Authors: Robert Barclay
After looking out over the ocean again, Constance finally returned her gaze to his.
“With your permission I shall now take my leave,” she said. “I have prevailed upon your time far too long, and given you a great deal to ponder. But I will keep my side of the bargain and be here tomorrow, as I promised. Perhaps then you will start to believe me.”
“Do you have a place to stay for the night?” Garrett asked, suddenly realizing that he did not want to see her go. “Would you like to sleep here? I would be happy to light a fire for you in one of the fireplaces.”
Constance shook her head. “No, thank you,” she answered. “I have a place, humble as it might be.”
With that, she stood up and again looked Garrett in the eyes.
“Thank you for listening .Â .Â . Garrett,” she said, tentatively using his first name. “If nothing else, at least after all this time I have finally shared a moment with another human being, and for that I am most grateful.”
“Good night then,” Garrett said, now even more aware that he would miss her badly. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
Constance nodded. “Until the morrow .Â .Â .”
Constance then turned, walked down the steps, and disappeared into the night.
The moment she vanished, Garrett felt a sense of loneliness such as he had never before experienced. Moreover, he remained at a complete loss to understand how his earlier dream of her could have been so accurate. So too had he been totally absorbed in the experience of holding her handsâsomething else that defied explanation and description. He poured some more bourbon into the glass and swallowed it quickly, before again looking out over the restless Atlantic.
What just happened here?
he found himself wondering.
When he got to his condo, Garrett toyed with having some more bourbon then decided against it. He hadn't eaten dinner, but that no longer mattered. There was a woman on his mind just now, and he could not stop thinking about her. Even the blistering hot shower, followed by turning the handle onto full cold, failed to relieve his tension.
When at last he slipped between the cool sheets of his bed, his mind remained alive with questions. He had no doubt that this woman who called herself Constance Canfield was quite mad. Then again, there were many things about all of this that had yet to be answered. He also had no solution to his dream, or for what had happened between them when they held hands. Nor could he explain away his intense longing for this woman, so soon after having met her. And come the morning, what about this proposed scenario of hers? Could such a thing ever possibly work?
Just then an idea occurred to him. After thinking about it for a time, he switched on the nightstand lamp and reached for his cell phone. The number he dialed was a familiar one. When a sleepy-sounding voice answered, Garrett smiled to himself.
“Trent?” Garrett said. “It's me. Yeah, I know it's late. Listen, I need you to do me a favor. Meet me out at Seaside tomorrow morning will you, around eight o'clock? Yes, I know we have another presentation, but there'll be enough time for that. Why? Because I want you to go over the floor plans with me, and see if there's anything that I've missed. Okay, thanks. I'll see you there.”
After shutting down the phone and turning off the light, Garrett's mind again began busily contemplating all the possibilities that tomorrow might bring. He had a very different reason for asking Trent to the house from the one he had explained to him.
As he continued to ponder these things and many more, sleep never came. Nor did any answers arrive with the dawn light as it began creeping through his bedroom windows. At around five-thirty, Garrett finally gave up and tossed the covers off his naked body. He shaved and showered, donned his favorite terry cloth bathrobe, and with a fresh cup of coffee in hand he went out onto his small condo balcony to greet the coming day. He liked his coffee strong and hot, and he could be a bear until he had his first cupful.
He would not miss this condominium. The offer he received yesterday had been slightly low, but because he would soon need more capital he had accepted without bargaining. The Realtor was disappointed that he hadn't made a counteroffer, but she understood. He wanted the money so he could concentrate fully on getting Seaside restored. On the plus side, he had purposely decorated the condo with inexpensive furniture, and because none of it would be appropriate for Seaside, he had listed the condo as “furnished.” Letting all of this go was fine. He wanted it to be a new beginning, and it seemed that nothing could stop his dream now.
Even so, this would be a very busy time. The condo buyer was paying cash, and the seller's agreement had already been signed, so the closing would probably take place quickly. On top of his job and overseeing the restoration and teaching, he would also have to begin packing up what few personal items he would take with him. After his last meeting with Jay, he was no longer worried about whether Seaside would be buttoned up before winter. Although the place would be desperately Spartan, he took comfort in knowing that he would soon rise each morning to the sounds of the sea.
Along with his thoughts of Seaside, the woman calling herself Constance Canfield again entered his mind. Clearly she had mental issues. For a moment he considered asking his mother to help her, but he saw no way to do that without seeming equally crazy. He didn't believe her wild tale, but at the same time he had absolutely no explanation for why he had dreamed of her before seeing her in the flesh, or the sensation he felt last night when holding her hands. His frustration mounting, he ran one hand through his still-damp hair.
Then there was also the bizarre scenario that she had concocted for this morning. Would she really go through with it? This was why he had called Trent and asked him to come out. He could imagine no way in which Trent and Constance might know each other. Therefore, if what she had in mind was some sort of joke cooked up between her and Jay, there would now be someone else there to call their bluff. Was this really just some huge prank? Maybe .Â .Â . but even that possibility did not answer his lingering questions.
His other concern regarding Constance was her continuing presence at Seaside. He felt sorry for her, but this could not go on. She told him last night that she had another place to stay, but where? The more he considered things, the more confused he became, especially about his growing attraction to her. It seemed to increase daily, but it had been especially pronounced last night, when he was in her actual presence. It was a heartfelt longing and a sharp sexual need that was causing him both joy and guilt.
His feelings for Constance defied definition, and he had never before reacted this way to a woman. He could not call it love. No, this was more like an obsessionâa fascination with this beautiful creature that drifted in and out of his life whenever she chose. Constance was affecting him deeply, but this morning would settle everything. Assuming that Constance showed up and kept her side of the bargain, his suspicions about her madness would surely be confirmed, and he could then put all of this to rest.
