Authors: Robert Barclay
Elizabeth was seven; Allison was five. Like Garrett, they had sandy-blond hair. Virginia loved her two granddaughters more than life, but trying to keep them out of mischief was akin to the impossible. The girls didn't have any pets at home, so whenever they visited, poor Freckles served as their personal pet, third sister, and jungle gym.
As usual, Freckles cowered noticeably when she saw them steamrolling toward her. As Elizabeth pulled on her ears, Allison decided that it would be fun to try riding her. Only after a kindly but firm rebuke from Dale did they finally calm down and leave the poor dog alone.
“Hi, Dad,” Christine said as she walked into the room, followed by her husband, Clark.
Christine was a lovely blond, with a killer smile that sometimes stopped men dead in their tracks. Clark was heavyset and jovial. When Christine wasn't doing her best to keep her girls corralled, she worked as a paralegal. Clark owned his own art supply business, and he traveled a lot.
Christine tousled Garrett's hair. “Hey, Wild One,” she said. “Knocked over any gas stations lately?”
Garrett gave her a kiss. “Hey right back,” he answered.
Clark helped himself to a beer then he sat down beside Garrett. Smiling, he clanked his beer bottle against Garrett's soda can.
An hour later with the pie cooling, the roast and green bean casserole done to perfection, and the Yorkshire pudding about to be cut, everyone was at last seated at the heavily laden dining table. Garrett took a moment to savor the scene. It was like something straight from a Norman Rockwell painting, and it warmed his heart.
Virginia was alternating between castigating Dale about the way he was carving the roast, and admonishing Garrett about the “bruised” wine. Elizabeth and Allison were pulling at each other's hair and calling one another insulting names. Christine busily harangued poor Clark about him never buying a motorcycle. And last but surely not least, Freckles sat patiently beside Garrett's chair, hoping for a handout. As one of her paws came to rest atop Garrett's thigh, Freckles made a begging sound that tugged at his heart.
Garrett smiled. No matter how random was every aroma, every action, every word, every laugh, and every tinkle of silverware and glass, each was exactly as it should be. Like snowflakes somehow born of thin air, the scene before him was being created naturally and without pretense; each part of it was unique in all of the world, and never to be duplicated in just the same way. But Garrett's joy was soon tempered, as he yet again wondered how many more such treasured gatherings he would share with his aging parents before they were finally gone. It was best that there was no discernible number, he realized, for the knowing of it would only tarnish such beloved moments as this.
And then he again thought of the mysterious woman he had encountered at Seaside, and he felt another pang of unexplained longing go through his heart. His mother had given him all the help she could, considering he had not shared the entire story. He had no way of knowing whether he would see that beautiful and ephemeral woman again.
But he silently resolved that if he did, things would be different.
From a tenuous vantage point in one corner of the parlor, Constance watched with interest as Jay Morgan poured over Garrett's floor plans. Three days had passed since Garrett had seen her, and now workers had descended upon Seaside to begin their labors in earnest.
The men had begun working on the outside of the home first. Some of them were atop Seaside, eagerly tearing off the old roofing and throwing it to the ground. Others were removing the ancient clapboard siding and loading it into portable Dumpsters. While the sounds of their work resonated, Constance remained in the parlor and watched Jay as he now began making notes.
To Constance's disappointment, Garrett had not returned to Seaside since the night he had so surprisingly seen her. At first she wondered whether she'd scared him away. But then she decided that was probably not the case, since he seemed so intent upon completing this project.
Despite how little Constance knew about Garrett, she was certain of one thing. He loved this old house, and he was determined to restore it to its original beauty. At first Constance had been skeptical of Garrett's intentions. But now that the work had actually begun, she felt both joy and thankfulness that someone had at last purchased Seaside who might truly know how the house should appear.
She was surprised by how often Garrett had crossed her mind during the last three days. Since her fall from the widow's walk, he had been the only person to recognize her presence, but in her heart of hearts, she had also begun wondering if there might be other reasons. She had been without a man for a long time, yet it was more than that. His apparent determination to put Seaside right also intrigued her deeply. Did that make them kindred spirits? she wondered. Perhaps so .Â .Â . In any event she was eager to see him again, and when next she did, she would do her best to tell him her entire story.
Treading carefully, Constance wended her way out the front door and found a place to sit in the grass, where she could watch the workmen swarm over Seaside like so many busy ants. Although she had watched the world evolve for seventeen decades, she remained amazed at how much mankind had learned to do, and how quickly they could now do it.
It would be enjoyable to watch Seaside become whole again, she realized. And then what would happen? She could only assume that Garrett would live here permanently. And if he did, would he do so alone? Was he married? Did he have children? As such questions arose, she realized that they could only be answered with the passage of time.
Just then she heard the distant sound of a car coming up the road, and she turned to look. The moment Garrett's black vehicle came into view, she quickly stood up and began running toward the house. She could not confront him now, for there were others about. Running as fast as she could, she rounded the near corner of the house and entered quietly through the open back door, hoping against hope that Garrett had not seen her. Knowing that Garrett would seek out Jay, Constance again silently made her way down the hallway and reentered the parlor.
As Garrett stopped his Jeep before Seaside, he looked at the house and smiled. As luck would have it, he had not noticed the mystery woman. Even so, his mind went to her. Would he ever see her again? he wondered. Was she here even now, hiding somewhere about the property?
At long last his project was beginning, and seeing the busy workmen warmed his heart. Garrett enjoyed listening to music, but the various sounds of men working was the melody he loved best. Grinning from ear to ear, he happily trotted to the front porch and then entered the parlor, where he found Jay, steaming coffee cup in hand, examining Garrett's floor plans.
“Got any more of that?” Garrett asked as he walked into the room.
Without looking up, Jay took another swig of coffee. “Nope,” he answered. “This stuff's for real workin' men only.”
