“Morning,” I said unenthusiastically.
“Well, if I had of known you’d be this excited to get your coffee cake muffin, I’d have ordered you two.” Peggy giggled, sitting down in one of the chairs that sat in the corner.
“I’m sorry, I had a bad night,” I said, placing my clipboard down on the counter and crossing my arms in front of me. “How are you?”
“Good. I can’t stay too long this morning. I had a huge order for some funeral arrangements. Plus. I need to get all the baskets done for Mrs. Parker as well.”
“Funeral? I’ve been so busy that I’m behind on all the town gossip. I almost feel as if I live in another universe right now. Who passed away?”
“William Jenkins. His son came in yesterday to order the flowers for the funeral. Oh, did he stop by? He asked about the store by name, so I’m guessing he used to live here at one point,” Peggy said as she peeled the wrapper away from the soft, cakey muffin.
Peggy had only moved to Willow Valley about four years ago, after she lost her husband. Even though we became friends almost instantly, I’d never told her about Thomas. Some things were just better left buried, and Thomas Jenkins was one of them.
I felt my stomach turn. That explained it completely. That was why Thomas was back here. It had to be. There’d be no other reason. I walked over, picked up the muffin Peggy had brought for me, and removed the paper, then I buried my teeth into the sweet cake, savoring every bite.
“Did you want coffee?” I asked with my mouth full.
“Yes, please. I’m going to need the energy.” Peggy giggled.
I brought out a fresh, hot cup of coffee and set it on the counter, noticing that Peggy was looking at me, a look of concern on her face. “Trinity, is something wrong? Where’s Vi?” she asked, looking down the hall toward the back.
“She moved to the new retirement village. I dropped her off there on Tuesday. She said she was ready to retire. I’m not going to lie. It came as a shock, to be honest.”
“Is that what’s got you so down?”
“No, if she is ready to retire, I say let her. I’m happy for her. What I’m not happy about is the visitor I had last night,” I said, taking a sip of my hot coffee and setting it back down.
“Oh? Is it something I should be worried about?” Peggy asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Not unless you have the same ex I do,” I said, shoving another piece of muffin into my mouth.
“Ex? You have an ex?” Peggy questioned, looking at me with big, rounded brown eyes.
“Unfortunately, I do. I know most people around here think I’m just some book-loving spinster, but I did date someone a long time ago.”
Peggy couldn’t help but start to laugh at my choice of words. “What happened?” Peggy sat back in the chair, getting comfortable, waiting for my story.
“The usual, girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, and then boy runs off and joins the western version of the circus.”
Peggy couldn’t help but laugh again. “Trinity what are you talking about.”
I blew out a breath and sat down in the chair across from her. “Thomas Jenkins happened. We were supposed to get married at the end of the summer after we graduated high school. He was going through a real rocky period with his father at the time. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were having breakfast at The Crispy Biscuit, and he ran into a man who used to work for his father. He had left to join the rodeo, and he had invited Thomas to come down to Darling Ranch to check it out. Without me knowing, he went later that day. That night he dropped the bomb that he was leaving Willow Valley.”
“Thomas Jenkins? As in William Jenkins’ son?”
“That would be him.” I nodded.
“So, he left for good? He left his parents behind?”
“Yep, Mr. Jenkins was always busy with the ranch. Betty used to come and have tea with Aunt Vi often after he’d left. She’d always ask about me, but I did my best to keep my distance. I was hurt enough.”
“So, you mean after all these years he never came back?”
“Oh, he did, once, maybe twice over the years. I followed his career for a little while after he left, and I know for a fact that he was here for his mother’s funeral or at least he had come into town when she died. I never did see him at her funeral, so perhaps he didn’t go. I just heard it from some of the others around town. I assume he came into town, had a fight with his father, and left again. After that, I never heard anything about him. He certainly never tried to find me, until now.”
“And how did he do in his career?”
I shrugged. “He did well, but I had to stop watching after a while. He was gone, and it was unhealthy to sit and wonder about someone who you knew wasn’t coming back. Besides, when he left, along with him he took my heart. I couldn’t allow him to take more than that.”
Peggy was silent. She just sat there staring at me for a bit, nodding in understanding. “I’m sorry. If I had of known, I would have lied and told him that the store had closed or something. I figured he was here to see Vi, since he only mentioned her.”
I shrugged. “It’s all right. You wouldn’t have known. Anyways when he showed up here last night, it shocked the hell right out of me. I didn’t know what to say. He, of course, acted as if everything was normal between the two of us. I just wanted him to leave. I couldn’t even look at him without every feeling I ever had for him rushing right back into me. I had to do whatever it took to protect myself, so I told him to just take a book and go.”
“Exactly what I figured would happen. He took the book and left.” I shrugged. “He hasn’t changed. He’s still running.”
“Who’s still running.”
Both Peggy and I jumped at the sound of a man’s voice behind us. I turned and looked toward the door to see Thomas standing there, holding the book he must have taken last night in his hand.
I swallowed hard as I looked at the man I’d been in love with my entire life. He leaned up against the door, wearing perfectly fitted jeans, a blue plaid shirt that brought out his eyes. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled up, exposing his muscular forearms, and he held his hat in his large, rough hands. Large, rough hands that I’d kill to have hold me once again. I swallowed hard.