~ Henry David Thoreau
Welcome back to Chapter Six of “The Sweetest Of Woods”.
Each Tuesday at 9:30 AM PST, I post up a new chapter in the first book of the series I’m writing.
If you are just tuning in, you may read
Chapter One here
Chapter Two here
Chapter Three here
Chapter Four here
Chapter Five here
Chapter 6- An Unaccustomed Variation
Bridget sat at the kitchen table sipping a hot cup of coffee while she looked over today’s newspaper that was spread out. Without giving it a thought, she was flipping the pen she held in her right hand back and forth between her long slender fingers. The pen looked to be alive and was performing a fabulous interpretive dance of its own while no one was the wiser to appreciate the talent control of the pen requires. Bridget found it soothing and it helped to disperse some of the nervous energy that was causing her insides to feel a little gelatinous at the moment.
As the grieving family arrived home yesterday afternoon from a lovely service to honor their departed loved one, they found that Derek had indeed had a beautiful new front door installed as promised. The kids ran up the walkway eager to check it out.
“It’s locked,” reported Kendra eagerly trying the knob.
Bridget picked up the last pave stone before the door where they keep the hidden key and sure enough Derek had left a key ring containing three keys with a key chain attached. She laughed and held the keys up for the kids to see. The key ring was perfect- Batman. As she turned the locks on their new door Ms. Williams screeched a loud “You Who!” putting Bridget on edge as she shuffled the kids into the house and shut the door. The bombardments of Ms. Williams demanded Bridget stay on her best game and try to keep up with the back biting bitty who also happened to be the association president of the Senior Resort.
“You who! Bridget!” the old woman demanded attention from the shrill tone in which she uses to boss everyone around. Bridget took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and slapped on a pleasant plastic smile before turned to acknowledge one of the very last people she wished to be speaking to at the moment.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” she began with a sick smile that gave away her sheer pleasure at manipulating other people’s lives. “The board voted to give you and the kids two months to find another place given that this is a senior resort facility and you all should not have been here in the first place. I hated to give you such news on a day like today but with the first of the month upon us I felt like I would take the burden upon myself to make you aware so you can make other arrangements quickly.”
“Thank you Ms. Williams, I am aware and actively looking,” Bridget replied trying hard to be pleasant to such an unpleasant woman. “We will be moving soon.”
“I should say that I won’t miss that friend of yours. Honestly, the nerve of the man busting down the front door! It was shocking! All the banging and traffic kept me up for hours,” Ms. Nastypants complained at her grieving neighbor as if the old woman’s sleep patterns and inconvenience should be paramount to all else.
“I’m sorry for the trouble. It was an honest misunderstanding and I feel very grateful to have such wonderful people that care so much for my children. He did a beautiful job replacing the door and you won’t be troubled by any of us again. If you’ll excuse me, we just came from the funeral and my children need me,” Bridget said letting just a little of the contempt she felt towards the old busy body sprinkle her words. She left the curmudgeon huffing on the walkway and closed the door. The rotund lady obviously had more to say. Through the window the kids could see her talking to no one and strutting about having the last word.
“She looks like a chicken fluffing its feathers when she gets mad,” Kendra giggled as they watched her progressively get fuller of herself as she huffed off to cluck elsewhere.
The pen came crashing to the table and Bridget shook her head in an attempt to focus back on the paper. She took the cap off the pen and circled an advertisement for an apartment that she remembered was in her price range the last time she had gotten serious about looking for a place. She glanced at the rest of the listings but found none that really stood out. She realized as she caught herself looking at but totally through the newspaper and back into her own realm of thought again, that what she was really looking for was not to be found in the back few pages of their free local paper. She only took one week off from the salon and she intended to be productive with her last four days. The kids had gone over to Rose’s for the day after Rose tried her hardest to convince her best friend to just move in and they would add on to their house. She felt like nothing was right or familiar anymore. She needed a fresh start.
“I’m sorry Professor Ben. Didn’t you hear that Bridget’s mom passed away?” the teenage receptionist behind the counter of the local hair salon. “She’s off until this Wednesday but then I see she’s picked up Heather’s shift next Saturday if you’d like me to reschedule you for next Saturday instead.”
“I’m on campus so much during the week that I miss a lot of the town business,” Ben admitted. “Put me down for next Saturday I suppose.”
Ben was one of Bridget’s Saturday regulars. He came in once each month, only on the Saturday that she worked for the same hair cut at the same time, like clockwork. He was very kind, tipped well and would only let Bridget cut his hair so none of the other stylists would even bother to try to persuade him to give anyone else a try anymore.
Professor Ben was the head of the English department at the University, was a little on the quiet side and secretly pined after Bridget from the first time he saw her. He’s been sitting in Bridget’s chair twelve times per year for the last four years and every time he sat down during that time he fully intended to ask her out for an evening with him. Every month he would talk himself up to it and every time he left the shop he leaves with an appointment for the next month and fails to ask her. This month was going to be different. This was going to be the last time he was going to see her for a long time. He had purchased tickets to the local high school musical and decided that a show with a friendly ice cream cone wasn’t the stuff of fantasy for some but it was his version of a non-committal fun date.
