The GPS said the drive to Rockingham was around nine hours, but with a five-year-old boy in the back seat, these numbers were never accurate. Instead, we tooled down the road at a rather leisurely pace with stops along the way for restroom and stretching, stopping for lunch in Wilmington, Delaware, and eventually pausing in Richmond,Virginia for dinner.
I wanted the trip to seem like a vacation more than the act of moving. It was going to be hard on Cooper. He was such a city kid, and I was worried moving to the middle of nowhere in a sheltered, Southern state would be so jarring he would have problems adjusting.
My job in New York was to be a private chef to celebrities. It wasn’t what I always wanted when I thought of being a chef, but it paid the bills and then some. I had held a secret dream of owning a diner, serving fun food, and just having an easy, food-focused life. Unfortunately, Tracy had other plans.
My ex-wife ruined the city I’d once loved. With all her running around on me, and everyone in town knowing about it, I just couldn’t face the people I knew anymore. My last job had been to work as a line cook for a celebrity chef on a television show in Charlotte, and when I found out about Tracy, I had gotten in the car and started driving.
By a miracle, I ended up in Rockingham, lost and upset. Tracy had left Cooper at home with the nanny and had our lawyer call me. She was filing for divorce. She wasn’t even contesting custody. Needing to fill up on gas, I wandered into Rockingham, and the first place I pulled into happened to be across the street from a fifties-style diner.
And there was a For Sale sign out front.
I took it as a sign, walked in, and made an offer on the spot. I had no idea what the building was worth, or if the business in the area would even support me, but I had money in the bank and investments to use, and what Tracy wasn’t going to take, I wanted to use to set Cooper and myself up far away from her.
I could have chosen Philadelphia or Boston. There were restaurants in both cities that wanted me. Called to beg me to come. But I turned them down. I went back to New York, picked up my son, and drove straight to the lawyer’s office to sign the papers. Divorce proceedings went quickly since I didn’t contest her getting my money if she didn’t contest me getting Cooper. It wasn’t like she ever had more than a passing interest in him anyway. When everything was finalized and official, I walked out of the courthouse, called the old couple that owned the diner, and told them I was ready.
My lawyer and accountant received the papers that night, and the next morning I told Cooper we were moving to North Carolina. His only question had been if there would be cows there. I assured him that I would show him cows at least once a month, if not more. That was all he needed. Cows and his papa.
I loved that little boy more than I had ever loved anything else in my life, including cooking. But cooking was how I took care of him, and it was the essential part of me. The diner would at least allow me to continue to do that while I figured out what I wanted out of life now that Tracy wasn’t in it.
I pulled into Rockingham under the cover of darkness. Cooper was sound asleep in the back seat, and I was glad I had sprung for movers to bring my stuff down. I had what we needed in the car and already had two beds and a television delivered to the apartment. In the morning, I would go to whatever passed for a video game store and buy something for Cooper to play while we waited on our stuff, and then once it was all here, we would start our new life.
As I parked the car, I looked at my child through the mirror. He was so perfect. How Tracy could just up and leave him I would never understand. And I would never forgive her for it either.
I hadn’t expected to fall in love with the town so quickly, but Rockingham was like a storybook come to life. The town hadn’t seemed to update