The most striking thing about Grover is his gem-blue eyes set in his wrinkled, round face with piercing precision. He visits the coffeehouse twice a week to collect recycling as a part of his campus rounds and I take pause every time, soaking in the richness of his gaze. Over the past two years, I have gotten to know him in fits and starts, depending on the length of his visit and whether or not there is a line of customers when he comes in. Since I’ve moved to Fork Mountain near Tinyville, NC, Grover’s taken up new interest in our friendship.
“You know, it makes us neighbors now,” he says, smiling across the counter. “Here, let me show you.” He reaches into his pocket and takes out a crumpled daybook, then comes behind the counter to grab a pen and draw a map across the month of April. “You’re here,” he points with the tip of the pen to the top of a ridgeline that he’s sketched. “And I’m on the other side of Fork Mountain, over here. This is Roan Mountain right up here. Fork Mountain isn’t really it’s own peak, see, it’s more like a ridge leading up to the top of Roan. The name came from the waters down below. Here’s my creek, down this side of the mountain and here’s your creek, down the other. Where you turn from the highway, the waters form a fork, and that’s how the road got its name.”
A customer waits patiently in line while Grover explains the flow of water, the elevation of the ridge, and how far apart we are as the crow flies. I’m genuinely interested in these insights and the customer is as well, peaking over the edge of the counter and paying close attention.
“So,” Grover says, slapping the daybook shut and stuffing it back into his pocket. “Next time I’ll bring you a county map, soon as I can get my hands on one. Then things will start to come together.”
“Thanks!” I say.
He steps outside to start sorting the recycling, his aged back humped slightly near his shoulders and his keg belly parting his knees as he squats down to reach the bins. If it weren’t for our paths crossing at work, I’m not sure Grover and I would get to know each other in these subtle, yet connected ways. I serve the patient customer his latte, then grab a handful of loose change from my tip jar to ring up a decadent slice of our chocolate velvet cake.
“Grover,” I say, peering out the coffeehouse doors. “Do you like chocolate?”
His eyes grow wide, glowing brightly in the spring day sun. He nods.
“Well then, this one’s on me.” I hand him the box with a smile. “It’s best cold, and this one’s been chilled in our back fridge here, so eat it up. After about four hours it will start to melt.”
“So in other words I’d better get to eating this real soon, then, right?” He nods again, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Yessir. Have a good day now, we’ll see you on Thursday.”