The market was a straight shot across Highway 98 from the garden, so she was there pretty quickly. She pulled into the parking lot and found Jake sitting on a porch with his hand propped up shielding his eyes from the sun as he read a book. When she got closer, her face lit up in a smile. It was obvious he had fallen asleep sitting out there.
Jake opened his eyes and slowly was able to focus on a pair of woven sandals planted in the ground facing him. He followed the feet that were in them up a pair of fit, although pale legs. Those legs led to a blue jean skirt, not too short but short enough to be interesting. From there on it turned into a white button down shirt opened at the collar revealing an attractive neck at the end of which was the pleasant and smiling face of Debbie Baylor. As he rose to greet her, his eyes suddenly popped wide open and his arms flew out grabbing at open air for support.
“Whoa, easy there Jake. Don’t loose your balance,” she said.
“I was hoping you’d come by,” he said recovering “I was worried it was a bad idea to call you twice the day after I first met you.”
“Oh, you know – crazy stalker?” he replied.
“C’mon, I was just messing with you about that last night.”
“Speaking of which, how did you get my number?”
“BT gave it to me, but not until after I had to make up some story to him about how you gave it to me at the bar, but I lost it.”
“And how did you lose it?” she asked making fists on her hips and feigning some sort of emotional injury.
“I think I told him I dropped it on the beach,” he replied.
“You still gonna make me lunch?” she asked.
“Anything you want, or actually anything that can be made off the shelves of the market.”
As they walked inside, Jake introduced Debbie to Ashley, a local girl who worked for Jake part time.
“Oh yeah, Miss Necessities,” Ashley said smiling at Debbie.
“What?” Jake asked.
“When my car died down here, I came straight to the store for necessities. You know suntan oil, deodorant, and two cases of wine. You’ve got a great selection, by the way, for a shop this size.”
“Ah,” Jake said. “Ok, what can I get you?”
“Well, let me see what you have,” Debbie said as she took a shopping basket. She walked alone down the each of the five narrow aisles left to right without picking anything up. At the end of the last aisle, she turned around and went in the opposite direction, this time grabbing from both sides of the aisle like she had memorized everything and it’s location.
“You’re an efficient shopper,” Jake said as she returned to the counter.
“And you are a messy stocker,” she replied. “You have your baking needs spread out all throughout this place. It should all be on one aisle, and you never put food on the same shelf as cleaning products. People are going to get Clorox poisoning.”
“Well, ok, then,” Jake mumbled. It was no secret to anyone that there wasn’t a lot of order in his business.
“Where shall we eat?” she asked.
“The table with the best view in the house, of course,” Jake said as he started out the door. “Ashley, if you need me, I’ll be upstairs.”
“Ok,” Ashley said. “But don’t forget I have class at three.”
“No problem. If I’m not down, just holler.”
“Oh, wait,” Debbie said walking back to the cooler. “I want some wine. She grabbed a bottle from the cooler and followed Jake out the front and around to his house.
“Be careful, there’s all kind of hazards in here,” he said as he opened the door for her.
“I’m sure there are,” she replied smiling.
They walked in, then under, over and around the tools and material that were being used to repair the damage to the living room. Right past it was a hallway with a circular metal staircase to the left that they climbed two flights up to a sun deck on the roof of his house. It had a large square framed gazebo topped by a canvas awning that shielded an outdoor dining set and wet bar from the serious Southern sun.
“This is nice,” she said staring out over the railing at the coast. It was early afternoon and the crosswalks across Thirty-A were busy with groups, arms filled with beach necessities, walking towards the beach. Passing them in the opposite direction were others going back to find shelter from the sun or more supplies.
“Thanks, I built it a couple of years ago when my view became the back of beachfront houses. It’s how a working man can still have the beach.”
He began unpacking the basket, laying out each item on a large round plate that he had pulled from a cabinet under the wet bar.
