Agatha hated left turns. Especially on windy, rainy nights that happened to occur in late November just before Thanksgiving. But such a sweet request had come from the little angel that this grandmother couldn't resist.
"They'd better still have pumpkins," she muttered.
Her old blue Jeep jumped the curb. Barreling into Woodridge Farms' parking lot, Agatha missed a mini-van pulling out and came to a halt that could've caused whiplash when the jeep lurched and stopped just two feet from wide glass doors.
"Crap," she mumbled, seeing a well-built man approach the dented hood. He looked somewhat familiar, but no. It couldn't be, could it? "Oh no, he's—"
The knock on her window was a two-knuckled thud.
Agatha smiled; bit her lower lip as the window slid down.
He's still a looker, that's for sure. Tall, pensive and oh God…why did I come here tonight?
She slinked lower. No make-up or lipstick and pinned back hair that made her average features less than attractive. Where's a fairy godmother when you need one?
Agatha gave demure a shot. "Oooh…sorry about that, but I-I need a pumpkin."
Firm, familiar hands gripped the window frame's ledge, bringing memories front and center.
"You could have killed my customers, lady. The economy's bad enough."
Yep…just like I remembered him… "I'm very sorry. I-I just need a pumpkin."
Puh-lease let him not recognize me, Agatha prayed. But Darby's head dipped lower and his warm hazel eyes were narrow. They had been kind eyes, if her brain still worked after so many, many hard years away.
"Ma'am? You still with me?" his voice called through Agatha's stormy haze.
Test number one…say hello and do not dare to meet his concerned expression!
"Hi, Darby," she barely whispered.
His hands flew off the door.
"Jeez," he sighed. "Where you been for the past thirty years?"
Lie, she told herself. "Definitely out of town, and I need a pumpkin."
The chuckle also sounded familiar—kind as well.
"How far out of town?"
Agatha wasn't about to explain.
Water under the bridge, let sleeping dogs lie, etcetera…
Before she could think of an answer, Darby added, "Yeah. Make it a good one."
Weary eyes instantly welled. How do you apologize for mailing back an engagement ring just before the bus to nowhere pulls away? College and career didn't come with midnight bottles and teething issues. How do you tell someone that you loved him too much to mess up his life-plan?
That's what I should have done, she realized. No. I couldn't. I didn't. Not even eighteen yet and accepted into NYU with a full scholarship. Parents that didn't think a girl deserved an education. Then disaster struck. Sworn to secrecy, only my sister knew where I'd gone. "Darby deserves better," my mother had bitterly declared, "and he doesn't need to be saddled with you or a kid. Neither does your father or me."
Woman's Lib hadn't come to this town yet, so Agatha ran. She left every dream behind at that bus station and squared her shoulders to take on the most lonesome journey a woman could.
That was thirty years ago, Aggie. Water under the bridge, let sleeping dogs... "I couldn’t fight that kind of pressure," she murmured low.
"Aggie, you okay?"
Was that gentle concern or just old-fashioned politeness?
"My sister's dying," she blurted out.
“And she needs a Thanksgiving pumpkin?"
"What? No. They put her in a hospice on Route 23 somewhere. She's battling the last stages of cancer."
"I'm sorry to hear it," he gently replied.
"Why are you still staring at me?" She blew out a loud breath. I really did love you, she wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come. Neither did a "Thank you."
Agatha truly expected the man to walk away. Instead, Darby thrust a weathered hand into his jeans and produced a worn wallet. She willed tears away while her mouth set in a typical, stoic pose of "don't make me explain."
The store's reflected light was just enough to see what sparkled between his two fingers. She could've crumbled, could have bled down to the worn carpeting beneath the brake pedal.
"Darby, I can't—"
"Did you marry?"
"Me neither. So take it. You took my dreams with you thirty years ago," the gentleman admitted. "That hurt, Aggie."
Breathless sobs hitched in her throat.
"Why did I think that what we felt for each other was special? My parents ran this place into the ground. I had nothing in my life after you left, so I put my all into it. Thought life would be different… At least a kid to brag about, you know? A booming business and… Just take it."
Agatha reached for the ring. It still shone as bright as when she sealed the envelope with no letter, no explanation.
He still isn't walking away. Do these things honestly ever happen in real life? Do long lost loves just find each other again after so much heartache? Here's another test, she thought. I don't have thirty more years to run from what I really wanted.
Her heart pounded like a timpani. Vision prickled the way it does just before a person faints. Agatha took a leap of faith.
"I-I need a pumpkin…for my…for our granddaughter."
Agatha didn't have to see Darby's face. He gave a quick exhale as broad shoulders suddenly slumped. "Please don't hate me," she whispered.
With a slow shake of his head, both hands locked tight to the old jeep's door.
"Pop the lock," he mumbled.
He reached in and grabbed the door handle. Then Darby Woodridge opened it and pulled her out, ordering, "Put that ring on your finger and come inside."
If he loosened his grip to her arm, she’d hit the gravel at flight-speed. But taking a chance, she had to look into those gentle eyes that said, hurt as well as hope.
"I can explain."
Darby didn’t look away, didn’t slow his stride. "Oh, you will. But first there's the matter of a pumpkin."
About the Author: Mickey Flagg has been teaching music in and out of the classroom for over 35 years. She holds two Masters Degrees and was recently named a 2009 Distinguished Educator at Yale’s Symposium on Music in Schools. Her debut novel, Retribution! The Champion Chronicles: Book One was released in March 2009. Book Two in the Paranormal Romance series, Consequences, is also contracted with The Wild Rose Press. http://www.mflagg-author.com/