Garrett let go a little laugh as he cast his eyes about the room. A coffee station had been set up on a worktable along the far wall, so he went over and poured himself a cup, then went to stand alongside Jay. After he thought to himself for a few moments, Garrett's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to ask Jay something.
“By the way,” he said nonchalantly, “have you seen anyone hanging around the house that doesn't belong? Like a beautiful blonde, maybe?”
Jay turned and looked at Garret like he had just been released from some institution. “What the hell are you talking about?” he asked.
“I thought I saw somebody like that here the other night,” Garrett answered, “but now I'm guessing that it was probably only a shadow. I just thought I'd ask.”
Jay snorted out a laugh. “With the bunch of guys I've got here working for me?” he asked. “Trust me, palâif there'd been some gorgeous blonde lurking around, I'd have heard about it.”
As Jay returned his focus to the plans, he took another swig of the excellent coffee.
“You know,” he said, “for a genius professor, you're not a half-bad architect. Although you only paced off the rooms, these measurements seem spot-on.”
“Wow,” Garrett answered. “An honest-to-God complement.”
“What the hell,” Jay said. “So long as you're the money man, I have to be nice to you.” At last he turned and looked at Garrett. “So how are you doing, ace?”
Garrett happily raised his coffee cup. “This is already a banner day, my friend,” he answered. “Not only has our project officially begun, this morning I also accepted an offer on my condo! Which should relieve you, because now you know that you'll get paid.”
“I was never worried about that,” Jay answered. “Though I'd actually enjoy visiting you in debtors' prison.”
After a couple more minutes of good-natured bantering, the two men got down to cases. Jay explained what was happening on the outside of the house, and he also gave Garrett a slightly revised timetable. Although he couldn't promise it, Jay thought that the entire project might now be completed a bit sooner than he first thought.
From her vantage point in the corner, Constance listened with great interest while Garrett advised Jay about such things as the correct style of crown moldings to use, what type of flooring should be laid, and so on. In each case, Constance noticed that Garrett was exactly describing how Seaside had looked at the height of her beauty.
What will it be like,
to again wander this house as it once was? Will doing so make me remember Adam even more vividly, thereby causing me only greater loneliness? Or will having this wonderful house fully restored finally give me some measure of peace?
Only time would tell, she decided. But first she would have to explain herself to Garrett, and that task filled her heart with trepidation.
Jay gave Garrett a sidelong glance. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he asked. “Shouldn't you be at your office, extracting every last cent from some unsuspecting consumer?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Garrett answered. “I just wanted to see how things were going, and to let you know about the condo. But I'll be back later.”
“Great,” Jay said laughingly. “That's just what I needâa nanny.”
“Don't think of me as a nanny,” Garrett answered. “Just look at me as the guy who pays you.”
“That'll help,” Jay replied. “But if I had known you were going to be out here so often, I would've charged you a fee, just for watching.”
Garrett laughed. “I've got to go,” he said.
“Good,” Jay answered. “And if I see a beautiful blonde hanging around, I'll get her number for you.”
Garrett laughed. “Yeah,” he answered. “Like you'd have a shot.”
After giving Jay a hearty slap on the back, Garrett left the parlor, then walked down the front steps and got into his Jeep. In a matter of moments he was gone.
Constance was saddened to see Garrett leave. But as the day wore on and she watched the workmen continue to toil, she took solace in knowing that Garrett would return tonight. And if by then all the workmen were gone, she would reveal herself to him, no matter the outcome.
ATER THAT EVENING
, Constance sat on Seaside's expansive veranda, watching the ocean birth wave after wave. All of the workmen had left about an hour ago, leaving her alone to await Garrett's return. It was a beautiful night and the wind was forgiving, causing the Atlantic to strike the shoreline gently. Such was oftentimes the case here in the early evening, when the wind lessened and the night creatures began warbling. This was normally her favorite time of day, but tonight was vastly different, because for the first time in more than 170 years, she would attempt an actual conversation with another human being.
Garrett had yet to return, and as the minutes ticked by, Constance became much more nervous. Even so, she was starting to get a feel for this man, this apparent architectural expert who had ordered the renovation of her beloved home. He seemed like someone who kept his promises, she realized.
Then her thoughts again turned to Adam, and once more she opened the locket hanging about her neck. In the dim light of evening she could barely make out his portrait, but it was no matter. She had looked at it so many times over the years that by now her memory of it rivaled the portrait itself. How she missed him! Even now he was the one true love of her life, and her passion for him remained so deep and strong.
As she closed the locket, her mind returned to the present. Garrett would be here soon, and with his arrival she must have a plan in place. Before now, she had always been able to remain here in this house seemingly forever, watching other people go about their lives. But because Garrett had so surprisingly recognized her existence, she felt that the time had come to share her many secrets, even if it was with just one man. With the knowledge that there was someone like him out there, she could no longer accept being merely a party to the world, but never a part of it.
As she sat thinking, the seed of an idea came to her, something that she could perhaps propose to Garrett if all else failed. But would he accept the premise? She knew not, and doing so would surely be her last, best hope.
Just then Constance saw the bright headlights of Garrett's Jeep round the far corner of the road and pierce the darkness. Suddenly more fearful than at any time since falling from the widow's walk, she left her chair and took refuge in the shadowy recesses of the house.
FTER EXITING HIS JEEP
, Garrett stared up at Seaside, wondering whether he might ever again see the mysterious woman who haunted both his sleeping and waking moments. In truth, his feelings regarding her were torn. One part of him wanted her to be gone, so that he might find a measure of peace about all this. But the greater part wanted to see her again. Over the course of the last three days his strange longing for her had strengthened sharply. To his further frustration, he sensed that this surprising feeling would only intensify in the days to come.