“Man, I feel like crap.” Beth stretched, trying to wake up from her sleepiness. She didn’t sleep much again last night. The nightmare was so intense. It felt so real. It had been a long time since she had such an intense dream. This was the third night in a row. She needed a good night sleep. Hopefully it didn’t return.
Her cell phone chimed with a text message.
Beth, need to have an additional inspection this afternoon. The historical COA has to be amended because of the cellar. 2pm apt if you want to be there.
Sam, I will be there.
She had a teleconference at eleven with Martin about the art coming from Paris. Other than that she was going to spend her time in the cellar. Sam said it was getting complicated now that there was historical content documented. They had to be careful. He was definitely living up to his professional reputation. The way he sorted through all the antiques they had found was very methodical, like he had done it many times before, she was certain. The Washington Underground Railroad Museum was thrilled with the artifacts being donated. They would make an amazing exhibit.
“I have to get up and get going. There is way too much to do today.” She told herself. She picked out a t-shirt and khaki shorts. She would change before the inspection. Button up blouse and khaki pants should be fine for the building inspector. She laid those aside and headed to the shower. She looked at herself in the mirror. Wow, she looked rough. Dark circles under her eyes made her look ten years older. She would have to take a nap later if she is going to prevent a migraine. She stripped down and jumped in the shower. The hot water felt amazing, relaxing the tension in her shoulders. What had the nightmare been about? Now she wished she had stopped and written it down. She couldn’t remember many details. It bothered her that something so simple had thrown off her schedule. She had worked so hard to stay on task. It must have been something she had scanned in the old newspaper in the cellar. She shook her head. Get it together girl.
She stepped out of the shower and toweled off. She quickly ran a comb through her hair, twisted it and put it up. It was the only thing that would do working in the heat of Indian summer. Quick and easy the way she liked it. She threw on her clothes and headed off to Rachel’s for some breakfast. It was just a quick walk to the old city hall, now a heavenly bakery. She had to watch herself; the croissants were incredible. Better schedule in a run this afternoon.
She glanced up at the old building. Rachel had done a great job with her remodel. The raw masonry of the bakery’s walls gave the place an amazing atmosphere. She looked around at the people enjoying their choice of breakfast. Washingtonians were definitely early risers. Trying to beat the heat no doubt. She waited in line, people watching. There were the natives, usually dressed in their summer casual. You saw a lot of preppie outfits. The tattered cut offs were only worn in the garden at home. There was old money who didn’t care what others thought and new money who sought approval from the latter. You could always tell from their carefully thought out ensembles. No doubt with some help from the boutiques down on Main. Then there were the people who had moved here to find a new way of life. She smiled to herself, thinking how fast she adjusted to the easy downtown style here on the waterfront. She had been nervous, now she wondered why. The relaxed atmosphere had suited her. She was so glad she had chosen Washington.
The young man at the counter handed her usual order to her with a dazzling smile. “Good morning, Beth. Here you go. You are running a little behind this morning. I didn’t see you on your morning jog when I was coming into work.”
“Thanks. Morning Rick. Don’t remind me; am I so predictable?”
Rick just laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” handing her the change with a wink.
“I guess I am. See ya.” She headed toward the waterfront.
The breeze coming off the river felt wonderful. She parked herself on a bench and watched the seagulls as they inched closer to her eyeballing her breakfast. She gave them a glare wishing them away but knowing that they were not going anywhere until all the food was gone. The buttery croissant went perfectly with her iced citrus mint tea. Thoughts of her daily appointments began to flood her mind as she made a mental list.
Sam woke with the sun. He had always been an early riser. Construction was no fun in the Southern heat and humidity. Beth’s house was coming along nicely but now he needed a few inspections on the site. The cellar needed to be declared to the city on paper so there was a record of it in the historical registry. It was a lot of work but the house was going to be fantastic when finished. Bob, the county building inspector, was coming to look at the framing. He would just tack on the new COA during the visit. He also needed to schedule the appointment for the electrical and plumbing inspection. The cellar would make the plumbing a little more complicated but he had dealt with that sort of thing before.
