Chapter 1

The Stranger at the Diner

Patricia Longwith was busy replenishing a diner patron's coffee mug, when her eye was drawn to a pretty and youthful teenager sitting at a small table in the center of the diner, staring at the single page menu. Patricia had never seen her before; and in a town as small as Millen, any out of town visitor sticks out like a broken pot.

The teen girl didn't appear to be any older than 13 years of age. She had long flowing hair that was white. Not grey. Not silver. White. If she had been standing up, her hair would've easily draped down to her popliteal, and possibly even lower. Her eyes were so blue that it was ready to play the harmonica.

Patricia noticed that this girl was sitting all by herself, which was unusual, but not in and of itself suspect. What was slightly more suspicious was that she was, purportedly, an out of town traveler who appeared to be well underage sitting alone in a strange diner that raised a flag in Patricia's mind. It was odd to be sure, but not completely unheard of, she supposed. She decided that it wasn't worth raising a stink over. After all, it was very possible that she was actually older than she appeared; just like one of her old high school friends who looked like she was a young teenager until her late-20s.

The middle-aged waitress, after finishing refilling the patron's coffee, approached the girl's table. "Welcome to Shae's Diner," she said. Patricia was one of those rare people whose natural voice tone sounded like her customer service voice. "My name is Patricia, and I'll be serving you today."

The girl looked up from her menu and offered a genuine smile at the waitress. Without her needing to say a word, Patricia already really liked this girl.

"What can I get started for you? What drink would you like?"

"I think some coffee would be rather nice," the girl said. Her voice was both pleasantly smooth and remarkably assured. The teen's soft physical features gave Patricia a false aura of shyness, but there wasn't an ounce of shyness in her inflections. "Black, please!"

Patricia pulled out a blank guest check out of her apron pocket began writing it down. "Sure thing, hon. And do you know what you want to eat yet?"

"Not yet. I can't decide! It just all sounds so delicious!" Patricia was about to put the ticket away and head over to get her coffee, when the girl quickly set the menu down and exclaimed, "Oh the heck with it! You only get so long to be alive! Might as well splurge a little! I'll take an order of French Toast, two eggs cooked Sunnyside up, three strips of chewy bacon, four sausage links, and two strawberry pancakes!"

Patricia wrote all the order down as quickly as she could and then repeated it to make sure it was accurate. She couldn't stop herself from wondering where this girl was going to put all this food, considering she had the physique of a yardstick, and how she was going to be able to pay for all this. Nevertheless, she went to go fill the order, and brought her a cup of coffee.

Once the ceramic mug was in her hand, the girl took a huge swig of coffee, and after she'd swallowed half a cup of coffee at once, she let out a satisfied "Ah!" She then turned to Patricia and said, "Absolutely delicious!"

Seeing someone take so much joy in consuming something as mundane and ordinary as coffee put a smile on Patricia's face. "Well I'm glad to hear that." As the girl began to drink the other half, she said, "I'll just go get you a pot of coffee for the table."

You might as well have told the girl that Christmas was coming early, because she beamed. "Thank you so much! That is so kind of you!"

Patricia brought the coffee pot over, and set it down.

The girl lifted the coffee pot up by the handle and began drinking straight out of it.

This girl certainly was a rather curious and mystifying creature.

"You're not from around here, are you?" Patricia asked.

She set the coffee pot down and shook her head, "Nope. That is accurate. I'm not from around here."

"Where you from?"

The girl's chipper demeanor lessened a touch, but not severely. "I think I'd like to keep that to myself, if you don't mind."

"Not at all, not at all."

Patricia brought the girl all her food about seven or eight minutes after she'd ordered it. She tried not to stare as the girl began to shovel the food into her mouth, which opened up far wider than she ever would've anticipated someone as small as her could. She had a system where she would cram three or four scoops of food into her mouth, and would then wash it down with a chug of coffee. Then she'd repeat the cycle all over again. She didn't stop to talk, savor the flavor of what she was eating, or even, seemingly, to breathe.

Within five minutes, all the food had been eaten and all the coffee had been drunk. The girl leaned back in her chair, placed her hands on her stomach, and closed her eyes. If her stomach had distended, Patricia didn't notice any difference.

She went to go collect the empty plates and coffee pot.

"Absolutely impeccable!" the girl said. "My compliments to the chef!"

"Thanks, I'll let him know. Anything else I can get for you?"

"No, thanks I think I'm full. I'm ready for the check!"

Patricia removed the check from her apron pocket and set it on the table, before leaving to take the dishes back to the kitchen.

The girl looked at the check, set it down and reached into her pocket for her black eel-skin bi-fold wallet. She reached into it and pulled out three $20 bills and set them all on the check.

Patricia went to retrieve the check.

"I don't need any change," the girl said, "But can I ask for some quarters? I think four ought a do it."

"Sure."

As Patricia went to go retrieve the quarters from the register, she flipped through the bills and noticed that the girl had given her a $27.23 tip. Surely this must've been a mistake, she thought to herself, and headed back to the table with the cash and quarters in hand.

"Here's your quarters," Patricia said as she handed them to her. She quickly shoved them into her pocket. "And I think there must be some mistake. You over tipped me. By quite a bit, actually. I think you gave me an extra 20 by accident."

The girl shook her head. "It's not a mistake. You were a great waitress, and you seem like a nice lady, so I decided to give you a generous tip."

Patricia didn't know what to say to this. Nobody had ever given her a tip this massive before.

The girl stood up. Her remarkably long white hair flowed down less than a foot from the ground.

Patricia finally found her voice and said, "Thank you. Thank you so much, Ms.-"

The girl simply said, "My name is Beatrix Pippin."

Beatrix Pippin left the diner full and happy.