“Let’s see cheeses and crackers, fruit, olives, pita bread, prosciutto, and Oreos? I had some chocolates down there that might have been better.”
“Nah, the Oreos just really called me,” Debbie said. Looking back at him over her shoulder.
“Well, shall we eat?”
She came to the table and sat down with him.
“So, did you get your errands run?” Jake asked.
“Yes, I went down to Andrew Troy’s shop and looked around and then came back up and visited Eden State Park.”
“So, how did you like the place?”
“Eden, I already know what you think of Trojan Artifacts.”
“Oh, do you now?”
“Yes, I do. Andy’s place is well known and respected here as the pinnacle of style, the Parthenon of furnishings and he is the P.T. Barnum for the rich,” he said.
“Alright, what is it with him?” Debbie said putting down some food she had half way in her open mouth. “Did he steal your girlfriend or something? Or is it just plain envy?”
Jake got up and opened the bottle of wine. He poured two glasses and as he handed one to her, he said, “It’s his attitude towards everything, like that old furniture he sells. He wraps it up in mystique and charges double.”
“So, why is it your concern that he might overcharge for that stuff? The people that go in and buy there, I guarantee they can afford it. It’s not like he’s stealing from the poor,” Debbie said.
“No, he’s not stealing from the poor, but he’s ruining paradise for a lot of people that have lived here for a long time. He and his type take what is beautiful, slaps a coat of gold paint over it and run the price to the moon. He’s taking this,” he waved his arm 180 degrees over the beach view “and turning it into Trump Towers.”
“Jake, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful beaches all over the country, and if anything I think this place is undervalued. I mean do you know what these places would cost down in Miami or Connecticut or L.A.?”
“I don’t really care about those places. I moved down here twenty years ago for what it was and I don’t like where it’s going.”
“So what’s your solution, be the lone holdout in the middle of all this growth and scream from your deck, ‘No, No, No!’? You’ll just end up another marginalized activist, chip big as Mt. Everest on your shoulder that people point at and whisper, ‘Wacko!’” she said.
“I don’t know, but I’ll think of something,” he said.
“Well, give Andrew a break and if you can’t do that, don’t rant to me about how he’s single-handedly destroying all that’s good in the world. You want to talk to me? You tell me about what’s good in the world.”
“Ok, I’ll try. So, what did you think of Point Washington?”
“Yeah, Eden State Park.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful. I was glad to finally see it,” she said taking a sip of wine.
“Who told you about it?” Jake asked.
“I read a lot about it when I was planning my trip down here.”
“You didn’t come down here looking for the Fountain of Youth, did you?”
“The Fountain of Youth?”
“Yeah, people come down all the time to jump in that algae water thinking it can cure all types of things. Sometimes it gets so thick with the wishful ill, you’d think it was a tent revival. You know it’s just tap water,” he said with a stare of examination that made her look away from him to the shore.
“So I heard,” she said looking out at the Gulf. “What was she like?”
“Smart, strong willed like her mother but still foolish like a child.”
“How old was she?”
“She was nineteen.”
“She was a child,” Debbie said to no one, “in American years.”
“It’s strange. People like her: beautiful, outgoing, and pure like a breeze of fire, quick to pickup almost anything-they seem to have the tragic endings. It’s the rest of us that just travel through life either winning through luck or surviving by our wits.”
“And some do neither,” Debbie added, “but then, there’s always the next life.”
“The next life?” Jake said, looking at the gulf. “This is the only life.”
“What are you some kind of atheist?”
“No, I’m just not particularly worried about the hereafter when I’m still trying to focus on getting this life right. Besides, I was raised in a strict Baptist upbringing, church and Sunday school on Sunday, family night on Wednesday, those beliefs are too deeply drilled in me to be an atheist.”
“Ah, the Southern existentialist . . . life is for the living and I’m starting tomorrow.”
Jake’s laugh was muffled by his wine glass.