He sent a text to Beth. He learned when the project first started that she was always up early. In the beginning her text messages of questions about this and that were annoying. Then her enthusiasm struck a chord. She was invested in this project just as much as he was, if not more. They haven’t had much time to get to know each other. The rush on the house had pushed his and her schedule to the extreme. He might have to remedy that. Maybe she would accept an invitation for some dinner one night. Maybe he should wait until after the house was done then it wouldn’t be him asking his boss out. He had struggled with whether he should ask her out. He knew that he was attracted to her and he felt like she felt the same way. There was something there. He laughed at the thought. He never had a problem asking someone out before. Just do it, all she can say is no.
Perhaps a celebration dinner. He stepped into the shower. He would ask her after the inspection. It will go well. Bob’s a good guy and there isn’t anything unusual about the project yet. I do need to ask him about the plumbing. Maybe he has some ideas.
He stepped out of the shower and toweled off. Then absent mindedly ran his fingers through his short hair. He pulled on his blue jeans and white button-up. His steel toe boots sat beside the bedroom chair. He sighed. How long had it been since he took a day off, just for himself? Too long.
Maybe a weekend soon. He shoved his feet into the boots and laced them up, grabbed his phone, keys and wallet and headed out the door.
Beth turned on her laptop to get ready for her meeting with Martin. She couldn’t wait to see him and what he had found. Martin had been purchasing art from Paris for six months now. He promised that he found some “superb” items. It made her laugh every time he said it. Martin was such a good friend; he was the only one that she trusted with huge purchases she was making. He sent her a list last week and she made her wish list. Today he had a slide presentation of the actual pieces. She had goosebumps thinking of the names that were on the list. Was she overshooting the quality of the pieces she was going to purchase? She shook her head. No, there was a customer base for this kind of quality in North Carolina. Plus, her application to sell online was in its final stages.
Martin joined her on the WebEx meeting. He was an older French man on the edge of fashion. The scarf tied around his neck gave him that extra flair, while his glasses a studious appearance. Definitely a paradox. He was her husband’s best friend. She had met him on one of the many business trips they took to Europe. “Bonjour, Madame Beth. Comment ça va?”
“Ça va bien, Martin. How are you?”
“Bien, I will not keep you long. I wanted you to see these pieces that I have available for you today. I’m afraid we missed the Miro I included on the presentation. Someone purchased it last night.”
Shoot, she thought to herself. Keep looking for one. I really want a Miro.”
“Ok. Let’s go through the list. Here is the Gateaux. I think the style and subject matter will suit the beach. You said that you were looking for water scenes. I have included several Hillary Hassells. She paints exactly what you described you were looking for. “
Beth looked at the pastel beach scenes. Yes, she agreed they were perfect. The strong brushstrokes gave it just the right movement. Oh, I love those.
Martin continued, I know this is more modern and abstract. But I thought a Dufy with the strong blue pallet would suit your customers.”
He continued through about thirty slides of pieces, describing what he thought their strong points were. The dates ranged from the 1850’s to the 1950’s and the prices were definitely in the fine art category. All of them stuck to her nautical requirement. Beth jotted down her notes as he spoke. She made a list of pieces she would buy today and a wish list for later after the gallery opened. All the sudden little blond heads bobbed into the screen. “Beth, hi!” They giggled. It was Martin’s kids. “Sophie! Come and get the children please” Martin yelled. Their mother came rushing into the room. “Sorte de la sale enfants! Votre père travaille.” She turned to the screen. “Salut Beth. Ça va?”
“Ça va bien. How are you? I miss you.” Beth had become close to Sophie the months after her husband’s death. Sophie had been the support system that Beth missed.
“I miss you too. You must come and visit soon.” Sophie waved and grabbed the kids and headed out of the room.
“Sorry Beth. Shall we get back to business?” They turn back to the slides again to review the pieces.
Oh, the price of this initial startup is going to be painful, she thought to herself. “Martin, I will take the Dufy, all the Hassell’s. She liked the fact that they were by a woman artist during the turn of the century. Send the first two Gateaux’s, the Boudin and the Thomson. Keep looking for a Miro please. Thanks for all your hard work.” Her cellphone chimed off a text.
“You are welcome. I am happy to help a fellow art lover and friend. Call me if you have any other requests. We were thinking about bringing the children to the opening. Will that be ok? Are you still on schedule?”