If you asked the girls sitting in his lectures on campus they would describe him as a “hot geek”. At almost 6 feet tall with dark brown hair intricately highlighted by the sun, striking greenish hazel eyes, a disarming genuine smile, he was hard to miss. Ben often could be caught riding a skateboard to get around campus and was known for striking up games of Ultimate Frisbee or Hacky Sack with the students after his classes were through for the day. He was a favorite amongst the students and known for tutoring outside his department because he saw that they needed a little extra help. He led hikes where they discussed a book or a poet that became so popular it became a monthly event publicized by the University. He was well liked and not very well known beyond his love for the written word and propensity to be a philanthropic nice guy.
“Carpe Diem…” he muttered to himself feeling a bit foolish that he’d waited so long to ask her and now his last opportunity for who knows how long has once again passed. He reached up and self-consciously buttoned the bottom two bottoms of his green polo shirt. He’d only agonized over whether to leave them unbuttoned like the boys he sees attending his classes or just leave the top one unbuttoned like he was accustom to. He had decided that unbuttoned must be some type of trend and since the bookworm could use all the hip he could get, he succumbed to the temptation to be cool. He was slightly relieved that she didn’t see him like that as he walked back out into the sunshine and smack into someone.
He couldn’t see from just stepping into the light but he could see the shape he bumped falling backwards with a feminine gasp. Instinctively Ben reached out pulling the person back towards himself into a safe bear hug. Her face was plastered across his chest and he could feel her heart beating wildly.
“Excuse me. I didn’t…” he started to apologize and then noticed that he was bear hugging the woman he’s been thinking about for the last four years. “I love you, er I mean I got you um, I’m sorry?”
Bridget breathed deeply in the intoxicating scent of Ben’s shirt. A combination of fresh laundry, subtle cologne, a deliciously manly mixture that instantly made her feel safe and slightly weak at the knees. He quickly dropped his arms leaving her leaning into his chest smiling like a fool.
“They just told me about your mom, Bridget. I’m so sorry,” He said taking her hand into both of his.
“I’m the one that should be sorry. It dawned on me suddenly that I’d forgotten to call so I was just running in to grab a few numbers before apartment hunting. I really am very sorry. You just wouldn’t believe the week I’ve been having. Since we’re both here, do you want me to cut your hair now?” she asked.
“No, no. I’m coming by next week,” he replies. The both stood in the doorway experiencing a long slightly uncomfortable silence until she shifted and looked as though she’d move past him.
“I know this isn’t the best time but I got tickets to a play tonight and thought I could interest you in ice cream afterward,” He blurted out.
“I’d really love to Ben but I have to find a place to live ASAP,” she said looking genuinely unhappy to have to turn him down.
“How about I take you by a few places closer to the University that I’ve noticed are for rent. Like a fact finding mission that just might include lunch at a little Thai place I know… unless you don’t like garlic noodles,” he counters with a desperate plan to spend a little bit of time with a lady he admires.
The company of a friend, a delicious lunch and possibly finding a great place to rent sounded like one of the best days she’s had in quite some time.
“You know, I could really use some garlic noodles and you’re company would be really nice, Ben.”
“My car is right here if you’d like me to drive so you can take notes,” he said pointing to the dark blue Prius with grey interior, parked along the curb next to the meter in front of the shop.
He opened her door for her, a gesture that made her smile and blush. She got in the little car and buckled up while he ran around the back of the car, hopping into the driver’s seat. He turned on the car and a woman’s voice came over the stereo.
“Park the car,” the voice said, followed by the Spanish translation.
“Where is the market?” the voice asked and again it repeated the question in Spanish.
“Planning a trip?” Bridget asked ribbing him for his choice of tunes.
“Well, I am but I’m just learning Spanish for fun. I tell my students to use their free time to make themselves better so I thought I needed to practice what I preach.” He replied.
The two talked the day away, looking at apartments, houses and driving around. Each felt as if they had come home from a grueling day of work to finally take off the shoes you’ve been wearing all day and slip into the soft comfortable slippers that mold to you and feel absolutely perfect. With every minute that ticked by in her presence made Ben want to cancel all of his plans and stay here.
As they waited for their table to be ready, they sat in the small park across the street from the Thai restaurant watching people go by as he questioned her about the sudden need to re-locate. He knew bits of the story of her life from visiting with her each month during his hair cut as well as the town gossip mill but he felt like he could happily watch her lips move for hours so he continued to learn more about her. He decided that she was so striking because she was a rare breed of woman. She lacked any awareness of her beauty but was so stunning in jean and a t-shirt it forced the entire room to take notice. She was extremely well read, very intelligent and made a point to be kind to others. She had such a sense of humor and was genuine. Her smile made his stomach turn circles and feel like The Moth Man was bouncing around. He supposed that this was the butterfly feeling that people talk about but he thought to himself that they described it totally inaccurately.
