Though she had quietly rebelled against this idea since childhood and had dated a few men best described as reckless, she found herself drawn to Lon’s easy ways and had gradually come to love him. Despite the long hours he worked, he was good to her. He was a gentleman, mature and responsible, and during those terrible periods of the war when she needed someone to hold her, he never once turned her away. She felt secure with him and knew he loved her as well and that was why she had accepted his proposal.
Thinking these things made her feel guilty about being here, and she knew she should pack her things and leave before she changed her mind. She picked up her handbag, hesitated and almost made it to the door. But coincidence had pushed her here, and she put the bag down, again realizing that if she quit now she would always wonder what would have happened. She couldn’t live with that
She went to the bathroom and started a bath. After checking the temperature she walked to the chest of drawers in the bedroom, taking off her gold earrings as she crossed the room. She found her sponge bag, opened it and pulled out a razor and a bar of soap, then undressed in front of the chest of drawers. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her body was firm and well proportioned, breasts softly rounded, stomach flat, legs slim. She’d inherited her mother’s high cheekbones, smooth skin and blonde hair, but her best feature was her own. She had “eyes like ocean waves”, as Lon liked to say.
Taking the razor and soap, she went to the bathroom again, turned off the tap, set a towel where she could reach it and stepped gingerly into the bath.
She liked the way a bath relaxed her, and she slipped lower in the water. The day had been long and her back was tense, but she was pleased she had finished shopping so quickly. She had to go hack to Raleigh with something tangible, and the things she had picked out would work fine. She made a mental note to find the names of some other stores in the Beaufort area, then suddenly doubted she would need to. Lon wasn’t the type to check up on her.
She reached for the soap, lathered up and began to shave her legs. As she did, she thought about her parents and what they would think of her behaviour. No doubt they would disapprove, especially her mother. Her mother had never really accepted what had happened the summer they’d spent here and wouldn’t accept it now; no matter what reason she gave.
She soaked a while longer in the bath before finally getting out and towelling off. She went to the closet and looked for a dress, finally choosing a long yellow one that dipped slightly in the front, the kind that was common in the South. She slipped it on and looked in the mirror, turning from side to side. It fitted her well, but she eventually decided against it and put it back on the hanger. Instead she found a more casual, less revealing dress and put that on. Light blue with a touch of lace, it buttoned up at the front, and though it didn’t look quite as nice as the first one, it conveyed an image she thought would be more appropriate.
She wore little make-up, just a touch of eye shadow and mascara to accent her eyes. Perfume next, not too much. She found a pair of small hooped earrings, put those on, then slipped on the tan, low-heeled sandals she had been wearing earlier. She brushed her blonde hair, pinned it up and looked in the mirror. No, it was too much, she thought, and she let it back down. Better.
When she was finished she stepped back and evaluated herself. She looked good: not too dressy, not too casual. She didn’t want to overdo it. After all, she didn’t know what to expect. It had been a long time-probably too long-and many different things could have happened, even things she didn’t want to consider.
She looked down and saw her hands were shaking, and she laughed to herself. It was strange; she wasn’t normally this nervous.
She found her handbag and car keys, then picked up the room key. She turned it over in her hand a couple of times, thinking – You’ve come this far, don’t give up now. She nearly left then, but instead sat on the bed again. She checked her watch. Almost six o’clock. She knew she had to leave in a few minutes-she didn’t want to arrive after dark-but she needed a little more time.
“Damn,” she whispered. “What am I doing here? I shouldn’t be here. There’s no reason for it.” But once she said it she knew it wasn’t true. If nothing else, she would have her answer.
She opened her handbag and thumbed through it until she came to a folded-up piece of newspaper. After taking it out slowly, almost reverently, she unfolded it and stared at it for a while. “This is why,” she finally said to herself, “this is what it’s all about.”
NOAH GOT UP at five and kayaked for an hour up Brices Creek, as he usually did. When he finished he changed into his work clothes, warmed some bread rolls from the day before, grabbed a couple of apples and washed his breakfast down with two cups of coffee.
He worked on the fencing again, repairing the posts. It was an Indian summer, the temperature over eighty degrees, and by lunchtime he was hot and tired and glad of the break.
He ate at the creek because the mullets were jumping. He liked to watch them jump three or four limes and glide through the air before vanishing into the brackish water. For some reason he had always been pleased by the fact that their instinct hadn’t changed for thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of years.
Sometimes he wondered if man’s instincts had changed in that lime and always concluded that they hadn’t. At least in the basic, most primal ways. As far as he could tell, man had always been aggressive, always striving to dominate, trying to control the world and everything in it. The war in Europe and Japan proved that.