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.