The truck passed the Camberland grocery store. Its once yellow walls were now faded to white as it crouched importantly on its lot. A big sign proudly stated: “The One and Only Store for Everything, and More.”
Troy wrinkled his nose. Only one store? No odd shops with strange, muscle-building vitamins? No bodegas filled with sodas, over-salted chips, and crazy cats?
Troy sighed. He sure hoped they had blueberry pie – his favorite.
Grandpa George parked the truck and he and Troy went into the small grocery store. The only other customers were a mother with her toddler son. The mother had to keep a tight hold as the tiny boy kept trying to grab things off the shelves, especially the glass jars of spaghetti sauce that sparkled in the overhead lights.
Grandpa George picked out some colorful vegetables, a few fishing lures, and a loaf of brown bread.
When his grandfather got to the register, he smiled at the small woman behind the counter.
“Hi, Macie! How are you today?”
Grandpa George quickly introduced Troy as his grandson.
As Troy shook the woman’s hand, he was suddenly reminded of a friend he knew from back home in New York. Her name sounded a lot like Macie.
This friend of Troy’s was a fragile, elderly woman named Gracie.
Gracie didn’t know that she and Troy were friends, but they were. Gracie looked after a corner bodega store and a mangy, black cat.
Whenever Troy walked into that bodega for chips or gum, he made sure to greet Gracie with a “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to you, Gracie!”
See, Gracie was a little hard of hearing, and she was a little hard of seeing, too. She never had any idea what time of day it was.
The first time Troy had told her “Good morning,” she had argued with him about it being the evening and not the morning.
The next time Troy saw Gracie, it had been in the afternoon. He’d walked into her shop and said, “Good afternoon, Gracie.” To this, she launched into a tirade about how it was certainly not the afternoon, and that it was most definitely still morning.
So you see, if Troy mentioned all the times of day together, ‘good morning, good afternoon, and good evening,’ he was never in the wrong.
When Gracie would hear Troy’s combined greeting, she’d smile and click her fingers and tell him he was exactly right. Because there was no way to argue when all the times of day were mentioned together.
Gracie had another interesting belief. She always assumed it was two ’o clock. And to Gracie, two ’o clock could mean the morning, the afternoon, or the evening.
At least that’s what Gracie thought whenever she checked the time on the cat-eye clock she kept on the wall above the cash register.
“Two ’o clock, young man. Same time again tomorrow?”
Troy didn’t have the heart to tell her the clock no longer worked. So it was always two ’o clock at Gracie’s bodega. And it was always the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, too.
“Yep, I’ll see you again at two tomorrow, Gracie...and hey, look at that! Tomorrow’s a Tuesday!”
To this, Gracie would nod her white head happily and rub the tail of her nameless black cat. But the cat wasn’t exactly nameless. Most of the time Gracie called the black cat, “Shoo!”
Troy shook his head to clear the memory of Gracie. He watched as Macie smiled at his grandfather as she handed him his paper grocery bag.
“Let’s go, Troy,” Grandpa George said as he headed out of the store. Troy spotted a square clock quietly ticking near the front window.
“Two ’o clock,” Macie said as she shut a drawer below the register.
“Yes,” Troy replied. He watched the clock’s second-hand spin in its circle frame. As Troy pushed open the door, he paused to glance over his shoulder at the small woman.
“Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to you...Macie,” he called. The woman had bent over to pick something up off the floor.
“What’s that you said?” she asked, wiping her hands on her plaid dress. Troy shrugged and smiled at the woman’s confused expression.
“It’s just something an old friend would understand,” he said. “A friend of mine back in New York named Gracie.”
Troy walked to his grandfather’s truck and climbed into the front seat. After he was settled, Grandpa George steered the truck out of the parking lot and onto the street. He drove for a while in silence. Troy saw farmlands filled with cows and horses that munched on grass in fields bordered by thick, forested trees.
“When we get back, Troy, you should check out the beach. There’s one on the other side of the woods, not more than a quarter mile from the house,” Grandpa George said.
“Kids your age like the beach. They’re always camping and lighting bonfires out there.”
Troy brightened. “That’s cool,” he said. He’d never lived by a beach before. If he wanted to get away, maybe he could swim back to New York?
Troy pushed the idea from his mind. He wasn’t a selfish guy, and his grandfather was pretty cool for the most part. Besides, he’d already spent his entire life living in a big city. A winter with no snow definitely sounded like a great idea.
With his head against the window, Troy closed his eyes. He had no way of knowing that by moving to Camberland, his life would change forever.