The same people were there every morning, too. Some businessman who drank his coffee and shared his company with the financial section of the newspaper. A lady who came in wearing tennis shoes and walked out in high heels.
Trey sat at the counter, sipping his coffee and watching the short-order cook, a rotund fellow with a prickly disposition, fry an order of hash browns. A waitress who looked to be in her forties bustled around refilling coffee.
Actually, Trey realized, he wasn’t in the mood for company this morning. He had some heavy-duty thinking to do.
Twice he’d asked Jenny to leave New York and come back to Montana with him. Twice she’d told him no. The time had come for him to play his trump card, give her some incentive to return to Custer.
He planned to ask her to be his wife.
Generally when a man proposed to a woman he was fairly confident of her response. Trey figured his chances with Jenny were less than fifty-fifty. Although he’d worked hard to build up his herd, he didn’t have a whole lot in the way of material wealth to offer her. A few hundred head of cattle, a run-down house that badly needed a woman’s touch. And a heart so full of love that he nearly burst wide open every time he thought of Jenny and himself raising a family together.
Trey was a realist, and he was well aware that he couldn’t compete with the bright lights of Broadway. He didn’t have any diamond ring to offer her, either. Not yet.
The fact was, he hadn’t thought about asking Jenny to marry him until after they’d kissed that first time. He’d always dreamed it would be like that with them, but the reality had knocked him for a loop. Jenny’s kisses gave him hope that she might harbor some tenderness for him.
Never having proposed to a woman before, Trey had no idea how to go about it. Did a man of the nineties get down on one knee? Should he remove his hat and place it over his heart? None of those things sounded right to him. But since he was asking Jenny the most important question of his life, he didn’t figure he should do it without showing some semblance of respect.
On impulse, Trey slipped off the stool and looked around the doughnut shop. The place held the same five or six people who frequented the place every morning.
“Can I have your attention, please,” he said in a loud voice.
The businessman lowered the newspaper. The cook turned around, the spatula raised in one hand.
“My name’s Trey LaRue,” he said. “I’ve been having coffee here every morning since I arrived in this city, and it seems time I introduced myself. I take it you folks all know each other.”
The five other customers stared back blankly.
“You don’t know each other?”
“No.” It was the woman with one high heel and one tennis shoe.
“Well then, don’t you think it’s time you introduced yourselves to one another? I’m Trey, and I’m visiting from Montana.”
“Hello, Trey,” the waitress responded. “I’m Trixie.”
“I’m Bob, and I’m in advertising.”
“I’m Mary Lou, and I’m an assistant editor at a publishing house.” She waved one shoe in greeting.
The others went around the compact space and introduced themselves and told what they did for a living. Trey acknowledged each one with a brisk nod.
“What brings you to New York?” The question came from the cook, whose name was Steve.
“I came to ask a special woman to be my wife.”
“Has she agreed?” This came from his editor friend.
“Not yet.” He splayed his fingers through his hair, feeling less confident about his decision. “The fact is, I haven’t asked her yet. I’m not exactly sure how to go about it.”
“Just come right out and ask her,” Bob advised.
“But wine and dine her,” was Trixie’s advice.
“Yeah,” Bob teased, “get her good and soused first.”
Mary Lou shook her head slowly. “Don’t you listen to any of that. You tell that young woman what’s in your heart. That’s all you need to do, and if she feels as strongly about you as you do about her, nothing else will be necessary.”
“I shouldn’t take her to a fancy dinner, then?” Trey asked. His newfound friends confused him more than they helped.
“Dinner and champagne won’t hurt,” Trixie assured him, “but Mary Lou’s right. Just tell this special lady what’s in your heart and go from there.”
That sounded like a lot less trouble than getting down on one knee, Trey decided.
“You might try singing to her.”
Everyone turned to stare at Steve, Trey included. As far as Trey was concerned, there were certain things a man didn’t do, and break into song was one of them. One of Jenny’s male friends might consider that, but not him.
“Women like romance, and there ain’t nothing more romantic than to sing. You don’t even have to have that great a voice,” Steve added, a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth.
“I won’t be doing any singing,” Trey said emphatically.
“You love her, don’t you?” Steve smashed the cigarette into an ashtray.
“Then romance her.”
“He’s right about that,” the assistant editor acknowledged. “There isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t want to be courted by the man she loves.”
Singing was out of the question, but there were other ways to prove he was as tenderhearted as the men she’d dated in the big city. “What about flowers and chocolates?”
Only the day before, Trey had walked into one of those fancy sweet shops by accident. He’d been blown away at the prices. Why, a man could feed a horse for a month on what they wanted for a box of chocolates! French ones.
