As Wesley ran the card in the machine, he noticed that the pretty woman in purple was now chatting with the group of older women and even pointing out some of the merchandise on the bottom shelves. “Do you need anything, ladies?” he called out.
“Danke, but we are good,” one of them said and gestured to the pretty woman.
Wesley wondered what she’d meant by that but didn’t have time to spare another thought about it as several more people entered the shop.
And so it continued for the next hour. He multitasked, rang up customers, chatted about the store, his parents, and Christmas…and privately seethed as the hands on the clock continued to move and there was still no sign of Liesl’s wayward aunt.
He wasn’t sure whether to put the blame on the aunt or on her niece. Liesl could have neglected to give her aunt Jenny good directions; the poor woman might have been wandering around the town in the cold. Or Liesl could have very well taken her aunt out to breakfast, where they’d lost track of time. That had certainly happened more than once when Liesl was out with her friends.
Or there was also the possibility that Aunt Jenny simply wasn’t the sort to care about timetables or responsibilities. Just the thought of that being the case was aggravating. So far, having this new helper was going to be worse than being on his own.
After ringing out the latest customer and seeing that the store was almost quiet, he decided to make a quick inspection, just to be sure nothing was in too much of a disarray.
But the shelves holding pickles and jams and other foodstuffs were surprisingly clean and neat. So was the area of toys. Why, someone had even sorted some of the carved wooden animals and organized them in a pleasing way.
Who on earth would have done that?
“I hope you don’t mind that I took it upon myself to do a bit of cleaning and organizing.”
He turned…and found the young woman in the purple dress. “You’re still here?”
Her head tilted to one side. “Was I not supposed to be?”
“It’s not that. It’s just…well, I noticed you enter, but I then I lost track of time and assumed you’d left.” He felt his cheeks heat a bit. Boy, he hoped he didn’t sound like he’d been eyeing her too closely.
She stared at him for a moment, and then her expression cleared. “I’m sorry. I think we’re at cross purposes. I’ve…well, I wanted to stay out of your hair while you were so busy with all the customers, so I tried to be useful while I waited.” She held out her hand. “I’m assuming you’re Wesley. I’m Jenny.”
He shook her hand but was still trying to process her words. “Who did you say you were?”
She pulled her hand from his. “I’m Jenny Kurtz. You know, Liesl’s aunt?” When he still gaped at her, trying to connect the name with the pretty young woman in front of him, a faint line formed between her brows. “Forgive me, but have I misunderstood something? Liesl led me to believe that you needed help this Christmas. Is that not the case?”
“I thought you were old.”
Her hazel eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”
He’d offended her with his clumsy manners. “What I meant to say was that I thought because you were Liesl’s aunt, you would be middle-aged. Older. You know, her maiden aunt.”
Confusion gave way to amusement. “We get that all the time. Jenny likes to refer to me as her aunt—which is true, of course. But as you can see, she and I are almost the same age.”
He was still having a difficult time matching his expectations with the fresh-faced woman standing in front of him. “How old are you?” As soon as he asked, he felt his cheeks heat. If his mother had been nearby, she would’ve given him a talking-to. “Hey, forget I just asked that. It ain’t none of my business.”
“I’m not the kind of girl who gets offended by mentioning my age. For the record, I’m twenty-six.” Before he could say anything about how twenty-six was absolutely nowhere near maiden aunt territory, she cleared her throat. “Perhaps we should start over again?”
Now he was thoroughly embarrassed, both by his rudeness and the fact that she’d put herself to work without him doing so much as saying hello.
“Jah. I mean, yes, of course. Please forgive my rudeness.” He held out his hand. “Let’s try this again. It’s nice to meet you, Jenny. I’m Wesley Raber, and I run my family’s market. Thank you for helping me out this December. I appreciate it.”
Her smile widened as she slipped her hand into his. “I’m glad to help. Now, before you get swamped again, perhaps you could tell me what you’d like me to do?”
Wesley grasped her hand carefully, much the way he always held Liesl’s. What he noticed right away, however, was that she had a firmer grip than her niece—and that holding her hand felt comfortable. Not awkward at all.
Startled by the train of his thoughts, he released her hand quickly. Then he got his head straight. At long last. “First, you see that door in the back? That’s to the back room. The bathrooms are there. There’s my office, too.”
“Good to know. Danke.”
“I mean, there is a small refrigerator in my office. You can put your lunch there. Or get some water or something.”
“Danke, but I’ll be fine.”
Seeing another group who had just entered the store, he added, “Feel free to join me behind the counter. We can discuss things more while we’re ringing people up.”
Some of the distance in her expression eased. “I’d like that, Wesley. After I take another walkabout, I’ll join you there. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”
Watching her walk away, Wesley couldn’t help but agree. This Jenny Kurtz was more than he’d expected. Far more.