* * *
“I think I don’t regret a single ‘excess’ of my responsive youth—I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn’t embrace.” ~ Henry James
* * *
Kady slowed the car to a stop so she could reach for the map she had tossed on the passenger seat.
She had bought it on impulse at a 7-11 near her university in Laramie. She had heard that the Internet was next to nothing where she was going, and true enough, her Google Maps had stopped working as soon as she was several miles past the city limits and making her way up west.
Unfolding the map on her lap, Kady ran a finger over the map to carefully retrace her route one last time, never mind if it was basically one straight long road then a right turn at the end.
Thirty minutes later, and Kady breathed a sigh of relief as a horse-shaped sign came up on the other side of the road, with the words ‘Welcome to the Town of Hartland (Population 9,008)’ written in cursive. With directional parking signboards mounted on just about every post, it took only a few minutes for Kady to find a free slot for her five-year-old Toyota. And then she was stepping out, her throat tightening in nervousness at the realization that a new chapter in life could be starting any moment.
This was what you wanted, Kady reminded herself. The simple life, and how simpler could it get if there wasn’t Internet to have people compare each other’s lives? So get your inner John Wayne going: courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.
And almost as if God was listening to her pep talk, she was just about to cross the street when she heard something strange and loud, like…horse hooves chopping over the pavement? Her head immediately lifted up, and her jaw dropped as a man on horseback galloped past her, leaving a faint trail of dust. She rubbed her eyes, and when she looked for the man again, he was reining his steed in, using it to turn the big, black horse towards…
Was this for real?
Was that man really falling in line at a McDonald’s drive-thru lane…on horseback?
She could only shake her head, knowing that had to be a sign God was listening…and that He had a sense of humor. As she finally crossed the street, a giggle from a young boy startled Kady into looking around, and it was then she realized she hadn’t been alone in her amazement.
The boy was chatting animatedly with his dad now while his mother smiled at Kady, her bemused gaze seeming to say, Wasn’t that the strangest and coolest thing ever?
Kady beamed back. Absolutely. It was a tiny wordless exchange, but the whole thing meant the world to her. Her whole life, she had lived in one of the nicer (and snobbier) communities of Denver, and while she had never lacked for anything materially, constant criticism from the people around her had made Kady see herself as an ugly odd duckling with nothing to offer.
But that was then, she reminded herself, and this was now. Kady resumed walking, the memories of the guy on horseback causing her to smile to herself and ease her nervousness. It was even enough to gift her with a (false) sense of security when she eventually found what she came for: a job vacancy ad framed on the window of a charming two-story coffee shop.
It was as picturesque as the rest of the town, a brick building with flowers all around it, and what seemed like a vegetable and herbal garden at the back. Craning her neck, she even saw the edges of a swing set, and it just about completed her idea of small-town living.
The only thing that could’ve made this whole scene perfect was if the sign door had not been flipped to CLOSED.
Kady bit her lip as she considered whether to try her luck anyway. She knew small towns had to close earlier than the shops back home, and Denver wasn’t even like NYC to begin with, but for this one to be closed at 3:30 in the afternoon…surely that couldn’t be the norm?
YOLO, Kady reminded herself. Quoting millennial jargon wasn’t really her thing, but this particular modern-day shorthand she had instantly gravitated to the moment she realized what it meant. YOLO was something she had never done in all 24 years of her life, but that, too, would change.
Chin up, Kady tried the knob and it turned under her fingers a little too easily, making her think fancifully that this was the door of opportunity she was fated to open.
The interior was a cozy take on industrial, with its old brick walls, hanging vertical shelves in black iron, and polished concrete flooring. The furniture was a mix of elegant and comfy, with its leather couches and refurbished wooden tables, while the ubiquitous use of copper – from flower pots to pans and coffee mugs – added an attractive metallic accent to the place.