Over the next couple of weeks, Matt came to her house whenever he could. Summer meant easier schedules at the doctor’s office which translated to more free time for him. So he would greet her with a quick hug and ask what job she needed completed next and she would point him in the right direction. Between the two of them, in that short time they sanded and stained all of the floors and repainted the walls of the entire upstairs and even hung some wallpaper in two of the bedrooms.
But underlying everything was that tension that had never abated since he’d questioned her about Chad. She knew what Matt apparently hadn’t faced. They weren’t cut out to be friends. It was obvious Matt was determined to make it work, but other than that quick hug, he kept his distance. The conversations were always safe—they never discussed boyfriends or girlfriends.
As the heat set in, Bluebonnet Creek held their annual patriotic display by the river and Val joined the same group of friends she’d had for Valentine’s to watch the fireworks show. Matt was included and they all lay on quilts on the grass watching the sky light up overhead, oohing and aahing with childlike relish. Somehow she ended up in the middle of a quilt right next to Matt. She was aware of every inch of his body next to hers and the explosions above were nothing compared to the heat that flowed between them. She could feel him looking at her and she turned her head to meet his gaze. Amid the noise and fun around them, they stared at each other. This time Matt only looked sad and finally broked the eye contact with a heavy sigh.
That was when she knew he’d come to terms with what would never be.
He stopped coming to her house after that unless it was a big group coming to move large pieces of furniture or help her hang window coverings. They were never alone anymore. No chance for either of them to slip.
One day later in July, Val was invited to the local garden club meeting. It was an honor to be included in this Violet Society run group so Val made sure she was at Doris’ house--the location for the meeting--on time. To her complete surprise and delight, the topic that day was planning Val’s bed and breakfast backyard garden. It wasn’t her area of expertise, so she was glad for the direction they gave her. They even supplied a list of what she needed to plant and when to plant it to make the garden work.
The Violets asked her to stay for lunch afterward. That was when she knew something was up.
“Ladies, this has been a wonderful morning,” she smiled, hoping to sweet talk them out of telling her whatever they planned to say.
Maribelle patted her on the hand. “We rarely see you anymore, you’re so busy with the house.”
“There’s a lot to do, and I have a time frame.”
Agnes nodded vigorously. “Such self-discipline, Val. Your inn will be a success, I’m sure.”
“Yes but does she take any time for herself,” asked Liza. “You know, like Dr. Schaffer always manages to do.”
Val gave a mental groan. Now she knew what the invitation was all about; the garden planning and the lunch. Everything was set up to get to this point right now.
“All right. Tell me whatever it is you want to say about Dr. Schaffer.”
“He’s such a nice young man, Val,” Maribelle said. “Even when he was a child, he was always so sweet.”
“And smart,” Liza added. “We knew he’d do big things someday.”
“You mean the hospital?” Val asked, trying to keep up.
“Of course, we mean the hospital! He’s saving our town with that new hospital. “
Val nodded. “And that’s what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“No,” Doris said firmly. “We want to talk to you about what you’re doing to take time for yourself.”
“You mean like bubble baths and yoga?”
Doris shook her head. “No, I was thinking more social. Take Dr. Schaffer for example.”
She held her breath.
“He’s started dating! He found a lovely girl who just moved here from Austin. She got a teaching job at the elementary school and will start in the fall.”
Val stared at Doris. Her heart felt strangely pained.
Matt had given up on her.
“He sure didn’t fight very hard,” Val mumbled under her breath.
“What was that, dearie?”
“Nothing, Miss Maribelle.” She looked around at the carefully blank and innocent faces of the Violet Society. “I have to go now. Thank you for a lovely lunch and the gareden plans.”
“Of course my dear, we’re always here for you.”
Val hurried from the house and nearly ran into Cassie on the way down the steps.
“Val! I’m glad I found you!” She stood firm in front of Val and planted her fists on her slim hips. “What have you done?”
“What are you talking about, Cass?”
Cassie was frowning so it had to be bad. Val had a premonition of it two seconds before Cass actually spoke. “You drove Matt Schaffer away!”
Val pushed past Cassie. “It was mutual, leave me alone.”
“But Val! You two were crazy about each other! All anyone had to do was look at you together and see that you looked like you wanted to eat the other one up.”
“I told you from the beginning. We would be nothing more than friends.”
Cassie glared at her. “Fine. Suit yourself. But someday when you’re old and lonely you’ll think back on this and say, ‘I should have listened to Cassie. She told me Matt loved me and I wouldn’t listen to her. I screwed that up.’ ”
Val watched her turn and head down the street to her house. With a sigh, Val went to her car.
She drove to Main and parked her car in front of the hardware store. After finding everything on her list, she went back to the car to load it up. That’s when she saw them. Matt and his new girlfriend, climbing into his green volvo outside the tea room where they must have just finished lunch. She paused, a box loaded with supplies in her arms as she stared.
When the woman—and she was pretty—was in the car, Matt leaned down and put his head in the window. Val couldn’t see but she knew in her heart that Matt had just kissed the girl. Her heart burst. He straightened and turned and stared right at her. They stood frozen for a moment and then he lifted his hand and gave a short wave. She nodded and watched him round the car to his side.
She waited until she was safe in the privacy of her own car before she gave into the tears that came out of nowhere. The tears weren’t only for the kiss she’d seen. They were for herself, too.
Because she was such a fool.