Don’t judge us before you read this!
It was six a.m., and my regular crowd was keeping me hopping. That was good news, I reflected. I’d owned the little coffee shop for almost three years, and it had served me well. My customers seemed to like the food and the style of my shop. We treated all of our customers special and didn’t rush them through their meals. Most folks appreciated that, and I appreciated their business.
Ever since I’d opened I had tried to develop a rapport with each person. I’d try to find something we had in common, whether it be books or movies or information in the news. I genuinely looked forward to keeping up our running conversations over weeks and months.
But no one person or one day mattered to me as much as Bill and Friday mornings. Every Friday, Bill would arrive early to have coffee and biscuits with his friends. He’d stay late and sip iced tea with me while I took my break. I grew to look forward to our visits. I felt we had a lot in common, and we shared the same wry sense of humor.
Every once in a while, Bill would bring me a box of chocolates or a new magazine, or some such nonsense. Once he even brought me a bouquet of flowers because the Winn-Dixie was having a sale. I knew he’d meant nothing by those gestures, though they meant the world to me. I treasured every bit of my relationship with him.
And I enjoyed our conversations the best. He made me laugh and had a wealth of history in his life that I never tired of hearing about. He flirted gently, mainly just teasing me with his twinkling blue eyes. Once he gently clasped my hand when I was sick. With a concerned gaze, he told me everyone in town could fix their own breakfast for once, that I needed to get home.
I found Bill to be one of the most attractive and charismatic men I’d ever met—and I’d met a lot of great guys during college and in the restaurant. Our only problem was that he was an older man . . . a much older man—as in, forty-one years older. He was sixty-three to my twenty-two. He was married the year I was born. He was old enough to be my grandfather.
And I was in love with him.
I glanced at the clock. Seven a.m. Any minute now the regular early morning crowd would be taking off, and I’d take my break with Bill. As I watched the group of four men depart, I waved to each one, then poured myself a cool glass of sweet tea and wandered over.
“How are you today?” I asked. “Anything new?”
He smiled. “Nope. Though I’d better get moving soon, if you know what I mean.”
His comment took me by surprise. “What? It’s only seven. You always stay until eight or nine.”
He rolled his coffee cup between his large, wide palms. “I know that, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been kind of wondering about my being here so much.”
I scanned his face again. Something was definitely different. “Bill, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Becca.”
“Then why are you talking like this?” I asked with more than a touch of fear in my voice. “What happened?”
To my surprise, a faint blush rose up his neck and cheeks. “Nothing you need to worry about, Becca. It’s just nonsense about me being here so much.”
On the contrary, I didn’t think he came around often enough. “But you practically only come in on Fridays.”
“I think you and I both know I’ve been here a little bit more than that. Shoot—last week alone, I was here on Wednesday for dinner and Saturday for lunch.”
That didn‘t sound like too much! “A guy has to eat.”
“There are other places, Becca.”
“I know that, but I also know that other people eat here just as often. And I honestly do appreciate everyone’s business.”
Bill took a fortifying sip of coffee and met my gaze. “I’m going to be honest with you, even though it’s hard to say. Becca, honey, if you want to know the flat-out truth . . . I don’t always come in just for food. I come in to see you.”
That made me happy! Really happy. “I like seeing you, too.”
“I’m afraid there are people who don’t see our relationship as innocent as it is. Matter of fact, I’m thinking that some people have turned our friendship into something kind of ugly and twisted.” He laughed hollowly. “People are saying that we’re having an affair. Can you imagine?”
Oh, yes, I could! But I knew I couldn’t say such a thing to Bill, so I scooted a little closer to him and decided to do my best to tell him how I felt.
First, I quickly scanned the rest of the restaurant. Kendra was looking at us strangely, but she was taking care of the two tables in the front. I knew I was going to have to go help her take care of the second morning wave in a few minutes.
