It was a slow morning at the store. Dust floated lazily through the sunlight slanting in through the windows facing the street, and the only sound in the empty store came from Jenny Post who was absent-mindedly flipping through a magazine as she sat on a stool behind the counter. The quiet, warm, boredom of the place was making her sleepy. She yawned as she glanced up from her magazine and looked across the street towards the Wheel Inn. Billy Tipps had stepped out onto the restaurant’s front porch and was holding the door open for another man who was coming behind him with his arms full of to-go boxes.
Billy waved good bye to the man and started walking towards the store. Jenny groaned audibly. She was tired of Billy’s visits. He visited the store several times a day. Usually he would make a pretense of buying something, and then he would settle in, leaning across the counter and talking to her as she worked. On days when things were busy his visits were mercifully short, but on days like this he might stay for an hour or more talking about a dream he had, or his love for animals, or anything else that he thought might make her think he was interesting or nice. He always talked about the same tired topics, visiting and revisiting them in a tedious loop. Jenny was aware that he might have developed feelings for her, but she also wondered if he targeted her solely because she was the only person in town who couldn’t walk away from him. From 7:00 to 3:00, Tuesday through Saturday, she would be sitting there behind the counter at the store- quite literally his captive audience. Jenny might have said something to him about how she didn’t want to talk right then, but she didn’t for two reasons. First, she just didn’t have it in her. She was too nice and there was something tragic and lonely about Billy. She would have just as soon kicked a stray dog as done anything to abuse such a man. Secondly, as a good employee, she didn’t want to do anything that would make a customer stop coming. After all, he did buy something every time he came in.
Billy opened the door, flashed Jenny a grin, and said, “I thought you might be lonely over here.” Jenny smiled back patiently, but didn’t offer comment. Billy clomped over towards the glass display to the right of the register and made a show of making a selection from the various donuts, cinnamon rolls, and pastries on display there. He finally settled on an apple fritter. Then between bites, and without any preamble, he launched into a one-sided discussion about his French ancestry, which was a favorite topic of his, and one which he had thoroughly exhausted during earlier visits. Just as Billy was explaining again that his family’s name used to be spelled “T-I-E-P-P-E-S,” before it had been mistakenly recorded as “T-I-P-P-S” at Ellis Island, Janice Smith walked into the store.
Janice, and her sister Gloria, owned a collection of cottages along the lake just south of the Lavallee Landing, which they rented out mostly to sportsmen and folks from out of state. Janice was thin with graying hair, an olive complexion and Jenny thought that she dressed exactly as if she had just stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog. To Jenny it seemed that everything about her was neat and organized. Even her voice had a crisp orderly quality to it. Jenny liked her.
As Janice filled her thermos with coffee, Billy began to question her about a run-in she had with Kick Tomwright down on the Lavallee Road the previous day. This was the first Jenny had heard anything about it even though Billy talked as though everyone in town was aware of it.