Beth runs to the back of the house. Her chest hurts as she gasps for her next breath. There is screaming coming from the shed. The rain is coming down in sheets and the lightning flashes around her. The sunflowers wave in the wind, bending in the wind they almost touch the lawn. The trees join in the harsh dance force to follow the rhythm of the storm. It has gotten worse. Someone is stuck and they can’t get out of the shed. She keeps running but it seems the shed is getting farther away. The yard is starting to flood. “I’m coming,” she yells but no words come out of her mouth. The screaming gets louder. She is finally to the door. The lightning flashes with a loud clap of thunder. Beth jumps because it’s so loud. She reaches for the door knob but there is no handle. “Help the water is coming in. I can’t get out.” It’s a woman just on the other side of the door. The banging is so loud. Beth tries to get some leverage on the door, but there is nothing to hold on to. The rough water is getting deep, up to Beth’s waist. It just keeps coming. It must be coming over the river bank.
She looks around the yard for something to pry the door open. The structure starts to sway. She has to get her out of there. She runs back to the shed just as it collapses. There is a horrible scream. The roof falls and the walls float away in the surf. Debris breaks up in the surf. Maybe if Beth can move everything out of the way she can save her. Maybe she’s not badly hurt. Beth starts to throw the debris out of her way like a mad woman. Under a large beam she saw a young black woman strangely dressed. The beam had her pinned under the water. Yard tools and other debris start to float in the waves that are churning around her. A basket floats by Beth as she bent down to try and move the heavy beam. She looks down at the person struggling under the water. It’s the woman she saw in the bathroom mirror, her eyes pleading for help. She’s trying to grab Beth. The air bubbles escaping her mouth. “Oh my God, it won’t move.” Beth looks down at her helplessly. The beam just won’t move. She tries again but the water is deep now. She has to hold her breath to try and lift it. Maybe if she gets help. She turns toward her house and sees someone peeking out of the kitchen window. An older woman. Beth starts to wave her arms and scream for help but again no sound escapes. It’s as if Beth is not even there. She turns and touches the woman’s arm to reassure her. But there is no life left.
Beth sat up in bed, tears running down her face. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I tried.” Her sobbing was loud but there was no one to hear her. She was alone. She started to shake. It had been a long time since she’d cried so hard. Not since Brad’s accident. She leaned over for the pen and paper she had parked by the bed earlier in the week. Through the tears she wrote down the details of the dream. It was so real. No wonder she wasn’t sleeping. Why had she seen the lady earlier tonight in the bathroom? It must have been her subconscious breaking through. The teardrops fell on her paper making it hard to write. She had nightmares like this after Brad’s accident. But they faded away with the memory of what had happened.
She tried hard to remember that day on the lake. It had started out wonderful. Martin and Sophie were in from Paris and they had a picnic. The guys were fishing and everyone had decided to go for a swim. It was a beautiful summer day and the water was perfect. She loved it when they had company at their mountain home. They were laughing and joking, splashing each other. Then all the sudden, Brad was gone.
She shook her head trying to clear the memory. She hated the helpless feeling that she felt. It was the same feeling that she felt tonight. Standing there, trying to figure out what to do and not being able to do a thing. She walked into the kitchen and made herself another cup of tea. Standing at the counter, she cleared her mind. She willed herself not to think about that day or the nightmare. She would look at what she had written in the light of day. She hoped she had not woken her neighbors. She was awake but she didn’t want to keep everyone else up. She turned on the TV and flipped it to the local news. She was curious how long this rain could last. The thunder and lightning had stopped but the rain continued to beat on the roof. She could hear it flowing through the gutters on the front of the building. So soothing when she concentrated on it. The weather man on the TV said that the tropical depression will be around for a couple of days, which meant rain. Hopefully the guys will be able to work inside of the house. She was tired of delays on the house. I’m so ready to sleep under my own roof, she told herself. The loft was supposed to be a temporary situation and she had not moved in a lot of her personal items because of that. They were still in storage in Colorado. She was ready to be able to snuggle on her own couch and watch her own TV under her own quilts. All the memories of her life with Brad. It was weird how she had become so attached to her home when they used to travel so much. It made the feeling of being in her home that much more precious. Beth turned off the TV and headed back to bed. She glanced at the notebook on the side table. Hopefully writing it down will keep it away for tonight so she can get some sleep. She turned on the iPod and climbed under the covers. She concentrated on the melodies filling her head with thoughts of lovers walking in the park. She drifted away to sleep.
The alarm rang way too early and Sam swung his feet to the floor. The sun was not up yet; he shouldn’t have to be. He tried to wake himself as he put on his running shoes. Come on you need to be awake to run. He headed out under the overhang at the front of the house. Oh, this was going to be miserable. The rain poured and he stretched out his muscles warming them up before he took off out into the rain. He turned on his iPod, listening to his latest country rock mix. It kept him going. He thought of her face. Her smile as she looked across the table at him. She had listened intently as he talked about his boring work. She seemed genuinely interested. Was that even possible? He jogged along the highway.
There was no traffic this time of the morning. It gave him time to think. The rain beat his face as he trekked on down the road. He wondered if she would stop by the house today. She was spending a lot of time in her office these days. She had other things to worry about besides the house. That’s why she hired him. He laughed. He knew that his name was at the top of the list for renovation contractors but he felt lucky that she called him. He saw the college up ahead, his turn around point. He headed back to the house. The rain and wind were at his back now. He was already soaked through and he was only at the half-way point. His feet pounded the pavement and his mind drifted back to last night. Hopefully she wasn’t disappointed that he didn’t come up to her place. He thought the kiss had been great. She felt wonderful in his arms. Like she fit perfectly. His body started to warm with the feeling of her lips on his. He turned up the driveway toward the house. The gravel crunched beneath his feet. He headed into the house to get ready for work.
