've got meat loaf; it's just not the special today."

Gregg looked like a puppy begging at the table. "Do you put tomato sauce on it?"

"If people ask for it. A lot of people prefer it plain, so I wait for them to ask."

"Um, is it too late to change my order? The meat loaf with tomato sauce sounds really good!" The puppy dog look was more intense now. Rosie laughed.

"I guess we could handle that." She jotted a note on her pad. "And you, sir?"

"Well, the first thing I'd like is for you to call me Harley, instead of "sir." And that beef stew sounded really good to me. Gregg is the meat loaf addict!"

Rose grinned and jotted another note on her pad. "OK, Harley, you've got it! Do you guys want coffee?"

"Yes, please!" we chorused. She laughed again and headed out to the kitchen. She was back almost immediately with our coffee cups. She set them on the counter and turned to get a cream pitcher from the glass-fronted cooler behind the counter. Gregg stopped her. "Uh, we don't use cream, thanks."

She closed the glass door and turned back to us. She pushed a bowl containing sugar packets and packets of artificial sweeteners between us. "You like it sweet?"

"No, thanks. Just plain, black."

"OK, you guys are easy to please. Are you visiting friends here? We don't get a lot of tourists in town. Nothing too exciting to draw them. Well, except for the antiques hunters." We had noticed several antiques shops in our travels around town.

"I hope you don't mind," she smiled at us, "but we don't get many people in here from out of town, and I like to know all about them, where they're from, why they're here, how long they're staying—you know, all the nosy stuff!"

I couldn't help chuckling. "Well, I can put your mind at ease, right away. We're not foreign spies, here to blow up an antiques shop." She grinned at me. "Actually, we're planning to move here. We're just a couple of old guys who are tired of the cold, so we decided to move to the sunny Southwest. We were interested in the Prescott area, and we've been touring around, just looking at the towns. We really liked Camp Verde, and when we saw a house for sale, we just had to go look at it."

"Is that Eleanor Watkins' house? She's been just lost, since Clinton died, and she wants to go live with her sister in Tucson."

"Boy, news really does travel fast here!"

"Well, I heard that she had a couple of older gentlemen looking at it, and they seemed really interested in it."

Gregg was laughing so hard that I thought he'd fall off his stool. "Second time we've been in the town, and already they're talking about us!"

I turned to Rosie. "Well, Gregg's from Nebraska, and I'm from upstate New York. We sold some property we owned in New York, and a friend of ours in Nebraska is coming down to visit us this weekend to bring the money. By next Monday, we hope to own Mrs. Watkins' house, and she can go to Tucson to see her sister."

Rosie startled me by rushing around the counter and wrapping me in a big hug. Then she grabbed Gregg in a hug. "Oh, you just can't imagine how happy that makes me. Eleanor has been a friend for years, and it just hurts to see her alone and so sad."

A bell dinged from the kitchen, and an elderly lady poked her head out. "Your orders are ready, Rosie."

"Mom, you've got to come out here and meet our new neighbors! Guys, this is my Mom. Dad opened the diner about forty years ago, and Mom always did the cooking. When I took over, after Dad died, Mom couldn't stand retirement, so she came back to cook for me."

She stepped into the kitchen and returned with our meals. Mine was a big bowl of a rich stew that smelled just wonderful. It had big chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and celery in a rich brown gravy. There were two large chunks of cornbread on the plate next to the bowl of stew. "If you need more cornbread, just ask."

Gregg sat there, studying the thick slice of meat loaf on his plate. There were side dishes of mashed potatoes and a creamy cole slaw. The meat loaf was covered with a rich tomato sauce. I watched him, as he picked up his fork, cut off a small bite of the meat loaf and put it in his mouth. The grin appeared on his face and grew like a sunrise, spreading and brightening until his whole face was glowing with happiness, as he chewed contentedly on the meatloaf. He swallowed it and looked at Rosie.

"Oh, my! Oh, my! This is like the meat loaf at the State Diner and at the Parthenon. It's just like that wonderful Greek meat loaf. Rosie's Mom smiled, and Rosie laughed out loud.

"It is Greek meat loaf, Gregg! Mom came here from Greece when she was young and married Dad. The diner was so popular because of her good Greek cooking. I tried to get her to retire, after we lost Dad, but I'm glad she didn't ! I'm just not the cook she is, and I'll never be that good, so, as long as she wants to stay, I'm not going to rock the boat!" She gave her Mom a big hug, and the little woman blushed and hurried back into the kitchen.

