Today, Dad and I went to the feed store which just happens to be next to Clara's coffee shop. When Dad mentioned how much help I'd been hauling the sacks of feed (50 pounds each) and piling them into the back of the truck and then offered me a reward in the form of a slice of Clara's world famous upside-down cake, of course I said YES.
Clara's is a place I'll miss a lot if I ever go away to college. The bell on the door, the candy at the cash register, the lazy overhead fans, and every time you go inside, there's someone you know. Today, Katie Sterling was there with her dad, and they waved, but I noticed there was a stranger there, too.
As we walked to an empty table, I thought anyone could tell the guy was just passing through, and that he didn't have much respect for country people by the way he was talking to Clara.
"Don't hold out on me. I'll give you more than that piece of junk is worth," he sneered.
I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but his voice was show-off loud and when it turned out he was trying to buy a little old copper horse statue that's been standing next to Clara's cash register for as long as I can remember, I couldn't help paying attention.
Clara used to let kids play with that horse when they were getting impatient for their meal, and soda crackers had lost their fascinating, out-to-dinner taste. I remember romping that shiny little horse across the coffee shop floor. Lots of local kids did, and now, even sitting next to the cash register, the horse wobbles because one of its legs is shorter than the other three.
I couldn't imagine why the stranger wanted to buy it, but he kept insisting, even though Clara said it wasn't for sale.
"Come on, now, everything has its price." And that got me thinking how wrong he was. The
Phantom's freedom doesn't have a price. My friendship with Jen doesn't have a price and
neither does the way Ace looks into my eyes as if he can read my mind. I wouldn't take
a thousand or a hundred thousand dollars for any of those things. And I guess Dad's
feelings had veered off in the same direction.
Shaking his head, he patted my hand before pushing his chair back from the table. For just
a second, I thought Dad was going to go get our cake himself, but then I saw him take his
wallet out of his jeans.
"Mister," he said, standing next to the stranger, "You're wrong. Not everything has a price,
but just now, peace and quiet does." Dad snatched the stranger's bill up, glanced at it,
extracted a few dollar bills from his wallet and laid them down on the counter.
Walking with the stiff cowboy grace I'd gotten used to, Dad walked back toward our table.
"Two slices of upside-down cake, comin' up," Clara said, and everyone in the coffee shop got
back to normal. Even though the stranger was still standing there with his mouth open.