As he came down the hall he heard his ringer. Work was calling. This couldn’t be good. He sprinted to the phone and hit the button. “Sam here. What? Slow down. Ok, hook up the generator then place the sump pump. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. You’re in charge until I get there. Make sure everyone gets busy as they arrive.” Same threw down his phone. “Damn it. We can’t catch a break.” He jumped in the shower, then got ready. He jumped in the truck and dialed Beth. It went to voicemail. “Good morning. Hope you slept well. The property is flooded. I’m heading over to see how bad it is. Jose is there if you want to head over now. I will call in a little while with an update.” He started the truck and headed out spinning the tires in the gravel of his lane.
When he pulled into the yard of the house, it was alive with activity. Jose was hard at work and the water was pouring out onto the street. He parked the truck and headed in to find Jose. Oh wow, there was at least a foot in the yard. He didn’t want to see how much was in the cellar. It was a good thing they had removed the artifacts. His feet slushed, creating waves as he walked through what used to be a lawn. He stepped up on the stoop of the front steps and tapped his boots on the side of the step. As he stepped inside, his hopes for a dry cellar disappeared. The hose was stiff with the flow of water and he could hear the pump straining. Wow it was deep. Thank goodness she had not brought anything in to store. “Jose, how is the pumping going?”
“It should be dry in a few hours. We don’t have anything seeping in. It all flowed in last night through the windows into the cellar. I would recommend a permanent sump pump. I called the hardware store already. They said to stop by and have a look at what they have.”
“I agree. I will include it in the plan for the cellar. Let’s continue pumping until it’s completely dry. Have you seen Ms. Pearce this morning?”
“No, not yet.”
Sam was relieved at the answer. Her heart would be devastated if she saw how bad it was. He grabbed his phone from his hip and dialed Beth. Again it went to voice mail. In the back of his mind he started to worry. Maybe something went wrong last night and she was avoiding him. He pushed his concern to the back of his mind and dealt with the task at hand. “The flooding is primarily in the yard and the cellar. We have started pumping and we should be dry in a few hours. Give me a call when you get the message.” He took another look inside the cellar. There were baskets and papers floating in the water. They must have missed some items when they cleared the cellar.
Another hour or two and he should be able to clear the remainder.
Beth heard her phone but just rolled over in bed. She had not slept much last night. She would check messages later. She was too tired to stay awake. The wind blows the rain against her bedroom window and it lulls her back to sleep. It was over cast and her bedroom was unusually dark. In the corner of her room she saw the rocking chair rocking back and forth. Was this a dream? It rocked at a slow pace and she looked at the window. It was closed. Her head was foggy. She was so tired; it made it hard to focus. She drifted back to sleep. The rocker and its occupant continued to rock.
Sam called up from the cellar, “Hey, Jose give me a hand.” Jose peers down the stairs into the dark room. “I want to clear it out down here so that we can treat it for mold. Let’s take everything and place it in the kitchen. Be careful of any paper. It will tear easily if it’s wet.” They started with the shelves that surrounded the room. The water was still knee high and they had to be careful of the stairs. The smell of the brackish water started to permeate the house. A couple more guys joined them as they struggled to get the unit up the stairs. The heavy damp wood weighed a ton. “Set it over there.” Sam said trying to catch his breath.
He went down with a crowbar to separate the next piece off the salt encrusted wall. The salt would start to eat the brick if he did not get this done soon. As he forced the bar between the wood and the wall, he noticed a hole in the red brick. He pushed against the wood, pulling on it. He could see there was a bundle. His adrenaline pumping, he pulled the wood away and grabbed the cotton bundle out of the hole. He threw it up into the kitchen. “Come on guys, we have to get this done.” The pump was still sucking the water up and out of the cellar, shooting it down the drive. He wanted to get it as dry as possible before Beth showed up. He pulled another unit away from the wall. The guys heaved it up into the kitchen. One more and then he could start clearing the debris. He grabbed the crowbar and wedged it against the brick wall. The shelves became unbalanced and started to lean toward Sam. He didn’t notice the huge bookcase until it was too late and it fell on top of him. The weight of the wet oak knocked the breath out of him. He heard the guys coming down the stairs and wading through the water.
“Hold on boss.” He felt the wood lift off his chest and his lungs filled with air. God, it felt good to be able to breathe. He gasped for the oxygen he had been lacking for a few seconds, but what felt like an eternity. He stood up and regained his footing. Then the pain started to shoot up his arm. He looked down at his arm and found it hanging at an awkward angle. The pain was getting worse. He looked over at Jose and Jose just shook his head. “Boss, you gotta go to the hospital. I can’t put a Band-Aid on that.” He laughed already feeling sorry for the nurse who was going to take care of Sam. He absolutely hated doctors and anything related. He had stitched Sam up a lot at work, usually it was something small, a misplaced hammer or box-knife. This, he could not fix. “Come on I’ll drive you.”
“Don’t anyone touch anything!” he ordered already feeling grumpy, dreading the wait at the hospital. “Just get the water out of the cellar. I will be back as soon as I can.”
He typed left-handed a quick text before jumping in Jose’s truck.
Had Small accident, on the way to hospital, call me for update.
Beth rolled over in bed looking at the sun finally peeking through the lace curtains. She wondered how long she had slept. She stretched lazily to reach her phone and looked at the time. Two PM. Holy cow. She looked at the notifications: 5 missed calls and a couple of texts. “Shit, an accident.” She dialed Sam right away. “Sam, pick up, pick up, pick up.” It went to voicemail. He must still be at the hospital. Would it presumptuous to go to the hospital to check on what was going on? Oh God, what if it was him? Her stomach turned. She dressed and grabbed her car keys. She glanced in the mirror. She looked rough. At least run a brush through your hair. And maybe some lip gloss. He took you out for dinner last night and you can’t show up looking like you slept on a bench in the storm. She ran back to the bathroom and made a little more effort. She made another dash for the door and locked it behind her. She flew down the stairs trying not to trip over her feet. Now she was freaking herself out. Luckily, it was a short drive and she would have her answers soon. She grabbed her phone.