“I don’t care that people are talking about us, Bill. I really don’t. They just need something else to occupy their minds.”
I held up my index finger and daringly pressed it against his lips to silent him. “To be honest, when you come in, my nerves awaken and my whole body feels excited. I do like you, Bill. I like you more than just as a friend.” I leaned forward and met his startled gaze head-on. “I like you the way a woman likes a man.”
Poor Bill went white and looked like he was about to fall off his chair. “You don’t know what you’re saying,” he whispered.
“I think I do. And I think you’ve felt the same way.”
“It doesn’t matter whether I have or haven’t,” he sputtered. “Becca, I’m sixty-three years old!”
I couldn’t help but smile. “I know that. I bought you a puzzle for your last birthday. Don’t you recall?”
His shoulders slumped. “That was you giving a sweet gift to an old man.”
“Don’t you remember what I said on the card?”
He looked away, telling me in every way that he did, indeed, recall my words.
“I wrote that all you had to do,” I reminded him, “was name the date and I’d work on that puzzle with you . . . by your side.”
Bill stared at me silently for a good long while. I knew he was desperately trying to think of something, anything, that would sound reasonable to me but not reveal his true feelings. He had no idea, however, how much his piercing blue eyes revealed of his soul.
“At this time in my life, no one is going to pay me much mind. But you—you’re a young girl. A relationship with me, even an overly friendly one, could damage your reputation for years.”
He cleared his throat. “Right now, you might not care about that. Right now, you might be thinking of only today. But I’ve lived a long life, and I’m here to tell you that what you’re suggesting is something that you would regret for years and years to come.”
“I’m not a girl, Bill. I’m a woman, and I know what I want.” Feeling brazen, I leaned forward, close enough that the tips of my breasts skimmed the opening of his jacket. A smoky haze filled Bill’s blue eyes. Instinctively I knew he was just as aware of my body as I was his.
That slight connection sent yet another round of shock waves through me. I felt breathless and exhilarated. “And, Bill, here’s something else to think about: I don’t need you now or tomorrow. I’m willing to wait for you. Until you want me in your life badly enough that you don’t want to wait anymore, either.”
Bill pulled back, breaking our tenuous contact. “I’m going to go,” he whispered.
“See you tomorrow?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t hide from what we feel, Bill,” I said with far more attitude than I felt. “It will still be there, just waiting for us to bring it out in the open.”
And with that, I turned around and went back to the counter, keeping my face down so as not to meet anyone else’s gaze. I suddenly felt embarrassed, and more than a little mortified at what I’d just done.
Because I had just realized that I’d probably not only ruined any chance I might have had of being with the man I loved, but now we might not even be friends!
What had I done?
I worked my shift and went home to my lonely apartment on the second floor of an old duplex in town. I usually found it quite cozy; I’d decorated it with shades of blue and green and had a number of soft quilts scattered around for added comfort. But to my eye, just then, my place only seemed rather sad and neglected.
Would I ever be at a place in my life when I actually had time to fuss with my things? To rearrange furniture, or think about painting a wall? It sure didn’t seem like it was in my future anytime soon. All I ever did was go to work, attend church, run errands on my day off, and do an occasional puzzle when time allowed.
Some days I just felt like I went through the motions, never having time to stop and appreciate my life or my accomplishments. With a sigh, I plopped on the couch and tried to read a romance novel I’d picked up at the store.
Days passed, and Bill didn’t show up at the diner. Several of his friends did, though, and they pointedly cast speculative looks at me when I served them their coffee and breakfasts. It was all I could do to keep a lighthearted smile on my face and act like I didn’t have a care in the world. In truth, I was worried sick.
Suddenly I wondered if perhaps Bill hated me now. Or maybe he’d made a joke to his friends about my “puppy love,” and they were all laughing about me behind my back. I really couldn’t think of another reason he wouldn’t visit the diner three days in a row. To the best of my knowledge, that had never happened before.
