Without looking, Becky answered the bell over the door, “Welcome to Lulu’s Pies, I’ll be with you in – ” The words died on her lips as she saw the customer standing in the doorway with his hands shoved in his pockets.
He opened his mouth to say something, but Becky cut him off. “No, nope, definitely not, Dr. Pomatter! Jenna told you in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want you hanging around. You need to leave right now.”
“Please,” he pleaded holding out his hands, “I’ve respected her wishes and steered clear for more than five years. I promise I’m not here to cause any trouble. I just want to talk to her for a few minutes and then I’ll leave.”
Becky put her hands on her hips. “Well she’s not here.”
Dr. Pomatter shoulders sagged, but he stood his ground. “Where is she? Will she be back soon? I’m happy to wait.” He studied his shoes and mumbled, “I have all day if that’s what it takes.”
Becky studied the awkward, handsome doctor and felt a flicker of pity for him. Despite the unsavory nature of his dalliance with Jenna, it had been clear that he felt deeply for her and had been heartbroken when she’d ended things after Lulu’s birth. But he’d done as Jenna asked and never tried to contact her again. He’d even moved out of town not too long after that. If he felt the need to talk to Jenna after all this time, maybe he deserved the chance. And at the end of the day Jenna needed to be the one to throw him out if that’s still what she wanted.
“Fine.” Becky snatched a menu and led him to a small table in the back. “Take a seat. She and Dawn are dropping the kiddos off at daycare and should be back shortly. I can’t guarantee she’ll be happy to see you, but I’ll let her decide what she wants to do with you herself.”
“Thank you so much,” Dr. Pomatter said with a grateful smile. “And I’ll go if she doesn’t want to see me. I promise.”
Becky shook her head with a slight grin. “You better. Now do you want a cup of coffee while you wait?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that child, but oh I love him,” Dawn gushed, finishing a story about her boy, Joey. At two-years-old, he was the apple of his mama’s eye, but he was a handful.
Jenna laughed along with her friend, remembering those years with Lulu. It seemed like yesterday, but her girl was now five going on fifteen. She was already a beauty and she had opinions on everything, including her mommy’s pies and what she wanted to wear to daycare.
“They are something,” Jenna agreed as they pulled into the parking lot. Turning off the ignition, she stared up at her pie shop, pride and joy welling up in her chest. Even after five years, Lulu’s Pies felt almost as miraculous as the blonde angel that it was named for. All those years ago, she couldn’t have imagined a life as happy and fulfilled as the one she lived.
“You ready for another day at Lulu’s Pies, boss?” Dawn asked, pulling her out of her thoughts.
Jenna grinned. “Dawn, I wake up every day ready and raring for another glorious day in that pie shop. Let’s get to it.”
With a skip in her step, Jenna opened the door for Dawn and called out, “Morning, everybody. How are the pies on this beautiful Monday?”
Most of the customers waved at her with their forks in between bites and few called out hello. Before Jenna had a chance to sit down her bag, Becky grabbed her by the elbow and dragged her towards the bathroom.
“What’s going on?” Jenna asked, unable to pull away.
“Dawn, honey, can you cover the front for a minute? I need to talk to Jenna in private for a moment.”
Dawn nodded, confused, and tied on her apron. “I’ve got you, but hurry back.”
Jim started when he heard Jenna’s voice, but kept his seat as her friend, Becky, drug her out of site. He knew she would tell Jenna everything and then it would come down to whether she wanted to see him or not. He knew it was a long shot, even after all this time, but he had to try.
He tried to force a mouthful of coffee past the lump in his throat as he waited for Jenna to reappear and decide his fate.
Becky closed the door and whirled on Jenna. “He’s here.”
Jenna furrowed her eyebrows, “Who’s here?”
At the sound of his name, Jenna’s world turned on its head. She’d thought of the affair with the caring, handsome doctor from time to time over the years, but she never let her thoughts dwell on him. Other than Lulu and the girls, Jim had been the great love of her life, even if she’d been his woman on the side and vice versa. He’d loved her in his way and he’d awoken something in her that she had carried with her as she’d become a mother and business owner. He’d shone her that she mattered and that what she had to say mattered. It had changed her, not in the same way that Lulu’s birth had, but it had been meaningful.
“So, what do you want to do about him?” Becky asked, biting her lip. “I didn’t want to throw him out before I talked to you – “
Jenna straightened her shoulders. “Has he ordered yet?
“No,” Becky replied in huff. “I sat him in the back and got him a cup of coffee while he waited for you to get back.”
“Okay,” Jenna nodded, her next step becoming clear in her mind. “I’ll take care of him.”
Dawn stood at the counter, wringing her hands, eyes on the door that led to the backroom. She’d wondered why Becky had been acting so strange but understood when she gone to refill the coffee cup of the man sitting at the back booth.
“Let me top that off for you,” she’d chirped without noticing too much about him. She’d opened her mouth to ask if wanted to something to eat when he’d glanced up.
