She moved away ever so slightly as she gained her composure from the shock and what she could only consider at this point forwardness of this man whom she hardly knew. Having no intention of rectifying that situation, she looked him coolly in the eye and cooed, Oh, that would be much too much to pay for these mixed up thoughts of mine!
Moving into a new apartment tomorrow, finalizing the details of setting up my new business, with the seemingly infinite number of details associated with that. Youre a business man. You know the feeling. Its awfully exciting but scary at the same time. No, Alex, you save your money for now. Save it for the flower shop! Hows that?
After excusing herself and saying good night to everyone, Charlie Ann climbed the stairs to the familiarity and comfort of the little bedroom on the south side of the house where she had spent so many fun-filled summer nights as Aunt Shugs little guest. Standing before the dimly lit, etched gold framed mirror over the old oak bureau, she pressed her long, slender fingers to her temples and then through the long blondish brown tangles of her hair. She tried to bring some control to her brain, feeling it would surely explode from the torrent of unanswered questions and emotions of this extremely long day. Quickly she did a cursory washing of the face and teeth and slipped into a soft Lauren t-shirt for bed.
She lay between the cool crisp bed sheets, her tired frame sinking into the softness of the luxury Aunt Shug always provided her overnight guests, and her brain continued its avalanche of questions. How much work would she have to do to Miss Carolines apartment to make it livable for herself? Had this ever so lovely but aging lady done any updating over the years? Would she be able to hold off on painting until she had settled in for awhile? How about carpet? Would it need to be cleaned or removed? Maybe she didnt have carpet! Maybe she had beautiful wide board pine floors throughout the rooms!
She could just have smacked herself for not checking out the living quarters, but everything had been so rushed! Well, never mind that now. She could tolerate almost anything as long as there wasnt old paneling with its often accompanying stale odor. Charlie Ann just could not abide a room with a foul smell. As the pressure of the day pressed against her eyelids and her thoughts begin to slow and diffuse, she thought once more of Aunt Shug.
My dear auntie, what in the world is going on here? Slowly she eased into the depths of darkness as she pleaded, Dear God, please let me sleep!
The little old fashioned brass alarm clock slowly pivoted around on the nightstand ringing its heart out proudly, announcing its wakeup call of the day. Charlie Ann sat straight up in bed. Glancing out through the white ruffled curtains she saw that it was already bright outside with the sun inching ever upward toward its summit of noonday brightness. She had to hurry! She quickly showered and dressed in a pair of khaki shorts, blue sleeveless polo, and her hiking boots. Forget style today, she didnt want to drop anything on her toes during the big move. Eyeing herself in the bathroom mirror she realized that she looked, for all her 25 years, more like a college kid on break than a young professional woman about to open what hopefully would be the most successful flower shop that the citizens of Willoughby could ever imagine.
She raced downstairs quickly and flung open the kitchen door half expecting to run into Aunt Shug or one of the other guests. The room was empty of people and its usual, for this time of day, breakfast smells. Where was everyone? She looked around warily and then focused on a piece of blue note paper propped against the wooden napkin holder on the breakfast table. She read the note quickly and was somewhat relieved to find that Aunt Shug had left earlier with Jasper to drive to the train station in Salem, a city about two hours away, to pick up a surprise guest that they had just found out would be arriving some time this morning. Charlie Ann was to fix herself a good breakfast before beginning the moving in process and was not to worry. They would be home later in the afternoon and all would be explained.
Charlie Ann gobbled down some Honey Nut Cheerios in milk and followed up with a small glass of orange juice. She shoved a banana and two apples into a plastic bag for later, grabbed her purse and keys, and hurried out to her red Jauquar convertible. It was her pride and joy and one of the few items she had held onto from her marriage to California Boy. She hated him with a passion and always would, but she had to admit that Garret had a real eye for beautiful cars. This one had been a wedding present for her, and she had loved it unabashedly since the day he put the keys in her trembling hands. Charlie Ann eased through the streets of Willoughby smiling to herself and thinking that maybe, just maybe, everything would work out after all.
Roy and Lizzie Grace Deal were waiting for Charlie Ann when she arrived at the flower shop. They had been highly recommended by Aunt Shug and others as the best folks to help her get any cleaning done that might be needed and generally get things unpacked from the limited storage boxes that Charlie Ann had had delivered to Willoughby. The Deals were pleasant enough but didnt have a lot to say. Probably they preferred to get on with their work, Charlie Anne thought. They certainly had come prepared with a bucket full of cleaning supplies. She tried to be friendly, talking with them about her plans for the shop and told them how she was going to pick up a few pieces of furniture at the local Rooms to Go.
They thought that was a good idea.
It was about ten in the morning and, already feeling exhausted, Charlie Anne was sitting in the floor on a chair cushion eating one of the apples she had brought for just this occasion. She heard a rather soft knock on the door. Getting up and walking toward the sound she saw a young boy, probably ten or so, through the opened door. The boy had dark hair cropped close and beautiful suntanned skin. He was dressed in navy shorts and a grey and white shirt advertising some type of skateboard. His black sneakers were worn. He just stood there looking at Charlie Ann.
