It was coming up on Christmas, but with my wife deceased only six months, I was in no mood to celebrate. So I decided to take a week’s vacation and head for Knowwhere.
Settled by several Swedish immigrants in the 1800s, Knowwhere became a section of the much larger town of Kingston. Though tiny in stature, Knowwhere had a huge reputation, mostly because of its bakery and restaurant, which made fresh home-made pies daily. The other tourist attraction was its third of a mile-long strip of salt-like, white, sandy beach.
Since this was off-season, I was pretty sure I’d be able to get a room without having a reservation in Knowwhere’s only hotel. After all, I figured most visitors at this time of year would be staying at one of the many hotels in Kingston. I was correct.
The elderly couple who ran the Lighthouse Inn, knew me from when I as a kid. I used to vacation here every summer with my parents for a week. They liked Knowwhere’s beach better than Kingston’s—less rocky and better surf.
“No wife?” Clyde asked while I was signing in. Jan and I had stayed at the inn a couple of years earlier as sort of a mini second honeymoon.
“We’re separated,” I lied. It felt easier and less emotional to say that instead of she died of an aneurism.
Clyde nodded his nearly bald head without meeting my eyes directly and said, “Yeah, that’s life sometimes.”
“It sure is,” I agreed.
After putting my stuff in my room, I headed over to The Knowwhere Bakery & Restaurant next door for soup and a sandwich. It was going to be a lonely week, I knew, but I didn’t want to have to deal with everyone at work, or my neighbors, trying to cheer me up. My only relatives were back east in Florida.
Back in my room, I booted up my laptop, and continued to work on the brochure I had been creating for one of my company’s clients. I worked for a medium size advertising agency. We had three major accounts.
Finishing my work on the brochure sooner than I had anticipated, I turned on the TV and began watching the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, until almost the end. Normally, the film doesn’t affect me, but this time, when George Bailey returned to the bridge and begged God to let him live again, the water works started. I turned it off just before nearly everyone from the town showed up at his house and began singing. Afterwards, I crawled under the covers and tried to go to sleep. It took a while, but I finally got there.
The next morning, I woke around ten. Love it when I get a chance to sleep in. Then after a shower and a shave, headed once again to the restaurant next door to have breakfast.
I was in the middle of enjoying my scrambled eggs and pancakes when I heard a woman’s voice and froze with my fork halfway to my mouth. If I didn’t know my wife, Jan, was dead, I would have sworn that was her talking. The woman even had the same southern accent.
Putting down my fork, I looked around the restaurant. There were two women heading for the front door. Both had their backs to me, but I was sure one of them was the woman I had heard speaking.
My feelings at that moment were a combination of soul-wrenching sadness and an extreme desire to chase after them. Instead, I just sat there, staring at their backs as they walked out of the restaurant and turned left away from the direction of the Lighthouse Inn.
Even after they were out of sight, I remained sitting for a bit while my mind buzzed with all kinds of thoughts. Finally, I threw down a twenty on the table, then headed for the door. Once outside, I scanned both sides of the street, but, of course, I couldn’t see them anywhere.
Returning to my room, I brushed my teeth, then collected my laptop, a couple of lined pads and pens, and stuffed them all into my shoulder bag, then went for a walk along Knowwhere’s beach.
While I walked, I recalled some of the memories from my childhood on this very beach. Intertwined with my youthful memories, were those from the time Jan and I had also strolled along this same beach. These brought moisture to the back of my eyes, but luckily, none of the moisture spilled over.
Even though it was cold and slightly windy, on the way back from my walk, I stopped and sat down on an outdoor bench, and read over what I had written on one of the pads. A week earlier, I had started writing a story. I had no idea if I wanted it to be a novel or a short story. All I had decide upon for sure was that it would be a fictional account of how I had met my wife, Jan. So far, it didn’t sound half bad.
But then after about ten minutes, I decided it was too cold to remain sitting outdoors, so I headed for the inn, where I found an empty table in the corner of the hotel’s lobby, and continued writing my story by hand. I’d type what I had written later.
At one point, Clyde came by and asked if I needed anything. I told him a pot of hot tea would be nice, which he brought with haste.
After about two hours, I put down my pen, and picked up a newspaper. Scanning the movie section, I saw at least one title I thought looked interesting. It was another rendition of the birth of Christ, staring an all Asian cast. I didn’t think that would affect me too much. So heading into Kingston, I found a spot close to the theater’s entrance and went inside.
I was standing in line to buy popcorn, when I heard a familiar voice. This time when I looked, she was facing me. I liked what I saw. Tall and slender, her straight brown hair was highlighted with narrow wisps of grey. That had me putting her age somewhere in her early to mid-forties, which was close to my own of forty-two. Her face was all sharp angels but friendly, and when she smiled, I felt a twitch in my chest. She was talking to her companion from earlier, who didn’t look anywhere near as appealing.
They were part of a crowd of people exiting from one of the auditoriums in the multiplex. I was hoping that they’d pass close to me; and it looked as if they were about to when suddenly, they turned and went out one of the doors furthest from where I was standing. My enthusiasm flagged as fast as a balloon whose air had been let out. Continuing to stand there for several seconds, I kept staring at the door from which they had exited, until the person next to me pointed out that the line we were in had moved. “Sorry,” I said to him, then faced forward and followed along with the rest.
Another opportunity squashed by fate.
The rest of that week, I kept looking for her and her friend, but had no luck. I did get lucky with my story though. I worked on it for at least a couple of hours each day, and by the end of my vacation, I found I had produced a novella. The rest of the time, I played a lot of Sudoku, went to a couple more movies, and even one day shared a half of sandwich with Clyde during lunch. His wife was away visiting with her sister.
By the end of the week, I was ready to go home, but not ready to return to work yet. New Year’s Eve was a couple of days away. Still not wanting to celebrate, I called my boss and said I had picked up some kind of a bug while on vacation. Two days, after the New Year, I finally returned.
Six months had gone by when one day I came to work late, mainly because I had gone to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. I was on my way towards the room I shared with our two other graphic artists, when approaching one of our company’s conference rooms I, once again, heard a familiar voice.
Yes, way! When I stopped by the doorway and looked inside, there she was sitting with my boss and others around the large conference room table. My eyes must have been popping out of my head, because my boss said, “You look like you might already know our newest account rep.”
After swallowing, I replied, “Sort of. I ran across her while I was on vacation.”
She gave me a quizzical look until my boss introduced each of us to the other. “Robert Preston, this is Kathy Bower. She’s one of the new account reps for the Alco project. Kathy, this is the senior artist for the Alco project. You two will be working a lot with each other.” That had my enthusiasm quotient soaring!
“Glad to meet you,” I said, smiling.
“The same,” she replied, also smiling.
Then I told my boss, “I’ll be at my desk.” All the way there, I was practically floating.
Later that day, Kathy and I got to talking. That’s when I found out she had been working for one of our competitors when they lost one of their biggest accounts, and had to let some of their people go. So that’s when I explained to her about my deceased wife and how, when I heard her speak back in Knowwhere during Christmas, I knew that both she and my wife must have originally come from South Carolina.
Now, you would think the way I felt about Kathy, we’d get along great. We did—professionally. But our likes and dislikes were so vastly different, that we were about as opposite as you can get. And yet, by Christmas, we were dating, and eventually, we moved in together.
So you see, you never know for sure about opposites.