“On my way to the hospital. What happened?”
The response came back immediately.
“No need to worry or come. Gotta get x-rays, then they will make decision.”
“Do you mind if I come, worried.”
“No problem. I’m in er. I’ll send Jose to waiting room.”
Beth parked by the ER and hurried to the waiting area. There was Jose, soaked and wet. He smelled like river water. He smiled at Beth when he saw her.
“Thank God you are here. You can take over. I’m out of here. That man is making me crazy. I’ll take you back and you are responsible for him.” They walked and talked weaving through the hospital corridors.
“He was rushing trying to get everything out of the cellar before it got ruined by the water. It’s probably too late if you want my opinion. He was being pig headed like always and one of the storage units fell, pinning him.”
“What water?” She stopped in her tracks.
“It’s flooded. The cellar was flooded last night when the surf came over the banks in the storm.”
“I didn’t know. I should have…” Her voice trailed off. She glanced at her phone and saw the voice messages from Sam. Just like in her dream.
“Anyway, it knocked the breath out of him and his arm is pretty banged up. He will probably need a cast. He does not like doctors, just an FYI. And I am relinquishing my babysitting duties to you.” He turned down another hallway and motioned with his hand to give her the right-away. She could hear Sam giving the nurse a hard time.
“But I don’t want to take off my pants. There is nothing wrong with my legs. It’s my arm. Damn it where is the doctor. I don’t need this hassle.”
Jose winked at Beth. “Here you go, Madame. Bye.” He turned on his heels and retraced his steps as quickly as he could. Sam was yelling as soon as he heard Jose.
“Jose, go get me some clean dry clothes out of the truck. This lady wants me to get naked.” To his surprise it wasn’t Jose but Beth that came through the door. Sam blushed and Beth laughed. She had never seen him blush before.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were there. Where is Jose? “
“He wanted to go and check on the guys. I’m his replacement.” She looked at Sam sitting on hospital bed, no doubt he was refusing to lay down. He was naked waist up and there was a hospital gown setting beside him. Beth felt heat flood her body as her eyes took in the perfect specimen of man in front of her. His chest muscles taunt with tension. She looked at the bewildered nurse standing next to him. “Are you giving her a hard time?”
“No, I just don’t see why they need me to put this thing on,” Sam said, slinging the gown around with his good arm.
“Professor Howard, we need to check you for any other injuries. Apparently you were under water a while and the bookcase could have landed on something else. I know that the pain in your arm is extreme. But it may be masking pain in another area.” The nurse explained, looking at Beth with a pleading expression.
“Sam, you better do as she says. I can’t have you passing out later because you have a concussion or something. I’ll step outside into the hallway so you can change.”
The nurse pulled the drapes around his bed and stepped out into the hallway with Beth.
“He is a hand full. I need your help. He has to get checked out. He is not listening to me or the Doctor.”
“And you think he will listen to me?”
“Jose seems to think so or he wouldn’t have left you here.”
“No, I think he just wanted to leave. Has he been that bad?” Just then Sam started yelling from the room. The nurse smiled at Beth. “Apparently.” Beth laughed.
“I’m ready to be tortured,” Sam yelled.
The ladies walked back in the room and peeked around the curtain. Sam was sitting on bed in his hospital gown squirming. They could tell that he was uncomfortable. “I don’t understand why I have to stay here. I am fine. Just put the cast on and let me go back to the house.”
“Sam, they said that you might have hit your head. They need to do some tests. Now will you just be patient? You are being a royal pain and they are going to kick you out if you don’t stop.”
“Really? Good. I’ve been here way too long anyway.” He started to stand up, but started to sway and tried to catch himself with his broken arm without thinking. He winced with pain. “Shit”
“Not so fast, Sam. Sit down before you fall down. See, this is why you need to have the tests. Quit being such a baby. I’m not in the mood today.”
“Wow, okay. You don’t have to be mean about it.” He sat down and looked at her hurt and pouting.
She looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Sam, the faster you cooperate the faster you will be out of here.”
The nurse checked Sam’s vitals and helped him get into the wheelchair. “Miss, if you want to wait here, we should be back soon. They were ready for him twenty minutes ago.” She looked Beth in the eyes and mouthed Thank You.
“See you in a little while.” She kissed Sam on the top head. Sam smiled and leaned back in the chair wincing.
Beth watched the two of them head down the hall then pulled out her cell and started checking messages. There was one from Martin. He had finalized the purchase of all the paintings that she had selected. He was bringing the family to the gallery opening. That’s fantastic. She couldn’t wait to see Sophia and the kids. It had been ages since she had seen them. They looked so big over the Skype screen. She couldn’t believe how fast they were growing.
The next message was from City Hall. There would be a review of her amended COA. Hopefully that would be painless. Sam submitted a couple of plans on how to deal with a cover for the cellar. It would keep the historical integrity of the construction but functional in the kitchen. Fingers crossed it would be approved quickly.
Sam called about the house. The cellar was full of water. They were pumping it out. He didn’t know how much damage there was at that point.
She remembered her notes about the nightmare she had in her shorts pocket. She pulled them out and looked at them. The storm was horrible. There was so much water coming into the yard. The young woman. She didn’t recognize her face as someone she knew. She thought it was the figure she saw in the bathroom but there was no way. Maybe she was someone in a movie. She racked her brain trying to place her with no luck. Maybe Sam could help her talk it through the dream and figure out what was going on. She had felt a connection last night during dinner. She needed to see if he had felt it too.
