General Fiction posted June 7, 2014 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 

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Sarah spends the day with Paul North

A chapter in the book Enough to Miss Christmas

A Seaside Picnic and More

by Fridayauthor

Sarah attends a family wedding and mends bridges with her sister after a twenty year hiatus. She meets Paul North.

      As I stumbled into yesterday's clothes, the phone rang. I dismissed a fleeting thought it might be Paul North, or Suzie calling again. It was neither. My niece Maureen hardly paused for my hello.

     "I can't believe you didn't spend the night with him! What's wrong with you Aunt Sarah?" I smiled at her exuberance as I lay back on my bed. "Tell me you at least . . ."

     "No!" I screamed back at her. "We acted like civilized adults and had a nice evening."

     "God, your generation is so uptight! He's a catch, Aunt Sarah! Don't tell me you don't know that. He's perfect for you. Everyone could see you were gaga over each other! God, I couldn't sleep fantasying over sex-thoughts of you guys screwing each other's brains out!"

     I cut off her fantasy by blurting out her mother and I had a long and fruitful conversation. My announcement stopped her cold.

     "That's great!" she said. "The talking to I gave her worked."

     "I understand you called her a stubborn bitch. That wasn't very nice."

     "It's the same name I called you, Aunt Sarah and I met you for the first time yesterday."

     "No, I've known you a lot longer. I held you at your christening and changed your diapers."

     "Now you can change my new baby's nappies when you come up to visit. But wait until you hear the name I'll call you if you don't nail down Paul North and haul him in!"

     I tried to change the subject again by telling her I'd return her friend's dress but she ignored me. "Here's the poop," she said. "Paul North is a widower. His wife died a year or two ago; she was sick for ages; bed ridden. He has two children, a boy and a girl, ages unknown, but young. He's worth a gazillion bucks, he's handsome, and likes you! What are you waiting for? God, Aunt Sarah, an opportunity like this doesn't come along in a million years!" She added, "You're not getting any younger, you know."

     I felt a pang of guilt learning a detailed history of my wedding reception friend from my niece who'd done some quick ask-around research. However, I didn't stop her.

     "You should see the wedding present he gave Mike and Martha! It's a crystal set of glasses that I bet cost a thousand bucks! He never met them before, only Mike's father. God, if you had put-out for him last night you'd probably have a new convertible parked in front of the hotel!"

     I laughed in spite of myself. I already loved this rediscovered family member. "Are you suggesting I should have offered my body? . . ."

     "God, yes! Just be practical!" Maureen squealed and went on to say Paul North wasn't simply well to do, he was, as my niece described, rich in capital letters. I continued to protest that I'd just met the man. Yes, we enjoyed each other's company but, contrary to my unspoken wishes, I doubted I'd hear from him.

     I managed to laugh the conversation to conclusion but my niece's not-too-subtle evaluation of her uptight widow aunt left me hoping I'd not made a spectacle of myself at yesterday's affair. Or, was I such a stick-in-the-mud I couldn't enjoy the occasional company of a man without entertaining teenage Cinderella dreams?

     I'd wasted five years of widowhood without a relationship. There'd been two men and neither offered a hint of a future, nor much passion. After Doug's death I'd had enough of the military men. When I returned to college, everyone was so young I felt like their parent. Sarah Blanding . . .I'd dropped my married name Jacobson . . . was resigned to remaining a widow.

     Was a fun evening, the first in years, or hearing my sister once again tell me she loved me, starting to chip at that contentment? Virginia and an empty apartment with closed doors and straight ahead looks from transient neighbors lay ahead of me. I needed time to reflect on the past twenty-four hours.

     It was a strange forgotten feeling that surrounded me as I prepared to go down to breakfast, hoping the phone would ring while convincing myself the prior day was a pleasant one-time happening. When the phone rang again, I was nearly in the hall. It was the hotel deskman reporting my lost baggage had found its way back to me.

     I dined alone,(toast and black coffee),retrieved my luggage and was changing into clean clothes when Paul North called. I was as elated as a school girl.

     "It's Sunday," he said, without an identifying introduction. "There's not much going on so I'd like to take you to the beach for a picnic. It shouldn't be crowded."

     "It's cold out there! It's early March."

     "That's good. Cold weather holds down the ants. I'll pick you up in twenty minutes." He paused just long enough, in case I might decline. I never considered it.

