Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Unraveling, Part 4
Once Jess left to check on the elderly neighbor, Kevin moseyed over to the bookshelf near the window. He smiled at all of the photos she placed throughout her book collection. It surprised him that she wanted to keep them displayed since most were photos taken on their vacations over the last ten years. From their honeymoon in Aruba, to the last trip they had taken together at the Grand Canyon right before the incident that forever changed them, she had the photos surrounding her treasured books. That had to be a good sign.
He picked up the photo of them that he fondly referred to as the “after” shot, taken shortly after she had gotten sick on a twin passenger plane flying over the Misty Fjords in Alaska. Beside it sat the photo of them taken on Martha’s Vineyard a few hours after a jellyfish had stung her foot. Their trips together always ended with some crazy thing happening to her, and it became expected. She twisted her ankle hiking at the Grand Canyon, and cut knee while climbing rocks in Zion National Park, and the list went on.
The shot of them taken on the windjammer cruise they’d taken to Nova Scotia sat on the top shelf. She surprised him with that trip for their fifth anniversary. He talked up the idea of taking a windjammer cruise as a honeymoon, but she argued it would be more work than vacation. Ironically, Jess turned out to be the sailor of the couple. She also cut her finger pretty badly on that trip trying to tie a sail, and of all her minor accidents, that one scared him the most. It took over twenty stitches to close the cut, and it had to be sewn on deck since they weren’t close to a hospital.
“Doesn’t look like there are any photos of lover boy,” he mumbled. Another good sign. He wanted Jess to agree to try again, but with Gary in the picture, chances were less than spectacular.
A few years younger than Jess, Kevin couldn’t understand Gary’s appeal. In Jess’s eyes, Kevin gave up on his dream to become an artist. Gary pursued his dream and became a published author, his short stories featured in literary magazines and periodicals. It didn’t matter to her that she hadn’t achieved the same success. She didn’t hold herself up to the same standards she did with the two men in her life. Perhaps she needed to be with someone who was creatively successful because she was not. Perhaps he simply provided relief because she didn’t see the pain every time she looked into his eyes the way she did with him after their heartbreak last year.
He heard her coming back up the stairs and quickly sat again on the sofa. He didn’t want to be accused of being a snoop. Kevin firmly believed he gained solid reconciliation ground today, and he didn’t want to make her suspicious.
“Mrs. Phillips is fine,” she said as she entered. “Her son is on the way over to get her. She’s going to spend the next few days with him in case the electricity is out for a while.”
“I’m glad she won’t have to be alone,” he replied. “I guess you’re glad you’re not alone, too. I mean, with the storm and all.”
After she placed the candle down, she sat next to him again and grinned. “How do you expect me to answer that question, Kevin? I’ve been alone through storms before. And I’m not afraid of the dark.”
He shrugged it off, knowing that she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of telling him she was happy he was there. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I forgot that I was the one who always needed to be saved. If I remember correctly, you saved me in Jamaica.”
# # #
Eleven years before…
“Thanks for sparing me the single’s cruise,” Kevin said, picking up a Corona with a fresh lime, taking a thirst-quenching gulp. “You’ve truly saved my life.”
Jess smiled. “It’s the least I could do with the storm coming and all. I wouldn’t want you out on the ocean during a hurricane.” Jess dressed comfortably chic in white cotton sundress. She wore a simple pair of gold hoop earrings as an accent, and tied her reddish-brown hair into a neat twist with a few loose strands framing her face.
“I wouldn’t worry about that too much,” he said. He also dressed casually in a pair of khaki shorts and a crisp white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She liked that look much better than his poolside attire. He looked clean and shiny, like the typical all American beach boy. She was glad she agreed to have dinner with him.
“Tell me something about you,” he continued.
Jess smiled. “What do you want to know?” she asked sipping a glass of white wine.
“What brings you to paradise?”
She leaned back in the comfortable wicker chair and smiled. “Probably same as you,” she said. “I needed a vacation. I was supposed to come with a few friends, but they all had to back out at the last minute.”
He was impressed. “So, you came alone,” he replied. “That’s pretty brave. I admire that.”
She smiled. “If that makes me brave, then I’ve always been brave. I enjoy spending time by myself. I suppose writers always do. It comes with the trade.”
He seemed even more impressed. “You’re a writer? What’s your passion?” he asked.
“Mostly short stories. My goal is to publish a novel, but I haven’t decided what I want to write about yet.” She watched him and noticed he listened to every word she said. “In the meantime,” she continued, “I’m freelancing for local magazines and newspapers.”
“I’ve had some published in college, and I wrote for the school newspaper, but I’ve run into a recent dry spell. I only hope it doesn’t mean my best writing days have passed.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case,” he said. “So, what pays the bills?”
“I manage a bookstore in Chestnut Hill.” She wondered what he did for a living. His hands were smooth, so it wasn’t too physical.
“It’s a neighborhood in Philadelphia. Sort of a harbor for artists, writers, and photographers.”
He nodded. “Oh, yes, I had dinner there a few years ago. A friend from college had a small exhibit at an art gallery there. It’s the perfect atmosphere for an aspiring writer.”
“It is,” she agreed. “And the store is a wonderful little shop. They put a coffee bar inside recently to lure more shoppers, although I still don’t understand who would need incentive to visit a bookstore. I guess they just want to compete with the bigger chains.”
He smiled. “Have you been there long?”
“I worked there through college, so I guess I know the trade pretty well. It’s great experience because it caters to local writers and they come through for book signings. I get to pick their brain and meet all sorts of talent.”
He seemed to be intrigued and she liked that.
“What do you like to write about?”
“I try to touch the important things in life, such as family, passion, and love when writing fiction. And as far as nonfiction, I’ve had several articles published on environmental issues.” She ran her fingers around the rim of her wine glass and smiled. “So, what do you do from nine to five?”
“I’m a painter,” he said leaning into her. She felt the excitement build. They were nothing short of electrifying already.
He was another creative type and a definite kindred spirit. That was even more thrilling. “What do you paint?”
“Houses, buildings, rooms. You name it we paint it.”
She blushed. “Oh, I thought you meant the artistic type of painter.”
He shrugged. “That’s actually what I studied. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to the Tyler School of Art in Philly and I got my degree in fine arts. But it’s tough to make a living at it, at least while you’re alive,” he said grinning. “And since I wasn’t about to cut off my ear to achieve fame, I tried graphic arts. I worked in an ad agency for a few years, but I hated being cooped up all day in that environment. I found it creatively stifling.”
“Do you still paint? Artistically, I mean?”
“Oh, sure. I considered bringing my paints with me, but it was too much to carry. I’ll just have to go home and create Jamaica from memory.” He smiled.
“I’ve always wondered how an artist could part with his work,” she said. “Once it is sold, it is gone forever. A writer is able to hold onto his creation. Has that happened to you?”
“Sometimes it’s difficult to part with paintings, he said. “I’ve sold some here and there. I almost had a gallery in Allentown interested in doing a show of my work last year, but unfortunately it fell through.”
“The place had to close down because the owner had been fencing stolen art.”
She laughed. “Oh, my. Sounds like I could incorporate that into an interesting novel. At least it had nothing to do with your painting.”
He shrugged. “I suppose I can look at it that way,” he said. “The point is it fell through.”
She sighed. “I hate when that happens.”
“But I will never give up,” he replied with a sheepish grin. “Especially not when I just found something worth living for.”
To be continued on Wednesday, September 4, 2013…