She heard Sam’s laugh coming down the hall. Well that was a good thing. The nurse was smiling as well. Maybe he wasn’t being a pain now. They joined her in the room and the nurse helped Sam lay down on the bed. “How’s everything looking?” she asked Sam.
“Well, the Doctor said I’m ok besides my arm. Cast for a month and that should be good. Nothing permanent. And I’m just as cranky and crazy as ever.” He laughed and winked at the nurse.
The nurse smiled at Beth. He must have behaved himself. He was his usual charming self. “That’s good. How long before they can put the cast on?”
“The tech will be in in a little while to do that. You guys should be out of here with in a couple of hours.” The nurse turned and left them alone.
Beth turned to Sam. “How are you really feeling?”
“Like shit. My arm hurts like hell and the pain killers they gave me are taking their sweet time kicking in.” He shined an exaggerated smile at her. The pain obvious on his face.
“Just relax and let the meds take effect. I have something I need to talk to you about.” She saw Sam tense, almost like he was preparing for the worst. “It’s nothing really bad. It’s just that I’ve been having nightmares and I wanted to see if you could help me with it. Maybe while we are waiting we can talk through some of the details. I haven’t slept well this week and I need some rest.”
“Ok, whatcha got? “He laid back and relaxed. Beth pulled out her notes. Sam laughed. “You have notes?”
“Yes. I have been having these dreams but I couldn’t remember anything in the morning. I just knew that I had not slept well. So last night I stopped and wrote everything down so I could figure it out. I haven’t had nightmares like this in a long time.”
“Okay, shoot. Let’s hear it”
“I’m at the house and it is storming. The water is rising and there is a young woman screaming for help. When I get to the shed, I can’t open the door to let her out. There is a woman peeking out of the window of the house. She is an elegant lady with her hair pulled back in a black dress and the curtains are lace.
Then all the sudden I am inside the shed. I still can’t open the door. The lady screaming is African American in an ole timey dress. She keeps beating on the door and the water is rising. The shed starts to shake and shift, then collapses. One of the roof supports falls on the young woman. I try to move it but I can’t. She is flailing and the air is escaping from her mouth because she is stuck under the weight of the wood. I keep trying but she is gone. Then I wake up. “
“Describe her clothes to me.”
“It’s a long dress, full made of cotton, a brown check pattern I think. Kind of like "Gone with the Wind".
“Okay, so that would place it around the civil war. The black girl is probably a slave or a fugitive slave. We did look over the advertisements in the old newspapers. That triggered the thoughts. I will check into the storm for you. It should be easy to check with the weather service to see if there were any huge storms during that time. As far as the lady in the window, I will check and see which family owned the house during that period. Don’t worry, we will figure it out. Is that why you didn’t pick up this morning?”
“Yeah. I was just drifting off to sleep so I let it go to voicemail. I’m sorry. I was just so tired.”
He looked relieved. “I was worried that you were upset with me or disappointed about last night. I had a good time and I thought…”
“No, No I had a great time last night. The dreams just have me so freaked out. I can’t sleep and then I can’t concentrate during the day.” She looked at him with a sadness in her eyes. “I can’t save her. I try and try but I can’t.”
He puts out his good hand and she grabs it. “I understand.”
“No, I don’t think you do. You see, my late husband drowned. We were on vacation. He went swimming with a friend and he got a muscle cramp. One minute they were having a good time and the next he was gone. I wasn’t there to save him. The nightmares kept happening for years. I tried every night to undo what had happened. I have come to terms with it, but now it seems to be happening all over again.” The grief in her voice made it quiver. She looked into his eyes.
He pulled her to him and she laid her head on his chest. He ran his fingers through her hair in a slow rhythmic motion. She relaxed and shut her eyes. He shifted to one side of the bed and whispered in her ear. “Come up here so you can relax. Here let me give you some more room. I don’t want you to fall out of bed. I think we can both squeeze in here. I see it on the movies all the time.”
She looked up, trying to guess his intentions. She didn’t see anything but honesty and sympathy in his eyes. She climbed up on the hospital bed and laid beside him. He was not a small man and they just barely fit in the hospital bed. It was a good thing that the railings were up on each side. He continued to stroke her in the gentle way that had let her let go of all the tension of the week.
She raised up quickly. “The nurse will be here soon to do your cast.”
He pushed her back down in a reclining position. “Shhh, I will adjust when they get here, you relax. Now it’s my turn to be bossy.” He laughed. He laid beside her with his hurt arm on top of his lap out of the way. She laid back down and shut her eyes again. “My mother used to do this to me when I had trouble sleeping. I would lay back and she would run her fingers through my hair. She would tell me stories of the boats on the river and fishing with her father. The way that the boat rocked with the tide. Her voice is so quiet I would let everything go. And soon I would be …” He glanced down and she was asleep. He smiled to himself. This felt so right, so perfect.
There was a knock at the door and the Doctor came in. “Can we make this work to put the cast on? She hasn’t slept in a couple of days.” he whispered not to wake Beth.
“You are going to have to turn toward me but we will make it work. As we discussed before, you have a break right below your elbow so I’m going to have to stabilize the whole arm. We will leave it on for 4 weeks and then reevaluate. We may be able to cut you down to a half cast at that point.” The Doctor lowered the rail and rolled the table over to the bedside. He had a bowl of water and a roll of cast bandage. He held up the roll. “Blue, ok?”
“What are my options?”
“I have some pink with butterflies in the office.” The doctor laughed. Sam crinkled his nose. “I’ll take that as a no on the pink. Sorry you had to wait so long. We had some call-ins on the staff. My tech didn’t show up so you’re stuck with me this afternoon.” The doc rolled a stool over to get comfortable.
