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The Most Eligible Bachelor Bella Winters 2022/7/22 14:15:16

“I doubt they’re studying, Martha,” I giggled, taking a bite of the pie. It tasted like heaven.

“Well, that’s their problem, then, ain’t it?” Martha sighed. “We do what we can to help ‘em. If they’re gonna screw up their lives, then I don’t want it to be because of us.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” I said with a smile.

“I want ‘em to get out of Ludwig, that’s all,” Martha replied. “There’s nothing in Ludwig for those two. Best thing’s send ‘em off to Austin or someplace else where they might have a chance at a normal life.” She looked at me, and I could almost sense what she was going to say before she said it. “Makes me wonder all the time why you’re still here.”

“Same reason you’re here,” I smiled, trying my best not to look frustrated at hearing the same thing over and over again. “This is my home. I have no desire to leave.”

“Honey, this ain’t a home for anyone,” Martha said. “You don’t choose to stay in Ludwig. You just kinda get stuck here when you ain’t got no other options.”

“Then I guess I’m stuck here.”

“You haven’t tried anything else,” Martha clicked her tongue. “That damn Greene boy stole away your ‘run-away’ years.”

I laughed and almost choked. “My what?”

Martha smiled and slapped my hand. “Don’t make fun of me, girl,” she said. “You know what I mean. Your run-away years. Those couple of years right after high school when you’re still young and stupid and fearless. You got the guts to just pick up and leave, without any plans, without any money. Just leave. Some come back, sure, when they realize they ain’t got anything to work with. But most stay away, because there’s so much the world’s got to offer outside this little town. And you could have used that, Ashlyn.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, drinking my coffee and smiling at the image of a bunch of teenagers running away from town, barefoot and wild, as if escaping a prison.

“If your daddy had been alive, he wouldn’t have let you stay,” Martha said, a lot more serious. “I know your mama would have fought you out with her broom if she had to.”

“My mama dreamed a little too much,” I said. “Martha, honestly, I love it here. I’m happy. You don’t have to keep trying to convince me to leave.”

Martha turned and grabbed both my hands in hers, holding them in her lap as her blue eyes pierced mine. “You know something, Ashlyn?” she asked. “I pray for you. I pray that one day, some dumb Texas boy will come rolling into town, sweep you off your feet, and take you with him to some place far from here. Somewhere you can start over, fresh and all, leave all this behind and be the woman your mama wanted you to be.”

I smiled at her, feeling like I could hug her just for caring this much. But the truth was, the next time a man tried to sweep me off my feet, I would probably put two bullets in his head before blowing off mine. I didn’t want another relationship. Earl had made damn sure of that.

“Thank you,” I said, not wanting to crush her hopes and dreams for some miracle cure to what she thought my problem was. “By the way, the pie was delicious, and the coffee great. But I really need to get going.”

Martha sighed and shook her head. “You don’t ever hesitate to stay for coffee and pie, okay?” she said as I got up and let her walk me out. “We don’t spend enough time together, you and me.”

“I won’t, I promise,” I said. “Besides, I’ll be here tomorrow to deliver those roses you wanted for the lobby.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Marth

a said and waved as I got into my truck and drove off.

I was home an hour later, stocked up on groceries and ready to spend a few hours in the greenhouse. I had one of my mother’s old books with me, one I’d read a hundred times because it was her favorite, Bridges of Madison County, a story about a small-town woman who has an affair with a big city photographer. I knew that as she read the book, mother fantasized that someday a handsome man would pass through town to take her away. It never happened. She lived and died in a small town that smothered her like dirt on a coffin.

As soon as I had gone through my regular routine, checking the water, cutting and trimming, making sure everything was in order, I made my way back to the porch and settled down on the old swing.

I closed my eyes, letting my mind wander back to when I had sat here with my mother, curled up beside her with my head on her lap as she read to me from her book. It had been a magical time, a better time, one that kept playing and replaying in my head, making it impossible for me to even consider leaving this all behind.

I opened my eyes and let the light breeze wash over me, then lay down and opened my book, flipping to the last page I had marked. In the distance, I could hear the soft sing song of the birds, and all around me, the world seemed to slow down and embrace me with love. I quickly forgot about Martha and her desire to constantly convince me to leave. I forgot about Earl. I forgot about my parents being dead and that I was alone in this big house with only my plants to keep me company.

I began to read, losing myself in the love story, but not once thinking about being swept away by a knight on a white horse.

This would always be home.