“Of course you are welcome. I have missed Sophie and the kids. It will be chaos of course, but Sophie’s company will calm me. The kids will love the river. Construction is taking longer than expected, but the opening should be on schedule. I will contact you when I am ready for you to start shipping.”
“Ok, I look forward to hearing from you. Bonne chance. Au revoir.”
“Au revoir.” Beth disconnected and grabbed her phone. It’s from Sam.
Inspector will be prompt at 2pm. See you then.
What time was it? Shoot it is already one. That took way longer than she thought it would. It had been good to see Sophie and the kids though. She needed to get ready for the inspection. Thank goodness he sent the text. This afternoon had flown. Beth threw on the khakis she picked out earlier in the day. Maybe she should take something to change into after the inspection. Who was she kidding? There was nowhere to change on the property except the porta john. She had a hard time using it in case of emergency. Just take it with you and figure it out later. There was no way she was going to hang out at the site in her good clothes. She shoved some jeans and a t-shirt into a bag and headed out the door.
The walk to the house was refreshing. She hated being stuck inside doing office work. It was a necessary evil she would have to live with. The breeze off the water cooled her skin from the heat of the day. She turned down Main looking at the old buildings. The store fronts had not changed since the fifties. She loved this place. She waved at the blond in the window fixing the new display of the latest Southern fashion. The new generation had just taken over where the last left off. Yes, it was a small town but you couldn’t tell by their retail tradition. This is why her gallery fit in with the rest. There were several in town with a fine reputation. She was going to integrate online business and raise the bar. Her love of art had been her passion for years. Her husband had spoiled her, taking her to museums all over the world. She networked with all the gallery owners and museum curators for years and it was finally paying off. The stores are busy this afternoon, she thought to herself, that’s a great sign.
She rounded the corner to her house. It was so beautiful. There was an extra vehicle in the drive. Maybe that was the inspector. He was early. Shoot, she better get a move on. She walked up the drive. The guys had cleaned up a lot because of the inspection. Of course Sam didn’t allow them to get to far out of hand. He liked neatness and order at his site. It kept the neighbors happy. The site looked oddly empty without all them working. I’m sure they are all enjoying their day off.
As she walked in the front door, she saw Sam standing with an older gentleman in the foyer. Bob was in his mid-50’s, short, bald, and as wide as he was tall. He smiled politely putting out his hand. “Good afternoon, Ms. Pearce. Sam was just talking to me about your discovery. I’m afraid that it does add some extra paperwork. But it shouldn’t delay your project too much. Sam has assured us that it will stay intact and he has done excellent work in the past. I would like to take a look at the cellar. We need to make sure that the footings are in good shape, especially with the age of the building. Sam has also mentioned the new plumbing.” Sam smiled behind him. Beth caught his eye. Please let this go well. She hoped that Sam knew what he was doing because she had no idea what was going on.
Dropping her bag by the door, she took Bob’s hand and smiled. “Thank you for helping us with the plans.” She turned toward the kitchen. Sam slid the plywood cover of the cellar away from the opening. Bob stepped down the time portal. Sam and Beth followed him down the stairs. Sam switched on the lamps they had placed around the room. Bob pulled out his flash light and walked over to the corner of the room. He shined the light up into the corners. He walked the edges and only occasionally letting out a “Hmmm.”
Beth couldn’t keep still. Her nerves were getting the best of her. Why can’t he say something that means something? She shifted her weight. Suddenly, she felt dizzy and started to sway. Sam stepped over, placing his hand on her shoulder to steady her. She was instantly distracted. His hands felt great. The long fingers brushed her collar bone. His touch set her skin on fire through the cotton of her blouse. She heard talking in the background. Suddenly he stepped away and she realized that they are being spoken to.
“Ms. Pearce, everything looks good here. Sam you might want to reinforce the floor joists since this is going to be a busy business.” He winked at Beth.
“From your mouth to God’s ears.” Beth smiled.
“I would recommend removing the shelving in here. I would worry about their stability for storage. Just a recommendation though. Take it if you like. The shelves could be used elsewhere."
“Thank you so much.”
“Let’s go upstairs and I’ll take a look at the framing.”