“No problem. We needed some time to talk.” He gestured toward Beth. “I completely understand filling in as the boss. Nothing wrong with the expert taking care of things.” He smiled a huge smile. His demeanor had completely changed with Beth here. He didn’t mind the extra wait. He did need to get back to the site but that could wait for the moment. The doctor set the arm and then wrapped cotton and then the damp plaster up to his bicep. This is going to be a little inconvenient, Sam thought. He will make due but what about fishing? “Doc what about keeping it dry? I was going fishing this weekend.”
“Go by the feed store and get you some of the large animal gloves. They work perfect to keep it dry. You do have to wear your sling though.”
“Great.” No canceled plans there. Beth shifted in her sleep. He glanced over. Good she was still asleep. She must be exhausted to sleep through this. The doctor was very conversational. He wanted to know where Sam was going to fish, what he was using as bait, and what he was planning on catching. Sam filled him in and even told him that he would take him one Sunday if he would like to join him. It’s the polite way of the South.
“All done. I’ll send a nurse in with your release paperwork, but you are going to have to wake her up. I assume that she is your ride.”
“Yep. I’ll wake her up when I need my good arm back.” Sam smiled at the doc.
“Your prescription will be ready as well. Take them as you need them but not more than 4 a day. Here’s my card. Let me know if you need anything else, especially a fishing partner.” He dropped the card on the table and waved to Sam since both of his hands were occupied as he walked out the door.
Moments later there was another knock at the door and Sam felt a feeling of regret as he turned to Beth to wake her up. She was sleeping so well. He stroked her cheek with his fingers and brushed her hair off her face. He whispered in her ear, “Beth, time to wake up. They are kicking us out.” She started to giggle his breath tickling her ear. She sat up on the side of the bed and Sam rubbed his arm to regain his circulation.
There were just a few things to sign and then they were good to go. Sam grabbed his paperwork and the Doctor’s card and tucked it in his sling. The prescription bottle fit in the corner of the sling too. “I could get used to having this thing on, it’s kind of handy.” He smiled at Beth as he grabbed her hand with his good one. “Hopefully we don’t get lost trying to leave.” Beth laughed. She had no sense of direction at all so she hoped he knew where he was headed. They weaved through the corridors and finally ended up at the ER entrance where Beth had parked. Sam squeezed into her little hatchback. She laughed as he tried to fold his legs into his side. She hit the button. The seat flew back with the resistance of his legs trying to fit into the little compartment. They both busted out laughing. “Phew I thought I was going to be permanently folded in half.” He winked at her. Beth smiled. She felt so much better now that she had grabbed a nap.
“I’ll drive you back over to the house. When you left the message this morning, you said it was a mess. How bad was it?”
“It filled the cellar. The pump was working pretty well. It should be dry by now but there was a lot of stuff that was wet. Some things floating that we didn’t even know was down there. I told the guys not to touch anything, that I would handle it. The water might have ruined everything but we will see. We will have to be careful handling anything. It will be muddy and the salt was soaking into the brick. I don’t want to think the worst. Sorry about my arm. This probably set us back quite a bit of time. Jose and the guys listen pretty well. They probably haven’t touched a thing except for the pump all afternoon.”
Beth laughed as she turned out of the hospital parking lot and cut across town. It didn’t take long to get back to the house. They pulled up into the drive behind Sam’s truck. Sure enough, the guys were sitting out front. There was no water draining out of the hoses from the house and they were all laughing and talking. Jose met Sam half way across the yard.
“Hi Beth. Boss, the cellar is dry. There is a lot of debris so I didn’t want to have the guys clean up the mud. You said there was a lot of the paper items that were floating. I left the one bag in the kitchen but moved it to the corner so it wouldn’t get damaged. We put the shelving units in the living room area so they would be out of the way. These guys don’t have anything to do until you clear the cellar. Let me send them home.”
“Ok, I’ll let them know.” Sam walked over to the guys. Beth waved to them as she walked into the house. She laughed as she heard the groans. She walked into the living room. The shelving units filled the room. The wood was soaked through. Maybe they would dry by morning. The smell in the house was almost overwhelming. It smelled like brackish water that had been standing. Musty saltwater muck, it was not the most inviting smell. I hope he can get rid of the smell. Sam walked into the kitchen. “What was that all about?”
He started to laugh. “They were not thrilled about their 5am start in the morning. I told them they better go get some rest. “
“Please, tell me you have some magic spell to get rid of the smell.”
“Of course I have a specialist for this sort of thing. He will take care of the smell and the mud. But we have a bigger job this afternoon. Let’s head down and see what we can save.” He made his way down the stairs. The mud covered everything. The salt was leaching up the brick walls. He had a dish pan of clean water. Beth watched him pickup what looked like piles of mud and put it in the pan. The mud melted away and there appeared a newspaper page or a piece of cloth. It was amazing the things that were appearing like magic. It reminded her of the magic eggs that she played with as a child that would melt away and a dinosaur or bug would appear. He filled another dish pan and sent Beth to lay their finds on the kitchen counter top. She couldn’t believe that a newspaper would survive years, much less all the water and mud. Her fingers brushed the items: a small quilt, a handmade doll, quilt squares, a few newspaper clippings, and advertisements for runaway slaves. Sam brought up the other pan full of stuff. They laid the rest of the stuff out together. Laying everything flat with paper towels.
Sam could not believe their luck. Everything looked like it would hold. “The Formica counter top should be a good slick surface for the items not to stick to. Oh, I almost forgot.” He turned and snatched up the bundle of cotton in the corner of the room. “I’ll give you the honors.” He handed it to Beth.
Beth took the bundle and gently untied the corners. It was made of a blue plaid cotton. She laid the fabric out flat. There was a book with papers sticking out of it. A small bundle of lavender. Some buttons tied together with a string. A wooden spool of thread with a needle. She picked up the book and very slowly opened it. The pages were hand written. Inside the cover was a sketch of a sunflower and an inscription. To my daughter on her 15th year, may she always remember from where she came and always have the courage to follow her name. 4th of May 1857. Tucked a few pages back was a tintype photo. It was an African American girl with a baby. Beth looked closer. The picture was cloudy with the dampness inside the cover. She tried to focus on the face.
