Val drove as quickly as she could without pushing the limits of the law too much. She could feel Liza looking over her shoulder, monitoring the needle of the speedometer. Maribelle sat in the back seat between Liza and Doris. Maxine sat beside Val with Agnes on the far side against the window.
“How ya doin’, Maribelle?” Maxine called out.
“Still a bit poorly, I must admit,” Maribelle answered and Val pushed her foot down a little more.
“Well, don’t you worry none. Val has it all under control.”
“We’ll be there in about thirty minutes, Maribelle,” Val added. This was why they needed a hospital, she realized. Drives like this could be too costly in an emergency.
“So,” Maxine lowered her voice as a conversation started in the back seat. “How are you and Dr. Schaffer doing?”
Val shrugged. “I don’t know, Maxine. It’s so hard to figure out what to do, you know?” She chanced a glance at Maxine and saw her nod.
“I used to be a lot like you, Val.”
Val dared another look at the woman who seemed so much her opposite. “Like me?”
“Mmm, hmm. Always planning, thinking things through and analyzing every relationship and situation. I wasn’t always so footloose and fancy-free.”
“So what happened?”
“I met my Dougie, God rest his soul.” Val heard Maxine sigh. “Doug loved life. He still met his responsibilities and was a good husband and a good father. But he enjoyed everything around him, too. When I fell in love with him, I learned to appreciate all the little things; the sunsets, the smell of fresh baked bread, the joy of good friends. And I learned to let my hair down and not take myself so seriously.”
Val was silent for a minute. She’d never known this about Maxine. She’d never even heard her share such personal details before. Her children had died years ago, Val knew and then her husband has passed away about five years back. Yet Maxine was one of the happiest people she knew.
“I don’t want to be alone, Maxine. I know we all need Dr. Schaffer, but I need Matt.”
“What if he can be both?”
“What if he can’t?”
Maxine chuckled. “Well, I guess that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? We just don’t know what will happen. I never knew I’d outlive my children and my husband but here I am. You know what though?”
“They’re waiting for me up there and meanwhile I have the love of my friends right here. And I get to watch all of you young people figure it all out and I am having a total blast.”
Val looked sharply at the seventy-six-year-old woman beside her. “A total blast, Maxine?”
She smiled and nodded and then whipped out some red lipstick and borrowed the rear-view mirror to put it on. “Yep,” she said, smacking her lips. “Life is unpredictable but it’s a helluva ride. Sixty years ago, we didn’t say Total Blast. We would have all been running for bomb shelters. Now it means a lot of fun. How cool is that?” She put her lipstick away and patted Val on the leg. “Bottom line, my dear. You’ve got to quit over thinking things and let your heart tell you what it wants. Because just when you think you have it all figured out, life will turn upside down on you and none of it matters.”
Maxine turned in her seat and smiled at Maribelle. “How ya doin, sugar?”
Val stared ahead of her and thought about Maxine’s words. As she listened to the Violet Society distract one of their own with talk of husbands, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren and their plans for Thanksgiving, she knew there was a lot of wisdom in what Maxine had told her.
So what did Val’s heart say?
As she maneuvered the streets of Austin and swung into the hospital parking lot that Matt had directed her to, and saw him standing near the doors waiting for them, she knew exactly what her heart said.
It said she was crazy about that man.
He lifted his hand and waved to her and her heart expanded in her chest.
Yep. She was madly in love with him and she was pretty certain it was just as Cassie had said. He was her soul mate.
He came around to her side aof the truck nd opened the door, holding her gaze for a second before he kissed her quickly on the mouth and looked back at Maribelle to ask her how she was doing.
She was in love with him and wanted nothing more than to be near him. And if being with him meant giving up her bed and breakfast and moving to Austin to live their lives together . . .
She was ready.