“Thank you,” he replied with a tight, nervous smile and Dawn had almost dropped the coffee pot in her hand.
She’d wanted to ask what the heck he was doing here but couldn’t manage more than a strangled squeak. Baffled and panicked, she’d gone back to counter to wait for Becky and Jenna to come out of the bathroom.
A moment later the door swung open and Jenna walked out with a determined expression on her face. Without a word, she darted behind the counter and cut two pieces of pie: one ‘Joe’s Pickled Peach Pick Me Up’, which was her favorite, and one “Dark, Dark Ruby Red”. She placed each on a plate, with her usual care and ease, and then headed back towards Dr. Pomatter.
Dawn pleaded silently with Becky, desperate to understand what was going on. Becky shrugged and set about attending to customers, trying her best not to gawk at Jenna as she made her way towards Dr. Pomatter.
Jenna turned the corner and there he sat, his back to her. If hearing his name had tipped her world upside down, then seeing him sent her spinning. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, thinking of her Lulu, drawing strength from her love.
Buoyed she walked up to the table, head held high. “Hello, Dr. Pomatter. Thank you for stopping by.”
His head shot up. “Jenna.” He froze and gazed at her for a moment, his face going soft. “I like what you’ve done with the place,” he said in rush, when he realized he was staring. He pretended to examine his cup of coffee. “I was thrilled when I saw you’d bought it after Joe’s passing.”
She her heart melted a little. Even after all this time, he was still the same bumbling, earnest man she’d foolishly fallen for. “Thank you.” Jenna sat down the two pieces of pie and took the seat across from him. “Becky told me that you’d like to talk, so I’m going to sit, have a piece of pie with you, and you can speak your piece. After that I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Dr. Pomatter, Jim, nodded and picked up his fork. “I accept your terms, but I hope you’ll change your mind once you’ve hear what I have to say.”
Jenna gave him a pointed look but felt an unwanted twinge of yearning in her chest. She struggled to imagine what he could have to say, but she needed to hear it. “Alright, speak your piece.”
“Well,” he took a bite of his pie and groaned. “I didn’t think it was possible,” he said with his mouth still full, “but I think your pies have gotten better.”
“Dr. Pomatter,” she chastised him even as she blushed at the compliment.
“Yes, you’re right,” he said and laid down his fork. “I got divorced.”
Jenna sat back in her chair. “You left your wife for me!”
“No, it’s not like that,” he assured her, holding up in his hands. “After Francine’s residency finished, we moved to back to Connecticut and we grew apart.”
“Because you were a liar and a cheat,” Jenna snapped, crossing her arms across her chest. It pained her to paint their relationship in such sordid terms, but those were the facts.
Dr. Pomatter’s shoulders slumped. “I deserved that, but you have to believe me when I say that you were my only,” he fumbled for the word, “indiscretion. I never cheated on Francine again and she never found out about us. After you ended things, I tried to be a good husband, Jenna, but it turned out Francine and I weren’t suited for one another.” He offered her a half-hearted shrug. “In the end, it as much her idea as mine.”
Jenna listened to his story, wrestling with the unwanted feeling of joy and the much easier feelings of anger and indignation. “So now that you’re a ‘free man’,” she took a vicious bite of her pie, “you think you can come waltzing back in here and we’ll pick up where we left off? Is that what you’re thinking?”
“Not exactly,” Dr. Pomatter took another bite of his pie, chewed it carefully, and swallowed. “I’ve been a ‘free man’, as you put it, for almost four years. I’ve tried to build myself a life after you, after Francine and it’s been okay. I enjoy my work and I like the people I’ve met, but I haven’t met someone who means as much to me as you do.”
The words hung between them, heavy and sincere. Jenna blinked at him and her fury cooled a little. “No one?”
Dr. Pomatter, Jim, shook his head. “Like I said, I’ve met a lot of nice people, but none of them have been you.” He leaned forward, resting his hands on the table. “Jenna, I had every intention of doing what you asked and leaving you to live your life, I did, but I’ve missed you every single day. I’ve missed every little thing about you and, after all this time, I had to try.”
Jenna’s heart pounded against her ribs. She had almost forgotten the way Jim could make her feel, like she was the most important person in the world. “Had to try what?” Jenna whispered, resisting the urge to place her hand over his.
“I had to see if you’d be willing to give us a chance, a real chance. What I felt for you was real, Jenna, and now that I can be with you with a clear conscience, I want to see it we can make each other happy.”
Unbidden tears welled up in Jenna’s eyes. “Jim, I don’t know if it’s possible. You have to understand that Lulu is the most important person in my life right now and – “
“I know that, Jenna,” he said without hesitation, “and she should be.”
“And I have the pie shop now,” she continues, “it’s a lot of responsibility and I have people who depend on me.”