“Oh my God,” she whispered. She started to shake. Sam looked at her. She turned white as a sheet. She caught her breath. Sam grabbed her arm “What is it? I need you to breathe.”
“It’s her. It’s the girl, the woman, the lady from the shed.”
“What do you mean? You have to breathe. You are going to pass out.”
“It’s the girl that drowned.” She looked up at Sam frozen with fear.
Beth’s hair blew around like crazy. The knots she would deal with later. She thought to herself. She should have grabbed a hair band this afternoon. The cool air felt good though and she did not dare ask him to roll up the windows. The air was sticky and she knew that it would rain soon. You could smell it in the air. It had been a wet summer and everything was a deep green. She loved the color here. It was one of the reasons she had chosen this part of the country. She glanced over at Sam. “Do you mind if I turn on the radio?”
“Help yourself. It’s on a country station but you can change it if you like.”
She flipped on the new radio. It’s just like a man to have a stereo newer than his truck. Oh, I love this song. She turns up the volume. As they headed down Hwy 264, she sang along with the music.
“You’re in a good mood.” Sam yelled over the music and wind, glancing at her. She had a pretty good voice as she harmonized with George Strait.
“I thought it went really well today. It’s a big relief.” Beth leaned back in the seat.
“It did. Bob gave me a lot of notes. We will be good in a couple of weeks with his follow-up inspection.”
She nodded to acknowledge him and blared out another note. Sam smiled and turned up his driveway. Beth’s voice trailed off as she caught Sam’s house in her view. This did not fit the farmhouse style that she was expecting. She had to consciously close her mouth. The grey two-story house was a modern style with huge windows on the front. There was a large overhang with a slender support at each corner that protected the truck as they pulled up. “Wow, it’s beautiful.”
“Thanks. You can come in if you want while I change.” Sam smiled with pride at her compliment. He loved the surprise on her face. “I’ll just be about twenty minutes.” He stepped out of the truck, hoping she would follow him in. Beth opened the truck door slowly taking in the view.
She followed Sam through the front door. The floor was a beautiful light oak color that reflected the light from the fan hanging from the ceiling high above them. The décor was as impressive as the style on the outside. The open floor plan suited the modern look. She was drawn to the huge built-in desk at the far side of the room. “Make yourself at home. I’ll be ready in just a bit.” Sam shouted over his shoulder as he made his way down the hall.
Beth walked over to the desk and saw the artifacts that were placed carefully on top. There were small tools placed on a cotton cloth laid in a row. She recognized some old bullets and shards of pottery. There were some other things that she had no idea what they were. She glanced up to the other side of the room. Above the fireplace was a Miro. Oh my God. Amazing. The lines were so fluid and the color was rich with primaries. She walked slowly across the floor, taking in the piece. The woman stood on the beach alone, waiting. What was she waiting for? Then she felt his eyes on her. She turned around and he was standing behind her. His eyes sparkled. “How do you have a Miro? I have been trying to locate one of these for the gallery for months.”
“This was a graduation present from my parents. It inspired my house when I built it. I love the way that it has clean lines but still has so much emotion. There is a story there, but it seems the story is different for everyone. You are buying pieces like this for our small town?” He couldn’t believe it.
“My gallery will be primarily online. But there is a market for fine art here in North Carolina. A few years ago I visited a gallery in Charlotte and it had some amazing pieces. I knew that this would be a great place to set up shop.”
“This is a long way from Charlotte, Beth.”
“I know. But Charlotte doesn’t have the water. I have to be close to the water. It’s part of who I am.” Her mind flashed back to the nightmares she had been having over the last week. Water had been a huge part of them. Why? She had never been scared of the water even after her husband’s accident. Why was this surfacing now? Her forehead wrinkled with concern.
Sam watched the wave of worry cross over her face. “I’m not saying that it won’t work. I was just wondering why you chose Washington? The online business is brilliant by the way.”
Beth’s mind swung back to Sam. She needed to enjoy this evening. “Oh, I know. That will be the primary selling point. The physical gallery will be just a showplace to entertain clients and attract new ones. The art world has been changing for several years now. It is expensive to setup a large space in a big city. You have to realize that everyone has an interest in collecting fine art. The internet has opened that world. Someone in Milwaukee can purchase a piece from someone in Los Angeles or London. There are no travel costs, just shipping. A truly global marketplace.”
She was back with him. “I had no idea. Sounds awesome. Ok, let’s go get you fed. You can explain some more to me over food.” He winked at her motioning to the front door.
Beth blushed. She had forgotten how hungry she was. She walked toward the front door, taking in the house one last time. This was a surprise. She thought she could read people well, but Sam was starting to be an exception to that rule. She followed him out to the truck. She slipped into the passenger seat. This was turning out to be a great evening.
Sam’s heart skipped a beat when she blushed. She was so beautiful when she talked about her passions. He didn’t want to stop her but his stomach was starting to protest. He would listen some more while they were eating. He started the truck and the radio started to blare. He turned it down quickly. “Sorry about that.” He turned out onto the highway and headed back to town. The windows were still down and the wind was keeping them cool. Beth’s hair was whipping around like crazy. Oh, she is going to hate me later, he thought. He clicked on the AC and rolled up the windows. “Might save you some time later.” He looked over at her. She smiled at him appreciatively.
“Thanks. Looks like there is a storm blowing in. Those clouds look nasty. “
He looked toward town. The clouds were huge and dark. He was going to have to hurry if they were going to beat the storm. The radio kept them company until they arrived at the restaurant. The silence in the truck was feeding his nervousness, the radio filling the silence. As Sam parked the truck on the street in front, big drops of rain started to hit the windshield. “Better hurry,” she said as she jumped out and headed to the front door. He locked the truck and followed her in. Sam asked the hostess for a table upstairs. She seated them in a booth in the corner.
