It was about ten minutes before Tom began to question Rodger's directions.
"It's a hidden little place, out the way. That's why I always liked it. Our little secret."
They rolled slowly through a decaying strip mall, in a part of town that made Tom nervous.
"This one right here!" Rodger pointed to the back of an old red brick building. "Door's on the other side."
Tom rounded the establishment, finding the other side of the facade to be clearly decorated with large 7-11 signs.
"Oh no . . ." Ethel muttered sadly.
"Well Rodger, I'm sorry . . ." Tom said, "It, it looks like its a 7-11 now."
Rodger straightened his tie. "Well, we will have coffee here then." He stood, wearing a surprisingly jovial smile, and made his way to the front of the van.
Entering the convenience store, Rodger swaggered uncharacteristically to the counter. "The usual, my good man."
A young boy behind the counter looked at the man through a plexiglass container filled with a tiny hot dog ferris wheel, waiting for more information.
"A coffee and a croissant you dope!"
The boy, still confused, snapped into action - "Uhh, ok sir - you get the coffee yourself at the machine over -"
"Like HELL I do."
The boy scurried over to the coffee dispenser, and began to fill a styrofoam cup. He was scrawny and young, awkward looking but not particularly unattractive. He served this strange new group of customers with surreal diplomacy, not asking questions. Popping on a flimsy plastic cap, he hurried it to Rodger. "Also, we don't have croissants."
Rodger sighed. "Well what do you serve?"
The boy scanned a heated case beside the coffee maker. "How about a breakfast burrito?"
"That will do I suppose. Table by the window please."
The boy was clearly losing his composure. "I'm sorry sir. I'm really trying, but don't have any table and chairs."
Rodger fixed his glare onto the employee, into him - "Listen boy, I was a regular here before you were born. You want to contest me on knowledge of this place?"
"Never." the boy answered, rescinding his previous statement. "I just started this week, I'm sorry, I don't know if you have a regular thing going or something, my boss didn't say anything about - "
"Ok ok now," Tom interjected, "Let's not hassle the poor kid any further, he's trying best."
"I have a folding chair in the back . . ." The young man, whose name was John and who could not care less about his job, retrieved the the folding chair, along with a brown, metal card table he had found leaned against several crates of Snickers bars. Rodger stood waiting by a large pane of glass with a vinyl sticker of a hotdog affixed to it. As Tom and John set up the table, Rodger peeled away at it, tugging at its corners, pulling it off from the top down. Morning light flooded the storefront, outlining with sharp chiaroscuro the decaying facade of a hundred red brick buildings towering in the distance.
Rodger sat. Silently he raised the cup of coffee to his lips, his eyes fixed upon the scene beyond the window, the ghosts of concrete and mortar.
"This used to be my whole world." Rodger muttered, without breaking his gaze. "When I was twenty three," he pointed to a crumbly-looking building with three smokestacks, "I worked in that factory right there. And I lived in the middle floor of that one there. I used to come here every night to reflect, but mainly just to talk to this cute barrista named Hannah. I used to stay late, past when I knew they'd closed, so I could talk to her after everyone had left . . . It was one of the handful of times in my life where I knew the things happening to me were perfect, that I would look back upon them fondly." Rodger closed his eyes and took a long, deep draw from his cup. He repeated this process in silence, taking slow sips as the group stood aimlessly considering the light on the old buildings that changed color as the sun sprayed warm light onto the reddened patches of crumbling bricks. The way Rodger's lips moved between drinks suggested a sort of internal monologue not meant for the passengers or 7-11 staff, and there was a smirky grin punctuating each invisible sentence as if the thoughts had been rehearsed now too many times to necessitate speaking them. When his cup was empty, he looked up and around at Tom, John, and the rest of the passengers.
"Thank you for making this possible."
Rodger nodded happily, closed his eyes again, and slowly bent forward until he was face down on the table.
The quiet smile of satisfaction Tom had been wearing melted to concern as Rodger remained in this strange position, motionless. "Did - is Rodger?"
Harriet placed two fingers to Rodger's throat. " . . . Yep."
"What?!" Tom exclaimed in disbelief. "Oh god, he just - right now he just . . ."
"Did you have something better planned for him?" Harriet asked. "Here, help me lift him."
Tom shooed Harriet away and, with the help of John, began to carry Rodger's body back to the van.
"Where do we - I guess the only place really is his seat." The passengers watched inquisitively as Tom and the 7-11 employee buckled Rodger in, ensuring that he leaned into the wall. Tom and John held their hands at either side of him like a Jenga tower about to collapse, until at last he seemed steady. John exited the van first, nearly falling face first as he scurried to distance himself as much as possible.
"Thank you John!" Ariel yelled after him, to which he waved recklessly as he dashed back into the 7-11, nervously returning his attention to the hot dog ferris wheel.
"This has never happened to me before." Tom sighed into the van's ceiling. "Never when we were out and about like this. I don't know what to do."
"Tom, can we go to the fair next?" Ethel asked politely.
Tom craned his neck to see if she was serious.
"Watching those hotdogs reminded me. I'd like to ride a ferris wheel again."
Everyone was buckling their seat belts, looking at Tom expectantly.
"But what about Rodger?"
"He's the only one of us that can't die now." Harriet explained. "He's the least of our concerns."
"How could you say that?" Rodger's suit was caught in his belt, rumpling the carefully straightened lapels.
"He's gotten what he wants Tom. The last thing he'd want now is for us to break this energy, to deny the other's what he's gotten because of this little hang up. Stop looking at him Tom." Harriet pushed Tom's chin back towards the open windshield. "That's not Rodger. Rodger is gone."
In heaven, Rodger smoothed the folds in his suit. His eyes were still adjusting to the etherial white glow of heaven, the clouds reflecting light like fresh snow. He could see masses and masses of people seated in the distance, many of them looking at him - a large group appeared to be quarreling, though they seemed oblivious to Rodger's presence.
A few stood and, while delicately stepping around their neighbors, made their way up to him.
"Rodger!" called Gregory, though he was still a fair distance away. "Rodger, are you alright?"
"Ah, as alright as I'll ever be. Do I know you?"
Gregory excitedly explained the situation, augmented by Helen and Victor explaining things slower for the old man.
"Is that what I look like?" Rodger lay face down to the clouds, looking into the van, flattening a section of his thinning hair with his left hand. "I suppose that's why they put a man underground when he dies. This is just too perplexing to see."