“I decided to sell.” Bud sat across the counter of Jackie’s Cafe, nursing a coffee.
Jackie gasped. “You’ve been my donut man for practically a dozen years. What will I do?” More than that, he’d been a friend, delivering donuts and staying for coffee. She counted on Bud and looked forward to their early morning visits on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Where will you go?” She knew he lived in the apartment over his donut shop in Wentworth, about thirty miles west.
Bud chewed on a toothpick. “Probably down by my daughter near Milwaukee.” The wistful look in his eyes betrayed emotion he didn’t voice. He wasn’t ready to give it all up. “Steve Pruit made the offer. He’s been working for me the past couple of years with hopes of taking over.” Bud’s face screwed up.
“Do you have to accept now? Surely you’ll get other offers.” Her voice squeaked as she tried to mask her trembling chin.
“It’s a fair deal. I just didn’t think it’d come so fast. He’d like to get this settled by late November.”
“So soon. I’m sorry. I know how much I’d miss my café if I had to retire.” She scanned the cozy restaurant where she and her sister, Paula, had grown up in the days Mom owned it. How could she ever let go of this place? It was her life.
Bud tapped his watch. “Gotta run. Your customers will be here soon.” He nodded at the boxes sitting on the counter. “I brought the usual order, but I also added some pumpkin donut holes.”
Jackie smiled. “You know how to keep my customers happy. I’ve got a caramel apple pie for you to try.” She opened her walk-in fridge and pulled out the pie box with Bud’s name on it.
“You still aren’t gonna give me your recipes?”
“No way. These secret ingredients have been in my family for generations. I can’t be sharing them with you. Next thing I know, you’d be opening a pie shop down the street.”
His eyes twinkled. “Now there’s an idea. Maybe I should renovate the old creamery and give you a little competition.”
The jingle of the bell over the door announced her first customer.
“See you Friday.” Bud waved, heading to the back door. Then he turned. “You wouldn’t care to go for a drive after you get off work today, would ya? The leaves are mighty fine this time of year.”
“That sounds like fun. Pick me up at 2:00?” She smiled as he nodded and disappeared into the alley.
Jackie could barely keep her orders straight. He’d asked her out, even if only for a drive to see the autumn colors. She’d been sweet on him for years, but he’d never shown more interest than friendship.
Promptly at 2:00, Bud poked his head through the back door. “Ready?”
“I locked my door and mopped the floor as the last customers finished their coffees.”
He held the car door for her to slide in. What a gentleman.
Settling himself in the driver’s seat, he proceeded down the alley. “I accepted Steve’s offer this morning—and you know what? It’s starting to feel good. I have four short weeks left, and I’m choosing to do some things I should’ve done years ago. Today, I’m taking you with me.”
She saw the easygoing grin on his face. If only they had more time together before Bud moved on.
They drove and chatted easily on back roads Jackie couldn’t recall having seen before. The trees burst with oranges, yellows, reds, greens, and browns. Breathtaking.
Near Wausau, Bud turned into Granite Peak Ski Park. Together they stood at the foot of the mountain, admiring its spectacular colors.
Had she ever seen anything so beautiful? She snapped pictures of the scenery, of Bud, of the two of them enjoying the day. She might be losing a friend, but she’d have memories.
Bud reached for her hand and swung it gently as they walked. His touch felt firm and comfortable, just as she’d known it would. Walking toward the ski lift, he produced two tickets. “I hope you aren’t afraid of heights.”
“Really? The ski lift is open?”
“See what happens when we work all the time? We don’t even know what other people are doing.”
She squeezed his arm. “I’m sure going to miss you.”
He patted her hand. “Let’s make the most of today.”
Sitting on the bench, they floated slowly toward the mountain top, surrounded by gorgeous colors. With his arm around her, she leaned against him.
Bud cleared his throat. “This morning, I mentioned I’m catching up on things I want to do.”
Sounded like he was finding peace with his decision to retire. Good for him.
“My biggest regret is that I didn’t ask you to marry me years ago. We could have been happy serving donuts and pies together.”
She looked into his eyes. Was he teasing? His voice sounded sincere.
“So, before another day goes by …” He slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small box. “Jackie, will you marry me?”
She nearly slipped from the ski-lift chair, but Bud held her securely. “I’d like to move to Pinecrest and help with your café.”
Was this real? She checked his expression.
“I could make donuts. Wash dishes. Play cards with the old-timers.”
“Yes!” Jackie laughed. “Won’t my friends be surprised? Even my sister thinks you’re just the donut man. And here we are, engaged on our first date.”
Bud brushed his lips softly across her cheek. “Been courting you for years on our early morning dates, but I didn’t know how to tell you I love you.”
Unhurried, she returned his kiss, tucked in the arms of the man she loved, riding the lift on her mountaintop experience.
“Just one thing, Bud. I’m still not giving you my pie recipes!”
Ruth loves writing the stories of her heart, sharing the outdoors with her family, and snuggling with a book.
Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Her website is RuthSchmeckpeper.com.