They both ordered some tea and settled in to continue their conversation. “Ok, you know why I’m here. I want to know why you moved here,” Beth asked Sam.
“I grew up here. I moved away to go to University, but the big city didn’t agree with me. The politics that you had to deal with just wasn’t worth it. I love what I do and it just wasn’t working there.”
“You can’t tell me that there are no politics in Washington.” They both laughed.
“There are politics but at least you can see them coming a mile away. You can take people at face value here. Yes, there is pettiness and gossips, but for the most part everyone knows everyone so you know who the story tellers are. I like that. Every once in a while you get new blood that stirs up the pot and the stories start up again.” He winks at her.
“So I’ve stirred the pot, have I? Tell me more sir.” Beth batted her eyelashes teasing.
“Well there is a definite mystery about you. A young woman comes to town, buys an old, can I say that again OLD house and applies for a business license. That raised a few eyebrows. You have to remember we are fairly traditional around here. Wait till they see your art. They will really be curious.” He looked at her considering how hard he would have to push to hear the truth.
The waitress stopped by, dropping off their tea and taking their order. Sam ordered an order of the Southern Fried Smiles to start with and then a Black and Blue burger for dinner. “Homemade chips with that?
Beth decided on the Shrimp and Grits and a salad. She hoped she didn’t order too much, but it all sounded so good.
“Don’t tell me you are wondering what’s up.” The amusement reflecting in her voice.
Sam looked into her eyes. “How can I not? You are a very unique client. I have been wondering about your decision to move here. You answered that very well. So tell me how you came to love art. I can tell it’s a passion.”
“I grew up in a small town. My father loved art and he shared that love with me every chance he got. We studied his books every Friday looking at all the masterpieces all over the world. When I went to college, I was excited to find out that I could study art history there and share my love of art with other people. Kind of pass on my father’s legacy. College was where I met my husband. He shared my love of art. He came from a good family and he had been to all the museums and galleries that I only thought of in my dreams. After college, we were married and he would take me with him when he traveled on business. We would visit museums, galleries. I made friends with a lot of the gallery owners. Sophie is my best friend in Paris. Her husband helps me with my European purchases.” Beth smiled as she thought of Sophie with her little ones running around her legs, trying to clean the house while they created more and more clutter. “One of our trips was to Washington. I forget why Brad had to be here. While he was in meetings, I walked the streets of downtown. I loved the galleries and antique shops. Of course that was six years ago. Downtown has changed a bit.” She took a long swig of iced tea. Sam saw a shadow fall over her face. Her eyes shined with unshed tears. “Brad died in an accident five years ago. I have been sorting out life, trying to find a direction. The online gallery combined Brad’s company and my love of art so that’s what I went with.”
“Sorry about your husband.” Sam said uncomfortably. Doubting that he should have started the conversation about the past. He had no idea the wounds ran so deep.
“It’s okay. I miss him. He was my best friend for so long. Our adventures were amazing. The happy memories have helped me heal. I’m ready for my next adventure.” She smiled.
The fried green tomatoes were dropped off at the table. Beth dipped the okra fritter in the remoulade sauce and tried a bite. The sauce dripped down her chin. She smiled at Sam, “Sorry. Good choice sir. It lives up to its name,” she laughed.
“Ok, tell me about you. It’s your turn. Tell me what made you choose Washington. You are very talented. I’m sure you would make a fortune in a place like Savannah or even Richmond.” She continued to snack while he talked.
“Like you, I grew up in a small town. I like it here. My dad was one of the few architects in Beaufort County. So I have been on building sites since I was able to walk. My parents wanted me to be an architect and sent me to NC State for my degree. I discovered that I loved history more than design. Learning why something was made a certain way centuries ago fascinates me. I get pulled in looking at prints of old churches and houses trying to get into the brain of the original builder.”
Beth watched him as he talked about history and teaching. His hands moving with his words. Those hands, so strong and creative, with their rough calluses. She smiled as he continued his narrative of his life as a young struggling professor.
“I decided that I wanted to stay here but I had to come up with a way to pay the bills. As you know teachers don’t make much. So I started my renovation business. The growth in the historical district here has helped a lot. The families who buy in the district have to follow specific rules, as you already know of course. I work really hard to be as historically accurate as possible. Sometimes that requires more research. I take a few jobs out of state if they interest me, but usually that is during a school break when I don’t have to be in the classroom on Tuesday.”
“The mysterious Tuesday. You could have just told me.” Beth teased.
“Not everyone would trust a history professor to rip their house apart and hopefully put it back together in a livable state. I try to keep them separate.”
The food arrived and they both were so hungry that it interrupted their conversation momentarily. Sam smiled at Beth enjoying her salad. Her face was unreadable when she tasted her grits.
“How are the grits?”
“Very creamy and salty. I’ve never had savory grits before. I’ve only eaten them when they are sweet. They are very good though. It really compliments the wasabi cucumber dressing.”
With a crack of thunder outside, they both looked up at the ceiling. The rain sounded it would come through the roof. They looked at each other and laughed. They had beaten the storm and it was a doozy. Another huge boom and the lights flickered. “We better eat before we lose our lights.” He smiled. “I’m going to go ahead and pay the bill just in case they lose the power.”
“Let me give you some cash for my half.” Beth reached in her pocket.
“Thanks, but this is my treat. You can get the tip if you want after we see how our service is,” he yelled over his shoulder as he headed downstairs. He quickly reappeared with a candle. “Just in case.”
“Why Sam, I thought you were getting romantic on me,” she said in her best southern drawl. She giggled.
“Ma’am, you have no idea,” Sam teased and Beth blushed. The rain continued to fall on the roof.