But what if he was sick? I knew he didn’t have family in town; that was one of the things we’d talked about, how we were alone in New London, Texas. What if he was home sick, all by himself, and was too proud to call for help?
I realized I’d have to swallow my own pride to ask the men I was serving coffee about Bill. So what if they laughed at me?
With a determined step, I approached Bill’s friends. “Jim, Mr. Conner? Do any of you know where Bill is?”
All talk at the table ceased. It felt like the whole diner had suddenly become silent. But, to my surprise, neither Jim nor Mr. Conner started grinning mischievously, and none of the men cracked a joke or made light of my inquiry. Instead they each looked at me with concern and genuine affection.
“Come sit a spell with us, Becca,” Jim offered.
Hesitantly, I slid next to Mr. Conner. I didn’t say a word; I didn’t have any idea what they were thinking, and I couldn’t forget that, no matter what happened between Bill and me, I would still see them all on a daily basis. I couldn’t completely forget about the rest of the world.
Finally, Mr. Conner spoke. “Lately, quite a few people have noticed you and Bill visiting quite a bit.” His two bushy eyebrows rose slightly. “And people have been saying it was real friendly-like.”
That, I could answer. “I have been sitting with him as much as possible. We have a lot in common.”
That won a few chuckles. “Is that right?” Mr. G. asked me from the other corner of the booth.
“We both like to read mysteries and do puzzles. Neither of us have family here. I like to cook, he likes to garden.” I shrugged. “I’d say we actually do have quite a lot in common. Wouldn’t you?”
The men looked uncomfortable.
“Becca, Bill doesn’t know what to think of this attention,” Mr. Connor said.
“I told him what I thought of it in a private conversation a few days ago.”
“Bill didn’t share your exact words, but I will tell you that whatever you said did catch him off guard.”
I felt chagrined. “Mr. Conner, I know this is a strange conversation, but what if I told you that I like this man in a romantic way?”
“I’d say you were a fool.”
“What if I said that Bill makes me smile? That I feel comfortable with him?”
“Plenty of men your own age for that,” he retorted. He shared a smug look with his buddies.
I’d had enough. I slid out of the booth and smiled grimly at the quartet of men. I knew they cared about Bill and didn’t want to embarrass him. They cared about me, too—but now that I had admitted my feelings, I didn’t see any reason to hold back any longer.
“Listen, most guys my age don’t interest me. Sure, their bodies may be younger, but that isn’t what attracts me to a man. I want to be with a guy who isn’t trying to figure himself out, who doesn’t have to work sixty hours a week to prove to some middle manager that he’s worth a promotion. I want someone who wants to hear what I have to say and not just tell me his views. Bill does that. We’re close.”
The men looked stunned. Finally, Jim narrowed his eyes at me. “This isn’t some flighty kind of thing, is it?”
“No, sir, it’s not.” I set my hands on my hips. “I don’t know if anything will ever become of Bill and me. Who knows, maybe we’re just destined to be friends. Maybe he looks at me and just sees a child.
“But I know how I feel when I look at him, and I think it’s worth my time to at least investigate my feelings a bit. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Mr. Conner ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. “Do you mind if I share some of this with Bill?”
He smiled at my spunk. “On what?”
“On what you intend to do with this information,” I said audaciously.
He laughed. “I think I’m going to use it to remind Bill that he’s still got a lot of living to do.”
“Well, in that case, I think you’d better share as much of this conversation with him as you possibly can!” I quipped.
The men chuckled again. I wandered back to the counter, wondering if I had just messed everything up for good. What if Bill now avoided me like the plague? I hated to think that might happen.
I went home from my shift exhausted, took a short nap, then awoke when the doorbell rang. Hurriedly, I smoothed back my long blonde hair just before I unlocked the door.
Right in front of me stood Bill!
“Hey,” I said, at a complete loss of words.
He stepped forward, then pulled out the puzzle I’d given him, all those months ago. “May I come in?”