Jim nodded. “And I think what you’re doing here is incredible. You finally have the career you always deserved and I want to support you in any way I can.”
Jenna’s breath caught in her throat. “You do?”
He shrugged, like it was obvious. “Of course, I do, Jenna. You’re amazing.”
Jenna sucked in a breath and for the first time, allowed herself to study the man sitting across from her. His broad shoulders and strong hands; his careless brown hair; and those dark eyes full of longing and fear. She’d loved this man, maybe still did, and he had the facts straight – they could be together if they wanted. There had been other men who had flirted, a few that she’d gone on a date or two with, but none of them had lasted. None of them had been as good and generous as him, as unwaveringly supportive. She wondered if given the chance, could they make each other happy?
She straightened up in her chair and placed her hands on the table, across from his. “If we’re going to do this,” Jim’s eyebrows shot up at this and his face lit up, “you have to understand that my daughter and I are a package deal. You don’t get one without the other.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he promised and, in the moment, she believed him.
“Second,” she continued, “I have a duty to the pie shop and you need to respect that.”
He nodded. “Yes, of course.”
“And finally,” Jenna felt herself blush thinking of their past intimacies, physical and emotional, “you and I are not going to pick up where we left off. If we’re going to do this, then it’s a fresh start. We take our time, get to know each other again, and see where things take us.”
Jim opened up his hand to her and, after a moment of hesitation, she placed her palm over his. “I’d like that very much, Jenna.” He squeezed her hand. “In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if you have a free night this weekend. I would love to take you out to dinner.”
Jenna shot him a mischievous smirk. “Somewhere nice? With cloth napkins and real china?”
“That’s what I had in mind.” Jim leaned even closer. “You might even want to dress up a bit,” he all but whispered and wrapped his free hand around their joined hands, “but you’ll be beautiful in whatever you decide to wear.”
“I’d like that,” Jenna admitted, biting her lip. “I’m free Saturday night, but I need to see if one of the girls can watch Lulu.”
“Ogie and I can watch her,” Dawn called, revealing that their private conversation had not been so private.
Jim chuckled. “So it seems like you’re free Saturday. Should I pick you up, say around 7pm?”
Jenna’s heart fluttered, still not believing that this was happening. “Yeah, you can pick me up here at the shop and we can head out then.”
“Excellent.” He sat back, his shoulders loose and a smile on his lips. “Now that we’ve got that settled, I would be a fool not to finish this delicious piece of pie.” He lifted one hand and picked up his fork but kept holding her hand in the middle of the table.
Content to sit with Jim a little longer, Jenna picked up her own fork and took a bite of her slice of pie.
“You’re so pretty,” Dawn cooed as Jenna put on her lipstick.
Jenna rolled her eyes in the mirror. “You know you all didn’t have to sit here while I do my makeup.”
“But, it’s good luck,” Dawn insisted, “the last time we were all in here, getting ready for a date, was the night I started dating Ogie.”
“She’s got a point there,” Becky said, from her place on the toilet. “Her date with Ogie has worked out like gangbusters in the end.” Jenna almost glowed with happiness and she couldn’t keep the excitement off her face. Becky had had her doubts when Dr. Pomatter had shown up but seemed like this might work.
Jenna turned around to face them. “Alright, I think I’m ready.”
Becky nodded and clapped. “You’re going to knock poor Dr. Pomatter’s socks off.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard,” Jenna teased, making her way to the front of the shop, “I was pregnant the whole time we were together before.”
The girls laughed and followed her out to sit with her while they waited for Dr. Pomatter. Five minutes before seven the bell rang.
Dr. Pomatter came through the door, decked out in a suit, a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and nervous smile on his face. “Good evening, ladies.”
“Good evening, Dr. Pomatter,” Becky greeted him, raising an eyebrow at Dawn, as Jenna stood up and faced the doctor.
“Hi, Jenna,” he said, handing her the flowers. “You look beautiful tonight.”
She blushed and flashed him a brilliant smile as she took the flowers. “Hi, Jim. Thanks. You look nice too.”
Their hellos done, Jenna and Dr. Pomatter stood there, avoiding each other’s eyes, unsure what to do now. Becky decided to take pity on them and get them rolling. “Well, you better get out of here.” She handed him Jenna’s coat and gestured towards the door. “From the look of Dr. Pomatter, you all have dinner reservation somewhere fancy.”
They both laughed and Dr. Pomatter helped Jenna into her coat. “Shall we?” He asked, holding out his arm.
The smile on Jenna’s face grew even wider and she took his arm. “Absolutely.”
“Good-night, girls.” Jenna called out as they walked towards the door. “I’ll stop by around ten thirty to pick up Lulu.”
“You all have fun,” Dawn called, as the bell over the door rang as Jenna and Dr. Pomatter made their way out of the pie shop.
“You what know, Dawn,” Becky said, as they locked up the pie shop a few minutes later, “I think this is the start of something wonderful.”