“So, tell me about your house. You know that it is a total contradiction to the rest of your style. It is so sleek and modern.”
“It was an experiment. My first set of plans I did at school. Mom and dad gave me the Miro and I decided that I would design and build a house worthy of the painting.”
“So you built a house for a painting,” she smiled. “Why did you put your bid in on my job?”
“I like the idea of a gallery to showcase fine art for the public. Your presentation showed your dedication to public access. It did require some extra planning for security and other things, but I like the idea of having museum quality in our town. Young people will not have to go to Raleigh any more. It will be fantastic.”
“Always the teacher,” Beth laughed.
They finished up their food and Sam dropped a tip on the table. They walked down the stairs. “Careful the stairs are a little steep.” He grabbed Beth’s hand. Her hand fit perfectly in his palm. So comfortable. They made their way to the front door, just to face the torrential downpour. It was still raining really hard and they had no umbrellas.
The young hostess poked her head into the foyer glancing at Sam and Beth. “Professor Howard, here, borrow my umbrella. You can get it back to me later.” She blushed as she noticed Sam was holding Beth’s hand.
“Thanks Liz. I’ll get it back to you. Don’t get too wet later. Maybe the storm will stop soon.” He smiled and waved as they headed out the door. Beth stood close to Sam trying to stay dry under the umbrella. The wind was blowing the rain sideways and they soon knew that the umbrella wasn’t going to be much use.
They sprinted down Main to Beth’s building. The rain was drenching them. When they finally made it to the entrance of the lofts, they were both soaked through. Beth’s white shirt clung to her skin leaving little to the imagination. Sam stood behind her at the door trying to be a gentleman but sensing the heat between their bodies. She felt his breath on the back of her neck as she tried to unlock the door as Sam held the umbrella above their heads. A sudden clap of the thunder startled them both and Beth squealed getting the door open finally. She glanced at Sam, her eyes inviting him in. He leaned down touching his lips to hers. Her lips softly parted in anticipation. He kissed her so gently she got goose bumps all over. It was almost like he was touching her soul as he slipped his arm around her waist pulling her close. Another crack of thunder broke the spell as Beth jumped at the noise.
“I better go. We have a lot to get done in the morning. I had a great time. Maybe we can do it again on a much dryer night,” Sam said hurriedly trying to not to lose his determination. He was not going to ruin this by rushing her. He saw the disappointment in her eyes. “Are you busy this weekend, maybe Saturday night?”
“Nope, what do you want to do?”
“We will figure something out. I’ll plan something special.” He reached down and touched her check. “See you in the morning,” he said as he kissed her again and turned toward his truck. Before jumping in the truck he ducked into the restaurant, knocked on the window of the inside door and pointed to the umbrella as he leaned it in the corner of the foyer. He smiled and waved, mouthing “Thank you.” He turned and sprinted to the truck door, jumping in and starting the engine. He couldn’t believe how good this felt. Why had he been so nervous to ask her out?
Beth stepped inside the hallway, watching him go. Her heart was going a mile a minute. She had not expected this when the evening had started. It happened so easily, naturally. She had been so careful not to get involved with anyone since Brad’s death. It was nothing serious, she told herself. It didn’t have to be. She will just have fun while it lasts. She watched him return the umbrella and she knew she was lying to herself.
She headed up the stairs to her loft and stripped off her wet clothes, going over the night in her head. He was very impressive with all of his accomplishments. Her eyes closed as she remembered his kiss. Wow that was amazing. She stepped into the shower, the hot water warming her skin that was chilled from the cold rain. The water massaged her skin and chased away the cold. The steam filled the bathroom fogging the mirror and the air. The lights blinked and then went out. Oh man, she stood in the dark shower. She reached down and cut off the water. She remembered some candles under the sink. Stepping out of the bathtub, goosebumps appeared on her skin as a chill ran over her. She didn’t remember leaving on the AC earlier. It was ice cold despite the steam hanging in the air. She reached up to the hook on the back of the door grabbing her robe to shield her from the cold air. Under the sink, she fumbled through the bottles of various cleaners and beauty products, wishing she was more organized and prepared for an emergency like this. Where was it? She finally found one in the very back with a lighter sitting on top. She sat it on the vanity top and flashed the lighter. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a figure. She caught her breath. She tried the lighter again and the flame flickered in the damp air. In the reflection of the mirror, she saw a young black woman.
She turned around quickly, the lighter going out with the breeze. She lit it again, holding her breath, her hands shaking. How did she get in? Did she follow me in? She wasn’t paying attention when she came in the building. “Anyone there?” The light of the flame ignited and there was no one there. Beth looked around the room anxiously. She lit the candle to have a brighter light. The candle illuminated the room with a warm glow. There was no one there. She opened the bathroom door quickly and searched the bedroom with the candle. There was a loud clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. The room lit up with light. A shadow cast on the wall in front of her. There was someone standing beside her.
She whipped around the light disappearing with the lightning. There was no one there. Beth called out hoping for no answer. “Is anyone there? I saw you. What do you want?”
A voice came out of the darkness. “A friend of a friend sent me. Are you the conductor?”
There was another flash of lightning and the room was empty. The lights flickered on and the bedroom lamps beside her bed came on. She stood in the room by herself. Where did she hide? She glanced under the bed, in the closet. Shaking, she went to the front door and the dead bolt was thrown. She was definitely alone. She pulled on some shorts and a t-shirt and climbed into bed. She needed to sleep. Was it going to be possible tonight? Beth scanned the room again nervously, then she got up again to check the front door and windows again. She needed to calm down. She made herself a cup a tea and curled up under the covers with a book. She knew that that sleep would not come easy, her hands were still unsteady causing the spoon to clank against the tea cup as she stirred.
All photos on the website are taken by Tammera Cooper and remain her property.