     "I have a flight out at four o'clock. It will have to be a short picnic."

     "Change your reservation."

     "I can't do that. It costs money. Besides, tomorrow's Monday. I have to be at work. The literacy of the armed forces depends on it."

     "Why stay at a job you don't like?" When I didn't answer, he continued. "If I can change your flight and it won't cost you any money, will you call in sick and stay over?"

     I couldn't believe I heard myself agreeing. Paul hung up before I changed my mind. He called back in ten minutes while I waited by the phone.

     "All set. You fly out on Wednesday morning. I'll come by your room in twenty minutes."

     "Wednesday? I only said I'd stay over until tomorrow!" I hadn't even given him my airline or flight number.

     "You were sicker than you realized. I fixed it with the hotel too. Your room was booked tonight but they'll move you while we're out." I was learning the mundane concerns of us ordinary citizens are minor obstacles to the very rich. I asked for more time than twenty minutes but agreed to meet Paul in front of the hotel at eleven.

     Mr. North arrived in a black car, far more luxurious than anything I'd ever ridden in. We drove north from Boston, through a tunnel and several miles of suburbia until reaching a long stretch of beach between the cities of Lynn and Nahant. During the drive Paul chatted about the wedding reception and how he'd enjoyed himself. I was surprised he appeared as nervous as I. He'd sounded confident on the phone. We parked facing the ocean and Paul told me to remain in the car until everything was ready. From the trunk he carried two chairs, an umbrella, a small table, blankets, a large wicker basket and two bottles of wine. After three trips, he opened my door with a bow. How he was able to secure the supplies on short notice, on Sunday morning, amazed me.

     The sun was shining, but there was a stiff breeze and the temperature neared freezing. We were the sole humans save a bundled figure with a playful dog yards to the north and an old man with a metal detector in the other direction. Wrapped in blankets and with the umbrella tilted to protect us from the steady breeze, we were almost comfortable. White wine complimented cold chicken, chilled further by the Atlantic wind that blew white caps off the water. There we sat, bundled in coats and mittens. I loved it.

     Later, when casual conversation dwindled, Paul ventured into personal territory. "How did you end up in Alaska?"

     "My husband was in the military stationed there. Prior to that, we lived all over, even Europe. After he died, I stayed on in Alaska."

     "You must have liked it in polar bear country."

     I smiled. "Staying put was the easiest thing to do."

     He expanded my answer for me. "You find yourself in a spot that fits and stay there."

     "I guess. After Doug died, there were few options. Alaska seemed suited me at the time."

     "You were on an island, hundreds of miles out in the Bering Sea. Most people would have gone daft with that kind of isolation."

     It disturbed me someone else was doing research besides my niece Maureen. I answered anyway, in more detail than necessary. "While married, I clerked in a military base store." I picked sand from a piece of chicken and continued. "Once I got my head together, I went back to college in Anchorage. I obtained a teaching degree. Jobs were scarce so I signed a two year contract to teach on St. Paul Island. Isolation was comfortable."

     "Like not having to see your mother?" When he saw the look on my face, he apologized. "Sorry. That was a tad too personal."

     "True. But I'll confess to it anyway. Inertia was involved too. The longer I stayed, the harder to leave. I considered signing for a second stint."

     "But you didn't. You made the effort and left. Why?"

     "Guilt, for running away I guess. I've always harbored my share of remorse. I was offered a job in Virginia, near Washington and accepted."

     "Now you're sorry you did?"

     I smiled. "A dawn conversation with my sister convinced me coming back was the right decision." He asked about my position in Virginia.

     "I'm disappointed at my choice of job and location," I answered, "but talking to Suzie has opened up a world. The job's not difficult; just boring." I added, "And my supervisor is a jerk."

     Paul picked up a shell shard and tossed it back and forth in his hands. "Life should be more than just getting used to it." He looked over to me. "Why don't you quit and move to Boston?"

     I laughed. "You're a real control-type guy, aren't you?" He didn't bother to disagree. "Don't listen to me," I continued. "I don't adapt well to change."

     Paul seemed to ponder this. "Me too," he answered. "Sometimes death forces the issue."

     "Your turn," I said.

     "My life is far less exciting."

     "I'll bet!"

