Summer had arrived in such full force that the heat baked up through the floorboards of Melton’s General Store and lapped at Danny’s thin-soled loafers like a puppy at an ice cream cone.
And it was all wrong. What 15-year-old boy would be wearing loafers, and stuck inside, on a beautiful summer day?
Well, Danny Melton, for one, thanks to his old man.
“Look, Danny,” Dave Melton had told him the day school let out. “You’re old enough now that you can start helping with the store during the summer. It’s going to be yours someday, and you need to learn how to run the place. Besides, you know Elmer retired last month. I can’t operate the business by myself.”
Here, Dave had stopped, put both hands on Danny’s shoulders and looked the boy square in the eyes. “I need you son.”
It wasn’t a plea, but a command.
And so here Danny was on the hottest day of the year, manning the drowsy family store when he should have been on a creek bank somewhere, or playing baseball, or at least working on a farm with a few of his buddies.
Instead, he was selling soda pop and bologna to families passing through Colton on their way from the city to the beach or the woods, stopping for some picnic fare. Families like the one milling around before him now.
There was the dad, over in one corner picking through the fishing poles and regaling his grade-school-aged son with stories that may or may not have been true.
There was the mom, gathering a few vittles and stopping at the magazine rack. A little girl clutching a doll clung to her mother’s skirt and shot glances at Danny every once in awhile. In spite of himself, Danny couldn’t help but wave and give her a peek-a-boo face. She shrieked with joy.
And then there was the older girl, about Danny’s age and sort of cute in a bookworm sort of way. She walked right up to the counter.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, which surprised Danny because no one ever called him “sir,”
“Yes, can I help you?” He tried to be professional, but his heart was beating fast for some reason.
“Well, I’m wondering if you could do me a favor.” She had been standing with her hands behind her back, and now she pulled one forward and held out a Brownie camera.
“We’re traveling to visit my Aunt Mabel, see, and I’m recording our journey all along the way. Do you think you could take a picture of me out front of your store?”
“Oh, Emmy, leave that boy alone. He’s got a job to do!” The girl’s mother had walked up behind her and was looking over her shoulder. The little girl bounced back and forth behind Emmy, peeking out at Danny, giggling.
“No, it’s fine, ma’am. I mean if you don’t mind waiting a couple of minutes before I check you out.”
The woman smiled and nodded. Danny thought she might have winked at him, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Do you know how these cameras work?” Emmy asked him as they walked to the front of the store.
“Why, sure I do. Sell them all the time here in the store.” Which was true, but Danny didn’t really know how they worked. He’d figure it out, though. “Say, where does your aunt live?”
“Redville,” Emmy said. They were outside now, and she stood close to the big display window, where the Melton name was prominently displayed.
“Shoot, that’s just the next town over,” Danny said. “Guess this is your last stop.” He worked the camera into position and tried to remember what the box looked like, where the pieces were. “How long you going to be there?”
Emmy posed with her hands on her hips and curled her lips into smile that melted away all those “bookworm” thoughts of Danny’s, and he swallowed hard. “All summer long!” she said.
The camera clicked.
“Wow, Grandma sure was pretty!” April pointed to the yellow, faded photo in the upper left-hand corner of the montage standing on an easel next to the big, white cake. “No wonder you fell for her!”
“He didn’t stand a chance!” Emmy patted Danny on the shoulder and smiled at her granddaughter.
“Still don’t,” Danny said. Fifty years gone in a flash, and all those memories laid out in front of them, each one as fresh as the day they made it.
The room was buzzing with family and friends, and a few folks Danny wasn’t sure he knew at all. But they all seemed to know who Emmy and Danny were, and they were there to celebrate their love, their world.
“And to think,” Emmy said. “This foolish boy would have rather been out fishing that afternoon. Imagine all he would have missed?” She opened her arms, indicating the life they had built.
Danny pulled her close and kissed her.
“Sometimes, dear, I guess you just end up where you’re supposed to be.”