Hi, Im Charlie Ann Huckabee. What can I do for you?
I know who you are. Im Josh Maynard and Ive come to ask you if its all right with you for me to skateboard here in front of the flower shop like Ive been doing while Miss Caroline was here. I dont cause a problem and I dont make a mess, ever.
Well, Josh, lets begin with your telling me how you know who I am for starters. Im new here and I dont recall meeting you.
Your Aunt Shug and my mama are friends. We go to church together and they talk a lot. I see your aunt almost every Sunday and sometimes on Wednesday nights, too. She told Mama that you were coming here to live and then she said Miss Caroline was going to live with her daughter, Martha, and you were going to run the flower shop. So when I saw you with your aunt at the grocery store, I just knew it was you.
Well, Josh, you have it all figured out I see. Now tell me about the skateboarding. Why do you like to skateboard here so much?
Come downstairs with me and I can show you better, Miss Huckabee.
You dont have to call me Miss Huckabee, Josh. It makes me feel even older. Just call me Charlie Ann.
Once downstairs Josh put down his skateboard and arms extended, knees bended, began to glide across the pavement and then on toward the side of the flowershop. There he jumped off the curb and did a magnificent 360 turn right before Charlie Anns eyes. He came rushing back toward her, tanned arms out like the wings of an aircraft, balancing himself. He came to a quick halt just at her feet and looked laughingly up at her to check her reaction.
Well done, Charlie Ann gushed. Youre great!
I always do my best turns over there, off that curb that slopes down just a little. Thats why I like to skate here so much. It was all right with Miss Caroline if I skated here as long as I was careful and didnt cause no problems, but now that youre the owner, Mama says that I have to make sure its all right with you, and I didnt know if youd let me skate here after what happened.
What happened here, Josh?
I was just skating here early one Saturday morning practicing my turns and all. Nobody was around. I guess people were having late breakfasts or something. Anyway, your Aunt Shug and Mr. Jasper came walking over to where I was practicing. They were laughing and talking about getting their morning exercise and how they would skateboard if they were young like me. Then Miss Shug asked me if she could try out the board. I didnt really want her to get on it because I knew she didnt know how to do it, but I said she could if she wanted to. So I put it down and she stepped up on it. It was all right until she started rocking back and forth and lost her balance. She rolled a little way and then the board shot out from under her and she hit the ground wide open. Me and Mr. Jasper just looked at each other for a few seconds, I guess, and then she started making kind of a whimpering sound.
Mr. Jasper leaned over and started talking to her and then we tried to get her up. But when we almost had her up, Miss Shug got tickled and they both started laughing and just sat back down on the ground together, laughing. Miss Shug had tears streaming down her face. I didnt know what to do. Finally they got up and your aunt said to me, Josh, do you know where your skateboard is? and I said, Yes Maam, its over there in the grass, and she patted me on the head and said, Youd better go and get it! She didnt fuss at me or nothing. I thought shed probably tell my mama or the preacher and everybody that it was my fault that she fell, but nobodys said nothing about it all this time.
When did this happen, Josh?
It was way back at the beginning of summer. I know she broke her arm. I saw it in the cast at church, but I couldnt help it. She should have known better than to get on a skateboard. It wasnt my fault.
Of course it wasnt your fault. And if youve been worried about this all summer you can stop worrying now. Furthermore, you can continue to skate here as long as youre really, really careful. Theres a lot I dont know yet about insurance and liability and responsibilities about owning a business and all, but as I find things out well talk and Ill make sure you have a place to practice. By the way, Josh, do you have any idea how long Jasper Ragsdale has been in this area? Can you think when you first started seeing him with my Aunt Shug?
I know hes been here since Christmas because he helped with my class Christmas party at the church, but I dont know exactly when he came.
Thanks, Josh. Im going to get back to my work now, and Ill see you later, OK? With that Charlie Ann walked slowly back upstairs to her new living quarters. She was deep in thought as she entered the living room and stubbed her toe over a box marked Pictures to Work On! This label was, of course, a note to herself to go over these wedding pictures and strategically remove Mr. California from as many of these as she could salvage. It was then that a light bulb came on in Charlie Anns brain. If she took the time now to go through these pictures, would she possibly see a photograph that would show Aunt Shug and Jasper Ragsdale? They had never met before the wedding, or so she believed at the time. But the irony of coming to Willoughby to visit her aunt and find her apparently involved in a relationship with her former father-in-law was just too absurd to be a coincidence. She had cleared up the question of the arm break, but what about all the other questions?
Charlie Ann decided she would just continue on with her day to day activities but she would keep a close eye on Aunt Sugh and all the guests at the bed and breakfast to see if she could determine what was really going on here in Willoughby. She poured over picture after picture in the box and then - bingo! right before her was a picture she could not believe! How had she missed this?
Sara Wilson has lived in Fort Mill for more than 20 years. She recently retired from teaching fifth grade at Gold Hill Elementary School. "I enjoyed working with my school kids on their writing skills and am now enjoying being at home with my husband who is retired as well. Our children are grown and married and we enjoy traveling and seeing our beautiful country," she says.