     "I run a business that helps other businesses get going. They're located across the country with a couple overseas, so I travel a lot. That's all. I have a dozen people helping me and I'll admit I've been fortunate because I don't charge much for my service. Instead I take a small piece of the businesses I help. We're both either successful or fall on our faces. Enough of my clients have made a go of their dreams to pay the bills."

     I filled in the next paragraph for him, letting him know he wasn't the only one to research. "You live in Newton in a mansion and you're filthy rich. You have two children. You're a widower." I gloated that I'd shocked him. I continued. "No, I'm not some gold digger who's stalking you. I just have a niece who's nosy and a blabber mouth." My gloating was short lived.

     "You have no children. You were married for fourteen years. Your husband was a lifetime soldier and both of you lived all over the world before he was killed in an auto accident five years ago."

     "God!" I exclaimed. "I feel violated. I came by my information without asking for it; you went out and dug up yours!"

     He could see I was irritated. It embarrassed him enough to apologize. "I do this for a living. I was curious, not snoopy. I'm sorry."

     "How does curious differ from snoopy? What do you mean; you do it for a living? You pry into people's lives?"

     "It's important for me to learn as much as I can about people before I commit to join them in business."

     "You're not going in business with me! I just met you and I don't like what you did! I feel as if I'm on some FBI short list! Where do you find all this stuff?"

     "It's all out there, public records, credit history, school records, telephone, earnings; everything. I didn't even look at your file; I just asked a couple of questions."

     "My file; my dossier. Thanks a bunch."

     "Let's start over. I had a great time yesterday and I wanted to learn a bit about the person who was responsible. It's as simple as that."

     "Why didn't you ask me? I have no secrets."

     He held up his hand. "Truce. No more history; just the present and the future."

     Before I could respond, a gust of wind toppled our umbrella and extricating myself cooled my temper. When Paul finished collecting our things, we both agreed our picnic was over. Back in the car, I assumed we'd return to Boston but instead we drove further north, up the coast. We were silent for the first few miles, each afraid to disturb our temporary peace. A few tentative comments on the scenery drew us back to comfortable dialogue as we approached the seaside town of Rockport.

     I'd heard of Rockport and nearby Cape Ann but never visited. I knew its history as a favorite with seascape artists, Winslow Homer included. We spent a pleasant afternoon perusing the few open gift shops and galleries. The only bump in our stroll occurred when I commented on a beautiful piece of jewelry and Paul made a move to purchase it. When he saw my reaction, he slipped his wallet back into his pocket.

     Still bundled against the cold, we strolled along boulder-strewn paths and the ocean shore. Paul again apologized. "I'm new at this business. God, I shouldn't have used that term! I'm new at dating, if that's what we're doing. I inquired about you because I wanted to see more of you and I didn't want to screw it up by saying something stupid."

     "You damn near did! I'm a private person and I was offended. I'm sorry if I over reacted. Yesterday was fun for me too. It was the first time in a very long while. I'm glad you called. I just don't want to be swept off my feet, even for a day or two." I added, "I'm not looking for a long term relationship."

     "I am," he said, shocking me but he changed the subject before I could comment. He took my hand and suggested dinning at a quaint restaurant, fronting on the sea.

     Conversation floated back to generalities over a delicious meal and wine with a price tag I didn't want to see. When a second bottle was opened, I cautioned it was a long drive back to Boston. Paul said he'd rent a limo for the return trip but when I raised my eyebrows he thought better of the idea and pushed the nearly-full bottle my way. He abstained for the remainder of the evening. His abstinence left it up to waste-not, want-not me to drink more than my share. At his coaxing, I laid my head back on the seat for the return trip and fell asleep. While I was mortified at my action, and hoped I didn't snore, Paul found it amusing.

     My nap precluded worries on how this day would end, but as it happened there was no need for a should-I-shouldn't-I decision. I wobbled to the front desk on Paul's arm and asked for the key to my newly assigned room. Paul kissed me lightly on the lips, and as soon as I'd fumbled my plastic card in the lock and opened my door, he was gone. I couldn't make up my mind if I was relieved or disappointed as I entered my quarters but I knew I was too drunk to make a rational decision. I stumbled in to find myself in a suite the likes of which I'd only seen in the movies.

Earned A Seal Of Quality

Enough to Miss Christmas is a family love story, about sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and children. But mostly it tells the story of a stepmom and a very precocious young lady and how they bonded in spite of overwhelming odds.
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