Brooke Mason had just barely made it to work on time; even though she was living directly across the street. Cautiously she climbed the three wooden steps--grasping the railing with all of her strength--leading to the front door of the renovated house. Inside, she walked directly to the breakroom; which also served as an office, and stripped off her coat and hat. She hung them on one of several eight-inch nails sticking out from the wall. Driving had been treacherous, nearly impossible. For her, just the simple act of walking seemed to be an impossible task. She was thankful she didn\\\'t have to get behind the wheel of a car.
Last nights unexpected storm had dropped several inches of snow over a blanket of ice. It was the first snow storm of the season, as well as her first snow. She appreciated the fact that she lived within walking distance from the diner, and once she was safely inside couldn\\\'t help but giggle, like a six year old on the verge of building a snowman, or sledding down a giant hill.
She combed her fingers through a wave of blonde trying to tame the static that was left behind from the wool cap she\\\'d been unaccustomed to wearing. Satisfied, she took a hair-band that was decorating her wrist and wrapped it tightly around her hair, leaving behind a long mane of gold trotting down her back. Her eyes were the color of the Atlantic. Her skin was flawless and glistened under the overhead fluorescent lights.
It had been nearly two weeks ago that she\\\'d arrived in town, devastated, alone and broken.
She heard the ding of the bell on the front door, letting her know someone had come inside.
Certainly no one would be out in this weather, she thought. Her shoulders stiffened and her heart skipped a beat. Suddenly she was uneasy.
"It\\\'s me!" Brooke\\\'s shoulders relaxed the moment she heard Francine\\\'s voice. She grabbed a red-checkered apron from a nail--which reminded her of a table cloth--wrapped it around her and walked out into the main room.
"You scared me," Brooke said. "I didn\\\'t expect anyone to be out in this...this weather."
"I keep forgetting you\\\'re from Florida." Francine laughed. "Honey, the snow doesn\\\'t stop people around here. We\\\'re use to it...hell some of these people even look forward to it. And...well, even though we wont be quite as busy as usual, we\\\'ll still get the handful of regulars."
"How many coffee\\\'s should I put on?" Brooke asked.
"Let\\\'s start with two regular and one decaf."
Like a mother bird, Francine had taken under her wing the moment she had arrived in the small town. She had given her a job in her diner, and a place to live in one of her rental units.
It wasn\\\'t very often that outsiders came to \\\'Creekside\\\' anymore.
She wanted her to like it here.
She wanted her to stay.
Francine was short and motherly, in her mid sixties. Worn short, her hair was the color of steel. She had a mid-section that screamed southern, and her eyes were a unique shade of gray.
Francine had already phoned her other waitress Tara, to tell her to take the morning off. Because of the unexpected snowfall, the place certainly wouldn\\\'t be busy enough for the three of them. She and Brooke could handle the regulars that would no doubt be there.
By the time the morning shift had ended, Francine and Brooke were seated at the opposite side of the counter, sitting on the round, red upholstered seats, lining the countertop, sipping coffee.
There had been a total of five customers this morning. All of which had ordered coffee to go.
The storm had come as a complete surprise to everyone, even the daring. Locals were just now able to get their plows attached to their tractors, ready to tackle the streets.
It had been so long since anyone had been inside, that Francine nearly jumped off her stool at the sound of the bell ringing as the front door opened.
"Mornin\\\' Fran...Brooke" Sheriff�Adams walked through the front door, removed his hat and coat, then took a seat at one of the rounded stools.
"Mornin\\\' Frank." Francine hopped down from the stool, wiped her hands across the front of her apron, as though she were trying to smooth out any visible wrinkles and disappeared behind the counter. Brooke followed. "Slow morning," she continued. She reached for a ceramic mug, poured a cup of steaming coffee and set it in front of the sheriff. She walked back from behind the counter and once again took a seat next to him.
"Hell of a snowstorm." he said, taking a sip of the steaming liquid, nearly causing himself third degree burns.
"You look tired Frank."
"Been a long night." he ran his right hand through thin, graying hair "Been up, most of it. Couple a kids from uptown went missing. A Mark and Todd Maynor, brothers I reckon."
"So what\\\'s that have to do with you?" she interrupted. "uptown ain\\\'t your place."
"The car they were in..." he continued, "or rather borrowed from dad, without his knowledge, of course," was found wrecked about a mile and a half down the street from the old Henderson place."
"Can I get you something to eat sheriff?" Brooke appeared from the office, interrupting their conversation.
"That sounds like a wonderful idea!" Francine suddenly added. "Brooke darlin, get the sheriff here the special."
In the kitchen, Brooke prepared the griddle, then added several slices of bacon as well as sausage and a thick slice of ham. The breakfast special was a hungry man\\\'s paradise. After she added home fries to a wire basket and dropped them into the fryer, she began whisking eggs.
"Sorry sheriff," Brooke said, appearing to refill the two cups of coffee. "I couldn\\\'t help but overhear you before. Did I hear you say two boys were missing?"
"They haven\\\'t been found yet?"
"No, we\\\'re searching the Henderson farm today. Hoping they stumbled across the old place and stayed there to keep from the weather."
"I hope you find them sheriff."
"Me too." Once again Brooke disappeared inside the kitchen.
Within minutes she reappeared carrying two ceramic plates, heaping with food. On the larger were several pieces of meat, as well as a heaping pile of home fries, scrambled eggs, and toast. On the smaller plate were three of Francine\\\'s famous buttermilk biscuits, topped with a flood of sausage gravy.
"Hope your hungry sheriff." Brooke smiled nervously and set down the plate of food.
"I don\\\'t mean to pry sheriff, but did you say you were searching the old Henderson place?"
"You know of that place?" Fran cut in.
"Yeah..." after a slight hesitation, Brooke said. "I think it\\\'s mine."
"What!" Fran shrieked.
"What!" Frank said at the same time.
The sound of the bell had the three of them jumping, then staring at the front door.
The stranger was tall and ruggedly handsome. In his mid thirties, he had dark hair that hung well past his collar, and eyes that matched.
Sheriff Frank Adams stood and extended his hand. "Drake...Any news?" he asked, immediately afraid of the answer.
Ignoring the two men, Francine turned to Brooke and grabbed her arm. "What do you mean you think it\\\'s yours?"
"I told you when I moved here that I had inherited my father\\\'s house."
"You said a house...not the old Henderson place!"
"What\\\'s wrong with the Henderson place? Brooke asked, suddenly concerned.
"Well...nothin I suppose, it\\\'s just that no one has lived there for such a long time and, besides the fact that it\\\'s ha...it\\\'s...well...it\\\'s much too large for you, not to mention all the work it probably needs."
"Excuse me ladies,"
"Is everything all right Frank?" Francine asked, worried by the look on his face.
"Did something happen?"
"Yes." Sheriff Adams looked directly at Brooke. "If the old Henderson place is really yours like you say, I hope you don\\\'t have any plans to move back there soon."
"Wh...what are you talking about Frank?" Francine asked.
Frank didn't have to look at their faces to see the confusion, worry and fear written all over.
"Place shoulda burned down years ago!"� he whispered, careful not to let anyone hear him.