“Eden’s mom would say I was a southern fatalist.”
“You two must have been involved.”
“Yes, we were, but don’t tell anyone. It’s the blemish on her otherwise perfect life.”
“Are you involved now?”
“No, I mean we’ve talked a lot since Eden died, but she still has the same opinion of me as when she left for David.”
“David’s her husband?”
“Widowed. He dropped dead of a heart attach while running down the beach.”
“She lost her husband and her child? That’s terrible.”
“Well, it wasn’t really the same. He left her for a younger woman, but before the divorce was finalized he died. It was kind of ironic because instead of half of his assets, she got them all.”
“Was he wealthy?”
“Yes, very. He did well in Destin real estate.”
“Good for her. What happened to the younger girl?”
“She fought it for about a year, but didn’t really have a leg to stand on. Last I heard, she moved out to Northern California and decided to go fishing among all of those tech company millionaires.”
They had pretty much cleared off the plate except for the cookies. Debbie picked one up, bit into it and made a strange face.
“It’s the saltwater in the air, mortal enemy of hard things, especially ice and cookies,” Jake said.
“So, why do you sell them?” Debbie asked reluctantly swallowing the bite she had already taken but putting the rest of the cookie down.
“It’s a funny thing; the same people will come in three or four times to buy cookies. You know they’re getting soft on them as soon as they open the package, but they think they can make the next one work.”
“Says something about human nature, don’t you think?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
“So how long did you two date?”
“So, how long did you and Mister Earnest date?”
“About five years.”
“Five years and he just asked you to marry him?”
“Well, we both led pretty busy lives. Plus, the first two years we weren’t exclusive.”
“Weren’t exclusive? That always sounds weird to me when someone dates but they aren’t exclusive,” he said doing air quotations around the word exclusive.
“Didn’t you ever have any girls in your life that you were just friends with, you know, just enjoyed hanging out together?”
“I do now,” he said.
She smiled at him and twirled her glass by its stem between her thumb and middle finger. The comfortable silence was broken by an advertising airplane passing down the beach dragging a banner for “All You Can Eat Surf and Turf at Periwinkles”. The advertising airplane business was brisk in that area due mostly to the fact that people just didn’t watch that much TV at the beach. It could be argued as a good thing. People who had nothing but the enjoyable company of their family and friends and the sights and sounds of a lazy Gulf lightly rolling on the shore would probably go into shock coming off of their vacation. The assault by the camouflaged battle cry of “Buy! Buy! Buy!” in every day life might seem unwanted or worse unconvincing.
“So, you never answered my question,” she said as the plane sailed down the sky.
“We were together about ten months,” he replied looking into his glass of wine.
“Were you in love?”
“Hell, I don’t even remember anymore. Either she was the right person at the wrong time, or I was the wrong person at the right time. Doesn’t really matter now, sun still shines and the bees still buzz.”
Beneath them a car door slammed and tires spun in the market’s oyster shell parking lot. Jake jumped up and made it to the railing just as the dust rose to their level.
“Not again,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Eden’s friends. They keep putting flowers, yellow ribbons, candles, all sorts of little mementos, trying to build a memorial for her outside my living room wall.”
“Why do you care?”
“It’s bad for business. People might think this place is hexed or something if they see a bunch of stuff like that in my parking lot.”
“So they can’t show respect to her?”
“Well, if they want to do that, they should go to her grave.”
“Where is it?”
“Over in Destin, Perpetual Gardens something or other.”
“Don’t you know? I mean, you did go to the funeral, didn’t you?”
“No, I don’t think the dead know who’s at their funeral.”
“You don’t go to a funeral for just the dead. You go to a funeral for the living they leave behind. You men are always trying to disembody the emotional, like it’s something totally different.” She got up from the table after she said it and asked, “Where’s your restroom?”
“Second floor, uh second door from the...,” he said pointing into the open air “Never mind, I’ll show you.”
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 10