Thomas was the love of my life, or he was supposed to be. Instead, he became the guy who broke my heart, crushed my spirit, the last guy I ever dated, and the reason I never wanted to date again.
All this, I decided at seventeen, right after we graduated, which coincided with the day he left. He had his truck packed. We’d talked about running off together, eloping. Instead, Thomas explained he was leaving, joining the rodeo, and I could come if I wanted.
If I wanted!
I thought we shared a dream, but it didn’t include running off to join the western equivalent of a circus. Not with him. Not with anyone. I knew better.
So, he left, and I decided to make a life on my own.
I spent the next few months learning all I could about the small bookstore my aunt owned. I gradually took over as she aged, until one morning she woke and announced that she was ready to retire. She had picked a retirement community nearby, she wanted to relax, sleep in and hang out with the old people, like herself.
I’d begun to clean up the place, sorting through boxes of books she’d packed away and began setting them out. I’d let people make me an offer since I was short on space. That was when Thomas appeared. His father had passed, and the community was buzzing with rumors that he had returned to sell the property.
He’d come in looking for a good read or so he claimed. Instead I shoved a book at him and told him to take it. I hoped I’d never see him again, but I was wrong. He returned, with the book, his note told me to read the book and I’d understand. So, I read it, and I understood nothing.
It was Aunt Vi’s diary. She too had never stopped pining for a cowboy who left her behind.
Maybe he thought he was saving me. Perhaps I missed what I was supposed to understand all together. All I knew was that I didn’t want to face him. One look at him told me it would be all to easy to fall into those strong arms again and I knew I still loved him, even if he didn’t love me in return.
© 2022 by S.L. Sterling (Unedited and Subject to Change)
“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting you.” I said, my tone low.
Trinity stood there, not saying anything. She looked up at me, then looked down to the casserole dish she held in her hands as if she’d forgotten what it was and why she was holding it.
“What’s that?” I questioned, trying to glance at what was inside.
“Oh, um, I just thought…. well…I brought you this.” She said slowly raising the dish and holding it out for me to take.
I rubbed my hands together, “I sure hope it’s your chicken and broccoli casserole, it’s my favorite.” I reached out to take the casserole dish from her and lifted the lid. “I had one the other night from some lady my mom knew but it didn’t hold a candle to the one you make.”
“Nope, not my chicken and broccoli casserole. It’s Aunt Vi’s chicken and dumplings.” She smiled.
Instantly I felt my stomach turn, as I got a whiff of the contents. My mind instantly went to the last time I’d had it, remembering the upset stomach I’d had for days afterward. It had never been my favorite dish, even the one my mother made, and as far as I remembered Trinity knew it.
“Did you want to come in? It would be nice to have company while I eat.” I said, swallowing hard, thoughts of eating chunky paste like balls of mushy flour.
I almost smiled when I took a look at the scared look on her fac, it was almost as if I’d asked her to do something against the law. I leaned up against the post and waited for her answer not saying anything. I planned to do whatever it took to keep her there, so if that meant chowing down on soggy flour then I’d do it. I wanted us to get past whatever anger, hate, and bad memories we needed to, so we could hopefully get back to normal.
“Oh, you haven’t eaten yet?” She questioned, glancing at her watch.
“No, I wasn’t hungry earlier, but suddenly I’m starving, and this…this looks delicious.” I said, almost choking on my own words. “Besides the house it too quiet to eat, so how about it Trinity? Will you join me?”
“Oh, where is Lyle?” She asked looking around.
“He went into town; said he was going to have a couple drinks with one of the hands from Darling Ranch.”
I watched as she looked back to her car. I could only imagine what was going through her mind. Was she wondering if she could run back to it and leave without me noticing.
“I’ll…I’ve just got to grab my purse.” She said, turning back toward her car.
“Trinity, I don’t think you need to worry about your purse way out here.” I said climbing the stairs and holding the front door open for her. “There’s no one around for a few miles at least.”
I saw a slight smile on her lips, and she nodded, “Oh of course. Silly me.” She said swallowing hard.
“Come on in.” I said, still holding the door for her.
She stood there for a second and then climbed the three stairs, and walked past me into the house, stepping out of the way so I too could get inside. She stood just inside the door, glancing around and was about to follow me to the kitchen when she suddenly stopped and bent down to untie her shoes.
“Don’t worry about your shoes, just come on into the kitchen.” I said leading the way and pulling out a chair for her to sit on. I placed the still warm casserole dish down on the counter and grabbed a plate and glass from the cupboard. “Want anything to eat or drink?” I asked.
“Oh, No thank you. I already ate.”
“You’re sure?” I questioned as I dished some of the chicken and dumplings onto the plate, the look of them already making me nauseous. “These look delicious.”
“Yes, I am good, thanks.”
“Okay, If you say so.” I said taking a glance at her as I poured myself a glass of milk and carried both the plate and glass over to the table. I sat down and reached for the salt and pepper, shaking the contents of both shakers over my plate.
“You’ll have to let me know how they are.” Trinity said watching my every move. “It’s been a hot minute since I made them.” She smiled as she watched me sink my fork into the mess on my plate.
I looked at the gooey contents that hung off my fork and took a breath, then brought the full fork up to my mouth. Why did it have to be chicken and dumplings? Of all the things she could have made, this was what she brought. I took the fork and placed it in my mouth, my gag reflex working almost instantly. Just before I swallowed, I picked up the glass of milk and drank some back, it was the only way to get the food down.
“It’s great.” I lied, my mouth still partially full.
“Oh good. That means I followed Aunt Vi’s recipe perfectly.” She smiled. “I was worried they wouldn’t turn out.”
I smiled back, sinking my fork into the soggy mess on my plate and bringing another forkful up to my mouth. “How is Vi?” I questioned, doing whatever I could to avoid placing this food in my mouth.
“Good. She’s doing well. I just moved her to the retirement facility that was just built on the outskirts of Willow Valley.”
I could feel the sweat begin to trickle down my forehead and wiped my brow with the sleeve of my shirt before taking another bite, followed by a mouthful of milk. I couldn’t help but wonder how much more torture I was going to have to endure, how much more of this I was going to have to eat.
“Sure, you don’t want any?” I asked, nodding to my plate. “Feels a little odd to be the only one eating.”
“No, I’m good, I was munching on chicken and vegetables while I made it.”
It was the moment that I caught sight of her lip twitching as her eyes danced at my question. Was she actually enjoying watching me suffer as I ate this mess? I wondered, as I wiped my brow again, this time with my napkin.
Shoving another forkful into my mouth my stomach churned. There was so much flour, and I seriously didn’t know how much more I would be able to eat. I had barely put a dent into what sat on my plate, and my stomach was already turning. With my hand shaking I brought another mouthful up to my lips.
“All right! That’s enough.” Trinity said standing up.
“What?” I asked, shocked at her outburst.
“Do you want to die?” She said, ripping the fork from my hand and dropping it down onto my plate. “You’ll end up with heartburn for days on end you silly man.”