Mary Lou shook her head. “Be more imaginative than that.”
“Jenny loves those fat bagels vendors sell on the street corners here,” he said, thinking out loud.
“You can’t woo a woman with bagels,” the guy in advertising insisted. He folded the newspaper and tucked it under his arm. “I’ve got to get to the office. You’ll let us know what happens, won’t you?”
“Sure thing,” Trey promised. He checked his watch. It was early yet. Jenny would still be sleeping, but he’d told her he’d be by to pick her up this morning. She wanted to take him up to the top of the World Trade Center.
Trey left some change on the counter. “I appreciate the advice,” he told his newfound friends.
“Good luck,” Trixie said with a smile.
“If he’s getting married, he’ll need it,” the short-order cook teased, then laughed when Trixie swatted him across the backside with a dishrag.
An hour later Trey stood outside Jenny’s apartment complex. He paced the sidewalk in front of her building, rehearsing in his mind what he wanted to say. It took another ten minutes before he’d gathered up enough gumption to go inside.
He’d no sooner knocked than the door flew open and there was Jenny, standing on the other side. When she saw him, her face lit up with a smile as bright as a July sun. As long as he lived, he’d never grow weary of seeing Jenny smile.
“Mornin’,” he greeted her, touching the edge of his hat in a genteel salute.
“Oh, Trey, you’ll never guess what.”
Before he could prepare himself, she leapt into his arms. Whatever it was that brought Jenny this close must be good, he thought.
“Irene phoned this morning!”
“Irene’s your agent, right?”
“Right.” Then, not giving him an opportunity to ask anything more, she blurted out, “John Peterman phoned and asked if she had an audio of me.”
Trey didn’t know who this John Peterman was, but he was fairly certain he wasn’t going to like the other man.
As soon as she could, Hannah left the deli to find Joshua. If she explained how she’d been pressured into setting a wedding date, surely he’d understand. Surely he’d be sympathetic and willing to listen to reason.
The angry, pained look in his eyes haunted her, especially knowing that she was responsible for putting it there. Joshua didn’t deserve to be treated as if she were ashamed of loving him. Yet she could find no fair way out of this dilemma.
Her first stop was at Joshua’s office. When he wasn’t there, she didn’t know what to do. Depressed and miserable, she started walking, barely aware of her destination. She was unconscious of the street sounds, the people who moved crisply past her; all she could think to do was walk.
She appreciated Joshua’s feelings. If the situation were reversed, she’d feel the same way. Joshua was an honorable man, and it went against his grain to be involved with a woman engaged to another man. Nor was he comfortable meeting her without her parents’ knowledge.
Hannah didn’t like that aspect of their relationship, either, but for now it couldn’t be helped. She didn’t want to break the engagement with Carl until this matter with the school had been cleared up.
Suddenly aware of her surroundings, Hannah realized she was close to her grandmother’s apartment.
Sylvia’s tired eyes brightened when she opened the door. “Hannah, my dear, this is a pleasant surprise!”
Hannah kissed her grandmother’s cheek.
“I just brewed myself a pot of tea. Join me, please.”
“I’d love some tea.” Hannah followed her grandmother into the kitchen, then carried the tray with two dainty china cups into the living room.
Hannah loved this room, with its personal touches. An end table with a small clock that had been in the family for close to a hundred years. Antique photographs. Hand-crocheted doilies. An array of family photos lining the fireplace mantel.
Hannah’s favorite picture was one of her grandfather taken when he was a young man recently emigrated to America. Another favorite was of her father as a youngster, less than ten years of age.
“Sit,” Sylvia instructed after settling herself in the oak rocker she loved. She took a sip of tea, then held the delicate china cup with both hands. “Actually, I wondered when you’d come. I’ve been waiting, you know.”
“Waiting for me?” Hannah turned from the familiar photographs and met her grandmother’s keen eyes.
“I know you far too well not to recognize when something is bothering you.”
Hannah lowered her gaze. She didn’t bother to deny that she was troubled. Nor was she surprised that her grandmother had guessed. She suspected Sylvia had known her true feelings from the moment she’d introduced Carl.
“You look tired, Hannah.”
She was unbelievably so. But the bone weariness that drained her energy had little to do with the long hours she worked at the deli or the number of customers she served. It was a fatigue of the heart, of pretending to love Carl, of giving the impression that she was happy.
“You don’t need to tell me anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing.” Her grandmother’s tone was loving and tender. “Just sit with me a spell and soak in the silence. I don’t know how a person can sort everything out unless they can hear themselves think.”