Bob led the way upstairs and stepped into the kitchen. He toured both floors with Sam. The rooms were separated with two by four framing. Some of the rooms had the original wood flooring, some of them had only subfloor made of thick plywood. Their conversation echoed in the hollow building. They looked at the wiring and the plumbing. Sam was busy taking notes so that they were good with compliance on the next inspection. Beth stepped out into the yard. She needed some fresh air. God, why can’t she breathe? Was it nerves from the inspection? We are in the clear now. Was it his touch? Wow, the butterflies made her float away. She plopped down on the lawn chair she had under shade of the big oak tree. She shook her head. Earth to Beth. She laughed out loud. It was just a hand.
Sam and Bob came out of the front door. She watched them as they talked and laughed. The contrast between the two men only emphasized Sam’s tall athletic form. The jeans suited him. I wonder what he looks like dressed up. It looked like it was a good visit. They shook hands and Bob stepped into his truck. Beth watched him drive away. Sam walked over to where Beth was sitting. His long strides covered the yard quickly.
“Congratulations, we did great. Bob is impressed with your preservation-minded plan.” He winked.
“Thank you so much for all your planning. I’m sure it would not have gone so smoothly if I had someone else.”
“Was there ever any doubt?” he asked remembering her nervousness and fidgeting in the cellar. He thought she was going to pass out for a minute there. He had to nip it while they were ahead. She seemed to ease after he grabbed her shoulders. He remembered her body relaxing under his grip. “Bob asked that we fill out a new COA application and get it turned in in the morning. He will see it is processed.” He handed her the document. “Are you ok? It looked like you were a little dizzy in the cellar?”
CITY OF WASHINGTON
HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION
APPLICATION FOR A CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS
A: Information on Structure Under Consideration
Current Owner: _____________________________________________________________
Tax Parcel Number: _________________________________________________________
This document does not constitute the issuance of a Building Permit. It is the responsibility of the applicant to obtain all necessary permits before commencing work. Contact the Inspections Dept. at 975-9383.
Has a Building Permit been obtained? YES______ NO______ N/A______.
B: Information on Person Making Application
City: ____________________ State: _________ Zip: __________ Phone: _______________
C: Proposed Changes to Structure
I (We) respectfully request a Certificate of Appropriateness be issued in accordance with the City of
Washington Zoning Ordinance for the following reason: (details of the proposed project)
D: I (We) understand approved requests are valid for one year.
Note: Applicants, and/or their agents or parties of interest are prohibited from any contact in relation to this matter with Historic Preservation Commission members prior to the public hearing.
FOR OFFICE USE ONLY:
Approved with Conditions ____________
Staff Approval ____________
She looked at the form. It looked simple enough. Sam had filled out the original one so this was the first one she had seen. “Yeah, my nerves were getting the best of me. I’m fine now.”
He watched her read over it carefully. Now was his chance. “Beth, you want to get a bite to eat to celebrate?”
Her head jerked up, looking at him. Crap maybe he had read her wrong. He looked into her eyes. here was something there. What was it? She was hesitating.
“Of course. Where should we go?”
“What are you in the mood for? Italian? Southern? Steak or Seafood? Maybe you want a Bill’s hot dog?”
She laughed. God, he loved her laugh. It eased the worry on her forehead that he saw so often. “Let’s do Southern. You have an idea of where you want to go?”
“Grub Brothers, definitely.” Plus, they could get a table upstairs for a little privacy to talk. He wanted to know about her. Do you mind if I change first? You look great and I don’t want to embarrass you.” Beth blushed. Ha, got her. “Do you want me to come back and pick you up or do you want to come for a drive?”
A drive would be nice, Beth thought. “I’ll come with you.”
“Hop in the truck. I’ll turn everything off and lock up.” He ran inside trying to hurry. First the lights downstairs then the door. He almost fell off the front stoop he turned so fast.
She laughed and jumped in the truck. “Come on, I’m starving.”
He jumped in the truck, fumbling with the keys in the ignition. Why did he feel this way? He was never nervous about dates. He wouldn’t be long at his house. Just a quick change. He had to get out of these dirty jeans and shirt. He was at the house all morning, trying to clean up. I will get with Jose in the morning. The men did not sweep before they left the night before. That would teach him to give them a day off. He rolled down the windows in the truck and glanced at her as he backed the truck out of the drive. Her eyes were lit up with excitement. Maybe the risk was worth it.
All photos on the website are taken by Tammera Cooper and remain her property.