“You can just cancel my order for this week, Jonathan Fowler.” Bitsy stood before Jonathan, hands on hips. Her face was red. Her eyes were narrow.
Jonathan stood there with four boxes of cherry pies in his arms. “Bitsy, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying to cancel my order.”
“Are you in some sort of trouble, Bitsy? I can help you along as best I can. You know I’d do that.”
“I’m not in trouble. I’m just fine, but thank you for asking.”
“Well, you can’t cancel your order when it’s being delivered.”
“I just did, didn’t I?”
“But…what am I going to do with these pies and the chickens? I’ve got eight dozen eggs in the truck waiting for me to bring them in to you.”
“I got my eggs at the IGA this morning.”
Jonathan set his pies on the breakfast bar. “Why are you doing this, Bitsy?”
“I just found out that you offered Ellie your farm. What the hell are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that Ellie needs a place to call home. I’m thinking that Ellie loves the farm. I’m thinking that it will give her certain guarantees.”
“Well I’m thinking that it will give you and Annie certain guarantees: A guaranteed place to live. Andit’ll guarantee that Ellie won’t go to college.”
“Ellie can still go to college.”
“And come back to what? A two-bit farm in a dying town? She’s languishing here.”
“She can’t go to college on hope alone.”
“Howard will be paying for her education.” Bitsy smiled at Howard.
“Ellie told me he stared her on a fund.”
“He more than started it, Jonathan Fowler. The man just cashed in five CDs and deposited sixty thousand dollars in her account.”
“He what?” Jonathan turned towards Howard. “How did you manage that, Howard?”
Howard’s face reddened.
“I think he feels some sort of…obligation to the child,” Bitsy says, “which is more than I can say of you. You go through with giving this farm to Ellie, you can kiss your orders from Bitsy’s Diner goodbye forever.”
“I need you, Bitsy. Without your orders, the farm…” Jonathan shook his head. “You’ve put me in a bind here. If you stop ordering from me, I may as well sell the farm.”
“I’m not stopping you from doing that, Jonathan.”
“I’d say you’re pushing me into it. Hell, I’d say you want me to sell the farm.” Jonathan frowned. “You’ve never been happy here, Bitsy. Maybe this is just an excuse for you to get out.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“I don’t know what’s true anymore, Bitsy. Seems the whole town has gone crazy every since Wheezy died. Come on, Howard. We’ve got some chickens to freeze.” And Jonathan turned and headed out the front door of Bitsy’s Diner, leaving the pies behind him.
“Annie will be furious,” he said to Howard. And Jonathan knew never to make Annie furious. Ever.
Once before he’d suffered Annie’s anger. And she’d left him. She packed her bags and packed the car and headed straight for her sister’s house in Indiana. Jonathan shook his head, remembering. Annie’d stayed away for four months. Not calling. Not writing. Howard showed up right about that time. And he and Howard worked the farm together. Jonathan used to joke that he and Howard were playing the bachelors. But Jonathan’s laugh always felt hollow. Annie’s absence had sucked the joy out of Jonathan. The farmhouse seemed to sag on its foundation. The windows seemed to tilt. The barn needed a paint job and the wagon needed mending. But Jonathan couldn’t find it within himself to care.
Then, all of a sudden, when she got wind—through Bitsy, Jonathan suspected—that there was to be a baby born upon the premises, Annie showed up. She stood there on the porch, her bags beside her. And Annie, his wife, his partner, his lover…Annie rang the doorbell.
It had pained Jonathan to open the door and see his wife standing there, as if she was unsure whether she still belonged to the farm; unsure whether it still belonged to her. Jonathan opened the screen door wide. He let it slam behind him. He stood there before Annie. Because he was unsure whether they still belonged to each other.
Annie lifted her chin. “I’m sorry, Jonathan.”
Jonathan took Annie in his arms and held her close, kissing the top of her head and weeping tears of joy and sorrow. “Don’t ever leave me again, Mrs. Fowler.”
She shook her head. “I was lost.”
And they’d held on to each other tightly, standing upon the porch. And the night air fell cool and soft around them and their love was gentle and kind; apologetic and new.
The next morning, Annie was back in the kitchen, as if she’d never left.
She’d been there ever since.