At Last (The Idle Point, Maine Stories) - By Barbara Bretton

The last person to actually see Graciela Taylor on the day she left Idle Point, Maine forever was old Eb at the Stop & Pump. Maybe if she'd planned her getaway a little better—or had any idea at all that she was going to leave her fiance standing at the altar—she would have seen to it that her gas tank was full. As it happened, the needle on her fuel gauge hovered over the E and she was forced to make a right into Stop & Pump and pray Old Eb wasn't in a talkative mood. She might have taken her chances that she'd make it to Portland before the engine sputtered then shut down, but that was too risky. The last thing she wanted was to run out of gas on Main Street and bump into Noah on his way home from the wedding that wasn't.

Old Eb peered out from his office, and then did a double-take which didn't bode well for her speedy getaway. He'd been around since long before Gracie was born and he'd seen everything there was worth seeing around Idle Point and a few things he'd rather forget. He was the one who'd found Gracie's mother dead at the bottom of the ravine, trapped in that old Chevy with the horn blaring. He was the one who'd found Gracie, thrown clear from the wreck and crying to beat the band. He was the one who wrapped her in blankets and held her close while they waited for her father to identify his wife's body. She and Eb had a history. If he had any idea what she was up to, it would be all over.

"You forgetting where you're supposed to be?" he asked as he ambled over to where she stood next to the old Mustang she'd bought four years ago with the money she'd saved working in the kennels for Doctor Jim. "They're down at the cove waitin' for you, Gracie. I'd be there myself if I didn't have to earn a living."

She smiled, wishing she'd taken time to exchange her short lacy white dress for the pair of jeans and a sweater. She looked like exactly what she was: a runaway bride. "I'm on my way," she said, carefully not specifying her destination. She was too fond of Eb to lie to him.

Eb checked his pocket watch. "Thought the clambake began at two o'clock," he said. There was a sharp note of curiosity in his voice as his faded blue eyes took in her outfit. "It's near to half-past. You can't be late for your own goodbye party." Eb knew that she was due to leave for Philadelphia the next morning to begin her first year of veterinary school at the University, the goal she'd been striving for since she was barely old enough to walk.

"I know," she said, "but I'm running on fumes and..." She shrugged. "You know how it is. There was so much to do." He was a native New Englander, same as she. Didn't he know New Englanders were famous for minding their own business?

Eb checked her oil and cleaned her windshield while the tank guzzled down the gallons. If he wondered why Sam the Cat was grooming herself on the passenger's seat, he never said. Gracie peered nervously over her shoulder every time she heard a car approach. A clean getaway, that was all she wanted. When the dust cleared and the hurt feelings mended, maybe then they could talk. She'd left a note for Noah on the kitchen table. She told him that she was sorry, that she hadn't planned on any of this, but wasn't it better to put an end to it now before it was too late?

Besides, how did you explain to the boy you'd loved since kindergarten that leaving him was the best thing you could ever do for him.

Eb screwed the gas cap back on good and tight.

"What do I owe you?" she asked as she reached for her purse through the open car window.

Eb plunged his gnarled hands deep into the pockets of his overalls. "Just get yourself a good education, girlie, then come back home to us where you belong. I've waited a long time to dance at your wedding. I want to see you all set up with a job and a husband and a few babies."

He didn't have any idea what he was saying.

You don't understand, Eb. There was supposed to be a wedding today but I backed out.