But along with these worries had also come another and even more frightening concern. In all honesty, he was beginning to wonder whether he himself was going mad. Had he become some paranoid schizophrenic who saw people who weren't really there? Was his mother right, when she suggested that he had subconsciously created Constance as his “antebellum dream girl,” and that her being in distress only added to her allure? He had no answers, and like his longing for Constance, the fear for his sanity was growing by the moment.
Just then his stomach growled, reminding him that he had skipped dinner. He took a quick glance at his watch to find that it was six thirty. If he left soon, he could stop at his favorite diner and get some breakfast before heading out to Seaside.
Garrett's mood lifted as he again watched Jay's men scrambling about the property. Like yesterday, some were working atop the roof while others were busily tearing off the siding. Jay's pickup was already here, but Trent had yet to arrive.
he thought. Garrett parked his Jeep and walked up the grassy knoll toward the porch.
Will she really show up like she said?
Or has Constance been a figment of my imagination the entire time? Well, I'm about to find out .Â .Â .
His tension rising with every step, Garrett entered the house then headed for the parlor, where Jay was dictating orders to a couple of his workers. Three more men were over at the coffee station, making selections from the doughnuts that Jay had brought. Constance was nowhere to be seen.
Feeling relieved, Garrett walked over to the coffee station. After saying hello to the workmen, he poured a cup of black coffee and took a sip. He then made his way over to where Jay was standing.
“Honey,” he said, “I'm home.”
“You hear that, guys?” Jay shouted out. “You all need to be on your best behavior, because Daddy Warbucks just arrived.”
As the workmen laughed, Garrett joined in. He loved being around men who enjoyed a hard day's work and knew how to get things done. There had in fact been times when he believed he would have been equally happy as a construction laborer, and if for one minute he thought that he could afford to take a sabbatical from the firm and work here instead, he would do it.
Garrett looked back at Jay. “Thanks, dear,” he said. “It's so heartwarming to know that you need me.”
Jay laughed as he shook Garrett's hand. “Yeah,” he answered, “about as much as a hole in my head.”
Just then a familiar voice called out from the front door. “Hey!” Trent shouted. “Where is everybody?”
Garrett stuck his head out into the hall and beckoned Trent forward. “Down here,” he said, “in the parlor.”
Trent began trudging down the hallway. “The
he grumbled to himself. “Who the hell has a
When Trent arrived he spied the coffee and doughnuts, and he made a beeline for them.
Jay shook his head. “Jesus,” he said, “if I'd known there were gonna be this many freeloaders, I would've charged admission.”
“I guess you'll just have to chalk it up to the cost of doing business,” Garrett answered.
Jay turned and watched Trent eagerly munch a cinnamon doughnut. “So what brings you here today?” he asked.
Before answering, Trent swallowed hard. “I'm here on the boss's orders. I think he wants the benefit of my highly valuable input.”
“Great,” Jay said. “Another intellectual running around, making suggestions .Â .Â .”
Garrett beckoned Trent over to the aluminum table and showed him the floor plans. Like Jay had done with Garrett, he began telling Trent how the restoration was to be done. For the first time, Trent began to take an interest in Seaside, and he asked Jay a couple of salient questions.
Moments later, Garrett detected an unusual scent. It seemed familiar, but at first he could not place it. Then he realized that it was the same light, pretty fragrance that he had sensed last night while sitting with Constance on the veranda. His heart racing, he glanced about the parlor, but still saw no evidence of her.
And then, as if on silent cats' feet, Constance walked into the room. She came to stand directly behind Jay then turned and looked straight at Garrett. She was dressed in the same clothes as last night and there were dark circles under her eyes, lending the impression that she had not slept. Just as Garrett was about to speak to her, she quickly placed her index finger on her lips. Understanding, he relented.
His mind racing, Garrett watched with rapt fascination as Constance silently stepped in front of the table then looked directly at Jay and Trent. To Garrett's astonishment, neither they nor the other workmen took any notice of her. As Constance next looked at Garrett, he saw the beginnings of a mischievous smile cross her face.
Constance then stepped closer to Jay and she put her lips near his right ear. She blew lightly into Jay's ear and backed away. Jay quickly frowned, scratched his ear, and looked around. Then Constance stepped closer and repeated the gesture, this time more strongly. Jay's response was also more pronounced as he scratched his ear again, and then took a full step backward before glancing around once more.
“Dammit,” he said, “there must be some houseflies in here. Freaking nuisances .Â .Â .”
Now Garrett was even more stunned. Even so, Constance had yet to prove her claims to his satisfaction. Sensing Garrett's continued skepticism, she moved to face Trent directly. She then gave Garrett another look, followed by a quick wink.
To Garrett's continued astonishment, Constance began making a series of bizarre faces at Trent, sometimes coming to within an inch of being nose to nose with him. She stuck out her tongue, pulled on her ears, and then finally made a threatening scowl, none of which Trent acknowledged in the slightest. Because Garrett could imagine no possible way that Constance and Trent might have met, he found this last gesture of hers to be the most compelling so far.
For everyone else in the room, it's as if she doesn't exist .Â .Â . What in hell is going on? Could this woman actually be telling the truth? And if so, what would cause such a thing? And how is it that I see and hear her when no one else can?
Wishing to also prove her command over the physical things of this world, Constance then walked around to the opposite side of the table and placed her lips down near one of Jay's pencils. She took a deep breath and blew it straight across the table, where it rolled off the edge and onto the floor. Grumbling again, Jay picked it up then mumbled something about the morning breeze.
Garrett then watched as she strode over to the far wall. Taking a deep breath, she let go a piecing scream that would have normally been heard throughout the entire house. But even now, Jay, Trent, and the other men in the room took absolutely no notice of it.