“My lady…” Troy held the passenger door of his truck for her, and Melissa climbed up into luxury. She touched the leather seats and gaped at the state-of-the-art sound system, powerful speakers, and wood trim. When Troy came around to the driver’s side and clicked his seat belt into place, she raised her eyebrows at him.
“What’d you do? Get the fully-loaded version?”
“What?” Troy’s purposely innocent face revealed a sheepish grin. “It’s a working truck. Don’t you like it?”
“Yeah, right. Working truck. Humph.” She shook her head and grinned at him.
“How was your weekend?” Troy reached over and casually took her hand from where it rested on the seat. She felt her breath speed up. His hand was strong and masculine. She tried to pull herself together so she could answer him.
“Oh, you know. Worked all day Saturday, church on Sunday.” She spoke dismissively, as if she hadn’t spent the whole previous afternoon roaming the countryside trying to figure out which farm was his. “You?”
“About the same.” He winked at her. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to pull into the parking lot of the little restaurant and he came around to help her out of the truck. When her feet hit the ground, he kept his hands on her hips for just a little longer than he needed to and looked down into her eyes.
Her heart raced and she almost thought he was going to lean down and kiss her. Instead, he made a little sound in the back of his throat, took her hand and led her through the parking lot toward the entrance. He paused and looked at her nervously.
“Now, just remember. Everybody knows me. It’s a small town, and you are new and exciting. People are going to stare and gawk. You’re kind of like… a celebrity. Don’t let it go to your head too much.”
“It sounds like maybe you need to try not to let it go to your head too much.” She bumped her shoulder into his arm playfully. “I mean, you are holding the hand of a celebrity.”
“Maybe it’s you who is holding the hand of a celebrity and you just don’t know it yet.” He paused again and the piercing intensity of his eyes bore into her.
She saw that hunger in his eyes again. She gulped and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She wished he would just kiss her already and get it over with, but again he pulled away slightly and gripped her hand a little tighter. Something shifted in his expression. He’s nervous. Why?
Troy took a deep breath, let it out, and led her toward the door. When Melissa first entered the small dining room, not many people paid her much attention. Until Troy stepped up beside her. Then some people did a double take, leaned over and whispered to the person across the table from them and that person would turn around as well. It made her extremely uncomfortable, but she reminded herself that he had warned her ahead of time.
The case of cookies and pies pulled her gaze off to her right and her mouth started watering. The smell of fresh baked bread overpowered her senses and she almost moaned. Her stomach growled and she was tempted to skip lunch and head straight over to the case of delicacies. Someone clearing his throat drew her attention back.
A man with a hardened expression stepped up to the host stand and picked up two menus. His monogrammed shirt read Patrick, and Melissa got the impression that he was the owner of the restaurant.
“Troy…” He spoke through clenched teeth then turned a forced smile to Melissa. “Will it be just the two of you?”
“Yes, Uncle Patrick,” Troy replied. He reached his arm around Melissa, resting his hand lightly on her lower back. “I’d like you to meet Melissa Dalton. She just moved into town.”
Melissa could almost hear the warning in his voice telling his uncle that he’d best make her feel welcome. She raised her eyebrows at Troy and mouthed the word “Uncle?” He just winked at her and turned back to his Uncle Patrick.
Patrick spun on his heel and started walking toward the back of the dining room. Melissa took that as a cue that she should follow, and Troy gestured for her to lead the way. He kept his hand protectively on her lower back and she might have felt comforted by it if it weren’t for the stares coming from all around her. She confidently held her head high and followed to where Patrick was laying placemats and menus on the table.
Troy held her chair for her, but as she sat down, he suddenly stiffened and stepped over to his uncle. He spoke quietly and firmly and sounded almost angry. “When did Becca start waitressing here?”
“Last week, why?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me? I wouldn’t have brought her here.” Troy and Patrick both glanced her way and Melissa felt her stomach drop. “Don’t you dare give her to us for a waitress.”
Uncle Patrick held up a little card that was already in his hand with a name written on it in flowing, feminine handwriting. The name of their intended waitress. He set it down on the table and Melissa read the name… Becca.
“She’s the only waitress who is not already over-sat. You’re a big boy. You can handle it.” With that, Patrick turned and stomped away.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Troy mumbled under his breath, almost too quietly for her to hear. He slowly walked around the table, pulled out his chair and sat down hard. He lowered his gaze and gripped his hair.
“Ex-girlfriend?” Melissa guessed. Troy looked up with vitriol in his eyes.
“We were never a couple,” he insisted. “We have never been a couple, we will never be a couple, and it is not my fault that she clings to the childish notion that we ever will be.”
“Gee, tell me how you really feel, Troy.” Melissa reached across and pulled his hand from the entanglement of his hair, brushing the disheveled hair back into place but keeping his hand resting in hers. She squeezed his hand gently and smiled lightly.
“How do you do that?” Troy whispered.
“How do I do what?”
“Calm me down like that.” His eyes were soft, almost in awe.
“Guess I just have a soothing touch.” She brushed her thumb across the back of his hand and raised her eyebrows. He raised his right back at her. Her breathing sped up at the suggestive nature of their non-verbal conversation.
Melissa felt a presence at her left elbow. Troy’s hand quickly released hers and he suddenly picked up the menu that rested on the table in front of him. Knowing he probably had the menu memorized, Melissa guessed correctly that the young lady standing beside her was Becca.
Melissa looked up to see a beautiful girl with big brown eyes, a hand sewn dress and apron, hair tucked up in a delicate twist, and on her head rested the traditional Mennonite cap.
Oh my gosh. Melissa felt her stomach plummet and she turned back to Troy. His eyes were nervous, almost apologetic. She raised her chin slightly and looked back up at Becca.
Becca’s eyes bore into her with disdain, but she spoke in the sweetest fake enthusiasm she could muster through clenched teeth. “I know what Troy wants, but what can I get you to drink… Melissa?”
“Nice to meet you, too Becca.” Melissa spoke just as curtly back. “I’d like a Diet Coke.” Becca didn’t even look at Troy, didn’t write anything down, just turned and walked quickly away.
Melissa watched Becca leave, then took a moment to glance around the dining room. Many people were still staring, some were trying to pretend they weren’t, and some patrons were oblivious. As she looked around, it was suddenly very clear that every waitress in the building was dressed in traditional Mennonite clothing as were about a third of the patrons in the dining room. Many of the men wore the same neatly trimmed beard as Troy’s.
Some patrons looked like businessmen and women from the local stores and offices. Melissa would have fit right in with them. Those people were mostly ignoring her. It was as if they had no idea there was a scandal brewing. The Mennonites were staring at her like a cockroach that needed to be exterminated… immediately.
Melissa turned back to Troy and tucked both hands in her lap. She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. He still hadn’t spoken and wasn’t smiling. Puzzle pieces she didn’t even know were missing fell into place, completing a picture she wasn’t sure she could hang on her wall. Her whisper was little more than a breath. “You’re a Mennonite.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: Well... it's all on the table so-to-speak. Except, what does Troy still need to know about Melissa?