Rosie went to the other end of the counter and picked up a couple of coffee cups sitting there. She came back with a damp cloth and wiped off the counter. When she took the cloth back to the kitchen, we could hear her talking quietly to her mother. Gregg and I tackled our lunch. The stew tasted even better than it smelled, and the cornbread was a perfect added touch. I glanced over at Gregg. He was staring into space, chewing slowly, with a look of complete bliss on his face. I decided that we wouldn't need to go to Prescott for meat loaf at the Parthenon.

We finished our lunch, and I called Rosie. She came out of the kitchen. "Can I get you guys anything else?"

"I don't think I could hold another bite. That stew was just perfect!"

She looked over at Gregg, who was still chewing on the last bite of his meat loaf.

"Was the meat loaf up to your standard, sir?"

I think he would have proposed marriage at that moment, but his mouth was full, so before he could swallow and answer her, I spoke up.

"So, how much do we owe you for this great meal?"

"Hey, guys, it's on the house. I hope we'll be seeing you in here often, so I won't be losing any money. And tell Dave I owe him a coffee—but just one, because you came in together!" She laughed.

"I'll be sure to tell him, when we go back to the motel."

She looked up at the clock on the wall behind the counter. "He should be coming by in about twenty minutes. You just meet him across the street, where he dropped you off. You've got time for another coffee, before he comes, if you want it."

Gregg grinned. "I can't think of too many times we've ever refused a cup of coffee."

"I'll remember that! And it's black, no sugar."

Gregg looked over at me. "This lady is good!"

"Remembering what customers like, and how they like it, is what keeps them coming in." She grinned at him and went back to get the pot to refill our cups.

Rosie went back to the kitchen, and we sat and sipped our coffee. I didn't know what Gregg was thinking at this point, but I already had very warm feelings about this little town. When we finished our coffee, I folded a ten-dollar bill and slid it under my cup. We got up to leave and the bell on the door, that I hadn't noticed when we came in, jingled loudly. Rosie stuck her head out of the kitchen.

"Come back soon, guys!"

Gregg grinned. "You'd better believe we'll be back! You've got the best meat loaf I've ever tasted!" She smiled and disappeared into the kitchen again. We went out and checked the traffic. There weren't a lot of cars on the street, so we didn't have to hurry crossing the street. We just stood in the warm sun, relaxed and comfortably full, as we waited for the bus to take us back to the motel. Neither of us had anything to say at the moment; we were just digesting—the good food and our experiences of the morning.

When the bus stopped in front of us, we got on. The driver was grinning. "Did you try Rosie's diner?"

"We sure did, and thank you so much for recommending it!" Gregg was grinning now.

I spoke up. "Rosie said to tell you that you've got a free cup of coffee coming, for sending us in to see her."

Gregg had that mischievous look again. "But she said you only get one cup, because we came in together!"

"Well, we're going to have to discuss that!" The driver was really grinning now. "So, how soon are you guys planning to move here?"

I couldn't believe the personal questions that we had been getting this morning. And yet, it didn't seem that people were just being nosy; they seemed genuinely interested in getting to know us. "Well, if things work out right, we'll probably close on the house next Monday, and we'll be moving in as soon as Mrs. Watkins leaves for Tucson."

"Well, that'll be great! Her sister was up and spent a couple of weeks with her, when her husband died, but she had to get back home. She runs a little gift shop in Tucson, and I imagine that Mrs. Watkins will be helping her out in the shop. It'll be good for her; it will take her mind off things."

The bus was empty, except for us, so we had our choice of seats. We sat down in a seat about halfway back. I reached over and took Gregg's hand and squeezed it. He smiled at me, and I held his hand for a minute or so, before I released him and put my hands in my lap. I wasn't sure, but I thought I saw the driver checking us out in his rear view mirror. When we reached our stop, we walked to the front door and thanked Dave for the ride and the good recommendation about Rosie's diner.

He grinned. "No problem, guys. That house you're buying has always been full of love, and with you two buying it, it will continue to be filled with Love. I saw the way you guys looked at each other. There is no way to mistake that look. It's love, pure and simple. Welcome to Camp Verdi. I know you'll be happy here."

Editor's Notes: It is so very nice to see that the townspeople are so receptive to Gregg and Harley. It seems to be a wonderful place, climate wise as well as population wise. I have the feeling that the guys will have a long and happy time there. I can hardly wait to see what happens in the next chapter

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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