‘Really,’ I said. ‘That’s the trifecta.’
‘Wait, though,’ I said. ‘I have Googled every single restaurant for fifty miles, and nothing came up but the Wheelhouse.’
‘That,’ he said, ‘is because my place is a local secret.’
‘Oh, right.’ I leaned back against the doorjamb. ‘Of course. The local thing again.’
‘Yep,’ he said, reaching down to grab a canvas bag from beside the desk, and hoisting it over his shoulder. ‘But don’t worry. I think I can get you in.’
‘This,’ I said, ‘is not a restaurant.’
That much was obvious by the row of coin-operated washing machines on one side of the room, the dryers on the other. Not to mention the tables lined up for folding in between, a few plastic chairs, and a machine dispensing small boxes of detergent and fabric softener with an OUT OF ORDER sign taped over it.
‘I didn’t say it was a restaurant,’ Eli said as he walked over to a machine, plopping his canvas bag down on top of it.
‘You didn’t say it was a Laundromat,’ I pointed out.
‘True.’ He pulled a bottle of Tide out of the bag, then dumped the bag’s contents inside. After he fed in some quarters, and water began to slosh across the glass front, sudsing immediately, he said, ‘Follow me.’
I did, albeit hesitantly, down the row of washers and dryers to a narrow hallway, which ended with a plain, white door. He knocked twice, then pulled it open, gesturing for me to go through first. Initially, I hesitated. But then, sure enough, I smelled coffee. And that was enough to push me over the threshold.
Which, honestly, was like stepping into a different world. Gone was the linoleum and shiny appliances. This place was dim, the walls painted a deep purple. There was one window, a string of multicolored lights tacked up over it, and a few small tables. Right by the back door, which was open, a warm breeze blowing through, was a small counter. An older guy with black hair streaked with white was sitting behind it, reading a magazine. When he looked up and saw Eli, he smiled.
‘Yo,’ he called out. ‘I thought you might turn up tonight.’
‘I was running out of shirts,’ Eli replied.
‘Well, then.’ The guy put his magazine aside, then stood up, rubbing his hands together. ‘What can I get for you?’
‘That depends,’ Eli said, walking over to the counter and pulling out a stool. I was about to do the same when he gestured at it, and I realized it was for me. ‘What’s on the menu?’
‘Well,’ the guy said, stepping back from the counter and looking beneath it, ‘let’s see… there’s some rhubarb. Apple. And some razzleberry.’
The guy nodded. ‘Raspberry and blueberry. Sort of tart, sort of mellow. It’s a little intense. But worth trying.’
‘Sounds good.’ Eli glanced at me. ‘What do you want?’
‘Coffee?’ I said.
‘Just coffee?’ the guy asked.
‘She’s not from here,’ Eli explained. To me he said, ‘Trust me. You want pie.’
‘Oh.’ They were both looking at me. I said, ‘Um, apple, then.’
‘Good choice,’ Eli said as the guy turned around, grabbing two mugs from a rack behind him and filling them from a nearby coffeepot. Then, as we watched, he pulled two plates out from under the counter, followed by two pies. He cut hefty slices of each, arranged them neatly with a fork beside, and them pushed them over to us.
I picked up my mug first, taking a tiny sip. Eli hadn’t been joking after all: the coffee was incredible. But not as good as the pie. Sweet Jesus.
‘I told you,’ Eli said. ‘Beats the Wheelhouse by a mile.’
‘The Wheelhouse? Who’s eating there?’ the guy said. Eli nodded at me. ‘Oh, man. I hate to hear that.’
‘Clyde,’ Eli said to me, ‘is a man who takes pie very seriously.’
‘Well,’ Clyde said, flattered, ‘I mean, I endeavor to. But I’m only a beginner at this whole baking thing. I got a late start.’
‘Clyde owns the bike shop,’ Eli told me. ‘And this Laundromat. And about four other businesses here in Colby. He’s a mogul.’
‘I prefer the term renaissance man,’ Clyde said as he picked up his magazine again, which, I saw now, was a copy of Gourmet. ‘And just because I’m good at business does not mean I can do a perfect piecrust. Or so I’m learning.’
I took another bite of the pie – which tasted pretty close to perfect to me, actually – and looked around the room again.
‘You have to admit,’ Eli said as Clyde flipped a page, studying a recipe for potatoes au gratin, ‘this is better than driving or reading.’
‘Much,’ I agreed.
‘She doesn’t sleep either,’ Eli told Clyde, who nodded. To me he said, ‘Clyde bought this place just so he’d have something to do at night.’
‘Yep,’ Clyde said. ‘The coffee shop part, though, that was Eli’s idea.’
‘Nah,’ Eli said, shaking his head.
‘It was.’ Clyde turned another page. ‘Used to be, we’d just hang out during the spin cycle, share a thermos and whatever pastry I was working on. Then he convinced me maybe we weren’t the only ones looking for a place to go other than a bar late at night.’
Eli poked his fork into his piecrust. ‘Spin cycle,’ he said. ‘That’s not a bad one, actually.’
‘Huh.’ Clyde considered this. ‘You’re right. Write it down.’
Eli pulled out his wallet, then took out a piece of yellow folded paper. From the looks of it, it was a list, and a long one. Clyde handed him a pen, and I watched as he added SPIN CYCLE to the bottom.
‘We need a new name for the bike shop,’ Clyde explained to me. ‘We’ve been trying to come up with one for ages.’
I had a flash of my first day in Colby, the conversation I’d heard among Jake, Wallace, and Adam as I passed them on the boardwalk. ‘What’s it called now?’
‘The Bike Shop,’ Eli said, his voice flat. I raised my eyebrows. ‘Nice, right?’
‘Actually, it’s called Clyde’s Rides,’ Clyde said, picking up my coffee mug to refill it. ‘But the sign got blown off during Hurricane Beatrice last year, and when I went to replace it, I thought maybe it was time to give it a new name…’