I stepped back and watched him gingerly step into my place. Then, as I closed the door, I realized that he had every reason to be wary; we were both on unfamiliar ground.
But the instant I was alone with him I became aware of his tangy, citrus-scented cologne. He was such a handsome man to me; he reminded me a lot of John Wayne. A large, solid male, with piercing eyes and a slow, steady grin. To think that he might even possibly be interested in me the way that I was interested in him gave me chills.
“Would you like to sit down?” I motioned toward my sofa and loveseat. “Coffee? Tea?”
He shook his head. “You don’t have to serve me here, Becca.”
“I know I don’t have to, but you’re a guest in my home. Of course I’d like to serve you. Now, may I get you anything?”
Never before had Bill tried to bridge the fragile gap that separated us. Now that he was testing the chasm, I felt like I needed to hold on with all my might.
He sat down on the edge of the couch next to me. “I have to tell you, I haven’t worried about so much in years.” He scratched his head absently. “Even back when I owned the hardware store, I can’t recall staying up so many nights.”
I didn’t know whether to apologize or grin like crazy. Instead I tried to act casual, though I probably failed at that, too. “I’m sorry if I’ve caused you a lot of trouble, Bill. That certainly was never my intention.”
“I know that.” His eyes met mine. “You have nothing to worry about. It’s my feelings that have been a little crazy, I’m afraid.”
“What have you been feeling?”
“Like a silly old man, if you want to know the truth.” His eyes crinkled as his grin widened. “I keep waiting for someone to jump out of a corner and call me an old fool.”
My heart warmed. “There’s no one here but me, I promise.”
“And the last thing in the world I’m going to tell you is that you’re a silly old fool.”
Our sincerity made us both blush. Frantic to find some common ground, I gestured toward the puzzle on the coffee table. “What did you bring?”
“The puzzle you gave me. I thought maybe we could work on it together, as you suggested.”
“Yeah. Where I live . . . where I live, I’m afraid your visit would be a major attraction.”
I forced myself to step back and see this relationship from his perspective. There was a very real possibility that my campaign to become involved with Bill had embarrassed him terribly.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” I said softly. “I don’t know how you feel about me.”
“Becca, I fought in a war; I owned my own business; I was married for thirty years. I also have two children and one grandson. I’ve never felt as uncertain as I do right now. I have no idea how I feel.”
None of that sounded good. I’d practically ruined his life! I needed to let him go before I ruined our friendship completely. “Oh. Well, then—”
“But I know that I like being with you. You’re fun and you’ve got a good heart. And . . . that you’re just about the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long, long while.”
I caught my breath. “Thank you.”
“I don’t understand why you’re not with a younger man,” he continued, his blue gaze warming. “But, right now, at this time, I’m not going to care. Right now, right this minute, I’m going to take what you’re offering and hang on tight. I’m not dead yet.”
His admission, given so stark and raw, made me laugh. That’s why I liked Bill so much. Slowly, I held my hand out to him. “No, you’re not, Bill. Not by a long shot.”
As our fingers touched, I swear I felt a tiny little spark ignite between the two of us. Suddenly, I felt alive and vibrant. When his time-worn, rough fingers caressed my own, the touch felt more personal and intimate than the craziest night of sex, because we were baring our souls, not our clothes. And our souls were far, far more personal.
I served us some wine and we sat at my kitchen table and worked on the puzzle. We talked about his kids and my job. I told him about growing up as an only child. He told me about Brenda, his sweet first wife, and her battle with cancer.
Before we knew it, it was midnight. Bill stood up reluctantly. “I better get going. If I don’t hurry home, someone’s certain to send out a search party for me.”
“All right. Thank you for coming over. I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
Bill clasped my hand again and squeezed it. “You don’t need to tell me. I already know.”
