The next morning Debbie sat out on the small balcony of the garage apartment she had rented in Broadwalk watching the crews of construction workers building vacation homes. When she first got stuck down there, Bobby had recommended her to an older apartment building further away from the beach. She hadn’t followed his advice then but every morning since she wished she had. Starting at 7:00 a.m. she dealt with a caterwaul of table saws, hammers, and radios blaring everything from classic rock to Spanish pop. She found the best way to handle the situation was to get up early and have a run down the beach. The sights and sounds of the beach, breaking waves and dive bombing gulls and the occasional couple that had been together for ages and still could stand each other’s company reminded her that this world could make her feel wholesome. It was the perfect attitude adjustment for coping with the noise.
Her phone began ringing inside. Not yet fully acclimated to the easy pace of the county road, she quickly rushed inside to answer it.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello, Debbie?” Jake said slowly.
“Morning, Jake. I didn’t expect to hear from you this early.”
“Oh, sorry. Is it a bad time?”
“No, I’ve been up for a while. This place gets pretty busy quickly.”
“Yeah, I guess it does. But I could call later.”
“Jake, I said its fine. Just thought you would be sleeping in today after all the fun you were having last night.”
“Well, that’s why I wanted to call. I didn’t want you to have the wrong impression of me.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. You were for the most part a perfect gentleman. In fact, you were more gentlemanly than I expected”
“I was?” he asked.
“It’s been a long time since I haven’t been propositioned on a first date – not counting your surfer friend,” she gambled.
“Well, you’re lucky. One less drink and I probably would have really been acting a fool.”
“Yeah, I occasionally get too drunk to be foolish. So is it alright if I call you on this number or do you have a local number you want me to use?”
“No, this number is fine for now, thought I might have to have it changed. I’m getting tired of people calling from home asking when I’m coming back.”
“804. That’s a Virginia area code, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, Richmond.”
“Your family’s from up there?” he asked.
“No mostly friends and some business associates. Don’t worry my earnest friend isn’t calling yet. I imagine his ego is still too bruised from getting his proposal turned down.”
“Oh, yeah - Mr. Fantastic. Well, um, would you still like to have lunch?”
“You remembered. I’m impressed.” She smiled into the handset and started lightly sashsaying around the loft. “I was going to go run some errands this morning. Maybe I’ll see you later on?”
“Ok, sounds good.”
She hung up the phone and decided to start her day. She planned to go down to Andrew’s antique shop but didn’t think it was a good idea to tell Jake. He called though and that was good. It meant she was going to see more of him.
The time came to go get her car from Bobby’s garage. Somewhere between the trip down and the construction debris there, her car had been hobbled by two flat tires. She mentioned to Bobby that she might just abandon it but he had changed her mind.
She stopped on the way at the shops in the center of Broadwalk’s retail district for some juice, a bagel and a bit of quiet contemplation. She had been able to give up the morning routine of double espressos and sugar filled pastries that had gotten her going for so many years up until now. And since the only newspapers available were either absurdly local or blandly national, she found time during breakfast to just think.
Going to the service station was like going to one of those Americana museums. Except for the new gas pumps that were mandated by some department of the state government in the interest of public safety, everything was as you would find it in some old magazine advertisement. There was a large chrome hubcap style clock, polished and shining above an old manual cash register that had prices in dollars and cents on little metal signs that popped up and down. In front of the register was a clean counter with two racks: one for a variety of Wrigley’s gum and the other populated with maps of local, area, and distant networks of roads. To the right, there were vintage floor coolers stocked with cold drinks in ten ounce glass bottles and a couple of shelves with spare parts and assorted fluids for cars.
When he was alone, Bobby Thomas could be found leaning on that clean counter deep in conversation on the station phone. You would think he was explaining to someone how to rebuild a transmission as caught up as he seemed in the call. As soon as a customer came in, he’d always say “I gotta go, bye” and be at your service. If anyone ever asked him who he was talking to he’d crack a joke about it being the head of state for a small country or some minor royalty. Sometimes he said it was the queen, and everyone around there loved to speculate who his queen was that week.
“You know, Bobby,” Debbie said walking in, “when I broke down here, this place was the first clue that I might need to stay a while.”
“Well, I’m sure glad that you weren’t scared away by the lack of cold beer and fluorescent floats.”
“That would be common, this is special. But since you mention it, why haven’t you modernized it?”
“I thought about it, but Mr. Timmons, the owner, said he wouldn’t have it. He said he owned a gas station NOT a circus booth.”
“So, how does he keep it running?”
“He’s got some different properties down here. I think this place is more a pet project than a serious business to him. So, to bring up a more interesting subject, did you enjoy last night?”
“Yes, it was good. You were right about Jake, although I’m not real sure we’re compatible.”
“He didn’t try anything when he walked me home!” she exclaimed.
“It’s a shame that’s seen as a bad thing these days.”
“Well, he also called me Shelia.”
“That’s a different shame,” he said cringing. “But try not to forget she was his first love. I know she won’t let him forget it.”
“You’re all gentlemen on the outside and little boys on the inside around here.”
“I suppose you prefer them well done all the way through, huh?”
“No, not really. Well I’m gonna drive down the beach, if I still remember how. Can I leave my bike here?”
“You bet,” he said handing over her car keys.
She got in the car and headed west. For a few miles, she took the county road, which still offered an occasional view of the Gulf between the stately mansions and low-rise condominiums that were multiplying on the beachfront. Then, when it ended, she turned onto the more remote Highway 98. The highway had become a divided, four lane expressway that had camouflaged the best of the area with the double blinders of speed and storefronts.
Few visitors bothered to turn down the little side streets that ran gulf to bay and it’s probably good for them that they didn’t know what they were missing. One could not, however, miss Trojan Artifacts. It sat only about twenty yards off the highway behind a small parking lot that explained how it was the depth of the pocket books, not the number of them, that kept the
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