Once a year, every year. I take a special winter trip into the mountains. I always pack the night before, and wake up early to leave. Embracing the chilly morning air, it doesn't take long to toss the few bags I take with me in the trunk. Brew a quick cup of coffee for the drive, lock up the house and I'm on the road by six. I'll let the radio play whatever it will as I hop on the highway to the mountains; sometimes I might even drive in silence and just listen to the sounds of the road. Cruising along I slip past any major traffic before it's ever on the road with me.

When it strikes noon, like clockwork my stomach drops and the all to familiar demonic growl emanates deep from within. Nothing like a quick stop at a highway rest stop, or a quaint mountain town to grab a little lunch. I knew this was coming. Having planned ahead the route I took this year takes me directly to an old run down burger restaurant. Flicking my turn signal on I turn right off the highway into the rest stop where the restaurant is. A gas station, a large restroom, a large rock that's supposed to be a sight to see, and the burger place without a real name. I've always loved places like this, nothing ever seems to matches their simplicity.

One hour for lunch and the burger was out of this world. Of course, the mom and pop restaurants typically deliver. I hit the restrooms then pop into the gas station for a little treat and to top off the tank. It's hard to get back on the road after a long break like that, but it is worth it. I can never linger in these places too long. After all, I've got somewhere to be.

Back on the road. The highway can only take me so far to get where I'm going. It's funny, I've taken this trip for so long that it's become like second nature to drive there. Turning off of the highway onto the little dirt road my grandpa found all those years ago brings the memories flooding back. He took it really hard after my grandma passed, and had moved in with my parents and me. We ended up become pretty close and we would spend our weekends driving around the mountains. Turning off onto any strange road you could find, and he would just look to me with a big smile and say.

“All roads lead somewhere, whether good or bad, whether it's finished or not. And if you risk it, you might just find a road that leads to something great.”

Each month our weekends got a little shorter. A few years later we couldn't go out at all, and when I got my license to drive. I had to take him out one last time. We drove for hours and hours and we never stopped. Then from the corner of my eye he points to this little dirt road. Hidden away by years of overgrowth. Together we took the road for another hour or two before the treeline would break. There we found it, a small brick house on top of a hill. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized during the drive through the woods. My grandpa had passed. I'd never seen him look happier.

I can still see him in the passenger seat of my car. Napping like nothing could bother him. Pointing out different places we should stop at. Whistling his little tunes behind his oxygen tube. Without him, I would have never taken these trips. Without him, I never would have found this little brick house on the hill. It wouldn't be until later I discovered that it was a cafe for weary hikers that doubled as an inn. Ever since, I've come back every year.

Pulling up into the lightly raked dirt lot, I get out and take a deep breath. It's hard to shake the past from your mind after such a long drive. The fog lingers on the mind like alcohol on the breath, and only something strong takes it away. Grabbing the bags from my trunk. I lock up the car and ascend the few wooden steps up to the main floor. Stopping in front of an ornate red wood door with rose tinted glass. I set a bag down to pull the bells string. An elderly woman comes to answer the door not but a moment later.

Pushing her bifocals up the bridge of her nose she chuckles with delight saying. “Oh Amy, it's you! It's that time of the year again already is it?”

Opening my arms to her, I smile replying. “It's always a pleasure to see you Madam Penning. It is that time. Is he here yet? Or am I early?”

Embracing me in a warm hug, Madam Penning says. “Just in the nick of time deary. He popped up just before you arrived. He's waiting for you upstairs in the tea chamber.”

“Perfect. Oh? Do you mind if I get my room key first? I'd like to drop my bags off.”

Grabbing my coat and my bag from the floor. Madam Penning waves her arms at me practically scoffing she says. “Amanda Mathers, you know better. You drop those bags at the door dear. I'll handle everything. Don't let the tea get cold.”

Giving her a kiss on the cheek. I reply. “You're the best, Madam Penning. I'll see you after tea.”

Leaving the rest of my bags at the main entrance. I walk up the small rod iron circular staircase. The smooth metal rings slightly as I drag my hands along it on my way upstairs. The tea room is just to the left of the stairs. Pressing my hands to the ornate wooden doors, I peer through the rose tinted glass. The room looks foggy and pink, with two comfortable looking chairs rested on either side of a small table. My stomach drops when I can't see anyone else through the glass. Whispering to myself I say. “She said he was waiting...Well here goes nothing.”

A thick fog meets my body as the doors swing open forcing me to close my eyes. Sinking into water with each step forward I pass the threshold of the doors and into the tea room. Opening my eyes once more. I see him. I sit down across from his smile as he says.

“It's good to see you kiddo.”

Tears welling up in my eyes, I rub one away laughing. “It's good to see you too.”

He's been there all along, waiting. I don't know how he can be here. But every year. On the day he died. I know where to find him. He'll be waiting in the tea room. Of the little cafe on the hill.

March 09, 2020 16:47

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