One month later:
I wiped my sweaty brow with the back of my hand, and pulled the tray of oatmeal bread from the oven. It was crusty and smelled like heaven and I put it on the counter to rest.
"Nora, the last batch is done. Just let it cool for a bit, and you can put it out for sale. I'm heading out for the morning." I could feel that my face was flushed from the heat, and I pulled my hair out of its ponytail as I left the kitchen and removed my apron. "See you tomorrow, sweetie!" I called out to her.
"You've never called me sweetie, Ella. I'm sure it was just an oversight on your part, but still, I'm wounded to the quick." I started, and smoothed my red knit shirt, and wiped my hands on my jeans. His voice was soft and familiar and loved, but I did not turn around. I started walking and pushed my way through the door, the bell jangling dissonantly. I heard his feet on the pavement behind me.
"Ella, wait! Please just talk to me. Do you know how many of your baked goods I had to eat before I had the courage to say anything to you? I've come every day for the last week just to smell your cooking, just to be near you." He put his hand on my shoulder, and I shrugged it off. "I know I screwed up. I should have told you who I was, but I hated being a Huffington, and I loved who I was when I was with you. I was worried you would think about me differently."
I stopped and turned to face him. His face was more angular as if he'd lost some weight, and his clothes-–
"What are you wearing?" I asked incredulously.
"What do you mean? Jeans and a t-shirt."
I pointed to the iron-on of a smiling monkey eating a banana on his chest.
"Don't you like it? I thought he looked very friendly, like he might share with me. I bought this shirt in three different colors. I'm shopping for myself now." He sounded pleased.
"Look, Edward," I began.
"Richard," he interrupted. "It's what my friends call me."
"Richard, then. You told me you wanted to be open with each other. I feel like I can't trust you because you lied about who you were. And I'm angry, too. If I had known who you were, I wouldn't have been taken by surprise by your mother. I was humiliated."
"I'm very sorry that you had to go through that. But I never lied. You are the first person I've been totally open with in… a long time. I just didn't tell you who my family was, and I am really sorry for that. I'd like to make it up to you, Ella." Richard reached up and stroked my cheek, and my whole body yearned to lean into him.
"How did you find me?" I asked roughly.
"I wooed Hyacinth and Elizabeth with chocolates. Those are some very sweet girls. I could look at them with no problems." He made a face. "Although I should talk to them sternly about being so free with a lady's personal information. How did they know I wasn't deranged?"
I bit my lip around a sob, and stepped into him. His arms closed around me, and I could feel his heart thundering. "Stupid girl," he whispered into my hair. "You could change countries and I'd still find you. You didn't think moving two towns over was going to deter me, did you?"
I laughed, still with tears streaming down my face and turned my mouth to his. He rumbled in contentment against my lips, and his fingers tangled in my hair. I was crushed to his chest, and I didn't mind a bit.
"I couldn't stop thinking about you." His voice was shaky. "I was afraid you weren't going to forgive me, or that you'd already moved on, when here I was, acting like a fool over you."
"I was worried you weren't going to come – that I'd just been a diversion to you."
"No, of course I was coming. How could I not?" He rained tiny kisses on my face and neck before gently releasing me. Richard tucked my hand into the crook of his arm. "Now, I'm going to feed you. It's nearly lunchtime, and if I don't eat on time I become as cross as a bear. My flat is just around the corner. Can I make you something to eat?"
"You've got a flat in town?"
He stared at me like I was a simpleton. "How was I going to be near you if I didn't live in the same town as you? It's quite large. I know it's too soon, but it's easily big enough for two. I thought maybe down the road…"
"Lunch would be lovely," I interrupted him. "Thank you, Richard."
He smiled and put his arm around my waist. "It's just this way, my love."