I walked him to the door, my stomach feeling as fluttery as a high school girl’s. My hand was still entwined in Bill’s, and I felt as romantic and cherished as if he had enfolded me in his arms and told me I was the world to him.
And, then, all of the sudden, he did pull me into his arms. He pressed his lips to mine, and as I tasted his minty breath and reveled in our kiss, his other hand brushed back my hair from my neck. I felt treasured and special, so many feelings I’d been waiting a lifetime to experience.
“That was nice,” he said when we broke apart after a few minutes.
“You sound surprised,” I teased.
“Not surprised. Bemused might be more like it.” He met my steady gaze. “I never thought I’d feel this way about another woman. I thought Brenda was going to be it for me.”
“I never thought I’d ever feel this way about anyone,” I confessed. “I thought I’d never meet a man who I wanted to be so close to.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Whatever you want, Bill. If you don’t want anyone to know about the two of us for a while, I guess I can deal with that.”
“That hardly sounds fair.”
It wasn’t. I wanted to yell out to the whole town of New London that Bill had just wrapped me up in his arms and kissed me senseless. But I also knew we had a lot of obstacles to overcome before we ever did more than work on puzzles and kiss goodnight.
“I waited a long time to tell you my feelings,” I finally said. “I can wait a little longer.”
“My kids, even though they’re not nearby . . . well, I don’t know what they’re going to say.”
I knew his children were older than me. “Maybe you won’t have to tell them a thing for a while,” I suggested softly.
Bill looked skeptical. “I’ll think about it. And Becca?”
“I had a great time tonight.”
“So did I.”
I softly closed the door and practically waltzed into my bedroom. Bill had actually paid me a visit tonight—and kissed me passionately! Wonders never ceased.
The next few days were chaotic and interesting, to say the least. I was on the receiving end of more than a few curious glances and whispered comments.
Bill did come into the diner, but he blushed when we so much as exchanged glances, so I kept my distance. As time progressed I began to feel I’d embellished our night to outlandish proportions. Maybe I had just thought he cared more for me than he actually did.
Maybe I had just imagined that he had been moved by that kiss. I made myself face the almost certain truth: Bill had probably looked at himself in the light of day and had decided that nothing was worth the trouble I’d bring into his life.
I resolved to keep a sunny smile on my face, but it was hard because I felt like crying. What was I going to do without him?
And then, finally, after four days of not knowing what to do, Bill stopped by during a slow period at work. His eyes were twinkling and he was smiling.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’ve been talking to my son and daughter about you. And Brenda over at the cemetery.”
I steeled myself for his rejection. “Oh.”
“I told my kids that I’ve done everything that was expected of me. Now I want to do something for me.” He shrugged. “I told them that at my age, I thought I had that right.”
I still wasn’t really following him. “Am I . . . that something?”
“You definitely are,” he retorted with a chuckle. “And, like a hen at a farm, I went and talked about you to my buddies, as well.”
“No wonder I’ve been getting such strange looks!”
“I don’t think they were strange looks, because my buddies told me the same exact thing that my kids did.”
“And what was that?”
“To follow my heart. Again.”
Hope swept through me. “Really?”
He chuckled. “Really. I’m sorry I’ve been such a fool. I should have done this in the first place, without ever asking my kids or my friends for permission.”
“This.” He pulled me close to him, right there in the middle of my diner. “And this,” he murmured, right before he kissed me.
“And this,” he finally said as he lifted his lips from mine. “I like you a lot, Becca. Will you be my girl?”
Tears came to my eyes. “There isn’t anything I’d rather be,” I murmured. “I’d love to be your girl. Today and always.”
And that is how I fell in love with a man old enough to be my grandfather. And just in case you’re wondering what happened to us, we just celebrated our first anniversary last night. Things between Bill and I are just absolutely wonderful.
Thank goodness we both were brave enough to share our feelings one day, so long ago. Thank goodness we looked in our hearts to find out what we had in common . . . rather than focus on our dates of birth.