“…and Asher has to go in for another rabies shot next week but other than that you are pretty well up to speed on the crazy that has been my existence for the past few years,” she said passing him the rice across the table. “I’ve taken up the whole conversation, I’m sorry. What about you? Where are you going and what are you planning to do when you get there?”
For a moment Ben didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t think beyond this moment in time, never wanting it to end. “My Uncle expired and I was left his estate in California and his life’s collections.”
Bridget giggled a little and then the giggling turned into the greatest laugh he’d ever heard. It made him laugh too even though he had no clue what was so funny.
“I’m sorry,” she said trying to regain her composure. “How absolutely horrible of me, I’m sorry about your uncle. It’s just the nurse said Mom had “expired” and all I could think of was my face on a head of wilted lettuce stuck in the back of the fridge waiting for someone to realize I had expired and toss me on out too. Sick, I’m sorry.” She erupted in a fresh set of giggled and he joined in until the whole restaurant was staring at them, which only in fact made them laugh even harder.
“No apologies necessary. I haven’t laughed so well in a very long time,” he said with a plan starting to take shape in his mind.
When Ben received the call from his Uncle’s attorney informing him of his passing, he was also instructed that he must come to the property at once as there is “a great many” things that needed his urgent attention and could not keep. There was a staff of three that resided on the property but that he would need to hire more in the attorney’s opinion. Of course the estate provided generously for the home and its costs. Ben couldn’t even recall what his Uncle looked like. There had been such a rift between his father and his Uncle that Ben was not permitted to even ask questions about the absent family member. On his birthday and holidays he would receive a large box of books. Each hand picked for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but his Uncle, however obscure the gift was, it was the only link Ben had to this mysterious Uncle that had similar taste in reading materials.
During college the books continued to arrive, now on a more frequent basis causing Ben to abandon the dorms after the first semester for a larger apartment to house his growing library. His Uncle must have approved because someone mysteriously paid in full the balance of his rent for the following year. His parents weren’t happy about his choice to pursue a degree in English so he was fairly certain he could rule them out as his generous benefactors.
“Truth is, I should have tried to get to know him as an adult but I didn’t make the effort to look for him. Now I inherited a house full of stuff on more property than I know what to do with and there are things they need me to take care of right away. I’ve never lived in anything larger than a two bedroom apartment. Now I own thousands of trees. This might sound crazy but I need to hire an assistant to catalog the antiques, collectables and rare pieces he has. I’ll pay you double what you make at the salon to come to California with me. I’m planning to have everything sold within one year. It’ll give you the opportunity to start over someplace else like you wanted to. You and the kids can live at the house if it suits you and at the end of the year before I move back I’ll help you find a place and get set up out there or you can move back here having made two years’ salary in one.” He blurted out so quickly that he was almost surprised at how forward and nuts his plan sounded in actual words. She appeared to be a bit shocked but actually mulling it over.
“Please Bridget. I don’t know what I’m getting into running an estate, all his collections and I could really use someone I trust to help me weed through it all.”
He held his breath expecting her to turn him down right away. After all it had taken four long years to ask the woman out and then following a garlic lunch, invite her to re-locate across the country to a house no one has seen to unravel the mystery of the Uncle one rare antique at a time.
“How close is it to the ocean? Kendra had been talking about going to the ocean,” Bridget asked.
“She could go swimming in the Pacific every single day it’s so close,” he says with a hopeful smile pulling the corners of his mouth upward and making the green in his smiling eyes twinkle.
“About twenty five thousand.” She says.
He looked at her and cocked his head to the side reminding her of a lovable Labrador she once owned while he tried to figure out what she meant.
“I make about twenty five thousand, so you know how much to pay me.”
“You’re in?” he confirmed.
“I might be out of my mind but I like a challenge and a change. When do we leave?” she asks.
“Next Sunday. That gives you a full week. Can you do it?” he asked reaching a hand across the table to grab hers.
“Ben, I can do anything.”
“I know, that’s why I need you to come along,” he said squeezing her hand before letting go.
Everyone was just sitting down to the burgers Derek had grilled while everyone else took turns going down the giant inflatable water slide they had purchased to be the star of this year’s Memorial Day Picnic, when Bridget walked up.
“Hey Bridge!” Rose yelled when she saw her girlfriend. “You’re just in time! How was apartment hunting? Have you decided that I was right yet and you’re ready to move in here yet?”
“I have an announcement to make,” Bridget said in spite of the lump in her throat getting larger by the millisecond. “Not only did I find a fabulous house with huge gardens but I also got a new job too. I’m making twice as much as the salon and we start on Sunday.”
The whole family looked up surprised by what they were all hearing.
“Where’s the house?” Rose asked.
“In California, pass the tea please.”
Chapter 7… next Tuesday at 9:30 AM PST!
Please do me a big favor and tap the banner below to log an automatic vote for my little ol’ blog.
Thank you so much for your support! xo