Recap of Chapter 7: Knowing they’d both be busy with work, Matt and Penny agreed they wouldn’t see each other for a while. But, after he brought her flowers for the Valentine’s Day he’d miss, Penny was sure he’d be in touch. How could she know that he’d been in a terrible car wreck that landed him in the hospital.

Valentine’s Day was even busier than Penny expected. They had marketed to attract couples and worked hard on the menu, but it seemed less people were coming out to restaurants these days. Not so with the Lucky Penny. Not only did they have a steady flow of customers from lunchtime until the kitchen closed at 10, the guests who did come had nothing but nice things to say about their experience. Penny couldn’t help but to smile at the reviews. She could only hope that it translated into continued success. Jesse’s specialty drinks were a hit, which made him proud. And, per her dad’s suggestion, the lunch menu that included heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes with conversation hearts decorating the whipped cream topping were very popular with the families. With a sense of satisfaction, Penny viewed the online reviews, commenting with a gracious ‘Thank you’ or ‘Come again!’ Being online reminded her of Matt—of the time he left a message for her to find. He was so sweet to bring her flowers knowing they wouldn’t be together for Valentine’s Day. Just a few more days, less than a week, and they would have another date. She smiled at the thought. Something was definitely starting between them. Where it would go from here remained to be seen, but it was a nice start—a very nice start. Gus the cat jumped onto the table where she was working. Closing the laptop, Penny pulled him onto her lap. “What do you think, Gussy?” she said, kissing the top of his head. “You think I will fall in love with that handsome man?”

Matt woke slowly, his eyes fluttering open. It was morning, or daylight at least. Where am I? He heard the steady sound of a monitor, his heartbeat and pulse beating in a rhythm. His eyes only open to mere slits, he took in the edge of a railing on the bed, a glimpse of a call button hanging by his head, and he realized he must be in a hospital. Moments later, pain rushed in, causing him to wince. He became aware that someone was standing next to him, their shadow blocking the light. He heard murmurs. Someone was talking, but he couldn’t make out what was said. If he was in a hospital, it was probably a nurse. He hoped he could convey without words that he was in terrible pain. She said something, patting his arm, then reached up, her hands out of view. Moments later, Matt’s world went fuzzy and he was out.

“He hoped he could convey without words that he was in terrible pain.”

Days passed in much the same way. He couldn’t tell how many days, as his thoughts were confused and scattered. He occasionally got flashes of how he wound up there—scenes of the elk and losing control of the truck on the icy road. He didn’t remember much after that. He would come to consciousness at different times, just long enough to ascertain if it was day or night. He began to recognize voices in the room. He slowly became aware that his left arm was in a cast and his right foot and leg caused a lot of discomfort. He knew when the pain started creeping up, someone would come in and take it away, and for now, that’s all he wanted.

Penny’s days went on. She filled in the small spare time she had with doing her taxes and reorganizing the pub’s storeroom. It was odd that she hadn’t heard from Matt, considering how they left it. Even if he was busy, surely he could pop in with a text at the end of the day. She began to doubt the impact of their one date. Maybe she was making more out of it than it was. What if she texted him? That wasn’t out of line, was it? Before she drove herself crazy overthinking it, she sent him a text: “Hey. Thinking of you.” She fully expected him to answer immediately. When he didn’t, she tried to put it out of her mind. He did say he was going to be tied up and concentrating on work for 10 days or so. That she wanted to connect with him before then might be asking too much. The last thing she wanted was to come across as needy. Frankly, she wanted nothing to do with being that person. She was a business owner and an independent woman. The last thing she needed was to be sitting around trying to guess at what game a man was playing with her intentions. The very thought of falling into being a wronged woman brought up anger—instantaneous and out of proportion. Penny rubbed her face. “Okay,” she said out loud. “That is enough of that!” Just then, Jesse popped his head around the corner. “Hey, you’re needed out there.” Relieved to have something to do to take her mind off of Matt and men in general, she popped up and followed him into the bar.

After she dealt with the liquor delivery, Penny busied herself prepping meat for dinner. The special was honey mesquite marinated chicken sandwiches and she needed to make the marinade. She also needed to start the soup for the day—beef barley—and she needed to finish kneading the bread for tonight. What was she even thinking about Matt for anyway? She didn’t have time for romance. She took her frustration out on the bread dough, kneading it vigorously. It was something her mom taught her when she was young. “If you are mad at a boy, bake bread. All the kneading and punching of the dough will make you feel better. And when it’s done, you can have freshly baked bread.” Recalling that advice, Penny sighed, turning the second ball of dough onto the floured surface. “It’s better than breaking dishes.”