An excerpt from
At Long Last, Love
A Collection
by Judy Bagshaw

 

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 A sample from the short story Duet:

"I think he likes you.” Tricia’s face was a study of annoyance at her sister Mary’s teasing words.
 
“Keep your voice down!” It was close to midnight, and many of the other passengers on the luxury tour bus were sleeping. Harry, their driver, had muted the lights, and a peaceful hush lay over the vehicle.
 
“Oh, stop being so prim,” Mary said to her slightly older sibling. “He may look a little like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but he’s really kind of cute.”
 
“I’m not playing this game with you,” Tricia said, a smile threatening at the corner of her mouth. It was hard to resist Mary’s inherent good humor. “I’m fifty-six years old, for heaven’s sake. I don’t even use the word cute where men are concerned. Besides, I’m a widow, remember?”
 
“Ben has been gone for two years now,” Mary said, suddenly serious. “He would be the last person to want you to just sit yourself on a shelf. So, when I say I think Harry likes you, you’re free to say, ‘oh-really-how-nice-I rather-like-him-myself.’”
 
“Mary!” Tricia fixed a no-nonsense look on her face and glared at her sister.
 
“And that schoolmarm look of yours doesn’t work, either,” Mary said. “I’ve known you too long and I’m immune. Now, when are you going to speak to the man and put him out of his misery?”
 
Tricia chuckled in spite of her annoyance. Mary was incorrigible. “Probably at the same time you mind your own business and start acting your age!”
 
Mary feigned a thoughtful expression. “I could do that,” she said. “Mind you, I don’t feel my age. How do fifty-four-year-olds act anyhow?”
 
“Certainly not like starry-eyed fourteen-year-olds,” Tricia said, taking her turn to tease her little sister. “Look, Mare, I agreed to come on this trip with you to relax and get away from things for a while. I’m not interested in romance. I had the great love of my life with Ben, and I’m content with those memories.”
 
“Who are you trying to convince, me or you?” Mary said softly.
 
Tricia looked at her sister and felt exasperated. This was an old argument, one they’d been having for a year now. Mary thought Tricia was too young to just dry up and be the grieving widow for the rest of her life. But Mary didn’t understand. Mary still had Bill. And their two boys had dutifully married nice girls and produced a grandbaby each. Tricia and Ben, as much as they had wanted a family, had never had children. Memories were all Tricia had to hold on to. So she was reluctant to let them go.
 
She smiled with great affection at her sister. “Get some sleep, Mare,” she said gently. “We’ll be at the hotel soon. Tomorrow will be a big day.”
 
“You can’t avoid this conversation forever,” Mary said, putting her seat back and getting comfortable.
 
“I can certainly try,” Tricia said, doing the same.
 

“Rise and shine,” Harry said in his jovial, deep voice. A look in his mirror showed most of the passengers shifting to a seated position and groggily trying to pull themselves together. 
 
He particularly noticed the classy redhead five rows back, and he sighed to himself. Even just emerging from sleep, she was lovely. If only he—
 
“Hey, Harry!” Suzy, the tour guide, had suddenly appeared at his shoulder. 
 
“What’s up, kiddo?” he said to the perky, freckle-faced girl.
 
“Where were you just now?” she said.
 
“What do you mean?” 
 
“I had to say your name three times before you answered.”
 
He felt his face go hot and knew he must be blushing. Suzy began to giggle. “Why the blush?” And then her eyes grew wide with amusement. “Okay, who is she?”
 
“Oh, cut it out,” Harry said, trying to sound severe.
 
“Let’s see if I can guess.” She stood and faced the passengers, craning to see faces. “I don’t think it’s Betty Shneider. She’s a little too gossipy, I think, for your taste.”
 
“I said cut it out,” Harry said, hoping like mad no one could hear Suzy’s teasing speculations. He was by nature a very shy man and really didn’t like this kind of attention.
 
“Connie, Barbara and Greta are all with their hubbies,” Suzy remarked thoughtfully, “unless there’s an unscrupulous side of you I don’t know.”
 
“I won’t even dignify that remark,” Harry said. “Now come on. Be a good girl and sit back down.”
 
“In a minute. Let’s see. Shirley—No. Maude—Definitely not. —Wait! I know!” 
 
Harry cringed. 
 
“It’s that nice Mrs. Martin—Tricia!”
 
Harry’s blush deepened and he could feel his stomach tense. He answered as calmly as he could. “Suzy, you have a wild imagination. Now, have you called the hotel to make sure they’re expecting us? We’ll be there in less than twenty minutes.”
 
“Oh, cripes, thanks for reminding me,” Suzy said, and dug for her cell phone. 
 
Having effectively distracted her, Harry took a deep, calming breath and focused on his driving. It bothered him that Suzy had come so close to guessing his secret. 
 
He had indeed noticed Mrs. Martin—Tricia—from the moment she had first boarded the bus two days ago. She was so elegant, so gracious. She had smiled at him and been so nice that Harry had felt he was on top of the world. He’d even written a song about her, not that he’d ever tell her that.
 
“Okay, all set,” Suzy chirped in his ear. “So was I right?”
 
Harry cringed inside. Here we go again. “You have a one-track mind, little girl,” he said gruffly. “How about you leave the old man alone and take care of your passengers.”
 
Suzy laughed and patted Harry on the shoulder. “Okay, I’ll drop it for now,” she said with affection. “But I’m not going to give up playing matchmaker here. I give you fair warning.”
 
Heaven help me, Harry thought.
 
Harry had been a bachelor his whole life. Oh, he’d had his small share of romances over the years, but he’d never made it to the altar. His four sisters had made it their business to try and find him a nice wife. But he was mostly just embarrassed by their fix-ups and the enforced dinner dates. He didn’t know why. He supposed it was because he was such a backward sort with women, shy and unsure of himself—which was strange since he’d grown up in a house full of women. But he never knew what to say and was always conscious of his balding head and soft paunch. 
 
He told himself he was happy with his single life. He loved his job and got to travel and meet lots of wonderful people. But if he looked deep inside himself, he had to admit he was lonely. He’d have to retire sometime in the next few years, and the prospect of living the rest of his days alone was terrifying to him.
 
He pulled into the hotel parking lot. “Here we are folks,” he announced on the intercom. “Enjoy the next two days.”
 
 

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